The Idea of Modi: Magic, Method or Madness?

His supporters claim PM Modi has changed the perception of India on International front. Source:

Every significant leader leading a political transition, inspires a corpus of analysis by the intelligentsia -to decode, dissect and devour every word and text uttered by the administration. They do it in order to decipher the intrinsic logic of leadership. Leadership literature often drifts towards the ‘Great Man of History’ framework. 

Over the last decade, Obama spurned a genre of readings regarding every little aspect of his leadership from his team building abilities (‘The Team of Rivals’ idea) to now mythical public speaking chops from which he has built a lucrative post presidential career. Closer to home in Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping has established a school of thought based on his set of ideas on the theme of ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era’. 

There are formal research centres in universities exploring the contours of this school of thought. The former Australian Prime Minister, Sinophile Kevin Rudd is researching his DPhil at Oxford on President Xi’s thought. He speaks Mandarin with native speaker fluency which makes him a darling on the China Think Tank Circuit as well.  

In India, leaders of the independence movement such as Gandhi, Patel, Nehru and Ambedkar had their own legions of intellectual historians unraveling every nuance of their thinking. Historian Ramchandra Guha’s work on Gandhi across two volumes is a stellar act of scholarship among a swathe of books preoccupying the shelves of South Asian Studies departmental libraries across the global.  

Leaders once marginal to the mainstream imagination as the former Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon, have their biographies narrated by Congress Politician and Prolific Author Jairam Ramesh. He has also written a treatise on former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her relationship with the environment, which gave rise to progressive environmental regulatory architecture in the country. This is a topic hardly addressed in the long tenure of Mrs Gandhi, whose tenure was punctuated by greater events of relevance framing her narrative.

On the converse, Prime Minister Modi is no marginal figure like his other fellow stalwarts from Gujarat; Gandhi and Patel. He is rightfully front and centre in the global spotlight. Modi is a man of action and josh, as he is currently in the middle of executing an ambitious political program with an eye on ensuring a future legacy. 

Modi, ever since he was catapulted as the Chief Minister of Gujarat State in 2001, has never been away from the national gaze or the international radar. He was in the international limelight for being denied a visa by the United States not very far back. This Gujarati man has turned a humiliating visa rejection in to the celebration of the ‘Howdy Modi’ mega event in Houston, in a few years. Saras che, to that win.  

A career political and social worker affiliated with the Sangh Parivar, he is a man well imbued in the theory and practice of the Hindu Nationalist Movement. But he is bigger than the party that he represents.

Many voted for him in 2014 and 2019, rather than the institution of the Bhartiya Janata Party. Leaders who lead a paradigm shift in terms of political eras, are complex minds. 

They must negotiate the minefields of resistance from entrenched liberal political and intellectual elites who draw their salaries from pandering to the former powers of the day.  There is a cottage industry in place in the publishing world as many commentators have tried to map the tectonic shifts in policy formulation and delivery in the Modi era, which is very in line with other global leaders such as Xi and Putin.  

From Strategic Thinker Bharat Karnad to Defence Analyst Nitin Gokhale to Foreign Policy Scholar Aparna Pande, all have written books on the various aspects of the ‘Modi School of Thought’ as I have christened it on the lines of the Xi School of Thought. The liberal digital media platforms run their entire editorial programs on the politics of Modi.  

On reading through their pages, there seems to be a perennial crisis and emergency in India, which is not the case at all as anti Modi-ism can been elevated to an affront on the Body Politic of the nation. The crisis is rather in the editorial rooms, as the people have voted for Modi with an overwhelming mandate twice in a row.  

The barrage of criticism which Modi had to face and is still confronting is numbing, from after the Godhra Riots to the current NRC debate he is constantly under the vindictive liberal lens, which entirely assesses and evaluates his actions through a saffron tinge. 

The analysis however has been constipated and the language mediocre.  We need a new lens of language to articulate the profound changes which Modi has brought about. How about evaluating Modi’s track record of governance in Gujarat without invoking the riots? 

How about evaluating Modi’s flagship Clean India and Start Up India initiatives via-a-vis the UPA administration, which did not possess the imagination to frame these programs? A counter factual need to be framed in order to better understand and articulate the Idea of Modi. Not many are aware that Modi shares a close relationship with the mercantile Muslim Shia Dawoodi Bohra Community. 

He spoke a smattering of Gujarati when he saw a bunch of Bohras sitting in the audience cheering for him at the iconic address he delivered at the Madison Square Gardens. The myth of Modi being anti minority is therefore a reflection of trenchant bias. India’s relations with the Sunni Arab GCC are closer than ever. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi conferred upon Modi, UAE’s highest civilian honour recently and allowed for a Hindu Temple to be built there, the first ever in the petro-emirate. 

UAE supported Indian Government decisions in Kashmir particularly in the aftermath of the scrapping of Article 370. India was an observer at the Organisation of Islamic Countries Conference in Dhaka recently, which was previously the bully pulpit of Kashmiri separatists.  The ordaining of respect to the Indian Diaspora, including the Gulf Worker sending remittances home, is central to understanding the Modi worldview, of the India belonging to a Motherland, The Bharat Mata.  

The Idea of Modi is positioned in channelizing the power of his historic mandate in delivering his manifesto unabashedly, sans the fear of being held hostage to the power of the minority vote bank politics.  Modi has his share of welfare schemes as well. For the urban and rural populace his administration has brought in Ayushman Bharat and the Ujwala Yojana. 

He comes from the working class and understands the pain points afflicting the underprivileged as well.  An autowalah in Pune recently was narrating the joy of accessing good healthcare at the Public Hospital without paying a bribe (as a marker of reduced corruption felt by the poor), as central to his understanding of the Idea of Modi. 

The optics of his foreign visits, the projection of soft power meant a lot to the autowalah as he thought of it as respect to an Indian, which might be radically different in the head of a liberal academic at JNU or Jamia. The idea of Modi rests in the register of a Strong Nation, with Balakot and Uri serving as precedents for aggressive defence strategy absent during UPA. As Mumbai attacks happened and we continued to serve biriyani to Kasab in prison; the atithi devo bhava sentiment was stretched a tad bit far in those unnerving times.

Modi galvanises charm and oratory with strong policy action. As he is seen as a man with a vision, and an articulate communicator espousing his Mann Ki Baat, he is chiseling his Idea of India, one masterstroke at a time.  

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.


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