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Will Modi 2.0 Have ‘Courage to Change Himself’ As He Once Claimed?

Modi would do well to recall what he said in 2016, that one must be able to shed old ideas that are now irrelevant.

Updated
Opinion
7 min read
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As a critic of Narendra Modi’s polarising politics, let me begin by heartily congratulating him on his stupendous victory.

The outcome of the election to the 17th Lok Sabha was, first of all, a victory for India’s democracy, as it has always been since the first general elections in 1952. Irrespective of which party wins or loses, it is always the people’s verdict that has triumphed.

Never has a people’s mandate been annulled in India, nor has our country ever seen a bloody transition of power, or capture of power by the generals, as has so often happened in our neighbourhood and beyond. This repeated victory of democracy – despite all the flaws in our democratic system – has contributed immensely to the international community’s admiration for India.

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A test of one’s faith in democracy is that, even when your opponents win, you should not only gracefully accept the verdict of ‘Janata Janardhan’ (which is another way of saying, ‘Janata is the Maalik’ of all politicians) but also wish the victors well. It is in this spirit that even Modi’s opponents should commend him on his outstanding victory.

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Will Modi Tell the Nation Which Past Ideas Of His Are Irrelevant Today?

As Modi begins his second term as India’s premier with a much bigger majority in Parliament, his critics should evaluate his future performance in an objective manner, without abandoning the grounds on which they critiqued his politics in the past. This is because every leader has the potential to evolve with time. Modi himself had said, in a 2016 interview to Rahul Joshi of Network18, “One must always learn and understand. One must have the courage to leave those ideas that were relevant in the past years but are no longer now. One must have the courage to change oneself. This is how I developed my style of functioning.”

Therefore, we have to wait and see whether Modi, in his second term in office, shows “the courage to change” himself.

Will he tell the nation which “ideas were relevant in the past years but are no longer now”? And will he show “the courage to leave those ideas”?

Why Core Messages of Modi’s Campaign Drew Flak

So far, in the context of the just-concluded elections, what we have as the basis to examine these questions are the manner of his poll campaign and the content of his victory speech late evening on 23 May. No objective observer can deny that some of the core messages of his campaign were highly questionable. They violated the letter and spirit of the Model Code of Conduct, which came to be ridiculed as the ‘Modi Code of Conduct’ because the Election Commission was so blatantly partial in overlooking his repeated transgressions.

There was a lone voice of dissent in the EC but it was silenced. Therefore, even though Modi took the name of democracy several times in his victory speech, the many self-evident instances of misuse of democratic institutions by his government, both during his first term in office and also during the poll campaign itself, do not inspire much confidence that he will show the courage to change himself in the second term.

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Will Modi 2.0 Show Commitment to the Principle of ‘Sarva-Mat’?

Let me acknowledge that there were several positive assertions in Modi’s victory speech. For one, he said that we, as a nation, should leave behind the bitterness generated during the campaign and, instead, look ahead (“Aage ki dekho”). He also rightly said that even though elections are won on the principle “bahu-mat” (majority), the nation has to be governed on the principle of “sarva-mat” (consensus and cooperation among ALL sections of society and polity). Narendra Modi further assured that he would not do anything out of “bad neeyat” and “bad irade” (bad intent and purpose). He even went to the extent of saying that the media should feel free to criticise his shortcomings.

Fine words, indeed.

Now, pradhan mantri ji, can the people of India hold you accountable for what you have so solemnly promised? During your first term, you hardly showed commitment to the principle of “sarva-mat”.

You almost never consulted the Opposition, and convened very few all-party meetings on important issues before the nation. You did not even hold regular meetings of your own National Democratic Alliance, and many allies of the BJP have openly expressed their grouse on this matter.

Now, after having won 303 seats in the new Lok Sabha, you have even less reason to follow the canons of ‘Coalition Dharma’ (a contribution to the lexicon of Indian politics by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose leadership of NDA I and II is still wistfully remembered by all those parties that worked with the BJP in those days).

Nevertheless, one hopes that, for the sake of democracy and good governance, you will not give Nitish Kumar, Uddhav Thackeray, Prakash Singh Badal and leaders of other NDA parties reasons to complain on this score.

How Successfully Will Modi Be Able To Assuage His Critics’ Fears & Apprehensions?

To his credit, Modi also made another important affirmation in his victory speech: “I regard the Constitution of India as supreme,” he said. If this was intended to silence those critics in the Congress and other Opposition parties who have publicly voiced apprehensions that a victorious BJP would attempt to change some basic features of the Constitution, Modi should be commended for this unequivocal statement. After all, some apprehensions being expressed are really dark and ominous: “From a presidential style of electioneering, will the Modi-led BJP actually amend the Constitution to usher in a presidential system of democracy? Will Modi emulate the example of Putin in Russia or Xi Jinping in China to prolong his tenure with executive powers beyond 2024?” This apprehension may seem totally absurd, but let’s not pretend that such murmurs are non-existent.

The other apprehension sounds more plausible – and it is related to the Sangh Parivar’s oft-repeated demand that India should be declared a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu Nation).

It is plausible because of a disconcerting contradiction in Modi’s victory speech itself. While he said he regards the Constitution as “supreme”, he also ridiculed the principle of secularism, which is enshrined in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. Moreover, the Supreme Court has ruled that secularism is an unalterable part of the ‘Basic Structure of the Constitution’. Even in the past − as an RSS pracharak, as a senior party functionary of the BJP, as the chief minister of Gujarat, and also as India’s prime minister during his first term – Modi has never hidden his aversion to the principle of secularism. Therefore, it was unsurprising that, in his victory speech, he took potshots at those who swear by secularism.

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Will Modi’s Vision of a ‘New India by 2022’ Be ‘Secularism-Mukt’?

This raises an important question. True, several secular political parties and their leaders have abused the lofty concept of secularism for electoral gains. They have used it to keep Muslim voters away from the BJP without doing much by way of empowering common Muslims in an all-round way. Some ultra-secularists in Leftist quarters have also articulated secularism in anti-Hindu ways and, in the process, greatly helped the Sangh Parivar’s narrative against secularism. But do these deviations from the idea and practice of secularism prove that India does not need secularism anymore? By that silly logic, India should also do away with democracy itself, since it too has been transgressed in idea and practice by many.

Modi boastfully claimed in his victory speech that one of the major transformations between 2014 and 2019 is that, as a result of the BJP setting the new national agenda, even secular parties have stopped talking about secularism.

Does this mean that Modi’s vision of a ‘New India by 2022’ will be “secularism-mukt”? We have to wait and see how Modi’s own and also the Sangh Parivar’s narrative on this crucial subject develops in the coming times.

Will Modi Show The Courage To Ask Terror-Accused Pragya Thakur To Resign?

One must refer to another contradiction that has the potential of exacerbating in the coming years. Modi, to his credit, paid tribute to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, in his victory speech. At the same time, one of his own party’s newly-elected MPs has publicly eulogised Gandhiji’s killer, Nathuram Godse. Even though Pragya Thakur was compelled to tender an apology, and even though Modi himself (after having defended her candidature in a TV interview) later said he “will never forgive Pragya Thakur for insulting Bapu”, this whole episode has made millions of Indians worry that the poison of violent intolerance might spread in the coming years.

After all, Pragya Thakur, who is still an accused in a case of terrorism, is not alone in voicing such toxic thoughts. There have been many such voices across the country, and these will surely feel emboldened in the aftermath of a second saffron mandate to Modi.

What could all this do to communal harmony and social cohesion in India? How might Muslims, who have been completely ignored by Modi and his party (there is only ONE Muslim, Saumitra Khan from Bishnupur in West Bengal, among the BJP’s 303 newly-elected MPs) respond to this new situation?

If Modi said “he will never forgive Pragya Thakur”, what specific action will he take against her? Will he show the courage to ask her to resign, and thereby give a clear and categorical signal to all countrymen that he truly wants India to remain “inclusive” (a term from his victory speech) and faithful to Bapu’s basic values and ideals, which are also the basic values and ideals animating the Indian Constitution?

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Modi 2.0 Would Do Well To Recall Words Of Modi 1.0

Modi is an astute politician, undoubtedly the most perceptive politician in India today. He surely knows that the huge mandate the people of India have given him in 2019 carries with it an even bigger responsibility than in 2014. He also knows that people’s expectations from him are far higher now than five years ago. And the people’s mood can change quickly if their hopes and expectations are not met.

Therefore, Modi would do well to recall what he himself said in the above-mentioned 2016 interview to Network 18: “One must always learn and understand. One must have the courage to change oneself.”

So, once again, Narendrabhai, all the best to you.

(The author was an aide to former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has recently founded ‘Forum for a New South Asia’, which advocates India-Pakistan-China cooperation. He welcomes comments at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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