PM Modi Thinks India Needs Dreams & Fables — Political & Economic

Prime Minister Modi revels in pep talks but what specific message did he have for those who are suffering?

Updated13 May 2020, 01:01 PM IST
5 min read

Once earlier, while writing for this website, past midnight I had peered over desolate sodium-lamp lit streets from my balcony and pondered about the fate of thousands of migrant workers trudging back home, many on empty stomachs. It is past fifty days since the largest post-partition human migration started after nationwide lockdown was clamped and public transport terminated without prior notice.

Atticus Finch, the fictional character from Harper Lee's iconic To Kill A Mockingbird, in one of his pearls of wisdom to daughter, Scout, said: “You never know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk about in them.” For a moment, let's imagine ourselves as those lumbering to villages and towns, and ask—what was there in it for me? More precisely—what specific message did Prime Minister Narendra Modi have for those who have so far escaped the coronavirus yet taken the full brunt of the pandemic and a state deficient in its response?

What Does PM Modi Mean by Self Reliance?

PM Modi grabbed the headlines with his non-specific announcement of a Rs 20 lakh crore Atma-Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan or Self-Reliant India Campaign. The details, he said, would be announced over the next few days by the finance minister and these shall be keenly awaited.

Love for alliterations never deserts the prime minister. He tailored one for how India can propel itself towards self-reliance—“Land, Labor, Liquidity and Laws all have been emphasized in this package.” While the devil is always in the fine print, Modi ensured that over the next few days—till specifics of the package are being announced—the principal focus of the news narrative shall be on these announcements.

This is not the first time during lockdown Modi talked about self-reliance and its necessity at this juncture. In the interaction with Sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats from across the country through video conferencing, on the occasion of National Panchayati Raj Day on April 24, Modi propounded that the biggest message or lesson (sabak) of the pandemic is that we will have to become self-reliant.

He elaborated the concept of ‘we’: “Villages, at their own level, have to be self-sufficient for their basic necessities, districts at their level, states have to manage primary needs on their own and this is the way the entire nation should become self-reliant. For our needs we should never feel the need to turn to anyone, this has become absolutely necessary.”

The Curious Case of Contradictions

In his address to the nation on 12 May he, however, only talked of national self-reliance although at another point asking people to be “vocal about local.” Yet, like on the previous occasion, self-contradictions abound: he talked of the need to develop self-sufficiency and reforming the supply chain and claimed that self-reliance “also prepares the country for a tough competition in the global supply chain. And today it is the need of the hour that India should play a big role in the global supply chain.”

Mention of reforms in India is often akin to waiving a red flag in a ring packed with members of swadeshi brigade, many of who cramp his political fraternity. Already Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has directed state units to oppose changes in labour laws in the BJP governed states.

But if the idea of reforms raises heckles within the parivar, self-reliance spiel acts as a pacifying agent. In his online Baudhik, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, lauded Modi for his previous pitch on self-reliance at the panchayat interaction. Undoubtedly, while talking of reforms is a necessity on the global fora, talking about self-reliance is a political necessity. For all his popularity, Modi remains reliant on the RSS network as there is no knowing when the socio-economic disarray in rural India becomes politically worrying.

PM Modi’s Carefully Chosen Politically Loaded Words

Modi’s coinage, bachna bhee hai, aage badhna bhee hai (we have to stay alert while making progress) is astutely crafted for it conveys that it is the responsibility of states to take care of protection part, while progress or development is Modi's brief.

The prime minister revels in pep talks. He may end up converting many into feeling that despite forecast of significant contraction of India’s GDP in 2020 (despite the quip of “Rs 20 lakh crore in 2020”) the 21st century shall indeed be India’s.

Modi wants people to be partners in this project without specifying how exactly can they be.

Not just the future, even the past was golden, according to the prime minister. He is not the one to fail slipping a political message subliminally: “We have a proud history of centuries. When India was prosperous, it was called the golden goose, and it always walked tall for the welfare of the world. Then the times changed, the country was caught in the chains of slavery, we longed for development.” Anyone who has heard Modi's election speeches wherein he mentioned “bara sau saal ki ghulami” (twelve hundred years of slavery) would comprehend the underlying message.

A self-reliant India, Modi declaimed would stand on five pillars. This is a wordsmith's formulation: Among them is economy that will make a quantum jump instead of incremental change; system driven by technology and most importantly ‘demand’. But just as it was not spelt out how economy can make a quantum jump, there is no explanation how demand can be sustained without consumption and in a society where people are preparing to scrape fast-emptying barrels.

Distributor of Hopes and Dreams

It is often said that one take Modi out of Gujarat, but one can't take Gujarat out of him. He referred to the spectacular recovery of Kutch after the devastating earthquake of January 2001. It is the same mistake he has often made since 2014—imagining India as an expanded form of Gujarat. What worked, or was possible there, may not be workable elsewhere. Moreover, the challenge and context are different.

Since #Lockdown3 became inevitable, it was suspected that Modi was unwilling to take onus for it and this was confirmed in his address. The guidelines for #Lockdown4 will come in due course, probably in the form of a press release and states will be the one to earn ire of people if relaxation are not as per expectations.

The closest Modi came to indicating a stimulus plan for the informal sector was when he indicated a package for “street vendors, hawkers, labourers, those who are working in homes” those who have “done a lot of penance during this time... sacrificed a lot.” Important decisions promised for the “poor, labourers, migrant labourers, cattle rearers, be our fishermen, organized sector or unorganized sector” will be most keenly awaited.

PM Modi remains the distributor of hope and dreams. Can the most powerful person in the country stand in the shoes of the proverbial last man in the line to see how life in India looks?

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Published: 13 May 2020, 06:38 AM IST
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