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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2611

Buck stops with Prime Minister Modi

By Philip Fernando in LA

With a decimated Opposition and a vibrant mandate that soaked up India’s immense diversity both ethnic and geographical, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is destined to lead resolutely. The buck stopped with him. He has no compulsion of coalition theatrics like under Congress Party rule. That is what would suit his style of governance.

Modi has accrued more power than most other executive heads have enjoyed in India for decades and the BJP mandate is to all intense and purpose his own. He had almost a free hand in picking his Cabinet. India has given him precisely what he asked for. His coalition is not a political arrangement but a social one of diverse stake-holders, an amalgam that emerged like tributaries merging into a mammoth river as seen during the long months of the election campaign when Congress lost supporters in droves.

Mandate also came with challenges

That social umbrella coalition has to be kept serviced. Fissures are part and parcels of politics and Modi must have enough curative options at hand to deal with those. The stake-holders are diverse and perhaps too many. His base, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and big corporate India must co-exist—yet not every plank in the BJP platform dovetails to every one’s liking. The RSS and BJP’s traditional base of small shopkeepers have issues to settle while Modi’s avowed growth targets to revive the economy must unify everyone.

Private sector’s role in development may cut into the traditional rural norms of acquisitive prerogatives. The Swadeshi Jagran Manch, during Prime Minister Vajpayee years, made its aversion to the corroding impact of profit based-economic norms that the private sector espoused. Modi is a slick internationalist quite at home with foreign multinationals. Would that go well with the overall Indian psyche attuned to a home-grown economic parlance?

Pan Hindu nationalism

There are some more direct political challenges. Pam-Hindu consolidation in North India is central to Modi mystique, though this is not necessarily a ‘communal vote’ since different segments voted for different reasons. The Hindu hierarchy would automatically expect pre-eminent treatment for its organizational support in mobilizing millions into the Modi camp—there are some explosive matters Modi must tackle immediately— be it Ram Mandir, or dropping the cases related to ‘Hindutva’ militant attacks. At the same time Modi must not antagonize the more moderate Hindu constituency that gave him his veneer of reasonableness that erased his past bigotry.

Modi has to balance out the perks—what is known as sharing the pork barrel—appointments and other gratuities to keep his loyal followers contented. RSS must not be allowed to monopolize things and thus squander away the votes that BJB garnered. The RSS promoted its folks who can push their agenda. There would be a constant conversation on many issues. Some may want to re-write text books to bring in the Hindu orthodox backgrounds into vogue while the more pluralistic middle and upper middle class urban base of Modi may want their children have other choices.

Poverty reduction mandate

Modi is reputedly committed to greater influx of big capital, eager to see growth at break-neck speed. Land would be a key issue if the investors seek areas for manufacturing sites while a large segment of the rural poor would resist any encroachment into their lands. Modi would need to tread gingerly on many issues be it environmental impacts on massive infrastructure growth, fiscal pragmatism, catering to social welfare expenditure—the list is long.

Raising income levels must occupy the immediate attention in order to induce folks to get off welfarism—easily said than done. Many other areas would impact society in general—education, electrification and clean water etc. Some of the States would have to be incorporated into the national plan that Modi envisages.

The urban poor may require more drastic remedies. Housing and employment targets must meet the pressing needs. Modi could show-case a fair achievement level about those due to his stewardship as a governor. Things may need reassessing as a national program takes shape.

Foreign policy options

Modi campaign never failed to hammer the threat to India’s security, often using blunt rhetoric against Pakistani terror. Modi has displayed better judgment and dexterity in inviting Nawaz Sharif and Mahinda Rajapaksa, among other leaders, to his swearing in. But will he be able to stay the course? What happens after the first terror attack? Or when The Tamil Nadu demands to get involved in things across Palk Strait?

If Modi responds with restraint, recognizing the multiple power centers that operate in Pakistan and their threat, he loses the supporter from those who voted for him because of his rhetoric. But if he does something rash, it could undermine national interest and escalate risks? Again if he gives in to the tantrums from the Southern state he would lose his hold on centralized policy making that characterized Congress Party rule. While it is too early to state whether he will succeed in reconciling these contradictions, it is s safe bet that Modi is inclined to set his own mark on many of these things. His governance style and political management offers clues on how he will approach issues.

Style of governance

Modi had relied on a compact and manageable governing style as governor and would most likely follow the same as Prime Minister. A strong PM Office would emerge. A group of key experienced bureaucrats would see to the supervision of departments. No minister would dare to be a recalcitrant ruler unto himself or herself —Modi would have a greater supervisory arrangement. It may look like a workable corporate board rather than a sprawling government agency. Modi had already earned the wrath of some due to his tendency to concentrate power during his time as governor.

Modi would take responsibility for errors or acts of omission rather than blame anyone else but he would not tolerate shirkers according to most analysts. It was a pleasing site to see Modi touch senior leader LK Advani’s feet after winning the election. In the final analysis, Modi’s governance style would be a refreshing change for many in Delhi. The bureaucrats will definitely be held to a high standard and not allowed to run free. The stakes are very high for Modi because the mandate made it so.

- Asian Tribune -

Buck stops with Prime Minister Modi
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