Prime Minister Narendra Modi in parliament on February 27
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been saying so many unexceptionable and precisely relevant things that I suspect any moment now he may even start believing in them. (I had to get the snidely bile building inside me out).
Listening to his reply in parliament to the 2015 budget debate I was repeatedly struck by how exceptionally correct his narrative is. The prime minister made many telling points but none perhaps more so than his distinction between national philosophy/essential vision and ideology.
He said in Hindi, “राष्ट्र अपनी चीति से चलता है, अपनी philosophy से चलता है Ideology आती है, जाती है और बदलती रहती है। मूल तत्व देश को चलाता है.” (The nation runs on its essential thinking, its philosophy. Ideology comes and goes. It is the national essence that runs the country.)
He then cited two particular ancient Sanskrit verses from the Upnishad to highlight India’s essence/philosophy.
एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति
That which exists is one, sages give it different names
सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः
सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु
मा कश्चिद्दुः खभाग्भवेत्।
May all be happy
May all be healthy
May all perceive auspicious
May no one suffer
Even his most kneejerk detractors would find it hard to fault this view in and of itself. One could fairly argue that invoking ancient and broadly inclusive philosophy of the Indian civilization does not really address the disparate and specific challenges of the 21st century. But then the prime minister did also manage to get to the specifics of our time. One of the frequently heard criticisms against him has been that his is a highly centralized, individualized really, administration flowing from the whims and vision of one person—himself. To them he pointed out his belief in a “policy-driven state” rather than a individual-driven one. “A nation cannot run on the basis of an individual, nor can governments,” he said.
Unlike perhaps any of his predecessors this prime minister has a remarkable ability to connect specific policies with citizens directly, right from self-attestation of documents to cooperative federalism. He is able to take policy out of its dreadful bureaucratic confines and showcase it in a manner that his audience can relate to. I have written about this before. On February 6, 2013, when he was still very much Gujarat’s chief minister I wrote this:
“All speeches by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi have a sanguine tone and are loaded with facts as he sees them as well as a comprehensive explanation about why those facts are the way they are.
Subtly and not so subtly he tries to lead you to the conclusion that he is the reason why good facts are the way they are and bad ones despite his absolute best to alter them. However, he is smart enough to cast all success as collective success and all failure as collective failure.
One may or may not agree with his dissertation but it is delivered with such flourish, joie de vivre even, that those receiving it leave feeling compelled about the content of what they have just been told.
As he seemingly prepares for a national role for himself, and by that I mean only prime ministerial aspiration, Modi may have given what in my assessment could be his most defining national speech yet towards that objective. The speech was given at SRCC Business Conclave in New Delhi to close to 2000 students yesterday.
Over the decades I have heard many politicians talk about development, growth, economy and governance but none as detailed and well-structured as Modi. The ability to relate everything to a single individual among his audience is as essential as it is rare among politicians. Modi clearly possesses that.”
That gift was on full display during his parliamentary reply on February 27. So far so good. The question that frequently crosses my mind is this: Can someone who articulates his convictions and beliefs so precisely do so without actually being sincere about them and, eventually, without implementing at least some of them?
Much of what the prime minister says he wants to do necessarily has a long gestation period. Snap judgments will have to be reined in for the next five years but pretty soon in his term a stage will be reached when trends will begin to emerge to either support or challenge his own assertions, economic, cultural, civilizational and moral. Until then it is best to wait with optimism for the sake of the country.