Arun Shourie in a recent interview to NDTV has perhaps best captured the agenda for the newly-elected Government led Narendra Modi. He simply said: “Modi would like to succeed as a builder of modern India.” Succinct, all-encompassing, and pregnant with possibilities, hope, and accomplishment, all resting on an impeccable and proven track record of Narendra Modi’s three consecutive stints as Gujarat Chief Minister.
To my mind, if Narendra Modi does actually be known in the future fitting Arun Shourie’s description of the man, he will have accomplished a truly mammoth feat: of writing the preface to the history of a post-Congress India. A history where the six-decade Congress rule will be remembered like how Germany remembers Hitler’s rule. And this has nothing to do with whether Narendra Modi will still be the Prime Minister of India when he’s 100 years old. It has to do with his legacy of ushering in this post-Congress India.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The Congress party and the dynasty itself are perhaps facing a survival crisis. However, Congressism is still alive and thriving: in the form of regional parties which still follow the Congress template of divisiveness, patronage, tokenism, loot, dynasty, freebies, and an open contempt for the Constitution and laws. Also in the latest morphed form known as Aam Aadmi Party.
But then, going purely by just three gestures from Narendra Modi after his stupendous victory that in my view heralds the post-Congress India.
The first is the Ganga Arati. Narendra Modi is the first ever Prime Minister post Independence who as the (imminent) leader of the entire nation publicly showed that he accurately understood the cultural DNA that has kept India united despite the best efforts of Congress party to force Indians to forget it. He didn’t merely understand it at an intellectual level: he has internalized this civilizational consciousness, the only DNA that binds all of us. Which is why he sat there throughout the entire arati instead of making a few symbolic gestures and photo-ops and leaving after a few minutes. And the media which was forced to broadcast this live could simply not summon the courage to call this act communal.
2. Prostrating on the steps of the Parliament: Again, the first ever Prime Minister to do this. Almost all earlier Prime Ministers had simply trodden over those hallowed steps. And the sight of Narendra Modi prostrating before it in full glare of the nation caring neither for his image nor any notion of modernity reminds us of this deeply evocative verse that was once recited in all Hindu households as soon as one woke up:
Samudra Vasane Devi |
Parvata Stana Mandale ||
Vishnupatni Namastubhyam |
Paada Sparsham Kshamasvame ||
O Mother Earth, who has the ocean as clothes and mountains and forests on her
body, who is the wife of Lord Vishnu, I bow to you.
Please forgive me for touching you with my feet.
And neither was it a mere gesture for what he said in his speech that followed emphasized and re-emphasized the genuineness of his feeling: Narendra Modi referred to the Parliament as a “mandir.”
3. His speech in the Central Hall where he invoked the word “kripa,” (grace)–a concept rooted in the Vedic tradition–and re-reminded the Indian people that the occupier of the highest office of the land is “but a servant upon whom is bestowed the divine grace to serve the Motherland,” and not someone who has the divine right to rule. Narendra Modi’s speech reminded me of the warning that priests used to give kings upon coronation. They would gently hit the king thrice with a stick upon his head and utter, “[this is a reminder that] the king shall always be dharmic.”
Undoubtedly, these three heartfelt gestures were the fitting finale to a marathon campaign whose intent and message were as consistent as they were sincere. For the first time since 1952, there has emerged a leader who has truly connected to almost every section of the Indian people and society, and in a way that nobody has ever managed to. Let’s look at this in some detail.
Election is war. And no one in their right senses will go to war with the express intent to lose because there is no such thing as coming second in a war. And the way to win a war is to have the sole goal of decimating the enemy, and one of the means to do that is the use of overwhelming force.
Narendra Modi’s election campaign is in the recent times, the best illustration of both of these: if his rockstar type of political rallies attended by lakhs of people in every single place he campaigned and tore into the Congress is the sign of said overwhelming force, then the utter destruction of the Congress–which doesn’t even have the numbers to be leader of Opposition–is the illustration of said decimation.
An excellent insight into war is found in Dr. S L Bhyrappa’s Parva, where Bhishma tells Duryodhana that “you must have an unshakable conviction in the purpose that motivated you for going to war before actually getting on the battlefield.” And Bhishma further says that the Pandavas “have that kind of conviction, but look at your side? Is this war absolutely inevitable for anybody on your side except you?” And still further, Bhishma tells Duryodhana, “patting his head affectionately: child, you must win a kingdom by actually fighting on the battlefield, and not by stealing it in an unfair game of dice.”
That important tidbit from the Mahabharata accurately illustrates the nearly six-decade-long Congress rule of India. The Congress has literally gambled away the enormous goodwill it had accumulated for its role in the freedom struggle and destroyed at least four generations apart from impoverishing the nation on an industrial scale.
Indeed, until the arrival of Narendra Modi, India never really emerged from under the gargantuan Banyan tree of the Congress that never let anybody grow under its sprawling shadow, whose oppressive roots ensured that nothing of substance grew anywhere nearby. While the BJP-led NDA Government from 1998-2004 was successful on the economic front, it did nothing to craft an energetic alternate narrative: a narrative rooted in nativity, drawn from India’s millennia-old meditations, philosophy, statecraft, art, music, literature and wisdom with which every Indian even today connects subconsciously. It’s true that the NDA did take economic liberalization to a new standard but it did so within the still-thriving realm of Nehru’s “socialistic pattern of society” that was the prevailing narrative. Even worse, it failed to institutionalize existing alternative narratives so powerfully and painstakingly built by people like Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup, Koenraad Elst, Arun Shourie, and others. Indeed, it retained the Congress structures but merely coated them with new paint.
The solution the NDA regime was looking for was the total uprooting of that Banyan tree.
And so, the consequences, when they came were hardly surprising: the 2004-2014 decade must go down in the BJP’s history as the truly lost decade.
Even till the time Narendra Modi’s campaign got off to a start, it appeared as if lots of top BJP leaders were content to remain in permanent Opposition rather than get their hands and legs dirty to mount a spirited offensive to capture power. Neither did they stop at that: even as recently as about three weeks ago, these stateless leaders (to borrow Arun Shourie’s phrase) were thinking like their opponents: our tally will touch a maximum of say 180 or 212 seats.
And so the 282 tsunami not only sent the Congress and the rest to a state of permanent shock, it also sent these stateless leaders to a similar state. Which is what makes these elections a harbinger of a truly post Congress India.
It is instructive to head back and read the reports published in newspapers during Nehru’s heydays. Almost every single paper used to glorify and count as Nehru’s “towering achievement” something that the nation had to be actually ashamed of: begging for and getting aid from the West. Indeed, ever since Nehru took over as the first Prime Minister up to P.V. Narasimha Rao, India’s economy was an aid economy.
The colonialists were long gone but the colonized reveled in perpetuating their all-round colonization from generation to generation.
And it is finally this message that was at the heart of Narendra Modi’s campaign. Analyze his pet themes during the campaign: a robust economy built by Indians using indigenous ideas and talent, an appeal to a return to pan-Indian cultural ethos (the massive throngs cheering him as he railed down against the “pink revolution”), and a call to restore pride to India.
Indeed, Narendra Modi’s slogan of a Congress mukt (free) Bharat is precisely that: an energetic call for total decolonization. And this is what I mean by post-Congress India. And this is what is the final import of Arun Shourie’s observation of Narendra Modi succeeding as the builder of a modern India.
Sandeep Balakrishna is a columnist and author of Tipu Sultan: the Tyrant of Mysore. He has translated S.L. Bhyrappa’s “Aavarana: the Veil” from Kannada to English.