Narendra Modi: He came, They Saw, They Heard – and were conquered

A New Dawn For India

From the first day when he started his campaign on September 15, 2013 to the last day on May 10, 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has travelled 300,000 km, and addressed nearly 450 rallies in almost 5800 locations.

‘Save one, Ghosi (a constituency in Uttar Pradesh)’ he told the President of his party, Shri Rajnath Singh, when he insisted on handing over to the latter his ‘report card’ before returning to Ahmedabad.

In his own words, ‘as a disciplined soldier, I reported to the party president that the job you have entrusted me I have tried to discharge but I could not do one thing. On May 9, I had to cancel one meeting. There may have been some deficiencies, I may not have been able to live up to all of your expectations.’ And for that one ‘absence’ he expressed his regret to Rajnath Singh for not having fully completed his mission! His next report card, he indicated towards the end of his acceptance speech on being proposed as Prime Minister elect by Shi Advani on Tuesday last in the Lok Sabha, will be in 2019.

From his nomination as prime ministerial candidate to his acceptance speech, I have daily followed practically every part of and about his campaign (debates, panel discussions, the ‘Election Express’, etc) – as much as was shown in the Indian media anyway, mainly on the NDTV and Headlines Today channels, listening to all his major speeches at the various rallies, beginning with the first one that was held after his nomination, in Haryana. And this for various reasons. Firstly as being a part of the Indian diaspora; secondly because of my organic connection with India, having done my basic medical studies there; thirdly because of ties with family, relatives, friends and acquaintances there since 1971, with whom I have over the years shared views on every aspect of life in India (and Mauritius); and lastly – and most importantly – because of having met Shri Narendra Modi several years ago.

Narendra Modi in Mauritius

That was in 1998, when he had come to attend the World Ramayana Conference which was being held at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute. We shared a cup of chai as we sat chatting at a table outside the auditorium, and as far as my memory goes the others present were Shri Yashwant Pathak (delegate from North America) and Shri Rajendra Arun, presently Chairman of the Ramayana Centre. Shri Narendra Modi was then the General Secretary (Organisation) of the BJP, as such a key strategist of the party, and yet he had such humility, a quality which has marked his campaign throughout and was again illustrated when he reported to the Party president.

Shortly after we had had our tea, it was then his turn to take the floor, and naturally I went in to listen to him. It was an unforgettable experience, and to this day I can picture him standing there, delivering that electrifying speech in his unmatched oratorical skill, all of it in pure Hindi with nigh a single word in English, which other speakers had interspersed their talks with. Coming after the equally brilliant and erudite address of Shri Murli Manohar Joshi, who was more soft-spoken, it was a striking contrast. But of course part of the explanation must be Narendraji’s youthful vigour then, as Joshiji is older to him by about 16 years.

Acceptance Speech: 20 May 2014

The intervening years, however, have in no way significantly diminished his physical endurance (witness the duration of the gruelling campaign and the huge distance he has covered), nor the potency of his oratory, as was on display in the apotheosis that his acceptance speech was.

As usual, he spoke extempore, with pauses that were loud in meaning, allowing as they did the preceding words to sink in with their profound message(s). And that speech contained many. But there was also a moment of high emotion, when his eyes filled up and he bent his head forward for a few moments as the packed hall watched in silence, overseen by the patriarch Advani who, too, was visibly having difficulty holding back his emotions.

It was as Modi was responding to the speech made by Advani earlier, in which he had said that Modi had done the party a kripa (favour). He requested Advani not to use this word again, and that’s when he broke down, paused to take a sip of water and, gathering himself, he spoke the words which, among so many other equally powerful ones touched the hearts of all those who were watching and listening to him:

‘Kya ma ki sewa kabhi kripa ho sakti hai? Katai nahin ho sakti hai. Jaise Bharat meri ma hai waise hi Bhajpa (NB: BJP) meri ma hai. Aur isliye beta kabhi ma par kripa nahin karta hai, sirf samarpit bhava se ma ki sewa karta hai.

(Can serving one’s mother mean doing a favour to her? Never, this cannot be. Just like Bharat is my mother, so too is Bhajpa my mother. And that is why a son never does a favour to his mother, he only serves her with dedication).’

To fully appreciate the depth of feeling that these words convey, one must watch the scene where, after his victory, he goes to meet his 90-year old mother. Before she did aarti and put a tika on his forehead, he had touched her feet; she then put her hands on either side of his head and, pulling it towards her own, she leaned forward and locked her forehead in his for some time in silence.

In the Lok Sabha, as expected, there was a loud acclaim, and some in the audience were seen to have their eyes swelling up too. Perhaps that is what a Times of India headline referred to: ‘After shaking up his rivals, Modi moves his party.’ Moved indeed they were, as they rose to applause him several times in the course of the speech.

In a way, the tone was already set when, as he got down from the car and was walking towards the Lok Sabha entrance, he unexpectedly prostrated at the steps to the entrance and touched the first one with his forehead for a good few seconds before he got up and moved on to enter, for the first time in his life, what he called the lok tantra ka mandir: the temple of democracy. ‘In which,’ he went on to add, ‘all of us carry with us the expectations of the 125 crore people of India.’

Core messages in his speech

1.     Responsibility is more important than post and ‘we will have to dedicate ourselves to fulfill this responsibility’;

2.     That is government which thinks about the poor, listens to the poor and which exists for the poor. Therefore, the new government is dedicated to the poor, millions of youth and mothers and daughters who are striving for their respect and honour. Villagers, farmers, Dalits and the oppressed, this government is for them, for their aspirations and this is our responsibility. Our dream is to fulfill their dreams.

3.     The biggest significance of this election result is a new hope that has arisen in the common man. By giving the BJP an absolute majority the people have voted for hope and trust.

4.     Sabka saath, sabka vikas – all together, development for all: this will be government’s motto.

5.     For this to happen, ‘there should be no room for pessimism and because with pessimism nothing can be achieved.’ Describing himself as ‘by nature an optimist,’ he gave the example of the glass of water which he had cited when he addressed students in a Delhi college last year. Everyone says the glass is either half empty or half filled but ‘my thinking is of the third type. I say this glass is half filled with water and half with air.’ And for ‘traversing a constructive path, it is important and essential to be an optimist.’ In this connection he also cited how Gujarat rose from the ruins after the devastating earthquake it suffered in 2001.

6.     He exhorted his 125 crore countrymen to ‘resolve to take one step forward,’ so that then ‘the entire country will travel 125 crore steps forward.’

7.     In the same vein, he went on to say, ‘We were not fortunate to have died for the country, but for every citizen born in independent India, he should dedicate himself to live for the country. Every moment of our lives and every speck of our body should be dedicated to the 125 crore people of this country, we have to carry this dream. The country will then progress rapidly.’

8.     By the same token, instead of people from India going abroad to earn name and fame, ‘we only have to give opportunity to them here.’

9.     And lastly, again that note of humility, ‘Brothers and sisters, once again I express my gratitude to millions of workers who have toiled hard for this victory. The Modi who is standing here and whom you can see is because Modi is hoisted by senior leaders of my party on their shoulders. Whatever we have achieved today is because of sacrifices made by past five generations… We should not forget that we are here today because of sacrifices made by the past generations. This victory is of millions of our workers. If we think like this, there will not be any opportunity for our society and party to have any complaints. BJP is the party which relies on its strong organisation, that is our strength and none of us is either away or above the organisation.’

He and BJP won massively because he was a man who ‘had his ears to the ground, had risen through the ranks, had a proven track record of governance, didn’t have the corruption taint, and had the reputation of being a mass leader. His larger-than-life persona was bolstered by an aggressive publicity campaign put together by an efficient and resourceful machinery.’

A new era for Bharat

There is much that will be written about the huge expectations for Modi and the NDA to deliver on the BJP manifesto, not only from the people of India but from the world at large. Many countries will ‘choose pragmatism over principle’ as they engage afresh with the new dispensation, led by a man who has proven that he can be both principled and pragmatic. He is a genuine patriot who will surely have lessons to teach to the secular brigade who can waffle ad nauseam about something which is so alien to the Indian psyche.

There surely is an alternative paradigm truly native to Bharat, an overarching indigenous value system which can federate and integrate its citizens, and lead them forward towards the acche din, the good days that are promised, the new dawn into which India will, and must arise? For the sake of all Indians, for the sake of the world which awaits with baited breath for the new economic opportunities that loom ahead.

For too many long years India has been bereft of a strong, determined and clear-headed leadership brought up on homegrown values to be proud of and to take pride in, and to be proclaimed to the world.

All great countries have their grand narrative – England its Magna Carta, Westminster system and unwritten Constitution; France its 1789 moment and liberté, fraternité, égalité; Russia its communism, China its Maoism; the US its self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ delivered at Gettysburg.

What is India’s grand narrative? During its campaign for the 2014 elections the Congress Party tiresomely and boringly trumpeted ‘secularism,’ giving jobs to rural areas (in Uttar Pradesh), dole outs, inclusive growth, but there were no clear-cut ideas about the how.

Modi and the BJP, on the other hand, were sending out signals about boosting the investment climate and bringing the necessary reforms; infrastructure building; modernization and use of technology to create smart cities, transport systems and fight corruption; becoming a net exporter of goods to the world instead of having goods dumped into the country; having state of the art armed forces and enhancing the working and living conditions of its personnel; securing the country’s borders and tackling the terrorism challenge more efficiently; developing a waterfront in Varanasi as has been done for Sabarmati in Gujarat – among so many others.

The Prime Minister elect will no doubt have with him the teams and intelligent and dedicated supporters from across the board in the land to usher in a new era for India built on an Indian grand narrative. It seems that once the Chinese ex-President Hu Jintao was asked what keeps him awake at night. His answer was how to create twenty-five million new jobs a year.

That is the scale of the task that awaits Sri Narendra Modi, and of all people in India today he is the one who surely has most prepared himself to take up the challenge.

Jai Hind. Jai Bharat.

 


* Published in print edition on 23 May 2014

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