Last Friday India announced its first prime ministerial candidate, Shri Narendra Modi, for the upcoming general elections due to be held in about 7-8 months. This was done publicly by the party to which he belongs, namely the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), after a meeting of their Parliamentary Board in the afternoon.
It was Shri Rajnath Singh, party president, who did the honours. The apparent dark spot was the absence of the BJP patriarch Shri Lal Krishna Advani who, however, two days later at a public meeting expressed his full support for and congratulated the nominee, who had been his choice as chief minister of Gujarat in October 2001, and is currently serving his fourth term.
In the ensuing, and ongoing, debates in India about this important development on the political scene there, one of the comments heard was that this nomination was ‘an exception to the politics of dynasty’ in the country. This was a reference to the Nehru-Gandhi led Congress Party which has been in power for most of the 65 years since India’s independence.
Lord Megnath Desai, well-known economist, was of the view that this was a great example of social mobility, as Narendra Modi came from very humble origins. His father had held a tea stall at the railway station in their village Vadanagar, and when he was six years old, Narendra Modi too had sold tea there. From that situation to become an acclaimed chief minister and then prime ministerial candidate was indeed a remarkable journey.
An incident some years ago relating to him as chief minister may illustrate his style of functioning. Hailing from different parts of India, a few members of the organizing committee for a major scientific conference to be held in Gujarat had gone there to meet Narendra Modi by prior appointment, 6.30 pm. When they reached his office, they were told that the chief minister was away at another meeting and that he would not be coming till late at night.
Rather surprised, they told the officer that there must be some misunderstanding because they had definitely been given an appointment, and requested that perhaps he could phone and find out. He was very reluctant to do so, but finally at about 7 he put the call through, whereupon he was told to make the visitors comfortable, and inform them that Shri Narendra Modi would be there shortly.
Which is what happened after a while, and he started by expressing his profound apologies. They had come to seek his commitment and some assistance. He was to be the chief guest and deliver the keynote address: done; they sought his approval for an already identified official venue: done; they needed some help for the logistics of the conference: done; finally, could they have some financial assistance: that too was accorded.
Shri Modi duely entered all this in his laptop, rose to apologize once again, before wishing them well and excusing himself for leaving them rather quickly – after a few minutes – because he had to travel back to the meeting he had left, 40 km away!
No wonder governance in Gujarat since he took over has been acknowledged as a very strong point in his development record. Perhaps the most significant pointer in this regard is the re-building of practically a new city altogether after the earthquake in Bhuj in the Kutch region of Gujarat, which occurred on the morning of the Republic Day of India on 26 January 2001.
It killed around 20,000 people, injured another 167,000 and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes, with shock waves that spread 700 km. 21 districts were affected and 600,000 people left homeless, with destruction of about 60% of food and water supplies. The biggest set back was the total demolition of the Bhuj Civil hospital.
Today Bhuj is a thriving commercial centre. Equally impressive have been the improvements in healthcare in Gujarat, especially in matters of reproductive health, with almost 100% of deliveries being conducted by SBAs (Skilled Birth Attendants). As mentioned by LK Advani, all villages in Gujarat have been provided with electricity under Modi’s watch. Further, he has innovated in the development of solar energy, with the result that Gujarat now has a surplus of power which is exported to neighbouring states.
There are many other socio-economic indicators by which the state has been assessed, as discussed in detail by two distinguished economists from Columbia University, USA, namely Professors Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya in their recent book India’s Tryst With Destiny. Other indicators are to be found in the Sachar Committee Report which was commissioned by the present government on the situation of minorities in India, and again Gujarat comes out with good marks.
All this to say that the man has an established track record to his credit and that makes him a legitimate and strong contender as India’s next prime minister, despite some vociferous naysayers who include another economist, the Nobel Amartya Sen. During debates conducted in the Indian media some time back, unfortunately he came out as more prejudiced than objective towards the track record of Narendra Modi in Gujarat, but we will let the economists spar on that one because there are issues of techniques, methodology and schools of thought that determine approaches each of which can be as valid and defendable as the other.
As for Narendra Modi, both during his intervention at the Lady Shri Ram College of Commerce in New Delhi in February this year, and at the rally held in Haryana last Sunday – the first after his nomination – he has shown that he is focused on issues such as economic growth and rising inflation, foreign policy, the defence of India’s territorial integrity and so on, and not personalities.
Despite being finger-pointed as being a polarising person in Indian politics – but who is not in politics worldwide!! – he is very modern in his approach, and believes in P2G2: People Power, Good Governance, with a strong conviction that it is the intelligent youth of India (who have demonstrated their skills and competence in the IT sector in particular) who must take the country forward, with him and others of his ilk and generation being the facilitators, and mere custodians of India’s wealth which belongs to all its people, shorn of labels and categories such as minority/majority.
Objectively, a winning agenda for the 2014 general elections in India.
* Published in print edition on 20 September 2013