Is India destined to get its first prime minister from Bharat?

Is India destined to get its first prime minister from Bharat?

Many years ago I saw a Hollywood movie about a white American boy who got admission to a top Ivy League university, but did not get the required financial support from his father.

 The only available financial assistance was restricted to black (African American) applicants so he paints himself black and manages to get the scholarship. He is eventually exposed, but not before he experiences the full brunt of the trials and tribulations of a black person in America. After the revelation, when asked whether, after his experience, he appreciated the true feelings of black people in America his answer was no, because, he said, “I knew that I had the option to change my colour.” 

If one ignores the three-year misadventure of the Janata Party (1977-80), India has almost exclusively been governed by privileged upper class prime ministers – from the suave, Harrow and Cambridge educated Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv and his family. 

These venerable leaders as well as P V Narasimha Rao (Telugu Brahmin) and Atal Behari Vajpayee (UP Brahmin) have tried to understand and address the problems of the “backward” but they always had the luxury of living in their elite social circle. Is this one of the reasons why the majority of our populace – the economically under-privileged, inadequately educated and largely rural – continues to live in difficult conditions even after 67 years of Independence?

Mohandas Gandhi the barrister soon realised that the Indian National Congress would not be able to fire up the imagination of the largely rural and unlettered Indian populace because it was essentially a club of urban upper class Brahmins with tenuous relationship with the common man. Therefore he traded his European attire for the simple dhoti and adopted an austere rural lifestyle so that he could more intimately understand the plight of the masses and make the emotional connect. 

Now, for the first time there seems to be a real prospect of a prime minister who can completely identify himself with Bharat in a way that only Mahatma Gandhi could do. A man who says that he has spent forty or so years of his life in community service and has actually visited and stayed in almost 400 of the 650 districts in the country. Furthermore, he has had very humble beginnings selling tea in railway trains, and is not only a non-Brahmin but is actually from the OBC community. It is therefore not difficult to understand the mass following he has been able to galvanise in a relatively short time.

Whether one loves him or hates him, one cannot deny that Narendra Modi has radically changed the political discourse in the country from parochial pandering in the past to good governance and development. Modi the “chaiwalla” should better understand the hopes and aspirations of the poor and deprived much better than the political elite of the Congress and other parties. Whether he gets the necessary votes will only be clear on May 16, but if he does get to form a government he will in all probability bring a new perspective to policy-making – a departure from the upper class intelligentsia driven dogma that has prevailed till now. If he does not he would have belied the hopes of the millions who vote for him.

A different perspective

Glimpses of Modi’s thinking have emerged from the interviews he has given on TV where he has attempted to redefine the vocabulary of political discourse in the country. Let us consider some examples:

n Inclusive Growth: In the Congress Party  world-view, inclusive growth translates into entitlement legislation – Right to Food, Right to Employment (MGNREGA), Right to Education etc. For the literate, informed, self-respecting and aspirational young people who form the majority of the “common man” this can be construed as a typical rich upper class patronising attitude towards the poor. Inept and corruption-riddled implementation of these schemes further adds to their cynicism. Modi talks of jobs, governance and development. 

n Corruption: Every politician knows that this is a major grouse with the public. The Aam Aadmi Party even managed to strike a chord with the voters on this issue but their strategy is based on a flawed premise that the problem would be solved by bringing in honest politicians and more well-intentioned government intervention. Sixty years of slow rot has institutionalised this menace. Modi has correctly gauged that corruption is so deep-rooted in government that solution lies in reducing government itself. His slogan – “Minimum government, maximum governance”.

n Caste Politics: In the past politics was reduced to caste and community, so much so that the candidates could say or do virtually anything and still win if the caste equations were in their favour. If the caste factor is replaced by job creation and development it is no longer possible to get away by brazenly defending the indefensible. This also means that the common man actually pays attention to what is said. Modi has replaced cliché with common sense which appeals to the common man. 

The cacophony of public discourse during elections drowns the scandalous absence of basic human necessities for the majority that constitutes Bharat. Simple things like clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, roads and the prospect of earning a decent living, would give much more satisfaction and happiness to “Bharat-vasis” than a non-functional university, half built government, or schools without teachers or toilets. Our leaders are not unaware of this; they find it easier to play vote bank politics.

I hope that the man from Bharat, if elected to lead this great country, will honestly and successfully address these simple needs of Bharat, and break with the ugly traditions set by his predecessors.

(The writer is a former professor of management)

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