Millennium Post
Anniversary Issue

New India – Reflections

As one increasingly heard and followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially from November, when he made one of his most "disruptionist" announcements of demonetisation, one could not but help recall the words of deep prescience that Dr S Radhakrishnan, philosopher, statesman and former President of India, spoke in the Constituent Assembly on August 14, 1947, on the eve of India's independence. Dr Radhakrishnan had said, "We have to assume the responsibility ourselves for what we do. A free India will be judged by the way in which it will serve the interests of the common man in the matter of food, clothing, shelter and social services. Unless we destroy corruption in high places, root out every trace of nepotism… profiteering and blackmarketing... we will not be able to raise the standards of efficiency in administration as well as in the production and distribution of the necessary goods of life."

Modi's message on the eve of the New Year, 2017, was similar to that of Dr Radhakrishnan's delivered about seventy years ago. The difference – Modi had tasked himself to undertake that national cleansing. As one heard his indefatigable speech on the necessity of rooting out the negatives of corruption, black money, currency racketeering and tax evasion, so that the marginalised and the deprived could benefit and be part of our march towards growth and development, one saw this deep empathy and concern for the common citizen. Interestingly, along with this exhortation, he also appealed and continues to appeal to citizens to take a difficult leap to exceed themselves, despite the momentary challenges and constrictions that would bring.

The response was amazing, flooring many a sceptic and raucous analyst and noisy politician. If electoral referendum was anything to go by, the BJP's win in local and state elections post demonetisation have demonstrated the continuing support of the people. One often heard, during that period, stories of how ordinary Indians have resolved to exceed themselves, to go through the short tunnel of a momentary deprivation so that a thorough cleansing of certain vital aspects of our national life could be effectuated. Some have termed it a call to Satyagraha, while others saw in it the introduction of the moral quotient in a mass dimension – a phenomenon not seen since the Champaran Satyagraha, Mahatma Gandhi's first public movement on return to India.

Modi's recent address to the civil servants also displayed his same concern for effective delivery, so that ordinary lives could be transformed, referring to his initiative of PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation), Modi pointed out that PRAGATI was not only about the use of technology for governance, but it was also about expediting the process of delivery. Why is it that decisions that could have been taken in 24 hours have been left pending for 15 years, affecting governance, affecting lives and arresting the march of development? The process was to evolve a greater synergy between various sections and departments so that a "lubricating cooperation" can evolve. The fundamental inspiration for this exhortation was again, his own concern for the empowerment of the marginalised.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's narrative of "A New India" has in fact caught the imagination of the youth. A decade of indecisiveness, of policy paralysis and fatigue has given way to the articulation of "A New India." Seven decades after independence, this clarion call has begun to reflect the actual state of our collective mind, when aspirations and quest for opportunities are increasingly defining our politics and public articulations.

For Modi "the transition that is happening towards creation of a new India", is happening with elections being increasingly fought on the positive agendas of development and of aspirations. The hesitation among the political class to address the dimensions of "development" is being overcome. Issues of progress, of opportunities and of possibilities are increasingly driving the election narrative this time round. Modi sees this shift as leading towards a "new normal" by rejecting the politics of self-alienation and accepting the politics of performance and of progress. In fact, in the "New India", the politics of appeasement, of casteism and of discrimination and dynastic politics, will see dissolution. The new India has to rise on the rejection of these debilitating maladies.

The "Yuva Shakti" – youth power's dreams are shaping the New India and it is all "about giving opportunities to the poor." The poor, Modi says, do not want crutches, all they ask is for opportunities. The "New India" is all about creating those opportunities. Modi's exhortation for self-renewal has a deep ethical dimension to it. He calls for a purification of our national life through a collective, shuddhikaran (purification). "An India that is driven by innovation, hard work and creativity; an India characterized by peace, unity and brotherhood; and an India free from corruption, terrorism, black money and dirt," can alone evolve into a "New India."

Modi speaks of and reaches out in affirmation. Never once, in the last three years as he has constantly interacted directly with people, has he ever displayed doubt or vacillated on the goal he has set for himself. It is a goal that is transformative and not merely reformative in nature. His initiatives in the last three years has been envisaged with this transformative agenda in mind and in working this out, he has also adopted and internalised the essence of the spirit of federalism. When he talks of "Team India" working to build "New India" as he recently did in his closing remarks at the 3rd meeting of the NITI Aayog, he actually displays that genuine faith of his in our federal spirit. His call of "Ek Bharat, Shresht Bharat," springs from that federal faith, which he seeks to realise through a blending, through assimilation, through an exchange and an internalisation of diversities. New India seems to be responding to his call, it is creating a new energy wave, long after many had predicted that the Modi wave had crashed. New India seems to be creating a new narrative, a narrative that is gradually but surely shaping itself into the dominant one.
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