Modi sounds two right notes
It has certainly struck a chord. Prime minister-elect Narendra Modi, ever since his historic and teary-eyed inaugural speech in Parliament’s Central Hall, has been carefully smoothening out the rough edges of his strongman personality, adding the much-needed ingredients of approachability and negotiability to this demeanour. On Wednesday, Modi once again surprised all and sundry, including its staunchest critics in the buildup to the Referendum 2014, by carrying out two routine tasks with great flourishes of inventiveness. First was naming his successor to lead Gujarat government and finding a suitable candidate in Anandiben Patel, the first woman chief minister of the state. The second was to extend invitation to all the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders for his swearing-in ceremony, a gesture that has attracted global kudos and has sent ripples of readjustment through roads leading to the White House. Both the decisions have been firm and unambiguous in their sweep and have appealed to political participators, commentators and citizens across the divide. In picking Anandiben Patel, hitherto Gujarat’s urban development minister, Modi showed his trademark acumen and ability to trump expectations only to overshoot them. Patel, like Modi himself, comes from a humble rural background, who had a long stint as a schoolteacher before joining politics. In 1994, she was nominated to the Rajya Sabha and ever since, has been tirelessly serving the state, first as education minister in Keshubhai Patel cabinet and then going on to handle key ministries in Modi government. Under her stewardship, girls’ dropout rate in school went down from 37 per cent to two per cent, evidently one of the best scores nationally. Patel also has strong support among the cadres, in addition to her ‘clean and devoted’ image, which would go a long way in ensuring good, modern governance in the state, perhaps even bring it out of the shadow of Brand Modi.
Secondly, in extending invitations to all the South Asian neighbours, the yet-to-form Prime Minister’s Office under Narendra Modi has, in a noteworthy measure, renewed the emphasis on bolstering subcontinental ties first and then looking long-distance. Inasmuch as Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was one of the first international leaders to congratulate the newly-elected prime minister of India, reciprocating the gesture does not not only mean returning diplomatic niceties but carries tremendous strategic implication. Although Modi’s poll campaign was peppered with derogatory references to Pakistan, to the extent that his critics were advised to leave India to find refuge in the neighbouring country, it is now evident that all the recklessness was merely for the temporary purposes of electioneering. Strengthening of bilateral ties, cooperating on cross-border terrorism and getting the ‘most favoured nation’ status should top the agenda of both New Delhi and Islamabad. Similarly, relations with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka must be based on mutual needs and not be held hostage to our regional satraps, who bypass national interest to boost their own smaller electoral egos. Even though his poll-time tactics can’t be condoned, Modi’s new avatar purports to be more inclusive than his critics had allowed for and this is a good beginning.