Can Narendra Modi make it work in New Delhi?

Narendra Modi’s victory may have well given him the power to pitch for 2014, but does he have the right credentials?
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First Published: Thu, Dec 20 2012. 06 47 PM IST
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Updated: Thu, Dec 20 2012. 07 21 PM IST
Narendra Modi’s emphatic win in the Gujarat assembly election is bound to set off furious speculation about his move to New Delhi and the possibility of his becoming the Prime Minister of India. The Bharatiya Janata Party to which he belongs has itself blown hot and cold on this, but his victory may have well given him the power to pitch for leading the party in 2014.
Does he have the right credentials for the job?
Consider, first, how he fares with his “rivals”. Virtually none match the combination of his administrative acumen and political skills. The name of his counterpart from Bihar, Nitish Kumar, is bandied about. Kumar, a good administrator, does not generate the same fervour that Modi’s name does. The other contender for the prime minister’s position, Rahul Gandhi, comes nowhere near him in terms of acumen. So, purely on this count, he checks the right boxes.
Next, consider acceptability, both among other political parties (because we are likely to see coalition governments for the foreseeable future unless something changes radically) and the public. It isn’t clear whether Modi, who has had the advantage of being a strong leader at the head of a large legislative majority in Gujarat, currently has what it takes to lead an alliance, although this is a skill that he may well acquire by 2014. It will take some doing, though, given his strong likes and dislikes.
Then, there are the events of 2002, the riots, for which Modi has to accept political and moral responsibility.
In politics, as in life itself, it is futile to hope for perfection, but will India’s public, especially the liberal middle class and minorities, be able to forget 2002? 
Still, that is just one aspect of the situation.
India has lost economic steam. Investment growth has virtually ground to a halt. Highways remain unbuilt, power plants exist only on paper, manufacturing is sclerotic and few quality jobs are being created.
Democracy, as it has been run in India, has led to curious distortions that have exacted a high price from citizens. Policy czars (such as those in the National Advisory Council) and policymakers are wont to confound economic variables with political ones and political issues with moral imperatives. In the end, catchy but ultimately empty, phrases such as “social justice” lead to debilitating outcomes. This confusion is the essence of the policy paralysis that India is afflicted with. There is no other way to sort out these issues except by letting a strong leader radically demolish the cul de sac in which the country finds itself. Modi could well be that leader. He may not be able to walk on water, like some of his supporters believe, but he also doesn’t look like the kind of person who will let the economy sink.
The presence of an ambitious leader such as Modi amid Weimar-like conditions of institutional imbalances conjures fear in some sections and although this isn’t entirely unwarranted, the Lok Sabha is no Reichstag and India’s democratic roots are cemented in the hearts and minds of its people.
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First Published: Thu, Dec 20 2012. 06 47 PM IST