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 (Jayachandran/Mint)
(Jayachandran/Mint)

Opinion | The über-nationalism of Narendra Modi

His historic victory testifies to the appeal of a rare form of leadership, one that puts India first. As a leader habituated to success, his main task now is to help all Indians prosper

Never misunderestimate a leader who knows both his country and exactly what he wants to achieve. The prefix “mis" is especially for those who failed to grasp what Prime Minister Narendra Modi—whose ascent to the top will be studied for decades to come—accomplished in his first five years of power. Not only has he shifted the political centre of gravity decisively rightwards, he has effected a paradigm shift of singular significance. He strove for a “New India", a saffron socialist republic of sorts, one that could be moulded in his own über- nationalist image. He has a massive electoral mandate now. Only rare leadership could have done this, and the credit is largely his.

As a leader, Modi’s style defies virtually every template of the past, but his efficacy as one can be analysed on the basis of “the 7 habits of highly successful people" outlined by self-help guru Stephen R. Covey. “Be proactive" is the first habit, and Modi has been nothing if not pre-emptive of anything that could get in the way of his ambitions for India. He has managed to turn every potential adversity to his advantage, be it his social sector drive after Rahul Gandhi’s “suit boot" barb, his muscular response to external aggression, or the conversion of his watchman’s pitch into a rally chant of vigilance against a variety of threats to national well-being. In all, the Prime Minister’s circle of influence has expanded in consonance with his circle of concern, even as he widened the appeal of his Bharatiya Janata Party to various groups of have-nots left out earlier. “Begin with the end in mind" is the second habit, and his goal orientation has been evident in almost every move. As for “Put first things first", while critics felt let down by his patchy economic reforms, consolidation of power was perhaps his top priority. On “Think win-win", his record has been mixed. His stance was stoutly “win-lose" vis-a-vis the Congress, for example. Also, he’s not popular with every segment of India. Yet, he appears to have bridged a caste cleavage that goes back to Mandal politics, and his schemes have signalled that he doesn’t see welfare as a zero-sum game of winners and losers. “Seek first to understand and then be understood" is the fifth habit. Yes, Modi gets it. His feel of the majority’s pulse is attributable to his empathy with the lived reality of people, just as his teary contrition after demonetization was a lesson in how their trust could earn him a pardon. “Synergize" is sixth, and his triumph offers testimony to flawless coordination of the BJP machinery. “Sharpen the saw", the final habit of getting better and better at one’s core skills, was exemplified by his cave meditation at Kedarnath on the eve of polls in Varanasi, where slogans of “Ghar ghar Modi, har har Modi" five years ago had heralded the sheer audacity of his campaign to transform India.

Armed now with a spectacular mandate for “India first", he should draw our attention back to the future. It calls for grace. On the social front, he ought to reach out to those who felt alienated by the fervour generated by electoral rhetoric. On the economy, he must press ahead with hard reforms aimed squarely at India’s factor markets for land, labour and capital. In general, he needs to aim for five years of peace and prosperity. After all, he has shown he has what it takes to take the country along.

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