His connect with bharat ki ek sau pachchees crore janta (India’s 125 crore population) remains unparalleled, the tendency not to play on expected lines and set the agenda on his terms even more so. All this makes Prime Minister Narendra Modi a divisive yet charismatic figure. It wasn’t always like this, but now, “government" invariably means “Modi". That’s the halo the man has crafted for himself—and that carefully crafted halo could just be his undoing one day.
A weak opposition has only helped the leader.
Rahul Gandhi might have become endearing but his disappearance at crucial times raises questions over his commitment and seriousness. Gandhi may have to wait for some time before he finds national acceptance.
On the other hand, Modi connects with the masses directly, doesn’t care to please all, and requires neither the media nor an interlocutor—all of these are characteristics that win him both admirers and critics. People find the wide-armed hugs a bit too much but feel his diplomacy has been a success.
The stance the world powers took when India targeted terrorist camps in Balakot in Pakistan after the Pulwama attack is cited as a direct impact of his brand of diplomacy. His globe-trotting and his speeches about development have created a sense of pride in the diaspora.
Expectations were huge in 2014 when he came to power. Having his ear to the ground, Modi seems to know what people expect from him. And he manages to retain their trust in him to deliver, erasing any past under-performance from their memory with the way he phrases his ideas. One example was demonetisation: watching the rich stand in queue was a sadistic pleasure for the lower and the middle classes.
A large section distrusts the right-wing BJP and its propaganda machine even as it has gone from strength to strength. For some of the “Modi believers", the refrain is “Modi will set it right", for some “media is playing up false news", and for others “the sins of the Muslims are being corrected".
All these are dangerous strains. The average Hindu is as comfortable with ‘sevaiyaan’ as with beef. A population believing in sabka saath sabka vikas (development for all) wants all that nourishment and more. Yet, "minimum government and maximum governance" hasn’t been delivered on expected lines.
While the young are happy ordering food and booking movie tickets, the ordinary citizen’s online experience with many government departments is still poor, despite tall claims of ‘Digital India’ and going cashless. Bureaucratic unwillingness to give up authority and their distrust of the people—ironically, the same thing Modi accused the previous Congress government of perpetuating—have all combined to ensure that digitization is still just an add-on to the paperwork that it was supposed to replace.
Movie streaming is a pleasure with faster internet speeds, but booking a railway ticket or filing an online request with the transport department remains a long-drawn nightmare.
Rahul Gandhi’s suit-boot jibe, in the early days of the Modi government, hurt hopes of a full embrace of capitalism that businesses wanted from Modi. Good money still chases bad money, and the government continues to pour the taxpayer’s money into inefficient public sector companies. Any nationalist, any day, would prefer Singtel-backed Airtel over the government’s MTNL. Inflation control may be a success but the farmer is dejected. He wants more buck for the bread he produces.
Women are happy with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Ujjwala scheme and a muscular prime minister, but no mother wants her child being beaten in a college for a harmless slogan, even if it says "tukde tukde".
India is moving on and it doesn’t need sops. Not just legacies, it would be happy putting aside caste and religion too. The Uber/Zomato generation wants delivery, of not just the taxi and the food, but also of governance, without fear and favour. People want to do the hard work and it’s perfectly fine if they go to Harvard. It does take a lot of that to go there. Propaganda aside, guess the mass leader knows that too.
Dhirendra Tripathi is senior editor at Mint.
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