This appeared in Asian Age...
India’s mood swings…Elections 2014
Simon Denyer, the former India Bureau chief of the Washington Post, has published a book titled ‘Rogue Elephant’. In an interview he claimed he was very optimistic about India, underlining what makes India a better nation than its main rival, China. “ I believe democracy is what makes India great.” Given the importance Indians give to opinions expressed by foreigners ( read: Western press), don’t be surprised if Denyer’s quotes are liberally used by political parties of varied hues, to push their agendas as D-Day ( 7th April) rolls up. With less than a month to go before this rogue elephant goes to the polls, the mood of the moment is decidedly devilish. The voter can identify more villains than heroes in the wide open field, and that is hardly comforting! With just one certainty in place ( If the BJP gets its calculations right and forms the next government at the Centre, Narendra Modi will become the Prime Minister of India) , there is enough ammunition / provocation built into that reality to make several citizens nervous. More than India’s citizens,such an eventuality is making our neighbours jittery. Understandably so.During an invigorating panel discussion at the Lahore Lit Fest in February, several questions were built around the Modi Effect. Audience anxiety was palpable as concerned Pakistanis expressed their fears for the future of Muslims in India. I wanted to reassure them that if Modi does indeed become Prime Minister ( and let me state at this crucial juncture that I have been a very vocal critic of Modi ), he will go out of his way to placate India’s Muslim population that makes up a good 15 % ( approximately) of our 1.3 billion people. Not because he has had a dramatic change of heart. He will do so because he is one of the shrewdest politicians in the world right now. Modi is ambitious enough to seek a place in history books - a place that shows him in a good light. He is also astute enough to realize how important it is for him to undo the past, or at any rate, pretend to do so. He has to make amends, in order to lead the country. Modi may never ever be in a position to obliterate Godhra from public memory and debate, but given the chance to head the next government, he will need to prove his secular credentials convincingly and emphatically. Especially when it comes to America – a country that has yet to grant Modi a visa. This should come as a great relief to those who believe Modi will suppress and oppress India’s minorities. No Sir, he won’t! There is far too much at stake. And as Prime Minister, Modi will go flat out to overturn his old reputation. More than anything else, Modi now wants to position himself as a global player. In order to achieve that objective, he will have to woo world leaders. And the best way to woo them is via commerce. Investments. Money. Trade. Commerce does not go well with hate politics. Muslims will be safer and far better off in Modi’s India than with anybody else.
The ‘anybody else’ in this case is Rahul Gandhi. A well meaning gentleman not known for his intellectual prowess.And certainly not equipped to lead India. It seems apparent each time one encounters key Congresswallas, that the old party has conceded defeat before a single vote has been cast. Denyer had accurately described Manmohan Singh as a ‘silent but tragic’ figure. With Singh having diminished himself in such an embarrassing fashion, that leaves just Rahul and his mama Sonia, to soldier on valiantly to try and save the party’s tattered image. This, while senior party colleagues make zero attempt to conceal their resigned and vanquished attitude. Perhaps the fatigue of fighting corruption charges on all fronts is finally catching up with Congress party stalwarts and their corporate cronies. This eyes-wide-open response to corruption is a big first in a country that has passively and patiently looked the other way during UPA’s brazen misrule . Today, we can take pride in the fact that India’s vigilant judiciary (and not the army) is calling the shots. There is finally a glimmer of hope that justice does exists in this 66 year-old bumbling democracy. Big guns who’d enjoyed immunity and protection for decades are being systematically reined in by alert law makers. Some of India’s well entrenched sacred cows are being openly targeted by the likes of ‘anarchist’ Arvind Kejriwal. Nobody would have imagined that a person like Subrata Roy, who headed a ….. business empire, would actually be sent to Tihar Jail, where he is presently lodged, sharing a common criminal’s cell with .. other inmates. Kejriwal himself is not being spared by a vigilant media which had made a cult hero out of him just a few months ago. Participating in a vibrant debate in Kolkata recently, it was encouraging to note how energetically the informed and alert audience members grilled the panelists, throwing aggressive questions at everyone, including Salman Khurshid, India’s Minister for External Affairs, and the soft-spoken Yogendra Yadav, the Aam Aadmi Party representative.
This is democracy at its best. 50% of India is under the age of 30. These young people are impressed by just one word – JOBS! Unemployment remains the single biggest issue for these restless, educated boys and girls. There are 70 lakh unemployed people right now. Whichever party manages to cobble the numbers together and form the next government, will need to factor in the frustrated youth of India into the political narrative on a priority basis. Regional parties playing up caste politics, will no doubt act as the big spoilers at the polls. That is how it has always been in India’s political scenario. But beyond narrow mindedness and bigotry, the biggest hope for citizens in Elections 2014 remains the robust economic potential of India. In the right hands, India could still get back its lost position as the world’s third most significant superpower. Forget meaningless debates about New Politics Vs. Old Politics. What India needs is GOOD politics – with zero tolerance shown towards corruption . I feel pretty upbeat we’ll get there soon.