India: Standing up to Narendra Modi
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India: Standing up to Narendra Modi

The controversial Narendra Modi looks like a shoo-in to become India’s next prime minister, but he won’t get it all his own way

The latest exits polls in India predict a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victory. Many harbor misgivings about emergence of a “fascist” Narendra Modi. I have reason to believe it will not be easy for BJP’s PM candidate to turn into the “dictator” that some fear. Though Modi managed to subdue the usually belligerent Arnab Goswami on TV recently, it will not be such a cakewalk always.

The Arnab interview was a disappointment, no doubt. The earlier interaction with Rahul Gandhi too was unexciting, for which the blame lies with the interviewee. There is so much even Arnab can do to enliven a dull conversation. Even a Salman Khan-film can flop if the script and direction are not up to scratch. With Modi, the eye contact was feeble.

At least a couple of times, Arnab referred to his notes on being counter-queried by Modi. That is not the usual Arnab, who otherwise revels in aggressive gesticulations, papers and notes in hand, accompanied by shrill barbs and garbled decibels all round, also good for ratings. With Modi, not once did Arnab utter his signature phrase, “The nation wants to know.”

I was disappointed, but I do feel there are those who will be more than willing to take on Modi, unlike Arnab, and are not going to let him get away so easily.

This is important for Indian democracy. I believe Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, for one, is going to become a factor against Modi.


Priyanka Gandhi. Pic: AP.

Though her campaign and impact has been late and limited this summer, it is unlikely to be so in future. The clamor for a larger role for Priyanka will rise, given declining political fortunes of her family that naturally extends to Congress party. Her speeches are good, sharp, interactive, funny, cheesy, unpredictable and spontaneous, unlike her brother who can be consistently distant, abstract, self-conscious, obsolete and boring.

Not a very happy situation when politicians in India need to be consummate entertainers to appeal to huge crowds braving raging summer temperatures. There are signs of a street-fighter in Priyanka. She is a good communicator. These are crucial attributes when Parliamentary elections are being fought Presidential style. There is an innate charisma, probably inherited from her grandmother or god-given, that is difficult to exactly define, but again very important.

Priyanka, of course, will have to set her own house in order before taking the full political plunge. For one, she will need to rein her husband Robert Vadra from making asinine comments, prove some of his real estate dealings are above board and ensure he strictly sticks to playing golf and riding bikes. She also has to convince her brother to be a little less abstract and more specific in his speeches. Priyanka will be playing a bigger political role, no doubt.

Modi should watch out. Another person who can take on Modi, unlike Arnab, is Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal who will probably pay the price of being politically impatient in this year’s general elections. There is one trait about the physically slight Kejriwal that, however, cannot be doubted – he knows no fear. This attribute again is very important to stand up to Modi.

The existence of BJP, Congress and AAP as counterchecks to each other is healthy given their pan-Indian influence.

Due to rising clout of urban middle class votes and city-based populations, these political outfits will need to evolve broad agenda-centered good governance, economic growth, equity, efficient infrastructure, employment generation, health, education, judicial and police reforms and sound welfare schemes for poor.

This could also mean the sidelining of regional outfits that play up caste and religion to win votes, at the national level at least. No talk of Indian politics will be complete without mentioning the three divas, Mayawati, Mamata and Jayalalithaa – all ruthless, acerbic, ambitious, and publicity hungry. Each is quite capable of messing around with Modi.

These ladies will be very different from the women the BJP leader has dealt with so far – a wife who has chosen to remain quiet and faceless and a mother who travels in an auto rickshaw. The three divas will demand much more, arrive in helicopters and are capable of making Modi’s life quite miserable, if they so wish.

Indian democracy is only headed for better times ahead, if you ask me.