When Modi was contesting elections, those who liked him kept comparing him to Reagan and Thatcher. They are both thought of by Indians as leaders who brought their countries out of slowdown and onto the highway for growth. But many also remember them as leaders that invigorated the Religious factions and gave them power in Politics.
This is a difficult coalition to maintain. The republicans have been struggling with it for decades, swinging from more libertarianism (capitalistic) to conservative (religious). That is what BJP has been dealing with since its inception and what the current government has to deal with at an even higher scale.
What a libertarian like me wants is for this govt to be a plumber. Remove the clogs that have jammed the pipes of free markets and make it easier for people both Indians and foreigners to set up business. That’s what the whole Gujarat Model talk is about.
Then there are the religiously inclined. BJP campaign was all about development. It was all about progress. But people already knew Modi. The same way that a lot of Muslims will never vote for Modi, a lot of Hindus will ALWAYS vote for him. He is a symbol of Hindutva, whether he likes it or not. And the Hindutva supporters are always going to keep demanding a Hindu Rashtra. If it is anti-Muslim, so much the better. This is also a faction that fears and detests the outsider. MNCs, goods from abroad, foreigners trading and investing in India are all source of unease and mistrust. These, unfortunately, are all essential for growth according to libertarians.
So far, it’s hard to judge which way the balance will tilt. There is movement on de clogging, and there is a lot of talk of India as a cultural entity, which inevitably leads to that entity and identity being tied to what we now call a Hindu religion. That’s problematic for a country as diverse as ours.
Tomorrow is another test as Modi makes a seminal speech. He will do well to remember where he is standing. Lal Qila was built by Shahjahan. It is a problematic symbol of an emperor’s ambition to leave a mark. His spending on monuments left the state weak, and led to rise of extremism in the next generation. Modi is ambitious. He wants to leave a mark in history. He wants to be remembered as a leader the way he remembers Patel. That is a good news. He is also very sharp. That is another good news, because he hopefully knows that it’s all about how well india does.
So embrace Reagan & Thatcher, Mr Prime Minister, but remember that they are celebrated for growth and de clogging, not for religious extremism. And for all the talk about Patel being a Hindu Nationalist, he is loved for bringing India together. Remember to keep us together, and move us forward.