An upturn in the destiny of a nation is rarely, if ever, shaped by a single element. It is almost an ethereal proposition divined by a constellation of factors that lift the nation from its banal existence and propel it to primacy; a near magic wand that dispels the dark clouds of pessimism and lethargy and ushers in unprecedented confidence and astounding potency. Specifically, it is an extraordinary synchronisation of events: the ascendancy of a visionary leader, conducive geo-political prerogatives and corroborative domestic circumstances.
Sixty-eight years ago, at the stroke of midnight, when we cast aside the shackles of bondage, our first Prime Minister galvanised the nation by a stirring call of a “tryst with destiny”. But for the first 50 years or so, that “tryst with destiny” remained a hollow claim; nothing more than pageantry talk, a transient flight of fantasy uttered in the euphoria of the moment, words that carried little substance. India continued to be a world laggard, floundering at the bottom of the economic pile: a developmental dud and a military embarrassment.
Twenty-fourteen was a sentinel year: the Indian people handed an unequivocal mandate to a single party for the first time in over 30 years, prompted by the magnetism of Narendra Modi. As Chief Minister of Gujarat for three successive terms, Modi had demonstrated stellar leadership, shepherding the state through a period of exemplary economic advancement. On the national and international stage, however, he was an untested figure.
But Modi has surpassed the wildest expectations of political pundits and even trumped the embellished optimism of his own supporters. Especially impressive are his global interactions: his seasoned statesmanship, his affability with foreign leaders and his unrelenting efforts to raise India’s stock have done wonders to boost the Indian morale.
Modi’s pizzazz also mirrors India’s altered status: the growth of its economy and the runaway success of the Indian diaspora, namely, its technological whiz-kids who hold unchallenged sway over Silicon Valley: Sundar Pichai heads Google, Satya Nadella captains Microsoft and a host of other Indians man top posts.
Additional global conditions also appear to be ripe. Recent stock market happenings have taken the sheen off the Chinese success story. In this floundering world economy, India is the only shining star, a rock of stability in a sea of sinking ships and stands in sharp contrast to China’s beleaguered status: this was clearly evident when the leaders of both countries visited the US during the recent UN session.
A New York Times article titled “India Replaces China as Next Big Frontier for U.S. Tech Companies” (September 27, 2015) averred “…Blocked from China itself or frustrated by the onerous demands of its government, companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as start-ups and investors, see India as the next best thing... The increasing appeal of India … was underscored in recent days. During a meeting … with American technology executives, China’s president, Xi Jinping, was unwavering on his government’s tough Internet policies. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, on the other hand, was on a charm offensive…”
Another report in the Financial Times confirmed India’s upward trajectory: “With USD 31 billion of foreign capital inflows, India has surpassed China and the US to take the pole position in … in the first half of 2015…”
Two of three contributory factors are in place: a charismatic leader and favourable world conditions. The million dollar question at this juncture is: Will we as a nation pursue this opportunity with single minded determination to stamp this century as ours? Or will we blow this chance?
The greatest drag to this glowing idyll are vested groups indulging in personal vendetta that outranks national interest; a sleazy campaign of nefarious propaganda (anti-Digital India petition) and deliberate communalisation of usual aberrations of society aimed at derailing the government’s altruistic efforts. These elements must not prevail. A note of caution is also in order to those who may inadvertently upset the applecart by the untimely discussion of issues like reservation quotas which can spark unnecessary social upheaval at a crucial time.
We cannot afford to lose this opportunity. We have waited too long for this.
Vivek Gumaste is a US based academic and political commentator.