Over the course of his career, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has acted in a manner very different from the overwhelming majority of politicians, who are adept at saying what they do not mean, and of course meaning something quite different from what they are saying. If a correlation gets made between his words and his actions, a close match will be found. Hence it was with anticipation that voters across the country heard him repeat over and over again that as PM, he would ensure that accountability be fixed for the wrongs committed in the past. Other political leaders, including many in his own party, have happily conformed to a system where changes in government fail to ensure that those guilty of wrongdoing in the past be made to account for, and be punished for, their crimes. While frequent declamations get made about each other in public, in private the story is entirely different, with the credo being “You cover for my skeletons and I will do the same with yours, once elected”. The consequence was a deep cynicism with the way politics has been practised in this country, anger that spilled over into the streets and which fuelled Anna Hazare’s popularity, and later that of Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal.
There are many who opposed Narendra Modi out of a belief that his ascent into Prime Ministership would result in a widening of civil unrest and social strife. Such fears are unfounded. It was the emergence of Modi in 2013 as the prospective Head of Government that damped down the cynicism pervading public opinion in the country. Millions saw street politics rather than elected assemblies as the best fora to ensure that the few who have squeezed them for so long as a consequence of their commas over state power be sent packing, from the cosy nooks of high office into prison. Had the Modi phenomenon not emerged out of the shadows, the millions of those actively disaffected throughout India, which had by the start of 2013 grown into the tens of millions and powered the Aam Aadmi Party’s spectacular rise, would have by the beginning of 2014 have expanded into the hundreds of millions and made this country ungovernable as a consequence. India was about a year away from such a Tahrir Square outcome when the BJP leadership wisely decided to ignore the ambitions of some of the party’s leaders and declare Modi its PM candidate. From that time onwards, while public anger at the ethical excesses of the elected remained, the focus changed from action in the streets to support for the then Chief Minister of Gujarat.
The ferocity of the attacks by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her party on Modi, which is in contrast to the kid glove treatment meted out to the rest of the highest rung of the BJP, indicates that she had understood the potency of the Modi message of clean governance and economic progress. As for Arvind Kejriwal, his allure began to diminish the moment he switched gears and made Narendra Modi rather than Sonia Gandhi the target of his barbs.
The Modi wave has been caused by a tidal wave of anger — indeed, disgust — at the way in which India’s political class has made the making of money the prime objective of their politics. The lifestyles of the well-connected are testimony to the fact that unaccounted income has proliferated most among those holding high political office, no matter what party they belong to, if one excludes the now marginalised CPI and CPM. Each time Narendra Modi spoke of ensuring accountability for the depredations of this class, his support swelled. Now that voters have given him the mandate required to govern, they expect him to walk the talk. They expect Modi to bring to justice those guilty of looting the country for decades. Whether it is the way in which a CIA spy within RAW was facilitated during 2003-4 in his escape by colleagues, who escaped subsequent scrutiny, much less punishment; whether it is the way in which equity and commodity markets in India have been rigged to benefit a handful of insiders at the expense of the common man; whether it is the way monopolies have been perpetuated in key industries such as telecom by the tweaking of rules by compliant officials; or whether the way in which hawala operators are being protected by the high officials whose conduits they are, the condition of governance in India is abysmal.
Although some speak of a year-long honeymoon with Narendra Modi, that period is likely to last as little as six months before the public once again begins to lose faith in the election system and once more starts taking to the streets. Unless of course the new PM wields a steel broom to ensure that graft is cleared away and the guilty punished. A people cynical of politicians has placed its trust in Prime Minister Modi, and those who know the PM are confident that he will deliver on their hopes.