Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started his second term with a bang. It appears that he has been working to a plan: he devoted his first term in understanding the lay of the land, even while making a beginning in streamlining the system, thus taking some big development and security oriented steps; he has started his second term by taking gigantic steps that include correcting the mistakes of history. Hovering on the horizon is a third term, when India as Indians have known it for seven decades will be changed forever—for the better. It will not be an exaggeration to say India is at a watershed moment in its contemporary history, a time that will decide which way this country travels not just in the next few years, but in all probability, for decades. At the core of this churn is the breaking of status quo—a significant break from the past. Realisation is dawning on Indians that it need no longer be business as usual, that things can change for the better; that a beginning can be made in the curbing of corruption, for instance. That a cleanup of the Augean stables of government would start was unthinkable even a few months ago. And this is just one example. It’s remarkable that with digitalisation and opening of bank accounts, the poorest of the poor have started getting the benefits of government schemes without the intervention of middlemen. It is also remarkable that incessant terror attacks have ceased to define India’s domestic security situation as they did during Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. One of the biggest changes ushered in of course is the scrapping of the decades-old Article 370, giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir. This feat was achieved in a span of just two days. With its abrogation, the process of mainstreaming Kashmir has started. As Prime Minister Modi said in his Independence Day speech, if something has not worked for 70 years then it must be changed. In fact course correction for the better is what effective governance is all about. But no one touched Article 370 for seven decades even though it was a temporary provision. That he had the gumption to do it, when the time was opportune, shows PM Modi’s ability to take risks. This was witnessed during the Balakot airstrike too, when fighter jets were sent into Pakistan to destroy the terrorist training camps there. That was also the time when Pakistan’s nuclear bluff was called. In fact Balakot is another significant break from the past in that it changed the whole paradigm of how India-Pakistan relations will shape up in the future.
What is also remarkable about the present moment is the birth of hope and optimism among the poorest of the poor as benefits start reaching millions and millions of people at the grassroots. Some old shibboleths are also being cast aside, political correctness being one of them. It is now acceptable to say that the word “secularism”, in practice, has turned into some sort of a deformed cadaver, where the minority is appeased at the cost of the majority. The majority population too is coming out of its minority complex. Most importantly, people now know that one family or one party does not have the “birthright to rule” this country, that merit counts. In fact, that is why people chose Mr Modi—on his merit. Now that they have chosen him they are convinced that he does not have any self-interest in maintaining status-quo, that his intentions are good and whatever he does is for the good of the country. On this, his innumerable critics have not been able to convince the people otherwise, and not for want of trying.
Clearly, India has a reformist Prime Minister—a social reformer, to be specific. A Prime Minister who does not shy away from picking up issues such as sanitation, cleanliness, and even the danger of using single use plastic bags during his Independence Day speech. In fact, his push against the cruel practice of the now illegal triple talaq among Indian Muslims too has to be seen in this light.
As for development, it’s for the first time ever that the downtrodden are getting a taste of welfare economics, with which comes the feeling of empowerment and aspiration. With his focus firmly on “ease of living”, PM Modi has been able to carve out a constituency of the poor, which rose above caste allegiances to vote him back to power in 2019, in the hope of a better future. India is thus transitioning from identity politics to development politics, which is a huge churn in itself. Major reforms are being taken in the economic front too, though much more remains to be done. As the PM has been saying, the time for incremental growth is over. It is the time to take quantum leaps. No wonder he is moving at speed, even as the country tries to keep pace with him.