Democracy and the Modi ‘phenomenon’

Irrespective of past, democracy places Modi on same pinnacle of history, giving him chance to ‘purify’ his own self.

Shamshad Ahmad May 23, 2014
The writer is a former foreign secretary

Democracy is known for its revenge. In 2008, it struck two places to take its revenge. It struck America to crush the race ‘barrier’ and elected to the White House the first-ever non-white president in US history. Democracy also struck in Pakistan with elections in February 2008 after two years of stormy civil and judicial strife by ousting a dictator and ending the ignominy of his eight-year rule. But with equal cruelty, it imposed on the people of Pakistan a foreign-brokered NRO-based regime that had neither the will nor ability to steer the country out of its decade-long politico-economic maelstrom.

In May 2013, it struck again in Pakistan by throwing the PPP regime out and installing the PML-N government with a fresh mandate. In the last one year, it has shown neither the sagacity nor grit to grapple with the challenges of governance that it inherited from its predecessor regime. Unsure of itself, it has been running hot and cold leaving the big challenges totally unaddressed. Instead of singing praises for ‘democracy’s beauty’, it should have fixed its priorities right to be able to grasp the nettle. Democracy doesn’t like self-praise. It expects performance.

Democracy is about the people, who are the final arbiters of their destiny. They choose their leaders in the hope of rule of law, justice and good governance. In our case, we have seen a number of political leaders ‘cycled’ through elections under political as well as military regimes. Invariably, very few of them went beyond maintaining their own political power and privilege, and securing their self-serving interests or those of their elite fraternity. As ‘elected’ leaders, they never inspired hope to convert Pakistan into a self-reliant, democratic state where its citizens can live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from fear, want, hunger, disease, corruption, violence and injustice.

Globally too, democracy is a luxury that very few countries of the world can afford.

Democracy thrives on education and economic well-being, which developing countries, with few exceptions, lack so much. The overwhelming majority of states in Africa, Asia and Latin America are wallowing in authoritarian political systems in the garb of democracy, with their people having no role whatsoever in governmental changes or decision-making. India, no doubt, stands out singularly for its consistent democratic tradition and practice. It is democracy’s one of the few most favoured states in the world.

But this time, democracy has struck back with fierce vengeance in India too. It has just ousted the Congress-led UPA government, unleashing a phenomenon called the ‘Modi Wave’ giving the people of India a fresh hope for change. It has given Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a colossal victory with 282 seats to be able to form a government of its own. The National Democratic Alliance that includes BJP and its pre-election allies will now control 336 seats in a 543-member Lok Sabha. This thumping majority dwarfs all previous electoral victories since 1984.

The ‘Modi Wave’ may have been a factor in India’s electoral outcome but the real game-changer has been the nationwide disaffection and disgust against the Nehru dynasty-led Congress in the country. It is only democracy that could have given such a landslide victory to a man with dubious credentials who is known to the world for his diehard communalist proclivities and was, in fact, considered responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots that killed over 2,000 Muslims. The EU and the US had blacklisted him as persona non grata for visa purposes. His affiliation with fanatic Hindu organisation RSS and its militant cadres is no secret nor has he ever denied his commitment to ‘purifying’ India.

What an irony that a man of his controversial credentials should now be heading the world’s ‘largest’ democracy. But that is what democracy is all about. Haven’t we had NRO beneficiaries ruling our country? Democracy does not distinguish between race, creed, culture and ethnicity. It also does not like poverty and deprivation and invariably keeps away from poor non-white countries. The Modi phenomenon in India is to an extent comparable to Obama’s election as US president in 2008. He did not win the presidential election because he was black. He did make history because he was black.

Obama won his presidential election purely on personal merit. He had a clear edge over his opponent. He was fresher, smarter, more energetic, and had a short history with no baggage. But there was another reason for the Obama miracle to happen. America was fed up with George W Bush and wanted a break from those eight years of domestic failures and external belligerence. For Americans, Obama symbolised hope for change. For the world, too, he embodied a new America. History alone will judge if Obama delivered on what he promised to the world.

Irrespective of his past, democracy has now placed Narendra Modi on the same pinnacle of history giving him a chance to ‘purify’ his own self and use whatever skills he has for the good of his own people and those of the region whose lives are inextricably affected by India’s overbearing hegemonic designs. But unlike Obama, Modi promised nothing to the region or the world because of his narrowly-based ‘communalist’ worldview. He now surely needs a new lens for his blurry vision. He can make history by opting to be a ‘statesman’ rather than a parochial hatred-mongering leader with spiteful tendencies.

His invitation to the Saarc leaders to attend his inaugural ceremony will only be seen a patronising gesture from someone who has been speaking of other countries in the region and their leaders with contempt. He must clear this baggage before he can inspire any confidence among his regional interlocutors. Kautilya’s cold-blooded realpolitik does not work any more. Nawaz Sharif must not rush into a hasty Delhi yatra. He must stay home taking care of his domestic agenda. Ceremonies are non-events. Purposeful dialogue and constructive engagement is what we need.

Modi must not also forget that almost two-thirds of his own country’s 1.3 billion people are living below the poverty line. India is not Gujarat. He has a much larger challenge to grapple with. What should also be clear to him is that, in today’s world, there are no military solutions to problems. Given the unique geopolitics of South Asia, and the particular social and cultural proclivities of its inhabitants, this region needs stable peace, not confrontation. But there will be no quick fixes or short cuts. There are core issues to settle.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Tani | 8 years ago | Reply

@raja Pakistani media picks news from indians newspaper and indian television media. They don't have base here. So does the international media forms opinion based on india media narration. So please tell me how is that when we know news properly telecasted here regarding how the riots happened be twisted and turned to suit your narrative in such bad form be presented in your media? So different from origins of it? Don't you see the fabrication? "Hindu eyes" there is no such thing as Hindu eyes. And even if there were. A Hindu prays in mosque,church,temple etc coz god is one worshiped in different forms. So the Hindu eyes you quote would have been secular while delivering justice get my point?

@akash that's true but development has only reached few areas in UP, Bihar state,rest areas overpopulated in it , huge migration to other states for jobs, corrupt govt. only the politics in both these states improve, india's problem of poverty would be over by huge extent. @vinsin if only they cared about their Shias,ahmedis,Hindus,Sikhs,Christians with same vigour...but what's happening in neighbouring country is more imp to them.

vinsin | 8 years ago | Reply

If Pakistani are so much worried about Indian Muslims then why they don't take them? When Pakistani will leave their obsession with India? Indians will decide the future of their country no one else.

Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ

Most Read