That our prime minister has his head screwed on right, of that there can be no doubt. He is man with a clear vision — he wants to make his country great again (harking back to those ancient times when India could even boast of plastic surgery as evidenced by Ganesha’s elephant head) — knows how to go about achieving what he wants and has been doing so for the last two-and-a-half years, steadily if not swiftly.
Thanks to Narendra Modi and his 'can-do' mantra, the country has already got a slew of projects up and running, ranging from Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission, LPG cylinders in every home (nearly), India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement, Niti Ayog in place of a Planning Commission that reeked of India’s socialistic past, bullet trains (gathering speed), smart cities (in the making), a unique identification number, an energised NRI community, Startup India, Make in India, Skill India, International Yoga Day, Atal Pension Yojana, GST (almost), Orop (save a few minor glitches), a "befitting reply" to Pakistan’s depredations along the Line of Control... a breathtaking list indeed.
More, needless to add, is in the offing. India of Narendra Modi’s dreams is still a work in progress. If it doesn’t materialise, it won't be through want of trying. "Since taking over, I haven’t even taken a 15-minute vacation,” he has himself pointed out. Unflinching, unremitting, ceaseless devotion to duty — that is what makes Narendra Damodar Modi, Narendra Modi.
Even Congress MP Shashi Tharoor concedes that our prime minister’s "personal energy" is remarkable. "He is seemingly tireless in his domestic and international travels, maintains a punishing schedule of engagements and speeches, and his voice and spirit never flags. Whether you agree with him or not, this is an admirable quality," Tharoor told News18 in a recent interview.
The question is, does he have a heart as well? A heart that feels the pain of the powerless, that is touched by the apprehensions of the vulnerable, that empathises with the bereaved, irrespective of caste, colour, creed and party affiliation?
A heart that prompts him to acts of generosity that are not soiled by chest-thumping and trumpet-blowing, as happened with his, no doubt, genuine and prompt efforts to "wipe the tears" of Nepal, after last year’s devastating earthquake, so much so that anti-India sentiments flared even while the Indian Army was reaching aid to remote areas of that mountainous state.
A dependence on head over heart can be the only answer to his government making a hash of things every time there is a human tragedy that requires the soft touch rather than a business-like approach. There have been so many in the last couple of years, horrifying, inconceivable ones, such as the Dadri lynching, the Una flogging incident, burning to death of children in Haryana, the suicide of Rohith Vemula, when the Modi government has appeared hard-hearted and insensitive.
Every time, instead of an instant heartfelt response expressing pain and anguish, Modi and his men/women have preferred to point fingers at state governments, levy accusations at other political parties for inaction when they were in power, absolve the Centre of any culpability until, one day, the Prime Minister wakes up and speaks out but, sadly, too little, too late.
Thus, when an ex-army man commits suicide, the sounds that emanate from the official side are spokespersons accusing the Opposition of "politicising the issue" (which of course they are but no less than what their role calls for), ministers questioning the sanity of the dead (which is stating the obvious as only an unbalanced person takes his own life), defence ministry leaks hinting that the hapless Ram Kishan Grewal could have been "encouraged" to take poison (what can one say), while the prime minister keeps to the straight and narrow, inaugurating the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, outlining a commendable 10-point agenda for renewing efforts for disaster management.
India of Narendra Modi’s dreams is still a work in progress. If it doesn’t materialise, it won't be through want of trying
One day, maybe, Narendra Modi will deign to devote his Mann ki Baat to this unfortunate incident or use some other occasion to express his distress. Trouble is, it will not sound as genuine as if he had spoken out when he needed to. As happened with his much-delayed contrition for what happened in Dadri, his entreaty for his "Dalit brothers" and fulminations against gau rakshaks, his #sandesh2soldiers appeal. Instead of being moved or touched, critics dismissed them as electoral gimmicks, calculated moves to appease a frowning international community.
Of course, Narendra Modi has never been your fuzzy, cuddly, teddy bear of a leader. Rather, the image he has preferred to portray is that of a strong man who never shies away from making tough calls, who always puts his work first, who does not believe in turning the other cheek if attacked. He never, if you will remember, apologised for the Gujarat massacre of 2002 that happened under his watch. The most that he came to saying was that any death, even a dog run over on the road, is regrettable or words to that effect. Words that made him more of a hero to his loyal supporters while repulsing his opponents.
But, as prime minister, Narendra Modi surely needs to reach out to his sceptics and critics and not just to the already converted. Being humane, or at least making a show of it, is not just decent conduct, it’s good politics too. As any perusal of the biographies of great leaders would tell him, even those of his Gujarati compatriots. And Narendra Modi certainly gives the impression of wanting to leave his mark on history. He would do well to pay heed to another great leader loved universally. "A good head and a good heart is always a formidable combination," said Nelson Mandela, and he should know.