How Narendra Modi’s 20 years in office have been shaped by 50 years out of it
The more mainstream media attacked him, more they looked like stooges of that Establishment, more discredited they stood, and stronger he grew
The 19-year-old from a tiny town of just 20,000-odd people had arrived in a bustling city for the first time. He took up work in his uncle’s canteen at Ahmedabad’s state bus depot, but his mission was altogether different.
At just 24, he was made an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak (or spreader of the Sangh’s worldview) for Ahmedabad.
Narendra Modi had set the course of his own destiny when he was just eight years old by joining the RSS as a child cadet in his hometown Vadnagar, while also helping at his father’s tea stall.
The PM completes 20 uninterrupted years in public office today. No other modern Indian, and few others across the world, has spent 20 more spectacular years in office at a stretch. Many thought Modi’s political career will never recover from the smear of the Gujarat riots just four months into his term as CM.
But he turned his worst into his biggest strength. He emerged as an incorruptible, uncompromising Hindu nationalist focused on reforms and development in sharp contrast to the entrenched, corrupt, elitist and dynastic Congress.
The more mainstream media attacked Modi, more they looked like stooges of that Establishment, more discredited they stood, and stronger he grew.
Besides extensive social, infrastructural and industrial growth he is credited with bringing to Gujarat as chief minister, Modi as PM unlocked a long-pending reforms agenda with Jan Dhan and other steps towards financial inclusion, Goods and Services Tax, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, digital payments and freeing farmers’ from middlemen. He has taken aggressive diplomacy to a whole new theatre.
There have been sweeping civilisational changes as well, from scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir to banning instant triple talaq, providing the executive push for Ram Mandir and bringing the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
But to understand Modi’s 20 years in office, one needs to closely look at what shaped Modi’s 50 years outside of it. At least three things stand out.
First, answer your inner calling
From when he was eight, living it small in an insignificant milieu, he clearly wanted to be part of a large scheme of things the universe had in store. He acted on it by joining the RSS, cleaning its rooms, serving activists, attending shakha, and eventually being spotted by one of Sangh’s doyens, Lakshmanrao Inamdar or ‘Vakil Saheb’.
He never let anything in life distract or deter him. He chose public service above marriage, job or a fulfilling family life, trappings that ordinary beings fail to break out of to chase one’s inner calling.
In 20 years in public office, Modi has not wavered in his ideology or ducked out of the most unpopular decisions like demonitisation.
Second, travel and see
The PM’s opponents often mock his frenetic overseas calendar. But there is unlikely to be another politician who has travelled so much inside India.
He left home for the Himalayas when he was 17. He never stopped since. He travelled across India as an RSS pracharak and then in various organisational roles for the BJP since he was assigned to the party by Sangh in 1985.
He has seen India from the grassroots. Those who have closely followed his rise say that he has been to two-thirds of India’s 718 districts, lived in the humblest of conditions, shared meals with those who remain faceless for the rest of us.
Modi knows this nation’s pulse, its dreams and fears, its needs and aspirations because he travelled with his eyes and ears wide open.
Derive strength from enemies
Being thrown into the mid-ocean of politics at such an early age, he has developed uncanny instincts to pick up scent of predators, overpower adversaries and navigate storms. It is often told in Delhi’s power circles that Modi adds the strength of his adversaries to himself.
He patiently took the flogging and hounding from the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA for 12 years after the Gujurat riots. When time came, he cut the Congress to paralysing diminution. Under his PM-ship, an entire cropfield of anti-BJP, anti-Hindutva media outlets have sprung up.
He has watered them with his patience and a certain indifference, fully knowing that the more they demonise him, the bigger he becomes.
This sense of timing, stealth of striking, and a hyperformed, grounded worldview did not come to Modi in 20 years of office. These were painstakingly forged in the 50 years before he walked into the hallowed chambers of power.
The views expressed are personal