Prime Minister's victory speech may talk of 'new India' but underlies a promise of another Narendra Modi
In his career thus far, Modi has addressed several victory rallies and meetings as chief minister and prime minister. But this speech was remarkable for its sharp contrast with all previous addresses.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory speech at the party headquarters on Sunday, 10 March may have grabbed headlines for his ambition to usher in a "new India" by 2022 but it also holds the promise of the emergence of a new Modi.
In his career thus far, Modi has addressed several victory rallies and meetings as chief minister and prime minister. But this speech was remarkable for its sharp contrast with all previous addresses. To begin with, the first person singular was conspicuously missing. Gone was frequent use of ‘I, me and mine’ and its place was taken by humbler self-descriptions – ‘we, us and ours’. On almost each occasion, it was not Modi Sarkar, but BJP Sarkar. If this was not a one-time act to share glory with party leaders and workers, it is indeed a welcome development.
Not just choice of words, but unlike previous victory speeches, including in 2014 at Vadodara, within a couple of hours after it became clear that the BJP had secured a majority, Modi did not rush this time to address his cadre with the excitement of triumph still pulsating within. Instead he allowed the sense of exhilaration to sink in. When he began his address, it was no victory chant but sombre words to remind people that it was Holi eve and religious festivals provide opportunity to introspect and overcome shortcomings. Indeed, the verdict, especially from Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, calls for reflection even on part of those who did not either vote for the BJP or remained bitter critics till the last moment.
Be humble and look at electoral wins not just as chances to spread the ideology and programmes of the party but also see it as opportunity to provide service to people, Modi said. This message to party cadre, in an era when political power is often considered gateway to personal advancement, is a clear message – do not hanker after rewards. Modi used a compelling parallel between his party and trees, saying that when trees mature and bear fruit, they bend with the weight of fruits. The BJP, he told the cadre, had come of fruit-bearing age after decades of toil by preceding leaders and earlier avatars like the Jana Sangh. Political power now must bend the robust stance and responsibility of power must make the workers unassuming and modest. On this front, he will now have to lead by example.
Politically, the most significant observation was that governments are formed by majority secured through elections but once the objective is achieved, governments must be run on the basis of consensus. Modi was more explicit when he said that the BJP government belongs not just to those who voted for it. Instead, the ownership lies in equal measure with those who did not cast their lot with it. “This government belongs to those who walk alongside and even to those who stand in opposition”, said Modi, in a remarkable toning down of the leader who believed in the principle of ‘I, me, myself’. Again, the signal to adopt this stance will have to be reiterated by him.
In many ways, this alteration stems from confidence that there is no need to state the obvious. Opposition leaders, from P Chidambaram to Omar Abdullah, have conceded Modi’s dominance and agree that it is to remain unchallenged for a while. Among analysts and scholars too, the opinion is shared by many though several remain in disagreement. Many will justify their queasiness at the verdict mainly due to Modi’s past. Just as his words are treated as Gospel by the masses, those who are in the business of scrutiny would take it with a pinch of salt.
Yet, there is no escaping that Modi has perhaps concluded that his place in history will be judged on the basis of transformative actions and not for divisive actions. Modi reiterated his oft-stated claim, its frequency increased post-demonetisation, that his government is focussed in alleviating conditions of the poor but not by disbursing doles. Modi wishes to be an enabler who has the vision to open new avenues. “You work hard, and I will give you opportunities,” was his refrain. Similarly, he addressed middle-class concerns and his words would have sounded music as he affirmed that they carry undue burden and the tax system was ranged against them.
Modi’s majoritarian constituency has reasons to believe that the mandate entitles them to remain unbound in a boundless field. Already, several claims have been made by those on the fringe that the verdict in UP is a mandate for the Ram temple. Modi should be wiser with experience, and must ensure that there is no repeat of events in 2014-2015 when programmes like Ghar Wapasi and post-Dadri belligerence almost derailed government agenda. Old Modi has created the opportunities for New Modi to put him in position to realise his objective. It is up to him to ensure that his agenda is not derailed by overzealousness within his ranks.
The writer is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. He authored Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. Twitter handle: @NilanjanUdwin
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