Even if the metamorphosis of Narendra Modi from a “hate figure to an avatar of modernity and progress”, as has been noted by the Congress M.P., Shashi Tharoor, has earned his party’s displeasure, the description is likely to seem apt to most people.
Moreover, the transformation will appear startling because only a few months ago, Modi was at his vituperative best – or, rather, worst – to the extent of calling Tharoor’s companion of the time, Sunanda, who has since died, a “Rs 54,000 crore girl friend”. The jibe was at her alleged involvement in an Indian Premium League (IPL) scam.
Now, the prime minister’s restraint and dignity are in marked contrast to his earlier combative persona. It cannot be gainsaid that his electoral success has either had a remarkable mellowing effect, or that Modi is really two individuals rolled into one.
While his earlier avatar was all fire and brimstone, his latest individuality is nothing but sweetness and light. Besides, it isn’t only that the end of the poll campaign has brought the curtains down on his belligerence. He is now also living up to his image as the doer, who follows a punishing work schedule with an unremitting focus on governance.
As his commandments to ministers and officials show – do not touch my feet, keep your offices clean, speak to the point, do not dawdle over files – Modi not only intends to set behaviourial patterns but also implement his hands-on style of administration.
From the commendation which he received from Sonia Gandhi for his promise on the women’s reservation bill to the proposal to introduce a diamond quadrilateral of bullet trains to complement the golden quadrilateral of highways, and the setting up of 100 world class cities, Modi can be said to have hit the ground running.
True, much of this is still only pledges. It will take time for the results to become visible. One of his first challenges will be to improve the power situation in the national capital which is experiencing one of the hottest summers in recent memory. The conditions have also been aggravated by a freak storm which damaged power lines.
What is reassuring, however, is the business-like aura which the prime minister projects. The impression which he conveys is that there will be no dragging of feet where official efforts are concerned. Nor will the ministers appear lackadaisical lest they irk the prime minister.
It is noteworthy that the new government hasn’t taken a single false step except for the V.K. Singh affair, where the former army chief apparently exceeded his brief as a minister in a matter concerning his successor who has been backed by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley.
The earlier rumpus about Article 370 relating to Kashmir caused by a minister of state in the prime minister’s office has also died down. Perhaps Modi’s advice to ministers to conduct “research” before voicing their opinions has had an effect.
Apart from breathing life into the administration, which was in a comatose stage in the last few years of the previous government, Modi has chalked out a new line where the government’s policy on the minorities is concerned. By saying that he does not regard a focussed approach on Muslims as appeasement, he has signalled a significant turnaround in a decades-old outlook of the saffron brotherhood, which used to mock any pro-minority initiative by the Congress as an instance of pandering to the Muslim vote bank.
Even the Rajinder Sachar committee set up by the Manmohan Singh government to look into the socio-economic status of Muslims was criticized by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh parivar on this count.
Now, Modi has taken a diametrically opposite stance to that of the saffron camp. Moreover, only he could have adopted this approach because of his currently unassailable political position where he is the epitome of the high hopes of not only his own party but of virtually the entire country, minus the Left and other opposition parties.
There may be a nuanced difference, however, between the expectations of the Parivar led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has a Hindu supremacist worldview, and of the rest of the country which wants rapid economic growth. But, it is patent enough that it is Modi who will determine which course to take and that the fetishes of the Hindutva camp may not have much impact.
For the moment, his emphasis is not only almost entirely on development, but he is also conscious that his agenda can succeed only if the whole bodypolitik is healthy. Hence his observation with reference to the Muslims that if one part of the body is diseased, a person cannot be called healthy.
The same approach can be discerned with regard to the states, for Modi has specifically discarded the Big Brother concept. Instead, he wants development to be a cooperative endeavour. The Modi of today, therefore, is seemingly a different person from what he was a decade ago.