Herald View: A brief assessment of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister
The Prime Minister unfortunately appears incapable of either learning on the job or growing on the job
There never has been a dearth of stories about mad or monstrous monarchs and foolish kings. Fables about the naked king unaware of his nakedness have survived for centuries while literature, history and fairy tales abound with tales of tyrants who were blissfully ignorant of their ignorance and who acted like God. Hardly any reference is to be found, however, about rulers, who subjected people to sustained misery and are yet remembered for their great deeds. But that is precisely what Narendra Modi supporters would like Indians to believe, that he is a great Prime Minister, that the hardship and misery he is daily inflicting upon people is part of his grand design for a better future.
Seven years ago, he had stormed to power with the promise of restoring and reviving the India story. Nothing, it was claimed, was beyond him. He would eradicate corruption, build 100 smart cities, restore India’s ancient glory, clean the Ganges, link rivers, turn the country into a manufacturing hub and India would grow to a five trillion economy and emerge as ‘Vishwa Guru’. But the last seven years have in fact seen the country lurch from one crisis to another and one now finds India at the bottom of the heap in all possible indicators. But Indians cannot dare blame their Prime Minister as he had done while pointing fingers at his predecessor. Dr Manmohan Singh, he would say, was incompetent and hence could not control inflation, rising petroleum prices and declining Rupee value. Ironically now that he has failed to deliver, his failures are glossed over as an ‘act of God’. Narendra Modi, his defenders insist, was elected to disrupt the established order. And after seven years in office, he appears to have succeeded in his mission. And though a growing number of Indians now believe he has been a disaster and is increasingly seen as a pain, his unabashed admirers advance the alibi that there is ‘no gain without pain’, that the chaos and the anarchy we see are just the darkness before the dawn.
The past seven years have seen people being progressively disempowered even as the state has become increasingly more powerful. While democracy has weakened, the state’s stranglehold on the individual and the intellect, on freedom and liberty has become even more absolute. Elected leaders and unelected officials have begun to behave like colonial masters and treating people with disdain. India never was an easy country to govern; and the country has had its share of weak, unstable governments and of Prime Ministers who made mistakes. But none of them refused to learn from mistakes, from history or from people who knew better. The fatal flaw that the present Prime Minister suffers from is his inability to accept mistakes. His constant need for the limelight, for cornering credit, for one-upmanship and grand platforms have become tiresome.
Every other Prime Minister would have rushed to reassure migrant workers who hit the highways last year. Any other Prime Minister would have been compelled to visit hospitals and meet frontline health workers, if not patients, who are struggling to cope with Covid. Any other PM would have restrained his ministers from making reckless, irresponsible and undignified statements. Someone other than him in his place would have abandoned the construction of a new Parliament building and a house for himself, which look like trivial pursuits when compared with the tragedy that is still unfolding. The Prime Minister unfortunately appears incapable of learning or growing on the job.