“Who else, if not Modi?”
This is a question we often hear these days, raised mostly by the supporters of the Narendra Modi (or NaMo) cult, as India heads for parliamentary elections to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. (I say cult as it becomes pretty obvious that their devotion is more for the individual than the political party represented by the Prime Minister, else they would not be blind to some of the other potential PM candidates within the BJP.)
I find this utterly ridiculous that some of them have even come up with such a presumptive question in a nation of 1.3 billion. It is extremely unfortunate for them to think that India has no alternative to a particular political leader.
To imagine that a civilisational country such as India that prides itself for providing global leadership through millennia (not only in politics but even in the spheres of spirituality, art and culture, literature, corporate, finance and so on) suddenly has exhausted all but one candidate suitable for the Prime Minister’s position is preposterous.
My retort to them is that if India is facing such a huge leadership crisis, then let us stop saying Bharat Mata ki Jai and Mera Bharat Mahan.
The followers and propagators of the NaMo cult do not realise the strength of Bharat Mata. They insult her by suggesting that she has given birth to only one Vikas Purush and all her other sons and daughters are incompetent and worthless. I pity their understanding, or the lack thereof, of the strength of our matribhumi.
Constitution guarantees stable leadership
Emotional rants aside, I am confident that there’s no dearth of leadership in India. My confidence comes from the Indian constitution, which is at the foundation of India’s multi-party parliamentary democracy.
The founding fathers of the constitution were wise enough to opt for parliamentary governance, as opposed to the presidential format, precisely due to the diversity and plurality of Indian democracy at a scale that is matchless.
So, legally and constitutionally, the Indian voters directly elect their representatives (MPs) and the party or the coalition with majority in the Lok Sabha gets to form the government as well as elect the Prime Minister.
The strength of this system has given a diverse country like India reasonable stability in democratic governance and leadership.
This is the system that gave us PMs such as Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar, IK Gujral, HD Devegowda, PV Narasimha Rao and the graceful Atal Bihari Vajpayee and not to forget Dr Manmohan Singh (despite all the criticism he faced, he was a globally respected economist and significantly contributed to India’s growth).
I admit this, like any other system, is not fool-proof and has occasionally thrown up leaders who perhaps weren’t suitable for leading the government, but even they reflected the mandate of the people and the political realities of the time.
Not many would have predicted the chances of some of these surprise candidates taking up the PM’s job, but who, once they took charge eventually, proved to be exceptional leaders. Many people may not think very highly of a few of these former PMs but each had their own strengths.
Elections can throw up surprise leader
NaMo cult supporters in particular feel very strongly against all the ex-PMs from the Nehru-Gandhi family (their tirade against Rahul Gandhi is borne out of this antipathy) and to a lesser extent against the other non-BJP ex-PMs. And, they may have perfectly valid reasons to do so.
Having a critical view of a PM or ex-PM or even a potential PM in a democracy is alright. It is certainly not anti-national as they would have us believe.
However, they also need to realise that there are others in the opposite side of the fence who see Modi as the face of communal and divisive politics and hence a disgrace to the constitutional position of PM. But he still remains the PM due to the strong mandate he received in 2014 elections.
So let us have faith in the system and people’s mandate. If not Modi, it may throw up a surprise leader from many deserving individuals. Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and Nitish Kumar are all capable leaders in their own right and they are from the current establishment.
There are equally good candidates within the Congress and other opposition parties. Also, let’s not forget the extremely successful crop of global Indian technocrats with outstanding leadership credentials, some of whom could be propped up as a consensus candidate to lead a coalition government.
So let’s give this “Who else if not Modi” debate a fullstop.
Let’s have some names upfront
Let me stick my neck out and drop some names here, albeit with a caveat that I do not think prime ministership in India (as per the constitution) is a popularity contest, unlike in presidential form of governments.
#1. Shashi Tharoor, with his exemplary experience at the UN and knowledge of foreign affairs, can be a potential PM.
#2. Yashwant Sinha, a former foreign and finance minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet and an ex-IAS officer, could be someone projected as a consensus candidate in a non-BJP, non-Congress government.
#3. Raghuram Rajan, with his grasp of the global economy, can put India back on the growth track. His being PM this time is less likely, but as being rumored he could still be the finance minister in any non-BJP coalition, setting the foundation for his rise as a PM in the future, a la Dr Manmohan Singh.
#4. Mamata Banerjee. BJP and its supporters may laugh at her name today, but Vajpayee thought it fit to include her in his Cabinet. And that was 20 years ago. She is a potential PM depending on the political permutations post election. Remember how Morarji Desai became PM? Or Chandra Shekhar, Dewegowda, Gujral? Indian politics is known for throwing such surprises.
#5. Rahul Gandhi. Despite him being dubbed as Pappu, Naamdar and what not, the Congress leader has shown remarkable transformation in recent years as a politician and the results in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh where Congress snatched power from the BJP is a testimony to his rising fortunes. If India can give chance to Modi, I don’t see a reason why the Gandhi scion should not be tested on his real leadership potential.
#6. Arvind Kejriwal. Well, I know this is a long shot right now. But the second IITian (and a former IRS officer to boot) after Parrikar to become a Chief Minister is certainly capable of taking higher responsibility. His govt’s achievement in the field of education and health has been phenomenal in Delhi. If even a fraction of that could be translated at the national scale, it would set the foundation of a great future for India. Don’t forget BJP got only 2 seats in its first parliamentary election. AAP got 4. So you never know what could happen in future.
Let’s stop questioning the intelligence of the Indian voters and wait for the people’s mandate on 23 May.
(The author is a senior Indian journalist and an International Editor at CGTN Digital, Beijing, China. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Janta Ka Reporter)