After a long time since Independence, democratic India is taking to a kind of sovereign policy framework that rests on the two fundamentals of ‘economic advancement’ and ‘national security’ — providing a goal to the state at all times for serving the interest of every citizen of the country. This two-fold national objective has guided the Modi regime providing a refreshing contrast to the muddled approach earlier of pushing in ‘ideology’ in development and giving in to belligerent neighbours for lack of confidence in India as a major power of South Asia.
A pervasive corruption running through the system of governance — that even produced a funny debate on whether it flowed from the top as JP movement alleged or was to be tackled ‘from below’ as Prime Minister Gujral contended — surely inflicted the national government’s strategic management, as well. The ability to think of the ‘big picture’ of how to get Indian democracy rapidly moving towards the goal of becoming a powerful state that would boldly engage the world, both for the cause of promoting economic development and safeguarding India’s national security, was marred by a rudderless policy. The main reason why the force of popular will installed Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister in 2014 was his reputation as a leader of personal integrity as far as the trend of ‘money making in politics’ was concerned and his image as a ruler who ‘governed with a strong hand’. People were looking for these twin virtues and voted Modi in with even greater enthusiasm in 2019 after seeing how he had devoted himself personally to the cause of ‘development’ and lost no time in showing an iron fist to the adversaries who had been taking advantage of the ambiguous responses of India to threats to national security, earlier.
The terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 perhaps set the benchmark of indecisiveness borne out of a lack of political will that the government of a major country like India would bring to bear on its responses to the known enemy and it was only natural, therefore, that in Modi’s time much later, the air strike at Balakote — in return for the Pak-sponsored terror attack on CRPF at Pulwama — brought in a big popular endorsement for his government in the 2019 General Election. To describe the surgical strike only as the success of our defence forces, without giving credit to the political decisiveness that had gone into the act, only presented the opponents of Modi in poor light.
This kind of opposition response has since become the marker of India’s domestic politics in which the desperate critics of the government are beginning to fault the Prime Minister more for his ‘style of governance’ than for the policies set out by him. There is talk more of ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘lack of secularism’ of the leadership in power — and only vague criticism of policies — their injurious content from the angles of ‘economic growth’ and ‘security of India’ was never convincingly defined. The charge of ‘ulterior motive’ against policy makers — even though some decisions of the Modi regime produced difficulties for the people — did not hold water nor was it established beyond rhetoric that the BJP-led government had violated Constitutional provisions or gone against the federal scheme of things.
If anything, the Centre under Prime Minister Modi, it can be said, should have been more tough in chastising the states like Maharashtra, West Bengal and some others — under its Constitutional obligation — for not adequately managing the law and order front. Same protection of law for all, apart from ‘development without discrimination’, is the sine qua non for a secular democracy and the Modi government would do well to become stricter about the former — undeterred by political side-effects since serious failures of law and order damaged the image of India before the world and marred the prospects of investment as well.
The policy framework of Prime Minister Modi can be deciphered easily: an approach to international relations that was free of the ideological baggage of the past and was based on bilateral or multilateral initiatives serving the economic and security interests of India within the mandate of this country’s commitment to world peace, a clear message to the adversaries that their hostile moves would be countered with all the might that India could command and raising the pace of development at home in order to lift the economic status of the average citizen through bold policies and conscious efforts to eliminate corruption.
It is amazing that the Prime Minister is personally involved so deeply in policy formulation and delivery — handling of the Corona crisis with particular reference to the vaccination layout and a multi-pronged launch of schemes to ensure economic revival ‘from below’ while facilitating the advance of global players of Indian business, are illustrative of how his government was taking the country forward on both economic and defence fronts in a difficult situation. One positive outcome of the untiring efforts of policy makers to kickstart economic revival is that the country has today the largest number of entrepreneurs at the base of the economic pyramid. Covid has caused massive unemployment and the government has rightly focused on reviving MSMEs and investing in infrastructure. There may be varying degrees of success achieved in different spheres — this is quite acceptable so long as the intentions of the government were not faulted.
People judge a leadership on its performance and the Indian voter has shown an exceptional ability to record his or her disapproval if a regime did not live up to its promises. The opposition cannot grudge the political success of the Modi government in this context — it has to offer a competitive model of good governance. Encroachment on personal freedom and human rights cannot be a subject of mere propaganda — the reality about this does not go unnoticed as the history of our elections had proved so well. It is the legitimate work of the opposition to question the merit of a policy and the lack of efficiency in the implementation of government decisions but distorted narratives would not help. On communally motivated violence there has to be a zero tolerance and the opposition must speak with one voice with the Centre against it, irrespective of the political complexion of the state government concerned that was to take primary responsibility on the law and order front.
The domestic scene in India has always been a major challenge for governance because of the diversity of interests, economic inequalities, state-centre conflicts on division of power, a generally vulnerable law and order management on account of corruption and political interference and, last but not the least, the surreptitious operations of the enemy agents and anti-India lobbies that had found enough endorsement from politically motivated elements inside. The parliamentary system based on a fair electoral protocol resting on the principle of ‘one man one vote’ has performed well and produced political executives at the Centre and the states that ruled without carrying any denominational stamp on their governance. Indian democracy will remain inherently ‘secular’ so long as there was development of all and equal protection of law was extended to every citizen.
Indian politics must be constantly tested on these criteria for that will ensure that in spite of India being a Hindu majority country, it had no fear of a community-controlled dispensation because any kind of majority would not be able to subvert the constitutional base of governance. India should rise above ‘minority politics’ and this can happen when Hindus led Muslims and Muslims politically spoke for Hindus — all that this needs is to stop projecting religion into politics. If India has to become strong, it has to take to economic growth as an instrument of secularism. Prime Minister Modi has to be given credit for speaking that language and not mixing community questions with the cause of national advancement. Raising the voice of dissent against the concept of ‘nationalism’ is an outcome of weird politics. By indulging in such tactical manoeuvres, the opposition is only giving strategic advantage to the other side.
It is only because of the nationally sound and internationally bold set of policies enunciated by Prime Minister Modi that India has in a short spell of a few years acquired the respect of the world community as a major democratic power of Asia whose opinion on global issues now counts significantly. Foreign policy is a product of national economic and security concerns which the Modi government had spelt out with great firmness and clarity. The policy that there could be no resumption of dialogue with Pakistan since ‘talks and terror do not go together’ has been accepted by the world as a legitimate stand.
Since the integral state of Jammu and Kashmir was an inseparable part of India, the abolition of the temporary Art 370 made it an ‘internal’ measure that was taken for the cause of development of the state under the direct monitoring of the Centre. The move of the Modi government was viewed in this light by the world community — barring a hostile response from the Sino-Pak axis that was on expected lines. China’s concern emanates from its anxiety to safeguard the high investment project of CPEC that it had built on the disputed territory of POK. Internationally, the democratic credentials of India remain strong and the successful exposure of Pakistan by India as a fomenter of ‘Islamic’ terrorism in Kashmir has not gone unnoticed.
An extremely important gain in the area of foreign policy is the continuity of strategic partnership between India and US, the two largest democracies of the world, through the change in American administration. This has been further strengthened by the fullscale participation by India in the QUAD marked by the presence of Prime Minister Modi in the first summit of the multilateral group that aimed at the maintenance of ‘rules-based order in Indo-Pacific’ imperilled by the Chinese aggressiveness. The bold moves of the Modi government to counter the Sino-Pak axis on land and at sea reflect the self-confidence of the present leadership and consistency of its policies on both development and security — befitting a nation of India’s status. At the QUAD summit, India presented its humane face by demonstrating its will to help the world on the Covid front. India has kept up its defence dealings with Russia and special friendship with Japan and struck an equation with both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
And finally, India has demonstrated its keenness to build relationship with its neighbours notwithstanding the hostility of Pakistan and its ‘all-weather friend’ China — that was so evident on the borders in recent months. Prime Minister Modi’s two-day visit to Dacca from March 26, on the occasion of the golden jubilee of liberation of Bangladesh, has been extremely successful in strengthening India-Bangladesh relationship. The historical and cultural bonds between the two neighbours overtook any discordance that vested interests might have tried to create in the name of that country’s Muslim identity –India’s demonstrable generosity also fitted the atmospherics of the visit very well and gave the right message of India’s open arm approach to all friendly neighbours. All of this has reaffirmed the soundness of the policies of the Modi regime at home and abroad. It also goes without saying that a constructive opposition should endeavour to fill the important slot that democratic governance gives it, in Parliament and outside, without indulging in disruptive narratives and agitational politics.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)