I have arrogated for myself the role of someone who notices often useless details in human discourse. For instance, within days of Narendra Modi’s ascension three kinds of mothers, apart from the human kind, have entered the political narrative. One is the river as in Ganga Ma or Mother Ganga, the second is the country as in Bharat Ma or Mother India and the third is the political party as in the Bharatiya Janata Party Ma or the Mother BJP.
There is a definite attempt to inject piety in the popular debate whose purpose is to strike a nation’s emotional chord. While Indians generally love cloying metaphors and excessive personification, there is that danger of being lost in the language of pious showmanship. Of course, one must afford Modi and his team a period of somewhat unsuspecting acceptance as they go about putting together their plan for the next five years. That said, it must also be pointed out that showmanship is not the same thing as substance. For instance, it constitutes powerful optics to invite the heads of the neighboring South Asian countries for Modi’s swearing-in or inauguration on May 26. It is a fine gesture that has the potential to strike a new note in neighborliness but it is not an end in itself.
Because Modi succeeds an agonizingly reticent prime minister in Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was studiedly devoid of any measure of showmanship, anything that the new leader does will stand out. The bar of visibility was set so low by Dr. Singh personally that Modi even running fingers through his hair would qualify as showmanship. (Literary exaggeration). This is quite apart from the fact that Modi is a natural born grandstander. You have to get inside him to understand that for him it all comes naturally. In being someone who practices grandiosity, Modi does not think he is doing anything out of the ordinary just as reticence and taciturnity came natural to Dr. Singh. You are what you naturally are. However, Modi’s job would require him to keep moderation as the default temperament of his government. The celebration will end soon and no one knows it better than Modi. There are already reports that senior bureaucrats are being informally asked to make presentations on their SWOT –strength, weakness, opportunities, threats—analysis about government.
If his track record in Gujarat is any guide, Modi is unlikely to give himself any time to enjoy the warm glow of rising to the top of a great civilization. To use the cliché, the new broom will sweep clean. The trick would be to keep the bristles replenished if the Modi government does not want to leave increasingly larger streaks of dirt in its wake. (Unnecessary description). The burden of expectations, in large measure created by Modi himself, is so high that he runs the risk of things going south very fast. While there is some merit in the practice of under-promising and over-delivering, Modi is not the kind of leader who believes in it. In some ways, he is the kind of leader who believes in letting the chips fall where they might.
I am guessing that he has personally identified areas of national development where he can show visible progress quickly in order to keep the people invested in his vision and promise. For all you know he has set specific goals in mind which he can show off as his government’s achievements. Raising popular expectations is always a risky political strategy because while the rewards of delivering on some of them may be high, the dangers of even minor failure are much greater. He is a bit of a high roller.
The change in terms of optics and idiom in Delhi is going to be quite dramatic with Narendra Modi at the helm. I suspect though that the hubbub will be short-lived because the banality of governance and parliamentary democracy will take over. To quote a line by the Pakistani poet Akhtar Sheerani, “Maikhaney ke hungame hain kuchh der ke mehman’ (The hubbub/excitement of the tavern is short-lived). Sobriety will inevitably return and then reveal the world for what it is.
It is amusing to see that Indian TV talking heads are already discovering attributes in Narendra Modi which they never suspected him of possessing before his election. It is almost as if some of them are doing their damndest best to like him. Some of them seem to fear being seduced by his charisma. As for me, I have always been an observer of natural detachment.