Now that the Modi raj is officially in place, pundits in the West have been left scratching their collective head in their efforts to provide some insight into the real Narendra Modi and what to expect in the years ahead. He could be a Ronald Reagan or a Richard Nixon or even a Deng Xiaoping. Maybe, going from being a tea seller’s son to a strongman on the cover of The Economist is a journey that parallels that of a grocer’s daughter who became Britain’s Iron Lady, in which case, he is surely a Margaret Thatcher. In the absence of any meaningful analysis and without much of a breadcrumb trail to follow in India, Narendra Modi has become a victim of analytical laziness. The real Modi seems destined to be caricatured by competing canned — and false — analogies.
Ironically, more so than any leader in modern Indian history, Modi is already showing signs that he is intent on writing his own narrative. In fact, we should prepare for several parallel Modi narratives. He has already defied predictability. Consider this: he choked up on his first day in Parliament’s Central Hall, suggesting that beneath that singularly robust exterior may lurk more than just a singular Modi; he bypassed the “Hindu nationalist’s” hard power playbook and opted for a decidedly soft power photo-op with Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif.
How, then, do we anticipate what Modi raj might mean for India and the world? A good place to start is to ask: no matter which Modi ends up governing the country, what are the constants? Here, three fundamentals — Modi operandi, if you will — stand out.
The first principle stems from the central objective that will drive his agenda. Modi will be itching to spread the Gujarati rate of growth across India. This was, after all, the central argument for his mandate. It is also the experience he is likely to draw from. The second principle has to do with his beliefs about how to achieve the objective. Given his outsider status, Modi will emphasise less government at the Centre. His lean ministerial ranks are an early signal of this belief being put into practice.
The third principle relates to how Modi views India in relation to the world. Even though foreign policy was not a significant part of his campaign, it is clear that he derives inspiration from abroad. Here, his admiration for China, Israel and Shinzo Abe’s Japan means he will take a more assertive and “business-like” stance on foreign policy.
Interestingly, these principles as a collective also encompass a bundle of contradictions. Navigating past them successfully may need more than one Modi at the helm.
Consider each in turn. First, on scaling-up the Gujarati rate of growth. It has been argued continued…