Last year, I co-curated the Pondicherry literature festival (PLF). Scheduled for August 17-19, after Sri Aurobindo’s birthday on August 15, this was the first event of this scale and magnitude in the erstwhile French enclave and still picturesque Union Territory. Alliance Française de Puducherry, whose then president was my co-curator, had offered us venues as well as support. The Lt Governor of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi, had herself blessed the event and agreed to host the inaugural at Raj Niwas, a beautiful colonial mansion.
Just when everything seemed to be moving along smoothly, we encountered a series of unaccounted setbacks. Five political outfits, including some Dravidian and left parties, called for a suspension of the festival, even threatening disruption if we went ahead. The Alliance Française developed cold feet, pulling out at the last minute. On August 16, India’s beloved former prime minister and a significant literary figure in Hindi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, passed away. A three-day national mourning followed. That put paid to central government ministers and dignitaries coming to the PLF as scheduled. Events in the Raj Niwas and the French Consulate had to be cancelled. Almost miraculously, the Sri Aurobindo Society generously helped us with the venues. Our lunches and dinners at heritage properties in the white town were widely appreciated. All the other events including press conferences, book releases, readings, interactions with the public worked out better than expected. The festival was a huge success, with thousands of footfalls, not to mention stimulating panel discussions and lively interactions.
This long prelude is meant to highlight one important point. We titled the festival, “Bharat Shakti: The Pondy Lit Fest”. What did we mean by Bharat Shakti and why did we select it as our title? Bharat Shakti refers to the rise of India as predicted by Sri Aurobindo. In a remarkable booklet called Bhawani Mandir, written in 1905 when he was in Baroda, Aurobindo urged Indians to throw out the British as an act of devotion to the nation as the Mother Goddess, Bhavani Bharati. Aurobindo also wrote a beautiful, rousing poem in Sanskrit by the latter title. In another essay, ‘Is India Civilised?’, he declared: “India is the Bharata Shakti, the living energy of a great spiritual conception, and fidelity to it is the very principle of her existence. For, by its virtue alone she has been one of the immortal nations, this alone has been the secret of her amazing persistence and perpetual force of survival and revival.” Powerful words, indeed.
But political freedom was only the first step. We had a long way to go to catch up after a thousand-year interregnum of decline and degradation. If India was to progress rapidly, take her rightful place as a world leader, we would need not just good, but extraordinary leadership. We have had to wait for over a hundred years after Aurobindo’s prediction for a leader like Narendra Modi. Modi, of course, has a Vadodara connection too, winning with a huge margin from that constituency in 2014. Besides, he is also an admirer of one India’s greatest princes, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad, who was also Aurobindo’s employer.
Modi’s elevation to the post of India’s prime minister in 2014, I have argued in several of my writings, is a watershed moment for India. To my mind, only he has understood the idea of Bharat Shakti and is therefore the best instrument to confirm and fulfill Aurobindo’s augury. When Modi visited the Ashram and Auroville on February 25, 2018, I was fortunate to be present and cover the event. Before his address at Bharat Niwas, Auroville, he came forward to the edge of the stage and bowed to the audience on all sides. I was struck by the rare combination of humility and confidence, coupled with an inordinate sense of mission to lead India to new heights.
Under Modi, India has progressed more, in the real sense of the word, in five years than possibly in the whole of its previous six decades. This great transformation cannot, of course, be measured merely in economic terms, although the figures indicate that our growth rate is amongst the highest and inflation is certainly the lowest since Independence. In addition, access to government services and schemes, whether the Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjwala, Saubhagya, Swachh Bharat, etc, has been unprecedented. A clean government led by a charismatic and strong prime minister with ministers and officials who deliver has redressed the trust deficit between the citizenry and the ruling elites. The concomitant rise of India on the world stage, thanks to the Modi doctrine, has led to a quantum leap in the respect accorded to India.
Furthermore, the improvement of both national security on the borders and reduction in crime, lawlessness, and violence on the home front suggest an era of peace and stability. Last but not the least, a new pride in our identity, culture and heritage, especially among Hindus, has ended the self-loathing and civilisational inferiority complex plaguing us for centuries.
Winning 303 seats indicates a resounding pro-incumbency mandate. Not to be confused with populism, this is clearly a sign of Modi’s and the BJP’s genuine popularity. In contrast, “Nyay”, the grossly ruinous “jumla” of the Congress, was a typical example of harmful populism which, luckily, Indian voters did not fall for. Modi earned his mandate and popularity by delivering on good governance and development. Moreover, after the 2019 verdict, the signaling so far has not been belligerent or triumphalist Hindu nationalism, but inclusive Hindutva. The new government has also tried to reach out to all sections of the populace, not just Hindus, with special schemes for their education, upliftment and the safeguarding of their rights.
To me, therefore, the new nationalism that Modi 2.0 represents is Bharat Shakti in its manifold dimensions: The augmentation of India’s hard power through military prowess, economic empowerment, and determined diplomacy on the one hand, combined with Soumya Shakti, the soft power of culture, spirituality, yoga, cuisine, couture, and so on, on the other hand. Together they add up to nothing less than India’s rejuvenation, renewal, and rise. This may sound hyperbolic or over enthusiastic. So be it. But the mood of the nation is certainly upbeat. Even if not every Indian is chanting, “Modi hai to mumkin hai”, a vast majority of us certainly believe it.
This article first appeared in the July 4 print edition under the title ‘The new idea of India’. The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Views are personal