The seemingly innocuous date of October 7, 2001, is a milestone in Indian political history. That was the day Narendra Modi was sworn in as Chief Minister of Gujarat for the first time. Since then, he has never lost an election as the head of a government and taken on a national role as Prime Minister. As a result, on October 7, 2020, Narendra Modi enters his 20th year as the head of a government. It speaks volumes about his ability to win the people’s confidence over and over again, in greater magnitude every time.
However, the electoral victories and massive popularity are the effects that get noticed often. The tireless work and peerless vision that are behind these victories are the traits that make Modi what he is.
Right from his days as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi stood out among his peers. At a time when power reforms meant political suicide, he took farmers into confidence, reformed Gujarat’s power sector, took electricity to every Gujarati village and made it a power surplus state. As PM, he took electricity to every village and every household.
When even national-level investor summits were rare, Modi started the Vibrant Gujarat investor summit in 2003. Since then, both the summit and state have become well-known globally among investors. Similarly, as prime minister, he has ensured record FDI inflows.
The famed Gujarat model needs no introduction. The state saw bumper growth in agriculture despite having semi-arid regions and rapid growth in infrastructure. Modi has ensured freedom for farmers after decades as Prime Minister and India’s infrastructure, which has already grown massively under Modi, is poised to grow even more.
Modi’s emphasis upon saving the girl child and educating her through Beti Bachao Beti Padhao has been widely appreciated. However, this was a logical extension of his Kanya Kelavani programme in Gujarat for girl child education, where the whole government, led by the chief minister, used to stay in villages and encourage the school enrollment of girls.
The reason for Modi’s longevity as an elected leader is his ability to challenge himself continuously, more aggressively than any outside challenger would try to. He takes the risk of setting targets openly and audaciously. Despite inheriting an administration known for policy paralysis, Modi set specific targets for each of his flagship schemes, be it sanitation, rural electrification, housing for all, potable water for all or doubling farmers’ incomes.
His governance — both at the state level and the national level — has been efficient, effective and reformist. However, while it is tempting to go on and on about governance, Modi, since his ascendance in 2001 to the chief minister’s post, needs to be celebrated for a different reason.
Modi represents values that are beyond governance and politics. He appeals to the best in India and Indians, and manages to bring out the best from them. He brought out the best in people and they made cleanliness a mass movement. In a nation where the prevalent political culture was about giving more and more subsidies, he inspired people to give up their subsidies so that the poor could get free gas connections.
India is a diverse and accepting civilisation that, at its best, knows how to transcend identities. Modi, a Gujarati, representing a constituency from Uttar Pradesh, does not pander to any partisan caste, community, class or regional considerations. His appeal transcends these divisions and unites people across the nation towards one purpose — India’s greatness.
The best of Indian tradition teaches stoic dignity in the face of hatred and calumny. It also teaches that such silent, steely and dignified determination powered by the truth eventually outlasts all negativity. That has also been the story of Modi’s rise. A whole ecosystem made him a marked man and has been out to damage his reputation for two decades. Even a small indiscretion would have meant the end of his political journey. In the face of such intense — mostly unfair — scrutiny, he has gone about working towards achieving his goals for his state and later, the nation. His composure and focus made him unstoppable.
Often, those who are “big picture” people are grand visionaries but cannot translate that vision into the relentless action necessary for achieving it. Then there are those who are good at achieving pre-set targets but cannot grasp the larger picture. However, Modi combines both in himself. He is both a visionary and a workhorse. He has the necessary mindset to come up with a grand vision as well as the precision and persistence to handle the dryness of quotidian tasks that act as steps to achieve the vision.
As he enters his 20th year as the head of a government, staggering as his past achievements may already have been, his best is yet to come and it will be the making of an Atmanirbhar Bharat.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 7, 2020 under the title “Twenty years of leadership”. The writer is BJP president