Modi can focus his attention on turning India into a truly great country. And the first thing that he needs to do is to eliminate the polarisation.
Wow! What a blowout! The most impressive fact of Modi’s victory was the increase in his vote share from 31% to 38%. This means indisputably that a sizable percentage of all Indians who voted LOVE Modi.
This, of course, also means that a larger percentage of all Indians who voted DO NOT LOVE him, and to my mind, this will define his next goal—to bring all Indians under his India-is-the-future umbrella. As he himself said, “We have to earn their trust.”
It will not be easy—he has done and said and caused to be done so many things that have hurt so many people. But then, his single-minded focus since winning in 2014—from the very first day—was on winning in 2019, and there’s no gainsaying that he has been successful in spades. Indeed, with the opposition, such as it is, in terminal disarray, I am sure the odds on Modi returning again in 2024 would be extremely short.
So now, he can focus his attention on turning India into a truly great country. And the first thing that he needs to do is to eliminate the polarisation that, to be sure, he himself stoked. No country can be great if 40% of the population [62% (who didn’t vote for Modi) of 65% (the approximate voter turnout] is not fully engaged and excited about the future. America was a great country from all the way before the Second World War till the mid-1970s, when Roe v/s Wade (the seminal abortion case) turned people viscerally against each other. Europe started on the road to greatness in 1957, with the forming of the European Economic Community; it is still great, though it is struggling with the recent schisms caused by the immigration problem.
India can—indeed, will—be great only if Modi works to increase the LOVE/DO NOT LOVE ratio to 50/50, 60/40, or hell, even 70/30. And the first step for that is to bring Muslims and other Indians who have suffered under this regime to believe that he means what he says today—again, not for votes, which he clearly doesn’t need, but to help accelerate the development of the country.
Thus, Modi should, as one of his first acts—and it must be this week—announce an iftaar dinner to which he invites randomly selected Indians from around the country to break their roza with him and celebrate the victory. He should appoint Harsh Mander to be an ombudsman, of sorts, with a mandate to supervise and accelerate investigation of the hate crimes committed during the pre-2019 regime; it would be fantastic if Modi would actually go with him to visit some of the people who have suffered so horribly.
Even after that, it will take time—NOT LOVE doesn’t turn to LOVE easily. To confirm his commitment to healing, Modi also needs to summarily quieten the rabble rousers who he really doesn’t need any more anyway.
In parallel, of course, he has to—will—unleash his prodigious energies to address the multiple problems plaguing India’s economy—jobs, agriculture and investment, for starters. Indeed, the singular focus on re-election over the past five years has meant that the focus on the economy and development played second fiddle, the results of which are pretty apparent. There is no need to list the litany of failures on these fronts. But, now that his throne—for want of a better word—is secure, he can bring in fresh blood and fresh ideas to address the key issues.
Infrastructure development is already growing apace. The government and several NGOs are working on vocational training and skilling; these need to be ramped up—indeed, it may be a good idea to increase the CSR requirement to 3% (from the current 2%) as more and more NGO’s get professionalised. Environment and eco-tourism need to be acknowledged as a critical part of the solution for both jobs and agriculture. Deregulating agricultural markets completely, even if does create some short-term trauma, is another critical need.
Investment will continue to be a trick, but crowding out may get a little easier since Modi no longer needs bulging saddlebags for elections. Disinvestment of PSUs will likely, finally begin meaningfully, and the finance ministry will have to revert to being tight-fisted. With global growth unlikely to reach even 3% in the next few years, the rupee may well have to take up some of the slack. Deregulation of financial markets will accelerate.
And finally, as Modi already knows, beti bachao, beti padhao was a brilliant political gambit, but is merely beginning. Not only do India’s women want out from the suffocating patriarchy, increasing the participation of women in the workforce is an absolute necessity if India is to capture even some part of its demographic dividend (thank you Ruchir). Recognising this, Modi will start shifting out some of the medieval war horses he had put into various state government houses, who, again, are no longer relevant to Modi or the new India he can create.
[Disclosure: In 2014, when Modi won for the first time, my reaction was quite similar. Since it seemed clear (as now) that Modi wanted to be remembered as India’s greatest leader, he would have to do everything I wanted—the full social liberal agenda. While I was approximately 100% wrong at the time, I would like to believe that—finally—our time has come.]