Why I Will Vote For The First Time
I am 56 years old and have never voted. However, the last five years have seen a revelation of a strong, focused leadership that will compel me to cast my vote for the very first time, this year.
I was born in 1963 in the thick of politics. My father S V Raju, executive secretary of the Swatantra Party, was then campaigning for Minoo Masani for the Rajkot, Lok Sabha by elections. Though I was embedded in the world of politics for a large part of my life, pursuing it and engaging in electing a government was never an interest. I am 56 years old and have never voted.
Nevertheless, I was privy to enlightening discussions on, among others, the ineffectiveness of socialism and the real role of a democratically elected government. But never in those years, did I see discernible change in the way the country was being governed. And so, I went about my life watching politics from the sidelines. That was until the 2014 elections. For the first time, in what Narendra Modi was saying, I heard what I was privy to 40 years ago.
My father’s political views and through him my outlook was influenced by some of the cleanest, most respected and highly erudite people trying to end the socialist rule of the Congress Party. The Swatantra Party was started by Rajaji in 1959 with other stalwarts like Minoo Masani, K M Munshi, N G Ranga, Narayan Dandekar and Sir Homi Mody among others. My father was associated with the party since its inception and later went on to edit India’s only liberal magazine,Freedom First, for 35 years. I was brought up on the ills of socialism, of the licence-quota-system raj, of the stupidity of government producing bread and watches and determining how much people could produce. ‘That government is best that governs the least’, was one of the mantras I heard constantly and everything the Congress was not.
In 1991, on the verge of bankruptcy, the World Bank bailed our country out and in return the Narasimha Rao-led Congress government was forced to open our closed, socialist economy. Why we got to that stage and the struggle after to integrate with the world is what is really unfolding in our country today. I feel it imperative to present our political history, especially in this age of social media and rampant fake news, that will provide the right perspective on the rise and importance of Modi.
Of the 67 years since Independence prior to 2014, Congress was in power for 55 years. And here are how those years stack up – Jawaharlal Nehru was PM for 17 years, Lal Bahadur Shastri for two, Gulzarilal Nanda for one, Indira Gandhi for 15, Rajiv Gandhi for five, Narasimha Rao for five and Manmohan Singh for 10. Thirty-seven of these years had a Nehru family member running our country directly and 10 through remote control. It stands to reason then that the state of our politics, that of our economy and of our social and cultural environment is largely the outcome of the policies and outlook of these past governments with their respective prime ministers.
Congress under Nehru was given the country to govern and it was their responsibility to educate the people and move us from a subservient attitude of being beholden to those in power to one of being equal participants in the development of the country. Not only did they not do that, they used the old mind-set to their advantage and became the modern-day rajas and ranis. In fact, the Nehru family is the origin for ‘family politics’, where most political parties, today, are family-run concerns!
And, the sunken level of current politics and the deplorable state of governance our country is habituated to can be traced back to the politics of Indira Gandhi in the seventies. Such was her and her party’s brazen intent to be in power that they were willing to nationalise at a whim, pay to get people to defect, keep the poor, poor, keep the masses uneducated, align with minorities while taking for granted the non-interfering majority, let the party and public institutions be run by mediocre people whose only qualification was loyalty to the family and perhaps the most telling of all, clamp Emergency to assume total power.
As the 2019 elections loom, I am perplexed by the responses of educated people to Modi. Why is this so, I wonder, when the past five years have been a shining example of how a nation ought to be governed? The so-called ‘liberal left’ and the opposition parties (which is to be expected) blame Modi for the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism and for a growing culture of non-tolerance. Have they forgotten the brutal intolerance of Indira Gandhi during Emergency? Now that was intolerance at its worst. Anyone who opposed her was a target and many were jailed!
And can right-wing Hindu extremism suddenly manifest? Our culture, over several millennia, has developed to be inclusive and has allowed individuals the freedom to pursue their own beliefs. For this deeply held condition of acceptance to turn around and be extreme, overnight, is not possible. This extremism is the result of a build-up of decades of willful neglect of the silent majority by the Congress and a deliberate pandering of the so-called minorities by them to quench their insatiable thirst to be in power at any cost. Modi’s coming into power is the outcome of this neglect and the release of this build-up, though alarming, is to be expected.
The rise of Narendra Modi in our environment of unbridled corruption and nepotism is truly remarkable. I had a whiff of his leadership capabilities when he was Gujarat’s chief minister. In the eighties I had studied engineering in Vallabh Vidyanagar near Anand, a town best known for Amul, in Gujarat. Vallabh Vidyanagar, an educational township with more than 25 institutions, was set up by Sardar Patel. I used to frequent Ahmedabad. It was poorly managed, and I distinctly remember how dirty it was. I went back 17 years later in 2002 and was stunned to see the transformation. It was clean. The bus public transport system was excellent. The roads were wide and mostly well-maintained. I was told by my friends that Modi had made a huge difference. It was here that I saw firsthand how political leadership with the right intent could bring about tangible transformation.
Cut to the 2014 general elections, Modi at a rally in UP. For the first time I heard a Modi speech and I was spellbound. His language, what he was saying and the sheer command with which he was saying it kindled hope and the possibility that finally here was someone who could take on the might of the Congress (I) and win. I did not vote then because I was still watching from the sidelines. However, the last five years have been a revelation of how a strong, focused leadership can provide the right governance and it is imperative that it continues unabated.
The achievements of the Modi-led government in just one term are remarkable. Facts and figures are aplenty to support it and they can be Googled. To me, it is the softer but fundamental issues of governance that are the highlight of his term and form the backbone for those achievements. Here are four that make Modi’s term about the direction we should have taken when we became an independent nation. I have not included his ending of corruption at the highest levels. Providing non-corrupt governance is a hygiene factor for any government. But in the context of the past governments, a huge transformation in itself.
1. Creating the right habits
Decades of rule by one family and their party created and sustained several ‘bad’ habits that go against the very essence of democracy. Modi has challenged these deeply ingrained habits and in the first year itself brought into focus the mother of all bad habits – that the people of the country are beholden to those in power. The first serious attempt at breaking this habit started when Modi called himself pradhan sevak (prime servant) in his very first Republic Day speech and in doing so, put himself at the service of the people. No other prime minister in my living memory, had said it so clearly and at such an important occasion. In fact, the way Modi made an entry into Parliament for the first time showed his deep respect for the will of the people in electing him. A year later, on the same occasion, Modi brought in Swachh Bharat and challenged another bad habit and urged people to have a clean mind and a clean India. It required immense courage to talk about something that had little to do with winning votes. As I write this, the BJP’s election handle is ‘chowkidar’ (guard). He has invited all Indians to be a chowkidar along with him to stop corruption, keep a clean India etc. In one slogan he has stripped the division between him and the people. Modi and his team are living their belief that they govern at the behest of the people.
2. Making India belong on the world stage
Till 1991, the Congress government policies shut our country from the world. Had we built our relationships with other nations, we would have been at a very different place today – both economically and socially. Nevertheless, it is better late than never. In just two years, Modi has deeply affected the way India is perceived by the world. A herculean effort, which began at the swearing-in ceremony, was initiated when he invited our neighbours to be part of it. Modi has ensured that India is taken seriously by countries around the world. Indians travelling abroad and NRIs see the marked difference in the way peoples of other countries relate to them. Those who take a potshot at Modi’s whirlwind travels have missed the point. It is not about taking foreign trips but about nation-building.
Unfortunately, these people are so used to the old ways when politicians going on foreign junkets for personal pleasure at people’s cost was the norm, that they are unable to appreciate this fresh approach. The response of the world to the Pulwama attacks and our response to it as well as the pressure on Pakistan to release Indian Air Force wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman, in just two days is a result of Modi’s unrelenting relationship building. And when Masood Azhar was declared a terrorist by the UN, the resolution was signed by countries other than India! A diplomatic victory for Modi.
3.‘Make in India’
Being a socialist, protected economy since our Independence robbed the genius of the people of this nation to create and thrive. With the Congress government wanting to produce all things and telling people what and how much to produce, it was inevitable that our manufacturing capabilities would remain underdeveloped. Government-owned manufacturing companies were driven on what government mandated rather than what the consumer wanted. Efficiency, quality and innovation were not priorities to be developed. Today, most of our public sector companies, having no ability to compete with the world, are running at a loss and have been so for decades. Along the way, we did not allow private manufacturing capabilities to develop.
After 1991, our weak and largely unorganised economy was ill-equipped to compete with the world on manufacturing. Thankfully, information technology developed. However, decades of neglect of manufacturing cannot be undone in five years. Modi has taken it head on, though, with the ‘Make in India’ campaign. It’s a bold move. Why did the United Progressive Alliance not consider this? ‘Make in India’ comes from a vision that is clearly centred around the development of our nation and most industry captains have endorsed it.
4. Bringing in Accountability
Within days of Modi taking office, he set right one glaring phenomenon of an entitled bureaucracy in Delhi – that of ensuring that errant babus got to work on time and attended to their jobs. Earlier, many of these babus would stroll in after lunch! Modi starts accountability with himself. His work ethic is legendary. And he has ensured it is applied to his team. Most of his team, and he has some stellar members, are as hard-working and focused on attempting real transformation. Railways, roads, electricity access, several industry reforms, gas connections, bank accounts for the marginalised and others have seen significant and, in some cases, dramatic improvement.
Demonetisation was a surgical move aimed at the corrupt dealing in black money. The ‘experts’ argue on its efficacy. But to the common man it was trouble worth going through given Modi’s right intent. Goods and services tax is another step in the right direction. Could it have been structured and managed better? Yes. Nevertheless, we now have a tool that is only improving. Modi made it happen. The UPA could not. Twice the number of people are paying income tax today which is an indicator of a growing responsibility towards the nation. And those economic defaulters on the run to safe-havens across the world have done so because new bankruptcy laws are forcing the banks, who have lent to them, to be accountable. Earlier, these same people had no reason to run. India itself was a safe-haven for their willful lawlessness!
Elections in India are a dirty business and there is no way around it. But BJP has learned how to win. It started with Vajpayee but was mastered with Modi. In his interview to a TV channel in 2014, Modi separated the necessity of fighting elections in the manner it is done and of providing clean, respectable and effective governance thereafter. Governance, over the last five years, has been far superior to any other that I have seen. Modi needs the opportunity to build on what he began in 2014. Or else we could end up like Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev, after completing the unbelievable task of breaking up the Soviet Union, was unable to establish himself in power. Russia, today, is a debilitating dictatorship under the guise of being a democracy.
2014 was a watershed year in the political history of our country. The stakes in 2019 are even higher. The opposition knows no other way but to talk about phantom corrupt deals and personal styles of leadership. I have not seen them challenge Modi on development. They will find it difficult because most development indices show a positive trend. Modi needs not only this but another term as well to, first, continue to undo the mess left behind by the Nehru family and their party and then to establish new habits for a new India.
And so, it is history that will compel me to step out of the sidelines and stand in line at the polling booth on 18 April to cast my vote for the very first time.
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