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Managing expectations will be Modi's biggest challenge
New Delhi, May 18, 2014
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections have raised expectations like never before in India, especially among its youth, and managing these would be Narendra Modi's biggest challenge after he assumes office as India's next Prime Minister. Meeting these quickly in a country as complex as India, with a billion-plus population, is difficult at the best of times, and time is a luxury he will not have.
The massive mandate that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has received shows that there is a huge yearning for change in the country, especially among the youth, and they are clearly impatient and unwilling to wait much longer for their turn.
It is also clear that there was large-scale disenchantment, if not anger, against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government lost its way somewhere along the way in its second term and could not build on the mandate it had won in 2009.
The economic downturn, the alleged corruption scams, the perceived drift -- all these took their toll. The opposition took advantage, moved in for the kill, and the rest is now history.
While the Congress will now try to pick up the pieces and rebuild itself, the Modi government will have to hit the ground running because many of the issues begging its attention simply brook no delay.
First and foremost, the new government will have to set up a well-knit team that pulls together, both in the Council of Ministers and from amongst the bureaucrats.
The formation of the Council of Ministers will test Modi early on, given the fact that a good number from amongst the BJP's own 282 MPs will be apsirants. Finding suitable positions for top BJP leaders, who have been senior to him in the party hierarchy and will expect some deference to be shown to them, will be a difficult task.
The consultations have begun and we will soon know the names of those who will form Team Modi, and at least some of those who do not find a place could go on a sulk and will need to be brought around.
Modi will also have to accommodate the BJP's pre-poll allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), though their bargaining power has reduced drastically in view of the BJP's stellar performance. But some of them, like the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena, have been long-time partners and others like the Telugu Desam Party helped to shore up the party's confidence at a crucial juncture, and their interests will have to be protected.
Apart from the huge pool of 282 Lok Sabha members, Modi will also have to look at ways of giving representation to states which have not returned any BJP candidates, such as Kerala, and noises in this regard are already being made.
On other appointments, Modi will have to search hard for the right people to fill key slots like National Security Adviser, Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary to the PM, and so on.
Once all this is in place, he will have to straightaway start attending to the economy and look at ways of kick-starting the economy, reining in inflation, reviving industrial growth, boosting infrastructure and creating the promised new jobs. The Budget for 2014-15 that the new government will present in July will be its first major chance to unveil steps to repair the economy and revive investor confidence.
In other areas, he has to start working on improving education and health, and increasing security for women, and all the other measures that he has promised.
On the political front, the new government has to bring about greater cohesion among the different religious, linguistic, social, geographical and other identities, including sexual, that make up the Indian nation. Then there are the problems in Jammu & Kashmir, the North-East, and in the Naxalite-affected areas.
On the foreign policy front, the new government will have to work on ties with Pakistan, against the backdrop of terrorism emanating from its territory, and other neighbours, each of whom present their own challenges.
It will also have to move fast on reviving and adding content to the relationship with the United States and strengthening ties with China, Russia, ASEAN, Europe, the Gulf States, and so on.
Many people see the people's verdict as a tectonic shift towards the right, and some fear that the country is heading towards majoritarianism. Utterances by varous BJP leaders during the campaign have not helped and the fact that there are very few members from the minorities in the 16th Lok Sabha will add to the sense of discomfiture that such groups will feel. Modi will have to walk the extra mile to make them feel wanted.
The new government will also have to act quickly to meet the growing aspirations of an increasingly impatient and aspirational class, especially those in the underdeveloped rural areas and in the sprawling urban slums. Modi raised their expectations during the campaign, promising to transform their lives, and he will have to begin delivering.
There is an air of optimism today in many sections, who have bought into Modi's dreams, and the stock markets have rallied on expectations that he will provide a "strong and stable" government, ensure "good and corruption-free governance" and show that he can take the tough decisions needed on the economy and on the political front.
Modi will also have to deal with the doubts raised about his alleged failure to stem the 2002 post-Godhra violence in Gujarat that took place under his watch there. Equally, he will have to be mindful of the fact that his actions on the economic front will be under close scrutiny against the background of the allegations of crony capitalism levelled against him during his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Alongside all these, Modi will also have to manage several contradictions and this-or-that dilemmas: rural vs urban, labour vs industry, subsidies vs investment, industry vs environment, and so on.
There are also the contentious issues like the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, a Uniform Civil Code and so on.
Hardliners within the BJP and its sister-organisations will, sooner or later, raise these issues and Modi will have to contend with pressures on this front.
As Modi gets down to these and other tasks and tries to reconcile multiple pulls and pressures, from within his party, from allies and from hundreds of interest groups, he will soon realise that he has an unenviable job. And he might just begin to appreciate his predecessor Manmohan Singh's style of functioning, especially his studied silences, a little better.
Previous articles by Sonny Abraham
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