The BJP must realize that it is now competing against its own image. It must raise the bar of its own character and performance.
BENGALURU: Change is sometimes difficult to discern from within. It takes an outsider to highlight and put in perspective the transformation that is occurring within a country
V.S. Naipaul’s words from his book, India: A Million Mutinies resonated through my mind as I landed in India in February of 2023: “Change is present everywhere, India was now a country of million mutinies… But there was in India now what didn’t exist 200 years before: a central will, a central intellect, a national idea… What the mutinies were also helping to define was the strength of the general intellectual life, and the wholeness and humanism of the values to which all Indians now felt that they could appeal. They were a part of the beginning of a new way for many millions, part of India’s growth, part of its restoration.”
I experienced the change right from the time I started planning my trip. A few days prior, I discovered that my visa had expired. I was in a state of panic. However, three days later I had a visa in my hand without having to stir from my home, thanks to the e-visa system. The ease and efficiency of the process was remarkable.
For me this visit to India was a somber one: a sentimental journey to immerse the ashes of my deceased mother in the sacred waters of the river Kaveri near Bengaluru; in addition, there were logistic issues to take care of with regard to my mother’s moderate assets. The drive from Bengaluru to Seringapatam (the Kaveri near this river island is considered auspicious) along the Bengaluru-Mysuru Expressway was a seamless one facilitated by a road of international standards. What I had expected to be a whole day affair was done in half the time: I was back in Bengaluru by 2 pm.
In the last 10 years India has been on a road building frenzy. Compared to a rate of 12 km per day in 2014-2015, the rate of national highway (not state highways and local roads) construction reached 36.5 km in 2020-2021: a three-fold increase. In the decade since Narendra Modi came to power the national highway network has almost doubled from 79.116 km (2012-2013) to 140,995 km (2021-2022).
The plan to bring air travel to smaller cities and common Indians is on track. Compared to 74 airports in 2014, India today boasts of 148 airports. While I was in India, Modi inaugurated the airport in Shivamogga a second- tier city in Karnataka. The daily number of air-travelers crossed 4 lakhs In December 2022 and this was visible in the hustle and bustle of the domestic terminal at Bengaluru airport: it looked like a busy bus stand. Hopefully the new terminal coming up by the side of the old will alleviate this overcrowding.
The rail system is also undergoing change with Vande Bharat trains and increased freight lines.
These changes are making even the inveterate anti-Modi anti-BJP Western media acknowledge the achievements of the Modi government, albeit grudgingly. A recent article in the Economist (India is getting an eye-wateringly big transport upgrade, 13 March 2023) stated: “…the country is experiencing an infrastructural makeover on a scale unprecedented outside China.”
Nicholas Kristof (NY Times. 18 March. He’s the World’s Most Popular Leader. Beware.) while cautioning about Modi’s skyrocketing popularity does admit: “To my eye, Modi’s extraordinary popularity rests not just on demagogy but also on real accomplishments.”
Coming back to the personal level. My mother was a fiercely independent woman who carried frugality to the extreme; she had stashed away small amounts of money that she had saved from her meagre pension in several different banks—the rationale for this spread was beyond me. Nevertheless, her children were now left with the task of reclaiming these bank accounts: an onerous task made more daunting by the thought of engaging what I assumed was an archaic rigid banking bureaucracy. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. Bank websites clearly outlined the documents required and bank officials were extremely efficient and helpful. In a record time of just three full working days, I was able to consolidate more than 10 accounts spread out over three banks into one account.
On the street, the use of cashless payment was awe-inspiring. With paper money in my hands, I felt that I had landed from a third world country. India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) which allows instant transfer between bank accounts free of charge facilitating common day to day transactions is a marvel which the world will soon emulate.
But the biggest change that I witnessed was in the morale of the common folk. Ashok (name changed), our taxi driver who drove us to Hampi was undoubtedly a Modi fan. Unwilling to be carried away by mere words and his effusive hero-worship of Modi, I asked him for tangible evidence for his adulation. He explained to me how via a MUDRA loan he was able to acquire three buffaloes and start a mini dairy of his own as a side-business. Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY) is a scheme launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister on 8 April 2015 for providing loans up to Rs 10 lakh to the non-corporate, non-farm small/micro enterprises. Additionally, he had built a house of his own availing of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana; a housing scheme for the urban and rural poor that has been made more streamlined and accessible to indigent individuals.
Then there was Seetha, the scrawny talkative domestic worker who I encountered. She was grateful to the Modi government for providing her with food grains during the pandemic and was confident that Modi would do much more for the poor people in the future. The hope in her eyes and the simple enthusiasm of her advocacy was a reflection of the deep and almost unshakeable faith that this woman had reposed in Modi and the current government; it was both touching and scary.
For with this steadfast faith comes a heavy responsibility; the mandate to deliver; the ability to fulfill the basic aspirations of more than a billion people. That is the biggest challenge that confronts BJP and Prime Minister Modi.
For all the good that I saw, I did hear of murmurings from even sympathizers of significant deficiencies including charges of corruption at the state and local levels: something which the BJP cannot afford to gloss over. This has to be addressed.
The current BJP Modi government has brought in “a new way for many millions”—to borrow Naipaul’s words. The true progress of a country is not mirrored by its GDP or military might, but by the difference it makes to the life of a common man and this is evident today. However, the goal of a fully developed India where each and every one of its people are privy to its economic growth is still far off.
The BJP cannot be complacent in becoming a mundane political party like every other. The baton of India has irrevocably passed from the Congress party to the BJP. Competing against and shadow boxing with a declining, has-been Congress party is inconsequential. The BJP must realize that it is now competing against its own image. It must raise the bar of its own character and performance.
The BJP was envisioned more as a revolutionary movement than a political party; an organization that sought to invoke our past glory to build a modern nation from the ashes of our subjugation and colonization.
The BJP must leave no stone unturned to fulfil the mandate that destiny demands. As the elections of 2024 approach, the BJP must go back to the drawing board to make the changes that ensure that it does not deviate from its principles and its mission. It cannot afford to betray the aspirations of over 1 billion Indians.