Thursday, 31 October 2013

Narendra Modi can drastically change India over the next five years

This is the last Diwali before Indians participate in what many of us consider the most important elections in the history of post-liberalization India. Many of this year’s parties are going to feature Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.

For many Indians, this particular edition of the elections go beyond the question of who will form the next government. It is a titanic struggle over confirming or rewriting the fundamental ideologies of the Indian state. Should it be socialist? Should it be secular? Should it condone dynastic politics? How can it crush corruption? How can its institutions be rescued? How can it be made safer for its citizens? 

All of this has made my fellow non-resident Indians very impatient indeed. They wish to see change in New Delhi immediately. They want to see the status quo toppled right away. And the majority of those who voice their allegiances publicly do so in favor of Narendra Modi. “Give Modi five years,” they tell me, “and he will change India.” I have heard this over and over again from Indian businessmen, writers, retirees and especially young people. 

But I don’t think Narendra Modi can fundamentally change India in five years. Nor can Rahul Gandhi. Or the Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal. Not because of any individual shortcomings in their leadership style or political prowess. 

So all India needs is someone to go to Delhi and shut this network down. This can be done, of course. And Modi has pledged to do so. To some extent, and with lesser credibility, so has Rahul Gandhi. Powerful prime ministers can change the discourse in the capital. But we need to be realistic about how long it will take for policy in Delhi to translate into better police in our neighborhoods and more electricity for our homes.

So the problem is not that so many Indians are impatient, angry or frustrated. But that they need to remain informed, impatient, angry and frustrated for the next several Diwalis and numerous elections. To tweak a famous old quote, the voter needs to stay outraged longer than his favorite politician can stay in office.

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