National Ambition, Regional Aspiration: Namo’s new mantra

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi addressing at the inauguration and foundation stone laying ceremony of the various development projects, in Kanyakumari on March 01, 2019.

Narendra Modi has sworn-in as the 16th prime minister of India. The decision to shift focus from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, whose leaders attended Modi’s magnificent inauguration in 2014, to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is seen as a reflection of Modi administration’s belief that this group is more active with greater potential to advance the cause of regional cooperation in its true spirit. The focus on BIMSTEC fits well with the NDA government’s foreign policy strategy of “neighborhood first” and the “Act East” policy. Although it may be argued that this is a way to cut Pakistan to size in the regional matrix, such speculation appears to be simply unfounded rather at this stage could only be a conjecture.      

As expected, the noise level from several rival quarters effectively evaporated on May 23 though the receding process actually began on 19th May soon after the exit poll results were aired unambiguously in favor of the incumbent regime. The mainstream media has called this election outcome as “tectonic”. The 2019 mandate speaks volumes about issues fundamental to the reality which India has opted to embrace. The comprehensive electoral victory of NDA which by itself is a record-breaking performance against its own achievement in 2014, simply suggests the negative narratives constructed by rivals to spoil the chances of ruling party was not a good enough strategy to consolidate their position. In contrast, people of this country probably expected an alternative theme which clearly sets out the agenda for galvanizing its multipronged growth story and not just resorting to unprecedented character assassination. Undoubtedly the approach adopted by oppositions generated more heat than light and the outcome is for everyone to see. Hopefully they are now wiser after the event.

Interestingly the verdict has a clear message, as a country we are not averse rather looking forward to the strategic and game changing reforms which may initially be painful however have high potential in delivering dividends in the long run. Successive governments in the past have undertaken series of actions towards liberalizing the economy but one close look at the exact form and nature of those amplify the reform endeavors thus far have largely been directed towards the capital component. In the process the labor reforms stood neglected thus continued to exercise its adverse influence. This is a topic by itself as such I am afraid justice may not be made to discuss various aspect of reforms around the second major factor of production of the market through this article but by a mere passing reference, it may be stressed the government of the day has ideated a lot through intense consultation process and committed to make tangible progress on labour reform front in coming days ahead.

Even the ideological opponents don’t hesitate to acknowledge, PM Modi is an orator par excellence. In course of his very first address to the newly elected MPs inside the central hall of the parliament, PM Modi in his usual impromptu style came up with a super creative tagline “NAARA” and seemingly that connected instantly with the last man in that room. This was coined to describe the political strategy that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA-II) plans to adopt in the wake of its massive victory in the Lok Sabha elections. Nara is also the Hindi word for slogan. He told a bemused audience of top NDA leaders “The NDA has energy; the NDA has synergy. The NDA has national ambition, the NDA has regional aspiration. Put the two together, and we become ‘Nara‘. That was not just another slogan from a hugely successful political leader instead seemingly was a sincere urge to work in unity. This is a perfect blend of Top-Down and Bottom-Up approach. It also resonates well with the spirit of our constitution which provides for the cooperative federalism.

It could be mere symbolic, but to a few this one liner meant the council of ministers could include more faces from states like Bengal Odisha and NE region apart from a reasonable representation from NDA’s allies.  Since the nation is used to getting caught off guard by the PM in many occasions in the past, each partner got one berth. Apparently, this decision of BJP caused an uneasy environment with reference to JD(U) not accepting the symbolic participation rather showing inclination for a proportionate representation. As expected media seized the opportunity to color it as big brother attitude by BJP though Nitish Kumar keeps confirming all is well and this does not have any adverse implication on the chemistry between JDU and BJP either in Patna or in New Delhi. Similarly, current exclusion of Apna Dal from the government and no representation of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are hot topic on mainstream media. Notably significant rejig in portfolio allocation including dropping a few heavyweights of NDA-I indicates the government is recalibrating its position to any extent just for ensuring it can drive its growth agenda effectively. Let’s be mindful these are not so easy decisions in a fluid political environment! Apart from BJP’s spectacular performance in and outside its conventional territories popularly tagged as Hindi heart land, regional parties barring a few like AAP, AIDMK, RJD &TDP have fared exceedingly well in this election. This re-authenticates the ground realities which concern respective region the most and hence such support. Immediately after cyclone Fani struck the coastal Odisha so ruthlessly leaving millions homeless causing devastation of high magnitude, PM Modi’s visit to the ravaged region and assuring central assistance in coordination with the non-NDA state government was a sign of true statesmanship. On a different note it’s going to be pretty interesting to see if there is an icebreaker soon between Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and PM Modi as both share a common rival i.e. Congress both at centre and state apart from the fact BJD has been an ally of NDA of yester years referred to as Vajpayee-Advani era. Interestingly BJD has bailed out BJP on certain important parliamentary events hence its but natural BJP traditionally has treated BJD as a soft enemy by giving enough space as a potential ally. Same way, newly elected leader of Andhra Pradesh Jagan Reddy’s proactive inching towards PM Modi in the face of arch rival Naidu’s separation from NDA is drawing enough attention from all quarters. Some even stress soon DMK may try hard to join NDA if that is in the best interest of the state. Split in the Mahagathbandhan is wide open. BSP and SP are fighting separately in the upcoming bypoll.

Regional aspiration should not necessarily be confused with representation of regional parties in the government. So long as regional interest is well considered, purpose is achieved.

 Though the NDA notched 352 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, roaring past the halfway mark of 272 to form the next government while the BJP emerged as the single-largest party with 303 seats, a hike of 21 over its 2014 tally yet it chose to carry along the allies to cater to the regional aspiration reflects the true maturity of a party of its stature.  Analysts feel supremacy of Performance over Appeasement; Common man’s needs over Landed Aristocracy and Positive Agenda over Negative Narrative have once again been proved. Although BJP came out to be the undisputed leader at the national level however the regional sentiments are best taken care of when the country is run in collaboration with all. This reminds me of one interview by Narendra Modi, I quote “Sarkar bahumat se banti hai lekin desh sahmati se chalta hai” “Government gets formed with majority, but Nation runs on the principle of unanimity or consensus.”. This is a very powerful statement coming from the supreme leader of the country at the moment.

In the backdrop of mixed story of India in the sense agrarian distress getting accentuated in more than one form , lack of hygiene ness in the financial sector largely PSU banks which need complete overhauling , lack of job creation in the formal sectors though overall employment generation could have been far more than what were promised and arguably a perceived slowdown in economy could upset the intrinsic benefits emanating from various commendable schemes effectively rolled out by the Modi-administration. Make in India, Namami Gange, Agri Supply Chain infra upgrade, Skill Development, Energy independence and River linking are a few areas may need more targeted focus on immediate priority. These are such projects not just emotionally connect the mass, but more likely than not brings in enduring positive outcome to reverse the fortune for the large chunk of economically marginalized countrymen. We just can’t justify the celebration of India shining when majority of our fellow countrymen have been languishing and are deprived of basic facilities largely ascribed to the combined effect of apathy and defective state policies framed for decades. Prime expectation from the government of the day could be to stick to its inclusive growth agenda and of course in a country of our size, diversity and complexity few disruptions here and there, largely distractions can hardly be eliminated. It’s rather unfortunate sporadic incidents dampen the overall image of the regime when opponents build on numerous narratives to distort the macro picture. Lastly come what may “National Security” can never be neglected and majority Indian through their voting preference appear to have agreed with the government on this important issue though critics perceive it as the current regime’s nationalist agenda.

Election is over! Janata Janardan! The ruling is out and the responsibility of being in the driving seat inside the cockpit is with NDA to take this country to it next level of reforms and development which is long overdue. However, this does not absolve the unsaid obligation of non-NDA parties from their role play. In the best interest of the nation, parties across ideologies may choose to give up the acrimonious attitude as evident during the run up to the election and act cohesively to write the growth story of our country which every Indian can take pride in time to come. As every major action and inaction of today will have a bearing on tomorrow and therefore the parliament is expected to get its act together to augment the nation building program instead of scoring individual political mileages holding development agenda hostage. It can’t be louder and clearer; mandate is for development, development and development.

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