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Modi’s hallmark: Clarity with determination

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I saw him up close for the first time on January 24, 1992, while he was engaged in a casual interaction with journalists in Jammu. I was impressed with his precision of speech, his choice of words and his determination. Though only a general secretary of the Gujarat unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the time, he was already making a mark. I am speaking, of course, of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi.

I never quite forgot the impression he made on me in 1992. He came back into public discourse strongly about 10 years later when his name began to appear more in public. This time, the BJP high command chose him to succeed Keshubhai Patel as Gujarat’s chief minister (CM). Patel’s government was badly shaken by the severe Gujarat earthquake on January 26, 2001. Such was Patel’s stature at that time that many wondered if Modi could fill his shoes.

The following year, CM Modi addressed a press conference in Delhi. In it, he detailed how devastated Bhuj and its surrounding areas were after the quake but how they had been restored to normalcy quickly. Today, if you drive through the Rann of Kutch, you will find smooth roads, electrified villages which have safe drinking water and medical facilities. This was not an easy task, but if Modi had not been able to rise to the challenge then, he would not have become the country’s PM.

In 2002, Gujarat saw fierce communal riots. Then PM AB Vajpayee exhorted CM Modi to follow his raj dharma at a press conference in Ahmedabad, Modi answered, “Wohi toh kar raha hoon, sahib.” Gujarat’s CM knew his priority was to make sure that such an incident did not repeat itself. For the 12 years that he was CM, Gujarat did not witness another communal riot.

This could only happen if the man in charge of law and order was impartial and did not feel he belonged to any particular community. In addition, Modi worked tirelessly to construct a welfare state and ensure that government benefits and basic amenities reached all sections of society without discrimination on any basis.

How exactly did he go about this? One day, he questioned Gujarat’s chief secretary, “From which taluka did you begin your career?” As soon as he received the chief secretary’s response, he said, “Do you have any knowledge of the state of that taluka?” You’ve risen to the position of chief secretary, but that taluka is still in the same parlous state. Why don’t you take up that tehsil and revitalise it?” Given the chief secretary’s enthusiasm, Modi summoned all the secretaries and repeated this suggestion. Every secretary was given charge of his or her first taluka.

He reposed faith and instilled confidence in the young collectors he deployed in 112 districts. More than a dozen criteria were used to choose these districts, ensuring that progress reached the disadvantaged areas first. What is this if not antyodaya (service of the poorest)? Now he is replicating the same sort of governance on a nationwide scale.

From Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi, I have had the opportunity to observe and listen to successive PMs in my long career as a journalist. All of them have contributed to the country’s progress in their own ways, but I can confidently say that I have never seen such a combination of determination and clarity as I have in Modi. He was born into poverty and has empathy for the pain of the poor. While working as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary across the country, he had the opportunity to study why government projects failed despite good intentions. He was able to make informed decisions on things that many hesitated to do before, thanks to his understanding of the needs of the people and ability to jumpstart schemes. The surgical strikes, nullification of Article 370, banning of triple talaq, and the Citizenship Amendment Act are all examples of this sort of decisive thought and action.

He will complete the eighth year of his term as PM this month. The results of recent assembly elections in five states have demonstrated that he faces no significant political challenge. When it comes to social and economic issues, the PM undoubtedly faces challenges on several fronts. In recent months, we have seen divisive voices on many issues ranging from language to religion. The war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic have created numerous problems. Assembly elections will be held in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh at the end of the year. As always, all eyes will be on Narendra Modi.

The pradhan sewak, as he likes to term himself, is, without doubt, aware of the difficulties which lie ahead. This is why he has added Sabka Vishwas to his famous Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas slogan going forward. It will be fascinating to watch how he goes about realising these goals.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan The views expressed are personal

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