How to manage Modi?

By : Shahzad Chaudhry

Two glass ceilings got broken in the first two decades of this century: A black man’s son became the president of the United States — the oldest democracy in the world and a tea boy’s son was elected in a sweeping victory as the prime minister of India — the largest democracy of the world. A third such occasion is likely in 2016 when a woman just might become the first-ever female president of the US. This is paradigms being shattered.

If you want to really celebrate democracy as some in this country are prone to do simply by seeing one civilian government transition to another, note the speed at which from mid-1960s both the ‘colored’ and the women, and the weak, have been able to find their place in the real democracies of the world on their merit alone.

No dynasties, no historical reference of a father or a grandfather having once been at a position of entitlement — simply the capacity and the ability of a person (men, women, ‘colored’) to prove his credentials in a field of play that is cutthroat competitive and where only the best will survive.

There are only two references in a competitive electoral play; the person: His charisma, charm and magical spell over the people — think Jinnah, Gandhi, Mandela, and Bhutto; and the performance — think Manmohan Singh when he got his country some exceptional growth figures under Narsimha Rao, and more recently, Narendra Modi with his outstanding developmental record in Gujarat.

Modi romped home with a strength that was surprising even to him though pundits had already predicted a wave of change. But, what a performance! Kudos to India for such an election; not a murmur of rigging or absence of fair play. To win in such an election and with the margin that Modi has, is simply too big a landmark in contemporary political history. It was a “wow” moment for India and the country needs to be applauded for it.

Modi is a rare combination of the two. He has his spell and a sterling record of development, aided without doubt by an enabling environment where the electorate could only rest their hopes on him after others had betrayed it with dismal performance. He seems a man who can easily connect with the people. An effective orator, he outshined Rahul Gandhi who appeared unenthused and listless in comparison. To the dismay of many in Pakistan, let me suggest that if Modi gets his act together, he will take India places.
India will change, perhaps finally realizing its dream and potential, as will its polity. India will never be the same again; this remains my considered opinion. He is that kind of fellow.

Many in Pakistan wondered if this was an election lost or an election won. If there was one factor that played in wooing the voters, it was leadership, or the lack of it when they disavowed the Congress. That did it for Modi. He appeared resolute, clearheaded, focused and decisive; all that Manmohan or Rahul were not.

Is there a lesson out there for our political class and us? Especially in our current situation where not only are institutions entangled with each other, they are also breaking up within. What is needed for Pakistan too is a no-nonsense style of leadership that is upfront, owns the problems and seems willing and active in doing something about it. Not the kind of absent leadership that sleeps by the side as the state and the nation unravel before it.

Statesmanship has been wrongly understood by this clan. They think sleeping through, or remaining detached and above the fray is how statesmen are made. There cannot be another as fallacious a conception. Statesmen are leaders, and leaders work with their hands. Will Modi spur Nawaz to do better? I feel the simple relativity of how India propels, and how Pakistan nosedives under listless, lackadaisical leadership, will be enough factors to force a change. Of what kind will remain to be seen. Manmohan Singh’s listlessness was too contagious.

Modi, however is no goody-two-shoes. He is also characterized as the “butcher of Gujarat.” That will change. He is someone who reads his role well. What was needed then to appease some at the RSS was then and that helped him establish his position within the party; but now there is a different role for him.

The weight of his victory will help Modi establish his influence not only within the BJP, but also within the RSS. He is likely to have much greater freedom of action, as he now goes about establishing himself as a man of substance in the international arena. He will not be the gung-ho Modi that we assume; instead he will be deliberate, firm and unyielding in the way that he charts his and India’s future.

How might then Pakistan manage him? The first apprehension is will he war with Pakistan. Here is how it will go. He will begin with an immediate assessment of what his armed forces will need to gain an assured level of readiness — armed forces are always short of what they assume is absolute readiness; remember the nine months that Manekshaw needed before the 1971 war, or how the Indian army dithered after Mumbai from a reprisal action.

Modi’s aim will not be to seek a war. But come another situation like Mumbai 2008, he would like his military to respond with effect; of that there should be little confusion. Pakistan will then need to evolve its own plan to first deter and then respond to such a reprisal. That will put them both on a slippery slope of escalation dominance.

What both sides will need instead are measures and processes that will control and manage escalation, not dominate it. Failing these the spiral down the stability regime will be rather rapid, consequences untold and horrendous. It will also help if another Mumbai does not occur. We can be assured of Modi working hard to find space for an armed retribution if he was tested with something as horrible as that. It is better to be prepared than be surprised. And how do you manage him? By simply being better at what he does. With our current pack, forget it.

The writer is a retired air vice-marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff.





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