After avenging Uri, is Modi government prepared to endure the domestic fallout of the military offensive against Pakistan? (Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ The Quint)

After Punishing Perpetrators, Can Modi Get Back to Vikas Agenda?


Having authored an unauthorised biography of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his partial cooperation, I had the privilege of interacting with several éminence grise once it was clear that he was headed for South Block. Influential people from various walks of life — some of them also in the capacity to decide which way large swathes of finances would flow in the global markets and how much of it would come India’s way.

One of them, at the end of almost an hour-long interaction framed a pointed question: “What is his long-term ambition?”

“Modi is looking for political immortality. Half a century later, he would ideally want the prime minister of the time to build his statue next to where Modi ordered a sculpture of Sardar Patel — but twice in size.”

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Political Immortality

The gentleman, who had been painstakingly taking notes on Mr Modi’s economic vision, weighed my words before responding. “Political immortality, my friend, cannot come his way by the ‘good way’ — I mean growth and development; it can come only by the ‘bad way’ — meaning conflict, violence and war,” he said.

His words stayed with me but always only in the realm of a possibility until news filtered about the “surgical strikes” by the Indian army. Having believed that war and conflict simply boost egos of the present generation but leave coming generations weakened for decades, I thought that Modi would not be a prophet of gloom, that he had actually turned his back on the spires of smoke.

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PM Modi’s comments at the Kozhikode rally on 24 September, 2016. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
PM Modi’s comments at the Kozhikode rally on 24 September, 2016. (Photo: The Quint)

Modi’s Message: India No Longer a Soft State

But with the strikes in the early hours on Thursday, Modi has finally made his choice clear. His enemy is not poverty and discrimination and instead his objective is military glory. His priority at the moment is not to replace filth with swachhata (cleanliness) and corruption with transparency. Modi is no longer focussed on being a leader who transformed India’s economic and social future.

Instead, he is now concentrating all energies on enhancing India’s military might and proving that India has stopped being a soft state. His emphasis is on going down in history as the premier who bloodied Pakistan’s nose.

He wants to go one better than Indira Gandhi. But this is easier said than done.

By making his move in the stealth of the night, Modi has embarked on an unknown trajectory with the objective of calling Pakistan’s bluff. He wants to prove that being a nuclear power does not mean that restraint is his only option. Modi has indisputably cocked a snook at the powers that be in Rawalpindi from where they run the Pakistani state.

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Hope Indian Govt is Prepared for the Consequences

Interpretations of Modi’s Kozhikode speech, which concluded that it was indicative of strategic restraint, have been proved false. India’s declared offensive shows that Modi has mastered the art of surprising adversaries and creating a smokescreen to leave people guessing about his real intent. Henceforth, all development spiel will now take the backseat and there will be little but echoes of #ModiPunishesPak and #IndiaStrikesPak.

This will be an evolving story and history will reflect more clarity on it. The military path is hazy and unsure at this stage. Modi has taken India on an unknown path. Pakistan has so far denied India its ‘victory’ but this surely will not be its last word.

Its response is yet to come but it would be foolhardy to consider that they will draw a blank. India may yet emerge victorious in the long-run, but the journey will be fraught with major risks and one can expect new forms of escalation on either side of the border. Predictable consequences would have been factored in by the Indian government.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs the CCS meeting on the situation on the LoC, in New Delhi on 29 September, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs the CCS meeting on the situation on the LoC, in New Delhi on 29 September, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

From Hindu Hriday Samrat to Bharatiya Hriday Samrat

But in conflict, the entire course cannot be scripted and there are bound to be unpredictable developments. How Modi and his team of ‘battle’ managers handle these may decide his political future in the short-term, but more importantly, it will have a bearing on the future generations of Indians.

For the moment however, Modi is the macho leader who has delivered a sucker punch. The confusing duality which he projected since the Uri attack has turned out to be a tactic — aimed to engage with two disparate ideological groups within the country —peaceniks and warmongers. But today, he has decided which shall be his primary constituency.

From being Hindu Hriday Samrat, Modi is on way to emerging as Bharatiya Hriday Samrat. It goes without saying that being Bharatiya is just a moniker for being Hindu. Hasn’t Modi just delivered a sermon to his party workers that they should take a leaf from Deendayal Upadhyaya’s book and parishkrit (cleanse) Muslims? We have also recently argued how Post Uri, the definition of Indian nationalism has become narrower.

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Members of the Pakistani Civil Society Forum take part in a demonstration for peace, in Lahore,  28 September, 2016. (Photo: AP)
Members of the Pakistani Civil Society Forum take part in a demonstration for peace, in Lahore, 28 September, 2016. (Photo: AP)

Impact on Domestic Discourse

Much to our discomfort, developments on the Indo-Pak conflict will have a bearing on the internal social discourse and on inter-community relationships, most significantly on Hindu-Muslim relations and ties between the Indian State and religious minorities.

The back-patting of Modi on social media cannot be allowed to spill on the streets. Tweets like “Game on ..56" 57 58 ....” by ministers like @girirajsinghbjp can be provocative when rationality is the need of the hour. Likewise, there can be no grudging Modi’s manoeuvre to demonstrate that India is no soft state. The question is, if such demonstration could have been done by alternative means.

Political Gains for BJP in Poll-Bound States

In the immediate political context, the BJP would expect to gain in elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In any case, besides nurturing ambitions of being a transformative leader, his real intent is to keep winning elections — most importantly the next parliamentary poll.

But jingoistic electoral contests have the tendency to polarise and outbreak of hostilities — immediately or later — will weaken the military offensive and add to the economic burden of the nation. While the temperature on the border escalates, it is essential to subdue it domestically.

Bouncing Back to Peace and Development Narrative

Modi has demonstrated that he has the courage to live up to the expectations people have from him. He has taken a giant stride in acquiring political immortality. His success or failure will depend on slew of factors; some in his control, a few outside. History will judge where he reaches — pinnacle or nadir. I only hope that the route to his final destination will not be all that terrible for the nation and the people. Peace and development too must accrue to this land.

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.