Dignity has been the running theme of all of PM Modi’s programmes
Julius Caesar, the great Roman ruler, is remembered for his last words to his old friend Brutus, as recorded by the Roman historian Suetonius: “You too, my child?”. His victory in the Roman Civil War leading to the capture of Rome and ascension to the throne is remembered for the “Crossing the Rubicon” call.
What actually distinguished Caesar’s life was his gusto. Much before he crossed the Rubicon river and defeated his rival Pompey, Caesar displayed leadership skills that made him stand out. He made his entry into public life in a dramatic way and made a mark very early in life. As a junior official in the public games and grain distribution departments, he would organise huge spectacles — wild-animal huntings, extravagant gladiator shows, for example. Gradualy, he built an image of a great leader of a different kind in the eyes of the Roman public.
Caesar was a skilled warrior and would love to outdo his own soldiers in pseudo competitions. In battles, he would always be seen atop a mount in order to be visible to his army, or at the centre of the battlefield, leading and setting an example for his soldiers. No wonder his soldiers always identified with him and his mission. He was a cult figure for them.
A leader is not one who will subject himself to an image created by the society — a true leader creates his own image through mastery over his own self and unique actions. That was Caesar then, that is Narendra Modi now.
Modi’s greatest strength is his focus and concentration. He singularly focuses on victory. Nothing can distract him. His focus, coupled with his larger-than-life image, is an invincible combination. Carl Von Clausewitz, the great Prussian general and military theorist, had once said: “The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, then at the decisive point. There is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one’s forces concentrated. In short, the first principle is: act with utmost concentration”.
Unlike the leadership on the opposite side, Modi’s messaging is focused and unambiguous. His “chowkidar” campaign is the latest example of his unique leadership style. For critics, it may seem melodramatic and theatrical. But for Modi, it has a mission and purpose.
Modi doesn’t invoke Mahatma Gandhi without reason. Gandhi too found unique ways to achieve his goals. His loincloth, his satyagraha, his non-violent resistance and his Harijan campaign pushed the mighty British empire into submission. Modi too takes a leaf or two out of Gandhi’s life.
The most significant and profound theme of Modi’s campaigns — as had been Gandhi’s — is about according dignity to the last man. Marx and Mao dreamt of a socialist society where all citizens will be equal. They couldn’t succeed because these leaders came to be associated with campaigns for equal status. But Modi has presented his vision differently.
He has presented the chowkidar campaign as one for “equal spirit”. By presenting himself as the chowkidar and by associating it with “spirit”, Modi has achieved two objectives. His unique campaign, a la Caesar’s, has made him invincible to his adversaries. Second, by making doctors, engineers, government servants and businessmen call themselves, “chowkidar”, the prime minister, in a subtle manner, has brought dignity to a lower-rung profession. Today, no small-time worker — be they a chowkidar or someone from the service class — will be looked down upon.
Dignity of the ordinary citizens has been the running theme of Modi’s governance in the last five years. From the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana to Swachh Bharat, his schemes have an underlying theme of human dignity and honour. Long after Independence, we have left almost a quarter of our population out of the formal economy. The government benefits meant for them had to be passed on as cash doles. It bred corruption and political hegemony. The poor were perpetually at the mercy of bureaucrats and politicians. Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile — the JAM trinity — has changed all that. The new economic identity through JAM has not only empowered the poor economically, but also enhanced their dignity.
It is the same case with the Swachh Bharat campaign. It was estimated that in rural India, over 60 per cent households did not have access to clean toilets before Modi assumed office. Rural women were the real victims. They were subjected to violence, afflicted with diseases and even lost educational opportunities just because they didn’t have access to toilets at homes and in schools. Things have changed with Swachh Bharat. Toilets have become symbols of not only cleanliness but according dignity to women as well.
Critics say that Modi’s superior communication skills give him an advantage. What they forget is that mere communication skills, without actual good work, would never win anyone the hearts of people. The Indian electorate is mature at one level and ruthless at another. It has seen through many a campaign in the past and shown leaders their place.
In Modi’s case, it is the delivery on promises along with his communication skills that makes him the darling of the masses. Ideally, the election should revolve around real issues, like Modi’s fight against corruption, thrust on development and his endeavours to improve the living standards of ordinary citizens. Modi’s, “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas” is not merely a slogan — he meant it, and delivered on his promises to 1.3 billion Indians whom he calls his family.
It is a trap to allow the electoral discourse to swing in any other direction — religion or otherwise. There is no reason to believe that minorities en masse hate Modi. Beneficiaries of his agenda in the last five years also include the minorities, in large numbers.
Modi has brought about a huge transformation of the country, and of his self-image, in the last few years. A strong leader with a holistic development agenda, rooted firmly in the culture of his country, is how the world sees Modi . That has won him hearts at home, and laurels globally. And that is what would eventually win him this election.
(The article was originally published in Indian Express on April 10, 2019. Views expressed are personal)