OPINION | Seva Bhaav Over Satta Bhaav: Decoding Narendra Modi’s Address in Central Hall of Parliament
The Central Hall of Parliament saw a flexible leader willing to put country above party and adapt himself to the needs of the people regardless of ideological bent.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the NDA parliamentary board meeting in the Central Hall of Parliament on May 25, 2019. (PTI)
Narendra Modi inaugurated his second term with a statesman-like address to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), affirming a pluralistic, inclusive idea of India and eschewing triumphalism and scapegoating. The speech was emollient and conciliatory, and the message to his victorious troops was instructive rather than vaunting.
The Central Hall of Parliament saw a flexible leader willing to put country above party and adapt himself to the needs of the people regardless of ideological bent. The demagoguery of the campaign — ridiculing opponents, playing on class prejudice, deviating from norms of established political conduct — vanished as if it had never been.
Modi views Lok Sabha 2019 elections as a big break in Indian politics. This is evident from two aspects of his speech. First, he characterised the election as a “samajik ekta ka andolan” which “helped break down walls and join hearts”. He was referring to the 'big tent' social coalition crafted by the BJP, comprising upper castes, Dalits and EBCs, and bringing together traditionally opposing groups.
The implication is that Mandal politics is on the way out and new forms of social justice will emerge. The contractual nature of suffrage, in which various groups voted in narrow self-interest, is changing.
Second, he harped continually on “badlav” (change) and new beginnings. A new India, new energy, new age and so on. Modi sees himself as a disruptor and an innovator. Instead of replacing the elements of the existing power structure with his own, he hints at dismantling it.
Third, he mooted at an inclusivity offensive vis-à-vis the minorities. The NDA's responsibility, he said, was to liberate them from “imaginary fears” and vote-bank politics, and win their trust by ensuring that no section is alienated from the fruits of development. “Those who support us are ours, those who oppose us strongly are also ours,” he asserted, pointedly warning MPs against discrimination and scapegoating.
Weighty messages were delivered with a light touch, all the right emotional triggers pressed and a code of conduct laid out for the MPs. ‘Satta Bhaav’ was the public representative's enemy and ‘Seva Bhaav’ his best friend. Entitlement, complacency, arrogance and publicity-seeking are all taboo.
In a tangential reference to the RSS norm of prasidhi parimukta (avoiding self-publicity), he adjured MPs to avoid controversial statements and bear in mind that nothing is ever truly off the record. Likewise, first-timers should be on their guard against Delhi's wheeler-dealers.
He called on them to emulate the late Manohar Parrikar, who insisted on conducting himself as an ordinary citizen even when he was a cabinet minister. “Why can’t you stand in line for an airport security check? People say that Modi ended the 'red light' culture.”
A significant aspect of his speech was a clear and emphatic commitment to the NDA, despite the fact that the BJP won 303 seats on its own. In keeping with Atal Bihari Vajpayee's legacy, its integrity would not only be maintained but strengthened: “NDA is an andolan...not a temporary strategy...everyone makes sacrifices and this powers the whole.”
He dovetailed the spirit of collectivism with federalism, coming up with a pun on 'nara' (slogan). The acronym NARA — National Ambition, Regional Aspiration — would exemplify the equilibrium between the two. (The RSS has a penchant for acronyms and alliterations).
As is his wont, he acknowledged the growing clout of women in public life, pointing out that they had matched men vote for vote in this election and would soon outstrip them. A record number of women had entered Parliament, he noted with palpable satisfaction.
Another conspicuous feature of the speech were the references to India's global profile. He pointed out that the incremental vote received by the BJP in 2019 was equivalent to the sum of votes that made Donald Trump POTUS. The world, fascinated by its largest democracy, had “great expectations of India”, he said.
He took a subtle pot-shot at the Opposition. A “bahut bada varg” maintained by “others” for 70 years and inimical to the BJP would be only too willing to entrap the unwary, PM Modi warned. He also said that he would hold himself accountable for lapses (in comparison with the Gandhi family, who are criticised for enjoying power without responsibility).
As always, he paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi, Deendayal Upadhaya, Ram Manohar Lohia and Babasaheb Ambedkar. His final piece of advice to the MPs was to test themselves on two touchstones: Mahatma Gandhi's “last man” formula and the Constitution.
All in all, it was a positive if pragmatic speech, intended as much for public consumption as delineating a broad direction for the NDA.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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