A new idea of India?

Can Narendra Modi sell Indians a new dream of India? The first time I asked myself this question was after a university commencement ceremony he presided over in Ahmedabad some years ago. What was unusual about the ceremony was that it was completely Indian without being self-consciously so. The graduating students wore Indian clothes and saffron scarves instead of black caps and gowns and when they received their degrees from the Chief Minister, it was to the sound of Sanskrit chanting. It was as beautiful and pristine a commencement as I have seen anywhere. But, the reason why the occasion has remained vivid in my memory is because I saw in it the possibility of an Indian education system that could one day be decolonised.

This is crucial to a new dream of India is because if we continue to breed Indian children who dream American dreams, we can bet on our dear Bharat Mata remaining forever a second rate clone of some other country. The results from Gujarat indicate that Modi appeals to young, urban, middle-class Indians and most of my fellow political pundits have attributed this to his having touched an 'aspirational' chord. He himself spoke during the campaign of a 'neo-middle class' so he knows that he has tapped into a deep desire across India for better governance and an aspiration for prosperity. But, if Modi wants to sell a new dream, he will need to do much more than this.

In this column last week, I said that he is the only Indian political leader today with a clear economic vision. It is a vision that glorifies prosperity and not poverty and this has led poverty and this has led some commentators to already start speaking of him as India's Deng Xiaoping. Deng brought prosperity to China by throwing Chairman Mao's economic ideas into history's trash can and if Modi decides to enter national politics, he will need to throw a lot of foolish economic ideas away and especially those that the RSS continues to propagate. But, he will need to do much more.

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