What happened to Modi?

If you have noticed of late sympathy for Narendra Modi in this column, you would have noticed right. The reason for my having seen Modi in soft focus was because he articulated an economic vision for India that, I believe, can bring back hope to a country that needs urgently to emerge from the socialist tokenism of the past decade. The schoolchildren who died last week from eating mid-day meals are only a small and tragic symptom of how horribly things have gone wrong in the name of the poor.

Tokenism has been the leitmotif of Indian socialism always. So technically we have enough schools, hospitals, food, jobs, pensions and whatever else 'the poor' need. But, in reality, the schools and hospitals are just buildings. Food grain rots in the open and the guaranteed employment has gone mostly to those who already had jobs in agriculture. Half of India's children are malnourished despite thousands of crores having been spent on the largest school meal programme in the world. The greatest 'achievement' of this kind of economic policy is that we have created a handout economy and, because growth rates have halved, it is now unsustainable.

So, when Modi talked of a new way of doing things, a change of direction and a vision that had prosperity as its goal, and not just removal of poverty, it sounded like a beautiful new raga to the ears of your columnist. But now, he seems to have changed the subject, and in doing so, lost my sympathy and made me quite worried about how he has understood the message that ordinary Indians are trying to send him. On my travels outside Delhi and Mumbai, I have made it a point to ask people what they think of Modi and, as I have written before in this space, been quite astonished at how much support he has in rural parts. Not because he is seen as a mighty Hindutva hero, but because they believe he can make India prosperous and strong.

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