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365 degree Appraisal
Like it or not, there is no denying that Narendra Modi has been the most polarising face in modern Indian history. Some love him, some hate him and very few like me fall in-between. If you ask his devotees, they would say that he transformed Gujarat like no one before. If you ask others, they would point out to data gymnastics plus his being in the seat of power when 2002 happened. Narendra Modi comes as a contrast to Manmohan Singh.

Backstory

Dr. Singh was a brilliant academic, a scrupulously honest soft-spoken gentleman, who in the 1990s had turned

India around. He was never a terrific speaker and so hardly communicated with people his multifarious achievements as prime minister. Aloof and media shy, he believed that his work would speak for itself. He was hemmed in by the compulsions of coalition politics and never really had the final word on economics; largely because he was not the political boss and as some are prone to point out, he in later years began to like the trappings of his office.

In contrast, Modi was schooled in the cesspool of local politics, had a penchant for street fighting, has been a feisty orator and a popular chief minister who ran his ship with an iron fist. In his cabinet, this RSS pracharak with modest upbringing, was not the first among equals, but was No 1, No 2, No 3… No 10 all rolled in one. As India spun into a mood of pessimism, following myriad scams that rocked it with alarming frequency, it needed someone who was unshackled and who would be his own boss.

 

Modi fitted the bill...

When he was anointed to lead the BJP, I had mixed feelings. While he did have the qualifications and may have been clean on Gujarat (the SIT said it had found nothing amiss, albeit multiples leads), he was quick to defend 2002 with Newton’s third law of motion (he denied making that statement).  He was egoistic: remember the '15,000' boast at Uttarakhand disaster (later the journalist backtracked) and his 56 inches chest claim? I have always looked upon Prime Ministers as statesmen who don't talk the language of the fish market.

But in the end, India voted for him and that settled the issue for me.  After all, he would be our Prime Minister, India’s Prime Minister. At the end of 365 days of his reign, it’s time to take stock. Read on…

 

Improving foreign relations…

Let’s first talk about the positives.

No one thought Modi would have the gravitas to hit it off internationally. He proved us wrong. He has been on whistle-stop foreign jaunts, leaving good first impressions.  Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Sri Lanka, USA; the man has been everywhere. When Obama invited him to the US, he jumped at it with alacrity. Forgotten was the ignominy of having been refused a visa to that country for ten plus years. Soon the two shared bonhomie and Modi invited the American President home, which Obama happily agreed to. The two tall democracies of the world were seen to have inched closer in friendship.

Modi also sought to shake hands with enemy Nawaz Sharief, suggesting that he was ready to evolve a global statesman. Forgotten was the diatribe that he had once leashed on Manmohan Singh, accusing him of serving biryani to the Pakistan premier. That things did not pan out well between Modi and Sharief, given their blow-hot, blow-cold approach, is another matter.  Modi next visited China and Korea as the magician who can sell the idea of India to anyone who is willing to lend an ear.

He was well prepared. He made the right noises and the right moves like playing the drums in Japan giving out the impression that he has a soft side as well. Clearly the idea is to build bridges in the first year. The visits created positive press for India and have promised investments into India.  

In USA, American businesses promised to invest $41 billion in the next three years, in India.  France agreed to support India’s candidature for a permanent member seat in the UN Security Council, similar to the promise made by Obama when he visited India a few years ago during the UPA rule. Canada announced it would supply uranium for India’s civil nuclear plant for the next five years. Sri Lanka released Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture.  Nepal and India signed agreements on traditional medicine, tourism and youth affairs. Australia has promised to enter into a free trade agreement sometime next year. Japan has committed $35 billion in investments and financing and the bilateral trade between the two countries may double to touch USD 25 billion.  Well, when it rains, it pours.  

The diaspora greeted Modi everywhere, giving him the status that’s normally reserved for a rock star. Was that because of the curiosity factor of an ordinary man’s rise to superstardom or was it the belief that this was the messiah who would take us to the promised land?  Remember Modi has milked his humble origins to the hilt. Modi’s English speaking skills added to his persona. Modi is telling the world, “If you want to deal with India, deal with me. I am a man of action.” The quick work in Yemen and later Nepal provided proof of speedy action.

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