COLUMN: Why Modi will be a better PM than Nehru


Every ideologically driven person — whether leftist (love everyone), or rightist (trust none) — must eventually learn to understand and incorporate the other side to become a successful leader.

Looking at Narendra Modi’s actions since taking over three months, one can safely say that the Indian Prime Minister has made that transition to a large extent. Latest proof comes in the form of pictures from Japan.

Modi, who has been a ‘iron man’ for his rightist followers, is seen pulling a schoolboy’s ear, jumping into a drum-beating contest with a ceremonial drummer, trying his hand at a Soprano and generally doing the kind of things the followers of his ‘tough’ persona would term ‘soft’ or unbecoming of a ‘tough leader’.

Of course, we should be less surprised since he chose an invitation to Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif to visit India as his first major decision after becoming PM.

But that was seen as an exception, not only by his followers, but also by his detractors who expected him to reveal his ‘real intentions’ later.

But with the Japan visit, Modi has sent his followers and his detractors a message – he’s neither a rightist, nor a leftist, but a ‘forwardist’. His job is not to take the country left or right, but to take it forward towards progress.

If his tough guy persona is a impediment to achieving this, he is willing to let go of it and come across as a balanced leader who looks forward, not sideways.

It is not an easy thing to do – to overcome your ideological roots, and Modi deserves credit for doing so. Jawaharlal Nehru, who many consider to be the greatest Prime Minister of India, totally failed to overcome his leftist, love-all ideological baggage and become a balanced leader. As a result, when China attacked India, it was not just a political setback, but also a personal failure for Nehru.

India had to pay dearly for Nehru’s inability to step out of his leftist outlook. While a state-oriented economy helped to create crucial infrastructure in the initial phase, the ‘socialist’ arrangement helped stifle India’s entrepreneurial spirit, a mistake that the country is still paying for.

Modi would be making a similar mistake if he’d taken a typically rightist (trust no-one) approach. Instead, Modi has sought a beautiful balance, the Golden Mean, as the Buddha said.

In that sense, Modi is above Nehru. He has shown the ability to appreciate the other side and incorporate the best of both worlds to achieve the right balance of friendliness and adversariality, of trust and caution, of love and toughness.

Of course, this has upset many of his rightist followers. Many are feeling restless. Many feel that Modi needs to take some ‘tough actions’, put the ‘enemies’ in their place and generally show everyone, once again, who’s boss.

But Modi is not the Modi-bhakt’s prime minister. He’s India’s prime minister, even if all of India did not vote for him. As India’s leader, his job is to take the whole country forward, to promote the welfare of the nation as a whole, not just that of those who voted for him.

It is difficult to achieve this. And it is time for everyone across the ideological spectrum, rightists or leftists, to acknowledge his efforts.