Kartikeya Tanna
Narendra Modi Should Choose Not To Be India’s Prime Minister
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

Before critics and fans jump in joy and hatred respectively, let me state my bias at the outset – I admire Modi as a very effective and visionary leader of my home state of Gujarat. If India had a Presidential system of government, my thoughts may have been different. The reasons for the title of this piece are guided by practicality, a little bit of philosophy and, most crucially, the nation’s benefit.

The Sadbhavna Mission fast signaled, in many different ways, a certain expansion in Modi’s political outreach. Modi’s vision until the Sadbhavna fast, reflected through his speeches, was focused primarily on innovative and efficient means of governance in Gujarat. And he has delivered on many counts way beyond most of his contemporaries in other states of India. Unmistakably, a lot needs to still be done and, in his words at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Jaipur, “the sky is the limit” for his Gujarat.

After the fast, his focus has expanded to include issues of national interests. This expansion has coincided with a weakening hold of the country’s top leader over central governance and, consequently, an increasing influence over state matters by state leaders. The days of an overarching Centre dictating the direction of state matters are well and truly numbered. Because of the “policy paralysis” at the Centre, India is slowly, and rightly so, moving towards an era where decentralization of leadership and governance responsibilities is being realized as a much more viable route for the overall progress of the country. And, consequently, dynamic leaders like Modi, Mamta Bannerji, Nitish Kumar, Tarun Gogoi, Shivraj Chauhan and others have stood out even more.

A big error, however, would be to fall in the trap of fuelling the media’s obsession with tagging Modi as the “future PM” of India. To start with, the coalition dharma which has become a regular feature of central governance has been a major reason for the policy paralysis. Unless a highly unlikely miracle occurs, coalition dharma will continue to be a feature even if the BJP emerges as the single largest party in 2014. Narendra Modi will spend more time dealing with agitated reactions to a variety of opponents for a variety of reasons than executing his vision for India. Even if the courts of India were to exonerate him from his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots, his political adversaries as well as the media will continue to salivate with an ever increasing intensity at the prospect of raising that issue in destructively innovative ways. The Congress will not easily forget vicious attacks by the BJP on Manmohan Singh. The dynamic Modi one sees today as the outstanding leader of Gujarat may well be reduced to a strong-willed, but nonetheless helpless, Prime Minister. The alleged infighting within the BJP – NDA combine will also add to the paralysis.

In contrast to the fragile chair that has hosted India’s prime ministers since the last twenty years, as a chief minister of Gujarat, Modi sits on a highly stable and settled chair. And that is the place from where he should continue to play an effective national role. A couple of examples from a large number include a quick settlement of the issue of Indian diamond traders stuck in Chinese jails and his advice to various levels of the Central Government through reports and presentations to identify 500 villages and assist them in the road to self-sustenance. That his advice is not paid heed to is unfortunate for India. One can definitely argue that were he the Prime Minister, he could have executed these very ideas. Possibly, he could have. But when hung Parliaments spring up strange political bedfellows who then demand lucrative ministries in lieu of an assurance to stay afloat, such genuinely necessary ideas suffer the most.

Instead, as a very successful chief minister of a politically stable Gujarat, Modi can continue to shape the vision of India in his own way. And if and when the NDA does come to power, he can weigh upon his colleagues to execute many such plans by showing their execution in Gujarat.

2011 has showed us that India is in an era where individuals with sufficient power and influence can make a significant change in the country. Those outside the system have managed exceedingly well. Modi, indeed, has the advantage of being sufficiently inside the system. Modi has a sizeable fan base cutting across classes and religions. And he is an indefatigable workaholic leader whose “dhun for governance” must continue to benefit people at large. Moreover, a political post is not a sine qua non for his right of centre ideology which is concerned with providing level playing field for individual energies to find their space rather than distribute goodies in return for votes.

At a slightly more philosophical level, to a person who has been a champion of the true essence of Hindutva, the message is in the Bhagvad Gita – that of nishkama karma (detached and desireless action). His true contribution to Gujarat and India will be through dutiful action without attachment to political posts. He may never get to sit in 7 Race Course Road, but his nishkama karma will lead to Bharat’s kalyan. In today’s era of hung Parliaments, a Prime Minister’s mandate is held by the plurality of a small percentage of India who votes during elections and his conduct thereafter held by the vagaries of his allies. An inspirational leader’s mandate and outreach, on the other hand, has no limits. Modi is a good example of the latter.

Do his admirers, including me, want his legacy to be that of an ex-PM who waded through compromises with whimsical allies and confronted agitated opponents in a constant bid for political survival, or of a tall leader who showed his Gujarat how the “sky is the limit” and whose Gujarat then remarkably influenced the rest of India? The country’s top post, riddled with incessant compromises and plagued with subtler influences, is irrelevant to his remarkable ability to inspire his Bharat.