Dear Mr Prime Minister, What Will the India of 2020 Look Like?


Dear Mr Prime Minister, What Will the India of 2020 Look Like?

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

What a year it has been! You won a second term with a bigger mandate – and only six months into your second innings, I feel like this is not the Narendra Modi I voted for. At a time when the former chief economic advisor to the government has warned that the “economy is headed to the ICU”, the most pressing issue in the country seems to be figuring out who is Indian and who is not. 

I voted for economic growth and development, but all we’re getting are internet shutdowns, detention centres, and arbitrary applications of section 144. All of which not only have grave social and humanitarian, but also sharp economic costs that we can’t afford right now. 

While campaigning in 2014, the opposition kept invoking religious issues and the Gujarat riots but you never swayed from your messaging that revolved around “development”. You never let either Ayodhya or Pakistan hijack your narrative. 

When in government from 2014-2019, you launched a cleanliness drive, welfare schemes, and carried out mass digitisation. You aced the foreign diplomacy game. Critics mocked you for your constant travels, but our nation’s profile got a boost – the world was sitting up and taking notice of what we had to say. Demonetisation was a downer and GST was not without its flaws, but India did well in infrastructure – highway construction was on track (the new Bharatmala and Sagarmala project) and regional airports were revived. You announced 100 per cent electrification of villages and while you might have not achieved 100 per cent success, at least 23.9 million households got an electric connection. The Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, a scheme to ensure that every household had a bank account, was novel needed. 

You had the right intentions, but then came the lynchings and the government’s interference in independent institutions like the CBI. Yes it was worrisome but I thought you’d find a way to correct all of this. Maybe you needed more time. No politician, no party is perfect. But under you, the India of the 21st century largely seemed to be talking about the things that India of the 21st century should be talking about. And that is why it rewarded you with a resounding mandate in 2019. 

However, things have changed in your second term Mr Prime Minister and you are too shrewd a politician to be unaware of it. 

The country was in a leadership crisis heading into the 2014 elections and it placed its hope in you.

It is not the Citizenship Amendment Act that worries me Mr Prime Minister, but what I found most chilling was a phrase that you so casually used during your rally at the Ramlila Maidan: You called critics of the bill “Urban naxals”. For someone who has claimed that “criticism makes our democracy strong”, this was not the kind of response expected from you. Apologies, but you sounded less like a prime minister and more like an IT cell troll. 

It is not the exercise of the NPR that concerns me Mr Prime Minister, but the fact that you thought those conducting violence “could be identified by their clothes”. For a political party that champions nationalism, isn’t Indian identity supreme? Or are we now going to distinguish people further on the basis of their caste, religion, clothes, food habits, and way of life? 

It is not the slogans of students in a university that will break this country Mr Prime Minister, but a slight dent will surely be caused when the Home Minister publicly announces that the “tukde tukde gang” will be punished. 

I am the Prime Minister of “all” Indians, you have always claimed, also echoed in your slogan, “Sabka saath sabka vikas”. What happened to that promise? Has your definition of “all” been altered? 

If the well-meaning police who are being pelted with stones are Indian citizens, if the well-meaning students being beaten up are Indian citizens, and all of those dying in violence are Indian citizens, are we now going to be a country that will discuss who was right and who was wrong? A country that takes sides between an Indian student and an Indian police officer? 

Is the India of the 21st century going to be one where a monk wearing bhagva and heading the largest state of the country, talks of taking “badla” after people have lost their lives? Is the India of the 21st century going to be one where a member of the ruling party keeps glorifying Nathuram Godse? Is the India of the 21st century going to be one where the head of the IT cell of your party suggests an Indian journalist should manage PR for ISIS? Is the India of the 21st century going to be one where a union minister garlands eight people convicted in a lynching case?

Will the India of 2020 keep detaining protesters? Will the India of 2020 muffle dissenting voices and disrespect democracy? Are we going to be a country where the cops enter a university and thrash students in toilets and libraries? Are we going to be a country where people will be detained for making rangolis? Are we going to be a country where a thousand FIRs are filed against students for a protest but criminal and corruption charges are dropped from persons joining the ruling party?

Will the India of 2020 keep demonising students? Will the India of 2020 keep applying section 144 arbitrarily? Will the India of 2020 keep shutting down internet at will? Will the India of 2020 be constantly at war with its own people, Mr Prime Minister?

What kind of India do we want in 2020?

One of our former presidents that you have great regard for, Dr Abdul Kalam, dreamt that India would be a superpower by 2020. We are not quite there yet, but what a grave disservice it would be to his memory, that the India of 2020 would be talking of Sadhvi Pragya and Yogi Adityanath, and not of the leaps that need to be made in the spheres of space, science, technology, and economic growth. 

All is not lost, Mr Prime Minister – in fact, far from it. A new year calls for new beginnings and regardless of where we stand today, two things are undeniable. One, that there are still four and a half years to go in your second term. And two, that you have a brute majority in Lok Sabha along with a functional majority in Rajya Sabha. That is a once in a 30-40-year phenomenon Mr Prime Minister, and a window of historic opportunity to pass laws and enact progressive reform at a furious pace, one that the country’s economy is acutely begging for. The costs for India to miss this rare window of demographic dividend coupled with political certainty are too damn high. As the former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said, “A crisis is a terrible time to waste.” 

With both arithmetic and the people on your side, you could cement your legacy by the end of this term, Mr Prime Minister. And I’m certain you would want it to be a good one. The country was in a leadership crisis heading into the 2014 elections and it placed its hope in you. I hope you will live up to it, because the country could use some of it right now. 

Whether it is getting people to click selfies with their daughters, give up their LPG subsidy, head to the streets with a jhadu, or add a Chowkidar to their name, you are the master of setting an agenda, Mr Prime Minister, and getting the people of the country to follow it. It would only be fitting that you set the right one in 2020. 

On that note, Happy New Year, Mr Prime Minister.