The dichotomy between perception and reality appears more pronounced when one starts assessing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his performance in the first 100 days of his government.
Is Modi really what he appears to be, or is he different?
The man who talks of inclusive society and a riot-free India — does he mean it or is it just an attempt to deviate from his past?
Is the PM really serious about South Asian solidarity or he is merely indulging in grandstanding?
With more than a 100 days in office, the people of India are still struggling to decipher whether Modi is a perception or a reality ... or both.
But after these last three months, one thing is clear: the present regime in Delhi is a government of Modi, by Modi and for Modi. No other voice is audible or important. The whole cabinet has become a rubber stamp of the Prime Minister Office (PMO). Modi has become a larger than life image.
Unlike the previous regime, the present dispensation is showing more agility and a sense of purpose.
The government understands that it carries the huge burden of a mandate it must deliver on. Modi knows that his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh paid the price of being silent most of the time. Therefore, the new PM talks a lot and wants to prove that he is in command of the government.
The main focus of Modi’s election campaign has been the economic development of the country. In over three months, the government has taken some of the decisions to open up the economy, but it is not a radical departure from the previous Congress government. The kind of structural change that his corporate backers and pro-market supporters were looking for has not been introduced yet.
If one goes by the rise in Sensex it seems that the negative sentiment has given way to positive change. But at the ground level, the common people are complaining just the same as before — they are still bothered about rising inflation.
The first budget that the BJP government presented in June was just a rehash of the Congress' financial statement, shorn of any major announcement. It was a big let down for the people who were hoping to see a genuinely new economic thought.
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Modi’s government has made a lot of noise on the foreign policy front in the last 100 days as well. It started first when all the leaders of South Asian countries were invited for his swearing-in ceremony. His visit to Bhutan and Nepal attracted great attention. Many experts term such initiatives as an attempt to build south asian solidarity and a visionary step.
But when it came to dealing with Pakistan, the limits of Modi’s vision were exposed.
Perception and reality came in direct conflict. After his initial grandstanding during the swearing-in ceremony, the world has started to look at him as a statesman, willing to engage a hostile neighbour, stabilise South Asia and open economic avenues for people who have been denied peace and prosperity for decades.
But the rhetoric could not match with reality. He cancelled important talks between foreign secretaries of the two neighbours because the Pakistani envoy in India met separatist leaders from Kashmir despite opposition from the Indian government.
Those who follow South Asian politics know that Modi’s excuse to call off the talks was just an attempt to pander to his constituency of Hindu hardliners. The BJP’s main aim right now is to win Hindu votes in the upcoming assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, where the party hopes to form government by polarising people on religious lines.
People tend to compare Modi with the former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, who took some bold initiatives to bring New Delhi and Islamabad closer. But Modi, unlike Vajpayee, is a hardcore Hindu nationalist who considers it important for his following to maintain that image.
It will not be easy for Modi to break free from his image as a hardliner and transform into an enlightened ruler. It will not be easy for him to make a bold move in relations with Pakistan.
Indian PM’s hardline image gets further reinforced when one looks at the emerging realities from some of the crucial states in India which are communally sensitive. English daily Indian Express recently came out with reports which stated that ever since the BJP’s search for power began the state of Uttar Pradesh has witnessed more than 1000 riots.
After the formation of the government by the Hindu right in Delhi, the situation has further deteriorated. Modi, despite all his declarations on Independence Day about a riot-free India, has failed to comment on the worsening situation. He has not tried to control the fanatics from BJP, who have been disturbing communal amity between the Hindus and Muslims in the hinterland of UP.
What's disturbing, however, is the gradual radicalisation and polarisation of the society. Modi talks of communal harmony and a moratorium on religious riots, but the actualities are far from it.
The BJP has coined a new term, "love jihad" to divide communities. The party is allegedly spreading rumour that Muslims are enticing Hindu girls in to romantic relations and converting them. Such blatant misinformation and malicious campaigning has the potential to create a deep emotional wedge between communities.
He has chosen men like Amit Shah and Aditya Nath — two rabid anti-Muslim faces of the Hindu right wing — as helmsmen of the BJP. The prime minister’s complete silence on the divisive agendas being pursued by his party men, strengthens the argument that Modi is working on two agendas: to keep the common people engaged by talking big on economics and on the other hand, continuing social polarisation to consolidate Hindu votes for the BJP.
Any discerning mind will not miss this signal that has emerged in the first 100 days of Modi’s rule.
The signal is alarming. The dichotomy between perception and reality has widened.