India’s new leader from a literary perspective.
Narendra modi will be sworn in as India’s prime minister on Monday. His rise is a great story. Mr Modi, a former tea supplier who speaks poor English, is an obvious outsider to India’s political and cultural institutions. His election marks the extent to which India has emerged from the old caste system and class barriers to become a more meritocratic society.
When I think of what has just happened in Indian politics, I think of a book I first read 24 years ago. This book is India: millions of muslims now, Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul. Naipaul, who passed through India in the late 1980s, wrote the book before the economic reforms of the 1990s, before the social transformation of the new millennium.
But naipaul is prescient. In a series of incisive portraits, he captures the initial hopes and aspirations of the Indian people. He writes about businessmen, stockbrokers, politicians, and women who get rid of the detailed figures of the tradition of oppression. Naipaul describes these people – ordinary people – looking for new voices and identities. He wrote that they were discovering “the idea of freedom”.
In many ways, the idea – a sense of confidence and self-expression – has been formed in Mr Modi’s election. Mr Modi’s success has shown to millions of marginalized indians that their aspirations can be realised.
Bear in mind, however, that the change in naipaul’s capture is not entirely benign. He also wrote “anger” and violence, riots and new social tensions. He wrote about the revival of religion and caste, with new confidence. He worries that the country and its social fabric may be torn apart. His name is India, a country of “millions”.
Likewise, Mr Modi’s rise has two sides. Many were inspired by his victory, but many feared new Hindu nationalism, and relations between hindus and muslims in India worsened. Mr Modi will always mark the 2002 violent Hindu Muslim uprising in gujarat, where he served as chief minister. Many Indian muslims are uneasy about the prospect of Mr Modi’s government.
Revolutions are rarely simple things; Naipaul points out that mutiny is both liberating and oppressive. The question is whether Mr Modi’s India will be able to find the changes it desperately needs – revolution – without constant upheaval and chaos.