Posted by: John Elliott | December 3, 2008

Will the current crisis lead to Narendra Modi as PM?

The most depressing aspect of the debate that is swirling around India in the aftermath of last week’s Mumbai terrorist attacks is that no-one has an answer to the problem of what to do about the dire failings of India’s government and security services.

No-one has an answer because of the corruption-driven incompetence, and complacent inefficiency, that pervades all levels of government from the security agencies and government ministries down to officials running local fire brigades. This is so deeply entrenched that there is no simple answer.

How can you quickly introduce change in a society where, as I have written before, few politicians have any care for the future of the country, when caste and prestige rivalries block co-operation at all levels of government, and when selfishness dominates public life.

On the 24/7 television channel last night, Vikram Mehta, chairman of Shell companies in India, talked about a “collapse of decision making” and “systemic failure”. He spoke of the horror, watching last week from his Mumbai flat, the slow response of fire fighters at the Oberoi Trident Hotel – they took three hours to arrive at the site and pump water.

In the past day or two we have heard how warnings of an attack from the sea on Mumbai targets, including the Taj Hotel, came in the days and weeks before the attack from sources ranging from US intelligence officials  to local Taj waterfront boatmen. Even Ratan Tata, head of the Tata group that owns the Taj, says he was warned – the hotel’s front entrance was partially barricaded but, he added, simply, the terrorists came in the back door.

So it is not just national and state governments that are to blame. It is the whole country that seems to regarding security merely as a ritual (as I wrote on Sunday) – even though there have been 12 major terrorist attacks this year.

But even more worrying than the failures is the fact that no-one has any viable answers. The despair and anger against politicians, bureaucrats, and procedures – and the corruption that governs many policies and actions – is so deep that people are clutching at straws.

After delivering a damning indictment of the government machine last night, Mehta had no instant solution because there isn’t one. He fell back on what is a nice thought, but nothing more, saying “we need 40 or 50 young people as politicians to be in parliament and hold the balance”.

On the same tv program, Milind Deora, the 31-year old MP for South Bombay where most of the attacks took place, said he was “ashamed to be a politician”. Commenting on the way that politicians had reacted with indifference and a lack of leadership to the outpourings of grief and anger in Mumbai over the past few days, he said it was as if “they had rubbed mud in our faces”. The son of India’s petroleum minister, Deora is the sort of young MP that Mehta had in mind, but what can he and a handful of other similar young politicians do!

Palaniappan Chidambaram, the new home minister, is to produce an initial security plan on December 10. That might address some of a list of ten points listed in the Times of India on December 1, maybe including: unifying coastal and Indian Navy security operations, removing “turf walls” between the various security agencies (easier said than done), setting up National Security Guard (NSG) units in major cities, reviewing VVIP security so that it does not help politicians “strut around and flaunt their status” (something I mentioned recently), create a quick-response disaster and crisis management system, and introduce measure to de-politicise and improve policing.

It will be near impossible for Chidambaram however to execute many such reforms quickly, certainly not with a general election due by next March or April. Politicians and officials – including senior officers from the armed forces and security forces – will realise that he will probably not have the same job after the election so will delay changes, hoping he is replaced by a softer option that they can ignore.

Narendra Modi

What is needed is leadership from the top, and that cannot happen with this government because of the dual-leadership role performed by Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, and Sonia Gandhi, the government’s de facto political leader. She does not have the stature and there is little point Singh trying because Gandhi’s courtiers will warn her that he is becoming too self-important and is challenging her role.

So what to do?

I have heard two extreme ideas this week.

One is to have a state of emergency or even military rule. That is surely unthinkable.

The other is that the country needs tough rule by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by its highly controversial Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi.

I wonder how long it will be before the failings of more acceptable politicians leads to Modi becoming prime minister?


  1. […] returned to the subject on this blog in 2008 when, after the horror of the Mumbai terrorist attacks on the Taj and Oberoi hotels and […]

  2. Mr. Modi as PM is a seriously scary prospect. a BJP led by a Modi would have its support split down the middle. there are its own traditional supporters who are antsy about the riots .
    However, it is possible that someone else leads the party to victory and he takes over later !

  3. Narendra Mo for dictator/Bharat Raja


  5. The only solution to the current crisis is to have Narendra Modi as the PM. He has skillfully blended development with security and, more importantly, taken development to the villages silently. He has no personal baggage and that helps a great deal. John Elliott, why don’t you form a “NARENDRA MODI FOR PM” committee, a la US style?

  6. Honestly I read all of this with a sense of depair and helplessness. Yes the citizens of India are angry and there’s a huge outcry against politcians, but where will this lead. The Patils and Deshmukhs will be replaced by another set of people who will be slightly better or wose than the current lot. I’m not a pessimist by any means but I honestly fail to see a solution in the short to medium term in terms of any concrete action on anyone’s part – there years of history in making this poliotcal system the way it is and it will take years to change. I just hope very sincerely that this is the begining of the change

  7. There is no other option for Narendra Modi.
    But he is not ambitious enough for that hot seat-for him “politics is not an ambition-but a mission”-but we-the people of India-surely need him as P.M-at least now it is enough;only he,only he;only he-is THE answer against terrorism.
    Please take the Leadership of our Nation – is our request to Mr.Modi.

  8. Either of these radical ideas for a “solution” surely risks being worse than the disease?

    Narendra Modi might be a vigorous and decisive PM but in the light of his track record vis-a-vis 13 % of the population, he would not get the sort of cooperation from the Muslim community which will be an important element of any effective intelligence effort. And as you say, a Declaration of Emergency is just as unthinkable in view of past precedent as is military rule in a country which, despite all its failures, is still the world’s largest functioning democracy.

    So what alternative is there? Logically what India needs now is a National Government, with the best people from all horizons, including the corporate sector, irrespective of political or caste affiliation, perhaps accompanied by a break from tradition with a National Security Council to include top military and police officers covering internal and external security and with real powers of enforcement. I dream of an Indian version of the future Barack Obama administration, which is going to include people who traded insults during the campaign but who are willing to put their pride and their political affiliations in their pockets in the national interest, and equally important which is not going to include all the old war horses from the past. So who in India could do it? maybe one answer to that is after all Narendra Modi, but the next question is, would he be willing to change a few rather visible spots…. ?

    What is clear is that if we all dream on without doing anything, India will continue to be a terrorist target, internal unrest will increase, the tourist industry will be dead, foreign investment will falter, poverty will not decrease, the rupee will head south and India’s emerging status as a world player will return to the back burner.

  9. What keeps me up at night is that if nothing good comes from all this carnage, then there is a hugh probability it will never get fixed. I believe corruption at every level is the problem and lack of transparency. The say the Bombay police had some Rs 640 CR to spend but no one seems to know where the money went.

    Fear is another issue. Imagine a family friend lost her husband, she wants to get on TV and the newspapers and talk about it. Her family suggests thats not such a good idea, b/c some people might not like it and retaliate…WTF. Someone just lost their husband, what else can they take.

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