Concerns related to the past and present have always informed Indian politics. No leader, except Mahatma Gandhi, has successfully weaved a vision of the future in political discourse. Jawaharlal Nehru was caught up with the challenges of nation-making and struggled to put together the developmental infrastructure required for post-colonial India. During his tenure, the vision of India was largely about the concerns of the time. It is, of course, true that the present contains the seeds of the future. But this does not always find political expression.
In the post-Nehruvian era, we remained captive to the immediacies of the present. The future — if ever it found a place — was marginal to our political discourse. It was a way to engage with immediate anxieties and rarely found expression as a trope of hope. It was rarely a part of electoral campaigns — this is true for all parties including Congress, communists, socialists, and even among the right-wing.
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Narendra Modi is the first PM to attempt to weave narratives of the future in his governance vision. He seems to have a well-thought-out way to articulate these narratives — at times through metaphors. Goals and projects such as making India a $5-trillion economy, taking the country to the ranks of developed nations in the next 25 years, positioning the nation as a world leader in several fields and the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme tie in with the PM’s futuristic vision. It is, in fact, integral to most of Modi’s developmental vision and he has given enough indications of using peoples’ hope as a political resource. The invoking of “amrit kal, amrit peedhi” and the framing of goals are essentially about the politics of the future.
Modi often evokes images of the future and ties them with the hopes and aspirations of the common people in his speeches, vision statements and governance strategies. The “future” has become a new element in the country’s political discourse. Future-centred narratives have an important place in the election campaign strategies of the BJP.
The emphasis on the future has also found expression in foreign policy, which today is a part of the BJP’s domestic political narrative. Campaigns around the vision and mission of India’s G20 presidency were targeted towards the domestic audience as well. Such campaigns work in three ways – they shore up Modi’s image in people’s hearts and minds; they build up the PM’s trust capital, and they make hope a mobilisational resource in the country’s politics.
Leaders like Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihar Vajpayee, P V Narasimha Rao, Chandrashekar and V P Singh did have a vision of the future, but they did not bring it up in their political discourse as consistently as Modi has. The PM has brought a paradigm shift in the politics of the BJP, which is often stereotyped for practising a politics of the past.
A hope-centred narrative could also be an antidote to the anxieties created by modernity, globalisation and the colonisation of natural spaces. As a statesman, the PM will need to address such concerns. In the run-up to the 2024 parliamentary elections, political parties are working hard to increase their political capital. The politics of the future could provide an added advantage to PM Modi. Let’s see how the Opposition responds to the discourse he has introduced in Indian politics.
The writer is professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad