Modi too shrewd to be derailed by nationalist symbolism: Zakaria

Washington: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “far too shrewd” to be distracted by nationalist symbolism which would derail his growth agenda and embroil him in unwanted controversies, well known Indian-American journalist Fareed Zakaria suggests.

But Zakaria, who interviewed him for CNN last weekend, also wonders in an opinion piece in the Washington Post if the problem with the new prime minister “turns out to be not that he is too bold but rather that he is not bold enough.”

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Modi “radiates confidence”, writes Zakaria. “The public lauds him, world leaders court him and the Bombay Stock Exchange continues to soar.”

“But will this moment of euphoria translate into lasting gains? Can India become the world’s next economic powerhouse?” he asks.

“Modi is extremely intelligent and focused but is different from most leaders,” Zakaria writes noting that the Indian leader’s “worldview has been shaped almost entirely from experience rather than formal schooling.”

Noting that “Modi is passionate about hygiene” and during the election campaign stressed that “India needed toilets first and temples later” Zakaria called it “a significant statement because Modi is seen as an ardent Hindu nationalist.”

His Bharatiya Janata Party “platform still contains plans to build a temple in Ayodhya on the grounds of a destroyed mosque, an issue that has been extremely divisive in the country,” he wrote.

“My sense, based on our conversation, is that Modi is far too shrewd to be distracted by nationalist symbolism, which would derail his growth agenda and embroil him in a series of controversies that he does not seek,” Zakaria wrote.

Modi has also handled the international stage deftly, the internationally regarded journalist suggests. “He is straightforwardly pro-American and seems to harbour little ill will toward Washington for having refused to give him a visa for almost a decade,”

“Where Modi has underperformed, surprisingly, has been in his core competence – economics,” Zakaria wrote suggesting “he has been slow to announce major reforms.”

“The stalled reform agenda might actually be an outgrowth of Modi’s great strength, his pragmatism,” he wrote suggesting “India has many bottlenecks, and delaying major and needed reforms may come back to haunt Modi.”

“Already, Modi’s honeymoon is coming to an end at home,” Zakaria writes citing BJP’s “surprisingly poor” performance in a series of by-elections.

“It would be a strange irony if the problem with Narendra Modi turns out to be not that he is too bold but rather that he is not bold enough,” Zakaria concludes.