Going by the current political debates and discussions in the public sphere today, we could be fooled into thinking there is nothing more to India than Narendra Modi.

What we should remember is that even the 2014 general election, which threw up some tectonic shifts in India’s politics and resulted in Modi becoming prime minister, was never about him alone.

Modi was propelled to prime ministership by a full-throated call for change from within the citizenry that resonated in the political sphere as regime change. It was as if the political events of the years preceding the 2014 verdict, marked as they were by debates around corruption and the lack of effective political leadership, had cast a darkness so complete that we had no option but to look for a ray of light. A fundamental and basic urge for growth, for things to change or renew themselves was suddenly kindled, no matter what expression it found.

Face of the change

The “right wing”, including the trolls, found one way of expressing themselves. Those who called themselves “secular” had another language and very different icons whom they revered. But all of us wanted things to change with an urgency that inflicts itself but rarely on the lives of nations.

There was a lot of venom-spilling that happened through the election campaign. To recount, but fleetingly, there was loud cheering aplenty to blood-thirsty shouts for bringing the Congress down from those on the Right. On the other side, there was the mob of those who chanted that Modi was a murderer, and was waiting to unleash more terrors of the kind that took place in Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister.

In this crossfire, which continues even now, there still survived disguised, even deformed, as we danced our violent tandavs, the urge to grow out of the state of stagnation as a nation and a people into something more. It was impossible not to catch sight of it, no matter who said what to whom. All of us felt impelled to participate in one way or another. Narendra Modi’s genius was that he had the intensity and the stamina, not to mention the political wherewithal, to propel himself as the face of this change.

Many saw Modi as the person who would make things work for India, finally, and they marched to the polling booths to make their point. At the same time, there were those among us who were repelled, and indeed fearful, of the prospect of a Modi prime ministership and what it would bring in its wake. This was because, for those of us who felt this way, our aspiration for change appeared to embody the exact opposite persona from Modi’s.

Larger than life

It felt to many like a matter of life and death. But, in fact, it was more. Prime ministers, after all, come and go. Nations survive. Modi was neither God-like and the best among us, nor was he emblematic of all that was most reprehensible about our polity. We have been giving him far too much attention.

Today we’re at a pass in our political life where we’re caught in trying to disprove each other’s versions of what we’re living through and constantly running-down the other’s vision of what the future will hold.

This is at the root of the current unrest and ugliness in our politics. For, politics is only as enlightened or as unenlightened as we are. After having had the sheer good fortune to come upon a significant point in our life as a nation, it looks like we’ve chosen not to recognise the opportunity for a real change – for all of us.

If we can become conscious of this burning aspiration for making things better, Modi will automatically be put in his proper place.