One word is often enough to sum up the entire life and career of a man, whatever his sphere of activity. Just one word, God, is enough to tell us what sort of man Gandhi was, how he must have lived, what beliefs he must have held. His “truth, love, peace, compassion, non-violence” and all such and similar values issued forth from just that one word. The same way Nehru’s entire life and career can be abridged by just uttering the word “science”. His entire political and economic vocabulary-socialism, humanism, reason, research, industry, scientific temper, modernity-flowed from that one core term.
What word would you choose to sum up Narendra Modi’s mindset, mission, outlook, approach, strategy and tactics? It is not difficult to draw up a list of his favourite words and catchphrases-sanvidhan sarvopari (Constitution is supreme), sarvdharma sambhav (harmony among all religions), sabka saath, sabka vikas (companions all, development for all), e-governance, Digitised India, Smart India, Strong India, and Make in India. The list can be easily stretched further but that will only make it repetitive without leading us to the right word. All these smart phrases and all that Modi seems to want to be remembered for can, possibly, be best summed up by the one word that has not been listed above: Technology.
Technology-which he sometimes pronounces as techn-aa-logy and at other times techn-au-logy-is Modi’s mantra to uplift India, and it is the right word to champion at a time when a young generation of techies is in the process of taking over positions of power. Vast numbers of this generation are already dancing to Modi’s tech tunes, particularly to tunes that sing of a tech-mighty India of the future. Technology places Modi in sync with the young who have from their teen years played Civ IV, Civ V, Beyond Earth and similar strategy games. As in these games, so in real life Modi’s vision is to constantly acquire new technologies from wherever he can get them and continuously develop own technologies through scientific research. Modi must also know that if he fails on the technology front, he cannot come out a winner at the end of the five-year playthrough. The generation Modi is addressing knows the value of smart technologies and is all the time looking for opportunities to develop these because in the end technologies outscore religion and faith in the games.
Civ stands for, perhaps, the most popular and most addictive video strategy game, Civilisation, created in 1991 by Canadian-American Sid Meier and Michigan-born Bruce Shelley, who drew their inspiration from the 1980 UK board game of the same name. Civ has spawned a series of 18 games like Civ I, Civ II, Civ III, Civ IV, Civ V…. the latest in the series being Civ Beyond Earth, and is altogether estimated to have sold nearly 30 million copies. The games are very popular with military trainers, spy runners and strategy makers as they are all concerned with empire building in competition with AI, or Artificial Intelligence. Technology, scientific research, religion, faith, scientists, prophets, known leaders, and so on constitute resources in the game. Those wanting to know more may check the net for various versions.
SOMETIMES Modi himself looks like he has just stepped out of the Beyond Earth tech web. Some people say that he is a Civ fan too. One can’t be so tech savvy and not know these strategy games. He could actually have figured as a tech booster Great Persons (GPs) in Civ IV and Civ V with a high 20x tech power. From all that he has been talking day in and day out for more than a year it is clear that he is a big-time tech fan. And that is good for him and for India too. For, any Indian leader who wants to come out on top at the end of his five-year playthrough in Parliament must seek to develop a value-neutral image early in the game and quickly drift to the centre of the parliamentary playboard from where he can shake hands with challengers on both sides. Where he seems to be failing is in the use of diplomacy as a resource. You cannot really win these games without adept use of resources like diplomacy and spies, and the right GPs.
Technologies are largely value-neutral and their effects are all encompassing, whereas religion, faith, shrine, prophets and culture can be divisive and discriminatory and, anyway, they are expensive. They too are vital for winning, but one needs to be smart to choose them at the right time. Chosen too early in the war game, they may hinder the growth of territory and populations. Picked at the right moment, they will boost the chances of beating one’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) rival. Modi knows the technology mantra is also his best armour against the mandir-masjid warlords. Technologies are not only the most highly required resource for leading India forward but also for side-stepping the faith fanatics and culture cohorts at bay who are all the time lobbing explosives his way.
Technologies are as important in real life as they are in the war games modelled on real life because they change and remodel lives of large and diverse populations a lot faster than other devices like social reform movements or legislative measures. Technologies have to contend with established religions and deep social prejudices and practices, but they quickly break down resistance and come out winners. This is what the introduction of locomotive technologies like the railways and buses, for instance, did to caste by compelling the high caste Brahmin to sit by the side of the low caste Dalit, something that did not happen despite centuries of social reform movements. Technology thus proved a much greater social and religious leveller than the preaching of numerous saints, sufis and bhakti poets. New technologies bring with them new outlooks on life and new social practices, overturning long established social orders that are otherwise impervious to change from within or without. Once these social orders are overturned, the populations release huge economic energies like geysers from within the earth. It was the new European technologies that brought down the rotten Mughal Empire in India and replaced it with a new, vibrant order that eventually dragged India out of the medieval morass and made it what it is today.
It was thanks to this new order that we had a BR Ambedkar and a Jagjivan Ram and, in later years, a Kanshi Ram from among the long suppressed and oppressed castes. If the British had not opened the doors of employment equally to one and all in their armies, we would not have had an Ambedkar or a Jagjivan Ram. In the caste-ridden armies of pre-British India, Dalits had no chance of rising to the level that Ambedkar’s father or, for that matter, Jagjivan Ram’s father, did in the British army. Without those jobs, they would never have been able to send their children to school. Actually, Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram and many others like them would never have got a chance to study at any school if the British had not opened the doors of education for all, irrespective of differences of caste and community, particularly in the army cantonment schools.
MODI is, therefore, right in shifting emphasis from divisive issues of religion, faith and culture to technologies, for it is only by raising the technology pitch high that he can skirt the mandir-masjid trap and win his game before the end of his five-year term of which one year is already past. The technology trail is not free of pitfalls, though, for the more sophisticated technology gets, the more expensive it becomes and the further it recedes from the reach of the financially and economically less fortunate who are the ones who need new and efficient technologies the most. Modi can ignore this only to his peril. In a country like India, technology must first solve the issues facing the underclass as, otherwise, social upheavals and violent outbursts will surely defeat all strategies for a repeat win in 2019.