The World's Largest Democracy in Conversation

From Spark to Wildfire - The Transformative Power of Dialogue in India

The World's Largest Democracy in Conversation

The "unheard of" is happening throughout India and spreading throughout the world: First as a spark, then a burst of kindling, eventually a wildfire.

The "unheard of" is actual conversations taking place. Not rhetoric, not shouting, not monologue but rather dialogue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, through his wisdom and patience, is eliciting dialogue with the people of India, raising their consciousness, hearing their stories, answering their questions.

The delightful book, 'Igniting Collective Goodness, Mann Ki Baat@100' curated by BlueKraft Digital Foundation, published by Westland Books 2023, describes the vehicle of this unheard of phenomenon: the Sunday Radio address by Prime Minister Modi on All India Radio. Mann Ki Baat is a monthly radio program of PM Narendra Modi, where he interacts with citizens of India on themes and issues that matter to the Nation. The book faithfully details the themes and topics featured in 100 episodes of Mann Ki Baat since its launch on October 3, 2014.

Translated into 23 Indian languages, 29 Indian dialects, and 11 foreign languages, the radio program also accommodates individuals with disabilities and limited resources as it is free to anyone who would care to listen.

As I read each chapter, I was struck by the sheer resilience of the Indian people and the insistence on the part of their leader, Prime Minister Modi, that the Indian people, in all their permutations, be heard. Beyond hearing their voices, Modi has the uncanny ability to see their spirits. He recognizes the holiness within them, and when he gives them power to shine, through the platform of Mann Ki Baat, it radiates.

As chapter one describes how a living democracy celebrates its citizens through the simplicity of a radio broadcast, one cannot but marvel at the wisdom of leading through example. Modi stops. He listens. He asks questions. He reflects. He facilitates deeds of goodness, collaboration, and understanding, that all arise from the universal souls that are India. The radio program is not a discussion of policy but rather an intimate dialog of experience.

I was particularly moved by the description of Modi’s conversation regarding a person living with disability (divyang brother) from Kerala who took it upon himself, despite confinement to a wheelchair, to go in a boat on Lake Vembanad to gather discarded plastic bottles in order to clean the lake. His everyday actions made a significant contribution to the cleanliness of the lake. Modi’s praise and encouragement highlight the Prime Minister’s understanding of India as a democracy functioning in the affairs of everyday life…of everyone.

Modi’s remarkable and far-reaching conversations have involved Farmers evolving into captains of industry: Mobilising groups through WhatsApp to create FPOs (Farmer Producer Organizations) sharing pricing, facilitating sales based on detailed current knowledge of their marketplace and beyond. This empowers them to raise their standard of living and control their destinies, providing for their families. This grassroots initiative, originating in Rajasthan, increased awareness not only in his region but throughout India, due to Modi sharing his story.

“Mann Ki Baat becomes the platform…Creates awareness about the significant changes happening within and outside India… becomes the medium through which one region of India gets to know about the rich culture and tradition of another region of India.”

In one radio episode, highlighted in the book, Modi discusses the Mutthi Bhar Dhaanya initiative. During the harvest, Anganwadi workers near Nashik collect a handful of rice from all in the region who can afford to give. This rice, in the tradition of annasprashana sanskar, is used to prepare piping hot food for women and children in need of sustenance. This act of kindness transmutes into conscientious civil social workers, making them a soldier in the movement to end hunger throughout India.

The remarkable thing about Prime Minister Modi’s conversations with all of India is his ability to ground the actions of his people in the strong spiritual context from which all Indian culture arises, and to simply gift a diverse country with awareness of each other. Modi’s ability to listen and honour the voices of all levels of society, all corners of ethnicity, culture, and language is unparalleled in global leadership today. I encourage reading the entirety of Igniting Goodness as it charts the path of this extraordinary leader, through conversation, to build the bridges of understanding, inclusivity, and respect for all Indians within the borders of India and throughout the worldwide diaspora which covers the entire globe.

With clear-eyed honesty, PM Modi has addressed long-standing social inequities with vigour, showing that dialogue, not violence, is the path to peace and justice.

He begins, “I was reading about a collective endeavour in Vellore of Tamil Nadu where 20,000 women came together to revive the Nag River…” The act of highlighting the collective power of women to transform a dying polluted waterway into a healthy ecosystem signals to all of India and the world, the power and rights of women, the collective entitlement to clean water and the spiritual necessity to heal the earth.

Simple words discussing sweeping actions, on a scale that only can be achieved in India’s democratic society where initiative by a dedicated collective can achieve the impossible. Only India has the resources (its people), the freedom (its democracy), and the leadership (its Prime Minister) to summon power to do good in this way. The full-throated response of a nation focused on Igniting Collective Goodness brings tears to readers’ eyes as it is truly remarkable.

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Margaret Kruger 🇺🇸

Margaret Kruger is a writer and artist living in Sarasota, Florida, USA. After a long career in manufacturing and international business consulting, she retired to Florida to follow her passions. She has written a collection of essays and several novels about that journey. As a world traveller, instrument-rated fixed-wing airplane pilot, advanced open water scuba diver, and lover of Kathak, cooking, and all things India, she dedicates her time to reading, painting, writing, cooking for her family, and feeding songbirds.

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