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Opinion

June 15, 2018

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The end of the Modi affair

Isn’t it interesting that just when the battle for 2019 is about to take off in India, more and more ardent admirers of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are falling out of love with their larger-than-life hero?

From the perpetually Congress-bashing Tavleen Singh to foreign policy wonk Sadanand Dhume and from corporate head honcho Gurcharan Das to bestselling author Chetan Bhagat, once reverential voices of fawning fans are turning critical, having suddenly discovered their idol’s feet of clay. The frustration of right-wing ‘liberals’ is all too obvious and palpable.

Writing in The Indian Express on June 3 after the recent defeat of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, Tavleen Singh pulls few punches.“Was it a death knell we heard from Kairana last week or just a warning? But, if Modi does not start paying attention to the message that voters in UP have been trying to send him for months, he may as well give up all hopes of becoming PM again in 2019. Perhaps the loss of Kairana will make the PM realise that Hindutva as it is practised by people like Yogi Adityanath is so corrosive that it separates not just Muslims from Hindus but upper-caste Hindus from lower-caste Hindus. If there is such a thing as a Hindu vote bank, it is guaranteed to come unstuck well before the general election because of this toxic form of Hindutva.”

Singh flays the Modi-Shah duo for picking a divisive Hindu priest to head India’s most important state: “no sooner did he take charge than Yogi concentrated on closing down businesses on which Muslims and Dalits relied for jobs. Killings by Hindutva vigilantes in the name of saving cows began around the same time as did killings and attacks in the name of ‘love jihad’”.

In an earlier piece on May 7, Singh wonders “why a prime minister so passionate about making India a modern, digital, prosperous country has seemingly not noticed that hunting and killing Muslims on the pretext of cows and love jihad does not sit well with modernity”.

If that wasn’t interesting enough, let’s consider the views of another devotee. Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based neocon think tank, has been an influential voice on the right and has been one of the early Modi enthusiasts. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, Wall Street Journal columnist even appeared on those shouting matches on nightly television on behalf of the BJP.

Writing in The Times of India on June 2, Dhume argues: “should [the] BJP lose next year’s general election, pundits and politicians alike will pore over the impact of demonetisation, the goods and services tax, and last year’s surprise elevation of Adityanath to lead UP. Like demonetisation, the anointment of Hindu monk Adityanath as chief minister of the country’s most populous state came as a bolt from the blue. His incendiary speeches targeting Muslims and reputation for violence, including the standing up of a private militia appeared to place Adityanath beyond the pale of high office”.

Summarily trashing demonetisation, Dhume writes: “ranked in order of foolishness, demonetisation, the 2016 decision to suddenly vapourise nearly 90 percent of India’s cash by value, has to come first. No policy in the past 25 years has been as poorly conceived or clumsily implemented. Nor has any single act done more to damage Modi’s reputation as a safe steward of the economy”.

Of all the disenchanted voices of the faithful, the most scathing and right-on-the-nose has been that of Chetan Bhagat, arguably the largest selling Indian author in English. He has not only been one of the most influential voices endorsing Modi in the run-up to 2014, but has also shared the stage with the PM.

Writing in The Times of India on June 9, Bhagat compares the BJP’s exploitation of Hindutva to the use of chillies by a popular Indian restaurant: “One day, the chef decided to add half a green chilli to a plate of daal. Customers loved it. Thrilled, the chef decided to add five green chillies to every plate of daal. This time, the customers fled. They begged for water and found solace in their usual bland restaurants. The chef scratched his head as he wondered what had happened. A similar scratching of heads is probably taking place at [the] BJP headquarters. [The] BJP won just one out of four Lok Sabha seats and one out of eleven assembly seats in the recent by-polls. The green chilli, in [the] BJP’s case, is Hindutva. It works wonderfully with a section of voters. However, ratchet up the Hindutva too much, and it becomes a case of the daal with five chillies. The same daal you had relished once becomes a nightmare.”

Bhagat goes on to offer interesting insights into the Indian Hindu psyche: “In all this, the government has missed a key insight about Indian Hindus. Yes, a large section of Hindus want to feel superior to Muslims. Right or wrong, they have a notion of Hindu entitlement and keeping the minorities ‘in their place’. However, deep down, these same Hindus don’t want to hurt Muslims. As long as there is peace, a live and let live attitude is fine. Neither do these Hindus (barring a few fringe fundamentalists) want a religious state”.

It goes without saying that these pearls of wisdom from some of the diehard supporters of Modi are like a whiff of fresh air. More importantly, they point to the way the wind is blowing less than a year before the BJP goes back to the people for re-election.

If this is how some of Modi’s most voluble votaries think and feel today, something has seriously gone wrong. What not long ago looked like a cakewalk of a re-election in 2019 now appears to be increasingly uncertain. Of course, even a deeply unpopular Modi remains far from vanquished and may still present a formidable challenge in the 2019 elections.

Over the past four years, he has not just managed to acquire massive power, but has also allowed various Hindutva ideologues and outfits to capture all arms of the state. Coupled with the brute money and muscle power that the BJP throws about thanks to big business and millions of dedicated Hindutva cadres, Modi has emerged immensely powerful and ostensibly unassailable. Perhaps even Indira Gandhi at the height of her power and popularity does not come anywhere close.

However, many a high and mighty potentate has been humbled by the humble man in the street. That is the beauty of democracy and thank God India still remains one despite all the corruption and abuse of institutions witnessed over the past few years.

If the outcome of the recent by-election is anything to go by, the voter cannot wait to throw out the current lot. The Modi juggernaut has lost its steam, if not totally come to a grinding halt. Only a miracle can now save Modi and the BJP.

This is now an election to be thrown away by a divided opposition. But a single-point, anti-BJP and anti-Modi agenda cannot get them far. All those who believe in the idea of an inclusive and democratic India need to put up a united front and offer a redeeming alternative narrative against the saffron nightmare that has taken over the land.

Indians need to be reminded about the secular, humane civilisational values that once inspired them and have been at the heart of their constitution and successful democracy. It is time to restore their confidence and trust in the ideals of a secular, pluralist democracy. A better, more just world is possible.

The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aijazzakasyed

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