Mainstream, VOL. 52, No. 21, May 17, 2014
The Modi Whirlwind
Monday 19 May 2014, by
we can say what we like, but Narendra Modi took india’s electoral democracy by the scruff of its neck and romped home to victory. Rarely in recent memory has one man set aside so much and so many, including his own party elders and apparatus, forged his own persona and politics, marked out lucrative detractors, or chosen opportune backers, be it in the RSS , the corporates. or the media, and wrapped some consistently inventive and no-holds-barred polemics to keep the package in tantalising fettle. Addressing, all by himself, some 450 public rallies, and cannily tailoring every single address to the audience on hand, Modi has loomed all across the obliging corporate channels as something of a possessed colossus who never tires of beating down the enemy. So mesmerising has the performance been that by the end of the day it hardly seemed to matter to his audience what it was he might be saying, his articulate forearms and biceps doing the communicating in a transmission of confidence that became perhaps his strongtest argument. Is that a good thing for democracy, you might well ask, but for now not receive many “likes” to that sort of question. The answer must lie in the days to come.
Never before since India’s first general election, not even in 1977, have the Left-of-Centre forces been so roundly trounced as now. It will be their task to evaluate whether this has been because of changes in objective conditions among the labouring classes that they may have failed to read, or whether they just failed to mount a Left-of-Centre politics on the ground that could cause an alaternate mass awareness about those conditions.
In the meanwhile, alas, uneasy always lies the head that wears the crown; even the head that seems too headstrong for misadventures. There are likely to be four sorts of anxious Modi-watchers as the days unfold:
—those that want prices to crash, corruption to end, and jobs to materialise by the droves;
—those that desire a grand Ram temple to be built at Ayodhya at the very spot where the demolished mosque once stood; a uniform civil code to be instituted, superceding the personal laws of all communities, Muslims especially; Jammu and Kashmir State to be “fully integra-ted” with the Union of India by the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution that grants a “special status” to that State; Muslim “infil-trators” from Bangladesh to be repatriated to that neighbouring country, while Hindu “refugees” are retained and granted citizenship; and, last but not the least, Pakistan to be taught that longoverdue lesson which the “weak” UPA Government failed to deliver;
—those that mind not very much, if at all, either price rise or corruption, so long as the state fuels entrepreneurship, privatises the gross domestic product to the finger nails, places all investments in infrastructure at the service of the profit-maximisers, keeps the regulators away in lock-up, rolls back that “disastrous” regime of rights-based subsidies to the undeserving hoi polloi, bears down in no-nonsense fury on dissenters and “trouble-shooters”, and keeps foreign competition at bay, or at best subservient to friendly Indian monopolies; and, having won the election, puts away that tactical Hindutva agenda till the next election is due;
—and those that will watch to see how a Modi dispensation conducts the wherewithal of the democratic order of things, namely, Parlia-ment, the justice system, law enforcement, the media, citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association, the enshrined rights of minorities and the broad regime of human rights that issue from international covenants and commitments.
As you can see, these four sorts of expectations do not converge too happily, a circumstance that cannot but have its consequence for a Modi Government and the response of various segments of the polity to its operations. All that may take about a year to unravel, which will be the time to see how “good governance” might shape after all.
At some point the nation may also want to debate the constitutional propriety and issues related to parliamentary privilege in a party declaring a prime ministerial candidate even before a Parliament has been elected, and whether or not such a practice bears the kernel of an unauathorised shift from a parliamentary to a presidential form of democracy. As to the use of money power, hardly any but the Left parties and AAP, the impressive new kid on the political block, might show any interest, since money power it is that firmly situates the state in the grip of those that pull the economic strings of the nation.
For now, the RSS (a wholly ‘cultural’ organi-sation, don’t we know, that just happened to take charge of the Modi campaign down to the booth level), the advertisers who were drafted to unleash the Modi campaign and furnish the Modi icon, the corporate houses who allegedly spared no helicopter to ensure that the said campaign received saturation exposure, the corporate TV channels who placed their airtime tirelessly at the service of the designated prime ministerial candidate, the NRIs and bevy of “experts” who spoke for the glory of such a prime ministership, and the enthused crowds who honestly sensed great good things to be in the offing, deserve to be commended for having pulled it off with an aplomb that leaves petty whining and too fine a reason in smithereens.
An important aspect of India’s democratic future will surely also comprise the quality of intelligence and resilience that may or may not be forthcoming from the organised political opposition to the Modi Government, both inside and outside Parliament, and the integrity or not with which the bureaucracy and sundry investi-gative agencies at various levels function over the next five years. Not to speak of how objectively various sections of the national media evaluate the workings of the new government as the days go by.
On our part we may just say what Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said at one corner meeting in Amethi: this country needs not so much a barrel chest as a large heart to be run on all fours.
And who is to say that Mr Modi may not make yet another leap and display a heart to match the bigness of India now that the goal has been achieved.
The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.