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Will the real Modi stand up?

Lord Shiva is one God who assimilates in his person all contradictions. Modi did the same!

Modi as god of all he surveys. Modi as god of all he surveys. Mumbai Mirror. Some rights reserved.As a side-effect of democracy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is plunged in introspection and perhaps thinking of course correction. He has been forced to do this in less than a year of assuming power because of his party’s crushing defeat in Delhi’s provincial elections. The victorious AAP stopped the Modi juggernaut, causing a tremor in the federal government.

The Delhi debacle has left Modi wondering what the voters had voted him in for. His secular devotees are asking him to be the Modi that they voted in. They want him to damn the extremist fringe in his extended political family that incites religious hatred.

These secular-liberals do not form the core constituency of Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. They had turned to him in desperation and in disgust with the Manmohan Singh Government.

On the other side, the Hindutva brigade wants the Prime Minister to eradicate secularism and transform India into a muscular Hindu nation. They call him India’s “first Hindu Prime Minister”.

Lord Shiva and Modi

The two sections having fundamental differences were one in the adoration of Modi. Obviously Modi has a divine trait! God is perceived by the devotees as per their own feelings, says a Hindi poet. The people saw the Modi that they wanted to see.

Modi made this possible through his many customised images, each to suit a different constituency. A variety of sartorial props helped. He bewitched some by his colourful Indian headgear and some others by his western suit. In the Hindu tradition, the Divine appears in many avatars, with different faces and names. 

Modi’s idol was installed in a village temple in U. P. During the parliamentary poll campaign, the Modi devotees paraded the streets of Varanasi chanting Har Har Modi, inducting him into the Hindu Pantheon, placing him alongside Lord Shiva. Modi miraculously yoked together the antithetical forces of sectarianism (called communalism in India) and capitalism to propel his chariot towards victory. Lord Shiva is one God who assimilates in his person all contradictions. Modi did the same!

The Modi seen by his secular devotees was different. They saw a Modi radiating against the backdrop of a shining stock market graph, not the Modi standing against the backdrop of Lord Ram’s image. They are now asking the Prime Minister not to be a captive of the “narrow agenda of Hindutva, the RSS or the Love Jihad Brigade”. One intellectual devotee is urging him to appear as Nehru’s avatar, at least in Parliament! He too had seen his own Modi. 

After the BJP’s rout in the Delhi state elections, Modi’s power is waning. The poll proved that the BJP’s core Hindutva constituency is not large enough to deliver victory in a normal situation. Modi realises that and in a damage control exercise, has broken his silence on the Government’s commitment to religious tolerance. He had to do that even at the risk of displeasing the Hindutva brigade.

Modi perhaps began to have second thoughts after Obama delivered a sermon on religious tolerance and The New York Times wrote a stinging editorial on the same topic. Modi spoke out against religious intolerance without specifically condemning the attacks on Christian churches or the groups in his extended political family propagating religious hate and converting Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. We have to hope they would now respect Modi’s views on the freedom of faith!

BJP problems

The Hindutva agenda is not the only issue that calls for course correction. There are contradictions galore that Modi has to deal with. The BJP has come to be seen as pro-business magnates and in the Delhi state election campaign, it unsuccessfully tried to project itself as poor-friendly. 

The Modi Government abandoned some policy formulations propounded by the BJP when it was in the opposition. It promulgated an ordinance that makes it easier to acquire farmers’ lands. The ordinance lost the BJP the rural votes in the Delhi elections. It did not excite the corporates whom the Government wanted to please. They doubt whether the ordinance will be converted into a Parliamentary Act. 

The BJP’s farmers’ wing too is not pleased with the land acquisition ordinance. The BJP’s labour wing does not understand “labour reforms” in the way understood by Modi’s economic advisers.

Another BJP affiliate is committed to self-reliance and not enamoured of the multinationals or foreign investments.  BJP’s core constituency of small traders feels threatened by the foreign giant retailers. A section in the BJP is cautious when it comes to dealing with any foreign power. And if the party joins a coalition government in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP’s Kashmir policy will have to be altered.

Deliverance

Some dynamic leaders in a democracy have transformed their respective parties by convincing the members that they alone can deliver electoral victories. After the end of ideology, this became more feasible. Tony Blair sailed through this exercise, leaving the hardcore traditional party loyalists fuming by the wayside.

Modi has much less leverage than Blair in playing with the core beliefs of his party. Blair’s own ideological conversion gave him the strength to lead his Labour Party in a different direction. Modi has shown no such flexibility or change of heart, despite his being a pragmatist.

Moreover, a self-declared Hindu nationalist party is rooted in religious sensitivities, not in western ideologies that can be dumped at will. Street battles against “the other” or against an insult to a religion tend to be more violent than protests against nuclear arms or the WTO. 

A Hindu nationalist party cannot be transformed into an umbrella organisation with a mere slogan of “development for all”. It becomes more difficult if the leader lacks credibility among the minorities.

Modi, creature of the RSS

The Prime Minister would like to harmonise his Hindutva agenda with a blueprint of “economic reforms” and growth based on pro-business neo-liberal policies. Modi being a creature of the RSS, it will all depend on how much freedom he gets from this cultural organisation that treats BJP as its political wing and has played the most critical role in the making of Modi.

Modi’s training as an RSS volunteer has made him a disciplined soldier. The daily morning drill suppresses the capacity to doubt or think in terms of “on-the-other-hand”. Modi had joined the RSS at the age of eight and was picked up by it as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. The RSS was impressed by the Gujarat Chief Minister’s projection of muscular Hinduism and saw in him someone who would never defy the RSS. The RSS leadership cracked a whip and silenced the critics of Modi within the BJP.

Modi, on his part, demonstrated to the RSS that tradition can be combined with modernity and that the message of Hindu nationalism can be sold better in a modern package! He showed how some compromises by the RSS were necessary to win political power in modern India. The RSS, under its present leadership, gave a high priority to winning political power and deployed its army of volunteers to campaign for the BJP.

The austere RSS leadership, committed to simple living, decided to overlook Modi’s Movado watch, Bulgari spectacles, and Montblanc pen. When Modi’s gold-embroidered pin-striped suit lost the BJP some votes in the Delhi elections, he was inspired to auction the suit for charity! If the RSS introduces online games to teach the young recruits Hindu exceptionalism, the credit should go to Modi.

Riding two horses towards a fork in the road

The choice between ideology and political power is hard. Some members of the BJP family will continue making inflammatory sectarian statements but will not rock the boat by confronting the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will not challenge the ideology promoting a Hindu nation lest he is denounced as a “fake Hindu” by those dying to pray in a new Ram Temple in Ayodhya. And the non-sectarian liberal supporters of Modi will go on hoping that Modi will evolve into a closet Nehru. 

The Prime Minister Modi is riding two horses but the Delhi voters’ verdict has made that difficult. He also faces a fork in the road ahead. Modi’s prime challenge is to suppress his critics within the party who may feel emboldened to break their enforced silence. Modi has an excellent record of silencing his critics in the Gujarat unit of his party.

Will democracy modify Modi? One section of the Prime Minister’s supporters is asking this in hope while another section is raising this question with anxiety. Which way will Modi finally tilt? The social media experts in the ruling party are perhaps developing the Modi 2.0 version. The transformative phase in the Indian politics, like a TV serial, promises to run and run. 

 

About the author

L K Sharma has followed no profession other than journalism for more than four decades, covering criminals and prime ministers. Was the European Correspondent of The Times of India based in London for a decade. Reported for five years from Washington as the Foreign Editor of the Deccan Herald. Edited three volumes on innovations in India. He has completed a work of creative nonfiction on V. S. Naipaul  His two e-books The Twain and A Parliamentary Affair form part of The Englandia Quartet.


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