I admire, Narendra Modi, the politician, a lot more than Modi the PM or Modi the wannabe statesman. You can like him for who he is, the ideas he represents or hate him for the very reasons but you certainly can’t ignore his strong presence. With his bag of good, bad & ugly messages he has dominated the Indian mindset, discussion rooms and aspirations in ways which are not easy to achieve for any politician. Both his admirers and adversaries draw his parallels with the Iron lady, Ms Indira Gandhi, but I will go on to say that his clutches over what can be seen, read and heard is a tad bit stronger than that of the lady, who on her own, decided to break Pakistan into two. People who are elder to me and have active memories of her days may disagree with me and I’d happily concede to them as I was only born the year she was assassinated. I was nearly 4 months old on the day of her killing. So my reading of her is from books, news articles and a few youtube videos that exist today. Indira Gandhi has attracted a disproportionate amount of literature given her audacious and most brazen emergency decision. People who like reading and knowing the political history of India will have to read about her extensively and so I had to without much choice. If you happen to be a Modi supporter, do not judge me for I learned more about Congress than I did about BJP/RSS, do bear with me and note that there is actually more to read about them than your party. But do not be disappointed you have a man now who would in very many ways leave her behind when it comes to being studied, heard and talked about. That is our very own Modi!
The fate of India has already been sealed, given the fact that we’ve come close to the end of the polling, as I type this article people are making their voices heard in the 6th phase of a long election season. On the 23rd the counting will reveal, people’s desire. Who will be sworn in may require additional juggling, though, should no party win a clear majority on its own, which is very likely. At this point, we do not know, at least, I do not. In a democratic setup, politics becomes essential, everything that gets done, happens within the policy framework. Therefore it is greatly necessary for people to participate, the mood of the nation, gets built by these deliberations. India is a complex country to govern, from its maddening geographical extent to mind-boggling cultural and ethnic diversity, everything about us is unparalleled. And therefore, whether we like it or not, no one Idea can appeal to all Indians equally. We’re the fastest growing economy for over 8 years now, the top tier in the developing world. At the same time, we’re also a country that hasn’t effectively cracked bread and butter, health and sanitation, education and employment, code, at a policy framework level. A vast majority of our country does not have access to clean drinking water, a roof over their heads or unpolluted air to breathe. We’re still breeding at a dull-witted rate, 1.3 bn. already and counting. The caste system is still prevalent, the girl child is discriminated against, untouchability is still a consistent Idea in many parts of the country. The story for gender diversity is not a happy one either, women empowerment is still a fancy urban design. Male dominance and majoritarianism have costed us in purely economic terms about 38% of our net worth as a country (estimation is from an economist article); if we had succeeded in creating a society that values both the genders equally, we would have been 38% stronger and more prosperous: perhaps a developed nation too.
Are these issues getting discussed in the political addresses? The clear and honest answer is a no! Yes, there have been sporadic talks and half-hearted efforts have also been made to address some of the issues that I have listed above, but every well-intentioned man/women, when faced with the challenge of the election, forgets, everything and starts playing to the gallery. And then idealism and reforms take a back seat. Elected sitting PM of world’s largest democracy says “ Main ati pichri jati ka hu”, “main pathan hu, etc : What does it say about the prime minister and more than him what does it say about we the people? If we did not care about caste would he flaunt it? That is the question that Indian people should ask themselves. In most elections, the agenda gets set by the shortcomings of the incumbent, mainly; economic failures and other social events that can drag those in office in poor light, more or less. This election has been different though, the agenda was not set by the opposition, they did try but couldn’t simply match the surround sound that Modi & Shah led BJP built around things that do not matter in our everyday life. The election campaign of 2019 is not so much about the content or the character but reach and proliferation. On the one side, you have the mighty Modi who seems to have the wealth of the world to spray on every medium of communication available, from Radio to 24*7 television, to internet powered content on social media, mobile apps, the print publication and even movies. In fact for the first time, we saw, how movies of a certain popular Canadian actor with a famous Hindi name in the last five years delivered several beautiful Bollywood hits to further the communication objective of the ruling party. It did not stop there, the same prince of the Tinseltown also interviewed the PM in an apolitical exchange, which soon was trending on youtube. Video ads and television commercials existed for a long time and they continued in this election as well. It is anyone’s guess that the money spent on publicity crossed the permissible limit within minutes of the campaign.
What has therefore been the theme of the campaign of 2019 elections? Opposition lingered in setting the narrative, they too have tried, but nothing even close to the spectacle that Narendra managed. Opposition leaders were also airborne for a lot of their election travel, gave interviews and had articles written on their areas of interest but they simply did not get the airtime that they should have in the mainstream media. I can’t with certainty say that they would still manage to create a decent electoral fortune for themselves or will they suffer, even more! Realities of this election do match with a few things that have been tried in the past with a varying degree of success, let’s look at some the key items to understand how political event management has been done in this election.
Election Theme setting: India shinning from the past made its grand entry in the form of “Main Bhi Chowkidar”: Quite an event, very well managed, people flocked in high numbers to express their solidarity with the idea. Social Media name edits, numerous quotes, +ve memes and what not. The event did cross the line, in some sense, because it had a little portion towards the end trying to emulate a war scene to underscore the surgical strike bravado. Nevertheless, for the supporters, it deserved Oscars. Adversaries of BJP and Modi did use it to base, ‘Chowkidar chor hain’ slogan, that too seems to resonate with people. It upset the Apex court though.
Untruth the new mainstream: Not too long ago, when Indian prime minister spoke, people apprehended with respect, sincerity and attention. There has not been a history of incidents in the past, in which the PM in his official capacity has said things which were found incorrect. This rule, however, had started growing weak and brittle with UPA2’s excessive strains, there is no way it could have lifted the heavy weight of the strong man Modi, it shattered after 2014. As a result of which all kinds of bizarre politically motivated lies were spoken with incredible confidence and poise. Here a few:
#1 At a campaign rally in Bangalore on April 13, 2019, Modi deployed his favourite oratorical tool, the rhetorical question. “Was there even a single terrorist attack on the country when your chowkidar was on duty?” ( The wire)
& Then he talks about Pulwama and asks for votes, the contradiction wasn’t spaced even a few lines apart.
These are just a few samples you can look up this website https://www.modilies.in/ it does an excellent job of fact-checking the PM.
Fact-checking the PM wasn’t an idea that existed before Modi in the prominence that it does now. With his kind of resources, if he is making such blunders one can only imagine how hollow must be the academic grasp of the PM. There is another theory that suggests that these willful slip-ups were engaged in to mislead generally uninformed crowd. Modi made the lack of education among ordinary Indian a tool to swing emotions.
Discrediting dissent and bunking questions: The PM did not take one question from the press in a free unscripted conference, in fact, in his entire tenure, there was no press conference, none at all. This in itself is proof of the fact that in his world he doesn’t see himself accountable to anyone. He is his own man. He has however managed to effectively tame a vast majority of Indian media, who blush and blossom when they ask him questions like the below.
App thakte khyun nahi
Apke paas batua hain kya
Kon sa tonic lete hain
Ek fakiri hain app me
60 mahine me itna kuch kiya hain, itna hua hain
He agrees to answer if questions have the potential of adding to his propaganda of establishing himself as larger than life, the perfect man to lead image. His party workers and ministers have for long been suggesting those who have committed the sin of being critical of the PM to leave for Pakistan. Disagreeing with his idea is being anti-national. In the minds of his supporters, Modi is the nation, much like Indira use to be to her patrons. Urban Naxal, Lutyen, Tukre Tukre Gang, Award Wapsi gang: are the phrases that PM and his close confidants use for those who have expressed serious concern over the macho, majoritarian, divided and polarised India that he wants to create to keep his electability intact. Rejecting dissent and rebuking questions have now graduated to discrediting institution :about 4 yrs ago when Time Magazine published Modi’s interview lauding his plans; BJP supporters jumped in excitement, for them it was a national pride, today when the same prestigious publication is calling Modi’s bluff out in the open, they find the magazine frivolous! There is an army defending his unscientific and even plain stupid comments; like the one that he has made on how he thought clouds would help the air strike move undetected from the radars etc. People latch on and give all kinds of arguments to save the face of the supreme leader.
The great Indian political circus will end on the 23rd hopefully with a mandate that gives Mr Modi some solitary time and much-needed rest but I’m afraid the trend that he has set in will continue and get worse in days to come. The country that has been terribly polarised will have to make a lot of effort, burn a lot of steam, to come together again. Healing is going to be effort-intensive. In times like these, I miss the sanity that Bapu has professed in his writings.
Argumentative and enthusiastic Indians will move from elections to cricket, patiently and in hope, reel under the adventure of whichever side that wins 2019 because they know that they will get to choose again in another 5 yrs.
With that let me end this, if you haven’t voted still, do so!