Free Press Journal

Mr Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the slip is showing

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Karyakarta Modi, of course, has a good reason to feel indebted to the RSS which had invested him with some kind of a political halo. The PM may still fancy that he can change political gears with consummate ease — from Vikas to soft Hindutva — but even this well-calibrated strategy, if not fine-tuned at intervals, starts sputtering at some point. You have reached a point of inflection, Mr Prime Minister, when the public perception of your workmanship no longer aligns with your own sense of deep accomplishment. Now is the time to sit up and take notice.

Mr Prime Minister, your body language is not what it used to be. We don’t get to see your flamboyant self anymore — neither the loud gestures with your hands, nor your torso swinging from side to side as you were carried away by rhetoric; nor the sound and fury with which you would try and reinforce the 56’’ metaphor. Recently, even on home turf Gujarat, we did not get to see your charmed offensive: Rather you had the demeanour of a man who is talking to himself in an empty room – an illusionist who realises he can no longer wow his captive audience. The audience, too, like the mindless “jamoora” (the sidekick who obeys each command of the roadside “madari”) is getting tired of the political slapstick. It is able to see through the trite remarks and the incantations that have begun to stretch the limits of credulity.

I am sure a perceptive and intelligent man like you, Mr Prime Minister, who loves his country and countrymen, can sense the smirk — the altering public perception that is no longer hostage to your spin doctors’ excellent headline management. No wonder you are stiff like a mannequin as you meander through the motions of your speeches, which occasionally have as many twists and turn as the swirls in the theatrical turban that you love to wear. Pardon me, but these are the jaded mannerisms of a salesman who realises that both his sales pitch and the hair oil he is hawking are phoney.


The facade came off when you made the rather ludicrous claim that the GST was not your decision alone. Rather, for once, you gave the Congress the credit for facilitating a legislation that the BJP had repeatedly stonewalled in the past. Mr Prime Minister, rarely have we seen such magnanimity on your part, not even when mothballed UPA schemes were dusted, tweaked, dressed up and relaunched. Ironically, every time you celebrated these achievements, you were really just lauding the economy you had inherited from your predecessor.

Governments are supposed to run on talent: but this one — as the demonetisation spectacle has shown — runs on dressed up half truths. Governments — especially those in the third year of grandstanding — are expected, at some point, to break away from the dishonest political rhetoric and start delivering on the ground. But the charade continues and the ruling dispensation — still perched on a ledge — is making profound statements about Ram Rajya and creating an even bigger illusion of empowerment of the poor — promising them a ‘utopian’ world — a roof over their heads, an in-house toilet, and LED bulbs to stare at in the dead of the night. This is indeed pretty rich: a progressive centrist party like the BJP — which should be more concerned about protecting the interests of corporates and big interest groups — is resorting to socialist gibberish.

When you, Mr Prime Minister, were campaigning in 2014, we really did not mind the embellishments: it was all part of role play. Most of us rationalised and excused the exaggerations. Because you were talking in an idiom that we understood, and you seemed to be on our side of the social divide. You flattered us, cajoled us. It was invigorating – your capacity and the disposition to connect with the masses. But such has been our heady affair with hubris that for the last three years we are subsisting on a staple diet of half-broken pledges; most of the time we are trying to make sense of the ‘jumlas’ — whether it is a dressed up truth or a big lie. We Indians love crafty leaders who can negotiate with global leaders on an even keel, but we detest it when we realise that they are talking to us in multiple voices, manipulating us to satisfy their own vanity and egotistical craving for admiration and power. And when that happens, the spell begins to break, the magic begins to wane — as was witnessed recently in the Gurdaspur by-poll.

In a way, no one had worked harder than you, Mr Prime Minister, to construct an entire political narrative around your own persona — of a decisive no-nonsense head of the government whose philosophy is supposedly very different from that of the fatigued Congress leaders. And now, the same dynamic Modi is marginalising himself as he allows the forces of Hindutva to inflict their socially regressive nonsense on the nation and by allowing them to dwarf his development agenda.

Result: these transgressions are chipping away at his carefully crafted persona, bit by bit. So, what is finally beginning to tell on the domestic performance of the government is not just its failure to deliver on promises, but the incompatibility between the demands of the Sangh Parivar and the agenda of development, which is eroding the credibility of the regime. Most of us are wondering: who is really running the country these days? Because what creates confusion and hurts the system is the perception that a political party with a resounding mandate is putting itself in a position of compliance vis-à-vis an extraneous authority.

In fact, all was hunky dory in the first two years: there were hits and misses and we were looking forward to increased momentum in the ensuing years — in the run up to the 2019 election. And then something strange happened: the BJP decided to abdicate its authority. Not just that; the party decided to retire to the dressing room and asked the RSS to pad up for the slog overs till 2019. With that, the task of governance in UP at least has been outsourced to the RSS and the BJP, for all intents and purposes, is now just a front office. Of course, all these years no one had really believed the RSS when it professed to be a cultural outfit; so, there was little surprise when it stopped masquerading as one and came out of the closet.

But what is intriguing is that after tasting blood in UP and having inflicted Yogi Adityanath on the state, the Sangh is no longer content with riding roughshod over the government and implementing its saffron agenda. It does not want to just give us a national template or control the eating habits of people, or tamper with the school and college curricula; all that is passé. Nor is it content with its ring side view of the government; it no longer wants to merely give the ‘Aadesh’ from the back room; or draw the red lines for babus aligned with its ideology; or chaperone the ministers, often leading them by the hand; and play the political nanny to the BJP government.

Rather, much emboldened by its political adventure in UP, it is now looking at an even larger mandate and role for itself in 2019; it possibly wants to control the business of the nation and its governance. But embedded in all this are the seeds of a political conflict: because what was until now a cohesive unit, what was until now a convergence of ideological interests, could well turn into a wrangling for political space. It’s no secret that we’re living in a deeply polarised society but these very fault lines exist within the Sangh Parivar, too. Right now, both the BJP and the RSS are getting equal traction but there could be a mismatch once the Gujarat elections are out. All rhetoric is designed for a particular time and place, and above all for a particular audience. But a political dispensation cannot build on falsehood layer upon layer of emotive logic. One believes a narrative not because hope is eternal but because it sounds coherent or plausible.

The prime minister perhaps needs to look for a new ideological construct in which there will be greater emphasis on his own ability to determine what is in public interest — a catchment area in which he is not seen to be tethered to the forces of Hindutva. But for that to happen there has to be some kind of a self-awareness: That he is meandering; that his political idiom is beginning to sound hollow; that the overemphasis on Hindutva needs to disappear; that he is not immune to a backlash; that unkempt promises have an uncanny knack of backfiring in the face of demagogues.

Karyakarta Modi, of course, has a good reason to feel indebted to the RSS which had invested him with some kind of a political halo. The PM may still fancy that he can change political gears with consummate ease — from Vikas to soft Hindutva — but even this well-calibrated strategy, if not fine-tuned at intervals, starts sputtering at some point. You have reached a point of inflection, Mr Prime Minister, when the public perception of your workmanship no longer aligns with your own sense of deep accomplishment. Now is the time to sit up and take notice.

The author is editor of The Free Press Journal

  • Vishwanathan S

    A journalist and more so the editor of a newspaper is expected to be neutral and use decent language. On both counts unfortunately SS Dhawan leaves much to be desired. The language used by him does not behove of a cultured person. I am very sorry to say this as an reader of FPJ for the last 3 decades.