After Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and Modi 'bhakt’ Anupam Kher, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has taken an oblique dig at the PM. The man who writes Modi’s report card held ‘‘both the government as well as the public’’ responsible for the current Covid crisis for ‘‘dropping their guards after the first wave, despite indications from doctors’’.
Well, the PM is already showing some signs of contriteness. His admirers-turned-critics want him to show humanity and humility; Modi has attempted the former by saying that he ‘‘feels the pain of the Covid-affected’’. However, it will take some doing for him to show some humility and take steps such as visiting villages on the banks of the Ganga or suspending work on the Central Vista. Well, if he held more than a dozen poll rallies in Bengal, he can certainly visit a couple of Covid-hit cowbelt villages.
Another positive sign is that Modi finally has come out of his shell after losing face in Bengal and after the global censure for his handling of the second wave of the pandemic. He chaired a high-level meeting to review India's coronavirus situation, especially in the villages, and the vaccination drive in the country. He ordered a probe into ventilators purchased using the PM Cares funds, lying unused. He reviewed the preparations for Cyclone Tauktae.
How ironic for Modi that Bhagwat was speaking at 'Positivity Unlimited', a lecture series organised by the RSS to deflect criticism aimed at the PM. The RSS chief, though, urged citizens to stay united and work as a team, instead of pointing fingers at each other.
Modi needs to realise that the positivity he seeks needs to begin with him. As Gandhi said: ‘‘Be the change you want to see’’. If Modi needs teamwork, he needs to reach out to the opposition, rather than having them insulted by his acolytes. If he needs unity, he needs to tell his army of trolls to shut up for a while. If he wants to create a climate of consensus, he needs to stop arresting people for putting up posters criticising him.
The PM should hold an all-party meeting, if not a special session of the Parliament, and seriously consider some of the suggestions jointly made by 12 opposition parties. For instance, their suggestion on Central procurement of vaccines from all available sources, global and domestic. An immediate free, universal mass vaccination campaign also is a worthy idea as is compulsory licensing to expand domestic vaccine production. After all, India is still a democracy.
This brings us to Bhagwat wanting finger-pointing to stop. Highlighting the shortcomings of the government is the role of the opposition in a democracy. In fact, the opposition should be doing more of it and more effectively. It is the BJP which should stop vilifying critics and jailing dissenters and even stand-up comedians!
If Modi wants a spirit of co-operative federalism, he needs to stop toppling non-BJP governments by hook or by crook, he needs to rein in the governors, he needs to give the states their share of funds, he ought to consult them before taking decisions that will affect them. Above all, he needs to be transparent because that’s where trust comes from.
Azim Premji, industrialist and philanthropist, the only real outsider to the Sangh Parivar at Positivity Unlimited, harped on transparency: ‘‘Science and truth are the foundations on which we can tackle this crisis and ensure it's not repeated.’’
If ‘‘boosting the morale of citizens amid the pandemic”, was one of the aims of the positivity exercise, the RSS ought to remember that public confidence cannot be built with `fatwas’ or spin doctoring, it comes from a series of positive actions. And positive actions are not rushing oxygen to hospitals belatedly but good governance, 'su-rajya'.
Interestingly, it was only Premji who spoke about the poor: “As it is, the overall situation is heartbreaking but you have a look at villages and those in poverty’’. Bhagwat likened the situation to that of England during World War II when British PM Winston Churchill kept a plaque on his table: ‘‘There is no pessimism in this office. We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They don't exist’’. Well, the comparison is misplaced. Bhagwat ought to have told Modi that actions speak louder than words. In any case, this is lost on a man given to theatrics.
Bhagwat is perhaps realising the perils of getting drunk on power. The BJP used its massive mandate to steamroll the opposition, crush dissent and push majoritarian policies in a country as diverse as India. You can’t suddenly demand trust and cooperation from a man you were throttling. You can’t suddenly tell the public you are habitually lying to about demonetisation, about the economy, about oxygen and vaccines to suddenly start trusting you. The apt aphorism here is: `Sau choohe kha ke billi haj ko chali’.
Modi can make light of Gadkari, Kher, the opposition, the judiciary and the chattering classes, he can also cock a snook at the voters for the next three years but he had better take Bhagwat seriously, unless he wants to risk being replaced.
Or, one could argue that the RSS needs Modi more than he needs the RSS. The moot point here is that Modi can still win elections but can he steer India out of trouble?