In denial about the pandemic mess, the PM and his coterie are accusing the media of spreading negativity, the opposition of duplicity and pettiness and the Supreme Court of poking its nose in the government’s business. Given this level of hostility fed by hero worship and sycophancy, the statements of Union minister Nitin Gadkari and actor Anupam Kher, a 24-carat Modi ‘bhakt’, are an extraordinary departure. They are an admission of the emperor’s wardrobe malfunction.
Gadkari advised his party men to shun gimmickry and focus on selfless service. In stark contrast to the BJP’s focus on ‘positivity’, he instructed office-bearers in a virtual interaction from Nagpur, his hometown and constituency: “Don’t put up hoardings or flags or publicise your work.”
Around the same time, the official Twitter handle of Mann Ki Baat, Modi’s monthly radio address, sought inspiring stories from the audience “to celebrate the power of positivity and the strengths of 130 crore Indians!”
The bureaucracy, which needs no nudging to read the mind of the ruler, was told in no uncertain terms to “create a positive image of the government” and manage “perception through effectively highlighting positive stories and achievements”. Last week, some 300 Central government bureaucrats were put through a workshop to make it seem that the government was “sensitive, bold, quick, responsive, hard-working etc”.
Hope they were not told to sell the not-so-old resolution passed by the BJP’s national body hailing the PM’s unparalleled, visionary leadership which had conquered Covid-19 and made India the saviour of the world.
The Union government wants to pin the blame for mismanaging the second wave of the pandemic on non-BJP governments, on a global conspiracy against India and on Indians themselves, for not staying indoors!
Gadkari, Kher speak up
This Operation Whitewash was a bit too much for Kher. He let out his feelings in an interview with the news agency, PTI: “Somewhere they have slipped. It is time for them to understand that there is much more to life than just image-building maybe.” He followed it up with a prime-time interview on NDTV, reviled by Modi supporters as a ‘sickular’ TV channel. “We should as people... Get angry...It is important to hold the government responsible for what has happened.”
Suddenly, Kher is talking like director Mahesh Bhatt who gave him his big break with Saaransh in 1984. This is the same Kher who just two weeks ago responded to a critique of the government’s handling of Covid with a tweet: “Aayega toh Modi hi (but Modi will return).”
It is too far-fetched to think that Kher and Gadkari are working in tandem. In his Nagpur address, Gadkari said: “Politics is socialism, nationalism and development. This is the meaning of true politics. It is not just contesting elections and coming to power.” Is this a growing realisation of the fact that many Indians are unhappy that the party they twice voted to power is focusing on a Congress-‘mukt’ Bharat rather than a Covid-‘mukt’ Bharat?
Modi supporters in academia too are now growing disenchanted with him. Vamsi Juluri, Professor of Media Studies, University of San Francisco, writes about “the lie of delusion, vanity, the avalanche of denial and deception...” in an essay urging Modi to wake up and listen, learn, lead.
Makarand Paranjape, director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, admits that Modi’s image has taken a beating and that it is time for him to introspect and, if necessary, course-correct by showing more humanity and humility.
However, what’s in the offing is an online event by the RSS called ‘Positivity Unlimited’, with lectures and speeches by top motivators, religious gurus and even prominent industrialists. Are Gadkari’s mentors in the RSS playing it both ways? Or, is Gadkari positioning himself as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did during the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation?
Call for compassion
Kher said that people have the right to complain and get angry but should not hold back on being compassionate towards fellow citizens. Now, empathy is absent in the attitude of the PM. For a man given to theatrics, he has not visited a single Covid hospital, nor has he shed a tear for the lakhs of countrymen who have perished in the pandemic.
Officially, deaths per day have crossed 4,000 but the real toll is anyone’s guess. As with all the statistics released by the Modi government, the official figures of Covid deaths too are suspect. Last month, even the Gujarat high court urged the state government to come clean: “The state has nothing to gain by hiding the real picture and hence suppression and concealment of accurate data would generate more serious problems including fear, loss of trust, panic among the public at large.”
A viral cartoon captures it all: Modi rushes to Adityanath in panic, saying that the real Covid data had started floating in the Ganga! Kher, too, referred to the scores of corpses, suspected to be those of Covid victims, found floating in the Ganga: “I think the criticism is valid in lots of cases... Only an inhuman person will not get affected by the bodies floating.”
People like political strategist Prashant Kishor, who once worked for Modi, are blunt: “In the face of a grieving nation and tragedies unfolding all around us, the continued attempt to push falsehood and propaganda in the name of spreading positivity is disgusting! For being positive we don’t have to become blind propagandists of the government”.
The curt replies of the PM’s loyalists to former PM Manmohan Singh and to the joint letter to the PM by leaders of 12 parties demanding free vaccination for all and halting of the Central Vista project are reminiscent of the Congress’s arrogance when faced with AAP’s allegations before the tide turned. Salman Khurshid went to the extent of calling them, ‘gandi naali ke keede’.
However, it would be interesting to see how the PM’s loyalists react to Arun Shourie, a minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet, who minced no words when he said that the Covid crisis wasn’t a fault of the system but of Modi’s systematic perversion of the system. In fact, Shourie feels that Modi cannot evade personal responsibility for what he calls his “criminal dereliction”.
Who knows, the emperor might like to show his full range of outfits.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. He welcomes feedback on email@example.com