The problem with the commentariat since Narendra Damodardas Modi came to power is the binary absolutism of the discourse. They only have two degrees of freedom in their analysis – venerate Modi or hate Modi.
Everything is viewed through the Sith-like absolutist prism, where the Prime Minister’s actions evoke either Panglossian optimism or Kafkaesque negativity. Everything is either the greatest achievement of all time, or the worst decision ever taken by a Prime Minister.
For the believers, Modi is the master of all, the Chosen One who has singlehandedly brought balance to the Force, united the seven kingdoms, broken the chains of slavery, casteism, bureaucracy and every other sin that plagues modern India. Anything Modi does is a masterstroke, a game-changer, a forward throw, a pivot, a green shoot or the giant leap forward, even if it’s changing an acronym.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that India under Modi in 2020 is the worst place on earth, a fascist hell-hole like an Amazon warehouse (analogy courtesy Honest Trailers).
These people disdain everything Modi does to the extent that if he could pull a Jesus and convert water into wine, they’d blame him for tempting alcoholics.
In their eyes, he has destroyed the economy, made India a laughing caricature on the global stage, invited China to make Gobi Manchurian in Ladakh and unleashed Hindutva terror on hapless minorities while jailing activists who have a song on their lips and the Constitution in their hearts.
When NaMo went to Nimo, it led to the same binary split. Critics complained that Nimo wasn’t a ‘forward enough’ post, as if the only way PM Modi could prove his maryada was if he dropped in stealth gear along the LAC and took out 10 Chinese soldiers with his bare hands.
He was panned for JUST banning PUBG and TikTok, which might be his most politically unpopular move since demonetization. Is this how we cock our snook at the Chinese who are acting like they want to establish another Middle Kingdom? That Modi might be doing more than just banning apps seemed like an alien concept.
The second group couldn’t keep calm, as if it was the first time in India’s living memory when a PM had publicly backed his soldiers during a conflict, clearly forgetting that there was a PM who literally Balkan-ised Pakistan into two despite India being far weaker globally and a hostile United States led by a racist, misogynist President flexing its muscles on the other side.
Of course, saner voices have both disparaged India’s China moves and also praised Modi for adding a hint of boldness to India’s dealing with China.
There is a reason a lot of journalists despise the current regime. The current dispensation has taken the media out of the conversation. There are no more leaks, no more Radia tapes, no more cabinet discussions leaked to the press. The PMO is air-tight and if information leaks out through ‘sources’, it’s because the government wants it to.
The PM’s disdain for the press also means that he hasn’t given a single meaningful interview since assuming the post. That’s really strange for the primus inter pares of the biggest democracy in the world.
Even Donald Trump stumbles through several of them a day, regaling us with tales of how ‘herd mentality will help beat coronavirus’. He is inherently incoherent while doing so, but at least he talks to the press who are allowed to ask critical questions. Which is the basic tenet of a vibrant democracy.
Even PM Modi’s predecessor, whose oratorical skills made Alexa sound like Morgan Freeman, spoke to the press and answered questions.
Perhaps it stems from a belief there is a hostile press which he believed vilified him in 2002. In fact, there was a time a middle-aged Narendra Modi was a quite vocal participant in debates on NDTV.
The aforementioned didactic just helps continue the obfuscation and allows BJP to claim that they are not being given a fair hearing, despite the fact that they have been in power for 6 years and yet continue to blame Congress for their numerous failures.
One can’t force the PM to participate in a press conference, but one can ask for a more meaningful discourse about the country’s politics.
When Modi messes up as he is wont to do, he should be hauled over the coals. But to blame him for the actions of every single anonymous troll or cow vigilante is reductive and just leads to the same slowest herd fighting each other mentality.
Both the pro-Modi and the anti-Modi camp need to get past their inherent biases, pre-conceived notions and debate in a way that’s suitable for a democracy in 2020.
And perhaps the PM could start taking press conferences. It’d be the perfect return gift to journalists on his 70th birthday. Alas, to borrow a phrase from RBI governor Shaktikanta Das, that just might be an absurd Panglossian whimsy that will never come true.
Read other Nonsensical Nemo columns.
Nirmalya Dutta is the Web Editor the Free Press Journal and tweets at @nirmalyadutta23.