New Idea of India: Is There a Reason To Fear?

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Rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been phenomenal. From an ordinary RSS pracharak to the three time Chief Minister of Gujarat to a dizzying sweep to power at the centre, Modi makes for an inspirational story.  And as former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has said in his book Neither a Hawk, Nor a Dove, Modi has a sense of destiny about him.  True, Modi’s journey from humble origins to the most powerful leader of India is moving but the trouble with such a fawning appraisal is that we tend to simplify and romanticize the rise and evacuate it of all its messes and ugliness. The journey seems one Bollywood-like rags to riches transition. This is the problem with the most recent evaluations of Modi. They have developed a blind spot for the chaos and mayhem that accompanied this journey. Or what he did to get where he eventually did. Or what political and social environment facilitated his rise. True, every rise of a leader is marked by a set of specific social and political circumstances and the strategies he adopted to play them to his advantage. Same has been the case with Modi. But how one wishes that Modi’s route to power was different. Perhaps more like the one his “friend Barack” took. More inclusive, accommodative and pluralist in his outlook. True during his two-year long campaign for the prime ministership of the country, Modi offered some scope for hope. He  turned the election campaign into a  Bollywood-like drama: a drama that was on display across the full aura of his personality, in his speeches, in his ambitious goals, in the optics of his activities and in his daring of India’s enemies, China and Pakistan.

But there was an important difference.  This drama only packaged his plans which are otherwise grounded in hard realism. His fiery public rhetoric was not without its private reflection. And his Hindutva ideology was not without its pragmatism. There was, thus, a leader rooted in a divisive ideology, doing an emotionally charged politics but offering an inclusive development. But could he negotiate these contradictions, once he was the prime minister? His record until then affirmed that he could.  Starting with 2001 anti-Muslim riots to sweeping the Lok Sabha election to his party’s spectacular victories in Maharashtra and Haryana, it was a, by and large, smooth journey. But no more.

As his eighteen months in power have proved, Modi hasn’t lived up to the hopes about him but to the apprehensions: his government may have taken a strongly pro-business line, but on ideological front, Sangh Parivar has gone for an unremitting assault on the idea of India, as even attested to by the superstar Aamir Khan in his statement at a journalism award ceremony in New Delhi. They have set about in right earnest to pursue an ideological makeover of the Indian state away from the Nehruvian idea of the country.  The intolerance and hate against the minorities has been on a steady rise. The BJP Chief Minister of Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar makes the living of Muslims in India conditional on their not eating beef. Attacks on Muslims have gone up, coming to a head with the lynching in Uttar Pradesh of Mohammad Ikhlaq  on the suspicion of storing or eating beef.  And this intolerance and prejudice against the minorities isn’t limited to mobs or “thuggish violence” as Salman Rushdie put it, but even institutions of the state have started reflecting this bias, as Khattar would have you believe. Is this the idea of India that Modi wants to institute in place of a secular, Nehruvian India which for all its serious flaws protected India’s ethnic and religious diversity? Let us hope that the inherent realism of Modi eventually triumphs over the baser instincts of his foot soldiers. A monochromatic India is something we all have a reason to fear. And it is an India that all should reject, including Modi.

 

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