Democracy is the greatest paradox of our time, as it ensures peace by imitating war. Elections are its mephitic battlefields where the ultimate prize is power. But it feels as if elections have been going on ever since Narendra Modi captured power nearly five years ago. It seems the rhetoric never died, the gauntlets never stopped hitting the ground and the curveballs never stopped coming. Modi hasn’t allowed himself to rest, and in the process he doesn’t allow others to rest either. Only time will tell if this antagonistic enthusiasm has served him well. By keeping his opponents on their toes, he has forced them to get into shape.
Take Mamata Banerjee, a street fighter who has converted confrontation into public art. The BJP’s foray into her turf and her savage reaction, the subsequent judicial dramatics and outlier dharnas are helping her voice carry beyond Bengal. Hear Akhilesh Yadav’s crack at the caged parrot’s orchestrated bites. Watch his ‘bua’ Mayawati who has been shaken out of post-defeat stupor into a contradictory collaboration: together they are a formidable force. Heed the calibrated stance of Naveen Patnaik, whose equidistance hides latent warnings. Observe MK Stalin’s Dravidian war cry and the cowslaying catcalls of the comrades.
Even Tejashwi Yadav, until now just a squeak in the political auditorium is auditioning for a national voiceover. And there is Rahul Gandhi whose newly minted eloquence, competitive barbs, contemptuous cantos, outrageous accusations and even untruths are causing updrafts before the storm. Too much confrontation is releasing too many toxins into the air.
Powerful leaders dominate the narrative with unstoppable energy and immovable resolve to win. The flipside is that such force needs to take a break and reinvent its delivery and recharge its batteries. Monotony is death by voting. Narendra Modi is combative by nature. He has been fighting all his life. Fighting poverty as a child, fighting an established hierarchy as a determined outsider, fighting the media over the Gujarat riots, fighting the Gandhi dynasty which labelled him ‘maut ka saudagar’, fighting social prejudice (‘my only regret is that I could not win over Lutyens’ Delhi’ )—and now fighting for his legacy.
In the process, he has forced others to follow his template, ape his insolence and copy his combativeness. In 2014, he wowed India with ingenious surprises. But today, his belligerence is expected. His tone can be recognised in sleep. His one-liners can be completed before he finishes them. It is time for Modi to find a new idiom. How about measured delivery, claims that pack a punch and the self-assured gravitas of a born winner? With so many clones around, he doesn’t need to fight himself this time, does he?