We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.— Marshall McLuhan
It is the season of faith and belief—culturally and politically. After the Lok Sabha results, I had quipped, half in jest, that India has migrated from no government to no opposition. The quip is turning into an axiom as the Modi Sarkar completes 150 days.
If the electoral results are a barometer of belief, the idea of Modi has expanded exponentially. Between September 2013, when Narendra Modi was anointed for the top job and October 2014, the BJP has added over 225 seats—over 100 in Haryana and Maharashtra—in five polls to its tally of Assembly seats.
And the principal difference is ownership and communication—Modi’s ability to convert every public appearance into an exercise in political evangelism. Every speech is crafted to address the granular in politics. So when he speaks about labour and dignity, he lists the farmer, the weaver, the tailor and for effect the widow who sews the button and the young boy who irons the shirt—the vertical and backward integration of governance and politics.
Each event is used as an opportunity to deploy an armada of slogans and acronyms—B4B in Bhutan, HIT in Nepal, INCH with China—and there are the clichés. There is also the clever subscription to symbolism, to popular resonance—Shrameva Jayate and Satyameva Jayate, Make in India and Made in India and so on.
Every step qualifies for the Armstrong adjective is a never-before step. The 5.5-crore new accounts registered under the Jan Dhan Yojana, the number portability for EPF accounts, the shrinking of forms-raj for the SMEs, the dismantling of the administered price mechanism for diesel are all huge leaps for Indiankind. Of course the optics overwhelms, tiresome details are deliciously left unattended and the question is often contained by the promise.
It is also true that there is no real challenge from the Opposition. It is not just about Rahul Gandhi. Every known face of the Congress—and there is surely no dearth of bigwigs who ruled for a decade—is conspicuous by their absence. The Congress is batting like the Windies, not sure of a payback at the other end. The party is bereft of ideas and there is apparently no agenda.
The deployment of the festive occasion of Diwali is a singular illustration of Modi’s ability to align the idea of nationalism and his politics—to capitalise on it to expand the footprint of Moditva. On Thursday, he spent half a day with soldiers posted in the hell hole called Siachen and half a day with Kashmiri people devastated by what was arguably a manmade natural disaster. Modi is the master of the medium; Modi is the message.
The buzz before the polls was about Modi being business-friendly. This enabled the Opposition to latch on to the cliché of crony capitalism. The juicy milestone politicos had their eyes on was the tangled issue of gas pricing—the price at which private producers of natural gas from fields in India could sell the output. The Congress-led UPA had decided at around $8.2 per mmbtu. Modi Sarkar slashed this to $5.61 per mmbtu from November 1. The signal: there are no exceptions to the rule that Modi rules.
The rule applies across the government. The campaign slogan ‘Abki Baar Modi Sarkar’ is morphing into a maxim. It is a Modi Sarkar, a one-man government. Unlike the UPA, there is no confusion about the hierarchy. Après moi there is but one layer… the others. Every decision that impacts popular perception is stamped or unveiled by the PM. It is about communication—imagine a lesser mortal exhorting the concept of Shrameva Jayate. It is also about emphasising ownership. Within the party too, there is no room for confusion. Witness the disquiet and the silence of aspirants in the choice of chief ministers for Haryana and Maharashtra. The victory has the stamp of Modi and so will the anointment of chief ministers.
In 1966, as the Kamaraj-led Syndicate in the Congress flexed its muscles, Indira Gandhi was asked who is more powerful—the party or the Prime Minister? Indira said, “The question is whom the people want. My position with the people is uncontested.” Fact is, her mass appeal was her strongest weapon and the lack of charisma among her opponents their greatest weakness.
This is just as true for Modi. The ranting bigwigs in the party and the RSS—gnashing their teeth in frustration, whispering insinuations about the individualisation of the institution—will have to live with this fact. Like it or not, the BJP without Modi is no different from the Congress. Modi is the BJP. He is the party with a difference.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change