In the 2004 polls, just seven seats separated the BJP from victory. Congress returned to power enabled by a post-script, of a craftily authored alliance. The BJP could not reconcile with and stomach the defeat. Suffering from an acquired identity deficiency syndrome, it wallowed in victimhood politics. Young aspiring India simply could not and would not identify with the BJP. Unsurprisingly, the BJP was defeated in 2009 too. Cut to 2013-14. Enter Narendra Modi. Riding on the Gujarat Model, he articulated ideas and solutions, exhorted the idea of ‘One India’, and re-installed pride to transport the BJP out of the rut of victimhood to a historic victory.
In 2015, the party seems to have learnt little from the victory, or why and how it won in 2014. Indeed, the shamans of revisionism and obscurantism believe the 2014 victory was of their making and not that of Modi or the Modi Model. And even as voters migrate from scepticism to aspiration in state after state, the BJP seems to be migrating back in time. A parade of isotopes from within the BJP, subsidiaries of the Sangh Parivar, and franchisees are waging a war on the very idea of aspirational India. The promise of change is challenged by a pageant of chefs cooking up a mindless diet of binary politics of hate.
Last week, the Prime Minister Modi spoke at the UN General Assembly and emphasised on the “need to de-link terrorism from religion as a weapon in the fight against terrorism”. Back at home, a man was bludgeoned inside his house by a mob following rumours —enabled by rhetoric-active isotopes—that he stored/consumed beef. The reactions that followed were worse, aimed at using religious identity to instil fear. One MP observed that lynching on mere suspicion was condemnable. It seems it is okay by this lawmaker if lynching was backed by evidence, for mobocracy to be installed. All that the BJP was required to do was to state upfront that law and order was a state subject, that regardless of affiliation, whoever is guilty will be punished. Instead, byte-per-minute inanity followed. The tragedy was converted into an occasion for sermons. Mahesh Sharma, junior minister and MP, went on to describe the murder as an “accident”. Others suggested the attackers were “innocent” teenagers.
Sharma has been on a roll with his quote-a-day routine. In mid-September, the week India was honouring the martyrdom of heroes like Abdul Hamid PVC and celebrating victory over Pakistan in the 1965 war, Sharma declared, “Despite being a Muslim, APJ Abdul Kalam was a great nationalist and humanist.” That Sharma had the gumption to characterise one of India’s top scientists who strummed melodies on the Rudra Veena as comfortably as he designed the missiles programme, a man adored as the people’s President, speaks volumes about the mindset.
‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ is an important initiative of the Modi Sarkar. The Prime Minister has campaigned against the morally repugnant practice of female foeticide at home and abroad—most recently he spoke about it at the Facebook headquarters. Sushma Swaraj spoke about it at the UNGA. Contrast this with the text and the discourse. Sharma, for instance, believes “girls should not go out as it is against Indian culture”. Last month, the Raman Singh regime in Chhatisgarh was forced to withdraw a textbook from classrooms. One of the chapters listed working women as one of the causes for unemployment among men in the country. It can scarcely be an accident that such a misogynistic chapter be part of school curriculum.
India justifiably presents itself in the international arena as a vibrant democracy with enshrined rights. This calling card is critical in the global theatre of economics and geopolitics. Modi has leveraged democracy along with demography to promote the idea of Digital India. The initiative is critical for both investments and the India Story branding. The question is whether everyone is logged in. Days before the PM left for the US, a draft encryption policy—Orwellian and which required citizens to make available personal messages—was forced to be withdrawn. An earlier episode of withdrawal involved net neutrality. The defence offered was that it was just a draft, as if a draft is born in a political vacuum. What is the encrypted message here?
This is not the first time petty politics of the binary kind has overwhelmed the potential of the Modi Model. Over the past 18 months, revisionists have suggested rates of conversion for Ghar Wapsi, qualified who are Ramzade and who are not, promoted the idea that Hindu women have more children, and introduced a vile percept called Love Jihad. The PM is invested in the idea of inculcating scientific temper. And self-certified franchisees are targeting rationalists across the country.
Curiously, there is little interaction or engagement of the know-it-all brigade within the party or with the public on the many positive programmes—whether it is Swachh Bharat or Make in India or Skill India. Energies are reserved to rage and outrage, for a peculiar obsession with who eats what, who sees what, who reads what, or who wears what. Hardly a week passes by without some group demanding a ban on some activity. It is instructive to know that the quest for hegemonic homogeneity is a road downhill. And one has to only look at Pakistan to recognise the consequences.
There is a chorus that the Prime Minister must speak up. Whether he speaks up or acts is his call. There is a real danger here though—the efforts to reinstal India’s pride globally may be crushed by the avalanche of bad news. The quote-a-day artists are widening and deepening the chasm between Modi’s promise of Digital India and real India.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change