Now that 2022 is two days old, how are things fanning out? Too early to say, perhaps. But the usual tendency to decry the old and welcome the new is not as strong as in previous New Year seasons. The sense of bad days is persisting. Optimism is being diluted by continuing setbacks. There have been 3.48 crore Corona cases during the year with 4.8 lakh deaths. And there are no signs of things easing up.
One reason for this is the overwhelming importance of politics in the lives of people. In developed countries, this does not happen because things other than politics, such as sports and arts, play dominant roles in everyday lives. In countries like India, everything depends on politicians and their intentions. And more often than not, their self-interests become the fulcrum on which other things revolve.
That this is the central reality of Narendra Modi, and his handling of power was underlined recently by someone who has been a Modi-watcher from close quarters. Aakar Patel, the columnist who knows Modi well, didn’t mince words when he said: “Modi is reckless, impetuous and unconcerned about consequences.” Patel’s recent book ‘Price of the Modi Years’ stressed the point that “Modi has no vision for Indian society other than to reject inclusion.”
Academicians make the same point in a more authoritative voice. Arjun Appadurai, anthropologist and major voice in the cultural dynamics of globalisation, described Modi’s rule as a continuation of the British concept of ruling India. “Many of his policies draw from imperial rule and treat dissidents as a threat, just as the British did. This is the behaviour of conquerors, and not of democratically elected leaders. And that is how the leadership of the BJP sees itself.” He put it bluntly when he said: “I see the Modi regime as direct descendants of the British Raj and its politics. The current BJP rule is British Empire 2.” He went on to emphasise: “The grand climax: The cutting down of trees, the destruction of major archives and museums, the crushing of living memories in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi.”
He didn’t say that the description “Lutyens’ Delhi” had hurt Modi who would rather have the world see the Indian Capital as “Modi’s Delhi.” But he saw things in perspective when he said: “The Central Vista project is a massive signal to the population of Delhi, India and the world that there is a new conqueror in the Capital and that this conqueror has infinite time, money and power in its hands. The destruction of Lutyens’ Delhi and of the historical Rajpath is just collateral damage in the signalling exercise. The reconquest of India by its current Hindutva rulers is part of a battle of ideas. It must be fought and won in that battlefield.”
Modi, shrewd as always, put it in a nationalistic framework. “Due to colonial mentality,” he said, “obstacles are put in the development of our own country, sometimes in the name of freedom of expression.” Yes, people expressing their views with freedom is a problem. Modi’s determination to remove obstacles in his way has sent a message to all. The message instantly reached officials in Gangtok, Sikkim. The strategically important road in this area was known as Jawaharlal Nehru Marg. Overnight, it changed into Narendra Modi Marg. Local leaders explained that the name change was in appreciation of the free vaccines and rations made available during Covid days. May be. But it also had a direct bearing on Modi’s ambition to be recognised as the premier symbol of Indian democracy. It is no secret that Modi never liked Nehru being admired by all.
Of course, he will never ever replace Nehru in the annals of history. Nehru upheld Indian values and was never seen merely as a Congress party apparatchik. Modi will never come anywhere near him although he made it clear on more than one occasion that he considered himself — and wanted to be considered by others — in the class of Nehru. He did not approve of Nehru, and he resented the fact that the people of India held Nehru and his values in high esteem. He did not want to be seen as lesser than such a hero.
But of course, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. We are all human and we love our cakes. So we eat them and end up as having no cake. But we enjoyed eating them, didn’t we? So what is there to complain? Modi won’t complain. He knows how to have his cake and eat it too.