Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections in India is indubitably one of the most popular yet controversial and polarizing figures in the history of Indian politics. To those who deify Modi, he is looked upon a messiah or an incarnation of God and, more specifically, a demonstrator of Hindu masculinity to save their nation in times of war, chaos, and economic and societal collapse. These partisans of Modi can comprise their rational faculties to any extent in justifying their Messiah and his sacrosanctity. Modi, looked upon as a champion of development and Hindutva by his supporters, is also the darling of crony capitalism in India.
Then there are detractors of Modi, who view him as a personification of a Modern day Nero, a megalomaniacal tyrant responsible for masterminding the 2002 Gujrat pogrom, which was aimed at ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Gujarat. There is a virtual denatured and sublimated civil war between these two segments of the people concerning 2014 election where ballot is acting as a civilized substitute for bullet. The electoral discourse currently dominating the overall public discourses across India has in it Modi as a central figure. It is utterly impossible for one living in India to circumvent Modi and his face which looms from front pages of newspapers, television channels, billboards and toilet complexes. In the midst of such milieu, as a detractor of Modi, in the following lines, I will be trying to reason out my hostile reading of Modi.
Modi: The Ambitious India’s Dream
The emergence of Modi as a cult figure in India is not to be misconstrued as phenomenon resulting out of nowhere. The rise of Modi in India is a manifestation of the deepest desires of all those who advocate the celebration and affirmation of ‘Hindu’ Self created through the negation of the Other (Communists, Muslims, Christians, and West). One of the tallest exponents of this Hindu nationalist thought, proponent of Hindutva ideology, venerated by Modi, is VD Savarkar. For Savarkar, the most disturbing concern to be dealt by Hindus is the encroachment of India by the Muslims. To avenge this menace, Savarkar advocates the “breaking of the hundred thousand skulls of the enemy, powdering of it and its application as a balm”. The only truer form of Independence for Savarkar is “a festival of enemy’s blood”. It is the celebration of this bloodbath which gives Savarkar “great happiness”. The enemy here is not only Muslims but all those coming in the way of the celebration of this bloodbath. On Savarkar’s 130th Birth anniversary on 28th May, 2013, Modi paid tributes to Savarkar by referring him a ‘Veer purush (Chevalier) who was not scared of death’. In India there is huge section of population who admire the likes of Savarkar and see Modi as an archetypal envoy to translate the idealized dream of the Hindu nationalists and their own wishes into practice.
The expedition of Modi from a tea seller to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak, to Chief Minister of Gujarat, to BJP’s Prime Minsterial Candidate, has elements of a fairytale. This journey of one ordinary individual to extraordinary fame is appealing to ambitious Indians, particularly middle-classes wanting to see their country in a different light on the map of the world. However, in the realization of this objective, these ambitious supporters of Modi place greater emphasis on ends over means. Modi for his supporters is a game changer who can tackle any criticism, defy any rule, and emerge victorious. They see in him an unrivalled personality, with an ability to translate their dream of developed India into practice. The desperation for this development is so high that it may be justified even at the cost of any destruction to humanity.
Modi and His Inspiration
The label of game changer attributed to Modi by his supporters is perfectly reflected by Modi as an RSS man and his ascent as a ‘rabid face’ of the organization. Modi derives his inspiration from RSS, a far right-wing, fascist organization, whose founders sometimes admired Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and sometimes likened Muslims to ‘poisonous hissing snakes’. Irrespective of conservative ideological foundation, RSS, Modi, and his followers dominate the question of what secular ought to mean in India by targeting all those arguing against them by plainly bracketing them as pseudo secular, anti-national, and Muslim appeasers. The members of RSS and its supporters see themselves as sole authorities with deep historical understanding of the universe and debate with opponents by basing their arguments on divine knowledge and divine mission! Historians of Oxford or Cambridge make no sense to their understanding of History.
The ascent of Modi as a game changer can be looked as a beginning of the end to long-established rule of RSS. The rise of Modi contradicts with the ideas of MS Golwalkar, the second prominent paramount leader (Sarsanghchalak), chief ideologue of RSS, who always bemoaned individuality in the framework of the organization. Golwalkar likened the erasure of individuality to a “piece of salt dissolved in water”. According to Golwalkar the individual should cease to exist like salt, while only the taste should remain. Flouting Golwalker in this regard, RSS and Modi have instituted a new paradigm for individual-organization relationship in the history of RSS. After Modi was nominated BJP’s Prime Minsterial candidate by the end of 2013, the branches of RSS started multiplying at an unprecedented level across India.
Modi and Gujarat
Modi was elected as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001 and continues to be the longest serving Chief Minister of the state by winning four legislative assembly elections in a row. In the 14 years of his rule, Modi effectively caught the national attention in the form of extremely divided opinions on his role as a Chief Minsiter of Gujarat. Modi is castigated by his opponents who see him as religious bigot, who remorselessly maneuvered ‘spontaneous reaction of Hindus’ in the slaughtering of thousands of Muslims during 2002 Gujarat riots. Gujarat riots involved rampaging, raping, killing, looting of Muslims of Gujarat by Hindu mobs on the pretext of Muslims causing the death of 58 Hindus in the Godhra train burning incident. This assault on Muslims by Hindu mobs was aided and abetted by the Gujarat state police. Modi, who deliberately allowed this anti-Muslim pogrom, defends himself against the accusations. Modi has categorically maintained that he has no guilty feeling for Gujarat violence. For him, this massacre of Muslims is just the “venting out of the anger of Hindus against Muslims”. Muslims of Gujarat continue to be the most socially and economically backward community vulnerable to the unethical manipulative machinations of the politicians and administrative hierarchy in the Gujarat state.
Modi admirers unabashedly, however, eulogize Modi for the role he played in development of Gujarat. In their admiration for Modi, they deliberately disregard the burning and butchering of Muslims. They see Gujarat as a laboratory, results of which ought to be replicated across India.
Modi and His Vibrant India
The rise of Modi in Indian politics is best encapsulated by Edward Bernays, the Father of Public Relations, who argued in his influential book Propaganda that “The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion”. Modi as a crowd manipulator has perfectly blended his image as a conservative to the fundamentally religious character of capitalism. Modi as the Prime of India is the dream of the business class. This economical angle to Modi has brought the business community across religious all affiliations together to define the future political economy of the country. The testimony to this is the delegation of Muslim businessman from Jammu and Kashmir intending to visit Gujarat meet Modi and explore possible linkages with state. Like other businessman lobbying for Modi, these Muslim businessmen also weigh ‘growth’ over humanity. Modi is the ideal contender for the private players because of his ability to push their interests of the business community at the cost of any devastation to human interests.
Those impressed by his persona see him as an efficient manager, a champion of development with an instinctive capability to build roads, improve transport system, and create industries with great speed. In Straussian terms, to make this dream look convincing to the public, Modi has successfully capitalized on the power of nightmares by inventing the feeling of a threatening enemy as the best way to ward off any criticism. This invention of a threatening enemy in India for Modi was never a difficult task. Given the issues in the form of naxalism, poverty, and terrorism confronting India in its path to becoming a powerful country, Modi effectively presents his image as an iron man with an ability to ‘cope with’ these obstacles that come in the way of envisaged vibrant India.