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Maunmohan to Maun Modi: What’s behind the silence?
Narendra Modi continues to be an enigma. Here is a leader who wants to go down in history as a great statesman—not only in India but in the world. He cares deeply about how he is perceived. What stands in the way of realising his ambition are continuing incidents of violence and polarising rhetoric by his MPs and supporters. They may not be frequent but they are very widely reported. You’d think a quick, effective tweet condemning them would take the sting out of the story. Eventually, he does denounce some of the incidents, but it is too little and too late, long after headlines in India and around the world have damaged his, his party’s and India’s reputation. The puzzle is, why does he not immediately nip it in the bud by a brief statesman-like statement followed by quick action by the police? He must know that remaining silent or delaying response undermines his legacy.
Modi did eventually denounce violence by gau rakshaks in the strongest language — calling them “criminals”. By the time he broke his silence, however, the impression had been created that the BJP values cows more than human beings. Hatred and hysteria spread in the name of Hindutva has created insecurity among Muslims and Dalits; lakhs of jobs in dairy farming and in the leather and meat industries are at risk; India’s image abroad has been dented; and BJP’s electoral chances weakened. Warm, subsequent tributes to B R Ambedkar have not been able to salvage the damage left by the Una atrocity. Modi should urge gau rakshaks to re-read Savarkar, who wrote the book on Hindutva. He opposed cow worship, saying: “If the cow’s a mother to anybody at all, it’s the bullock. Not the Hindus. If Hindutva is sustained on a cow’s legs, it will come crashing down at the slightest sign of a crisis.”
In recent weeks, the BJP governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have behaved in a cowardly manner over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film on Padmavati, which was cleared by the censor board and the Supreme Court. The Karni Sena’s attack on a bus carrying schoolchildren filled the nation with disgust. The irony is that the film turned out to be more anti-Muslim and pro-Rajput. In another incident, one of his party leaders, Vinay Katiyar diminished the BJP when he said that there is no room for Muslims in India and the Taj Mahal should be demolished because it was built on the site of a Hindu temple.
Now, Modi is a smart man. So, what explains his strange silence? One possibility is that since he has not delivered vikas, jobs and achhe din, he will have to rely on the message of Hindutva to court the silent majority in the middle. For this he needs the foot soldiers of the RSS knocking on doors to get out the vote in 2019, and he dares not alienate them. But Hindutva is a high-risk, unproven strategy among the aspiring young. He won a landslide victory in 2014 not because of Hindutva but because he persuaded the young with his single-minded promise of ‘vikas’. It is unclear if the average, middle-of-the-road Hindu can be enticed by playing the Muslim card. Some believe that Modi is fanatically anti-Muslim in his heart and would be happy to make India unsafe for non-Hindus. Others feel that he is a front for the RSS. But I disagree. I believe he is a pragmatic politician who will follow policies that maximise his chances for re-election.
Although achhe din have not yet arrived, the fact is that the economy has begun to pick up. The disruption caused by demonetisation is over. Soon the glitches in GST will also be resolved. The long-term benefits of GST and the insolvency law are going to be huge. There is tax buoyancy and progress in the ease of doing business; there is less corruption as the interface between government and citizen is gradually moving online.
Economic growth is bound to rise but achhe din will only come after the 2019 election. Universal health insurance and gas cylinders for rural households are visionary The smart thing would be to present an honest report card week after week on the implementation of his many excellent economic programmes. People voted for Modi for his executional ability based on his success in Gujarat, and they need to see constant progress. This will build credibility and improve his chances for 2019.
Gurcharan Das, February 23th 2018