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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 32, July 27, 2013

Modi’s Catch-22: Caught between Programme and Proclivity

Sunday 28 July 2013, by Badri Raina

Come to think of it, imagine how many great souls have been done in by their eventual failure to balance within them the claims of nature and culture.

Narendra Modi is clearly the latest, and perhaps the most dangerously acute, instance of the conundrum.

Events since 2002 are proof that what comes naturally to Modi is to fight his smallness of mind, wrapped in outsized ambition, by donning a self-regarding “burqa” of paranoia, constructing enemies on a sustained basis, using what authority he has to propel the informing hates of his insecure persona, using gesture and an adroitly regulated twang to appear publicly bold and dominant, even as secret fears lurk at the back of his mind that the right and proper may be catching up with him.

What also comes naturally to him is the knowledge that among his adulators his great USP is not his so-called genius at causing “development” to happen but his honest-to-god record of having quelled Muslims in Gujarat in pursuance of the time-honoured political agenda of the RSS.

Wretchedly, the requirements of high office in this most pluralist of nation-states enjoin a culture of leadership that is anathema to what Modi’s natural proclivities can furnish. Which is why his desperate, and it seems desperately frustrated, attempts to throw a half-veil over those proclivities and strut towards a programme.

The dilemma, as has been noted, of course is that pushing proclivity Modi stands to firm up his cadre, while pushing the inclusivity of programme he fears the loss of his core constituency of exclusivity and energetic hate.

If the programme agenda has been suffering dent in recent weeks, another cause looms now before Modi and his campaign. Namely, that where previously his chief opponents tended to be wishy-washy in contesting his claims on “development”, they now seem armed with formidable facts and figures that blow big holes in those claims, be it on macro-economic assertions or, abysmally, on human development indices.

When that face-to-face happens, the instinct to return to proclivity atonce takes over, and the best previous abuses are sought to be superceded by yet newer assays in political-personal vilification.

Take, for example, his latest giant intellectual effort to pit “governance” against “secularism” —a formulation currently being taken up with a collusive energy by some of the corporate electronic channels.

It is sought to be made out that secularism is one of those things that are neither here nor there—a mere slogan to divert the yupee resolve to bring on the great benevolent dictator. It is even said in characteristic fascist mode that “the people” do not care about secularism. Does it matter that “the people” include some twenty per cent of Indian citizens to whom a secular state is the fatal guarantee of constitutional existence and juridical assertion of rights? Or some seventy per cent or so among the majority religious community who consistently refuse to vote for the BJP? And does it matter that the Supreme Court of India (by which the Right-wingers swear when it suits them) should have laid down that “secularism” is one of those “basic features” of the Constitution that is beyond Parliament’s power to amend?

And does it matter that the first principle of “governance” in India must be the preservation and enrichment of the principle of secular citizenship, even as diverse Indians retain the constitutional right to practice and propogate their several religious faiths without giving rise to public disorder and disaffection, and without seeking to appropriate the political life and processes of the republic into a theocratic mode.

Jettison secularism, and there may be no country to govern, unless of course, as the doyen of political commentators, Sunanda K. Datta Ray, has recently expressed in an article in The Asian Age, the Modi programme at bottom really is to preside over a second partition of India. In which case, proclivity and programme may indeed be one and the same.

Another passionate accusation that is levelled ad nauseum from the Right-wing, and sadly often by television anchors whose education ought to caution them against asking the question, is that liberal Indians tend always to be harsh on majority communalism and appeasing towards minority communalism.

This of course was an accusation at the root of the murder of the Father of the Nation.

After all, why, as Louis Fischer wondered in his biography of Gandhi, did the twentieth century’s most committed Hindu, namely, Gandhi, give his life for the idea of secularism, while, ironically, a majestic atheist remained dourly in favour of a separate theocratic nation-state?

The accusation was redolently answered by Nehru way back in the thirties of the last century.

Nehru was to underscore the fact that whereas the communalism of the minority is always what it is—namely, communalism on behalf of minority apprehensions about safe and equitable existence, the communalism of a preponderant majority is unfailingly prone to be cast as “nationalism”. Whereas the former may never ever hope to capture the state, the latter always sees a realistic possibility of doing so. And, should that be allowed to happen, India might simply become a Hindu version of Pakistan, a probability against which Gandhi gave his life.

After many attempts and failures, the RSS now seems to sense that probability with Modi at the helm. Honourably enough, there are many within the BJP itself who no longer wish to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. And, instructively, L.K. Advani, who first made such a putsch, may today be a far wiser man in that regard.

If then historic battles on behalf of the secular ideal are now underway in countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Syria—all over-whelmingly monotheistic—think how much more imperative it is that such a battle be fought and won in India.

Towards that end, the failure of project-Modi could indeed prove to be a decisive event in the life of the republic. But, undeterred by either abuse or money and media power, that argument must be joined with conviction and consistent resolve.

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