By Sushil Kutty
Should anything change post-May 23? Narendra Modi dropped the ‘Chowkidar’ from his twitter handle and urged others to do the same. ‘Chowkidar’s expiry date coincided with Modi’s return to power. The world will once again watch Modi take oath as India’s Prime Minister and, let’s face it, a Prime Minister can become a ‘chowkidar’, but a chowkidar cannot become Prime Minister!
Modi made a victory speech May 23rd evening after winning a landslide which was celebrated by a downpour, literally, of emotions from people gathered at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s headquarters in New Delhi. The West does not see it, this huge Modi victory, in a context and light that millions of Indians see it. And westernized Indians settled in the United Kingdom and United States also do not. One of them has written in the New York Times of how “the prime minister has won re-election on a tide of violence, fake news and resentment.”
The author, who writes fiction when he is not novelizing about India with opinion in the NYT, is not only critical about India in the times of Narendra Modi but in general has a poor opinion of India beginning from the 1980s when he came of age and realized that he was living in land of “rigid social hierarchies” and was caught in the quagmire for good till he made his escape to his “glossy democratic ideal”, i.e., the West. And he like many of his ilk will not give Modi 2:0 a clean slate. The NYT sees Modi’s explosive victory as nothing more than “How Modi Seduced India With Envy And Hate.”
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, conceding defeat May 23rd afternoon, congratulated Modi for his victory and said that it was a battle of two ideologies and if his ideology lost the day, then he was not going to waste time crying over the loss. Gandhi chose to move on and prepare for other battles ahead. But not everybody is bereft of “envy and hate”. Kerala particularly, the state which voted the Congress overwhelmingly. Malayalis could not stand it that the rest of India voted Modi. They are seething at the ‘injustice”.
Another set of people livid at the electoral loss are elite Muslims who cannot stomach it that “majoritarian Hindutva” has given Modi a second chance. Many of these elite Muslim with liberal doses of support from “progressive Hindus” are not shy of lamenting the “return of Hitler”. If there was any doubts on whether Modi was “Divider-in-Chief”, those doubts no longer exist. The divide between Hindus and Muslims is now a yawning gap and will only widen in the next five years.
It doesn’t help that media are also divided though most of them are heavily balanced in favour of Narendra Modi. The republic and the times are not going to change stance now that Modi has made his return with double the force than the first time and for which these media have to equally share the burden. If the western media are too sweeping in their generalizations about Modi, their Indian counterparts, barring a few, are unabashedly blind to Modi’s faults.
And the few who stood up to Modi in his first tenure are not changing their spots with Modi 2:0 though there is a change in tactics. If for five years it was Hindus hounding and lynching Muslims, it’s now being said that Modi “stoked fear of Muslims in Hindus”; which is by far so far wrong that if you think you’re at the Equator, you might actually be at the North Pole! How can 17% minority scare the 80% majority? And if they actually can and actually did, then what is NYT and the Guardian yakking about – that outnumbered Muslims are under attack by the majority Hindus in India?
The western Press can get away with taking their assessments of Modi to the next level of criticism but the Indian media have a greater responsibility and should take care not to fuel the divisions created in India in the first five years of Modi rule. The brute majority ensures that Modi cannot be wished away no matter how much there’s opposition to his return. Modi made a few promises in his victory speech and one of them was to carry all segments of people together. He also swore allegiance to the Constitution of India and an equitable distribution of wealth created.
To believe that Modi is an Ogre out to kill and decimate Muslims did not help anybody for five years and is not going to put him in a straitjacket for the next five years. Nothing that the New York Times writes or The Guardian preaches is going to make any difference to what Indians think of Modi. For them to change spots, Modi will have to make a very big mistake; undertake an event as momentous (and disastrous!) as Demonetization. But let’s not forget, even Demonetization could not make a dent on Modi’s popularity.
So, does that mean that Modi can get away with anything armed with such a huge mandate? Not necessarily. Modi will be under greater scrutiny. Second time around, he’s more vulnerable. His actions and policy decisions henceforth will be watched and maybe even anticipated. He may get away with being tough with Pakistan if cross-border terrorism doesn’t stop, but he would be up to his neck in trouble if the cow vigilante go on the rampage again. And Pragya Singh Thakur, if she talks out of turn, then it will become difficult for Modi to defend ‘Saffron Terror’. The long and short is Modi will have to keep himself on a very tight leash.(IPA Service)