When addressing an Indian crowd in London, Modiji was asked what the secret of his good health and energy was. He seemed amused for a moment. Then, speaking in clear tones, and halting at every word, he said that during the last 20 years, he had been fed every day on “One kg…two kg of Galiyaan (abuse)!” There was roaring laughter in the hall for a long time before he moved on to other things.
Natural sympathy spontaneously arises even towards an erring person, if he is over-castigated. There are people who believe that Modiji’s rise to power itself had something to do with what may be described as ‘negative sympathy’. Some said, ‘After all, he is not as bad they make him out; come, let us give him a chance’. He works hard, never takes rest; remains energetic and resourceful, never runs short of ideas. His programmes like ‘Swachh Bharat,’ ‘Beti bachao; beti padhao,’ ‘sab ke sat, sab ka vikas,’ are most relevant. His examination tips to students and encouraging words towards social commitment to youth are most inspiring. See how he surrounds himself with an intelligent set of people.
If this is true, it goes to its credit... to the extent it is true. But whether they are mere empty words and deceptive impressions, the people will have to decide...in Karnataka in a few days from now, and definitively by next year. And some are beginning to decide already. The thrones are rattling, political allies are parting when refused prominence, party members are rioting when refused tickets, regional leaders are near departing when admonished, e.g. in Rajasthan, Karnataka. No wonder! Those who were swept up by the tide of power and pelf will be washed down the stream when they see that favours are distributed only to the favourites. It was never ideology that held the bunch together, but ‘advantage.’ Loyalties bought with money get bartered during the next manoeuvre. Cheap tickets to Jerusalem take you to Jericho!
Principles Put on Sale, Values in the Market
The greatest tragedy for the nation is that the highest principles are being put up for sale and are handed over to the highest bidder. Elections are manipulated, ministries are juggled into existence, ideological priorities are placed before people’s interests. As national heritages are being auctioned out beginning with the Red Fort, national value-systems are placed on the market to be re-painted and re-patented. What is the key-value that has emerged? Aping the Supremo, mimicking the Chief. Modiji! Is he not an ‘avatar’?
Aping the Avatar
So we are not surprised that the Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb, 48, all enthusiastic after the toppling of the Lenin statue and renaming Marx Engels Sarani as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Lane, should be eager to display his competence in Puranic literature and manifest his pride in India’s ancient greatness. Ideology first, people’s concerns last. He was ebullient as he affirmed that India had internet in Mahabharata times and sophisticated satellite communication. When he was questioned by scientists, the Governor Tathagatha Roy came to his rescue asking how else one could explain expressions like Divya Drishti and Pushpaka ratha. Biplab however was least shaken however. He went on to evaluate India’s beauty queens, comparing them to Lakshmi and Saraswati, and Mamata to Ravana’s sister. Epics come alive in the RSS-ruled regions.
But when it came to the question of employment, Biplab’s tone changed. “Look after yourself,” He said (meaning self-employment), and look after your cows. He was talking to graduates! The first part was from Modiji, and the second from Yogiji. The imitation of the ‘Chiefs’ has become the fashion. What Biplab says, in short, amounts to, “Return to Neolithic Age”. That is where his ‘sab ka vikas’ reaches.
Modi recently rebuked his team for making “irresponsible” statements damaging the prospects for his party in the next elections. If that sense of responsibility had been there from the day he assumed office, the atmosphere in India would have been different: no maligning of minorities, no discrediting of Muslim rulers, no devaluing of the Taj Mahal, no harassment of Dalits with endless cases, no grabbing of tribal land or robbing them of their natural resources, no excluding of ethnic groups at the margins, no ahistorical claims to greatness based on myths and fancies that lowered the standard of Indian scholarship, no unscientific statements that made India the laughing stock of the world scientific community.
However, it was Modiji himself who first laid the claim that ancient Indians were skilled in plastic surgery as seen in the elephant head implanted in child Ganesh. In quick succession came claims that Pushpaka Vimana was better equipped than modern aircrafts, that the birth of the Kauravas from a hundred jars proved that our stem cell research was far advanced in the Epic Era. Then finally came the ‘organized arrogance’ of the ruling party MPs and MLAs beating up air hostesses, speaking as experts in every science.
Amit Shah had no qualm of conscience to call the opposition ‘kutta-billi’ (dogs and cats), while a slip of the tongue of Mani Shankar Ayer was taken as an insult to Gujarat. No doubt, Hindutva heroes always had ugly names for those who differed from them: Asuras in the South, including Mahabali; and Vanvasis in the East, a name which tribal people resent very much. The fact is that the ruling fraternity have been “brainwashed” into arrogance, as the disciples of the godman Asaram into subservience. And their pretensions keep mounting, as their MPs claim a salary-level well above that of their colleagues in Japan, Singapore and Italy, which will mean 1250% rise during the last 20 years. Akhilesh tweeted, inviting a movement against alcohol, drugs and “arrogance.”
However, as the election is approaching, there is a tone of humility and realism. Modiji is turning self-critical. Don’t speak irresponsibly, he says, recognise India’s cultural differences. Amit Shah is finding it difficult to oblige. His stunts are not yielding results on the Deccan heights as in the Ganga Valley. Can the Hindutva baggage be carried across the Vindhyas? That is the Big Question today?
Rahul Gandhi struck the right note when he said that the Karnataka election was a test of strength between Bengaluru and Nagpur (the RSS headquarters).
Don’t Absolutize the Gangetic Civilization
Romila Thapar, the reputed historian, in her recent book “Indian Cultures as Heritage” (Aleph Book Co, 2018) argues that Aryavarta at the first stage was limited only to western Gangetic plains. “By the time of Manu it covered northern India down to the Vindhyas, but interestingly not further south” (Thapar 107). And very interestingly this pattern has remained to our own days. 1. The Dravidian South feels that the BIMARU belt is not enlightened enough, 2. The multi-cultural East (Bengal and further East) considers the Ganga Valley not open-minded enough, 3. The Hindi region rates the other parts of India not Indian enough.
Romila Thapar has an explanation for this emotional distance between regions. She says that Indian history has been written excessively from the perspective of the Gangetic civilization, ignoring the other regions and other great collective memories (Thapar 10). She feels that Indian heritage should become more inclusive (ibid. 19). She does not consider it helpful to insist on limiting Indian culture solely to Aryan traditions (ibid. 66). Thapar refuses to recognise the right of Hindutva representatives to feel hurt for a “thousand years” of humiliation under foreign rule, as they claim. She insists that if anyone should feel hurt it should be the Buddhists who were pushed out of India during that period, and the dalits who were taken to lower levels with more rigid structures placed over them (ibid. xxviii). The ‘Golden Age’ of the Guptas, which is claimed to be the Golden Age of India, was, in fact, the period when social inequality was at its highest, and untouchability (Asprishya) came to be clearly defined (ibid. 125).
Thapar invites discussion on such matters to prevent future tensions between the Orthodox and those who reject Orthodoxy. She reminds us of the ancient days when, according to Patanjali, the relationship between the Hindus (Orthodox) and the Buddhists (Heterodox) was like that between the snake and the mangoose (Thapar xxx). Even if one has ideological differences with Romila Thapar, some of the points she has raised cannot be ignored.
What Does the RSS Pracharak Say?
Modiji is quick to perceive, but slow to respond, especially if it means distancing himself from ideological orthodoxy. Does he not continue to be an RSS Pracharak in spirit? Does he not depend on this mighty organization, which is more disciplined than the Indian Army according Mohan Bhagwat, for his policies and strategies? Wherever we go, we hear that we are being ruled by the RSS. The recent emergence of the Epics as the final authority in political matters and the frequency of unenlightened (“irresponsible”) statements by BJP leaders give ample evidence to that. But one thing that Modiji must avoid: making tall claims when evidence to the contrary is far too clear. Though he boasted of electricity reaching every village in India, there is no electricity in any number of villages in his BJP-ruled Assam (e.g. in Dima Hasao Dt) as elsewhere, and the roads there are in the worst conditions in decades.
To err is human. Even if electricity has not reached every village, bootleggers have reached every vicinity in Karnataka with baksheesh in hand to facilitate loyal voting. The battles seem to be over bottles and not over policies and plans for the people. At any rate, things are settled for the future, since the voting-machines have already been programmed to favour the ruling party at the Centre. Even the Indian voting-machines sold to some African countries, they say, have been faithfully voting for the BJP in every booth.
But returning to more serious things, we are happy that Modiji is descending to some measure of self-criticism at least before the elections. We already know what will happen after the elections: overturning of statues, ransacking of party offices, renaming of roads, and ensuring of a quiet burial to election-promises. These are the precedents we have! But now that Modiji seems attentive to matters of common interest, allow us to make a few suggestions:
1. Give your fellow-citizens a guarantee that there will be no tampering with the Constitutions. This alone will prevent the loss of millions of votes, 2. Make a solemn promise that you will respect the food habits of people... not only in the peripheral states but also at the heartland of India. Mothers’ health will improve and infant mortality will fall. 3. Leave temple-building and statue-erection activities to religious bodies and private agencies. The government has too many things in hand, as you yourself admit. There are enough godmen, devotees, and religious bodies in India to construct temples and statues according to the religious expectations of people in each place. 4. Respect the judiciary, universities, educational system, media, 5.The last suggestion may not be very welcome. But if accepted, India will return to being India, and Indians being Indians. As you have very intelligently entrusted the care of the Red Fort to the Dalmias, why don’t you entrust the restoration of the Babri Masjid to Vedanta or Patanjali?
There are reasons for making his humble suggestion. It was at Ayodhya, near the Babri Masjid, that Indians ceased to be Indians, India was partitioned in the mind, inclusive language was banished, exclusive language became the fashion, and a radical ‘discourse-shift’ took place. India became purely a land for the Hindus...others merely tolerated. Amartya Sen says “Communal Fascism” that excludes others (‘us’ and ‘them’) is more dangerous than political fascism. What is awesome is the ‘Radical’ nature of the ‘Discourse Shift.’ The concerns are no more poverty, hunger, unemployment, income distribution, but metaphysical hankerings, Mahabharata arrogance, minority exclusion, dalit-suppression, puranic comparisons, rath yathras, yajnas, empty words... total surrender to the RSS, Bajrang Dal and their allies...and subsequent carnage.
The Public Rage
Not only the Lal Qila, ‘Development’ itself has been passed on to the corporate-financial oligarchy. Who rules the country? Corporates, RSS, Bajrang Dal. The result: “Jan Akrosh,” public outrage against corruption, paper leak, mining, farmers’ plight, women’s conditions. Anger is mounting among peasants, traders, doctors, teachers, students. If Modiji takes self-criticism seriously there are solutions...well before the election.(Published on 07th May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 19)