It is somewhat amusing to see and hear three strong votaries of Prime Minister Narendra Modi feeling the buyer’s remorse in rapid succession. I refer, of course, to Arun Shourie, Madhu Kishwar and Tavleen Singh.
In a span of a few days, all three have offered cogently argued cases about why they are concerned about the Modi government in general and the prime minister in particular. If I were to amalgamate their core concerns, I would say that they are worried about much cry and little wool over governance and wolves in wolves’ clothing in his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) beginning to howl.
For someone who has tracked Modi through his rise in Gujarat and someone who has been called colorful versions of “sickular libtard”, let me tell them a couple of things. Or, in other words, let me quote myself over the years. Their gushing love for the man was as misplaced as their swirling disillusionment. In a piece for the IANS wire on August 4, 2012, I wrote this, “Not many in the BJP would publicly acknowledge this but they know that Modi sees himself as larger than the party. He is one of those singular figures who shed affiliations and loyalties without any qualms as long as the self remains in control. He gives the impression that he has replaced ideological fealties with a messianic self-belief.”
Modi’s default temperament is that of a singular person who believes the world would arrange itself around him. As of now, the world seems to have arranged itself for him. It is this temperament that has ensured his extraordinary political success so far. People do not realize that when he entered Gujarat’s state assembly for the first time, he did so as the state’s chief minister. When he entered the country’s parliament for the first time, he did so as the nation’s prime minister. Given his messianic self-belief, which has been on full display since he took office, he is prone to disregarding developments around him such as being pointed out by Shourie, Kishwar and Singh. (That sounds like a nice name for a law firm).
Kishwar has a specific problem with the appointment of a minor actress turned politician Smriti Irani as the human resource development minister. Irani has so exercised Kishwar, who considers education her passion, that she said this in aninterview with Vrinda Gopinath for Scroll:
Therefore, Modi’s appointment of Irani came as a horrible shock to me. Here is someone who is not just poorly educated and mal-educated – she is just Class 12th pass – but she even lied in her affidavit about her qualifications. Nor does she have the learning of a lived experience. Look at the trajectory of this woman – at 18, she leaves home for the glamour industry, to become a fashion model, a beauty queen, then gets into saas-bahu (mother-in-law—daughter-in-law) serials (TV soap), which, even by the standards of the entertainment industry, is the lowest genre. It is brainless. She could not even qualify to head the National School of Drama.
If Modi is talking about getting India to make up for its lost centuries in education, you need a person with vision, experience of knowledge disciplines, of which she has none. She proved it when she said I have a Yale degree, from a five-day course. She actually thought it was a badge of honour, even I could not believe she was that dumb.
She also said this:
Nobody can make sense of all this (making Irani education minister), neither me nor anyone else. It is black magic that somebody has done. I cannot believe this is happening. Maybe Modi has not got a grip yet. Maybe Delhi has disoriented him. But it is too premature to pass a verdict. I am still waiting. I am maintaining my distance.
For Tavleen Singh, a well known journalist and columnist, the main worry is why the prime minister has allowed the BJP’s ideological progenitor, a severely nationalistic Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Voluntary Force), to “steal his mandate.” She says, “frankly I have no answer.” In particular, she is concerned about rabidly sectarian comments made by a couple of BJP members of parliament, both masquerading as renunciates.
Yet there exists today the bizarre situation in which our strongest prime minister in decades is allowing Hindu fanatics in the Lok Sabha and Hindu fanatical organisations outside to blacken his image. The MPs who have been most offensive wear saffron robes signifying asceticism and renunciation. So what they are doing in Parliament instead of in some Himalayan cave is a valid question. But since they have found their way into the Lok Sabha, why is the Prime Minister not publicly rebuking them for dragging Hindutva into his mandate in the ugliest way? We barely recovered from that Sadhvi (a female renunciate) calling all Muslims ‘bastards’ when her brother in saffron pronounced that Nathuram Godse was a patriot. Both these MPs expressed regret when their remarks caused a public furore, but it is not possible to ever apologise for such things.
Shourie, of course, has been the most subtle of the three. In an interview with the Indian Express editors, he said this about the performance of the Modi government :
The general consensus seems to be that when all is said and done, more is said than done.”
He then quoted the poet Akbar Illahabadi to say, “Platon ke aane ki awaaz to aa rahi hai magar khana nahi aa raha. (The clatter of approaching plates can be heard but there is no sign of food).
All three points of view are valid and have been expressed by the prime minister’s genuine acolytes who feel genuinely aggrieved. However, I only wish they had recognized that Narendra Modi is a singular figure unencumbered by ideology other than what he has constructed for himself. He probably sees his cabinet members as props that he needs to perform of his own grand act the way many thought he did in Gujarat.
People in Gujarat and even some of his own party members in weaker moments would tell you that during his tenure the only person largely relevant to Modi was Modi himself. This may seem like a criticism—and at some level it is—but it is more a factual observation. If he does not feel compelled to repudiate the crazies around him, it is mainly because he recognizes their short-lived utility and knows that they are all just props. The final word will always be his as long as he is at the helm. The RSS knows it as well as the BJP as do all other Hindu affiliates.
As a pure liberal, it is still my case that Modi must be allowed time to succeed or fail, hopefully succeed in so much it concerns India’s development. If while affording him the time there are discommoding signs that he is not hard enough on the lunatics in his camp, well, that’s the price those who voted for him, including presumably Shourie, Kishwar and Singh, must be prepared to pay. The buyer’s remorse is hard to live with in a system whose return policy is a minimum of five years unless something catastrophic happens. Premature articulation is invariably followed by post-intellectual depression.