I continue to remain amused by the continuing unraveling of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ardent media supporters’ faith in him and his government. It is baffling that they thought that the prime minister would come without the encumbrance called Hindutva. He is a product of that ecology and would wilt without it until such time as he strikes roots in Delhi.
It is forgotten that notwithstanding the catastrophic human tragedy intrinsic to the Godhra train deaths and the subsequent killings in Ahmedabad and elsewhere in February, 2002, its occurrence barely within a year of his taking over as Gujarat’s chief minister had the effect of quenching the lunatic thirst for revenge. By default or by design, his credentials as a Hindu hardliner were quickly buttressed which in turn temporarily made the extreme base of his party satisfied enough to step aside and let him do his good governance thing.
It is true that he spent the next decade or so at least talking the good governance talk even while walking some good governance walk in a limited sense. If Modi’s ardent media supporters had based their view on his performance in Gujarat, they should have also borne in mind this particular aspect. Also, Gujarat was a captive audience/market for Modi. It was what in science is called controlled conditions. He had no recognizable adversaries within his own ecology even though men like Pravin Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) were intractably opposed to him personally even then. However, he did manage to cast them aside with a single-mindedness that surprised many.
His media supporters should have known that New Delhi would be a whole different arena where daggers are much bigger, many more and way sharper. The disquiet and and frenzy that one is witnessing within the prime minister’s political ecology and which is causing his media admirers to wince and squirm were both perfectly predictable.
I have no quarrel with the substance of what media grandees such as Tavleen Singh and Lord (no less but Lord) Meghnad Desai have said in their columns in The Indian Express this week. Singh, an early convert to the so-called Modi magic, writes, “He (Modi) has, in the past six months, allowed Hindutva types to speak louder than him and he has allowed his comrades in the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) to wander about spreading religious tensions with their Ghar Wapsi (religious reconversion of those who left the Hindu faith for Christianity or Islam) programme, and so we no longer talk of reform and renewal.”
Desai, another broad supporter of Modi’s development agenda, writes, “He (Modi) came to power promising inclusive development and a major plank of his promise was social harmony. But his “friends” have other ideas. They care not a whit about “sabka vikas” (Development for all), let alone “sabka saath” (Support from all). Swachh Bharat (Clean India) is irrelevant to them. “Make in India” for them means making all minorities in India Hindu. They are in a hurry to complete their agenda. So “make mayhem while the lotus rules” seems to be their message to the PM. With friends like these, Modi will not need enemies.”
My point is it should have been plain to anyone reasonably discerning that when the prime minister moved into 7, Race Course Road (the official residence in New Delhi’s leafy enclave), he did so with some of the very baggage that he seemed to be tripping over now and the one that his media admirers are complaining about. Modi may have done a commendable job of hiving off the more bizarre forces in Gujarat, he would find it exponentially harder to do so in the country generally. That is presuming that he actually does not want to keep his base engaged, indulged and distracted.
In any event, I return to my original view which is that he must be given time to see whether he is actually able to make good his non-ideological promises such as good governance, minimum government and inclusive growth. These are aspirational promises which by their very nature would be achieved in a limited sense no matter how good its maker is.
There is a version of manic depressive tendency that runs through the media commentariat when it comes to any new leader who rises spectacularly and then begins to lose the sheen. It happened with the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as well. My preference would be to let things play out, including the scratching of the epic right-wing itch, as long as it is all non-violent.
My attitude may seem to be stemming from some kind of deeply personal schadenfreude but it is anything but. It is merely a result of having next to no faith in those who run on grandiosity in the first place.