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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bihar Election Results: Modi wave has become Modi vapour. Why is his charisma fading?

Photo Courtesy: Truth of Gujarat on Facebook

This was published on Khurpi

The Bihar election results have shocked the BJP. Till a day before, the cadres of the party had been expecting a victory. The party had ordered 100 KGs of sweets and firecrackers to celebrate the anticipated victory. However, as the trends of the Bihar election results began coming in, the party embarrassingly had to cancel the order placed for the celebrations. The BJP got a massive reality check when the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) emerged as the single biggest party with 70+ seats. The Lalu Yadav who was supposed to be the biggest liability for Nitish Kumar’s Grand Alliance proved to be the biggest vote catcher in the elections. A gloomy Sambit Patra was seen singing paeans to the virtue of humility in various television studios and the otherwise combative BJP spokespersons were meek and subdued due to the shock given by the Bihari voter.

The BJP’s explanation for their defeat is that they lost to the “arithmetic of caste”. It is a dishonest explanation and one that shouldn’t be bought. The real reason for their defeat is that they are still campaigning as if it is May 2014 and they have formed a government with majority for the first time in 30 years. By not declaring Chief Ministerial candidates in other states where they have won since, they thought they could perennially ride on the Modi wave to win election after election. Delhi busted that belief. And now Bihar has shattered it.

Alarm bells are ringing in Nagpur and Ashoka Road. Has the Modi wave begun to fade? It is this writer’s submission that the Modi wave has not only faded, but it has now become a vapor. The people of the country are slowly beginning to shake off the veil of development that the BJP and RSS used to hide their real Hindutva agenda and are now watching the ruling party’s actions with apprehension and dismay. Here are the factors which are responsible for this change in the mindset of the common man.

Modi’s hubris is damaging people’s trust in him

The people of the country overwhelmingly voted for Modi in May 2014 because he represented the kind of qualities one expects in a leader. A decisive, no-nonsense, development oriented, incorruptible man was pitted against an unprepared, reluctant, blundering dynast defending the most corrupt government in Independent India’s history. Since then Modi has transformed into a globe-trotting, arrogant, know-it-all who bends colleagues to his will to get his wishes fulfilled. He has under delivered on his promised reforms agenda, has been too pre-occupied with image building on the international stage while displaying none of the qualities of a statesman. He is seen as an admired orator who is silent on the rampant inflation and blatantly communal politics being practiced by his party. We are supposed to believe that he is a tough leader who will teach Pakistan a lesson, rein in the bullying tactics of China and forge relationships with superpowers like USA while at the same time accepting the fact that he is helpless and cannot rein in potty mouths from his own party. The common man has begun to see through the ridiculousness of this proposition and has begun to realize that like others before him, Modi has surrounded himself with yes-men, who do not give him a reality check and keep him immune to any constructive criticism.

Although he has become the PM, he still has a street fighter image

Despite becoming the Prime Minister, Modi still speaks and behaves like a RSS pracharak. He uses the kind of language that does not suit anyone of his stature and has an extremely contemptuous attitude towards the Chief Ministers of the opposition. Continuous victories had made him hallucinate and dream of himself as an ideologue whose sermons would be consumed by the people like samosas and jalebis in festive season. But not only does he have no action to live up to that image, he is in fact colluding with the more rabid elements of his party to reorient the plank of his government from Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas to ‘ghar wapsi‘ ‘ramzaade vs. haraamzade‘ ‘Go to Pakistan‘ ‘Reservation hatao‘ etc. He still believes that plastic surgery was pioneered in India when Shiva rejuvenated Ganesha with an Elephant’s head while at the same time slashing the funding for science and technology related research. It is hard to follow such a ‘leader’ seriously.

He has a non-inclusive approach 

While many writers, artists, filmmakers, intellectuals etc. have been returning their awards protesting against the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country, the Prime Minister does not even have the courtesy to allay their fears by taking a note of their concern and promising to work in a direction that includes everyone in the development story. Instead, his and his party’s PR machinery is busy discrediting and assassinating the character of such dissenters. Modi is very reluctant to admit that communalism is vitiating the atmosphere of the country, tearing apart the social fabric and is hurting India’s economic prospects. His Mann Ki Baat programs do not tackle these uncomfortable topics, his tweets do not mention the same and his speeches and rallies are full of chest-thumping and braggadocio. The reason is that it has become his habit to see the party as the country and all others as the opposition.

All quiet on the Economic front

As shown by this brilliant article in the Indian Express, all Modi has done in the last 18 months is to repackage old schemes of the UPA-II and relaunch them with a glitzy marketing campaign. Inflation is rising and the budgets of key social sector schemes have been heavily slashed (such as Mid Day Meal scheme by 32.6%, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan by 22% and for health and education by 15 and 20% respectively). His non-inclusive approach has meant that the Parliament has seen frequent logjams early in his tenure and the key GST bill is still pending. In addition, Arvind Subramnian, NDA’s own Chief Economic Advisor has cautioned the government that its attempts to tamper GDP figures to fit its political agenda is hurting India’s credibility in the International Market. While the assets of some business leaders close to the Prime Minister continue to grow manifold, the rest of the country is still waiting for the economic miracle that the Prime Minister and his enthusiastic followers promised in the run up to the General Elections.

A stunning defeat in the Bihar Assembly elections has meant that Modi should forget about getting a majority in the Rajya Sabha at least during this tenure. The only alternative before him now is to reach out to various sections of the opposition and work with them in the parliament to pass key economic reform legislation while at the same time gagging the vitriol flowing out of the hyper Hindutvawadi pracharaks in his party. If he fails to do that, both Modi and the BJP would have lost a historic opportunity to prove themselves worthy of their mandate and the Modi wave would turn around and become an anti-Modi tsunami.

Bhakt Logic: If you are anti-BJP, you are 'Anti-National'

Over the last few weeks, one thing has become very clear in the ongoing political discourse of the country. If you are anti-BJP, you are an anti-national, unpatriotic, ungrateful fool who is exploiting his/her right to freedom of speech and expression while living at the mercy of the majority of the Hindus of this country. If you as much as mewl a word of dissent, expect to be on the receiving end of slander, abuse and character assassination because, hey, despite criticizing Hindutva principles while living in a Hindu majority country you are still alive. You should thank your stars that the Hindutva government isn’t as bad as the Islamist theocracy of Saudi Arabia, otherwise you would’ve been beheaded without a moment’s notice. So you shouldn’t complain about blatant public political bullying because you are being spared your life. The fact that the Constitution of India grants you the right to express your views freely shouldn’t stand in the way of this line of logic.

The Modi bhakts have appropriated for themselves the role of the spokespersons of all the Hindus in the world without the latter’s consent or approval. Everything that a BJP supporter says is backed by 100% facts and irrefutable logic, while every criticism directed at them is the handiwork of a small group of “presstitutes” (a term coined by sitting Union Cabinet Minister and former Indian Army Chief V K Singh) who are grumbling because the alleged regular supply of easy cash from the maa-beta Khangress Party has stopped flowing into their bank accounts. The amount of respect for the fourth pillar of democracy and basic tolerance of dissent apart, this really shows the high esteem in which Mr. Modi’s followers and sitting members of his cabinet hold the media.

The level of debate and discussion in the media has also reached an all time low. Journalists are constantly on the hunt for the next hate-byte to drive up TRPs and once whiskey-sipping, globe-trotting elite media persons have begun extolling the health benefits of cow-dung and cow-urine. Added to this is the series of incendiary and toxic remarks made by a string of notable BJP and RSS leaders aimed at polarizing the population of the country for petty gains in the just concluded Bihar Assembly Polls. Dialogues between people holding opposing view points have been reduced to shouting matches, with the fanboys of the Sangh working hard to stifle the voice of anyone who dares speak out against their version of history, their interpretation of Indian culture and their definitions of national and anti-national. A number of intellectuals such as Narendra Dhabolkar, M M Kalburgi and Govind Pansare have already been silenced.

To further stoke an already simmering cauldron filled with the poison of communalism and hate, the far-right allies of the Sangh parivaar have identified the issue of cow slaughter as the biggest malaise facing the people of modern India. Hunger, Poverty, Unemployment, Housing etc. can take a back seat in front of the holy cow. Going by their logic, cow slaughter warrants man-slaughter. Mohammad Ikhlaq from Dadri was dragged out of his home and lynched by a mob and his son was hit on his head with a sewing machine – not once, but several times – to drive exactly this point home. It does not matter that Ikhlaq didn’t even eat beef. Or purchase it. Or was caught with it. He was a Muslim, a second degree citizen whose citizenship depended entirely on unhelpful submissiveness to the agenda of the Hindu Nationalists. And therefore his life was an expendable commodity which was spent to highlight the grave national crises of cow slaughter. It is as if the followers of the BJP insist that one must really try to understand that if Ikhlaq wouldn’t have been killed, Hindus all over the country would have remained getting sentimentally hurt and therefore his murder was necessitated in a fight to preserve the good sentiments of the Hindus.

Yet, given the fragile nature of Hindu sentiments, the fight continued. The Shiv Sena, challenged to prove its nationalist credos by the actions of the Sangh, promptly got hold of Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former bureaucrat and chairman of a prominent think tank, and blackened his face for organizing a book launch featuring Pakistan’s former foreign minister. They also got a concert by a popular Pakistani singer cancelled, thus achieving one more of their unwanted goals. All this, while the residents of Mumbai still wait to get to their homes safely without falling in one of the many potholes of Mumbai’s roads, without getting stuck in serpentine traffic jams or by drowning when the rain falls, a task for which they elected the Shiv Sena in the first place. But the leaders of the Shiv Sena seem to have bigger nationalistic concerns in their minds and they expect the people to understand that the party cannot spare the time required for solving their petty concerns.

When did we reach a stage where our politics descended into a quagmire where public representatives are in denial of facts, intolerant to an opposite point of view, undeterred by new information, contemptuous of science and rationality, harbor a tribal mentality and are quick to ascribe political motives to intellectual criticism? Our idea of India had been recently redefined from “wiping the last tear from the cheeks of the last citizen” to “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas”. We were happy, even optimistic. We had discarded the criticism of the BJP by a few stray political loudmouths (including this writer) and had thrown out the most corrupt government in India’s history. We had handed the opposition a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha after 30 years. We had decimated the ruling Congress and had shown them their proper place. We felt as if we had taken the control of our country back into our hands and we felt we would now develop rapidly and eradicate the numerous problems facing our country. For once, we felt pride in our democracy. Yet now we wonder, where did the Chief Minister Modi, who talked about bullet trains, smart cities, ease of doing business and a strong rupee, vanish? When did this globe trotting, expensive suit wearing, egomaniac, potty mouth, hate apologetic, election crazy, control freak Prime Minister Modi take his place?

The BJP and its followers think that the number of anti-nationals in this country is increasing day by day. Ram Jethmalani and Arun Shourie, earlier iconic nationalists in the eyes of these few, are now the latest additions to a list already full of ‘sickular’ intellectuals. The war is on. But it is not against the woes facing the common man in his day to day life. It is instead against the ideology of unity in diversity, communal harmony, national brotherhood and Secularism. The RSS is spearheading this war and its general is the Prime Minister himself, who silently supervises as his followers go about destroying the social fabric of the nation. Anybody fighting against the foot soldiers of the RSS and the BJP is considered anti-Modi, anti-BJP, anti-RSS and therefore, anti-national, where the nation is taken to mean a Hindutva nation.

I, for one, do not identify with the idea of such a nation. And I guess, because of that, I too am an anti-national.