There are two narratives gaining steam that should cause Narendra Modi to sit up and take notice.
One is, of course, the story of rising intolerance in India. The disingenuous authors of this narrative believe that violence and religious intolerance did not exist in India 18 months back but was somehow magically conceived, born, sprouted wings and took flight under Modi’s right wing government. Writers, scientists and artists have lined up to return awards in protest. This has been described as a ‘non-political, intellectual’ movement spontaneously rising to speak up “before it’s too late to speak.” I find it hard to view them as intellectual for the reason they are not engaging in intellectual reasoning.
Their arguments are poor and incoherent. Their goal appears to be temporary, mass hysteria and not cogent debate or solutions. They are certainly not non-political for the reason they were recipients of largesse doled out by the Congress party, which stands to gain the most from a moral condemnation of Modi and his government. There are likely very few intellectuals in India. I don’t know who they are. But, even in my most generous moment, I find it hard to concede that the folks returning awards are either intellectual or sincere. Perhaps, I have become cynical. Perhaps, I’ve seen one too many bearded blokes with angry eyes, interested in nothing more than tilting at imaginary windmills and burning down barns, in my time.
The second narrative that’s gaining steam is about Modi failing to make perceptible progress. Modi, it is said, talks the good talk but falls short on action. Indeed, Modi gives the impression of one who is in love with the sound of his own voice. That’s good for him. But, many of us, I suspect, feel that we have *heard enough* from the man. Powerpoint is great, but we’d like to see the product at this time, please.
Both narratives have the potential to unseat Modi in the next general elections.
And, there’s a third narrative, mostly heard on social media, which has perhaps grown as a counter-argument. Per this, BJP is essentially powerless until the Congress party loses its majority status in Rajya Sabha, predicted to happen shortly after the Bihar elections. It is said that the tide will then turn in favor of Modi. That’s great to hear. But, the success of federal legislation, even after being passed through the houses, requires the cooperation of states and their chief ministers. Once Modi gets past the Rajya Sabha hurdle, are we going to shift to ‘Hey, Modi can’t get anything done because the chief ministers aren’t playing ball’ ?
I have a couple of objections to this defense of Modi. 1. It lets Modi off the hook indefinitely until he gets this legendary alignment of centre, parliament and the states perfectly in place. 2. At some level, we mustn’t really care about what his excuses are.
While we must be fair and reasonable, we can’t become generous to our own detriment, especially when it comes to governments and politicians. We have to be demanding and at times unreasonable in our expectations. If not, another sixty years will roll by with nothing but narratives to show for them.
Narendra Modi was elected the leader of India and all its citizens. He *must* discharge his responsibilities fairly. There is no wiggle room here. Modi’s week long silence after the Dadri incident sent many messages. People interpreted it as per their political predisposition. Some saw it as tacit approval. Others saw as an inability to take on the far right section of his party. His fans viewed it as “not his responsibility.” Whatever he actually intended to convey with his silence, it undoubtedly polarized.
It’s a self evident truth that all citizens of a country must be made to feel that they belong. Even those who choose to look beyond moral compulsions cannot deny that India’s economic growth will tank if 200 million Muslims are made to feel they do not belong. A country usually looks to its leader as a father figure in times of distress, often for a word of solace than real answers to problems. Modi simply failed on that front. He failed to respond in a timely manner and ultimately failed to respond well when he did.
Lost in the narratives is the fact that we have a recalcitrant, irresponsible opposition party in Congress, whose leaders who seem to have prioritized their personal dislike of Modi above pressing national concerns. I can see why they would do so. Their party stands precariously close to oblivion. They have dug in; to fight to the end. They will do what they have to do. But, why aren’t we shining the spotlight on these desperate losers? Modi and his government are to blame here. What are the points of disagreement with Congress and other opposition on various initiatives? Why aren’t these being debated in the Parliament? Why isn’t there an attempt being made to educate and influence public opinion on these matters? It makes you wonder if Modi is no more than a master tactician capable of winning electoral skirmishes but a poor strategist who will ultimately lose the war on poverty, poor primary education and social unrest. It makes you wonder if Modi is a builder of consensus or an architect of polarity.
This is how a thousand narratives rise to fill the void in public policy debate. This is how a guy who, if he decides to live only by the narrative, will eventually succumb to it.
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