When one thinks of the political and civilisational era that we have been catapulted to, to truly explain what at least the Hindu population is living through, one must quote Charles Dickens – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.
When Prime Minister Modi got up on stage and said ‘Main Narendra Damodardas Modi, Ishwar ki shapat leta hoon..’, I was there in the audience hooting. The entire country applauded and heaved a sigh of relief. The hyenas had been thwarted. Not once, but twice. It was the best of times. It was the age of wisdom, the wisdom of knowing that the country had made the right decision. It was the epoch of belief, a belief that this government will stand by what’s right. It was the season of light and the spring of hope. Hope for a better future. A better India.
However, the Modi era has been one where several factions of his supporters have different sets of demands from him. From burning cultural issues to economic demands and even varying expectations on foreign policy. This article, however, deals primarily with the cultural demands that have arguable been one that has delivered the ‘winter of despair’ for some of his ardent supporters.
There is perhaps no merit in listing the cultural issues that have thus far remained untouched by the government of the day. The list is long and arduous. The current situation, however, can be taken as a yardstick to try and understand the ‘winter of despair’ that many seem to be experiencing.
It was in the Budget session that Prime Minister Modi had spoken about the death of Tabrez Ansari. Personally, I found the speech astute and logical. The Prime Minister mentioned how because of one crime the entire state cannot be vilified and also, that all crimes, whether they occur in Jharkhand, Kerala or West Bengal need to be dealt with the iron fist of the law. He also said that just good ‘good terrorism, bad terrorism’, there can be no culture of ‘good crimes and bad crimes’, thereby subtly telling the opposition that they can’t highlight one Tabrez Ansari and diminish the other crimes in other places, presumably, since he mentioned West Bengal and Kerala, that of the murder of BJP karyakartas.
However, the opposition is subtly impaired. The mention of Tabrez Alam from Prime Minister Modi ended up starting an avalanche that is not out of control and burying any semblance of reason in its path.
There has been a spate of reports that claim that some Muslim or the other was forced to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’. Most of those cases have been proven false. There have been tens of such cases where the ‘Congress ecosystem’ as branded by the PM himself have run with the narrative of Muslim being made to chant Jai Shree Ram when such cases have been proven to be fake. That, in turn, got international media like the BBC asserting the Jai Shree Ram had turned into a ‘murder cry’. All this while, people in West Bengal being beaten up and killed for chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slipped through the cracks. With the media and PM Modi himself never mentioning those poor souls.
To add insult to injury, sections of the Muslim community have been on a rampage. There have reports of temple desecration like that in Hauz Qazi to protests over Tabrez going horribly out of control and Hindus being stabbed to death. Through it all, the media expectedly has kept stoic silence. They have preferred to shield the Muslim community and amplify even the fake cases of Muslim men being forced to chant Jai Shree Ram.
Hindus are under siege.
The section that supports Prime Minister Modi vociferously have started voicing their disenchantment with the fact that in his first term, PM Modi spoke against Gau Rakshaks and in his second term, right in the beginning of his innings, he spoke about Tabrez Ansari. Hindus have been lost in the cacophony of made up minority insecurities and the Prime Minister has maintained a stoic silence. There is another section of his supporters who have attempted to justify the silence by saying that the PM does what he does, and says what he says in his own time. That perhaps the government is waiting for an appropriate time to voice concern. Or, that ‘action’ is louder than words.
Interestingly, PM Modi himself is doing no different from what he did in his first term. One doesn’t recall the last time the Prime Minister mentioned ‘Hindus’ specifically as the victims of horrid crimes heaped by the Muslim community. And if he didn’t do it in his first and got a second term regardless, one must analyse why that is.
My colleague Rahul Roushan wrote a rather interesting article when PM Modi got his second term. In it, he describes how the ‘right-wing’ (for the want of a better phrase) does not understand Modi and each section views the Prime Minister as a manifestation of his own demands. The libertarians wonder why Modi isn’t being a libertarian, the culture right wonders why he is silent on cultural issues, the policy wonks wonder why he isn’t being more capitalistic and tilting towards socialism, so on and so forth. He writes that perhaps for the ‘right-wing’ to demand action from Modi, his supporters themselves need to understand the phenomenon of Modi and also ask themselves if their own silo of demands find resonance with a crowd substantial enough to make an impact.
While I agree that most of his supporters don’t understand the Prime Minister and they view him from their own specific prisms, I disagree with Rahul when he says that his supporters need to evaluate whether their voice is being echoed by a substantial section, in essence, enough to make an electoral impact. The argument here is that to make the Prime Minister respond, the might of the collective voice on a specific issue, especially cultural issues, the group must be able to deliver an electoral body blow. The lack of resonance of cultural issues with a large group is why PM Modi won a second term in the first place because the grievances that arise today are the same ones that the cultural right had in his first time as well.
Prime Minister Modi himself has fashioned himself as a virtuous politician rooted deeply in religion and spirituality. He has several times spoken about how electoral gains don’t drive him but it is standing by what is right, which is important. The message that has been received by his supporters is that he is a man looking to leave a legacy behind. A legacy of development, cultural renaissance, justice. If that is the essence of Modi, then the fact that the cultural right is not strong enough to make an electoral impact should not matter. When the Hindu culture is under siege, electoral gains or the lack of it shouldn’t matter and as his supporters know and respect PM Modi, one can be confident that it won’t matter. Why then should the Prime Minister not speak up when faith is being attacked?
In his first term, the running narrative was that the government is new and it takes time to clean up the mess left behind by the previous government. Then, the government was under siege from Congress and was still viewed as the underdog. As one that might not come back to power in the second term because of the sustained campaign against it. Now, in its 6th year of governance and the Congress disintegrating, Prime Minister Modi does not have a formidable enemy anymore. The BJP government is no longer the underdog in the race. It is, perhaps, the only runner in the first place. The justification that it takes time to clean up the mess will no longer fly as a reason for silence.
The only logical explanation to justify the silence would be to say that the Prime Minister cannot comment on law and order issues as it is a state subject and I would wholeheartedly agree with that. However, the PM himself opened the door when he spoke about Gau Rakshaks and now, Tabrez Ansari. If law and order issues were not to be commented upon, those incidents should have stayed out of his speeches too. One must also remember that PM Modi brings with himself his Gujarat reputation and a Modi who is silent is one which his supporters have a tough time adjusting to.
Prime Minister Modi opened the door to the expectation of his vocal support to cultural issues when he said he stands against appeasement politics and that he would break the stronghold of ‘secular parties’.
There are other more practical reasons why Narendra Modi needs to speak up. The mainstream media, or the Khan Market Gang as he calls it, is clearly emotionally invested in this narrative. In a country of over a billion people, it will always manage to find a random crime and give it a spin to project Hindus and by extension, the BJP itself, in poor light. It’s not a game he can win by remaining silent.
Narendra Modi doesn’t stand to gain anything by commenting selectively on such matters. His political opponents will be his opponents anyway. But being selective is spreading disenchantment among his staunchest followers. He will still win elections due to sheer inertia and the pathetic state of the country’s opposition but he the faith that he commands will take a hit and even if it’s among a small section of the support base, it would be a travesty.
While discussing this article, colleague Rahul Roushan said that Prime Minister Modi doesn’t send messages. He does what he does, and his support base takes whatever message they wish to take depending on their prism of expectations. However, a leader as astute as PM Modi knows exactly what message would be taken from his words or lack of it thereof. It is time to fix it and ensure that the house is united again.
After decades, India has found a leader that commands unconditional love and respect. A leader who has the ability to unite his house with one statement even after the world sees it is a divided house with irreparable cracks. While his ability to take long term action is uncontestable and the faith has been unshaken, the impact his silence has on short term morale can be and is proving to be devastating.
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017