OPINION: And the winner is Chowkidar Narendra Damodardas Modi
When Narendra Modi walked the red carpet in robes (something like a jobba what Tagore used to wear) and a Himachali headgear in the precincts of Kedarnath temple, after a gruelling poll campaign crisscrossing India, many likened him to characters of American fantasy drama on TV, Game of Thrones.
The man with the much trolled "56-inch-chest" sat in a meditation in a Himalayan cave in saffron like a saint who has attained enlightenment, with his images from the land of gods hitting targets in India almost surgically.
The payloads dropped across enemy camps who complained to the Election Commission (EC) for the religious message to the voters by Modi ahead of the last leg of elections, while his supporters raved at the image of a yogi (an ascetic) in meditation to acquire some supernatural power.
The hands and fertile minds of the unsung creators of Internet memes for social media, were full. Soon memes flooded the virtual world.
This image of Modi was something far removed from his caustic election campaign in which he would tear apart the likes of Mamata in her home bastion, often lowering the bar of political attacks to match the lady's pedestrian standards and actions to stop the Opposition.
The return of Modi in a country of deep-rooted dynastic politics, casteism, communal divide, and a fall in percentage of Hindu population (now below 80 pc) is no mean achievement. These factors are supplemented by an army of active liberals who worked round the clock like Internet bots. They fired on all cylinders to see him defeated and bleeding.
Smarting from the post-demonetisation setback, it was indeed some supernatural power that Modi, aided by chief architect of the victory Amit Shah, displayed to return to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, the official residence of the PM, in Lutyens' Delhi.
Modi haters would call it, "Elementary my dear Wastson!!! It is money power that saw them back." Money power, yes, but money alone cannot buy votes and neither are opposition forces with empty coffers. The money of BJP was spent on publicity blitz and image building, but not to bribe voters to cast their ballots.
It is also a wrong notion that Modi and the BJP purchased the entire national media for their propaganda. If a section of electronic media had resorted to a TRP war with each other to beam news spiced with the hyper-nationalism that benefits Modi, the emerging digital media biggies- whom Arun Jaitley dubbed as institutional disruptors or destabilisers with no red lines- left no stone unturned to put out a series of articles to demonise Modi.
I think in the media game both the sides were evenly poised.
The odds were heavily against Modi with the final showdown appearing like a cliffhanger. But in this game of thrones finally the winner is Modi.
Ruling Gujarat efficiently as Chief Minister from 2001 to 2014 uninterruptedly he created a perfect political biodata for the post of the PM of a BJP-led government. Leaving behind the taints of the post-Godhra train burning riots, he finally could make it to Delhi.
But not just being complacent with his popularity as a Hindu nationalist leader, he risked something like demonetisation, a billion dollar political risk that earned him more criticism than appreciation.
Slayer of Liberal hypocrisy
He fought not just the below the belt political attacks of political Opposition but also India's ragtag gang of liberal disruptors that has now expanded from the "Khan Market gang" that Modi referred to, to a vast number of degree-holding but unemployable lower to middle-middle class Indians whose aspirations mounted in a society jacked up by a social media-fuelled euphoria.
The Time magazine cover called him a Divider in Chief of India (his distractors ignoring the accompanying piece by an ace American political scientist and Time columnist Ian Bremmer that said he is the only hope of India), but Modi worked tirelessly to connect with India and Indians, albeit in his inimitable and often larger than life playing-to-gallery style.
He became an icon for many who believed in hard work and the reality of their humble origins. But Modi bashers also rose in strength and a large number of them are young Indians with slipshod mediocrity aspiring to be creative individuals.
In a nation where family pedigree determines who would be fashion designer and who would study hard to crack engineering entrances and then work as one of the countless faceless IT workers, blaming it on leaders and systems have become a habit.
While the Modi-bashing "Khan Market" gang partied, faked secularism gloating over the aroma of biriyanis and Islamic architecture instead of supporting the cause of Muslim women like triple talaq or even avoiding a Muslim cook at home owing to many of their Brahmin genealogy, a growing number of aspiring and frustrated individuals (read wannabe journalists, photographers, filmmakers) without talent or inherited pedigree joined the upper crust liberal bandwagon to spread their messages with social media sharing.
Losing every day in their unreal world of social media, they chanted "Azadi", hero worshipped Kanhaiya and even walked for Gauri Lankesh without knowing who she was.
Worldwide there are some dying professions undergoing the throes of change in the seamless transition to the digital world. Journalism is one of them. In the churning many talented journalists lost their jobs and job security... a large number of them in the past five years even started blaming it on Modi and demonetisation. Even an airline company's failure owing to its own wrong decisions in the past was attributed to Modi.
A Balakot strike or the "febrile nationalism" of Modi brand that the Time cover writer pens, is not even remotely connected to the overall redundancy of many a profession. The unwelcome trend of certain kind of jobloss is global and it has hit hard the Western world more. Modi did peddle nationalism to win election, but then he was the man who ordered the surgical strikes in Pakistan territory. The opposition attack on questioning the death toll of terrorists in the airstrikes only sent a wrong message to the electorates.
Blame it On Modi:
It is an irony that the Western media- which brags of high standards of journalism and objectivity- is replete with stories which are penned by opinion writers from various walks of life, and not hardcore journalists of mainstream media whose job is to report truth than pen critiques of Modi.
When it comes to writing about Modi and the BJP, the pieces in Time, The Guardian, The Washington Post in the past five years were mostly by contributors who were more sort of activists, known Modi baiters, self-styled radical left or disgruntled social scientists. The write-ups were all in the Opinion or Ideas category, but that is lost in the translation when it reaches ordinary readers worldwide.
No doubt, these writers are all skilled, highly educated and knowledgeable individuals with the gift of pen and privileged birth. Some are the products of the India's best run private school education system and top universities worldwide. But they chose to infect people with anti-BJP malevolence and predicted doomsday than showing hope or finding answers.
After the Time article Divider in Chief by Aatish Taseer (which I am sure now most people have not read from the original source but from bit and pieces of reporting), only two days ago, I came across a trenchant opinion piece in The Guardian titled "Five more years of Narendra Modi will take India to a dark place", by Kapil Komireddi, author of the book Malevolent Republic.
At the time of writing this, there is a Bloomberg story crediting the entire victory prospects of Modi to his brand of nationalism.
The misplaced fear of a Hindu Pakistan
The writers from Komireddi to Atish Taseer fear of India turning into a Hindu Pakistan and said the secularists have to reclaim the republic of Nehru. They raise all the issues but have no answers to the secularists indulgence in corruption and policies of selective outrages and minority appeasement that completely failed to integrate India's millions of Muslims with the national mainstream.
More a secular party leads a processions in the streets to protest the outlawing of practices like triple talaq by Modi's government, more they paved the way for a return of Modi. If even 60 years after Independence, we cannot have a true secular nation with a uniform civil code (which the alarmists see as a first step to a Hindu nation), then which way is our secularism going?
Whenever the issues like Uniform Civil Code or Article 370 (that empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state's legislature to define “permanent resident” of the state ) were raised, India's secular parties like Congress or their poster boy spokespersons like Shashi Tharoor said it is a sensitive issue and can tear the nation apart.
In his book The Paradoxical Prime Minister, Tharoor raises the fear of a Hinduvta-modified Constitution and admits: "Secular Congress leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru onwards have argued that while a Uniform Civil Code might be a desirable objective, it could only be adopted with the consent of the affected communities. This could not be obtained by pressure or by legal coercion; it required persuasion. Since minority leaders, especially Muslims, showed no inclination to be persuaded, seeing a uniform civil code as the imposition of majoritarian Hindu sensibilities, the idea needed to be deferred indefinitely, until the time was ripe."
French writer Victor Hugo had famously remarked: “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”
So whether India would have a UCC or not would depend on how far the saffron party can consolidate its power in New Delhi. With Modi at the helm, abolition of triple talaq can be a baby step towards UCC.
Even the move to scrap Section 377 of Indian Penal Code and decriminalise homosexuality was thought to be impossible only a decade ago, but all that changed and interestingly the chance occurred when a government much vilified for being regressive was in power.
The political capital of the Right is the overriding fear of Hindus that a rise in Muslim population would be the end of a secular state in India. If this fear is unfounded and propelled by the Hindutva group, then the secularists have to prove that with their actions and evidence. The Hindu population in India is on the wane though not by any alarming percentage yet.
Surrounded by a nuclear-armed Islamic neighbour that is Pakistan, endless infiltration from another Islamic nation that is Bangladesh and the powerful arm-twisting global power that is a communist China, the Hindu fear has to be allayed by the so-called secular political parties. Instead they indulged in blatant communal politics. So the shifting of Left votes in a state like West Bengal to the Right is but natural.
There were articles after articles in both national and international media demonizing Modi, but the opinion writers and journalists whose repertoire of works feature in the top global publications, never looked beyond New Delhi to see how the local chieftains of India (read chief ministers) under a strong federal structure is running the states.
A closer look at their fiefdoms in Indian states like West Bengal would reveal staggering corruption, fear mongering and fascists practices.
So a Taslima Nasrin never could return to Kolkata or a Tarek Fateh could attend a panel discussion in the eastern city's premium club of the social gentry. What goes on in the name of secularism in Indian states is utter vote bank politics.
Today almost each Indian state is ruled by a divider-in-chief. The blood thirst for Muslim votes has killed India's secularism more than the army of RSS pracharaks or saffron clad men.
Modinomics and India
According to the writer in The Guardian as well as many others, Modi had pledged to create 20 million jobs annually while the rate of unemployment is the highest India has known in 20 years.
Modi indeed made promises he failed to deliver, or irresponsibly indulged in histrionics like bringing back black money and making every Indian richer by INR 15 lakh- whatever way you interpret it- but it is not Modi who has always taken away the job of Indian degree holders. It is the technology of the day which partially did the mischief, and partially it is your choice of a wrong job.
It is the population explosion propelled by lower to middle middle class's thoughtless aspirations for careers not meant for them or with limited opportunities. Vocational training and apprenticeship were never first choices of Indians who went to colleges.
The problems of stray cattle in Uttar Pradesh or a farm distress are real issues that Modi has to address. But a populist loan waiver adopted by Congress to win elections is not.
Ian Bremmer of Time magazine writes on Modi: "First, he’s ensured that the government has more revenue to spend. Thanks to the Goods and Services Tax enacted in 2017, Modi has streamlined an enormously complex system of state and federal tax collection, broadening the tax base and sharply reducing the amount of money lost to fraud. That’s a historic accomplishment in a country with so many development needs."
"Modi has directed unprecedented amounts of money toward the country’s seemingly endless need for new infrastructure. Construction of roads, highways, public transport and airports have sharply increased the country’s long-term economic potential. Although the process remains unfinished, the government has also brought electricity to remote villages that have never had it, a boon for economic potential, public safety and basic quality of life."
According to IMF’s Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld, India’s growth has been “very solid” over the past four years, as he praised the fundamental economic reforms like the GST and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code carried out by the Modi government.
In a paper titled "India: Three and a Half Years of Modinomics" writer Arvind Panagariya of Columbia University concluded that the Modi government inherited an economy with low growth, high inflation and large fiscal deficit, but it successfully stabilized it.
The paper says that during the first three years of the government, the economy grew 7.5% on average compared with 5.9% during the last two years of the predecessor UPA government.
The paper says that within three and a half years, the government has been able to considerably widen and deepen reforms. While some of these reforms have yielded immediate results, the effect of many structural reforms such as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Act and the Goods and Services Tax will be genuinely realized over the longer time horizon of three to five years.
According to the paper, the second major criticism of the government policies has been that they have produced jobless growth. In offering this criticism, critics have relied on two main sources of information: media reports of worker layoffs and employment creation estimates from a quarterly enterprise survey conducted by the Labor Bureau of the Ministry of Labor and Employment.
But the writer says both sources of information suffer from serious problems."Few informed analysts would disagree that any conclusion regarding job creation on the basis of media reports is patently unscientific. Indeed, since bad news sells a lot better than good news, it is job losses that get disproportionately greater play in the media. If one were to systematically analyze media reports, one is likely to find that in every year, job losses have outnumbered job additions. As regards enterprise survey, in India, it too suffers from serious problems.
"This is because a very large proportion of the labor force in India is either self- employed or employed in very small enterprises that typically do not form a part of the enterprise surveys. Therefore, if self-employed workers find a job in a larger enterprise covered by the enterprise survey, no change in the total employment would have taken place and yet the survey would report increased number of jobs," the paper says.
"Symmetrically, if a worker is laid off from a large enterprise and finds employment in a small enterprise that is not covered by the enterprise survey, we would conclude that the number of jobs has fallen despite no net change in this number."
Modi's aggressive foreign policy
Much has been reported about Modi's frequent foreign trips and the expenses incurred for the same, with each such news reports going viral on social media. It is just preposterous that a section of media chose to attack him on the expenses incurred on his travels.
The country definitely will not go poorer if the Prime Minister travels abroad frequently to pursue aggressive diplomacy. It is one thing to ridicule or rap him for the expensive suit he wore once and another to target him for the expenses on his foreign travels. He obviously did not travel for a ride in the Disneyland.
Rather, it was after a long time, perhaps only after Indira Gandhi, that an Indian prime minister would stand shoulder to shoulder with the top global leaders. Modi's foreign policy is considered aggressive in terms of security issues as demonstrated with the Balakot strike, it is actually a work in progress.
His government stood up to China in a border standoff while we have already started repeating benefits of his policy when the UN Security Council finally designated Masood Azhar as global terrorist with China removing its objection to the same. China had earlier blocked Masood Azhar's listing under the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the Council.
Modi found a "good friend" in Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the two leaders going beyond the trademark Modi Hugplomacy and the Israeli prime minister referring to Modi as "my friend Narendra". But Modi at the same time remained rooted to India's traditional stance on Palestine while warming up more to Israel. India voted in favour of a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution blaming Israel for “excessive” use of force against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
India also abstained on a US-backed amendment seeking to condemn violence by Hamas. Modi's much maligned "hinduvta" government actually used extreme discretion at the global platforms, keeping its friendship with the Muslim world on an even keel.
According to an article by on Tel Aviv University, Modi has shaped his relations with other countries in accordance with his policy of prioritizing economic growth. This coincided with the markets that Israel specializes in and has designated as export destinations, such as high tech, agriculture, communications, and defense. Until now, a major part of Indian foreign policy has been motivated by its rivalry with countries
On the Modi influence in our foreign policy, Professor Harsh V Pant, Director, Studies and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, writes in The Diplomat: "He has imbued Indian foreign policy with a certain amount of risk-taking, unlike the risk aversion of the past. India, from perpetually being a cautious power, is seemingly ready to take on a larger global role by being more nimble than ever in playing the great power game."
Secular India or Sickular India
Five years from now there would be another election. And all these reporting, critiques and doomsday predictions will be still be available on Internet. We would write fresh pieces then. I do not think India will be in darker place five years from now than it was five years ago.
In the last five years, I have seen BJP brand of politics but never found Modi consciously dividing India. It is the liberal brigade which derogated the true Indian heart from the cover of Modi.
Yes, Modi has to take a serious call on issues like cow lynchings. His party's Hinduvta should not be a cause of mindless violence on any minority, but tempered with the inherent message of peace in Hinduism.
Modi, a Gujrati, swears by Gandhi and he should not forget what Gandhi had famously said: Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.
A Hindu Indian voted for Modi happily and then rushed to buy the first show ticket for a movie featuring one of the Muslim superstars (read Khans) of Bollywood film industry.
The gigantic stinks of Indian cities may not disappear, putrid rivers will flow, shiny shopping malls will multiply, Indians would continue to park their vehicles blocking roads. But the heart of India will remain the same. Modi 2019 has a greater role to play in taking everyone along.
(Formerly with Thomson Reuters and The Washington Times, Sujoy Dhar is an India writer for USA Today, a visiting journalism instructor in University of Missouri and a roving founder editor of India Blooms News Service and its affiliate portals like Just Earth News and Not in Town)