In the Feudal era, kings would have vassals sending them tributes to celebrate and legitimise their reign. Modern leaders have media performing the same function and one discovers the reigns of praise in ornate language loading the four years that Narendra Modi has been in power.
The photographs of Modi presented him as Chieftain or a great Prince, the regal-ness of his dress gives him a sense of ornateness next-to-be unkempt ravel who almost seems incomplete as a person and as a project. Modi, like Everest, seems to be here to conquer the middle class world of India. Yet it is while reading these nodatory texts by major journalists that one senses the flaw in the regime. Modi is presented as a semiotic achievement and it is precisely here that one senses the fault lines.
Reading the media messages one almost senses he is our new Mughal, with gimlet eyes like Aurangazeb and vision like Shahjahan. At that moment one senses he is a Leviathan deeply committed to power. The achievement of his regime is to stay in power and not use power to create a different world. Power almost becomes a symbolic preoccupation of Modi, something he consumes to feed his narcissism, caught in everything from a sartorial style to all his political speeches. If one were to play all these testimonials in slow motion, one senses a flaw.
Years ago a seasoned politician once said, a week is a long time in politics. The Modi era adds an irony to it as the Modi style is adapted to newspapers and not to history. He caters to the instant spectacle and not to the long duree. Ironically, while any week looks eventful in the years of Modi, the four years look eventless and empty. Modi as a fragment of intention makes sense. Modi as a whole sounds shallow. His greatest achievement is himself, his call to Make in India is limited to himself. In that sense, Modi is a construct, a concept, a wishlist, a Rorschach that Modi as a substantive achievement is negligible.
The skill is in sustaining the perception; the flaw is in the lack of substance. Yet the achievement is impressive. No PM since Indira has had a chorus of supporters so obsessive about a politician. It is almost as if Nehruvian India catered to a narrow elite as an imagination. And what Modi did is to crack its elite enclave and open up Lutyens Delhi to a broader and more populist imagination. As chaiwala, he created a lowest common denominator democracy. A politics not on rights and institutions but on intentions. Modi represents the dream of a new middle class India, aspirational, open to violence which wears patriotism like a uniform, salutes security and wants the trappings of power without building the infrastructure required for it. Modi enacts out an ethic of little spectacles and skits, here today with Trump and there, tomorrow with Abe.
In four years, Modi has created a majoritarian morality where numbers and force is all. Even election becomes a numbers’ game; the ethics of democracy is irrelevant. What we are presented with is animous hate, resentment animated as democratic paradigm where voyeuristic violence exorcises a fabricated past.
At this pace, he will remain a promising Prime Minister at 70 because that’s all he has, a collection of promissory notes. Modi’s achievement is not in the good that he has done but in the memory of the era he has erased. His argument for a Congress-mukt Bharat works because the Congress is no longer remembered for its history but for the last decade of corruption and indecisiveness. Today, the Congress is the marginal party that has started thinking marginally. Its latest achievement is to erase a memory and to create a new aspirational Indian which is tired of being weak kneed. Yet, if anyone who suffers from Congress envy, it is Modi. His attempt to sneak into the KYC calendar, his efforts to appropriate Congress achievements shows that India might be Congress-mukt but not Modi’s mind. He is haunted perpetually by the colossal achievement of Nehru and Gandhi and he knows he is pig meat next to them. They were natural leaders while Modi senses he is a Complan Boy, a quick-go genius who has yet not reached the heights of tower of history.
Once one sets aside the psychology of the last few years, the sociology becomes stark and worrying. Modi’s acts were to develop a vocabulary, a language for his idea of majoritarianism which operated not in norms but in the terms of the logic of numbers. As a result, dissents or the margins or the minority is seen as unpatriotic and anti-national; as a set of opinions and attitudes to be suppressed and even eradicated rather than to be discussed. Between majoritarianism and patriotism, Modi constructs the new India. His idea of India has no place for environmentalists critiquing development, minority entitlement to citizenship. The Constitution is important but development is sacred. A coastline has been hypothecated to Adanis in the name of development. What is presented as nationalism is middle class aping of the West where Modi promises good behaviour to Trump and Abe. India is now a second class American nation following the American dream.
The NRI becomes a special class to Indians nostalgic for culture yet committed to technology. The BJP articulates its techno-fundamentalism convinced that ancient India is the beginning of Silicon Valley. Security completes the glossary. Instead of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, Modi gives us security, patriotism and development. To do this, he suppresses the University, rewrites history, destroys the vitality of the NGOs and the voluntarism of the old civil society. We have the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal as the new civil society extending the policing function in state. Dissents are suppressed; twice - once by the State, once by the majoritarian arm of the Civil Society. Within such a new institutional framework, violence is no longer a pathology but an instrument of history and extension of politics.
A friend of mine emphasised the danger of this dualism between a static psychological politics and dynamic sociology revealing the violence of everydayness. He said it reads a bit like Indian biographies which read more like good conduct certificates rather than dynamic narratives. Modi’s four years is credited by the Media as a certificate of his intentions rather than a narrative of activity.
He exorcises India of its Nehruvianism, only to replace it with a nukkad RSS ethics, more accessible, far more coercive and violent. In fact, violence is a commodity that is replayed and consumed from the 2002 riots to the Afrazul and Akhlaq episode. The video is the accompaniment to every act of brutality. What accompanies it is the silence of Modi on Unnao, Kathua, lynching to every act of witch-hunting. The inflationary spread of violence as rape, brutality, lynching has been the constant tenor of the regime from torture in Kashmir to the lynching on the streets. In fact, murder has become an act of psychological cleansing in the Modi era. One never reads any of this in the sycophantic editorials of our time.
In four years, Modi has created a majoritarian morality where numbers and force is all. Even election becomes a numbers’ game; the ethics of democracy is irrelevant. What we are presented with is animous hate, resentment animated as democratic paradigm where voyeuristic violence exorcises a fabricated past. What it adds to it are the necessary attributes for the future: Maschimo, managerialism, and a middle class aspiration. Such a syndrome sets the basis of the regime which has to do something whether that something works or not.
Most people justify Modi by saying at least he is doing something, contrasting it with passiveness of decades of Congress rule. Four years is time enough to move from form to content, and cross examine what he is doing. Modi as a performative act is impressive. His supporters equate intentions with achievement. In the fifth year, we have to disentangle the two, psychologise the first and sociologise the second. Year five of Modi could be interesting in a critical way.