Monday, May 27, 2024

The good, the bad and the ugly of Narendra Modi


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By Dr Nsungbemo Ezung

Rewriting the political record set by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is Narendra Modi’s personal tryst for destiny as of today. But history records Narendra Modi, seeking to become Prime Minister for the third consecutive term, as a man who was at the helm of power in Gujarat in February-March 2002 when a bloodbath ran the streets and homes of different parts of the state, following one of the worst communal-based violence in the history of independent India. Assuming that Modi cannot be blamed for the outbreak of the communal violence on that fateful month of February 2002 given the long history of communal hatred and the series of incidences of communal violence across India since 1947, we cannot help but keep questioning the dubious role of the state government that he headed at the time. It’s hard to believe that the state government of the day would become helpless in the face of the rampaging mob on a violent spree and was forced to watch in silence the mayhem that went on for months claiming more than one thousand lives belonging to different religious communities. Or was that the moment that Narendra Modi had taken and exploited fully to position himself as the new avatar in a new India’s political narrative characterized by communally-charged and polarization politics which eventually made him become what he is today.
It would also be difficult for history to forgive Narendra Modi for systematically purging his seniors within his party as soon as he came to power in 2014. The BJP stalwarts, including LK Advani and Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, who had founded the party and built it brick by brick to let the party emerge as a major political powerhouse in the world’s largest democratic country, were all reduced to the status of non-relevance as Modi brought the government that he leads at the center and the party he represents within his absolute control. He should be credited for converting the BJP which is considered a cadre-based political party to a party governed by the culture of high command from New Delhi.
If there is one distinguishing feature that characterized the last decade of the BJP government at the center, it is the polarization politics that had attained new heights in the country. Narendra Modi had successfully promoted an assertive and aggressive identity politics based on religion, so much so that the Hindu masses of India no longer see Modi as not just a poster boy of Hindutva ideology, which many Hindus have rejected as a diluted version of the Hindu religion, but as a new powerful leader who represents the interest and welfare of the larger Hindu population. A popular narrative had been constructed identifying Hindu religion as the sole representative of the very idea of India and all other minority religions as subservient to it. For Modi’s India, the greatness of India and reviving India’s glorious past would be achieved only by making the Hindu religion a dominant social and political force in the country. This idea of India presented by the BJP is so thought-provoking that it not only polarizes the minds of the people but captures the emotions of the masses helping the saffron party reap a huge electoral dividend.
Narendra Modi’s art of politics is what has set him apart from the rest of the politicians and political leaders in India. From Acche din in 2014 to Mai bhi Chowkidar in 2019 and Modi ka Parivar in 2024, the Prime Minister has been evolving and rebranding himself while presenting himself to the people. This image rebranding is sufficient enough to capture the social and political imagination of the people. Modi will always present himself to the people as someone who has worked his way up to the top. The “kamdar vs naamdar” and “hard work vs Harvard” propagandas makes Modi a common man who had derived his position not from the lobby or having a connection with the power-center in New Delhi or family raj/dynasty but directly from the people and through sheer hard work, dedication and sense of duty and service to the people. By the time he led the BJP to win a record three consecutive terms in the state of Gujarat in December 2012, the party leaders in New Delhi were convinced that he was the leader who truly had a support base at the grass roots and was the right person to lead the party nationally. It means that the inevitability of Narendra Modi transitioning from state leader to national leader was facilitated by the popular support that he commands at the grassroots. Modi continues to be seen as a leader who is directly connected with the masses. This also makes him an outsider to the Lutyens-elite politics of New Delhi.
There is one marked difference between the year 2014 when the then UPA government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh faced a general election after ruling the country for one decade and the incumbent BJP-led NDA government in 2024 facing another general election after ruling the country for the same period of time. And that difference is on the question of corruption. At the time of going to the polls in 2014, the UPA government was facing the wrath of a number of corruption charges against them like the scams relating to the 2-G program, the Coal auction and the Commonwealth Games. These multi-crore scams, where even Dr. Manmohan Singh has been named as accused in one of the scams, had affected the morale of the then UPA government while seeking the third term in power from the electorate while the then opposition BJP weaponized those scams to bring down the UPA government and make way for the arrival of Narendra Modi at the center stage of Indian politics. A decade later, at least there are no scams/corruption charges, in the scale that the UPA faced, against the incumbent BJP government. Narendra Modi will be facing the people this time with a “clean image” as a leader who has combated corruption aggressively and unapologetically.
Some of the populist projects that the BJP government had undertaken during the last decade have also gone down well for a large section of the people of the country. Poor families across India continue to receive 5 kg of food grains every month under the food security program initiated by the central government in April 2020. Over three crore houses have been constructed under the Housing for All scheme benefiting the poor and disadvantaged groups of people in the country. An estimated 10 crore toilets have been constructed under India’s clean mission campaign making India more hygienic and cleaner.
All of these populist schemes of the BJP government have meant a lot for the people of India belonging to the middle and lower class, Below Poverty Line (BPL) and extreme poverty category. For the crores of Indians across the country who are daily struggling for their basic needs, this is what “life becoming better under the rule of Narendra Modi” is all about. And this relative content of the masses and their blessing could be well sufficient enough to safely hand Narendra Modi another Prime Ministerial term.


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