When Modi once again leads BJP in 2024


Jayaprakash Narayan could present such an alternative in 1977. We don't have a leader like JP in India right now. A leader who can bring together the disparate, dissenting voices. Leaders like JP do play a crucial role in the battle between democracy and despotism.

Every Indian citizen must read 'To Kill A Democracy: India's Passage To Despotism' penned by Debasish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane. The authors write about Samir Zaveri, a Mumbai native in this book. Samir lost both his legs while crossing the rail tracks on a rainy day in 1989. The station had no footbridge. From then onwards Samir started travelling in special coaches for the disabled. It was during these journeys that Samir met people like him who had lost their limbs in train accidents. Till then Samir was under the impression that his tragedy was due to sheer misfortune. But these encounters made him realise that many like him were suffering due to the shortcomings of the Railways.

It was the Right to Information Act that helped Samir fathom the depth of negligence and indifference that the Indian Railways had towards ordinary passengers. 611 people fell to their death from running trains in Mumbai and 1,455 people died while crossing rail tracks in 2019. The data shows that ten people get killed on the railway tracks in Mumbai almost every day.

'To Kill A Democracy: India's Passage To Despotism' penned by Debasish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane

Debasish and John point out that in peak hours super dense crush loads can result in 5,000 people travelling in passenger cars meant for 1,700 people at most. To most of the Mumbaikars these daily journeys are dangling narrow bridges between life and death. Both the Railways and the state don't usually bother to address these grievances under the pretext of lack of funds. But they have no issues with spending $1,700 crores to implement the Bullet train scheme from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

John and Chowdhury also write about Dadarao Bilhore, fondly called 'Pothole Dada.' His son Prakash was killed when he fell into a pothole. When Dadarao realised that the government was least interested in addressing these civic issues he started filling them himself: ''I didn't cry, but learned to fight.''

Dadarao has a group of people with him, who will reach anywhere in Mumbai to repair potholes. They get umpteen WhatsApp messages in this regard every day. It is alleged that once you join hands with the ruling party you will cease to be potential targets of the investigating agencies. If we want to know what is ailing Indian democracy we should correlate the blood that is spilt along the rail tracks in Mumbai and these horse tradings that take place across the country. If we add the PM Cares fund and electoral bonds in this scenario then the pieces will fall into place.

It is in this context that Amit Shah, the Central Home Minister and one of the foremost leaders of the BJP, projects Narendra Modi as the unchallenged leader, who will lead the party once again in the 2024 general elections. Shah's announcement brings to focus two points. BJP believes that Modi can lead the party to victory for a consecutive third term and that the opposition doesn't have an alternative to Modi. It also makes it clear that Modi has no alternative even within BJP. The saffron party knows very well that it is not as easy to find a new candidate for the PM post as it is for the presidency of the party and the nation.

Indira Gandhi | Photo: Mathrubhumi archives

Indira and India

The Sangh Parivar can't take any risks in 2024. RSS will be celebrating its centenary one year later. RSS was born on September 27, 1925, in Nagpur under the leadership of Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. The Parivar can't digest the scenario of a non-BJP government at the centre when the Sangh will be 100 years old. That is why Modi becomes Hobson's choice for Mohan Bagawat, Amit Shah and JP Nadda. It is this choice that is dissected and synthesized in this column.

Indira was the epitome of power in India before Modi. The fear of losing power made Indira declare an emergency on June 25, 1975. She wanted to bury the Indian Constitution on that day. The Supreme Court accompanied this act of annihilating democracy with its ruling that the fundamental rights wouldn't be applicable in a state of emergency. All the major constitutional institutions prostrated before Indira, pronouncing their loyalty.

There was always a shadow of insecurity over Indira. Even Though she was born in one of the most prominent families in India, her childhood was determined by the conflicts between her mother and aunts. The isolation of her mother Kamala in Ananda Bhavan haunted Indira throughout her life. The encounter with the syndicate led by Kamaraj, the love and hate relationship with Feroze- all these made her eternally sceptical and insecure. It was in this context that she turned to emergency in 1975. But the Indian people rejected her in 1977 and reinstated the constitution that she tried to bury.

PM Modi

Indira is Indira and Modi is Modi. Indira had a meeting with Jiddu Krishnamurthi, the philosopher and teacher during one of the turbulent days of emergency. Pupul Jayakar, Jiddu's biographer and Indira's soulmate, records a conversation between Indira and Jiddu where she stated that she was riding on the back of a tiger and she didn't know how to get off its back. Jiddu responded that if she were more intelligent than the tiger she would know how to get off when the time came. And Indira got off the tiger's back eventually. It is very significant to remember that Indira knew that she was riding on the back of a tiger. Pupul recalls vividly that Indira went through moments of intense inner struggle during those days.

What one forgets while riding an elephant

There is no formally declared emergency in the country right now. The political observers point out that this is mainly because there is no shadow of insecurity over Modi. He is not sitting on the back of a tiger, but on the elephant called power. The problem with sitting on the top of an elephant for quite some time is that one may tend to forget that the height, that one enjoys, is actually the gift of the elephant. It is such forgetfulness that is engulfing Modi right now. Even when her acolytes were shouting from the rooftop that Indira was India and India was Indira she was vehemently opposed by a large number of the Indians. These Indians unseated her in 1977. We should also remember the decisive role that Jayaprakash Narayan played in this rejection.

Modi doesn't face any such challenges or threats. He enjoys the support of a huge section of the population and a well-organised party as he moves forward on the flying wheels of Hindutva. This helps Modi establish the domination of the regime in almost all segments of the society without the aid of an emergency.

RK Raghavan, the head of the Special Investigation team that probed the Gujarat riots, stated in his autobiography 'A Road Well Travelled' that his investigation resulted in the arrival of the strongest PM that India had ever seen. We should also recall the words of Justice Arun Mishra, one of the five senior-most judges in the SC in 2020, in praise of PM Modi at an international judicial conference held in Delhi the same year and attended by Modi himself (''A versatile genius, who thinks globally and acts locally.'')

The nation saw RK Raghavan becoming the high commissioner of Cyprus and justice Arun Mishra being appointed as the chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights. If Arun Jaitely, who lamented about post-retirement jobs influencing pre-retirement verdicts, were alive today, he would have dived deep into silence.

Modi the solitary lane

It was in Chennai in 2012 that I came face to face with Modi for the first time. The occasion was the anniversary of Thuglak, the magazine edited by Cho Ramaswamy. Thuglak's public meeting is an annual ritual for CHo's followers. Cho's readers would flock to Chennai on that day to listen to their editor. Those days Cho had stopped delivering speeches in any public function other than this.

PM Modi with Cho Ramaswamy | Photo: Archives

Cho had a unique way of delivering his speech. His readers would raise questions and he would respond in his inimitable style. The audience would consist of various personalities from actor Rajnikanth to BJP stalwart LK Advani. Only Cho will be there on the stage as speaker. But in 2012 Cho broke this protocol. He welcomed another person to the stage. The person happened to be none other than Narendra Modi. It was indeed a surprise to see that Cho chose Modi over Advani.

But Cho was a visionary. He could foresee that it would be Modi, not Advani, who would be leading the BJP in the coming days. Cho presented Modi before his audience saying that the journey to capture the Redfort should start from the south. Modi came to the same stage next year too. Cho and Gurumurthy, who succeeded Cho as the editor of Thuglak, became Modi's close friends and advisors.

That was a time when the Sangh Parivar was beginning to lose its trust in Advani. RSS had begun to doubt the ideological commitment of Advani, who, standing in front of the Jinna Museum in Karachi, quoted Sarojini Naidu who referred to Jinna as the ambassador of Hindu - Muslim unity.

It was in this context that BJP fielded Modi to capture India. Modi, the firebrand leader, capitalised on his ability to rouse the people through his demagoguery. The roots of his humble beginning made him the darling of the Indian middle class. He could garner the image of an ordinary- extraordinary leader who had the capability to take on the Nehru family with the help of the organisational strength of the Sangh Parivar. And second UPA government was being crushed under its own shadow of corruption and nepotism.

Modi then upheld the flag of development. The campaign, led by Modi and BJP with the motto that they would implement the Gujarat model across India, spread its wings into the imagination of the Indian people. Modi became the PM in 2014 with the support of 31% of the Indian population. Five years later he retained power increasing this margin to 37%. There is an observation that Modi is the quintessential representative of the visual era. Modi's obsession with his image is not a secret. He would always be ready for the camera anywhere anytime.

Modi is highly concerned about the way the world looks at him. The meticulously trimmed beard, the well-oiled hair and the beautifully stitched clothes make Modi a man of unique style. It is for nothing that his opponents raise the criticism that Modi is not that keen to uphold Atmanirbhar Bharat when it comes to his makeover. It seems he is following in the footsteps of John F Kennedy, the former American president, who made use of the possibilities of television during its initial days.

Modi is a solitary road. He is like a religious priest who speaks from the top of the mountain. Nobody can question him. He will talk and others will listen. The Mann ki Baat - talks via the All India radio- brings out his identity. Remember Modi, who walked out of Karan Thapar's interview. It lasted just three minutes. He was shaken by the question if he regretted the Gujarat riots. He has not granted any interview to Karan afterwards.

PM Modi with Adani

The Oxygen called power

The Modi that manifested before Karan sheds light on the identity of the later Modi. It is the image of a leader who doesn't want to be questioned. Modi believes he is infallible and superhuman. This is the feudal concept of the leader and the subjects. It is on these premises which are alien to the vibrant pastures of democracy that Modi is installed by social scientists like Ashish Nandi. The mob demands such a leader. A leader, who never wavers before the rivals. A leader who can take on Pakistan in her own territory. If this leader falters in the ghats of Ganges the fault is not that of the leader. The solution is to dismantle the ghat.

Modi is essentially a combination of corporate oligarchy and Hindutva. Modi is trying to recreate this combination from Gujarat throughout India. The path of RSS is dear to the corporates because of its phantasmagoric concept of one leader, one nation and one market.

The middle class is the backbone of Modi. It is not the intelligentsia but the middle class that defines and determines Modi. It could be an irony that this enactment is a carbon copy of the Chinese model of power. Modi is constantly exploring the different layers and possibilities of power. To Modi, power is like oxygen in the air. Modi, who worships ancient India on the one hand and the most modern communication tools on the other may look like an anachronism. But in the field of the alchemy of power Modi's interventions are precise and to the point.

Modi is trying to implement the ideology of majoritarianism and Hindutva. He has succeeded in capturing the aspirations of the Indian middle class. No other Indian leader has been this successful in polarising society. Indira never pursued such an agenda. Even when she wanted to be the sole leader of the nation she never had the illusion that India was one uniform country. That is why she brought in the 42nd amendment to the constitution to make it a social, secular republic. Who else can realise the pluralism of the nation if not the daughter of the writer of 'The Discovery of India'?

The churning of Palazhi

Modi's victory in 2019 was the result of his campaign that combined brilliantly the chaiwala and the chowkidar. The defeat of Digvijay Singh in Bhopal at the hands of Pragya Singh Thakur, the BJP leader, who heaped praises on Godse at the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji, should be read along with this. Modi is the Virat Purusha in this India. The move to have a strong leader who could replace the democratic institutions including parliament and judiciary is mainly focused on Modi. The book penned by Debasish and John points clearly to the fact that those who raise the motto of one leader, one country become the flag bearers of despotism.

PM Modi with LK Advani

What we witness now is the churning of the ‘palazhi’ (ksheera sagara) that is India. The country's future will depend on whether we get amrita or kalakuta in the end. There is the presence of both the Indian myth and reality in Modi. The Parivar has taken up the myth instead of the reality.

The Parivar thinks that expanding this myth into a legend will help them retain power for a third consecutive term and it will enable them to fulfil the dreams of its leader MS Golwalkar. The statue of Sardar Patel, which cost Rs 3,000 crore is the legacy of this myth. The Bullet train and the new parliament building are its nutrients. Imposing GST on curd, rice, atta and stealing the powers of the states are meant to nurture this myth.

The exodus of the migrant labourers won't matter to those who stand on balconies. The election in 2024 will witness the battle between this myth and the idea called India. It is not still clear what will be the opposition's alternative to this myth. Jayaprakash Narayan could present an alternative in 1977. But we don't have a JP in present India. A leader who could unite all the dissenting voices. Such leaders do play a crucial role in the battle between democracy and despotism. The days ahead look darker and dimmer. We can only hope that the light at the end of the tunnel doesn't turn out to be a mirage!

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