Thursday, 20 February 2020

Intellectuals’ abhorrence of Modi unabated

Updated: July 17, 2015 4:10 am

It is an old story. They despised him when he was chief minister of Gujarat. The 2002 riots made them condemn him as a collaborator of mass murderers. Modi was analysed, dissected and damned. The intellectuals’ hatred towards him dates back to 2002, all of 13 years, during which some critics fell by the wayside when their own background details surfaced, many went under covers, fearing Modi in power and some are hiding fearing inquiries by CBI.

Yet quite a handful remain to pop up whenever clouds gather and Modi stops being popular like a Rock Star. But why these ‘intellectuals’, TV anchors and the usual suspects rush back to their trenches once the signs emerge that anyone from the Gandhis might be embroiled? No doomsday predictions by these erudite gentlemen if Modi became India ‘s prime minister have come true even after almost 14-month of his premiership. Would these eminent personalities have some shame left to admit their mistake in assessing Modi? Why quite a few of them still spew venom whenever they get a chance to criticise him?

As BJP leader Narendra Modi showed signs of winning premiership hurdles race, liberal intellectuals at home and abroad rose against him. Through letters to the Editor to The Guardian and The Independent– by Salman Rushdie and 24 others in The Times and 22 in The Independent—in TV discussions, seminars and conferences–their intensive campaign jointly with media barons and anchors and members of the privileged Lutyen’s Club reached its climax as the poll dates neared.

Their dislike or say disdain for him at that time was understandable to some extent. Modi was no alumni of St. Stephens, Cambridge or Harvard, never known to have interacted with the likes of Dilip Padgaonkar, Mahesh Bhatt, Arundhati Roy or Stephen Fry or Raza. Not that these personages would have liked to meet him —a mere chaiwala. Although not to be branded class racists, they accused Modi as a collaborator in the 2002 riots and these people and their ilk damned him as bigoted, communal, divisive and against all tenets of secularism (as defined by these torch-bearers of secularism).

Opinion pieces in the western media have been sharply critical of Modi, calling into question not just his “role” in the 2002 Gujarat riots but also portending a hawkish foreign policy were he to become PM. “Britain can’t simply shrug off this Hindu extremist,” wrote Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches in the University of Cambridge, in The Guardian. The BJP branded these attacks prejudiced.

One would have thought that intellectuals and pseudo-secularists like Salman Rushdie and Anish Patel would have the grace to revise their views and publically express them because one year after Modi regime, India has not disappeared, instead risen in stature, no communal divisiveness has taken place and Modi has throughout been talking about 1.25 billion people and not just about Hindus. Warning about Hindutva has gone waste, for Modi can hardly be blamed for any policy which promotes it.

Where is the Progressive Writers’ Association, a literary movement of pre-partition India founded in London, which threatened to organise a convention against Modi in Varanasi, from where he was contesting. Some well-known people, including poet Gulzar, actor Shabana Azmi and director Mahesh Bhatt, had been invited there. “You cannot allow a high-sounding word ‘growth’ to be used as a fig leaf to hide the ideology of the Sangh (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Tyranny of the majority is an enemy of the people,” Bhatt told Hindustan Times. He has after all the fire and fury gone into maun.

Modi himself avoided a campaign around Hindutva or “chauvinistic Hindu-ness”, but most of Bhatt ilk feared his becoming the PM could foster a culture of intemperate right-wing conservatism. Bhatt, who had toured campaigning against Modi, said, “As a film-maker, I can tell you a good promo doesn’t mean a great film.” He was mocking Modi’s media campaign. The fig leaf covering his biases do not fool anyone. Why is he quiet and is not touring the country explaining to ignoramus like us what all Modi has initiated in just one year—Saal Ek Kaam Anek—and either criticise or link them to Hindutva and divisiveness or have the courage to accept that he and his equally biased colleagues were fundamentally wrong.   It requires more courage to say sorry than to scandalise someone.

Another coalition of 50 organisations called Jawaab, had spread over 100 constituencies with 2,000 volunteers to slam Modi. “We will do all it takes to save our democracy and Constitution,” said Shabnam Hashmi, who leads the NGO Anhad.

Mr Hashmi where are you? Neither the democracy nor the Constitution needed the services of Mr Hashmi to be saved from Modi. Has Mr Hashmi the grace to come out from wherever he is and admit (we are not asking him to apologise which is the norm) that his appraisal of Modi was wrong.

The recent Lalitgate, as the media termed it, led to all hibernating liberals troop out and in unison demand that Modi make a statement on Vasundhra Raje and Sushma Swaraj’s recommending visa facility for Lalit Modi. They also demanded that the two ladies must resign or be sacked. One particular TV anchor was so outraged that his shouting decibel went up several notches.

And then suddenly Lalit Modi started tweeting details of his meetings with the Gandhi clan, including the matriarch Sonia. Lo and behold Jairam Ramesh and others, it seemed closed their war room and disappeared. Lalitgate went out of media radar. It is clear that Gandhis’ troopers know; their bosses are in deep mess and therefore it is better to avoid the issue if their names crop up.

But that does not mean that the media or Lutyen’s liberals will let Narendra Modi work in peace. They see him as ogre who would finish them, in the sense that he would render them powerless and terminate all the privileges that they enjoyed so far accommodation in Lutyen’s prized area, selection for delegation to exotic designations, influence on policy decisions and posting et al.

They have been talking about the tyranny of majority-ism. And they term themselves intellectuals—in democracy, the rule is always by the majority. Arindum Chaudhry has a very interesting, and I feel, very well explained logical answer to why intellectuals and most of the English media abhor Modi. He first quotes some experts after Modi’s win in Gujarat, one said Modi and his election was against the Constitution while another said the win was against the spirit of India. The intellectuals idea of India is, a country comprising of English-speaking groups who live like Burra Sahib. On why English journalists hate Modi, the results were interesting. “The first reason: Modi is anti-Muslim and communal. The second: he is interested only in projecting himself. The third: he is supposedly a dictator and a fascist. And the fourth: his claims of a developed Gujarat are, the journalists claim, hollow.”

Now look how contradictory all this is. If Modi campaigned on the basis of identity, he would be branded a fascist-cum-communal monster. If he campaigned on the basis of his track record of development, a mountain of data is immediately forwarded that says other states are better performers than Gujarat.

This makes Chaudhry conclude, “it is a fight between India and Bharat. Modi for me represents Bharat while the English media represents India. I am convinced that the English media is now a voice of the old feudal India where just a few claim to know what is best for both India and Indians. On the other hand, Modi represents the other India—Bharat, if you will—which is deeply frustrated by the monopoly that the English media and its secular warriors exercise over information.”

To understand this better, we see the concept of ‘What is India’ for the English media — it is an artificial country that should not have happened, an ungovernable country where religion, caste and ethnic identity matter more than humanity. Besides, most people who subscribe to the English media world-view have a 67-year-old Nehruvian Network to fall back upon, if required.

What do I mean by the Nehruvian Network? This is something that has been working in India since before 1947. It is a set of ideas and people who, deep down, think that the system set up by the British was the best. They are the ultimate Brown Sahebs, convinced that Indians need a bit of civilisation. They snort, snigger when a politician like Uma Bharti, Mayawati or Modi rises up from nowhere, proudly displays his or her lack of English communication skills and yet manages to persuade voters to do the right thing. You see, things were much better when only children of politicians and bureaucrats who spoke impeccable English were there to dictate the agenda for the nation.

‘That is because the gulf between India and Bharat will never cease. But the problem is, people like Modi are actually threatening this feudal cartel of the privileged. You see, not even Atal Bihari Vajpayee threatened this cosy equation. No wonder, the English media hates Modi.’

True, Modi is the first person who has shunned the powerful intellectuals and TV of whom could influence cabinet formation—Radia Tapes. Suddenly this tribe is now endangered species. Modi has Mann ki Baat, direct communication and regular public meetings to reach the people. The medium, the media persons have thus been eliminated.

They know—we have to grant this ilk intelligence enough to understand how Modi is doing—that sooner or later the hundreds of small and big schemes Modi has launched would soon start showing results. Then they will lose last of their armament—Modi has failed to deliver on his promises.

Was Lalit Modi and the mess such a national significance that Arnab Goswami shrieked the “nation wants to know”. I wonder whether he is in direct ‘communion’ with majority of 1.2 billion people or whether his nation is the limits of the studio.

I was in my village which is just five kms from the Raj Bhavan in Lucknow and a mere two and a half kms from the Cantonment. At least one if not more members of the families in the village cycle to Lucknow every day for work. But no one knew of Lalit Modi or the two ladies. So only Mr Goswami can define his concept of a nation.

What they want to know when Modi will fulfil his promises. Can Arnab   remind his nation that barely 15 months back, the economy was on the skids. Growth had slipped to 5 per cent and inflation was running at more than 10 per cent. Although the then finance minister, P. Chidambaram, had successfully clamped the brakes and the fiscal and current account deficit numbers were trending in the right direction, the finances of the government were not robust.

The corporate sector was also moribund. Public and private investment had slowed from around 36 per cent of GDP in 2010 to below 30 per cent, and the incremental capital output ratio (a measure of efficiency) had increased from 4:5 to over 6. The latter was because of poor infrastructure, rising input costs, bureaucratic paralysis and the disconnect between political and economic governance. The national mood was despondent.

A year into the new government, no one can claim that all is well but     most will admit that the damage has been substantially repaired. Food inflation has been brought under control; the quality of expenditure has improved; coal production is now showing double-digit growth; several projects have been unclogged from the maze of bureaucracy; and there is renewed vigour in public sector investment, especially for the railways. Also, many good ideas conceptualised by the previous government but not implemented, like the goods and services tax and the direct benefit transfer, remain firmly on the policy anvil.

‘The question is whether the government will be able to continue with this repair job and place the economy back on the high-growth trajectory. Will it be able to garner the political support to take the next steps? This question needs to be asked because the economic imperatives to keep moving are huge.

‘There are the systemic problems of unemployment, poor quality education, mismatched skills, inadequate health facilities and crummy infrastructure. But over and above that there is the issue of undercapitalised public sector banks, tepid credit offtake and a still cautious private sector. Credit rating agency Moody’s has once again raised a flag of forewarning. A policy stall at this stage could reverse the gains made in the past year and foreclose an early return to sustained growth.

‘Against this economic backdrop, the media should reflect on whether, in its single-minded drive to maximise TRPs, it is in fact subserving the hopes of the millions who voted for a change of government. The intellectuals in the media, some of whom enjoyed VVIP stature, should realise their golden days are over and for their own good they should stay on this side of the line and not arrogate to itself the role of judge and jury of proper political conduct.

If for some moments they repress their hate for Modi and go through the schemes he has launched and how many amongst them would start showing results. They will realise that Modi is in for a long haul.

In summing up I would like to highlight the greatest change in the mindset in the people about a girl child. Modi started the campaign to save girl child. It has started to affect in Haryana where the sex ratio has been worst. In one village, now the birth of a girl child is celebrated by planting 22 trees and cash award.

Then as Santosh Desai has in is Times of India blog has written in SelfieWithDaughter: A new template for social change? SelfiewithDaughter might have not started out as a political move, but inevitably whenever PM Modi gets involved in anything, things turn political. This is perhaps to be expected, not just because the PM is a figure that invites both unstinted admiration as well as intense dislike, but because it is in the nature of things anywhere in the world — politicians make things political. But it may be worthwhile to step back a little from politics, and look at the initiative with a more innocent eye, for it is possible that we might see something of greater significance at work here. ‘The problem with any entrenched social problem is that an attitudinal wall is hit at some stage. In most cases, the dreaded question of how to ‘change mindsets’ pops up sooner or later.

‘This is where the #SelfiewithDaughter initiative shows us a way in its own modest way. Tackling attitudes that are part of a complex social construct like gender is therefore exceedingly difficult, for the patriarchal system is self-protecting and self-perpetuating.

But as in this case, within any dominant reality there are signs of change. A new idea or behavior takes birth and begins to build its own little network of support often drawing sustenance from the world outside.

Change that is already happening, whatever its scale might be, gives us the strongest clues to the change that is possible and therefore needs to be harnessed.

#SelfiewithDaughter represents a new strand in the imagination of mainstream India. It frames the girl child through the lens of pride and love, and invites others to find the same the same emotion in their own hearts. Without making any pious declarations, it emits an implicit commitment. It begins to make avowals of gender-neutrality more real by locating these in everyday life.

Loving one’s child is presented as a parental impulse rather than a duty towards the state. It is the natural thing to do, not merely the right thing to do. Does it as some have suggested, implicitly reinforce paternalistic attitudes? Paromita Vohra, writing in this newspaper puts it very well “the #Selfiewithdaughters campaign offered people- many of them men- a means of curating an image of themselves as benevolent and progressive while concealing their resistance to altering the status-quo, the structures and attitudes that will create a genuinely, vibrantly equal society”. As a description of what might be at work, it is easy to agree with the substance of this argument, but is this really the critique it is perhaps meant to be?

It boils down to how change is imagined in the first place–racism does not disappear overnight, but gradually downright discriminatory practices are first driven underground, then substantially diminished, gradually the mindset begins to change. Social change is inevitably a journey that navigates degrees of imperfection, descending down hierarchies of discrimination, often in a non-linear way. Gradually, things get less worse in more and more ways–mindsets change on their terms and do not follow a prescribed ‘perfect’ script. The #SelfiewithDaughter campaign offers a new template in social action that needs to be encouraged, regardless of who supports it.

One can be sure that such successes will come in other projects, particularly in smart cities, for which South Korea has given huge aid, the village adoption scheme, the historic universal Social Security schemes for all Indians such as Bima yojana, Jan Dhan yojana, Rs 20000-crore Mudra scheme. These schemes are bound to not only succeed but will win many people across all ages, social hierarchy, like in 2014 election. Intellectuals and liberals would risk it all if they think Modi is a one-term word. They should show some embarrassment for the wrong assessment of Modi.

Modi is a tough customer to deal with. He has long term objectives which include winning the next election. And for that he has plans to make his schemes delivering from 2016.

By vijay dutt

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