Saturday, November 17, 2012

India's NAMO dilemma

By Swapan Dasgupta

I don’t know if ‘secular’ mothers have acquired the habit of threatening their brats with the approaching presence of Narendra Modi if violate their bedtime curfew, but recent events would certainly indicate that the Gujarat Chief Minister is fast acquiring the status of a juju man—the political reincarnation of Dr No, Goldfinger and Mogambo, all rolled into one. His hidden hand has been detected behind every “conspiracy”, real or imaginary. Last week, he was charged by a venerable ideologue of the RSS of being the mastermind behind the plot to get rid of BJP President Nitin Gadkari—an accusation which, ironically, makes the media (which did a lot of legwork chasing the story) his pliant instrument. Six years ago, it was whispered that he had placed hidden cameras to expose the spurious claims of celibacy of a leading BJP functionary. Indeed, so intense is the Modi-phobia that Samajwadi Party expelled a former MP because he had interviewed the CM for an Urdu publication.  

The irony is that the ever-growing obsession with the Modi peril coexists happily with what every TV Breaking News periodically proclaims is yet another “Big blow to Modi”. This mindless template touched such absurd heights that impish sections of the social media began prefacing every seemingly sombre assertion with “In a big blow to Modi…”

Flippancy apart, there is little doubt that in the troubled India of today, Modi has become the main talking point of everyone concerned with the future of the country. From diplomatic parties and investor conferences to humble tea shop gatherings, Modi invariably intrudes into conversations. To his many detractors, particularly in the liberal intelligentsia, he is the personification of authoritarian evil. Such a man, we are repeatedly assured, can never reach the top because India abhors certitudes. To his fans—and they are very vocal on social media—NAMO is what India needs to realise its true potential and achieve greatness.

If it comes to finally making up its mind, India has a democratic way of conflict resolution: through elections. However, clarity is possible if a clear choice is presented to voters. The curious feature of the games being played out in the BJP and elsewhere is that they are carefully aimed at blurring the political options before the electorate. The pundits have proffered arguments about the pitfalls of coalition politics, the regionalisation of national elections and, above all, of the Hindu celebration of ambiguities. Within the saffron parivar there are said to be misgivings over an emerging personality cult and preference for a collective leadership that gives space and power to faceless apparatchiks with pious pretensions and strange ringtones.

At one time, the preferred argument against Modi lay in the poser: what will the world say? Of late, however, there is greater appreciation of the fact that for the West there are no permanent friends and permanent enemies, just oodles of self-interest.

Yet, there are two hurdles that remain to be crossed before India can get over this needlessly prolonged foreplay and confront the ‘Modi question’ head on. The first is the verdict of Gujarat in the Assembly election. Modi must win conclusively if he is to embark on a national journey. The second is the endorsement by the BJP. Here what will count is the momentum Modi is able to generate after the Gujarat results. If the BJP’s foot soldiers repose confidence in him as the best bet against the Congress, the resistance of Dad’s Army will be of little avail.  

It is hazardous to look into the future. Yet what can be said with certainty is that Modi will add a riveting dimension to the general election.  First, he will threaten a cosy, chalta hai consensus that has infected all walks of public life. His will, in effect, be an assault on the degenerate Brahmanical system of slipperiness. Secondly, he will personify the raw energy of an India that thinks big and wants to achieve big. There will be nothing mealy-mouthed about a Modi charge on privilege, cronyism and the status quo. He will offer decisive choices that could unsettle the faint hearted.

How India responds will tell us a lot about ourselves. 

Sunday Times of India, November 18, 2012

No comments: