The stunning margin of victory for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was rightly seen as the personal triumph of Narendra Modi, the darling of the masses and torchbearer of aspirational India. Subsumed in the applause were the game-changing contribution of the dubious Balakot strike and the recurrent theme of nationalism that were exploited brilliantly by the ultimate showman to smother the widespread pain caused by the blunders of the government, particularly in relation to the economy. In the event, irrespective of the catastrophic missteps during the previous five years, on 23rd May, 2019, Modi had India at his feet, indubitably the most powerful PM ever.
The sweeping victory was a godsend for a man who has been neurotic about his place in history. It presented him the golden opportunity to redress the costly mistakes of the past and honour his promise of making India a 5 trillion-dollar economy and a haven of peace and prosperity for all citizens.
The task was formidable as it required a complete reboot of intent and strategy. First of all, Modi needed to repair the tattered social fabric by reaching out to the minorities and treating them with respect as equal citizens. There was urgent need to focus wholeheartedly on reviving the economy by inducting experts and engaging in wide consultations even across the aisle. Externally, he would also have to mend fences with Pakistan as peace is essential for progress. As a matter of fact, before the election results, the PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan had expressed the view that the best chance for peace between the two countries was for Modi to be re-elected PM.
Modi was clearly aware of the challenges ahead and what needed to be done. His refurbished inspirational slogan – sabka saath sabka vikas sabka vishwas – encapsulated an overarching vision of solidarity, trust and cohesive progress. So beguiled were the minorities by this message of togetherness and brotherhood that some Muslims named their new-born children “Narendra”. But as the Roman historian, Livy observed; “A fraudulent intent, however carefully concealed at the outset, will generally, in the end, betray itself.” Further, cunning, arrogance and bad intent are no substitute for statesmanship.
Hubris at winning an unprecedented mandate drove Modi to take reckless decisions that will haunt this country for a long time. Barely two months into his new tenure, he decided to revoke the special status of limited autonomy granted under Article 370 to J&K State. At a time when Kashmir was our country’s most troubled and conflicted spot, he carpet-bombed the place through abrogation of Article 370. As a result, today almost every Kashmiri Muslim (Muslims are 97 percent of the population in the valley) is against the Union of India. Far from solving the problem, Modi’s intemperate move has created an indigenous Mini-Palestine in Kashmir. The endless strife in the Valley will inevitably adversely impact communal relations on the mainland.
If that was not enough to fill Muslims with dread about the future, Modi rubbed their noses in the mud with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which is the desi version of the Jim Crow laws. Modi has clearly decided that targeting Muslims and keeping the communal pot boiling are the way to go!
Attacking Pakistan and targeting Muslims have been the magic potion that has helped Modi attain and retain power. But drunk with power, he and his acolytes lost their heads completely and crossed the red line in foreign relations. His Home Minister announced in Parliament that he was willing to lay down his life to regain not only our territories under the control of Pakistan but also Aksai Chin presently with China. Earlier, the CDS, General Rawat had mindlessly announced that we were prepared to fight on two-and-a-half fronts. These bellicose statements will be remembered not for their stupidity alone but for severely compromising our national security by needlessly provoking China and uniting China and Pakistan against India. With tiny Nepal looking northwards and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh financially beholden to China, we are today more insecure in our neighbourhood than ever before.
Andrew Carnegie reminds us that no man can make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it. There cannot be a better description of Modi as a leader. He crippled the country’s economy with demonetisation, which was a personal initiative that even his Finance Minister knew nothing about. Incorrigible as ever, Modi decided on the three Farm Laws without the elementary precaution of consulting the main stakeholders, the farmers. The Laws were hustled through Parliament without any discussion, and are now the law of the land. Driven to the wall by a deaf Government, the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and UP. have been protesting on the outskirts of Delhi since November 2020, demanding withdrawal of the Laws. The government obstinately refuses to budge, nor do the farmers who have endured immense suffering and hardship. More than a hundred farmers have died due to the oppressive conditions at the protest sites.
By his intransigent stance and refusal to feel their pain, Modi has forfeited the trust of the largest professional group in the country. There is little doubt that the BJP’s poor performance in the recent UP Panchayat elections were a blowback from the unpopular farm laws. Equally significant, the entire Sikh community, which is engaged primarily in agriculture, has turned its back on the BJP. That’s a heavy price to pay for one man’s arrogance and hubris. Modi’s fan base is diminishing by the day!
With things going badly on other fronts, Modi and his coterie decided to give their all to winning the Assembly elections in West Bengal. What we witnessed was a no-holds -barred election supervised by an Election Commission that played the role of BJP’s acolyte to the hilt.
It is estimated that the BJP spent Rs 2500 crores on the election. The BJP IT cell shifted base to Kolkata to orchestrate an all-out social media war of fake news, half-truths, bigotry and propaganda. During the prolonged election campaign, every luminary of the BJP was roped in for campaigning, with Modi leading the charge. The entire repertoire of tricks from lewd catcalls, cash for defections, cash for votes, communal polarisation to intimidation through misuse of enforcement agencies, was unleashed. But it all boomeranged! The people of Bengal rejected this sinister, divisive brand of politics, handing Mamata Didi an overwhelming mandate and, in the bargain, severely smudging Modi’s image. The 56-inch chest has certainly contracted after the humiliating defeat. He has reason to fear that what Bengal does today, India will do tomorrow. Seen in tandem with the dismal showing of the BJP in the southern states, the Saffron party has much to worry about.
There is a profound saying in the Bible that where there is no vision, people perish! The most horrifying calamity ever, with people dying by the thousands every day, is the direct consequence of a criminal failure of leadership. The deadly Corona virus was first detected in January 2020, around the same period when this disease hit most other countries. Tragically, when even the worst-hit countries including the USA are well on the road to recovery, we have descended into a hellhole of untold death and suffering.
When there was a fortuitous pause in the intensity of Covid- 19 infections between December 2020 and February 2021, Modi was all over the place taking fulsome credit for himself. Modi’s address at the World Economic Forum meeting in March 2021 is the most egregious example of a preening leader deliberately mangling the truth of a humongous tragedy in order to promote himself. He disingenuously told the world that while the experts forecast a tsunami of two million deaths and many more million infections, India beat the heavy odds by proactively beefing up Covid-specific health infrastructure, intensifying testing and tracing, and by successful human resource training. He went on to add that India was among the nations that had successfully beaten the virus.
Modi’s vainglorious remarks were made in March when the experts had warned that there would be a second wave of greater magnitude, a dire warning that was ignored as it did not suit his plans. His government is guilty of endangering the lives of millions by actively encouraging a pilgrim-packed Kumbh Mela and holding elections in five States, four of which had non-BJP governments. We are now living through an inferno fanned by a man totally obsessed with consolidating power even amidst cataclysmic loss of life. Every Indian must listen to that Davos speech, the archetypal example of a leader full of himself, uncaring of the life-threatening crisis facing the country.
It is a truism that a man is known by the company he keeps. During this grave humanitarian crisis, Modi’s camp followers have exposed their callous hare-brained, and unscientific world view. The RSS leader, Ram Bhagwat’s solicitous message to those grieving their dead was that they should find solace in the realization that the dead have attained moksha. A BJP MP has publicly espoused cow urine as a cure for Covid-19. A former CM of Uttarakhand has stated that even the Corona virus has a right to live. Baba Ramdev who trashed allopathy, calling it a “stupid science”, has received the endorsement of the Union Health Minister for peddling his Ayurveda products as a cure for Covid-19.
The distinctive hallmark of the Modi 2 Government has been the brazen subversion of democratic norms. In the earlier stint too, there was unrelenting victimisation of dissenters and perceived enemies but the tactics then were much more subtle and discriminating in execution. Now, the pretence of observing democratic niceties has been dropped altogether. Draconian laws like the NSA, the UAPA and Section 124-A of the IPC are being used indiscriminately to stifle dissent.
Although the world knows the truth, the peaceful anti-CAA protesters were portrayed as part of the “Urban Naxal-Jihadi” network propagating armed rebellion and secession. Many of these idealistic young people languish in jail for exercising their democratic right to protest against injustice. Following the drubbing in the Bengal election and the obloquy attached to Modi as the horror of the pandemic unravels, the Government has gone berserk in an all-out war of attrition against the perceived enemies of the State. A few days after the Bengal results were declared, the CBI arrested four senior TMC leaders including two ministers in the 2017 Narada scam, while taking no action against two defectors to the BJP who face similar charges. Over a dozen people have been arrested for putting up a poster criticising Modi over the shortage of vaccines. The “Twitter” offices in Delhi were raided after the social media platform had tagged a fraudulent message of the BJP spokesperson as “manipulated”. Seeing the intemperate actions of this Government, one is reminded of the proverb that “those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”
The choice before the voters in 2024 is stark: Do they want a constitutional democratic system or do they prefer authoritarian, majoritarian rule?
(The writer is a retired civil servant)