Narendra Modi is a leader who can make a spectacle of anything and everything. Anyone who visits Delhi would be astonished by the preparations being made for the G-20 Summit. Statues of ferocious lions, not necessarily from the Gir forests in Gujarat, have been set up at strategic points in the city. And so are fountains!
There are thousands of colourful hoardings, billboards and signboards that celebrate Modi’s leadership of G-20. I thought the publicity blitzkrieg was limited to the national Capital. When I travelled recently in Gujarat, I realised that the state, too, was in the grip of the G-20 madness. Readers of this journal in other states can vouchsafe for the situation there.
India has in the past hosted the summit meetings of the non-aligned movement and the Commonwealth of nations but this kind of hullabaloo was never witnessed. It has also hosted sporting events like the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
The spokespersons of the government and the ruling party give the impression that Modi’s leadership of the G-20 is yet another feather in his cap. The fact of the matter is that the summit, to be held in Delhi in December, is the 18th.
In fact, India was to hold the summit in 2021 but Modi cleverly passed on the baton to Italy. India should, therefore, have held the summit in 2022 but Modi had the political foresight to persuade Indonesia to hold it that year. He took over the leadership from Indonesia.
By making the summit in Delhi in December a gala affair, he is hopeful of reaping the benefits of it in the parliamentary elections due a few months later in India. He wants to win the hearts of not just the heads of the 20 nations but the voters of India.
By now everybody knows that Modi is nothing if he is not a showman. He has been promoting the Gujarat model all over the country. This week when the Gujarat education board released the results of the board examination, 157 schools recorded zero percentage pass.
I realised how farcical the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was when I took a photograph of thousands of fishing and other boats confiscated by the police, just two kilometres from the famous Somanath temple. The place was so stinking that I feared that I might lose balance.
I also saw that the Statue of Unity, on which Rs 3500 crore was spent, was not getting even 10 percent of the expected footfall. When I talked to one of those involved in the construction of the world’s largest statue, I was told that it would take at least 40-50 years to recover the cost of construction.
The hotels and restaurants in the area are either closed or are perpetually waiting for their first customers. The investors all seem to have been deceived by the hype created by Modi whose personal dream was to build Sardar Patel’s statue.
It is a different matter that when the Sardar Patel stadium at Motera in Ahmedabad was recently refurbished and re-inaugurated by the then President, Ramnath Kovind, it was renamed after Narendra Modi.
So much for his affinity towards Patel, who was born a Congressman, lived a Congressman and died a Congressman. He also had the honour of banning the RSS and asking M.S. Golwalkar to produce and submit a copy of the RSS’s constitution, as a first step to lift the ban.
One can go on and on about the rhetorician that Modi is. Such comments are anecdotal and have little academic value. They are as easily forgotten as they are read. Parakala Prabhakar’s book The Crooked Timber of New India: Essays on a Republic in Crisis (Speaking Tiger, Rs 490) says almost the same about Modi but with robust facts and figures.
The title of the book is based on German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s line, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made”. To introduce the author as the husband of Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman is to do a disservice to him, as he is a scholar, economist, data analyst, independent thinker and columnist.
The book is actually an anthology of essays and articles written for various publications during the last two years. After reading one of his pieces, a friend told him about two possibilities he foresaw. 1. The government of India would take his views seriously and act upon them and 2. The government would put him behind bars.
Prabhakar is not sure whether he said this seriously or in jest because it was accompanied by laughter. Having read the book, I am certain that there is a greater chance of him going to jail than being toasted for his views.
By the way, jail is not new to Prabhakar, as he was one of the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University who was arrested and dumped in Tihar Jail when they protested against the transfer of a fellow student, Jaleel Ahmed, from Jhelum Hostel on disciplinary grounds.
His father was arrested under the Defence of India rules during the Quit India Movement when the RSS was decidedly on the side of the British as it believed that consolidation of Hindus was far more important than fighting the alien rulers.
Prabhakar has been watching the evolution of Modi ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014. He has been using his speeches from the ramparts of the Red Fort as a point of reference to sift the man from the rhetoric. He fought the elections without mentioning “Miya Musharraf or James Michael Lyngdow”.
In fact, Modi said that nothing mattered to him more than development. He said he did not view the country through the prism of either caste or creed. His appeal for vote evoked a good response and he became the Prime Minister.
While delivering his first Independence Day message, "he called himself not Pradhan Mantri but Pradhan Sevak (the prime servant). He did not look for enemies and scapegoats in his predecessors. He gave credit to all of them — in fact, to every state and its leadership, as well — for the progress that India has achieved until then.
“Let me recall for you the English rendering of that speech. He said, [Today,] if we have reached this far after Independence, it is because of the contribution of all the prime ministers, all the governments and even the governments of all the states.
“I want to express my feelings of respect and gratitude to all the previous governments and ex-prime ministers who have endeavoured to take India to such heights and who have added to the country’s glory. We don't believe in moving forward only by virtue of majority. We want to move ahead on the basis of strong consensus”.
Who could have found fault with a Prime Minister who gave credit where it was due? In his first speech, he also admitted that he was a little sceptical when he came to Delhi but having seen the situation in Delhi, he was confident about ruling the country.
Today, nine years after Modi came to power, there is no reference to the past except in the context of rewriting history. He and his supporters seem to believe that India’s real independence did not happen in 1947 but in 2014 when Modi came to power.
On Sunday, he will inaugurate a state-of-the-art Parliament House when the old one has not even completed a century. The Parliament of Iceland is the oldest. The British Parliament is considered the mother of all Parliaments. It is also the most prestigious because it enjoys power.
The Indian Parliament is no longer representative. Prabhakar finds it curious that the BJP does not have a single Muslim among its MPs and, consequently, in the Cabinet. The BJP did not field a single Muslim in UP where Muslims account for 20 percent of the population.
In fact, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath rhetorically referred to the election as a fight between 80 percent and 20 percent, meaning Hindus and Muslims. He should have been castigated by the Election Commission for his outlandish statement.
The importance Modi gives to Parliament is obvious from the fact, as pointed out by Prabhakar, that it took less than 10 days to enact the farm laws which are of such “far-reaching consequences, and which concerned the security and livelihoods of tens of crores of Indian citizens”.
The new Parliament building will have large lounges where the members can sip coffee or tea and marvel at the concrete monster built as part of the Central vista project with a capital outlay of Rs 20,000 crore.
Modi wants to dazzle the world. Since he closed down the Planning Commission and set up the National Institution for Transforming India — NITI Ayog — nobody knows what work the latter has done.
Modi has announced several schemes, the names of which were seemingly coined by smart adolescent copy writers: Skill India, Make in India, Stand up India, Start-up India, Digital India, Swacch Bharat, Smart Cities, Bullet Trains, Khelo India, Jan Dhan Yojana, Atmanirbhar Bharat, PRASAD, Beti Padhao-Beti Bachao, Namami Gange, Doubling of Farmers’ Income, Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikaas, Sab Ka Prayas, Sab Ka Viswas, Har Ghar Tiranga, Amrit Kaal. The list is long.
They are launched with fanfare and then forgotten. Take the case of the Beti Padhao-Beti Bachao scheme launched by Modi in 2015. “A Parliamentary standing committee report revealed that between 2016 and 2019, 79 percent of the funds released went only into media advocacy”, obviously, with Modi’s pictures.
Modi no longer talks about sabka vikas. Instead, he introduces citizenship laws that exclude Muslims. He goes to churches to seek votes but keeps mum when over 35,000 Christians are ethnically cleansed from Imphal in Manipur.
Prabhakar exposes the extent to which Modi went to publicise the one billionth jab in the wake of the coronavirus. He tried to hide the fact that not even 25 per cent of the population was vaccinated against the Coronavirus.
When the US announced a stimulus package worth over $1 trillion in the wake of Covid-19, Modi encouraged people to clang their vessels from the balconies of their houses and switch off all electric lights to light diyas. He did nothing to help the people who walked hundreds of kilometres to reach their villages in the wake of the thoughtless lockdown he imposed. He was silent when bodies began to float in the Ganga!
He is yet to apologise for his senseless demonetisation that reduced the citizens to virtual beggars queuing up before banks and ATMs. On all indices of growth, the country has taken a beating during the nine years of his rule. The author lists them.
Prabhakar is not wide of the mark when he blames “mainstream” political parties for giving respectability to the BJP. Today the BJP is led by the semi-literate. There was a time when the Jan Sangh was led by able persons like SP Mukherjee and Balraj Madhok. The atmosphere was also conducive as many Hindus were angry over the Partition.
Yet, it failed to click with the masses as secularism, as represented by Gandhi and Nehru, had greater appeal. Over the years, mainstream and regional parties gave respectability to the Sangh Parivar, assiduously working behind the scenes. They forgot what Shakespeare had said, “he who supps with the Devil should have a long spoon’.
Its literal meaning is that if you get involved with the Devil you should have the means of keeping your distance. Metaphorically, eating with the Devil is dangerous and you should do it with a long spoon so that you don’t get too close.
Today nobody speaks about the NDA of which the BJP was a constituent. It is now only “Modi Modi”. Such parties have been used like how curry leaves are used in south Indian cuisine. One should not forget that Stan Swamy was detained and “killed” in custody under the UAPA, which was drafted originally by the Congress and tightened later by the BJP.
It is the BJP’s hate agenda that wins. With just 37 percent votes, it has a huge majority in Parliament. It can be defeated if the people vote like in Karnataka.
At present the situation is like what Nina Poblezova, a Muscovite, said about Stalin: “He stands on the balcony and he lies. Everyone claps, but everyone knows he lies, and he knows we know. But he continues spewing lies, and he’s happy that everyone is applauding him”.