Narendra Modi’s election campaign has started revealing itself. His disdain for the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), rhetoric of good governance, the promise of a Hindu nationalist nation and the dream of superpower-dom combine to form quite a heady mix. The corporate world’s love for Modi, mirrored by the media’s adulation for him has boosted his campaign—a perception that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has chosen to celebrate.
This column is a look at Modi’s campaign and its consequences for politics in our country. Irrespective of where one stands with regard to Modi’s politics, it is evident that his presence has already started influencing the politics of other political parties such as the Congress and the Janata Dal (United). At the same time, in picking Modi as the face of their 2014 campaign, the BJP and their ideological guardians seem to have decided on an aggressive Hindu campaign. What is a Hindu campaign? Well, Modi is Hindu by birth and he is running a campaign, so by his own definition, he is running a Hindu campaign (Shahnawaz Hussain, on the other hand, must be running a Muslim campaign for BJP).
Besides the unsavoury language and the direct barbs that do not befit a prime ministerial candidate, what do we have to worry about? In other words, what are the consequences of Modi-fying our political discourse? Narendra Modi and his public relations machinery have established his governance credentials amongst the business community and amongst BJP party workers, lakhs of Twitter followers and his army of articulate educated middle-class Internet users. On current form, the Modi’s political opponents cannot realistically hope to compete with him on the good governance platform (not because they would be up against undeniable facts, but mainly because of the hyperbole surrounding him).
The immediate fallout of the Modi discourse is this: his opponents will fall back on myopic and destructive politics. On one extreme is the strategy of competitive appeasement and reckless populism. On the other is the choice to follow Modi and compete to appear more radical than one another. Either way, this will be the exact opposite of what the good governance brigade expects—the debate will move further and further away from governance, towards issues of identity.
As a direct consequence of the above, I fear that more and more of the currently neutral sections of the population will become more resentful and if pushed, over time, would tend to move towards a radical position in their personal lives. This is not a figment of my imagination. Take for example, the controversy over the Kerala state government cabinet composition in 2012 when the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) demanded a fifth berth in the state cabinet of 20 ministers. I saw for myself how a number of moderate middle-class Hindus made uneasy murmurs resentful of what they saw as blatant minority appeasement, through bowing down to pressure from a religion-affiliated political party.
The rise of Modi will also encourage the fringe radicals to assert themselves with greater vigour. We have seen cultural policing by myriad fringe radicals in Karnataka, the violence spread by Raj Thackeray’s party workers and those of Bal Thackeray, before him. Such radical groups tend to draw legitimacy from the rise to prominence of one of their kind and this form of cultural and religious intolerance certainly doesn’t augur well for our future.
Of course, these scenarios may not come true if Modi and BJP lose spectacularly in the 2014 elections. On the other hand, if Modi does come to power or comes close enough that he becomes a steady feature of the politics at the centre, what would be really important is that we ensure that our institutions that protect and promote the rights of all citizens are shored up and strengthened. Unfortunately, the UPA government’s handling of the Parliament, the national auditor, investigating agencies and even our police and internal security forces have left us with institutions that we can hardly trust. To that extent, we are vulnerable. However, as individuals, we all have a role to play—of remaining vigilant and not allowing the politics to affect our sense of equity and justice.