Modi is probably the only “popular” politician who people love to hate without too many “good” arguments backing their stance. Liberal intellectuals in India just don’t seem to want to recognise that not everyone who sees potential in Modi is either a Trishul-wielding fanatic or a khaki shorts-wearing fascist. Of course, it is not at all unusual for intellectuals (who live in the free world) to express views on politics and in most democracies such interventions tend to be more constructive. But in India, when it comes to Modi, it becomes plain lazy and cynical publicity hunting, to target and mob him as a person without actually expressing appreciation for any of his individual achievements in his entire political career or in his party´s. Modi-bashing is easier to do than having the honesty and parity to actually analyse the choices he has made over the years.
In India´s political polemics, those supporting Modi are called “bhakts” by Modi’s critics and those demonising Modi are labelled as “anti-nationals” by Modi’s supporters and this name-calling has been quite unequal with Modi’s critics dominating India’s intellectual elite and media. Interestingly, a good section of the anti-Modi brigade is not necessarily non-Hindu per se. They are very much Hindus and are the ones who believe that secularism necessarily and most definitively means being antagonistic against all things Hindu. These are men and women who would not dare to opine or write for that matter against the cleansing of the Kashmiri Pundits or of Pakistan obliterating all things Hindu or any country that persecutes Hindus. These are men and women who will point all their arms and ammunitions against a successful Hindu, as if utterly “ashamed” of their own identities as one and will go on to support anything and everything which has a anti-Hindu stance in a desperate attempt to cleanse their affiliations. Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum as well, the overtly boisterous self-proclaiming Hindu who beats his chest and claims Modi to be the new Avatar and the God of Gods and this logic must most certainly be laughed at as well. There is neither a need to blindly support Modi nor make Modi-bashing an OCD, for there appears to me enough logical reasons to self-restrain the hyper-puerile Modi-bashing and objectively analyse, appreciate or criticise his qualities and achievements instead in a non-biased intellectual manner.
It is imperative to ask – What is it about Narendra Modi then, that comfortably places him in favour of the public? How has a man who was once embroiled in the 2002 Gujarat riots and paired with words like “mass-murderer” and “fascist”, been able to rebrand himself as the great-messiah who would take India forward ? The answer to that becomes apparent only if one analyses how this ordinary chai-wala has industriously crafted his image. Modi seems to have meticulously worked hard on building his glorified image and appears to work even harder to maintain it. He skillfully maneuvers every narrative that revolves around him and revels in it and strategically chooses his battles and his interviews. In comparison to his predecessor Manmohan Singh, who gave many interviews while holding office, Modi has given only three public interviews to the Indian media as he crosses the halfway mark in office. Although Modi had himself attacked Manmohan Singh calling him a “Maun-mohan Singh”, he himself has often taken the safe route, by choosing to remain silent or rarely saying much on controversial or provocative issues irrespective of how hard his opponents have tried to provoke him. Coupled with this self-restraint to provocation, Modi has masterfully used his oratorial skills and deliberately avoided being a discussant. He avoids national broadcast interviews – interviews that would pick his brain and put him in a spot, instead addressing the masses in Mann ki Baat, speaking to a young crowd gathered to attend a Coldplay concert via live-streaming etc, all ensuring a one-way narrative. It’s where he highlights his achievements, draws out a blueprint of what he intends to do, or pleads for support. It’s a one-way streaming of information given to the public, where there is no one to question him or ask him to explain things further. And that helps him to retain control of his narrative. It’s the same narrative that has been pushed and extended to the realm of demonetization today.
In India today, the perception among the proletariat is that those who are for demonetisation are “honest”, while the nay-sayers are “anti-national”. The dissenters are potential hoarders of black money, a coterie of people he intends to dismantle. However, regardless of the tough circumstances demonetisation has birthed – the insufficient circulation of new notes, the snaking bank lines, the losses faced by small-sectors and the agricultural sector, families being unable to afford weddings, the deaths – despite all this, the move seems exceptionally popular. Modi knew all along that if there was one thing that united people, particularly the lower class, it was their disgust for corruption – their disgust for the wealthy with their fat bank accounts, the corrupt government officials who demanded extra money to get a job done, the sly cops who’d ask for under-handed bribes and he cashed in on it efficiently. Even as the opposition targeted the government on demonetisation, there was no unanimity in the demands of opposition parties. The Aam Aadmi Party and the Trinamool Congress demanded a rollback of demonetisation while the Communist Party of India-Marxist said that old notes should be allowed till the crash crunch was over. Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as also Biju Janata Dal leader and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik welcomed demonetisation. The Left parties, JD-U, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Nationalist Congress Party did not attend a meeting called by the Congress to target the Prime Minister over demonetisation and the Birla and Sahara papers. It is unlikely that India has ever seen a political leader or will see one in the future who could have pushed through such a controversial policy (be it good or bad, lets reserve that judgement for later) with such exceptional maneavouring skills.
Amidst all this frenzy of Modi-bashing, this very chai-wala Prime Minister has been ranked among the top 10 most powerful people in the world by Forbes – 9th on the Forbes list of 74 of the World’s Most Powerful People !!. According to a survey recently released by the Pew Research Center, public confidence in Modi remains high. Pew conducted interviews of 2,464 randomly selected adults in 15 states and in New Delhi, India’s capital, who answered a host of questions on a variety of different topics ranging from Modi’s handling of the economy to India’s foreign policy. Pew’s poll found that more that 81% of Indians held a favorable view of Modi, down slightly from 87% last year. Public approval was not limited to just Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a good majority of respondents from the opposition Congress Party also held a favorable view of the Indian premier. Notably, Modi’s high approval rating has not diminished the popularity of the Congress Party with 65% of Indians viewing the opposition party and its leaders, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, favorably, according to the survey.
Modi continues to successfully hold his fort and his strategic popularity is partly the reason why the anti-Modi brigade is hell bent on rabidly and endlessly spurring the Modi-bashing project. Its one thing that a vast section of this society is behind Modi for all the right reasons, its another thing that a certain section cannot digest this – tell us gentlemen in detail about the merits of other political parties and politicians.