Long before words such as " populism" and " majoritarianism" started dominating public discourse Mark Twain had written: " Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." Today, after what happened in the Maharashtra Assembly yesterday, I am inclined to follow his advice seriously.
In July 2013 when Mr. Modi was still the rank outsider in the electoral sweepstakes and was being reviled by the press and the intellectualatti I had written a piece in these columns- WHY I SHALL SUPPORT MODI IN 2014- laying out the reasons why the country needed him as Prime Minister. Today, he is not only the Prime Minister but also the flavour of the season, sweeping state after state, adulated by frenzied crowds, and fawned upon by the same people who had earlier cosied up to the Gandhis and the Chidambarams. It appears he can do no wrong. And, mindful of Mark Twain's words, I am worried and inclined to do some deep reflection.
I have not changed my opinion that Mr. Modi is what India needs to pull us out of the morass of the last ten years. He has the vision, energy, commitment and resolution to extract the country out of the quagmire of corruption. cronyism, indecisiveness, breakdown of systems and values that we had become entrapped in. But I still worry.
There are indications-straws in the wind as yet, but they tell us which way the wind is blowing- that Mr. Modi is becoming too powerful and uncaring of the few sane voices stifled in the roar of the hosannas. Consider some of these straws:
Far too many senior appointments to government are being made of persons associated with the Vivekananda Foundation, a right wing forum with links to the RSS. I will not name them because those who follow public affairs seriously know who they are.
An obscurantist historian trapped in the vedic age, who is unknown even to students of history, is made head of ICHR ( Indian Council of Historical Research) inspite of across the board protests by his peers.
A man whose life mission is to burn books and propagate a version of history that mocks all scientific progress, Mr. Dinanath Batra, is made Advisor to the Education Department of Haryana and his books prescribed as text in 35000 schools in Gujarat,
An avowed Hindu hard liner who had advised opponents of Mr. Modi ( read Muslim) to go to Pakistan and in whose house ten million rupees of unexplained cash was found is made a Minister in the Centre.
Delhi is denied an elected government for ten months and the local BJP cadre given a free hand to purchase MLAs; it is only when the Supreme Court steps in that a thoroughly compromised Lieutenant Governor orders re-elections.
Unexplained communal riots break out in Trilokpuri, Bawana, Babarpur and Okhla-all sensitive areas of Delhi- when it becomes clear that elections are inevitable. The signature on them is obvious. No action is taken against party loyalists who spew poison against minority communities or saffron clad hooligans who attack couples for holding hands or dining together in restaurants.
Hindu supremacy is being reasserted against Pakistan through the doctrine of " disproportionate response" which now appears to have replaced the Gujral doctrine of peaceful engagement with neighbours. Yes, Pakistan had to be taught a lesson for its continual violations of the cease-fire and the ten thousand shells fired by the BSF have effectively conveyed this message. The Pakistan army has learnt its lesson. Shouldn't the victor now be gracious and take the first step towards restoring normalcy again? Or is this about Hindu supremacy over Muslims again: if so, what message does this convey to the 200 million Muslims in India?
And finally Maharashtra. The vote of confidence in its Assembly yesterday has shamed the nation and set a new benchmark for chicanery and electoral fraud. For the first time in the history of this democracy, we are told, a minority government has established its " legitimacy" by a voice vote and not by a proper process based on Division. This, after committing an even bigger fraud on the voter who elected it- viz. by allying with the party( NCP) against whose corrupt govt. it had asked for the votes!
These instances make me reflect and suggest to me that the BJP and Mr. Modi are perhaps becoming too imperious and over-bearing with the power they are rapidly acquiring. The issue of concern is not that of a mere appointment or two or of a riot here or there. It is of a trend that appears to be emerging- of a sustained domination of one community, of ramming down the throats of a nation a flawed concept of Hindu values and history, of Mr. Modi himself donning his personal cloak of integrity and high morals while allowing his party to shred ethics and morality to bits( how does that make him any different from Mr. Manmohan Singh then, you may well ask), of playing Russian roulette with two unstable neighbours( don't forget Afghanistan). Its an ill wind that blows no good and the BJP is fanning it.
We need Mr. Modi, if not the BJP. We need his initiatives in liberalising the economy and manufacturing, in foreign relations, in financial inclusion, in strengthening our defence forces, in rebuilding our failing infrastructure. What we don't need is a return to the vedic ages, to attempts to re-write history, to packing the higher bureaucracy with persons of a particular ideology, to an unleashing of the dogs of war, to criminal and mercenary politics, to handing over the streets to dogmatist and sectarian bigots.
What we need most of all is a Mr. Modi who is responsive to public opinion, even though it may be that of a minority, a Mr. Modi who respects a contrary point of view, a Mr. Modi who does not consider the press his eternal foe, to be treated with accumulated contempt as a form of vengeance for years of baiting. So far he has not displayed these qualities- he talks, but he does not converse, or respond or answer, and this is not healthy for any democracy.
The crux of the problem is that Mr. Modi has no opposition worth the name, and consequently the hubris is building up in his system and, like the hero in a Greek tragedy, he is moving towards his denouement. But this is far more serious than a Greek tragedy, for when( in a metaphorical sense) he falls he will not fall alone but will take the entire nation with him. Mr. Modi is here to stay and the only force which can persuade him to do a course correction is a strong opposition. The entire universe survives on a balance of forces: every yang needs a ying, a thesis an anti-thesis, a point a counter-point. This critical balance is even more crucial for nations and somehow our present political dispensation must find this.
We need Mr. Modi but we also need a strong opposition in Parliament and other parties in power in some critical states. I hope voters of Delhi will bear this in mind in the days to come. This of course is free advice, but as Oscar Wilde said: " The best thing to do with free advice is to pass it on!"