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Narendra Modi's coming has begun a new wave of activism and political engagement, that's good for India

Is it at all possible that the coming of Narendra Modi and the articulate and amplified polarisation we are witnessing could well outlast his reign as Prime Minister and raise India's 1.2 billion people to a new level of political awareness?

Writing in the Washington Post Writers Group, EJ Dionne uses much the same logic to dredge for comfort in the runaway Donald Trump presidency. His quote is startlingly close to what many Indians (and not just the intellectually privileged) are thinking if not saying.

"The Trump jolt has done more than force the country to a necessary reckoning. It has also called forth a wave of activism, organising and, perhaps most important, a new engagement by millions of Americans in politics at all levels."

You could just take this motif of intent and transfer it to India.

As Trump flings out senior aides like used tissues, Modi also displays impatience with the team. Getty Images

As Trump flings out senior aides like used tissues, Modi also displays impatience with the team. Getty Images

Courtesy the instant coffee texture of social platforms and the thousands of amateur bloggers having their own loyal readers, never has the field of opinion been so vast, varied and aggressive.

It has to be said the beginnings for these two democratically elected leaders were hugely different. Modi came in on a white horse, a messiah and a savior and a man of grand promise. Trump trotted in a dappled mule, his victory generating a shock wave even as it massaged the prejudices and peeves of middle America and the southern states.

But now, three years down the line, the Modi magic has slipped a little. Not so much through Modi's own acts of omission or commission but by the sheer force of events on public opinion sculpted by unemployment, rising prices, a confusing demonetisation and GST imposition and a racial and religious divide that has never been so introverted and harsh. In fact, the standard Hindu-Muslim communalism has taken a back seat.

Add to this, the BJP protectionism of chief ministers like Manohar Lal Khattar and Yogi Adityanath, the resurrection (albeit partially) by default of a Congress on life support, the fear in many states of lawlessness and a miasma of uncertainty over freedom of expression and the muzzling of the media have collectively generated a hostile front that attracts attention and is getting through to the masses.

When the parent organisation, as in the RSS, calls on the public to report police harassment of media by order of the BJP then one knows things are not sunny and happy in New Delhi. Foreign policy no longer engages the common man's attention. And the promises given are taken with a pinch of salt and sarcasm.

Trump has a far greater inimical relationship with media but the BJP is not too far behind in this regard. As Trump flings out senior aides like used tissues, Modi also displays impatience with the team. From January 2015 when Foreign Secretary Shujata Singh was dismissed there has been a steady flow of departures.

Recently, former Union finance minister P Chidambaram found himself a willing audience: "Where are jobs? Indirectly, government has admitted its failures. Minister for MSME Kalraj Mishra has been sacked, the skill development minister has been sacked, which means the skill development mission and creating jobs has failed. The labour minister has been sacked because your labour policies have failed," he said and got his media space.

With unemployment being fed by 30,000 new applicants daily the growing numbers of the disenchanted and their ripple effect will hit the BJP adversely. The multiple hikes in petrol prices have already caused deep dismay. All of this indicates extreme change in attitude to the edifice called governance. Confronted by the fragments of the status quo of the past people are now feeling vulnerable. In the USA and in India.

The new awareness is not all good.

Caste is being perpetuated by denial. The Hindutva movement and its various bans have been upsetting. Never has citizen involvement been at such a high. Even the drawing room pundits are galvanised into offering opinion. There is now a 'them' and 'us' element in the workplace, in educational campuses, in the private and public sector, in media, in the employment line, even permeating the rural enclaves.

People in India, as in the US, have stopped being happy. Even the humour is barbed.

Although Modi is no bull in a china shop nor is he on a rampage like Trump, the road of carefully-planned divisiveness he is on might lead to the same destination where the people who look up to them may wonder aloud; why are allowing the fall of this multicultural, multi-lingual multi-faith society into a splintered and intolerant society?

Perhaps both Trump and Modi will leave their nations stronger, more careful, less gullible and earnest in choosing future leaders? That could be a great gift to their nations.


Updated Date: Sep 29, 2017 21:41 PM

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