The Modi paradox: At 70, his 7 deadly sins for 'liberals' are why his supporters love him
Part of the phenomenon is that the PM's support base grows and gets more solidly behind him for the exact reasons a section of urban, English-speaking intelligentsia hates him
If India’s Left and liberals deign to introspect some day on where they have failed to politically understand Narendra Modi, 8 November, 2016, is a good date to begin. The day demonetisation happened.
It was the world’s largest exercise in scrapping currency notes, with India doing away with 86 pecent of its cash in circulation.
It took even the most seasoned economic experts to recover from the shock and start analysing the pros and cons. Political pundits took longer to pick up their jaws. It was inconceivable for a prime minister to be so self-destructive, especially with the country’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, going to election in less than three months.
When in 1971 a much milder demonetisation plan was taken to former PM Indira Gandhi, she had acerbically brushed it off, “Are there no more elections to be fought by the Congress party?”
So, Left-liberal commentators embarked on predicting how DeMo is going to be Modi’s political grave. Mainstream media ran reports of people fainting and dying in ATM queues, and the Opposition led by Rahul Gandhi thought they had got the election brahmastra.
The BJP swept the Uttar Pradesh elections on 11 February, 2017, without projecting a chief minister face. Modi came back at the Centre with a bigger majority in 2019.
DeMo was the inflection point for an organisation historically perceived as a bania-brahmin party. The poor and backwards came to it in droves. While the commentariat lambasted Modi for the suffering of the poor in queues, the poor were glad that the rich couldn’t hide their riches, and many of them stood in those same queues.
As the prime minister turns 70, the most interesting – though dismaying for many – part of the Modi phenomenon is that his support base grows and gets more solidly behind him for the exact reasons a section of urban, English-speaking intelligentsia hates him.
Modi is authoritarian, hawkish
The most common Left-liberal grouse is that Modi steamrolls dissent, and has fascist tendencies.
However, the millions who vote for him see a rare determination and willingness to take risks. They see someone who is capable to taking decisions that he believes are good for the nation.
The fascist slur fails to hold water because Modi is shrewd enough to take even the most stunning and disruptive decisions like abrogation of Article 370 or passing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) through proper constitutional mechanism.
While pacifists lamented his hawkish diplomacy, India’s surgical strikes and Doklam resolve made the difference between Congress’ 2019 defeat and a smacking rout.
Modi a Hindu bigot, hates Muslims
It started with the 2002 riots, and crystalised fully with Modi’s refusal to wear a skullcap. Modi’s vilification as an anti-Muslim tyrant was complete among ‘seculars’.
However, it is this that his core voters and even many on the sidelines admire about him. He does not appease Muslims. He doesn’t give Islamists an inch.
While the liberals focus on the aftermath, his admirers privately tell you that secularism got so perverted that the Islamist mob had the temerity to openly burn 59 Hindus to death in that train at Godhra. For them, Modi’s politics represents a bulwark against violent, malevolent Islamism.
The prime minister wears Hindutva on his sleeves. He proudly performs puja in saffron robes at Varanasi or Kedarnath, embellishes his speeches with Sanskrit shlokas, and has never squirmed about public display of his dharma.
The more this annoys the deracinated intellectual class, the more this endears Modi to his supporters. A silent majority has seen its traditions and way of life being snubbed and looked down upon for decades, even centuries, and now a strong man at the very top has reversed that.
The Modi government has done some quiet work notwithstanding these perceptions. It secured 3.14 crore scholarships for minority students between 2014 and 2019, 20 lakh more than the Rs 2.94 crore grants during UPA-2. It has spent Rs 22,000 crore in the past six years on minority welfare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest evacuation drive in Vande Bharat Mission has been of Indian workers in Islamic countries.
Modi is a drama king
The prime minister has been condescendingly called an “event manager”, “nautanki” and “madari” by his critics. But it is this consummate showmanship that his audience connects with. It is the grandness of his rallies, predictable unpredictability of his 8 pm announcements, flamboyant ethnic dresses, bear hugs with world leaders, breaking down in an event with Mark Zuckerberg, or the sound of colony after colony across the nation clapping and thanking COVID-19 warriors that has made brand Modi overtake brand Nehru-Gandhi, built over eight to nine decades, in just six to seven years.
Indians love drama. It is part of their folk tradition, their culture. Modi obliges.
Modi is ruthless with rivals
The prime minister’s critics attack him for being merciless against rivals and dissenting voices. From insinuations about his Gujarat colleague Haren Pandya’s murder to his relentless targeting of the Nehru-Gandhi family, they have built a narrative of the cold executioner around him.
His supporters love that. The more that narrative strengthens, the more they feel akin to what an Australian cricket fan was once quoted as saying about then Indian captain Sourav Ganguly: “He is a bastard. But what a magnificent bastard.”
For them, Modi is their man to slay dynastic politics, appeasement, real and imagined slights to their culture, faith and tradition.
Modi is a crass self-promoter
Videos of the prime minister pushing out security personnel and even international leaders out of the frame to hog camera time abound. He is accused of snatching the limelight even at local project inaugurations. Adulatory comic books about his childhood and his cloudy-cover theory on Balakot airstrikes have caused much mirth.
But ask the autowallah, cabbie or paan shop guy, and they will tell you that the world has started fearing and respecting India only after Modi arrived. That’s how his actions play out in the mass psyche.
Modi’s economics is a disaster
Not just his rivals, but many within the BJP like Subramanian Swamy or those on India’s ideological right are extremely critical of his approach to economics. They call him an incrementalist and a closet socialist and not a free-economy visionary.
But his socio-economic schemes like Jan Dhan, Ujjwala and PM Awas Yojana have been gamechangers on the ground. And even as India industry has been frustrated by ‘tax terror’ and certain tardy market reforms, the middle and lower-middle classes have been happy that he has brought a slew of socially savvy schemes like Ayushman Bharat.
Modi inspires a troll army
The PM is the Voldemort of liberal social media. They see his dark mark every time ‘death eaters’ take them apart on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. The liberals think every pro-Modi voice on social media is part of the BJP IT cell.
However, an overwhelming majority of these ‘death eaters’ are ordinary, young Indians fed up with what they see as the elitist cabal that ruled the nation. Social media gave them voice for the first time to challenge the ‘snooty’ oped writers, anchors and Bollywood stars who were not used to a two-way communication.
The more this cocooned club dumped every questioning voice as “troll”, the bigger this army grew. Spontaneously, without Modi regime’s help, but drawing inspiration from him.
The more the Left and liberals pummel this faceless mass, the more they relate to the prime minister. “He faced from them what we are facing,” they infer.
That makes Modi keep growing in strength at 70. That is more potent a political potion than Getafix the druid can cook.
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