Thursday, September 4, 2014

No Mask, "Pure RSS"

.....receive calls from Modi when chief minister, but only once to complain....My paper had done a many parts of Gujarat Muslims denied benefits......Modi said story was wrong.... "You criticize me over Hindutva, that is fair...But I object if you say I am denying poor Muslims a hundred rupees a day".......Subsequent checks showed....incorrect facts....we readily made amends......
We admire Shekhar Gupta as a honest-to-God journalist (one of the few ones we have) who bows before no God. Another brave-heart is P Sainath of the Hindu.

What we see is the Modi doctrine taking shape in which the Hindutva forces carry a big stick and talk softly. For many reasons this may be enough for a significant number of minorities to start voting for the BJP.

After all there is no particular reason why a Christian, forward-caste (FC) would vote for a Congress party that will primarily depend on the Muslim and Other Backward Caste (OBC) vote to win. Indeed the #1 Sikh party and the #2 Dalit-Buddhist party is aligned with the so-called Manu-vadi alliance.

The Deputy Chief Minister of the BJP led ruling coalition in Goa, Francis D'Souza, a Catholic, has recently created waves by stating the following: "India is a Hindu country. It is Hindustan. All Indians in Hindustan are Hindus, including I - I am a Christian Hindu"

Normally it is understood that such a polarization strategy will primarily target muslims (and all other minorities are fine with that approach). But muslims can read the writing on the wall as well as anybody. From the polls (India Today) and field reports (The Hindu in Kerala and West Bengal), the arrow clearly points to this direction.

The goal is to divide muslims into two categories: (1) Hindustan first-ers and (2) Ummah first-ers. If this plays well politically, it will be recognized as the RSS version of the two-nation theory where a muslim is subjected to a loyalty test but not Hindus.
Answer this one honestly. In all your life, have you seen anybody else, or specifically, any public figure who resembles his own mask as much as Narendra Modi does? 

You could possibly argue that computers have rendered mask-making more accurate. Yet, we have never seen a real face and mask so like each other as with Modi. Sometimes you'd even wonder which one is more real. But why are we making such a big deal of it?

The mask has been an essential metaphor in BJP politics ever since rebellious but erudite K.N. Govindacharya mocked Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a mere mukhauta (Hindi for mask) of the BJP while the real face was entirely different. It was a diabolically clever description. 
What Govindacharya meant was, RSS (and the Hindu Right it represented) was the real face of the BJP. The liberal, secular, inclusive and middle-of-the-road Vajpayee was just a mask to conceal it. Vajpayee was furious, but admitted in a conversation with me a couple of months after losing power in 2004 that this was indeed the reality. That what he represented was not the real BJP and that Govindacharya was right.

Just about three months since his ascent to power, you know that there is no such confusion in Modi's case. The mask and the real face are exactly the same, physically as well as metaphorically. To that extent, Modi is genuinely a leader of the nationalist Hindu Right and his government India's first genuinely right-of-centre one, socially and politically for sure, and we wait to see if it turns out decisively that way economically as well. 
Every major action and utterance of his, from discontinuing the routine of 7 RCR iftars to his Independence Day speech and now cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, underlines the same point. Americans would put it as, the man you see is the man you get. In India, in BJP's current context, it is, the man you see on the mask is the man you get as your leader.

This is a completely new phenomenon in Indian politics where hypocrisy-signal left, turn right has been the norm. Barring some phases of hard socialism, as under Indira Gandhi post-1969, all our leaders have been a bit of this and a bit of that, pretending to be of the left, but never quite true to it. That's why India has always had a mixed everything, from economy to social and foreign policies. 
Even economic reformers like P.V. Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee have had to hide their actions behind socialist camouflage, and L.K. Advani famously paid homage to Mohammed Ali Jinnah at his mausoleum. In short, the mask has been an essential equipment in the trick-box of India's political class. This is where Modi, and his BJP, I dare say, are different, and this will be the hallmark of his tenure in power.

Unlike other ideological leaders who, once they rise to the top, make course corrections, usually moving to the centre, Modi has given every indication that he will, as prime minister, be no different from the way he was as chief minister of Gujarat. This reflects in the generally underwhelming talent base of his Cabinet, reliance on trusted civil servants, shutting out of the media and centralisation of power. He will sound inclusive-as he has done in Gujarat consistently since his second victory in December 2007-but will not reach out to any particular community, whatever its sense of insecurity or hurt. 

And on issues of national security, his actions as prime minister will be consistent with his fundamental views and instincts. That's why he would take no time cancelling talks because Pakistan's high commissioner meets Hurriyat leaders while every other prime minister, including Vajpayee, had ignored this as a mere side-show or tamasha. 
Read the text of his Independence Day speech carefully. It is inclusive, conciliatory, forward-looking and modern. But it is also pure RSS. Modi spoke as an RSS pracharak would have, stressing family values, morality, cleanliness, discipline and patriotism. But his tone was far from threatening or overbearing, the choice of words careful, but with no attempt to specially reach out to any particular section, minorities, Dalits, OBCs, tribals. 
In the RSS worldview, all Indians are the same, in fact in the purest ideological interpretation, as recently underlined by Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, they are all integral to a common identity of Hindutva, although Modi has never gone that far since he rose to public office for the first time in 2001.

And chances are, he won't. Because, like every other follower of a sharp ideology, he has indeed made a course correction, but he did so much before he rose to prime ministership. He did so post-2007. His discourse became so benignly inclusive that in the 2014 campaign you couldn't find one line you could object to on grounds of communal insinuation or even lack of civility. But there was never a special approach to Muslims, and that is how he is going to be as prime minister. His Independence Day speech highlighted the same Modi.

What are the other clues from his past and recent conduct that give you an insight into his mind? He ruled his state for 13 years without a Muslim legislator in his party. Yet he did not allow VHP and RSS a free run in the one state they would have hoped to be able to call their own. You ask Pravin Togadia who is the one fellow Indian whose guts he hates, and if he is honest, the answer will be Modi. Alright, no VHP people were put away in encounters, but some had cases of sedition filed against them. How he subdued these groups was in contrast, for example, with the pampering they enjoyed in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. 

As time passes, expect more of the same from him in Delhi as well. He may not have responded or contradicted publicly to some of the recent utterances from RSS, etc, but you have seen the static levels go down. Of course, disciplining the sarsanghchalak is a different challenge altogether. Modi's method, therefore, is likely to be more in the nature of very soft Hindutva, and very pronounced nationalism. 
You will be surprised if he allows his Government to be distracted by the Ram temple, a common personal law or the repeal of Article 370. Modi believes in employing his political capital to further his ideology, but he will do this very, very cautiously. As the India Today Group-Hansa Research Mood of the Nation opinion poll shows, this seems to be already working: a surprisingly large number of Muslims now say they will vote for Modi.

These are early days yet, but could it be that Modi is now refining an innovative ideology of the Right? Very nationalist, very moralistic, self-righteous, uncompromising, yet non-threatening to minorities. He and his Government show many other traits of the instinctive Right: their penchant for giganticism, for example. Sardar Patel's statue has to be two and a half times the Statue of Liberty, and a country where top speeds of passenger trains have remained the same in decades has to suddenly leapfrog to bullet trains. More such traits will surface as the months pass. India's first genuinely right-wing government will unfold into a fascinating political story.

Postscript: I did receive a few calls from Modi when he was chief minister, but only once to complain. My paper then had done a story saying that in many parts of Gujarat poor Muslims were being denied NREGA benefits. Modi said the story was factually wrong. "You criticise or question me over Hindutva, that is fair and it is your right, because I believe in Hindutva," he said. "But I strongly object if you say that I am denying my poor Muslims a hundred rupees a day." I said I would have the reporter recheck his facts. "What you people in Delhi will not understand is, in my Gujarat, my Muslims are not so poor that they will work for NREGA. They are mostly doing very well and will not waste their time in unproductive work," he said. Subsequent checks indeed showed the story to be based on incorrect facts and surmises, and we readily made amends.

In retrospect now, does this tell us something about Modi's mind as it has evolved through his long tenure as chief minister? That he will not specially reach out to the minorities, but would so strongly resent it if accused of being unfair to them as a ruler. We may, in fact, be dealing with a leader who does believe in rajdharma, but would define it for himself in his very own way.




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