Narendra Modi is a man who continues to fascinate his critics. The more we criticise him, the more he seems to grow. One looked at him first like a seasonal plant, an oddball, but now he seems to be perennial, something we talk about every day, like the weather. So, occasionally, I remove my critical spectacles and try to understand why India feels differently. I try to tune into the language, the metaphors of this great celebration.
I guess India and Indians are desperate for success. At a local level, success is caught in the idea of the exam and dread of the exam haunts our middle class. In fact, the tutorial college and the IAS study circle rose as responses to it. But the tutorial college hero is not quite a hero. We want someone who does it against all the odds. We no longer want a papa’s boy like Rahul Gandhi who sounds more like a fourth time pass. In punter terms, Mr Modi feels like a horse you can back against the world.
He works hard and when you hear he sleeps a mere three hours, you sense he is working for the nation. Our leader looks like a suction pump ready to absorb the techniques of the world. The team around him, whether it is S. Jaishankar, Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian or Ajit Doval, seems to be working as hard. The leisurely age of the Gandhis holidaying in England or the US seems a thing of the past. In management terms, he is working 24x7, 365 days of the year. Indians love it because as a politician Mr Modi is the ideal paisa vasool man.
Secondly, his supporters love the idiom of his effort. We want to be civilisational and modern. We want to smell of silicon valley and malls and, yet, want to hold on to our ashrams. He has a touch of the monk in the ashram and yet his suits can be autographed. He can talk of the cleaning of the Ganga and speak of delays against growth. He invokes history and talks about speed. He is a nationalist hungry to be global. He is quite proud to say he is fasting at an international gathering.
Reports show that he understands our fears and anxieties. His demonology is identifiably ours in a middle class sense. We want to feel masculine and secure in a global world. We want to reduce Pakistan to the status of rogue or a pipsqueak nation and be ranked along with China and Japan. We feel Pakistan localised us without giving us a sense of locality. Now Mr Modi seems to have got it right with Saarc powers. Nepal and Sri Lanka even Bangladesh feel they are taken seriously and Pakistan is told to grow up.
As a nation Mr Modi has made us feel upwardly mobile in the family of nations. He has got rid of old furniture, the bric-a-brac of old concepts like Third World and non-aligned pushed them into the attic. He has also removed the blinders from our foreign policy. Our elite was too fixated on Europe and the US. He has turned East. That works not because these are great models but because they smell of success and have a sense of no-nonsense technocratic machismo which is the ideal of the middle class Indian. He represents the new trishul of India, which is a trio of value frames, cash registers and power equations. He symbolises and embodies this collective desire.
Like middle class India, Mr Modi watched our electoral democracy and sensed it as a collection of tantrums. Like a moral accountant he brings out a list of it. There is the minority tantrum, the secular tantrum, there is the civil society tantrum, the environmental tantrum and these tantrums have weakened India by becoming anti-national. Mr Modi and the majority feels these groups have to be disciplined before India becomes self-disciplined. He has created a new gradient where economy, security and foreign policy belong to the eminent domain of the state and patriotism is defined as adherence to national purpose. The hypochondria about education environment is softer and can be dealt with later. His report cards do not show the negatives, they reveal the new middle class consensus which feels it is time environmentalists and minority groups fall in line. Rights are fine but they are being reminded that this is the age of dirties. Mr Modi is also shrewd enough to realise that all it needs is an accountant’s sheet to unravel or silence an NGO.
As one reads the reports, one realises that various writers are drawing an outline of a preferred India through their interpretation of their preferred leader. It is a report as Rorschach, a collective projection of the India we want to see. In fact, looking back over the week and the colossal epidemic of reports, one realises one must change the metaphors. These reports are not a critical evaluation. One must go back to myth to understand their function. Earlier, when a king won a war, he would send out a horse and his band to be acclaimed across his territory. It was a ritual of loyalty called the Ashwamedha Yagna. The reports in a secularised frame function as equivalent. They map the new consensus or celebration. If there are few greys, the regime knows how to respond to it.
What these reports clarify is the logic of the regime. What one actually witnesses is an India quite pleased with itself, projecting its new realism, toughness and competitiveness, creating a new agenda. The past and the present are now more at peace, but what one misses is a sense of the future. As one reads the reports, questions on sustainability, employment, violence and creativity need to be answered. Even the hard-core loyalist will realise that the future might be more demanding than any contemporary critic and this is the gap, the scenario that the Modi government will have to outline. This is the challenge that he now faces. His teams are ready, the nation seems ready. The question is which way is the future and that no report tells us.
The writer is a social science nomad