If the exit polls hold, we could be looking at Narendra Damodardas Modi soon becoming India’s Prime Minister — for the second time.
If Modi is elected back, it will be largely for development work — toilets, homes, gas cylinders for households too poor to afford more than traditional cooking fuel — the smoke of which equals, a WHO report says, inhaling 400 cigarettes an hour. That might not matter too much to the philosophers holding up the sunshine-covered walls of the IIC, perhaps inhaling a cigarette or two, as they bemoan what a dark place Modi will push India to.
But it mattered to the women who cook small meals (not Small Plates) like that.
And it mattered to Modi, who made it a political masterstroke.
Big difference: Small meal versus Small Plate. (Photo: Reuters)
Modi’s tenure is thus identified with a new start — tangible development, in doses big and small.
But, significantly, Modi’s tenure will also be identified with a fin-de-siecle too — the end of an era.
A closure in time.
This is characterised by India’s new attitude towards Pakistan.
The Pulwama terror attack marked the beginning of this end.
On February 14, 2019, a dastardly little terrorist rammed his vehicle full of RDX into a CRPF convoy winding across Pulwama in south Kashmir. Reportedly 40 CRPF soldiers were killed and many injured. The hateful, spitting spite, evident in the terrorist’s self-glorification video, hailing his membership of Jaish-E-Muhammed in Pakistan, was appalling. But that — combined with images of Pulwama, a strange Dali-esque darkness amidst snowy peaks, a bizarre landscape, beautiful, yet strewn with a leg here, an arm there, covered in torn-apart khaki — underlined one fact, brutally, to India.
Pulwama. A terrible image of hate and violence. (Photo: Reuters)
Pakistan, and its mad minions, hate us.
There is no love, no tenderness, no bravery there.
There is also a point of no return in time — Pulwama marked that point for most Indians.
It had been coming, this fin-de-siecle. The Mumbai terror attack, 26/11, marked a clear ebb in India’s tolerance. A watchful government would have sensed the anguish — and anger — of millions of Indians, appalled at how lightly their lives, and their deaths, could be treated by politicians who seemed to do rather little about such terrorist attacks.
It would have to be a new way: A strong change in public mood began with 26/11. (Photo: Reuters)
An astute politician would understand the new swelling of utter disgust.
The Balakot air-strike — which left the Pakistanis in a tattered state after Pulwama, closing access to their LeT camp for over a month, indeed, closing their air space ever since — underlined that Modi, after his own initial misadventures of dallying with Nawaz Sharif, had understood that.
He understood this was the fin of a siècle.
The fin of friendly visits to Pakistan. The fin of biryani-jalebi-nihari-whatever diplomacy. The fin of shawls and aam ka achaar exchanged, while one side stabbed us in the back. While one side sent terrorists at us like poisonous rats. While one side drove dynamite-laden vehicles into our men, who did not even get one chance to fight.
The beginning of this mawkish siecle towards Pakistan comes from the threads of Partition — but even more, from a later, wider lifestyle of free-loading, which likes to pretend it’s about culture and not, to put it straight out, muft-khori. If you look at fawning accounts of Pakistan from before, you’ll see, oddly, the main thing they talk about is the hospitality. The free gifts. The wonderful meals. The sher-o-shayari in plush homes. The shalwar-kameezes, the lawns, the shalwars made of lawn. The military clubs and the daawats and the biryanis lacy with ghee. All preferably — hospitably, yaar! — wolfed down for free.
'Jis Lahore nahin dekhiya' and all that jazz: The padosi desh was a source of fascination for a while. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
This has largely defined some Indians' attitude towards Pakistan. A strange but strong desire for free ka fun, couched comfortably in velveteen literature festivals, glittering film interactions (always one-way) and track two diplomacy — the tracks of which invariably lead towards a dining table. A dining table whose dishes create, like a burp, that strange and peculiar lie, “But we are just the same”, when nothing could be further from the truth.
We are not the same, as we, unlike Pakistan, are not a nation based on the backs of feudal serfs; neither are we horsewhipped into ‘happiness’ by our armed forces every day. Several decades of both has transformed Pakistan into Bizarre-i-Stan and for any honest, reasonably intelligent Indian, recognising that within about two days of being in Pakistan is not hard.
For those Indians who’d want to continue with the lie though, Pulwama ended that.
The next time an Indian wishes to gush over Pakistan, they will have to somewhere remember those jawans. They will try to forget — but the brutality of the act, captured in photographs which leapt into emblazed social media, will not let that happen.
Modi understood this well. This explains not only his post-Pulwama response but also, his refusal to then talk to Imran Khan — whom, some lovingly declared, deserved a Nobel peace prize, while he was helping JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar hide.
Lots official about it: Terror emanating from Pakistan shows the backing of the Pakistani deep state. (Photo: PTI/Twitter)
Any government that comes to power in India now will have to understand this anger of a public that will not take its people’s lives being torn apart, and that being happily overlooked — simply for the greediness, the neediness, of some to feel some pyaar, border ke us paar.
The mawkishness could not have been fin a second sooner, given the volatile situation trembling in not-so-far Kabul.
For if the Americans exit Afghanistan, the gaze of the Afghan drug-fuelled jihadis and their friends in Pakistan will swivel straight upon us.
We must be aware. We must prepare. We must hit back harder each time.
This is a truly fin-de-siècle moment for India’s political class, where our netas must prioritise ordinary Indian lives — Indians who will take no more.
Modi did this. And this too will count, when the votes for Lok Sabha 2019 will be counted.