Lowest Uncommon Denominator: Why I think Narendra Modi knowingly lowered the level of political discourse

It has been helpful to Modi and the BJP to cover up failures and flaws with insults and allegations. However, when the Opposition responds in kind, the PM doesn't seem to like it.

 |  7-minute read |   11-05-2019
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The phrase “A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth” is attributed to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Goebbels’ work was so successful that many world leaders have repeatedly copied his strategies. Powerful sectors still consciously value lies as a way to manipulate the minds of those they want to influence. 

In this way, they manage to convince people to accept the unacceptable and support plans that only benefit the interest of the few.

Thanks to the Nazi experience, powerful sectors of society realised that people are able to believe any message — as long as it is properly presented. This leads to a situation that many people exploit for all it is worth. Oten, it is enough to tell people what they want to hear. We all want to believe messages that satisfy our confirmation bias(es). It doesn’t matter how far away they are from reality. People who exploit this part of human psychology manage to instill falsehoods, culturally and socially. 

Goebbels, however, did not belong to the post-digital age. We do.

modi-690_051019073728.jpgBack to the wall? Have Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statements shown defensiveness rather than attack? (Source: Reuters)

If there is one thing that characterises the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar it is affiliated to, it is, in my view, their lack of historical sense and awareness, their lackadaisical approach to facts and especially their contempt for the general public. The last, to my mind, manifests itself in the blithe off-hand statements, comments and claims that seem to come out of some random nonsense generator, with complete confidence in the inability of people to cross-check and verify.

That too, in the era of the internet, with an overwhelmingly large computer-literate population willing to jump to their screens the instant something hits the headlines.


In the absence of any real report card to show for the last five years, or a clear vision for the road ahead, the BJP has resorted to whataboutery, slander and character assassination, not just of leaders present but of leaders past too. These have become planks of their election campaign. Apparently, the Pulwama explosion, the Balakot air-strikes and raising the antinational bogey against critics are not enough. Following the vile comment on late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the current allegations of him enjoying cruises on INS Virat is simply a symptom of this bankruptcy.

It is interesting to pinpoint exactly when this kind of insult to the collective intelligence first began.

On 26 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have completed five years as the head of India’s first majority government since 1984. During the high-pitched campaign for the 2014 General Elections, Modi had made a slew of promises, reportedly ranging from Rs 15 lakh in every Indian’s bank account from recovery of black money abroad to doubling farm incomes by 2022. India was to be corruption-free, “Congress-mukt” and there were to be millions of jobs. Instead, it ended up creating less than a million in the four years it has been in power. According to data tabled in the Rajya Sabha, the flagship job schemes of the Modi government, which also included some from the ‘Make in India’ project, reportedly created only 27.5 lakh jobs in the past four and a half years. These schemes included the PM’s  Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP).

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has reported that the unemployment rate in December 2018, at 7.4%, was the highest in 27 months. From January to December last year, the country apparently actually lost 11 million jobs, instead of adding any new jobs.

Four years later, when confronted on his poor job creation record, Modi’s glib retort was that even selling pakodas, a very unstable, low-productivity, low-wage occupation, was also employment. 

Looking back, this was possibly one of the first absurd comments that signaled a back-to-the-wall defensiveness among many that were to follow. This desperation has now devolved into the present barrage of outpourings almost on a daily basis — casting blame on Nehru, falling back on the old trope of “70 years of corruption”, allegations of  Rajiv Gandhi’s many “sins” — the latest of which seems to be the allegation of his misuse of INS Vikrant as a “taxi” for personal pleasure.

rajiv-690_051019081552.jpgLooking Behind: Modi's comments on Rajiv Gandhi have been highly controversial. Are they at all useful? (Source: India Today)


The head of a a majority government has squandered the opportunity to make a substantial difference and is now indulging in street-level ad hominems that not only demeans the august chair of a prime minister but does not belong to the adult space as well.

Each and every one of these bizarre volleys is debunked every day, but they roll off like water on a duck’s back. The idea is to keep up the high pitch of demagoguery in the hope that, firstly, these strike emotive chords in the BJP/RSS’s core voter base, and secondly, to keep detractors busy scampering around trying to fix things, so that actual issues are brushed under the carpet. The idea is to present packaging over content — to hold convenient one-sided interviews with soft questions, even ‘apolitical’ ones, to project a cute man-of-the-people image and, at the same time, launch vicious personal salvos against one’s opponents.

As Omar Abdullah pointed out recently, this fixation for Rajiv Gandhi (the puerile outcome of a chain reaction following the “chowkidar chor hai” slogan) seems as if the BJP is fighting the elections in 1989, not in 2019. While the Congress keeps up a relentless campaign attacking the BJP on many fronts, the disastrous demonetisation scheme that crippled the unorganised sector, the lack of jobs, the Rafale deal, and more recently, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, the BJP is floundering in a mess, levying wild allegations that have nothing to do with its five-year-old tenure.

ujj-690_051019081837.jpgHow well is this welfare? The Congress has been attacking the BJP on all fronts, including its welfare schemes. (Source: PTI)


Image without content has a shelf life though and the cracks are beginning to show. Today, Mamata Banerjee, CM of West Bengal, a doughty street fighter herself who describes Modi as the “expiry PM”, can express her wish in public to slap a sitting PM — something unthinkable a few years ago.

At the moment, Modi seems to be hoist by his own petard. After allegations that the Congress is trying to have him assassinated, the man who has consistently mocked, insulted, made dog-whistle jibes against his opponents, from “Rs 50 crore girlfriend”, to “Jersey cow” to Manmohan Singh “wearing raincoats” while taking baths, has now been reduced to outlining a long list of insults he has had to face at the hands of opposition leaders, appealing to his audience in self-pity, ill-becoming to a leader who projects machismo and claims to lead surgical strikes from the front.

When one crosses all lines of decency, one should expect no quarter.

Also read: AAP vs BJP: Breaking down the conspiracy theories on the obscene letter targeting AAP’s Atishi


Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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