Why Modi weeping in Parliament should make us all cry

The prime minister getting emotional over Gujarat shows both apprehension and anxiety in the BJP bastion.

 |  Angiography  |  9-minute read |   20-12-2017
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Tears and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have a curious relationship. Oscillating between an almost beauty pageant-like melodrama and the cool calculations of a politician too Machiavellian for comfort, the tears are always about mixed signals, never easy to pin down, and certainly leading to a veritable cottage industry of interpretation. PM Modi has cried again in Parliament today (December 20), in a déjà vu of his May 2014 emotional address to the BJP parliamentary party after winning the General Elections with a landslide margin. PM Modi’s tears, this time however, were about being able to somehow retain his home turf Gujarat in a bitter contest against the once down-and-out Congress, with its newly anointed president Rahul Gandhi now becoming the talk of the town.

PM Modi wept while recounting his long association with Gujarat, how former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee “patted him on the back”, how the sixth consecutive win in the home state wasn’t an “easy” one, and that no one in the BJP should be under the illusion that it was. PM Modi’s acknowledgement of the tough contest is a far cry from BJP national president Amit Shah’s previous boast about “Mission 150” in Gujarat, and the double digit tally of 99 is the lowest score that the BJP got in the last 22 years it has ruled in the state.

Observers have noted how the low score has come three years into Modi's prime ministership, an irony that refuses to die down. While most newspapers toed the establishment line and hailed Modi for the sixth win, with The Indian Express calling this “Modi’s December Spring”, those reading the parallel signals said something else. While many thought that the “majoritarian project” in Gujarat was complete, the results, riding the tidal wave of agitation led by the trio of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, split the verdict wide open, giving a spring in the Opposition’s steps, while reining in the BJP’s jubilation at having retained Gujarat after all.

Yet, PM Modi, while making an emotional pitch over Gujarat in his address to the parliamentary party meeting earlier today would make us believe that the prime minister has earned it, after all. Or, are we to read his tears as a sign of stress that the BJP mascot is now clearly showing? Given to occasional outbursts of politically-clumsy sentiments, we might recall how the PM cried during his demonetisation speech in November 2016, asking the country to give him 50 days, and "burn [him] if [he's] wrong". Fronting his nonagenarian mother to be a stage-prop to his "anti-corruption" drive via note-bandi, PM Modi's tears have become legion, the stuff of political lore.

How are we to judge the tears of a prime minister who for a state election once again waded into the turbid waters of personal name-calling and abuse, rank innuendo and ad hominem attacks against members of the Opposition, particularly Rahul Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh as well as suspended Congress veteran Mani Shankar Aiyar, like the way he used to before he became the PM? How are we to read a hysterically hyperventilating PM who has asked his government to notify the Opposition that he's not planning to apologise for calling into question former PM Singh's patriotism, insinuating sedition and conspiracy with Pakistan? How are we to understand the PM himself executing a job usually outsourced to the well-oiled social and mainstream media machinery that the ruling BJP has erected in order to control the engineered chaos, to adjust the thermostat of “swadeshi fascism” that’s Hindutva?

Yet, even Modi's tears proved to be relatively insufficient to make Gujarat a victory worth talking home about. In fact, despite the “technical loss”, many have congratulated the Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s resurgent leadership for its quick quid pro quo alliances with young regional leaders leading ground-up revolutionary movements against exclusions along caste and class lines, underlining the gross rural-urban divide, which erupted in the PM’s home state. Distress in the BJP headquarters is doubly evident with the saffron party losing a number of constituencies in which PM Modi himself campaigned, in addition to his hometown Unjha, and Amit Shah’s native place, Mansa, in Gandhinagar district. 

Modi's tears come as a gloss-over to the curious political vaccum within Gujarat unit of the BJP, where it is facing a dearth of effective leadership with Brand Modi stretched to the maximum, that too with diminishing returns. Modi is crying while regaling about his "achievements" and saying that under no prime minister did a national party have its governments in as many as states as the BJP does now. Yet, this nervous and teary-eyed boast when juxtaposed with the panic over Hardik Patel’s popularity and the possibility of digging up the 2015 charges of sedition against the mass leader, who was too young at 24 to contest the 2017 polls but had to witness a "sex CD" scandal magically surface before the elections, comes across just as hollow as his claims to have eradicated black money, fake currency and terror-funding.

Brand Modi, despite being reasonably intact in the Hindu, urban swathes of Gujarat, faced a thumbs down from the rural and rurban belts, indicating a trend that’s only beginning to shape the electoral narrative in the months to come. Both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, currently under BJP rule, have much larger rural demography and far more number of rural constituencies than “India’s most industrialised state” Gujarat. Already, the municipal by-polls in Rajasthan have been convincingly won by the Congress. There’s a new wind blowing that’s definitely informed and driven by the class struggles muted and erased by a supine mainstream media, that blanked out the staggering farmers’ protests in Rajasthan, and front-paged that in Madhya Pradesh only after police opened fire at the agitating peasants, killing five in June this year in Mandsaur.

It's ironical that Prime Minister Narendra Modi neither shed a single tear, nor addressed a bevy of his trusted lieutenants as Rajasthan quickly metamorphosed into the new Hindutva laboratory, with majoritarian hate crimes, and their "viral videos", including the murder of Mohammad Afrazul by Shambhulal Raigar, the lynching of Pehlu Khan, Zafar Khan, among others for being Muslims, shook the splintered conscience of the nation, even as it consumed those spectacles of violence, either fearfully transfixed or aroused by the horror. 

Despite the credibility of the Vasundhara Raje government in the state lying in tatters, PM Modi didn't weep for his countrymen murdered for their religion, choice of food, profession, or love. PM Modi didn't cry as a BJP-ruled state devolved into pure mayhem - with the rampages over the Padmavati controversy, kept alive solely by the gargantuan machinery of ideological apparatchiks of the Sangh Parivar, banning miscegenation even in dreams and imagination, the industrial chants against the racist fantasy that’s “love jihad”, as well as the “gag ordinance” that sought to silence media by legally prohibiting it from covering political hot-button issues without the government’s nod. 

While “North Korean channels” would stalk Rahul Gandhi over his watching a movie, and call the anti-caste agitators like Jignesh Mevani casteist, the industrial inversion of reality is being seen through and exposed thoroughly. In fact, the stalling of the Modi-Shah juggernaut in Gujarat, the duo’s home state, and reducing the tally to 99, indicate that there’s a “paradigm loss” within the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar, which might bear real electoral dividends and a possible regime change in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states going to polls next year. Expect the PM to cry buckets in a televised speech as he rallies in these states, particularly Madhya Pradesh, invoking Shivraj Singh Chouhan's untarnished dedication, the farmer suicides, Vyapam deaths and the eight SIMI convicts'  videographed encounter notwithstanding.

Modi's much-hyped plank of fusing “vikas” with Hindutva has now been given a rude jolt, if not a fitting end. His biggest sponsors and supporters in the corporate world, such as Gautam Adani, are now facing a series of financial setbacks, with their dream projects, once expected to be propped up with Indian taxpayers’ money, now being shelved or dumped unceremoniously by lawmakers abroad.

The astute politician that Narendra Modi is, he’s certainly aware of the gear shift, but the usually calm prime minister exuding confidence has now been replaced by a man rattled by the new trends. His post-Gujarat elections results speech was abrasive and ironically talking about development when that plank was comprehensively forsaken during the campaign. The Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has called this “Modi’s credibility problem” and that short clip of Gandhi giving his post-election message and the tweet thanking the Congress party workers for fighting the election with “decency and courage” have both struck a chord even among the fence-sitters of the vast Indian electorate.

While many say that the carefully curated and maintained bubble of Modi’s invincibility has not only burst, but is being widely perceived as so, the lines on PM Modi’s forehead and his tear-jerking performance in Parliament today confirm the doubts, if any. As long as the BJP’s election winning machine tries appropriating electoral victories as good governance, even as the socio-political and economic fulcrums of the country are weakened, institutions hollowed out and the ethos of secular inclusion killed by a thousand cuts, PM Modi won't cry. But his tears are on cue the moment electoral hiccups and political temblors are caught on his radar of permanent electioneering.

When a narcissist like Modi sheds tears inside Parliament, in May 2014 and in December 2017, it must be weighed against his devaluing the PM's office by making obscene, unverifiable comments against his predecessors and political opponents. His sentimentality, like a great actor, needs a grand stage. He needs a glittering theatre that would reconfer some of the lost ground, give him back the coveted stamp of statesmanship that he positively thirsts for, all the while treating Parliament as an app. In “in his relentless march towards digital utopia, he treats the non-smartphone user and the fundamental temple of democracy in the same way”, with derision.

Unless it can be an instrument to further his dominion over a saffronised India, Parliament is useless to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reason enough why dates for the Winter Session were announced after much delay, that too to coincide miraculously with the date following the last and second phase of the high-stakes, high-voltage and incredibly disturbing Gujarat Assembly elections. With the political and electoral narrative for 2018, that would see eight states go into polls, expected to get even more debased and deranged, the “new lows” would get newer and lower, and the continuum of political depravity would test India in ways unimagined.

PM Modi’s tears, occur as they when the leader sheds one mantle to put on another, would be shed oftener, for the man would change his roles on a day-to-day basis, slipping in and out of costumes with the ease and anxiety of a seasoned general in this grand battle for India’s soul. One day he would be the BJP’s most caustic campaigner, not afraid of invoking the most disgusting and fanatic of bogies, and on the next, he would be sporting the mantle of the Indian prime minister, exuding governmental gravitas, but with his usual sheen missing. 

Also read: Winter session of Parliament: Key bills and issues on the plate


Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Former assistant editor, DailyO

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