The controversy that had surrounded the monogrammed suit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi points to a trend where the possibility of debate in public sphere is lost in the din of accusations. To be able to objectively criticise, it used to be necessary that the other side of the story is heard. But not anymore.
True, the suit even at the original cost of ten lakh rupees is what a householder living in an Indian town would budget for a house on the outskirts. The suit is worth the money that salaried parents wish they had to afford higher education for children who dream of the world. It is the kind of money that can pay for expensive cancer treatment the poor forgo due to lack of funds. It may repay debts that have led to farmer suicides, and for which the widows get one lakh in compensation after a prolonged and painful investigation by bureaucracy. The list can go on.
For the sake of argument, here are some possible reasons why Modi might have worn that "name" suit. First, sweeping election victories, like the Lok Sabha polls, have a way of making politicians confident that they have their finger on the pulse of the people. That is, until the people say otherwise, as they did in the Delhi polls.
Second, it was a special visit by the president of a country that had refused Modi a visa to travel for years, which caused him a good deal of embarrassment and gave a handle to his detractors. Assertion, however, need not have been so literal. Third, perhaps, it was part of a dream to be dressed well, which could be an innocent desire arising from humble beginnings and not to be confused with arrogance. But people prefer their leaders not to give in to temptations they themselves may often succumb to. Fourth, it can be argued, especially now after the suit fetched over four point three crore rupees, that it was always meant to be auctioned to fund a worthy cause. All good, but the citizens would have liked to know this fact before the fatal suit day. Then it wouldn't have looked like damage-control as it does today.
It is evident that the backlash was not anticipated. The subtext of arrogance in the suit was articulated well during the Delhi elections. But what if there had not been an election soon after? What impact would the suit have had and on what? Politicians must beware of gestures of ostentation in a country riddled with deep economic disparities. And those who stoke discontent should be cautious of turning it into a mindset. The only way to ensure fair play is to question both sides so that neither criticism nor praise is unsubstantiated. Only the unguarded can accept answers that are reached without debate.
Finally, politics favours the underdog in this nation, a reason why even the most powerful and well-funded candidates in elections must speak of their underdog-ness through their position, decisions or even destiny. People also know that nothing changes the underdog forever like winning elections and attaining power. This knowledge is founded in past experience that has proved repeatedly that vigilance is a virtue in our democracy, and that is the reason for our caution. When a debate is single-sided, truth becomes the underdog. It might take effort and time, and might not hit the headlines, but a point of view will only be strengthened if it were based on something more substantial than mere chance.