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What Karnataka elections have revealed about Modi

Between what is the right way to govern and what is effective to stay in power, the prime minister has chosen the latter.

 |  6-minute read |   14-05-2018
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No matter which party wins or loses in Karnataka state elections, the poll has been an eye-opener to the depths of depravity a democracy can fall to and reveal its inherent nature as a kakistocracy. The lies and deflections are abominable. The sanctity of the prime minister's chair is in danger.

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There are lies, damn lies, and then there are those lies, which when challenged by thousands of voices yield only more lies. There is an old Bengali saying: The one with one ear missing takes the side roads of the village. The one with both ears missing walks brazenly in the middle of the main road.

The former exercises caution but the latter knows he has nothing to lose.

The scale and frequency of these lies being produced on an industrial scale by just one man over the last four years - reaching a crescendo in the last few days - is such that it is an onerous task to compare, or draw parallels with any preceding political leader in India, even for the most desperate apologist, masquerading as centrist/neutral/ objective onlooker.

Certainly not someone who occupies the prime minister's chair.

There is only one other such jaw dropping phenomenon, and he sits in the White House 12,000km away.

Normally, if one is in power, and contesting for the second time round, one showcases one's achievements and appeals to the electorate to vote for them. There are so many things the BJP could have talked about if the party genuinely believed it had delivered on its promises. There is demonetisation. The GST. The GDP. The Namami Gange project. Job creation. Swachh Bharat. Improvement in law and order. Why did the party not talk about these issues? Because it is quite obvious that these are monumental embarrassments not to be publicised.

Rahul Gandhi, his genealogy, food habits, clothes, have become BJP's sole election plank.

The only focus of these campaign speeches was Congress bashing. A constant rewinding of history presented through a biased lens, cherry picking of late leaders such as Jawarharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, presenting them as black and white individuals, ignoring the layered and intricate contexts they lived and worked in, and fumbling in attempts at "connecting" to the clearly alienated audience through mythology, as Yogi Adityanath did recently, presenting Hanuman as a Kannadiga and Ram as a north Indian (presumably an Uttar Pradesh resident).

It is not as if lies like "not a single Congress leader visited Bhagat Singh in jail" or that the Congress government in Karnataka "had done nothing for the farmers" and many others have not been rebutted. India Today accessed a verified copy of The Tribune's August 10, 1929, edition from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi clearly proving that this was a lie and that Nehru and Madan Mohan Malaviya had indeed visited Bhagat Singh.

Responding to the latter's charge, the INC tweeted that "Loans of 68,548 lakh waived, benefiting 1,84,452 farmers; Drip irrigation to 48,302, benefiting 33,482 farmers; Krishi Aranya Protsaha Yojane saw a 122% rise in per tree incentive."

Social media is abuzz with rebuttals and practically every Tom Dick and Harry has turned into an avid and eager researcher digging out facts to counter these claims.

But rebuttals hardly make any sense. As veteran journalist Carol Andrade remarked, "Rebutting Modi's lies is like shouting into the void. He never answers. Ever."

In the last four years, Modi has not held a single press conference. In fact, Modi is well aware that he is ensconced in a comfort zone where he does not need logic and reasoning for rebuttals, nor does he need to engage with a media across the political spectrum, present in the same space.

He has restricted himself to several interviews in highly controlled environments to a friendly media, pre-decided questions, and well-prepared answers with pithy crowd pleasing asides.

In contrast to the sanitised one-on-one interviews and soft phraseology Modi is met with, his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh - who was criticised for holding very few press conferences - voluntarily subjected himself to a far tougher obstacle course in the ones he did hold. 

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The opening statement of his fist press conference is noteworthy: "Ever since I assumed the office of the prime minister, I received several requests from distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the press to interview me.

Unfortunately, because of my other preoccupations, I have not been able to accede to these requests, but nevertheless, I have been very keen to meet all of you. I am told that a conference of this type at the level of the prime minister has not been held for at least a decade. I recognise there are risks, but I am ready to throw the pigeon among the cats. I have a prepared text by way of introductory remarks but I thought the best way to use this time is to give you all the time and attention and this statement of mine can be taken as read. So that will give you more time to ask me any question that you would like me to answer."

The humble tone and tenor is striking as is the acknowledgement that a leader has to be answerable to his people.

Unlike the current NDA government, on August 29, 2004, when UPA 1 completed 100 days, there was no fanfare and theatrics to mark this milestone. There were no advertisements in newspapers, no rallies, no photo-ops at the prime minister's residence and no grandstanding.

Modi's other bête noire Jawaharlal Nehru was even more forthcoming. Scribes from that era recall that the Nehru term was a journalist's delight. Nehru was scrupulously regular in holding press conferences once a month because he considered the press to be a fundamental institution of democracy.

Every single prime minister since Nehru has addressed press conferences, until now. Perhaps it was the much publicised interview with Karan Thapar that ended with a gulp of water, a "dosti bani rahe" (Let's remain friends) and a hasty exit that decided that discretion is the better part of valour.

Modi knows that there is no need to rebut or correct himself because lies repeated and packaged attractively become the dominant narrative.

Between what is the right way to govern and what is effective to stay in power, Modi has chosen the latter.

Also read: Karnataka elections saw Modi take political discourse to a new low

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

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

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