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NRC to GST – How Modi & Amit Shah create Anxiety Raj and still win elections

Modi’s popularity ratings keep rising despite economic slowdown and undemocratic lockdowns. This is how he does it.

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It’s as official as it can get, because Home Minister Amit Shah has said so in Parliament. The National Register of Citizens – a citizenship crucible – will be repeated in Assam, and be conducted across India now. The exercise will unleash, once again, a new set of anxieties among all Indians, just like it did in Assam. Another trial by fire, even for those singed already.

But the political question to ask is this: How do Amit Shah and Narendra Modi keep Indians perpetually anxious and ensure that the voters still keep voting for them in elections? Keep citizens busy, and make sure the report card reflects on them and not the BJP government.

Anxiety-inducing solutions

It all began with demonetisation, then GST, ED raids, NRC, fear of Pakistan, Article 370, the talk of a new multi-purpose digital ID card, phone tapping, WhatsApp surveillance, and the Ayodhya verdict. Many of these have been called bold and decisive solutions, but all of them have stirred disquiet, at least among a large section of Indians. But BJP duo Modi and Shah have continued to top popularity ratings year after year and win many states and the Lok Sabha elections.

The GST was part of a big bang reform that India has been working toward for years. But even after more than two years, the spiral of compliance paperwork that it has locked small businesses in is massive. The long, painful days after demonetisation, the queues and paperwork triggered by the NRC in Assam remind you of the famous 1951 painting called ‘House of Stairs’ by Dutch artist M.C. Escher – people busy climbing a claustrophobic maze of stairs, constantly going somewhere, arriving nowhere. That’s India now.

A print of Escher’s ‘House of Stairs’ | Commons

All this activity and anxiety that the Modi government creates for the population in the middle of an economic slowdown, unemployment, downgrading of India’s ratings by international agencies is a bit counter-intuitive. This is the time when politicians should be calming the population, making them confident, not insecure. And this is also the time when the citizens should be questioning the government on delivery, not complying to prove their citizenship, honesty and patriotism.

But PM Modi did assure thousands of overseas Indians in the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event that in India “sab achha hai”. All is well.

There are three ways how this conundrum has worked for Modi and how he gains people’s confidence. I learnt this first when I was reporting on demonetisation, and again during the Lok Sabha election this year.

Also read: Article 370, Ayodhya: Modi & Shah are done with political tasks. Now, it is economy’s turn

Decoupling Modi from delivery

In people’s minds, Modi, and now Amit Shah, are above the mundane matrix of delivery of jobs, economic growth and well-being. They have decoupled one of the most fundamental expectations that voters have from their leaders – tangible outcomes. I witnessed this first during demonetisation in 2016. So many villagers said – yes, we suffered, but Modi is great.

The same happened during the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign. The economic slowdown and loss of jobs weren’t a factor at all, even though many articulated it. My colleague Kritika Sharma travelled to Kota, Rajasthan to interview scores of IIT aspirants during the campaign. Almost all of them complained about fears of not finding jobs in a slumpish market, but they also absolved Modi of the responsibility of creating jobs.

“I feel the government cannot do much to change this situation. It totally depends upon the individual efforts of a student to be able to get a job,” said one youth.

This decoupling is deeply confounding for observers of politics. It means voters look at Modi not as a politician but as a visionary leader, an elder statesman who is beyond performance expectations. He is not a project manager who needs to deliver.

Also read: Modi-Shah’s hyper-nationalism is making India insecure when it is actually most secure

Ask not what the country can do for you

In the Modi era, it is the citizens who must deliver and prove themselves worthy. It is they who must change India. He keeps people busy. By doing that, he creates a sense of purpose and activity among citizens. No wonder then that after the NRC final list was out in August, some residents in one posh south Delhi RWA took on the task of identifying ‘true Indians’ themselves. They went to neighbouring slums asking people to show Aadhaar cards, and posted these videos in their RWA WhatsApp groups – followed by other residents saying that there needs to be an NRC in their neighbourhood. I was shown these exchanges. This is how Modi-Shah’s narratives keep the nation busy, including out-of-work vigilantes.

The number of things Modi government has made the citizens busy – complying with GST and citizenship paperwork, proving they are not hoarding dirty cash, not criticising the government on WhatsApp and downloading Telegram and Signal instead, saying they stand with the Indian Army on social media DPs even when they tie citizens to jeeps and drive them around, saying they stand with dilution of Article 370 even when an entire population is cut off and politicians detained overnight.

These tests of good-citizenry stand in contrast after a decade of the silent and almost absent-from-public-view Manmohan Singh era, when citizens did not know what he did or thought, and he didn’t push them to do anything new either.

The famous John Kennedy mantra of ‘ask not what the country can do for you’ can now be applied to Modi-Shah – ask not what the government can do for you, but what you can do for the government.

Also read: Why and how ideology is central to winning elections in India

Schadenfreude politics

The other reason, schadenfreude, is the simplest one. If you are suffering, you should derive comfort from the idea that someone else is being punished. Those who stood in the demonetisation lines felt chuffed that rich people were suffering too (though many rich people got away using their contacts in banks).

If you are suffering while putting together your paperwork to prove you are a citizen, you should be happy that those ‘evil’ Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants will suffer more.

Waiting for the Revolution

Three decades ago, Steve Coll, my first American boss at The Washington Post asked me, “Where is the Revolution?” He asked me this every time he encountered government injustice, cruelty, incompetence and corruption in India.

Today, I have the answer. People are not questioning because they think by voting for Narendra Modi, they have ushered in the revolution already. Modi is the revolution.

And in many ways, he is. Just not your traditional textbook revolution.

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  1. Citizenship based on religion is questionable. And since when Srilankan Tamils become non Hindus? The whole world recognised SL refugees and offered citizenship. Our own roots not included in the NRC. Modi/Shah hypocrisy? where are the Tamil politicians?

  2. I don’t understand why people will be in anxiety when they are not illegally migrated in India. India is a poor country where more people go to bed at night without full stomach. Only political parties that do not care about hunger, malnutrition death and care for votes, power and stealing public exchequer are campaigning against NRC. Today India cannot show a single illegal migrants that India feeds. Being a poor country, India is feeding crores of poorest illegal migrants. Now we are relaxed that some notional identity is on way. GST is equally giving relief from many hegemony of various taxes.

  3. I am an Indian, born brought up educated and worked in India. I am going to die in India. I am not anxious. Who is anxious? Only those who have something to hide!

  4. National register for citizenship is a overextending issue, should have been resolved during Assam accord in late 1980s .The negligence has compelled the apex court of the land to suggest and dictate in order to set own house in order, questions of demographic,cultural and identical ultimately national securities are involved. We must thankful to the citizens of Assam for their relentless patience and cooperation
    being exhibited so far.
    Home minister correctly affirmed that any body,who will be found infiltrated for economic cause shall not be allowed to remain in the land,which is already thrived by unemployed population.Time has elapsing to think and act in practical manner,honorable supreme court must be saluted for their rational judgement on such issue, this is a matter of not only identity crisis but question of survivals as well.

  5. Wow
    What an article! It is really too long to read but I guess there could be some truth in it like every other article you read! Bottom line is BJP has the mandate and that too absolute Mandate and Modiji is a true National leader. There is no country in the world which can be ruled without the support of corporates and some Powerful individuals and their support. This is rule of the law. He is doing his best to clean up the country as well as the past corruption but this takes time. India is doing well and again like most countries in the world who are facing economic slow down we too are facing it and it is a global crisis and this will continue for many years. My only grievance is the post election drama which is currently happening in Maharashtra – this is absolutely ridiculous and the Government Supreme Court and EC should draft a pre election agreement which must be signed sealed and delivered to the EC and Supreme Court signed by party heads and all candidates. Whoever deviate from this after the election shall be barred from election for 10 years plus first two years in Jail for wasting public money. It is really important to implement this. Jai Hind!

    • The real reason is non cooperation of Indians with other Indians. Your enemy ‘s enemy is not my friend. 1000 years of slavery was this selfish the genetic lack of cooperation and help of Indians for each other.

  6. Your article is about a political slyness that has placed the onus of result on the people while taking the benefits of actions on self. Its called heads I win and tails you lose.

    I think this is the balance we have been waiting for. Because the harm that is causing is highest to those slaves who accept this as their truth. Remember like the story of the Pied Piper. All the rats followed him cheeringly to their own drowning. Dont try to stop it. Let it go on.

  7. If these pro hindutva wants to hear something to sooth their ears you are getting too much from the godi media that are around that doesnt have any content other than praising amitshah and modi…….this is a democracy my dears….you should have the patience to listen the other side too…..and in winning elections…..we know the way the election results went and the election commission took steps to clear modi and amit shah of their actions…..and how it resulted in their winning of the elections…..I don’t know whether we want any elections next time and we need a supreme court either to take decisions concerning the actions carried out by the modi govt bypassing our indian constitution and its framework….

  8. You Print people is so rascals that you dont see anything then crtising Hindutva….

    You bloody Print and your bosses are not requied in Hindustan..

    You are born child of Bitches and we use that Bitches for our enjoyment.

  9. This is another dud salvo fired at Modi by the leftist ecosystem who have been running around like headless chickens trying to make sense of Modi phenomenon. He is the first to shatter the propaganda of Nehruvian consensus of ‘mai baap’ Sarkar drilled into the psyche of every Indian. He has galvanised people into participating in nation building. For example his slogan of ‘Swacch Bharat’ has caught the imagination of people. He has shown courage & taken great personal risk to take the problems festering for decades head on. For example repealing of art 370, Ram Mandir, TT, GST, demonetisation, arms procurement, abolition of useless institutions like Planning Commission, calling of Pak nuclear bluff etc. Earlier people had resigned themselves to living with these decades long festering problems. People believe his personal integrity & commitment to nation unlike other run of the mill politicians notorious for not looking beyond their personal or party’s interests. He is the true Yug Purush. Now live with it.

  10. Very good oppt to implement NRC to all over state. Indian sovereignty will improve and real working person to be status must come up.

    Strong leader’s of Modi ji & Amith ji only able to execute and clean this country from culprits and bad politicians.

  11. So how long will this be sustainable?? With everything going downhill, when do u see the real revolution happen?

  12. The long repressed and persecuted Hindus have found a new Avatar of Vishnu in Modi who is out to destroy all evil.

  13. I personally not agree with your point of view… I think Modi and Amit Shah popularity due to caste basis… people of upper caste very enthusiastic about BJP.. absolutely they are driven by their faith… They shouting “MODI…. MODI” even they know their leaders telling a lie….. This is the power of RELIGION.. It is new in INDIA but not in World

  14. Modi & Shah, they have a vision for India, are true nationalist, Indians trust them and are willing to do sacrifices.

  15. One can fool some of the people all the time or all the people some of the time but not all the people all the time.
    The andh-bhakts will remain fooled all the time but for the rest of us, we’ll soon get wise to the jumla of feku-motu and stopped being duped.

  16. This kind of an article can only come about through immature analysis of a person who knows they want to hate Modi and are finding newer paths to that same destination. If they were to open their eyes and look they’d understand the sheer folly of their own analysis especially when millions of Indians support Modi and will keep supporting him because he is an Honest man. Other politicians are not. That is at the core of his support, and I appreciate his hard work and honesty towards the country. If ThePrint really wants answers as to why people support him they should realize that common people do not have to answer to their liberal overlords and hence can take stock of a situation in an unbiased manner. Elitism really does lead to utter stupidity.

    • Honesty in the name of electoral bonds ?
      Honesty in the name of Rafale ?
      Honesty in the name of BSNL ?
      Honesty in the name of Nirav Modi ?

    • There is no bloody war. The constitution of India states India is a secular democratic Republic. We are a secular country.

  17. Like it or not, running a big country needs educated people. Brain surgeory needs brain surgeon. Chai wala and stock brokers will be braiin challenged.

    • Wisdom and vision never come
      with high education. It is something you born with. Stupid people like you place undue advantages
      to the people who spends years
      in university mugging pages of heavy toms, understanding very
      little of the real world

  18. Somebody has commented that all good things come to an end. So do bad things. The only difference is that bad things come to a violent end. Has anybody envisaged an era when these larger than life leaders are no longer there to carry the populace with their false sense of “all is well”. The two leaders in the present dispensation are so insecure in their own insecurity that they have not allowed the rise of a second tier leadership. The fact is that the very diversity that this government has tried to suppress will be its nemesis. It’s only a question of time.

  19. For the first time, I have seen a journalist got something right about the behavioral aspect of Indian voters. Yes, Modi Defines the change which middle class wanted to bring for years. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi represented the old elite of remaining aloof from the Indian public. The one big masterstroke is Mann ki Baat, which psychologically tells every Indian that Modi is still there. He is listening. He talks about common things as well as big things. This helps keep the Indian public psychologically linked with the PM. Yes, they are the revolution.

  20. Disastrous leadership ! One can’t expect some thing positive from this leadership! Everywhere it goes, chaos and frustration arises! Bad days….very bad days are coming!

  21. Absolutely stupid reasoning. Ms Lakshmi is demeaning the intelligence of the Indian voter. Stupendous how The Print manages to find such columnists! Just how do they do it?

      • Just so you know, someone disagreeing with you does not make them an idiot. In fact, it does the very opposite, it makes you an idiot for assuming you are the arbitrator of “right” and “wrong”.

    • What “intelligence of the Indian voter”? The idiot doesn’t even know what is a vote, what is democracy, AND WHAT IS A COUNTRY? HE ELECTS GOONDAS TOI THE COUNTRY’S PARLIAMENT! 43% MPs elected this year have criminal charges filed against them, out of which 29% have serious criminal charges against them! And the voter has elected even TERROR CHARGED SADHVI PRAGYA SINGH THAKUR! What good is this sadhvi for? He doesn’t deserve a right to vote! Pity that so important a thing as country’s future is entrusted to this clueless idiotic voter! Democracy is suffering in India because of this ignorant voter.

  22. All good things come to an end. There will now be a non BJP government in India’s most important state. A national NRC has the potential to create turbulence on a scale much larger than Assam or Kashmir. It could give the Opposition a plank, an issue on which they can clearly differentiate themselves from the incumbent. A piquant situation would arise if Indian Muslims simply refused to participate in NRC.

    • Not only Muslims, many Hindus will also refuse to participate in this stupid exercise. We have already had demonetization, Aadhaar registration where everyone anxiously wasted so many hours in long queues. Enough of this nonsense now.

    • A very interesting idea – what if the entire indian population does satyagraha and refuses to comply with NRC?

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