Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi | Manvender Vashist/PTI
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi | PTI
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When Narendra Modi became the prime minister in 2014, the first to get an absolute majority since 1984, he was powerful enough to see the land acquisition amendment bill through in the Lok Sabha. But when Rahul Gandhi said Modi’s government belonged to rich corporates — ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ — Modi went back on the amendment.

This was only the first of many instances when a powerful Modi government had to step back on an issue because of the fear of losing the political narrative. In 2016, the government withdrew an order to take NDTV India, the Hindi news channel, off air for a day. In 2017, it withdrew a ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter. In April 2018, the government brought out an order that threatened to cancel the accreditation of journalists who were accused of propagating fake news. After an uproar, this notification too was withdrawn.

In 2018, then minister of state for external affairs, M.J. Akbar, was accused of sexual harassment by several women journalists who had worked under him when he was an editor. When the accusations came out, Akbar was travelling in Africa. The media pressure was such that he was expected to resign as soon as he landed in Delhi. But the Modi government didn’t ask him to resign. As the number of accusations grew and the pressure built up, Akbar finally submitted his resignation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to avoid talking about lynching. But every once in a while, once a year on average, he gives in to pressure and issues a perfunctory statement to at least distance himself from the blame. It would be worse if he didn’t even do this, because it could give the lynch mobs even more impunity.


Also read: The Modi playbook: Delay in PM condemning attacks on Kashmiris is part of a pattern


What does Modi fear?

All these incidents show that if there’s one thing the Modi government fears, it is losing the narrative. It does not want to be painted as an outright authoritarian regime, it does not like to be called fascist or dictatorial. It pushes the limits to see how far it can go without resistance. When resistance comes, it reconsiders its position.

If there’s another thing the BJP government doesn’t like, it is the negative coverage of the PM in the foreign press. It has made the Indian press its mouthpiece, and the ones that don’t obey are irrelevant. But the foreign press narrative affects Modi’s international image, and he cares about that. Contrary to the lazy comparisons of Modi with Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the leftists make, Modi does not want to be seen in the same sentence as them. He wants to be called a great democrat. Just notice the number of times he talks about Indian democracy when he goes abroad.

Modi’s fear of narrative is our insurance against his excesses. It is proof that speaking up is not going to go in vain. It is proof that resistance is not futile. Modi is never overwhelmed by the election he has just won, because he immediately starts calculating the risks to his next election.

In 2017, there were prominent protests against lynching, under the banner ‘Not In My Name’. I had written back then that these were counter-productive, because the left-liberals needed to change the public narrative from Hindu-Muslim issues to things that might actually hurt Hindutva, such as atrocities against Dalits.

I was wrong.

The protests forced PM Modi to urge the state governments to act against cow vigilantes. No matter how meaningless the statement was, the protests had at least achieved something. The Prime Minister had been forced to acknowledge that people were being lynched in the name of the cow.


Also read: Aparna Sen & Ramachandra Guha should know sending letters to Modi only makes him look good


Competitive victimhood

You go silent over mob lynching and a bigger bombshell is dropped in the form of National Citizens Register. Now in Assam, and soon across the country, every Muslim may be branded an illegal immigrant unless they can prove their citizenship.

The intellectuals who have written a letter to the Prime Minister against the growing incidents of lynching across India, mostly of Muslims, have done the right thing. That the BJP mobilised its own people to write a counter-letter, with the standard whataboutery nonsense, shows that the original letter was powerful. If it didn’t matter, it wouldn’t have received a counter-letter. Or death threats and troll attacks.

“Aparna Sen and Ramachandra Guha should know sending letters to Modi only makes him look good,” writes Asim Ali. He argues that Modi’s politics is premised upon opposing these ‘rootless intellectual elites’, and the more these left-liberal intellectuals protest against Modi, the more it helps him. This is not true because, as the incidents counted above show, Modi sees any opposition from any quarter as a threat to his political narrative.

Ali further argues why we shouldn’t protest against Modi: “Populist leaders like Modi thrive on victimhood.” That’s correct. Question is, why let him have a monopoly on the politics of victimhood? If the defenders of lynching can get away with playing victim, it means those speaking on behalf of victims aren’t speaking loud enough. They need to speak loud enough so that the Modi government as well as the state governments are forced to follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines on prevention of lynchings, which have been brazenly defied.

Views are personal.

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17 Comments Share Your Views

17 COMMENTS

  1. His instinctive response to uproot any kind of opposition, makes him blindly do the same with constructive dissent.
    He has cut back on military perks including entitled rations. Just to spite the military and subjugate them to an extent that shaming them in protocol seems like respite.
    For the same reason he is harming the few comforts enjoyed by Veterans. In fact, with the help of a pliant Chief of Army Satff he has driven a deep irreparable wedge between the Veterans and the serving.
    In the same lilt, he is cjopping the wings of the IAS. What India will emerge after he is done with this country, only time will tell. But the drum beat of Denkali appears ominous !

  2. If he is sensitive to criticism, he is fearful. If he is not, he is a facist. If he responds, he is frightened. If he doesn’t, he is arrogant – this is Modi as intellectuals see him.
    Fact remains – the AC drawing room bound so-called liberal Democrat intellectuals have been created, nourished and sustained by successive elitist faishanable socialist Congress regime to sustain themselves and engage the intellectuals having the luxury of commenting and propagating their ethos while enjoying rulers’ patronage by so many means and methods.
    Congress didn’t have any organisation to propagate their ideology and didn’t rather have any ideology hence their need to nourish such propganda groups of liberal intellectuals. BJP has a solid ideology – rather the party has come out of an ideology. And their father of ideology – RSS is older, bigger and greater than the party itself. RSS, good or bad, remains one of the formidable cultural and social organisation of the world. Therefore, BJP does not need to create and sustain another set of intellectuals. RSS’ intellect and social reach is just unique and unparallel.
    If the author feels that the response of the great letter was out of fear and was planted by BJP – one can only say ‘ Dil bahlane ke liye Galib ye khayal achha hai’. Let them feel good of the ‘great effect’ of their endeavour for ‘public good’. Let them feel that they are the preservatives for our social harmony and good order. Let them go on patting their own backs the way they please!
    In a democracy every protest has, and should have, it’s impact – be it from any quarter. It may be political parties, it may be various organizations, it may be pressure groups. Every dissent, disagreement and protest has its own relevance, value and impact on the state. That is all about a democracy we should be proud of. Even an individual writes to ministries and PMO over issues of concern and often has positive results. But those letters are not sent to media for publicity as the individual is not a celebrity or a so called intellectual. In fact, these feed backs and communications have become too popular in Modi regime. Interactions and responsiveness have increaeed manyfold, compared to all previous regimes. And of course, this is all about a responsible governance in a vibrant and dynamic democracy.
    That the author has listed out the cases of protests and dissents, that caused mending the ways of govt out of ‘Fear’ only, is somewhat a dangerous concept. These must be taken as corrections on feed backs and positive protests and should be welcomed as the elements strengthening our democracy and not at all points of fear for the despansation. If the idea of protests is aimed at frightening the govt rather than correcting it, the protestors are not democrats. It must not be fear but the respect to public opinion that should always guide the govt in power. For elections are held in five years only – in between the opposition, civil society, individuals only reflect public opinion and feed back for the govt.
    There is no harm in celebrating the positive effects of protests but the tone and tenor of the celebration should not be seen as the ‘Fear’ of the govt. For these are symptoms making the govt reactionary and unresponsive giving rise to arrogance.
    Both the letters are just blown out of proportion. There had been occasions of such letters in the past – even during Congress rule. They are just quite good in themselves in as much as they reflect the public view on certain issues. But nothing more, nothing less. They should rest there.
    Hats off to the author for terming the response letter as having been caused by the govt or BJP as if the BJP would have been dislodged from power had the response not come. And who had caused the first letter? No analysis, no analogy and no imazination! For those are the intellectuals too caring for the society – even more caring than the elected representatives. They are too sacred people – selfless and holy!
    Modi is the outcome of a democratic process and he is supposed to respect the mandate and be responsive to all the feed backs too. And it would be better that even so-called intellectuals too respect the mandate and refrain from teasing the govt in an unworthy way. For if we expect decency from the govt, we too should be decent in our behaviour.
    We have had already seen too many colours of intellectuals during the emergency and we still remember that!

  3. Let there be no doubt, the narrative is still firmly controlled by India’s left wing elites. We rarely, if ever, mention Godhra burning when talking about Gujarat riots. When we talk about lynchings – it’s only in the context of Muslims getting killed. Nobody mentions the destruction of temples when talking about Babri Masjid. Only in India do we hear the term “hyper -nationalist” or “hindu-nationalist”. Similar terms never apply to any Islamic states or even Christian majority states. Modi is elected democratically and yet he is called a fascist. Pakistan is firmly controlled by a classic fascist oligarchy – do you hear hear anybody call them fascists? We have violent mobs charging out of mosques in Kashmir incited by communal sermons and, yet, when we talk about communalism it is only to find a reason to blame BJP. In India, the left controls controls the narrative and decides what we are allowed to debate.

    • Gopal, I have not read Karl Marx so I do not know what “left wing” means. But watching or listening to them from a distance, they appear more “human” to me compared to those who decry them. A human being is to be viewed in “as is where is” manner. The poor chap is not a spokesperson for something that happened to someone 20 or 400 years ago. See this creation of God in flesh and bone as he stands in front of you, and sympathize with him if anything wrong happens to him. He does not represent anybody else, boss! He is a standalone entity who can feel pain, so don’t give him pain.

      • In spite of your pious words, you just told us that you consider people like me, who decry left wing ideas, “less human”. This is the power of the narrative: You conflated bigotry and violence into somebody who is merely questioning our intellectual orthodoxy.

  4. It comes as no surprise that not once did it strike the “author” that the 49 gang was also politically motivated. It only strikes him that the counter letter by the 62 was politically motivated. An idiot cannot hide it idiocy for long, because, ironically, he’s an idiot.

  5. Yet another point of view to consider….. All views are good for a democacry….

    “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of the country dies with it.” – Edward R. Murrow

    “Difference of opinion is the one crime which kings never forgive,” – Emerson.

    Kabir said “Let’s listen to criticism with an open mind and have dialogue with our opponents with an attitude of self-reform.”

    Krishna in Bhagwat Gita says : “Whose side are you on? I am only on the side of Hastinapur” (In this case, the leaders should be ONLY for INDIA)

    But increasingly, both at the state and Centre, no party in India encourages debate or tolerates dissent.
    Such a state of affairs does not bode well for the progress of either the state or country or any party in the long term.

  6. Whatever so-called Leftists and so-called liberal may say or write about, it is certain that they have closed their minds and other perception organs and facualities to observe how the World has changed, How the India has changed in the decade they were sleeping and enjoying crumbs thrown at them by a ruling dynasty. The party the so-called liberal supported was never given majority by the voters of India after being given under emotional conditions in 1984. The People by and large reject corruption, dynastic rule in the name of democracy , Nehruvian rate of economic growth( sub 2-3%), minority appeasement in the name of secularism, demonization of the Hindus culture and history by ruling party and its retainer historians and Journalists. This is actual meaning of mandate of 2014 and 2019. Incorporate it in your mental facualities and Respect it.

  7. The group of 69 has accused the group of 49 of “selective outrage”. This is silly. There is no point in being outraged by terror attacks in Kashmir or Naxal attacks in Bastar , since the GOvt is already taking firm action about such things. Even on tukde-tukde stuff , hasn’t the Govt filed cases ? One can only be outraged about something that is not being attended to.
    The mob lynchings and religious colour being given to the acts are perfect examples of this.
    It is not just the PM who must initiate actions about lynchings , since the States are also involved. But the group of 49 had to make a beginning somewhere and so has drawn the PM’s attention to the state of affairs. Any group can do that without being called anti national or unpatriotic.
    The group of 69 has missed the point of the original letter completely.

  8. Modi is never rattled by anything and hence never behaves impulsively or foolishly. With all the attempts the opposition and the so called Intellectuals made to force an anti modi anti bjp narrative, modi overturneed every narrative in them and created his own narrative and came back with thumping majority. The reason is he had truth in his narratives that people of India could relate to whereas the narratives of his opponents could easily be identified as a single point agenda of removing modi. After 2019 also, the same mistakes are being committed by opposition and people will punish them again.

  9. I see. So the story is that if celebrity letter writers are countered by another set of celebrity letter writers, then the government is shivering in its pyjamas! The problem with self certified liberals is that they can give it, but they can’t take it. Incidentally we just had an election in which people have spoken. Just because it goes against your ideological agenda, does not mean that you have to again rehash the intolerance debate.

  10. If this narration is to support Award wapsi gang and those national dis-integrators, I am sorry, it fails in its narration. There are certain facts. Modi do not want to be seen painted in bad color. And he does this to keep his image clean and nothing wrong about. If you think, this is called fear, so be it with your opinion. At least he fears for some thing good for the country, unlike people who does everything wrong and still try to justify their acts. On another note: Any leader to be in prominence need to keep his image clean. No matter how his party colleagues behave. For every act of someone, you cannot use Modi as your punching bag.

  11. Wise governments pay more heed to what their detractors – actually, in many cases, it is independent voices that are expressing anguish, concern or disapproval, not necessarily making a political statement – are saying than their acolytes. One of the bulky folders President Putin goes through each morning contains extensive clippings from the media. The instructions to his aides are, Don’t keep the critical stuff out. 2. Actually it should not matter at all who is saying things, and why she is doing so. Well intentioned, sincere, or partisan, with an ulterior motive. The touchstone should be whether it is true or false.

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