The Bharatiya Janata Party has attained Jupiter’s escape velocity that Rahul Gandhi once recommended to the Dalits for success. It does not have to live in the gravitational reality—that is the frightening spectre of a life and livelihood crisis in India.
Watch the 9:01-minute video clip that the BJP released on Saturday to celebrate Narendra Modi government’s sixth anniversary. You will think there is no coronavirus or any public health or economic crisis in India. The pictures of shining highways bustling with cars and swanky Metro criss-crossing a sparkling city take you into a different world. There are no migrants, no women delivering on the highways nor any emaciated children trudging with blistered feet. There are only happy faces all around — 70 lakh youngsters employed under Skill India programme, 24 crore MUDRA Yojana beneficiaries who are now self-employed, and those who are giving employment to others, and so on.
Who cares about the doomsayers sounding alarms about job losses and floundering businesses? They are anachronistic voices that are irrelevant in Modi’s India.
Watch the entire clip — all 9:01 minutes of it. You will feel you are a character in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, travelling between the past and the future—everywhere, except today’s India. You will have escaped the coronavirus, the present.
The video clip, titled ‘Modi Sarkar ke 6 saal…bemisal’ or ‘Modi government’s matchless 6 years’, offers only a glimpse of the BJP’s make-believe world.
In this world, once the Prime Minister declares a Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package, people must believe in it and not whine about the official details not adding up or only constituting a small fraction. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman wouldn’t field questions about these details in her tedious press conferences, with her deputy, Anurag Thakur, only inducing more somnolence with Hindi translations, obviously with an eye on voters in the Hindi heartland.
You must believe that the Railways bore 85 per cent of the migrant workers’ travel costs, even if they themselves or the states paid for the tickets. If you looked up the Twitter timeline of railways minister Piyush Goyal for a statement of facts, you learnt more about the chartered accountants of India. He accused opposition-ruled West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand of not permitting trains that the Centre wanted to run for migrant workers. The chief ministers of these states vehemently rebutted it. Goyal wouldn’t bother to back his allegations with facts.
Union home minister and former BJP president Amit Shah, who once saw the exodus of migrants from cities as a violation of the lockdown and instructed states to prevent it, has had a change of heart. Last week, he instructed the BJP to organise camps on highways and along railway tracks to distribute chappals, soap, food and water to migrant workers. The home-bound travellers would probably prefer sports shoes for their walk home, but the BJP must have concluded that chappals are more convenient when the journey is so long. The soap can also come handy when they wish to take a shower during their long treks on the rail tracks and the roads.
‘It could be worse’
Is it the same BJP that re-wrote the rules of Indian politics? It can’t be so disconnected. That’s why everyone is curiously watching the ruling party as the Modi-led government completes its sixth year in office on May 26 when he had taken oath in 2014. Is the BJP government losing touch with the ground reality or is its Shining India strategy a calculated gambit?
On the face of it, it would seem that Modi and Shah are losing the plot. How else would one explain them being in denial mode about the miseries of lakhs of migrants — the aspirational India that solidly backed Modi? Not that they were expecting an apology from the Prime Minister for their sufferings. How would one explain the government’s focus on packaging, perception management and opposition-hunting when the public health emergency and the economy in a tailspin require it to single-mindedly look for out-of-box ideas to avert a disaster?
Even when it takes bold and correct decisions such as the defanging of the agriculture produce marketing committees and instructing BJP-ruled states to reform labour laws, it seems to suffer from a crisis of conviction. Look at how Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has withdrawn the order to allow an increase in working hours from 8 to 12. How would potential investors trust such fickle-minded governments? PM Modi talks about land reforms but hasn’t amassed the courage to dust up the land acquisition bill. And, while Shah keenly observed Mamata Banerjee’s politically suicidal moves to paper over the Covid-19 crisis, he and Modi silently watched the situation getting out of hand in BJP-ruled Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
There are several other instances that show the Modi-Shah regime bungling at what it was known to be adept at—political messaging. Or is it so? They may have reasons to think they still control the narrative. After all, there is no opposition leader around to change it. Modi can’t say sorry to migrant workers or to anyone else. It would be an admission of mistake. And Modi, a strong and decisive leader and global saviour, can never commit one. It’s the same reason that the Prime Minister never admitted the blunder of demonetisation and faulty rollout of the goods and services tax. Narendra Modi, who became the Prime Minister due to the people’s saubhagya or good luck as the anniversary clip describes it, can do no wrong.
Modi addressed the nation to declare the nationwide lockdown and then its extension. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And lockdown was a tough decision that only a tough and decisive leader — Modi — could make. As the Covid-19 positive figures kept piling up and the visuals of the miseries of hapless migrants and the poor kept coming, the Prime Minister left it to the home ministry, run by his putative No. 2, Amit Shah, to declare the third lockdown. The home ministry left it to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to declare the fourth on Sunday.
As for India’s migrants, they will learn to forgive and forget. What options do they have? There is no opposition worth the name. As for the deaths and economic destructions in coming months, and possibly years, in the absence of a vaccine, there is always coronavirus to take the blame if the people become sceptical about Jawaharlal Nehru’s and Manmohan Singh’s role in them. After all, PM Modi did his best, locking down everything and everyone for so long, didn’t he? Even if the worst things happen, there is always an argument to defend Modi government: It could have been worse (than the worst).
‘Everything’s gonna be alright’
The BJP’s anniversary video clip — released on the day election results were announced in 2014 — is another attempt to re-package and merchandise old dreams. Those feeling aggrieved may take solace in Rajasthan cadre IAS officer Sanjay Dixit’s explanation after the Prime Minister’s announcement of the stimulus package on 12 May:
“India’s population: 133 Cr. Package: 20 Lakh Cr. Try calculating. It’s exactly 15 lakh per person. 2014 promise made good. Mumkin hai na bhai. [sic]”
The only problem in the Modi-Shah model of the make-believe world is its temporariness. The coronavirus does not look like going away any time soon and the crowds of jobless people are likely to only swell by the day. To millions who may soon find themselves transposed to 1974 when Manoj Kumar was burning his university degree in the film Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan, PM Modi would probably like to play this vintage song: Everything’s gonna be alright/ And nobody’s gotta worry ‘bout nothing/ Don’t go hitting that panic button/ It ain’t near as bad as you think….
But, aside, I think Bebe Rexha captures it better for him in her 2018 hit, I’m a Mess:
Oh, he don’t love me, he don’t love me…But that’s okay/’Cause I love me, yeah, I love me…Yeah, I love myself anyway/ Everything’s gonna be alright/ Everything’ gonna be okay.
Views are personal.