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The three mistakes of Modi critics in India – and ‘soft-Moditva’ is not one of them

Just like American liberals can’t see why anyone would vote for Trump, Modi critics too have fallen in the same trap. And therein lies the problem.

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Jairam Ramesh’s remark that PM Narendra Modi should not be demonised carries two very different suggestions. The first is newsy, full of masala, but of fleeting significance. The second is bland, but critical to thinking politics in our times.

The first way is to read his remark as a gesture of ‘soft-Moditva’, of anti-leadership rumblings within the Congress, as shuffling of feet in order to buy one’s peace with the regime, if not a preparation for joining the long queue outside the BJP office. This is how many Congress members and commentators have read his remarks and those by Shashi Tharoor and Abhishek Manu Singhvi who spoke in his defence. This is why that throwaway remark at a book launch grabbed headlines and invited criticism within the Congress.

Also read: Shashi Tharoor: Congress members must constructively criticise Modi, not go after my tweet

Knowing whatever little I do about Jairam Ramesh, I would be shocked if this were to be even half-true. But these are strange times when shocking things happen at uncanny regularity. In any case, it is clear that some of the noise around his statement may well be a plea for going soft on Modi. Many Congress and opposition leaders are looking for a fig leaf to switch sides. Jairam Ramesh may have, unwittingly, offered that. But all this is of fleeting interest, the routine stuff of everyday politics.

I am interested in the second reading of that remark, as an invitation to strategic rethinking. At least on the face of it, this is what Jairam Ramesh meant. He is reported to have said: “If you are going to demonise him all the time, you are not going to be able to confront him…. Unless we recognise that he is doing things, which people recognise and which have not been done in the past, we are not going to be able to confront this guy”. This reading is of critical importance as it puts its finger on perils of anti-Modism that passes for opposition politics these days.

Also read: One point BJP, Congress agree on: Modi’s unbeatable. Frozen politics waits for big new idea

The three mistakes of Modi critics

Modi critics like me make at least three big mistakes. First of all, their obsession with Narendra Modi makes him a larger-than-life figure. In their desire to counter Modi’s attempt to take credit for everything positive, they end up producing a mirror image: Modi critics tend to blame Modi for everything. A lynching in some corner of the country, the failure of one agricultural policy, badly managed balance sheet in the Budget – everything is blamed on Narendra Modi. I am also guilty of this. My short book, a critique of the BJP government’s agricultural policy, was titled ‘Modi Raj Me Kisan’. Modi critics do as much publicity for him as his fawning supporters.

Second, most Modi critics suffer from knee-jerk anti-Modism. Since a policy or an action is associated with him or his government, we must oppose him. The recent Draft National Education Policy is a case in point. It may be a good document or a bad one, depending on one’s viewpoint. But it is certainly not a diabolic RSS blueprint to saffronise education. I suspect that much of the criticism of this document is because it was produced under the Modi government. Besides, Modi critics tend to have it both ways. If he travels abroad frequently, we attack him. If he were not to do so, we would have attacked him even more furiously. The trouble with this routine, knee-jerk opposition is that it loses the public. People see it for what it is: opposition for the sake of opposition.

Third, and most importantly, Modi critics fail to acknowledge Modi’s popularity and fail to understand the reasons behind it. The inability to foresee the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was a classic illustration of this failure. No doubt, Modi’s popularity had dipped in the second half of 2018. But post-Pulwama and post-Balakot, his popularity was head and shoulder above all the opposition leaders put together. After that, the election was no contest at all. But most Modi critics were disconnected from this reality. Even after the election results, many Modi critics continue to live in denial. They find it hard to acknowledge that the BJP won, not because of any EVM manipulation but because people wanted to give Modi another chance.

Such a failure to acknowledge Modi’s popularity leaves little room to understand reasons for it. It is nearly impossible for Modi critics to see that ordinary voters may have had good reasons to vote for Modi. Just as American liberals find it impossible to believe that anyone within their senses could vote for Donald Trump, Modi critics find it impossible to make sense of an ordinary Indian voter. Modi critics find themselves in a smaller and yet smaller circle of opinion, culturally cut off from the rest of society. The end result is disbelief, anxiety and angst, but no meaningful action. This is a recipe for political paralysis.

Also read: How India’s liberals and opposition can start winning the battle of ideas

Lessons from Turkey

What, then, should Modi critics do? For starters, we should turn our attention to Turkey. When Ates Ilyas Bassoy, the national campaign manager for Republican People’s Party (CHP), was asked about his strategy that led to the defeat of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party in the Istanbul elections this year, he said: “We had two simple rules: Ignore Erdogan and love those who love Erdogan.” Spelling out the implications of this brilliant political strategy for India would require another article. And long political debates.

It is vital that we start those debates now. For it is not just about an individual called Narendra Modi and a bunch of his critics. This is about the very future of our republic. The opposition has lost not just an election, but its sense of direction altogether. The major non-BJP parties seem to have no tactics, no strategy, indeed no doctrine to take on the BJP’s hegemony. Learning to deal with Narendra Modi is the first step towards developing a politics that could counter this hegemony.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. This is warped logic of YY at its best. He wants others to believe that ” Modi critics fail to acknowledge Modi’s popularity”. If Modi was so popular why would the BJP spend Rs. 27,000 crores in the last elections? He has repeatedly said on various platforms that the elections were fixed. He claims the farmer constituency as his own. He himself said that the recent farmers agitations had made all political parties to wake up to their demands, but “post-Pulwama and post-Balakot, his popularity was head and shoulder above all the opposition leaders put together. After that, the election was no contest at all”. He thinks the farmers struggling to elk out a living were completely influenced by Pulwama and Balakot- the farmers probably had no idea what it is. This coming from someone who initially hailed the Modi government’s demonetization as brilliant, but later finding himself completely isolated made an U-turn. In my opinion, the continuation of the Modi government is because there is no centrist Opposition party or parties, each of these parties consider one another as the greater threat, the Left-parties are more worried about the TMC, the Congress have been neutralized by the various scams, same with Mayawati’s BSP and Akilesh Yadav’s SP and so on. But the most glaring is YY finding Arvind Kejriwal as the greatest threat to the ‘idea of India’.

  2. Dear Yogendra ji, no true Modi supporter would believe you not because you are so prejudiced of Modiji, but you have contracted your intelligence and wisdom the dynast of the congress party by saying him he is quite intelligent. We to have studied in college and have some intelligence so we will work for India to educate people around us to support Modiji and discredit all those jaundiced so called intellectuals who make their tea expense from sycophancy club of some dynastic parties.

  3. Disclaimer- This is coming from a modi bhakti so it may be utter bulls**t.

    The fact that I want to write this is the mere representation of your first mistake, we are not idiots. Some of us are learned men n women who see modi for what he is. We know his strength and weaknesses, his actual works and propagandas. We weigh them and find him suitable for the job. So please stop treating every modi supporter with contempt. It is rightly said by Mr. Yogendra Yadav. “Love thy enemy”.

    My second point is lack of positive criticism. Here also I agree with YY, we should not oppose for the sake of opposing.The fact that you people are failing to do so, is the scourge of democracy. I want a responsible opposition which knows what is wanted at grass root level badly.

    I hope such articles and opinions regular so that an honorable opposition is in the place. Thank you for reading (If any one does ).

  4. Yogendra ji has been very deeply connected to people at large, is a realist thinker and has an unimpeachable background of academic excellence – and still he grossly miss the point of What Modi Means to Today’s India!
    Congress – nay Gandhi – chose to make Nehru, an west educated and west leaning perfect gentleman, to become first Prime Minister of India. This was an India still being ruled by Jamindars and petty Kings and above them the Britishers – Nehru very much suited this mental set up of then Indian masses. He looked less autocrat than the Kings and Jamindars, was too affectionate and still looked like the King – a good King, thus commanding huge love of the people.
    Congress continued with this ethos providing ‘good looking’ Kings. The whole generation enjoyed seeing those Kings and expecting less. The Congress very deliberately avoided putting a common face to lead the country baring Lal Bahadur Shastri, who suffered an unfortunate end or else it would have probably changed the course of thinking altogether in Congress.
    However, this generation grew old and with this came growing a new generation of New India, homely educated, knowing lessons of democracy and with this grew a new set of expectations – the Nineteen Seventies agitations leading to Congress rout. But this was the failed revolution as 1977 govt crumbled imploding from its own contradictions and the generation remained restless finding alternatives experimenting with viable nonviable combinations.
    Non from amongst the ‘people’was coming as the leader from any of the national parties – though in states this came in the forms of Mulayam ji, Lalu ji and few others, who commanded mammoth support from their people and certain socioeconomic engineering too were successful in the states.
    And then BJP fielded Modi, who just caught the imazination of the people – a new masculine, dedicated and committed face, who was from amongst the real people of real India. For the very first time in India people felt that they were electing their own Prime Minister and they did this with fullest of conviction.
    Balakot and Phulwama did provide the strong platform for him but even without this Modi was going to form the govt. Phulwama made Modi too Strong – perhaps stronger than BJP and even RSS.
    And India was longing to have a masculine leader for long – away from ever appeasing and defensive govt. Modi has changed all the narratives – social, cultural, domestic and international politics. He is the real anchor others just loving and supporting him. The few others who hate and criticise him are just sitting on sidelines at least as of now.
    This love and support of the people is too strong, too offensive and too violent as well. This is dangerous too for the country and for Modi as well. Modi II has raised the benchmark too high and he himself may be victim of this if he does not be and remain the imazination of the people – performing and continue selling new dreams too.
    Till then Modi critics and Modi haters may just have to wait. They will continue to make mistakes – not three but numerous. They will be loss of thoughts and reasons. Just remember the time when Nehru would be loss of arguments, he would threat to resign and everyone will come along! Modi II would be somewhat Nehru +Indira. The critics would be far behind the speed of his batting. They will not find the words and the language. And most importantly they will not find the audience! The crumbling Congress too remains a very good feeder – destiny too appears to favour this only.

    • Mr Jha – I have read only very few comments articulated so beautifully as the first half of your comment. You hit the nail on the head.

  5. Napoleon Bonaparte has famously said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” and that is Narendra Modi’s first strategy.
    Leaders like our very own Yogendra Yadav could benefit enormously from Napoleon’s advice. But to do Yogendra Yadav will have to alight from his pulpit of And-Of-Course-I-Am-Sagacious-But-You-Are-Not. Humility, my respected sir. The genuine article and not the sham we see in most cases and (occasionally in yourself) Humility is Modi’s second strategy.
    Finally, Modi is not batting for anyone other than the holistic totality of his countrymen rather than – as in your case – the farmers of Haryana or the Holy Family in the case of Congress.

  6. Der aaye durust aaye!
    So Yadavji, forget opposition. Give yourself an intellectual exercise and follow your words.
    – Acknowledge positives of Modi governments.
    -Objectively state what are all the measures you feel need improvements, changed and abandoned.
    -Give primacy to country, its’ aspirations and growth and rest follows.
    India has vast cultural heritage, diversities and philosophies to be discovered. People will appreciate if you quote them instead of bookish and western thoughts.

  7. Give me freebies subsidies reservation loan waivers unemployment salary car fuel house alcohol cigarettes please

  8. This is about the very future of our republic. After writing about the three mistakes to end the article with this sentence is probably the fourth. The republic is safe so along as the leaders does not steel. If we could have prevented the thefts since independence we would have been a different country irrespective which ideology was in power. No ideology is designed to ruin the future of the republic it is the corrupt people who come to power from the ideology. Nobody minds a strict Boss but nobody can accept a corrupt boss. CORRUPTION sir not IDEOLOGY will destroy the future.

  9. Modi exists because of his commitment to the common good.
    Modi exists because the BJP has been working with the people for a long time.
    The other parties, decided that they were doing an honour to the people by being their leader.
    The other parties do not even bother to find out how the government is working at the grass roots.

    • Modi is working for the common good of the RSS and no one else!
      Modi exist because of the lies being told by the BJP/RSS and others!
      Modi exists because of money funded by the corporate giants!
      The other parties did not have the money to fight against the BJP!
      The other parties all work at the grass roots!
      One other statement I would make is how is unemployment, how is the economy, how is auto, motorcycle sales?
      One other statement is are Indians better off now than five years ago?

  10. This article seems to be written with a heavy heart, and coming from a genius intellectual and original thinker, it is too little, too late, a ‘me-too think this way’ imitation echoing some Congress men.

    The problem with YY and his ilk is that in their heart, they are haters. This hate keeps coming out in their writings. One small example: “But these are strange times when shocking things happen with uncanny regularity.”

    The “masala” in this statement exposes YY. Was YY born in years after the emergency, sterilisation drive, anti-Sikh riots etc etc that he finds the current events too shocking?

    Finally, if he has used the adjective “fawning” for Modi supporters, then he should have used “irrational” to describe Modi’s detractors.

    • Instead of using just an adjective(irrational) for Modi critics, YY rather used full sentences for them many times in this article…like “Second, most Modi critics suffer from knee-jerk anti-Modism. ”
      “Modi critics tend to blame Modi for everything”
      “I am also guilty of this. ”
      “If he were not to do so, we would have attacked him even more furiously. ”
      “I suspect that much of the criticism of this document is because it was produced under the Modi government.”
      “Modi critics find themselves in a smaller and yet smaller circle of opinion, culturally cut off from the rest of society. ”
      He is not hater of modi , he caterogically advocated n wrote (like erdogen) that just ignore Modi n love those who love modi.
      He also spoke many times about sins of congress, emergency, sikh riots, muslim appeasement etc…
      Plz re read article bhai.

  11. After a long time a well thought out article by Yadavji instead of the usual modi-bashing, i am right every one is wrong ponitifications that we see from you. If you want to take on Modi, first you have to understand why people vote for him – instead of boxing all the people as bunch of idiots who need to be taught what is good and what is bad for them. If random politicians do this mistake it is understandable. If so called “political scientists” who also call them academic intellectuals do it, one can only smile at their ignorance and ego. I hope people learn atleast now how to be constructive.

  12. Not sure if the author got it right. Modi stands tall on platform built by the party. He is workaholic and passionate. Modi critics should build and alternate leader. They are just waiting for one to emerge, till then they are holding the fort. This is seen as(may not be true) armchair criticism.

  13. In fact, what Yadav does not say is this- now that Art 370 is gone, Ram temple and Uniform Civil Code would be sorted out soon. Then all contentious political issues between secular and BJP are over. Pro poor, pro OBC, pro Dalit etc policies are being implemented more vigorously by Modi. So what is left with opposition to fight with? Modi is not even corrupt! And Modi will get the economy to turn around soon. So forget the three mistakes of the opposition, there would no opposition required or left against Modi. We will have to invent a completely new political paradigm now and that’s the real challenge. Until Modi and BJP make really major mistakes, they are going to stay put.

  14. To understand the Modi’s popularity one has to understand Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
    The German dictator Hitler was overwhelmingly popular with the German people.
    But what did he bring them eventually?
    He promised them victory they got defeat
    Hitler promised the German people prosperity, a good life!
    He gave them death and reduced the population to the Wretched on the Earth.
    He promised that Germany would rise up and the German people will get their pride back.
    All they got was humiliation and defeat.

  15. The problem you don’t understand is that how and why common man connects with bjp… A low wage earner smiles and takes pride with modi and the way bjp creates news even though he isn’t a bjp member. A bike and car having cynical hanuman picture in orange color, even though they’re not having a party member card. When the demonstration news came and when 370 news came, a lot of these smile uncontrollably and silently. I always wondered how congress can break this barrier? For now, modi-shah just have to run the show without making a scandal and they’re good for another term and if the opposition parties don’t get energy to fight back, there would be nothing to stop bjp

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