Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Rob Stothard/Getty Images
Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Rob Stothard/Getty Images
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Who else, if not Modi, in 2019? The dominant question in most social gatherings and its many answers.

What is the alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi? That is a question dominating almost every urban, ideologically diverse social gathering these days. Liberals who question the spate of mob lynching incidents, obscurantist ideas and rising religious extremism are confronted with the TINA factor, or ‘There Is No Alternative’.


Also read: What the BJP may have to do to ensure Narendra Modi remains PM after 2019 polls


I began a social experiment to chronicle such exchanges in recent months at social hangouts. Here are some interesting ways in which the TINA-Modi curveball is thrown and answered.

The TINA question is, at once, a literal question genuinely seeking an answer, and a rhetorical question — asked for the sake of asking and silencing. And it works as an effective argument-stopper most of the time.

The question has many versions.

Are you really saying that Rahul Gandhi is an alternative? Can the outdated Gandhi-Nehru dynasty be the solution to India’s 21st-century problems? Is a hotch-potch coalition good for a sagging economy? Who else, if not Modi?


Also read: No-confidence motion against Modi was a clear sign that 2019 mahagatbandhan is yet to form


A new, freshly minted version of this TINA question from James Crabtree’s book called The Billionaire Raj is also being quoted. Business historian Gurcharan Das says in the book that in 2014, not voting for Modi was a bigger risk than voting for him.

The TINA question is often followed by a sigh and an awkward silence so thick that you can cut it with a knife.

But some do reply.

Die-hard Congress supporter

If the BJP-baiter is a Congress supporter, she will put up a valiant but desperate attempt to counter the TINA rhetoric. She will speak about the earnestness of Rahul — the ‘he is a decent guy’ argument.

Some will also rustle up that old 1980s Congress party slogan of experience and inclusion: “Sarkar chalana aata hai, pure desh se naata hai”.

And some will argue that Rahul and the Congress party must be strengthened because a strong opposition is key to a healthy democracy.

Ask a counter question

One person tried to intellectualise the TINA factor and flummox the Modi fans. That’s what liberals do, unfortunately — intellectualise everything.

He asked a diversionary, counter question: “Do you know who invented the phrase ‘there is no alternative’?”

Because nobody knew the answer, he proceeded to enlighten them. A 19th-century British philosopher Herbert Spencer often replied with “there is no alternative” when critics questioned the flaws of democracy and capitalism. The TINA factor was later adopted in popular politics by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s to defend her economic decisions, he explained.

The conversation moved away seamlessly from Modi to Britain, from Thatcher to Theresa May and then, Brexit.

TINA can and has been defeated

One professor offered a dose of political history to show that complacency isn’t healthy and that democracy always throws up an alternative.

When former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced elections in January 1977, she was supremely confident. Her challengers were in jail. People said there was no alternative to her, even after the Emergency’s horrific excesses. But she was defeated.

Later when her son Rajiv Gandhi was besieged by the Bofors corruption scam and party dissidence, pollster Prannoy Roy conducted a nation-wide opinion survey for the India Today magazine in 1988.

India Today wrote, “The message of the poll is simple and direct: because of a fragmented opposition, There Is No Alternative (TINA) to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress(I).”

Sounds just like Modi and 2019. Of course, Roy got it horribly wrong and the Congress party was defeated.


Also read: BJP’s Mission 2024: Prime Minister Amit Shah?


Decoding the word ‘Alternative’

“The minute you answer my criticism of Modi with TINA, you are admitting that what you have is a flawed product,” said an activist. “If you are supporting a leader because the alternative is worse or non-existent, it means you are saying that you are overlooking the leader’s flaws.”

That it is an admission of a political compromise, not a demonstration of a free, unencumbered political choice. Are they supporting Modi out of a helpless state of choicelessness (majboori) then?

The Modi voters said, “Yes, kya karen (what to do)”.

If that is so, what is it exactly that they are overlooking, went on the conversation. They are willing to overlook the religious extremist politics for the sake of economy and national security.

“That means you are willing to live with religious fundamentalism. You are what you choose to overlook and make your bed with,” said the activist. “It says something about who you are, more than what it says about your leader.”

And then she added that she was willing to live with corruption but not mob lynchings and the daily display of hateful religious bigotry.

The citizen alternative

The best answer I have heard so far is this: “We are the alternative. In a democracy, people like you and I are the alternatives, not any leader. Keep your personal politics right, stay away from casteism, religious bigotry, and don’t support injustice, discrimination when you encounter it. Continue questioning. Keep your moral compass intact. Don’t wait for the leader to define and set your moral compass.”

This answer, by a writer, even had the Modi supporters nodding in agreement.

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21 Comments Share Your Views

21 COMMENTS

  1. Some great person once remarked that “I’d willing to live with corruption but not mob lynchings and the daily display of hateful religious bigotry”. I was probably under the mistaken assunption that mob lynchings and hateful religious bigotry are also a type of corruption… of society. Its like saying i can tolerate a good hearted killer but not a cruel one. Please show me an oxymoron if there was one… of course, Modi is trying to stem corruption, but it would be far fetched to assume that he and / or his cohorts would would subscribe to “lynchings or daily display of hateful religious bigotry”. These incidents are criminal acts, and should be treated as one. It is for the Home Ministry of the STATE and the Police of the STATE to bring the perpetrators to justice… Since when does a PM have jurisdiction over State matter. My understanding is that CORRUPTION is the Cancer of Society, which eats into vitals and ultimately leads to its downfall. You remove corruption, and by default, you bring in prosperity… which leads to education… to enlightenment… to rule of law… to end of religious fundamentalism… So the greatest threat to society is not religious bigorty… it is corruption… of money… of values… of politics… Bring in prosperity and education and the potential scamsters, thieves and rioteers would automatically veer away from the path of the Devil.

  2. Life is not about choices. Anyone who believes that he/she can live according to ones principles is on an acid trip and devoid of reality. Life is about choosing the nest compromise… in other words… the best alternative… So yes, TINA is valid and part of the human experience. You can’t choose your parents… You have no choice but to love the woman who birthed you… tough luck ! You can’t choose your school… your parents decide that for you… you can’t choose your siblings… but of course you can choose your friends… but only from from amongst the people who are in your close proximilty… You can’t be sitting in in Mumbai and one fine day decide that I am going to befriend an Inuit from the North Pole… heck you could do it… but then you’d have to be on a major drug trip or in a wierd zone to think along those lines… you can choose who your life partner is going to be… but only from amongst the people you are in contact with… or from your caste… creed… race… linguistic group…. or who your peer gropups don’t frown upon…. How many people can choose their religions…. unless prompted by love or violence…. or dysfunctional upbringing… Same with politics… Its not like we can choose our leaders from across the globe… statesmen like Obama, Gorbachev, Lee Kuan Yew, the Queen of England (to lead our country). We can only choose from what is available to us… So there is Modi…. and there are some very fine administrators like Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu (sorry my personal views).. and then there are the unthinkables… So the intelligent & conscientious voter doen’t have much of a choice… except TINA.. tough luck… but who said life is fair….!

  3. You’ve proved your own argument void with this article since you too haven’t been able to answer, who is the alternative. And wow congress die hard supporters believe the citizens should empower Rahul Gandhi? There can be no bigger joke.

  4. TINA is incorrect usage. There are alternatives of course. There are multiple parties each with an aspiring PM – mayawati, Mamta, Rahul etc. It’s just that they are not as appealing or charismatic as Modi.
    Modi propelled himself to the top job by (1) being cm of Gujarat consecutively, and (2)spinning a Gujarat growth model ( real or fake) and simultaneously (3)becoming undisputed leader of a national party.
    Rahul has (3) , Mamta has (1) and mayawati has none.
    So they fade in contrast to him naturally.

  5. Imagine a patient afflicted with gangrene in his foot. Imagine the gangrene eating its way up his body. Now, imagine the attending surgeon telling him that they’ll consider an amputation the moment they are able to zero in on a prosthesis that is a good replacement to his original appendage. Imagine deferring a life saving surgery till a suitable alternative is available.
    Perhaps the remedy here is not so much TINA as it is GROTA.
    Get rid of the ass.

  6. From the article it is becoming clear that even though intellectuals hate Modi thinking any other leader becoming the PM worries them .This is the situation in reality & the same will bring Modi back to power for the country’s prosperity.

  7. ‘TINA’ concept itself is wrong. Once the field is open, many an alternative emerges – the worst, the best or idealistic. There is never a vacuum either in personal, political or national life. During Pt. Nehru’s time the question was ‘who after Nehru’, same was the question during Indira’s time. No one imagined like of chandersekhar, Gujral, charan Singh & others will emerge as PM. Trump as US president is the best example. How would have thought he can be occupying that seat in his widest dream. When situation arises, best alternative are in front and out of that some leaders emerge for future of the nation. Modi or no Modi- India as a Nation should emerge as a stronger, leaders will come & go but Nation has to survive and solve its current issues and long term goals.

  8. विकल्प की तैयारी करनी पड़ती है । उसके लिए उपयुक्त व्यक्ति चाहिए होता है । रावण वध के पूर्व ही श्री राम ने विभीषण का तिलक कर दिया । चाणक्य ने नन्द वंश के नाश के पूर्व ही चन्द्रगुप्त को गढ़ लिया था । अंधेरे में चलाए गए तीर लक्ष्य को भेद पाने में समर्थ नहीं होते ।

  9. There will be someone who rises. If a chaiwala could be PM, if an IAS officer could be CM of Delhi there are many in waiting. Vote out BJP.

    • The Chaiwala was declared as the PM candidate by his party.
      Plzz publish your list of potential candidates.
      Or ask the IASs / Queens / Princess / to throw their hat in the ring.
      Or will they decide on the percentage after the electionS.
      The Chiwaalaa made Millions feel that yes they can also aspire …that India is a country where even an OBC / chaiwaalaa can become PM. ( And not only the priveledged class).
      Regards

  10. Demonetisations and GST.are the two drastic measures taken by Mr.Narendra Modi which will help curb corruption.These were were not very popular descision but will benefit India in the long run. About Hindutva or religious extremism we must think differently as things are not the same as they were few decades ago. With education our thoughts and thinking have very much changed in the Indian subcontinent.

  11. Indians must drop this obsession of PM personality and elections based on mere PM candidate, all major and minor problems and lack of growth in society, economics, politics is mainly only and only due to corrupt, inefficient, unaccountable, local leaders.
    The day when Indians will debate and give importance to the role, character and performance of their local councilor, Corporater, MLA,MP and hold them accountable for the entire term of 5 years instead of waiting for an election day to vote in vote out them, that is the day and time we will see change, growth, maturity in politics and society. Our daily problems, projects and its solution, resources always lies with our local, regional leader and not with PM CM.
    There is way too much obsession, coverage about the personality of PM CM candidate.

    • That is a typical answer who is already brain washed and blinded by Modi fed media. There are many much much more capable leaders in country cutting across the party lines.

      • Yes .
        1) We had a Super PM ( chairperson of UPA) during UPA.
        2) Now We can also have a PM on rotational basis.

        3 ) what better than The Best horses / of the MahaGathBandhan ( of proven PedigreeS) Pulling the Chariot called India in different directions.
        4) Horses / Potential PMs:
        a)Lallujii by Proxy.
        b) MayavatiJii
        c) Mamtajii
        d) Kejriwaal Sir
        e) Muulaayam Jii
        f) Naidu
        g) Stalin
        h) Sharad pawar
        I) our prince in waiting Rahul
        j) Sonia madam as Super PM once again.

  12. An incumbent rises or falls by her record. The government should start work on preparing an accurate, honest Report Card of its term in office, present its achievements and successes, explain how and why it has fallen short on some of its promises, anchor its commitments for the next five years in its track record of getting things done. 2. Bigotry and some hurtful things are not a price worth paying to get the trains running on time. To an extent that many are not willing to acknowledge, they are the biggest constraint to superior economic performance. How much investment is really flowing into the cow belt nowadays …

  13. Intellectual acrobatics does not decide out come of vote. It if the poor & subaltern who decide the out come. Their alternative in most cases is a local mp or leader preferably from their tribe

  14. SITA Socialism Is The Alternative. Socialism comes from our constitution and so does collective leadership. TINA is a fabricated reality, would lose after establishing constitutionalism is the real reference point in search of any alternative.

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