Milind is researching how the immune system has evolved by studying exotic, non-model animals like snails, opossums, crocodiles, lungfish, etc at the Center for Evolutionary and Theoretical Immunology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. From studying snails and slugs to critiquing more evolved species in politics and news is a step up we’re guessing, or is it?
Saluting Modi & His Last Mile
An open letter to Ms Naina, one of the students from Delhi Unviersity who had protested outside SRCC when Modi had come to speak to there.
Dr Milind Misra
March 16, 2013
Okay, so you politely rejected last week my gentle suggestion to organise an invitation to Narendra Modi to speak at your university. The reason you gave was that when he spoke nextdoor at the Shri Ram College of Commerce, some students had become violent on the street outside. The fundamental reason, which became apparent later in our conversation, was really your differences with Narendra Modi as a person, his thinking and his politics.
Permit me to make a renewed pitch.
I will do so by stating my own identification with Narendra Modi – the individual, the intellectual and the politician.
Before I start, however, let me highlight that I have now lived in the United States for over two decades. I came to the US before cellphones and the Internet – at a time when making a phone call to India was prohibitively high, and somewhat of a luxury personally. There were very few sources of news from India and India was not a topic discussed regularly in US newspapers or on US television. As far as I was concerned, it was all rather stifling. But global news became rapidly accessible once the Internet took off shortly after you, Naina, were born. And what a breath of fresh air that was! Indeed, several years before the tragic communal riots in Gujarat – hungry for news and like a pup greeting a master come home – I was accessing almost 120 newspapers from around the globe, online and on a regular basis. More than half of these were Indian newspapers.
I quickly became aware that a newspaper has a preferred point of view.
I became aware that besides their frontend – reporters, anchors and editors -newspapers and television channels have an associated backend, too, which may comprise an often layered and sometimes inexplicable list of investors, patrons, backers, sponsors, stakeholders, advisors and interested parties.
(Here I grew up a little and realised that not everyone is a saint.)
I became aware, more gradually, that news can be manipulated and even manufactured. I began to see through common psychological operations or Psy Ops.
Later, after the Gujarat riots, as television networks in India took advantage of better worldwide Internet connectivity and bandwidth, I became aware of the implications of the term “conflict entrepreneurship”.
Recently, I have become aware of sociolinguistics, pragmatics and social engineering. I struggle today to personally put all this in a meaningful overarching context but I am amazed how useful this pursuit is already beginning to appear. Pieces are slowly falling into place. I am growing once again and realising that news is not my master. And what a breath of fresh air that is.
* * *
So why and how do I identify with Narendra Modi?
For an Indian-American like me it should be no surprise that I am reminded everyday of the Indian in that hyphenation. By now, pleasantly. I became comfortable being me once I found that I was spending precious energy in creating elaborate defenses during my initial assimilation within the American milieu. That felt truly liberating. And yet, something had been missing since. Despite routine, healthy, warm, rigorous, substantial and productive interaction with other dazzlingly hyphenated Americans there still lingered this curious feeling of distance between them and me. We weren’t connecting at some elusive, but essential level. It resembled the last mile problem for cable networks.
My long search for an answer led me to the revealing expression – “difference anxiety”. It was coined recently by the pioneering Indian-American thinker, Rajiv Malhotra, who defines it as “the mental uneasiness caused by the perception of difference combined with a desire to diminish, conceal or eradicate it”. All this time I was unconsciously hiding behind the reductionist aphorism “we are all one”. So were all the other hyphenations. Dialogue was informal and fun and perhaps that’s why we always chose to relegate discussion about sundry elephants in the room to a more appropriately somber future setting. Malhotra has prompted me to now firmly believe that we were all wrong to shy away from learning about our difference.
We’re not all the same.
Obvious as the above is, Malhotra’s advocacy of scrutinising, highlighting and understanding difference flies in the face of our contemporary habit of throwing a tentative blanket of oneness over our collective self – let’s call it The Blanket.Our fear of offending someone else forces us to take the easy way out and huddle hurriedly under The Blanket. This does more harm than good.
We’re not all the same. Narendra Modi is also different.
The first prerequisite for getting over difference anxiety is to know all you can about your own identity and find your personal bearings. This is a difficult task. It involves developing a deep understanding about your own social, economic, religious and linguistic frames of reference. It needs an active inquiring mind and great personal courage to peacefully resolve many of the confusions that this churning necessarily generates. A biographical documentary by India TV suggests that Narendra Modi possessed both those ingredients in abundance from an early age.
Several things stand out in that documentary. By some standards, Narendra Modi comes from an ordinary home and had ordinary friends and schooling. By my standards, as a child he displayed extraordinary courage (played with river crocodiles), self-awareness (stayed silent when troubled), curiosity (was invariably found at the local library), originality (wrote, directed and acted in a play with a strong social message), and problem-solving (loved science and experimenting). All these sterling qualities were reflected in his strongly independent decision to leave home at the age of 17 in search of his identity. Even more impressive was the way he went about assuaging his family members- particularly his mother – about his decision. Which suggests to me a strong-minded, yet deeply sensitive and inclusive nature.All those qualities impress and inspire me as an Indian-American, too, for they are exactly the ones I have had to develop myself to explore my own identity in a different land.
Naina, we are looking here at a truly extraordinary personality.Someone who was kept away from us by his political opponents and their pet Blanket Weavers via a vicious, false and increasingly Weaver-embarrassing vilification campaign.
Narendra Modi is different. Mainly, it is his thinking that sets him apart.
The other requirement for successfully resolving difference anxiety is to understand others. This is an even more difficult task. The difficulty arises from seeing beyond your own nose, conquering personal arrogance and developing intellectual honesty. These are the hard to find but necessary ingredients for developing a personal philosophy to help you overcome difference and navigate pitfalls and challenges thrown your way. Narendra Modi has given innumerable examples of his extremely well-developed personal philosophy. It has served him well and consistently prevented him from falling for traps that go against his convictions.
For example, the main grouse of the Blanket Weavers has been, “But, but, but! He hasn’t apologised!” What this arrogant bunch is really upset about is, “How dare this different man defy our standards of propriety?” It betrays their difference anxiety. It calls attention to the stunted or totally lacking personal philosophies of the accusing Weavers. It also underscores the Weavers’ role as conflict entrepreneurs who have benefited professionally from their frequently comical anti-Modi stance. Comical because there simply is no comparison between a Narendra Modi and a Blanket Weaver – the original and the trite, the doer and the nag.
Narendra Modi must not be contrite about the actions of criminals.
I am unconvinced that Narendra Modi did not do enough to curb violence during the 2002 riots. He went on television the first day itself and appealed for calm explicitly saying that violence is not the solution. This is Narendra Modi’s speech that was telecast on Feb 28, 2002—the very day that riots began.
He ordered curfew and gave shoot-at-sight orders in Godhra immediately after the burning of the karsevaks and deployed the army the very next day. He requested his neighboring Congress-ruled states for critically needed police personnel but they refused!
(Watch the clip. At 4:30sec, Narendra Modi reveals that Digvijay Singh was one of the three Congress Chief Ministers who refused to help Gujarat upon receiving a faxed letter for help from Narendra Modi as soon as the riots began.)
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Supreme Court of India notes that the police did not discriminate against any community while trying to control the riots. Further, Narendra Modi has not been charged for any wrongdoing under any law. He has been examined and exonerated by the SIT. How shameless will the Blanket Weavers continue to be?
Most importantly, by not discriminating who the fruits of development should reach (the waters of the Narmada reach all Gujaratis as does the 24/7 electricity), he has created conditions necessary for communal harmony and real debate between communities to finally take off. It is clear that this will defeat the very purpose of The Blanket and force Blanket Weavers out of work.
It requires oodles of courage, Naina, to maintain one’s integrity and sanity in the face of outright character assassination of the kind that the Blanket Weavers subjected Narendra Modi to for over a decade. Narendra Modi could well take them all to court. But I’m convinced he will not do so. That will go against his personal philosophy. He is a true educator.
Narendra Modi’s thinking is different. It informs his approach to problem-solving.
The process of sincerely learning about yourself and others automatically imparts vision to your thinking. You begin to see all the different ways in which the last mile can be bridged. Your mind very naturally starts thinking in the solution space rather than groveling in the problem space. You are several steps ahead of others and become fit to lead and show the way. As Narendra Modi is and does.
In yet another fantastic display of extempore public speaking, Narendra Modi told his largely awestruck audience at the recent India Today Conclave, “Our mindset is our biggest problem; why don’t we convert problems into opportunities?” To my jolly mind this evokes mirthful visions of how he has kept, over the same past decade, his favorite Blanket Weavers – some even Rhodes Scholars and Harvard/Columbia/Oxbridge attendees, I hear – leashed and ready to do his bidding. As Mark Twain once said, “Let us be thankful for the fools; but for them the rest of us could not succeed”.
Narendra Modi is an enlightened politician. Nothing about him is petty. If he refuses to accept a skullcap in public, he is sending out a message against tokenism and appeasement. He is willing to take the brickbats for acting according to his convictions. Like he did for removing roadside temples that encroached upon and hindered development of public infrastructure. He educates as he goes along, is a true reformist because he leads by example, and is a powerhouse of ideas who thinks out of the box—constantly. He is a true integrator and is only called divisive by unimaginative Blanket Weavers.
Narendra Modi knows that time is limited. He must do as much as he can in whatever time Gujaratis have given him to do it in. He has not let them down. Beyond Gujarat he understands that India has a limited demographic dividend vis-à-vis the rest of the world and a current democratic dividend vis-à-vis China. He tries to articulate his sense of urgency at every chance he gets – India must not lose this opportunity to bridge the last mile for its multitudes. He constantly shows us the way: Youth Power; Mother Power; P2G2; skill/scale/speed; minimum government; privatisation; decentralisation of power; technology to transparency; institutionalisation and policy-driven state to fewer corrupt decision makers; democracy cannot be restricted to elections – we must all become democrats in the true spirit; dream about doing something and not about becoming someone.
And the Blanket Weavers take him back to 2002. At every chance they get.
* * *
Happily, Naina, there is a growing army of Angulimal-esque observers who also seem to have figured all this out in their own way and find themselves returning to personal sanity. More power to these recent connoisseurs of powerful cognitive dissonance for they are the upset ones who will now begin to expose The Blanket and its Weavers in all earnest. They understand the stakes. They know now that Narendra Modi has worked and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure last mile integration of every Indian. Watch for more and more commentators bringing out the truth behind the hateful campaign against Narendra Modi in the coming days. Let the fun begin.
We are not all the same. Narendra Modi is excitingly different.
So get busy inviting Shri Modi to your university! Ask him theoretical questions about political science, about inclusive and sustainable development, about the amazing Sabarmati riverfront project, about how he views history and geography, about the constitution and its implementation, about how to reorient the bureaucracy toward the electors and away from the elected, about the role of technology in bringing about transparency and reducing corruption, about challenges in policy-making for the future, and about The Blanket! Is there anyone in India who can give better answers to these truly fascinating questions? Sonia Gandhi? Manmohan Singh? Rahul Gandhi? Sachin Pilot? Jyotiraditya Scindia? Jitin Prasada? Milind Deora? Akhilesh Yadav? Insert First Name Famous Family Name?
* * *
 Worse, huddling under The Blanket has become our first reflex and that is a natural-debate smotherer. We see this all around us: Some of its symptoms are tokenism, appeasement, political correctness and an uncomfortable silence on so-called “sensitive” issues. In India, too.Malhotra has taken a highly original and thought provoking approach with his book being considered for discussions in social psychology classes in major universities. He claims that far from being isolationist or polarising, sincere uncompetitive examination of difference is “simply a way to learn from one another while serving as the basis for harmony and creative evolution”. In my view, it is a way to reaffirm our respect for each other while simultaneously rejecting the oppressive homogeneity forced upon us by Blanket Weavers, that is: a) by the naïve champions of false, brittle unity -those who largely see things in black and white; b) by the sly segregators enabling divide-and-rule under The Blanket; and c) by those I call “slyïve” irritants because they are both naïve and sly but are driven by narcissism and/or greed and thus commit more obvious mistakes publicly. I am hoping,Naina, that you and many of your friends will in due course get objective, unemotional and down-to-the-roots discussion of difference back in our public discourse. Only that will successfully create the much-needed breach in The Blanket. And what a breath of fresh air that will be!
 See Footnote 1 above for my classification of Blanket Weavers. Identifying Blanket Weavers is important so that honest debate can occur, but that is a subject for another letter. Briefly: I have found those of the likes of Madhu Trehan and Abhinandan Sekhri to be the naïve champions – frequently missing crucial big and small pieces of the puzzle and wondering, “Sigh! Why can’t we all just get along?” The sly segregators – also the primary Weavers – are those like Ram Guha, Romila Thapar (the queen bee Marxist historian and cousin of a TV anchor with similar leanings), Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy and The Hindu drones (such as N Ram,Siddharth Varadarajan, et al). Their loud anachronistic looms need to be systematically targeted and dismantled in honest public debates by all lovers of what India stands for: plurality and mutual respect. Then there are those mediocre enfants terribles of Indian TV debates – like the Rajdeeps, Barkhas, Arnabs, Sagarikas—the slyïve irritants who inform the naïve champions and aid the sly segregators, knowingly or unknowingly, for personal gratification alone. Perhaps too slyïve for their own good as Radiagate has demonstrated. Mercifully, what I allow on my TV screen is entirely in my hands. (As an exercise, Naina, what kind of Blanket Weavers do you suppose the Markandeya Katjus of India are? Naïve champions, sly segregators or slyïve irritants?)
 Supreme Court of India constituted Special Investigation Team’s report: “Report in Compliance to the Order dtd 12.09.2011 of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the Complaint dtd 08.06.2006 of Smt. Jakia Nasim Ahesan Jafri”, Vol I, pp 216-217.
Image By: Sakshi Bhatia