Why Modi and BJP are a thinking Indian’s challenge.
Editor’s note: There’s a mystery to this article, so be sure to read till the end.
Narendra Modi is a man before his time. A couple of decades along, too late for him, there will be a bigger constituency in India for the anti-Muslim demagogue. Modi dislocates the hypocrisy of a party whose leader fired up a mob and then said he regretted its vandalism.
For those able to look beyond his superb oratory and humour, the vapidity of Modi’s message is striking. His simple views spring from his lack of knowledge. He’s not well-read, has little idea about the world or its history. It will be embarrassing, if he becomes prime minister, to have him in the same meeting as US President Barack Obama. He is aching to bring with him his social vision, which is aligned with that of the RSS, to the rest of India from Gujarat. A money-minded, intellectually barren, segregated, ghettoised, non-drinking and vegetarian utopia that some of us have fled from.
Modi has never been to college and his degree is from a correspondence course. His writing, which is all in Gujarati, is mainly hagiography. It is mediocre and shows little awareness of the world. He has not travelled much outside India. His poetry is shockingly banal. Personally, I am not enamoured of a man who thinks up such rubbish. Unfortunately, his English is also poor, which, in my opinion, has contributed to leaving his mind unopened because there is little access to the world for the Gujarati-only individual. Modi would not have reached the position he is in today, within striking distance of becoming the prime minister, in a civilised nation because he isn’t qualified.
Modi is a Ghanchi, from the trading caste of oil-pressers and grain sellers called Teli in north India. Ghanchis are categorized as Other Backward Class. Education is not a priority for him because there’s hard work required and real thinking, a proper clash with the RSS. Modi sits on top of an anti-Muslim consensus. His popularity flows from this. He speaks a Gujarati purged of Persian words. He makes no concession to Muslims. He is vain and terrified of being humiliated. He does not even contest from his hometown because he’s afraid of losing.
Narendra Modi is the most famous single man in India. He has a wife, a villager, whom he discarded very early on. He does not respond to stories about her. Gujarati women find Narendra Modi very attractive sexually and, even more than the man, it is the urban Gujarati woman who has made Modi a heroic figure in that state. An ageing woman does not have appeal in society because man is instinctively trained to see that her utility is low. It’s banal but true: To improve their odds in the love market, men need to focus on making more money and women on looking more beautiful.
Modi gives the lower rungs of the BJP and the RSS what they want, a full-throated and uncompromisingly Hindu nationalist leadership which radiates strength and power. He owns the BJP in Gujarat, having got rid of all the people who built the party over decades, and inserted his own people up to the second and third tier levels.
What is Narendra Modi’s style of governance? Just as there is no Modi model of economics, there isn’t any Modi model of governance, if by model we mean something original that can be replicated. Has he produced something that is radically different from before 2001? Of course not, and those who call his manner of functioning an economic model are basing this on insufficient understanding of Gujarat’s economic history.
Modi’s fresh Hindutva is more appealing for those who like that sort of thing than Advani’s faded version. The BJP foot soldier is from the RSS and is drawn to the party’s Hindutva ideology.
Gujaratis subscribe to the BJP’s anti-Muslim message in full. The votes of the rioting Hindus tend to go to the BJP while the Muslims look for a defensive option. In Gujarat, the caste that has put and kept the BJP in power for two decades is the Patidar community of Patels. The caste dominates every BJP cabinet and Narendra Modi is actually the leader of the Patels, just as Mulayam Singh is the leader of Muslims in UP.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Jats, who are seething from the riots, will queue up behind the BJP in 2014. On the other hand the Muslims will be terrified by the thought of Narendra Modi coming to power at the centre.
The cities of Gujarat look much like Indian cities anywhere: Dirty streets, chaotic and undisciplined traffic, corrupt police, lawbreaking citizenry. Ahmedabad and Vadodara are the two most savage cities in India. Ahmedabad, a city lacking in any sort of charm whatsoever, is more representative of the Modi era – segregated, sullen and oppressively vegetarian. Surat is the only city in Gujarat with a robust presence of non-vegetarian street food. Some of this is because of the presence of mercantile Muslim communities – Dawoodi Bohras in particular. Another reason is that, unlike in Ahmedabad, the lower caste (and so non-vegetarian) Hindus are empowered in Surat. Modi is from the Ghanchi community (of oil-pressers), but he is, of course, a non-drinking vegetarian.
It would be facile to suggest that the Congress and the BJP are the same creature. The BJP is seen as an ideological party, but it isn’t. The Congress is India’s only ecumenical party. It is genuinely above region, caste and religion.
The way to understand the Bharatiya Janata Party is to see it as India’s party of anger. The BJP is generally a good representative of India’s unthinking and angry middle class. Under Modi, this desire to not be inclusive is amplified and so the problem of allies has become bigger. None of the BJP’s old friends remain with it but for two fellow communal parties: the Sikhs of the Akali Dal and the Marathi chauvinists of the Shiv Sena. The BJP in Gujarat is kept in power through the votes of the state’s biggest and most powerful community, the peasant Patels, who are supporters of Hindutva. The Patel has butchered his daughters so efficiently that now other castes must supply brides.
This is where the Congress has the opportunity to create some mischief. Congress should provide the ammunition for these spent guns. And by that is meant cash. More than half the money a candidate spends on elections in India is directly paid as inducement to voters (cash trumps caste). This is an opportunistic thing to propose, but politics is allowed to be unprincipled in India and has always been.
I predict the decline of the BJP and the fragmentation of its state units into regional parties based on caste.
There exists an enormous and efficient internet propaganda machine that is monitored by Narendra Modi’s office and funded by corporates. An army of 2,000 people is disseminating propaganda for Modi and against his rivals. The comments sections of Indian and Pakistani websites are the most dreadful in the world, without qualification. Hateful and pedantic, the product of minds who are only functionally literate. It’s endemic and representative of the tribal society that India as a whole is. Like some Pavlovian creature, the Indian crowd can always be set off on the right cue.
India’s democracy functions because of caste. The basis of voting is not issues or ideology, as in European democracies, but the preference for one’s own. The Brahmin and the Bania still control the economy, but now the Shudra controls politics. The BJP has always been a party of Brahmins. The RSS takes its Brahmins seriously and grooms them young. The Brahmin is the intellectual keeper of the Hindutva flame.
Does the Congress leadership have a theme today? I think so. It is the mercantile castes. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a trading Khatri, P. Chidambaram is a trading Chettiar and Kapil Sibal is a trading Khatri. Murli Deora is a Baniya. Of the other senior leaders, SM Krishna is a peasant Gowda and Antony is Syrian Christian. The difference in orientation – Brahmin versus Baniya – shows in the priorities of the BJP and Congress.
The Indian cleaves to his caste. He could escape this through good education. But this is not available in India. Most Muslim OBCs are from jatis that are below that of Hindu OBC castes. It cannot be denied that there is prejudice against Muslims in India. It is the Hindu who has the freedom to attack India and its culture, its vulgarity. The temple in India has always been a place of music, from the militant cadence of the Vedic chant to the soft melodies of the bhajan.
The prime suspect on the crime scene that is India is the middle class. Exactly 95.83% of Indians know absolutely nothing about India and they never will. This is because they haven’t travelled abroad. They have no experience of difference. They will imagine the rest of the world behaves like us.
In India the very poor are illiterate. Their communication has the highest emotional content, since there is little of the intellect they have to express. Because it is quite unsubtle, India’s popular entertainment is not for the intelligent, which in India means urban, upper-class and English-speaking. Bollywood’s spread in the 1930s and 1940s anticipated the arrival of a shrill singer and it turned out to be Lata Mangeshkar. She’s technically first rate but her natural range is actually too high to be pleasant, a fact that did not escape Bollywood’s greatest composer, OP Nayyar. He chose to work with Asha Bhosle instead. Bhosle is a more versatile singer than her sister, but because of her lower range unable to efficiently communicate the virginity which Indians put such a premium on.
The middle-class Indian thinks he’s civilised but he has no comprehension of the meaning of the word. The damage is done by a Hindi-medium world view. Trying to fight it with English-medium tools will end in frustration. When he was only 33, Thomas Macaulay began producing the Indian Penal Code. The code, a colonial set of laws, remains in force in free India. This is because an Englishman accurately assessed us, and predicted our behaviour and our reaction to external stimulus. This makes Macaulay a very great man. He could tell with confidence in 1837 how Gujaratis would go bestial in 2002.
We are a Congress-minded nation. What I mean is that Indian values are best, and I would even say, only represented by the Congress. These values are religious accommodation, comfort with racial and linguistic diversity, acceptance of caste in politics, comfort in dynasty and a preference for compromise over principle. The BJP thinks it is an ideological party but it doesn’t have any real ideology. The BJP is a party of resentful Hindus.
There is a reason why the Congress continually attracts young and urbane talent, but the BJP doesn’t. The reason is the alignment of the Congress with the broad Indian sentiment, which makes it naturally attractive and competitive. The Congress under the Gandhis, and later the Vadra-Gandhis, will remain our one great national party.
It is only under Sonia Gandhi that the party has again become the standard-bearer for Ashokan secularism. She will go down in history as the finest Congress leader along with Nehru. The one asset that Sonia Gandhi built for her dynasty from the time she became its head was an image of reticence and service. The best thing she has done for India is to hand Manmohan charge of policy. Few leaders around the world have control over the details of policy as Manmohan Singh does. Few have his intellectual capacity to understand events and what they portend. Under Manmohan Singh, terrorism has decreased in India and Indians have become safer. The numbers indicate that the Congress government is doing something spectacularly right, and it was actually the BJP that was soft on terror. There are many humiliations, and often defeats. But Singh persists. This is the source of his greatness, his heroism.
So is our dynastic culture all bad? I would say our problem is the opposite. We do not have enough dynasty in India. Indians are unusually good at picking quality dynasties, whether it is the Kapoors or the Nehru-Gandhis. The Congress president has always presented herself as being very moral and upright.
Sonia is slim and fit. At the dining table, she is probably disciplined. She brings the European’s refinement to our otherwise crude politics. She has brought up her children superbly. Both act correctly and modestly. Rahul is quite educated, getting his post-graduation degree at Trinity. From what I have read of him, Rahul is observant and intelligent. He has learned the limits of what the state can do to make India more liveable. He has discovered an essential truth about India. He is doing what Jawaharlal Nehru was doing with Gandhi before 1930, the discovery of India. When Rahul speaks, he usually presents an Indian reality which has come from an uncommon understanding. Though he is good looking, he doesn’t deploy his charisma. By this I mean he doesn’t pose and make heroic statements like Narendra Modi does. He chooses not to. When one is as famous and as good looking as Rahul Gandhi, charisma is a function of deployment.
I have no quarrel with Narendrabhai. He represents an aspect, the bitter resentment, of Gujaratis, and he does it well. On the other side, in my opinion, Narendra Modi doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to engage with policy at a high level and certainly not at the level of legislation. This is understandable given his education and exposure.
He is entertaining and forceful, but nothing more than that. It is true also that it is this sort of thing that voters are looking for.
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