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How the media whitewashes Narendra Modi

May 08, 2014 15:10 IST

Narendra Modi, 2007

Make no mistake: Modi is incurably authoritarian and will brook no dissent, says Praful Bidwai.

When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975, the vast majority of Indian academics, intellectuals and media commentators protested. Barring a few publications, most newspapers carried sharply critical comments and truthful, horrifying accounts of the excesses perpetrated in the name of defending India against contrived 'threats' -- until censorship was imposed, even then some defied it.

Many critics paid a heavy price for opposing the government, including arrests and sackings. Except the ruling Congress and the Communist Party of India (which soon apologised for its blunder), no party or civil society organisation backed the suspension of fundamental rights or forced sterilisation of Muslims and razing of their homes under Sanjay Gandhi's diktats.

In contrast to this stands the near-euphoric reception being accorded by much of the media to the grave right-wing threat from the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial-aspirant Narendra Modi, and worse, rationalisations proffered on his behalf by certain academics and columnists, who claim to be liberals, and had held him culpable for the 2002 butchery of Muslims in Gujarat.

Today they are trimming their sails to the wind -- changing their views to suit temporarily prevailing opinions, and becoming time-servers. They see many virtues in Modi, including signs of 'moderation' and restraint. Some even speak of the 'two Modis' -- one responsible for 2002, and the other who is no longer anti-Muslim and might become 'remorseful' about 2002.

One analyst lavished praise on Modi for not mentioning the BJP's trademark 'Trident' -- Hindutva issues: Building a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya' abrogation of Article 370 pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir; and imposition of a Uniform Civil Code.

With the belated release of the BJP's 2014 election manifesto, these delusions should stand shattered. The three issues figure in the document just as they did in all its manifestos from 1996 to 2009 (barring 1999, when the National Democratic Alliance issued a 'National Agenda for Governance', which for opportunistic power-related reasons, omitted their mention.)

All the past manifestos were replete with emphasis on the three issues. They termed 'Sanatana Dharma' synonymous with 'Indian nationalism', declared that 'Shri Ram lies at the core of Indian consciousness', equated 'the Hindu world view' with 'cultural nationalism', and demanded a Ram temple, abrogation of Article 370, and a commission to 'draft a Uniform Civil Code'.

The 2014 manifesto is no different, despite minor changes in wording like building a Ram temple 'within the Constitutional framework', and a Uniform Civil Code with 'gender equality'. Modi's imprint is embossed all over it. It lifts entire sections from the recent 'Vision of Modi' document and even the Gujarat 2012 assembly manifesto. As one newspaper put it, it's a manifesto 'for, by and of Modi'.

The re-emphasis on the 'Trident' issues shows that the BJP remains firmly in the vicious grip of Hindutva. Indeed, as this column has repeatedly demonstrated, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has tightened its hold on the BJP's day-to-day working, organisational appointments and ticket distribution like never before.

The RSS is fully complicit in Modi's plans to weed out all the personnel and policies associated with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee legacy, and build a primarily Sangh-based party around Modi.

As Modi purges the BJP of all Vajpayee-era influence, a frustrated L K Advani is left taking swipes at him about being a great 'event manager' and an 'able administrator' who however doesn't belong to Vajpayee's class. That may wound Modi, but doesn't change the power equations.

Those who have softened their stand on Modi advance two other arguments. First, they point to internal 'checks and balances' in the BJP, including the presence of the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and various elected committees. Modi has taken care not to antagonise the CMs or other regional leaders. The BJP, they claim, is more democratic than the dynasty-controlled Congress, as well as other parties centred around one or two leaders.

This view is partly true, but dangerously one-sided. While most parties other than the Communists don't hold genuine internal elections and conventions regularly, and the Congress works more through nomination-from-above than election-from-below, they do some internal consultation. The BJP is no exception to this, but that doesn't make it a federal or 'bottom-up' party.

What makes the BJP truly different is RSS control of it. And the RSS is not an elected body. All its office-bearers from the sarasanghachalak downwards are nominated. It decides on all major changes at the apex of the BJP, including the appointment of party presidents and organisational secretaries.

It is the RSS that asked Advani to resign after his 2005 speech extolling Mohammed Ali Jinnah. It meted out the same treatment to Jaswant Singh. It later removed Advani as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha too. BJP President Rajnath Singh, like Nitin Gadkari earlier, owes his position to the RSS. Modi's nomination as PM-candidate was cleared by the RSS, as was Amit Shah's appointment as UP's chief campaign manager.

Modi today needs BJP CMs and non-party regional leaders to win votes and build alliances, but he will over-rule them and treat them like dirt once they have served their electoral purpose.

Make no mistake: Modi is incurably authoritarian and will brook no dissent -- so long as the RSS is on board, and the BJP lists 'Modi-mantra' as the top-most 'core issue' on its Web site.

A second line of defence deployed by the Modi apologists compares him with 'tough' (read, semi-autocratic) leaders of some other countries who are intolerant of dissent and inclined towards ultra-nationalism, like Japan's Shinzo Abe, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan. All these leaders advocate a homogeneous ethnic identity, cultural exceptionalism, and a wish to avenge real or imagined past humiliation. And they are all staunchly pro-Big Business.

Their relative popularity in their 'democratic' home countries, the apologists hold, is a new regional/global trend to which Modi also belongs. So there is nothing particularly odious about him. If Abe represents 'Asian nationalism' so does Modi who resents the way the West denied him a visa for years.

To start with, these comparisons are deeply uncomplimentary. Each of these leaders is an authoritarian right-wing hyper-nationalist, inclined to media censorship and suspicious of democratic institutions (in Abe's case, even Japan's pacifist constitution). The last two have sent their economies into a tailspin despite early growth and huge natural wealth. They have all proved domestically divisive.

Abe is no 'Asian nationalist', but a shameless apologist for Japan's terrible imperial past, which he wants to recreate by militarising Japan and confronting its neighbours, especially China, with territorial claims. He is post-war Japan's most right-wing conservative leader -- someone to be criticised and opposed, not extolled.

Abe is also strongly pro-United States, and part of its 'China containment' strategy. Modi too is pro-US and will strengthen 'strategic partnership' and economic ties with it despite personal resentment about visa denial.

Ukraine is Putin's foreign policy disaster. Blatant Western intervention there must be deplored, but Putin over-reacted militaristically to it. By annexing 4.5 percent of Ukrainian territory, Putin has gutted his own plans of forming a Russia-led 'Eurasian Union' and sent Ukraine into the European Union's arms. His economic policies and corruption are leading to a massive exodus of talented youth and capital flight.

The less said about Erdogan's repression of peaceful protests, his divisive impact on ethnic groups, clampdown on the media, massive corruption, and the gathering economic crisis, the better.

Let us hope we will be spared the Japanese-Russian-Turkish experience -- and Modi as prime minister.

Praful Bidwai