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This article was first published 7 years ago  » News » 'The longer people believe in Modi, greater will be their disappointment'

'The longer people believe in Modi, greater will be their disappointment'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Last updated on: May 12, 2017 10:09 IST
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'India's nationalism has always been an exceptional and great experiment.'
'We said you don't have to give up your language, your lifestyle or your religion in order to be an Indian national.'
'Nowhere in the world could you find on such a large scale such a democratic experiment of nation building based on diversity.'
'That is the greatness of India's nationalism and we are on the verge of losing that greatness.'

IMAGE: Wearing his love for the prime minister on his head! A Narendra Modi fan displays his love for the PM. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will complete his third year in power next fortnight, May 26, and it seems nothing will stop the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party juggernaut.'s Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to the well-known political scientist Suhas Palshikar -- professor of political science at Pune's Savitribai Phule University and the chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics about Indian politics three years after the BJP's triumph in the 2014 general election.

Allegations of corruption are directed against leaders of parties other than the BJP. What is the meaning of this?

This is possible because there is always a possibility that many political leaders are involved in some scam or scandal.

At the same time, it is the old story of the ruling party using corruption charges against its Opposition to browbeat them.

So one is not sure whether it is a genuine cleaning up of the system or simply political vendetta.

What does it mean to Indian democracy if the Opposition parties are in such a bad state?

In principle, when Opposition parties are weak, it is not good news for democracy.

We expect a vibrant and strong Opposition in a democracy -- strong in terms of possibility of coming to power and strong in terms of their agenda.

Currently on both these counts, the Opposition is extremely weak and disintegrated.

Will India in the near future end up like Turkey where the Opposition or dissenting voices won't matter?

A comparison of India with Turkey is misplaced simply because of the scale issue.

Look at the existing political parties in power and the number of Opposition parties at the state level.

Secondly, the reason I feel the comparison is misplaced is because India's democracy of the last seven decades is much more vibrant than what we believe it to be.

There is a possibility of people and political parties bouncing back. I think it would be misplaced to compare India with Turkey. Though I don't at the same time believe everything is well and good as of now.

Opposition parties are weak. We should be cautious though and not panic.

Could you, for the sake of our younger readers, explain the difference in the Narendra Modi regime as compared to the Indira Gandhi regime?

In the case of Indira Gandhi, she had to resort to a Constitutional mechanism to impose her personal authority.

The current regime probably might not have to do that because even without doing that they would be able to assert and do what they want, which is called vigilantism.

Through vigilantism and through creating a sentiment in favour of certain attitudes and certain modes of behaviour, the current regime can achieve what Indira Gandhi could achieve only through the imposition of the Emergency.

The other difference is that the current regime also has a specific political agenda -- that of creating a particular kind of homogenised nationalism, which is deeply problematic and different from Indira Gandhi's agenda of simply imposing her personal rule.

That is what makes the current regime and the portents of current authoritarianism much more serious than what existed during Indira Gandhi's time.

What is wrong with homogenisation? One nation, one law?

It is not a question of law. It is a question of what is the basis of nationalism.

When India became a nation, the idea was that we can be one without being similar.

Everyone does not need to be the same person.

Every community doesn't need to be the same.

Every person does not need to speak the same language and that is why diversity and plurality are the basis of India's nationalism.

I don't have to give up my individual difference in order to be an Indian national. This was the founding principle of India's nationalism and now that is being challenged.

There is an attempt to change the idea -- that because we are one nation we have to adopt the same modes of behaviour, same belief and same lifestyle which cuts at the roots of diversity and that is what I say is problematic.

Many people don't understand that by adopting homogeneity we cause harm to others.

India's nationalism has always been an exceptional and great experiment.

We said you don't have to give up your language, your lifestyle or your religion in order to be an Indian national. That was the understanding.

Nowhere in the world could you find on such a large scale such a democratic experiment of nation building based on diversity.

That is the greatness of India's nationalism and we are on the verge of losing that greatness.

Why is there no democratic anger in the public when the Kashmir situation has worsened and so has Maoist terror?
Why do people still believe in Narendra Modi's government?

At the moment, one must admit that Narendra Modi, both as a leader and prime minister, has been able to convince people that he is out there to do something very exceptional and very different.

This belief even after three years of his government is still there. That is the success story of Narendra Modi's leadership and one has to accept it.

There may be criticism, but people still believe Modi personally at least is trying to do certain things and they are waiting and they are ready to wait.

That is why in spite of various roadblocks, various difficulties, the people's trust in Modi remains unharmed.

How long will people trust Modi? When will they start questioning him for not delivering?

In the long run, that will happen. I don't see a challenge arising in the near future for Narendra Modi.

The problem for Modi would be the longer the people believe in him, the greater would be the disappointment at a later stage.

IMAGE: In recent times, there's a belief that the Hindus have been become second class citizens because of alleged Muslim 'appeasement'. Photograph: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

There is a belief among Modi's supporters that Hindus have been reduced to being second-class citizens in India, and hence Modi is the need of the hour.

Many who voted for the BJP and many people in India do think that Hindus have become second class citizens in India. I think that is a misconception. I don't subscribe to that view.

I wouldn't say there has been any great special treatment of Hindus because India's Constitution actually believes that no person or group must be treated differently.

But since the '90s, the BJP has been able to create this impression that there has been injustice or unfair treatment to the majority community.

This is historically not something exceptional as in many countries like in Sri Lanka, this sentiment can be created through a political project and that sentiment can remain politically active for some time.

Currently, India is going through that moment as some Hindus do believe that as the majority they should have received better treatment which they aren't, so the system is unfair. That is the belief.

Is it true that India's secular politics made some Hindus feel they are second class citizens?

All I am saying is that the BJP's communal propaganda convinced some Hindus. The Congress' secular politics never did anything good for the Muslims either.

So in that sense, the Congress' secular politics did not do anything good for the Muslims nor for the Hindus.

Why do you think the Opposition parties are unable to set the narrative against the Modi government?

This is partly because they are all disintegrated.

Secondly when they are in power, they are unable to record reasonably good governance.

Thirdly, they are trapped in the entire language of the 1990s and Modi is trying to go beyond that language.

He talks of development along with Hindutva so there will have to be a new kind of politics which the Opposition parties will have to engage in. Currently, I don't see any political party prepared for that ideologically.

What plank can the Opposition use to take on Modi?

That is not the job of an analyst. It is the job of a creative politician. He has to create a new narrative, which will include the aspirations of the people and also try to assuage the communal sensibilities and communal feelings among the people.

That is something a great leader alone can build. The Opposition parties lack both -- they do not have the leadership or the ideological edge over the BJP and Modi currently.

IMAGE: 'The Congress is demoralised and have lost their entire social base.'
'It hasn't sorted out its leadership issue and they do not know which social sections to address immediately.'
'Removing Rahul Gandhi won't be the solution.' Photograph: Jayanta Dey/Reuters

The Congress seems to have lost the plot. One gets the feeling they do not want to take on the BJP.

I don't think they don't want to take on Modi and his government, but I think they don't know how to go about it.

It is because they are demoralised. Secondly, they have lost their entire social base.

As a result of that, even after three years, they do not have a game plan on how they will take on the BJP.

Politics does not wait for anyone and time is running out for the Congress.

We are already talking of the 2019 elections and the Congress is in bad shape.

It hasn't sorted out its leadership issue and they do not know which social sections to address immediately.

Are the BJP, and its president Amit Shah in particular, always in election mode?

As a party, I think there is nothing wrong if the BJP is always in election mode, given the election cycle in different states.

A party has to be always prepared for elections if it is an all-India party like the BJP.

As far as the prime minister is concerned, I think it is a bit odd that he doesn't behave like the leader of the country and is constantly making partisan statements.

As far as Amit Shah and the BJP are concerned, I think he is doing a good job from their point of view as they are always prepared electorally.

As far as Modi is concerned, I think he is being too partisan and acts more as a party leader rather than the prime minister.

Do you think if Rahul Gandhi steps down, the Congress can revive itself?

I think it is a very simplistic view that simply by setting aside Rahul Gandhi, everything would be good for the Congress.

The problem with the Congress is not Rahul Gandhi, but it is bigger than that.

They do not have an organisational network anywhere in India.

Just by setting aside the leadership of Rahul Gandhi you cannot sort out the problem.

The BJP today rules 60 per cent of India. It is very powerful at the Centre. Do you feel Modi can become a dictator in the future?

As I said in the beginning, it is not a question of dictatorship. In India, even during the times of Indira Gandhi, the Constitutional framework was used.

Even today there will be competition to Modi, criticism of Modi and a challenge to Modi. I think the scenario of Modi being a dictator is far fetched.

Only recently, a scholar used the term 'democratic authoritarianism.' Kanchan Chandra, a political scientist, used this term where the boundaries of democracy and authoritarianism intermesh.

So we might go in that direction where the democratic fabric becomes somewhat weaker and authoritarian tendencies become stronger.

This tussle between democratic and authoritarian practices would continue for the next few years. I wouldn't use the term dictatorship.

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