Friday, 19 February 2021

Memo to Modi Supporters: The Election is Over


Memo to Modi Supporters: The Election is Over

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 19 February, 2021


Abstract

Supporters of Mr. Modi should understand that criticism of Mr. Modi does not weaken him or the government. A democracy can remain robust and be responsive to the needs of its citizens only if citizens openly criticize the government. Modi’s followers and supporters should stop perennially being in campaign mode. The election is over. Being so defensive about Modi only hurts their own interests.


***

The 2014 election is over, as is the 2019 election. Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won both times with absolute majorities. You don’t need to defend Mr. Modi every day against criticism.

Is that clear enough? I say this because I am amazed to see Modi supporters still get furious or excited at any criticism of their leader and jump to defend him.

Let us take a look at some of the criticisms levelled at the Modi government today: the tanking economy; rising petrol prices; rising prices of vegetables and fruits; lack of scientific temper (example: “Cow Science” to be taught in Universities); dictatorial tendencies of the government; comedians being arrested for jokes they did not even make; journalists arrested for months without due process; rowdy gangs (“gaurakshaks” or “cow protectors”) roaming the countryside to beat up anyone they suspect of being involving in cow slaughter, with no due process, and without having to fear prosecution by the local police; lynching of Muslims by vigilante Hindu groups with no justice for the victims; injustices against Dalits; the Supreme Court toeing the government line; and many others.

These are the standard lines trotted out by the “defenders” of the Modi government when confronted with any of the aforementioned criticisms:

  1. What about when Nehru did this …? (i.e., weren’t things as bad as or worse then?) This is an appeal to hypocrisy.
  2. What about when Congress did this … (another appeal to hypocrisy)
  3. What about the Emergency? (How bad were things then?) (used whenever an accusation of authoritarianism is levelled against the government)
  4. See what is happening in Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal, etc. (non-BJP ruled states). Why are you selectively targeting Modi? Why don’t you criticize what happens in those states?
  5. Why has Rahul Gandhi gone to Italy? Why is Rahul Gandhi not in India on this important occasion? Why did Rahul Gandhi wear this color shirt yesterday? Why did Rahul Gandhi resign the Presidentship of the Congress Party? Why isn't Rahul Gandhi married? Why did Rahul Gandhi …
  6. Jawaharlal Nehru, who died in 1964, ruined India so much that Modi is still trying to salvage things. How can he show progress? Nothing has been done in India in the 70+ years since Independence, and you want everything in 6.5 years?
  7. What can Modi do? These are difficult circumstances …
    1. Global downturn
    2. Covid-19
    3. People under him are incompetent or do not work hard enough. What can one man do alone? “Modi akela kya kar sakta hai?”
    4. Entrenched bureaucracy, Lutyens elite, Khan market gang, Urban Naxals, anti-Nationals, Sickulars, Khangressis, pasta-loving Italian bootlickers, Macaulayputras, and other malcontents preventing Modiji from executing his masterstrokes because they do not believe in P2G2, 3S, “Acche Din”, and “New India” …
    5. Powerful people do not like a “chaiwallah” (tea-seller) becoming the PM …
    6. Unpatriotic, Khalistani- and Pakistani-funded terrorist farmers, backed by Greta Thunberg, Rihanna, Mia Khalifa, Meena Harris, Justin Trudeau, Ilhan Omar, Jon Cusack, and others …
    7. Assorted groups who are trying to “Break India”, including the “tukde-tukde gang”; all past and present faculty and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University including Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid; Jamia Millia Islamia; Aligarh Muslim University; …
    8. Did I mention Pakistan and China? Modi is fighting them all alone, can't you leave the poor guy alone? How much can he take without your criticism on top of it?
    9. Too much rain, too little rain, cyclone Amphan, cyclone Phani, locust attack …
    10. Brexit, Donald Trump, American election, Climate change, Global warming, El Nino, La Nina, …
    11. Solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, Shani in Rahu's house, Jupiter in Mars' house, Jupiter-Saturn conjunction …
    12. Any other excuse you can think of …
  8. Why do you hate Modi so much?
  9. Foreigners are jealous of Modi and India's ascendancy to superpower status and Indians living in “New India.” That’s why Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P trash India. That’s why the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Guardian write articles critical of Modi and India.
  10. Indians are capable of dealing with their issues. We don’t need foreigners jumping into Indian issues. #IndiaAgainstPropaganda
  11. Say you are right about Modi’s failings, but what is your alternative? Congress? Rahul Gandhi? That “Pappu?” “Bua-Bhatija?” Don’t you understand? TINA!! (There Is No Alternative!)
  12. “You are an anti-national sickular libtard! Go to Pakistan!”

There are many more, but that’s enough for a sampler.

***

I don’t get it. The whole thing is so childish and silly. This is not what a responsible citizen of a democracy should do.

Sure, you have your favorite politicians and political parties. In the US, you may be a Republican or a Democratic supporter. In India, the choices are many more. You could be a supporter of the BJP, the Congress, AAP, JDU, JDS, Shiv Sena, RJD, DMK, TMC, BJD, CPM, TRS, YSRCP, AGP, SAD, SP, BSP, or any of the many other parties that dot the Indian landscape.

It is perfectly fine to be a huge fan of the BJP and of Narendra Damodardas Modi. There is no problem at all if you think he is God’s gift to India, that he is the greatest Indian ever, better than Ashoka, Vikramaditya, CV Raman, Homi Bhabha, Bhimsen Joshi, or all of them put together. I am not here to tell you not to love Modi. Please continue loving him as you always did. I will not stand in your way.

But at the end of the day, you are an Indian citizen. And a human being. You have certain needs. And the job of the government is to ensure that your needs are met – to the extent possible. That’s why you elected them.

You may love Modi, you may adore Modi, you may even worship Modi. But at the end of the day, it is your life, and you have to live it. Modi cannot live it for you. Worshipping Modi is not going to give you a good job, provide for your child’s education or marriage, or take care of your retirement. It is not going to ensure 24x7 electricity, drinking water availability, good roads, or a good public transportation system. It is not going to ensure justice if you have been wronged by someone with links to the ruling party.

The performance (whatever that may be – good or bad) of his government and the systems he puts in place is going to do all that. Remember that you will have to deal with a life after Mr. Modi is gone. He is 70 years old, mortal, and will have a finite stay in power and on this world (and the former will likely end earlier than the latter). And even if you believe that Mr. Modi is incorruptible and only has the best interests of all Indians at heart, there is no guarantee that those who follow him will be. That is why systems are important. That is why the rule of law is important and why civil liberties advocates are so concerned about the erosion of civil liberties today.

And so, it is imperative that, as a responsible citizen, you should question all that he does do (or does not do) for you in his capacity as the PM and as the leader of the most dominant party in India’s democratic history, ever. Modi’s party, the BJP, dominates the Lok Sabha, the lower house, and has enough clout to ram bills through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, even without a majority in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP is in power in most of the states in India.

***

So why are you worried when someone questions the government or Mr. Modi? I assure you, your criticism will not cause Modiji to lose his majority in Parliament. He won the election in 2014 to rule for 5 years. Even if the whole of India had criticized him continuously for 5 years, he could not have been unseated. He won a second term in office in May 2019, with an even bigger majority, so your object of adoration, your God, is assured to be the PM until 2024. Let me tell you, I am a fierce critic of Modi, and even I say that as long as Modi is alive, he cannot be defeated – such is his hold on the people of India. I also think that, sooner or later, all the states of India will be under the BJP. Most importantly, there is not an election today or tomorrow. You don’t have to defend Modi against all charges to improve his chances of re-election, since the next election is 4 years away. So what are you worried about? Why this tremendous insecurity?

I hate to break it you all, but your dear Modiji is not God. He is human. So he can fail.

Which means that your lives may not improve just because he is the PM — unless you raise your voice and make yourself heard. Raising your voice to make yourself heard does not mean you are being disloyal to Modi.

Think about it. Say you are a guy and you married a nice girl and have a family now. And say your wife complains to you and says that you are not helping her with housework or in taking care of your child. Are you going to say, “Why are you criticizing me? What’s your alternative? Rahul Gandhi?” Or are you going to say, “Why do you have so much hatred for me?” Or are you going to tell her, “Why don’t you go to Pakistan?” Or, if you have neighbors called Rahul, Jawahar, Indira, and Manmohan, are you going to say, “But I am doing better than Rahul, Jawahar, Manmohan, and Indira do for their families!” (Tip: Your wife won’t care.) If you keep saying “What’s your alternative? TINA!” then one day she might just leave you and find an alternative. Or she might just leave you and hook up with Rahul next door.

This is not how you talk to people in the real world when dealing with real issues in your life. Sure, your wife chose (elected) you. But she has a right to question you about whether or not you are living up to your part of the bargain. That doesn’t mean that she hates you. And in the same way, people who criticize Modi do not necessarily hate him. And just as your wife is not going to leave you just because she criticizes you, supporters of Modi can criticize him when his performance has been sub-par and still vote for him in the next election.

***

I just had an exchange yesterday with some old friends where I brought up the fact that petrol has gone up to Rs. 100 per litre. During the Manmohan Singh days, the opposition held marches to protest the hike in petrol prices to Rs. 70 a litre, even though that hike was created not by the government’s actions but by the global price of crude oil going up. The opposition then demanded that come what may, the government should have protected the people of India from any price hike.

But today, the price of crude is much lower than what it was during the time of the UPA II government ($60 a barrel today compared to $110 a barrel in May 2014), and yet the Modi government has raised taxes on petrol and diesel to make these essentials so much more expensive. There may be good or bad reasons for this, but the public can and should ask tough questions. Otherwise the only loser is the public – including Modi’s supporters, i.e., you. Mr. Modi has been supported by powerful industrialists like Mr. Ambani and Mr. Adani, and they have demanded concessions in return, and they have gotten it. What have you got, other than a temple in Ayodhya, the demotion of statehood in Jammu and Kashmir and the repeal of article 370, and the abrogation of Triple Talaq? How much have these moves affected you personally? Don't try to answer or rebut me; just reflect on this. I am not suggesting that Modiji has done nothing for the common people. I am just saying that in a democracy, every person has to look out for their personal benefit, otherwise his or her lot will never improve. And the road to that improvement is by asking tough questions. I am aware of all the schemes floated by the government for the benefit of the people. All I am saying is that asking hard questions about how well they work or whether they are working at all is not “anti-national.” It is essential to ensure that those schemes are not simply window-dressing. Consider, for example, the much-touted “Namami Gange” plan to clean the Ganges. Has anything substantial happened there? The Supreme Court itself has upbraided the government repeatedly for not doing enough. Again, do not try to rebut what I am saying. That is not the point. What I am saying that is that if you do not put the government in the dock to answer for their failings in the schemes they have floated, you will not get anything. The Ganga will remain dirty as ever. Who is the loser then? So do not fear criticism of the government, even if you like the leader. Criticism of the government only benefits you.

These are only some of the many concerns that have been raised about this government. There are many, many more, including the diminishing independence of the judiciary, the reduced commitment to the environment, crony capitalism, the treatment of minorities, the lack of scientific temper and the increased emphasis of unscientific products like gomutra (cow urine), etc.

Citizens should question these decisions, because if a government is not questioned, bad things will happen. There is a reason that checks and balances are inbuilt in a democracy – because even the best-meaning of leaders will commit mistakes, if not downright criminal deeds (I know you do not think Modiji will ever commit criminal deeds, but being human, at least he can make mistakes.) And even if you believe completely in Mr. Modi, he cannot possibly ensure that everyone in the BJP will be perfectly honest. And so whenever an attempt is made to dilute those checks and balances – even by the government you voted for – you should oppose it.

Now, I know that supporters of Mr. Modi agree mostly with his decisions. But when it comes to your personal hardship, there is no need to avoid tough questions. Modi’s government will not collapse tomorrow if you question him on things that affect you.

In my view, it is the duty of the alert citizen to constantly question and criticize the government, whichever party the government may be formed of. When elections come, you can always say that, despite all their flaws and mistakes, I like this leader, so I am going to vote for him or her. If you want to influence public opinion to convince people to vote for your favourite leader, nothing wrong with doing it at that time. But getting all riled up about someone criticizing your beloved leader, 4 years before the next elections, is foolish and unnecessary, especially in light of Mr. Modi’s commanding choke-hold on power at all levels in the country.

One of the things that critics of the Modi administration complain about is the erosion of rights, such as the imprisonment of a comedian for 30 days for a joke that he did not even make. Now you may not care about this particular case as the comedian is Muslim and you believe that he was about to outrage Hindu sensitivities. But remember, when not following due process becomes a precedent, it could affect even Hindus. Tomorrow, if a politically connected person with ties to the ruling dispensation gets into an altercation with you for some minor thing (say, a land or a money dispute) and puts you in jail, you will personally feel the pain of not having due process in the country. Just as the Muslim comedian could not get bail because a case was filed against him by the son of an MLA, so too, you might not be able to avail justice if you cross the powerful, even inadvertently. So these are things to be concerned about and protest. Even if you have absolute faith in Mr. Modi, surely you cannot have absolute faith in all Hindus in India or all leaders of the BJP or the RSS? So not everyone who is concerned and criticizes the government is doing it out of personal dislike of Mr. Modi. There are concerns that go far above a single individual.

Even in a loving family, only partners who speak out about what is bothering them or children who demand things get what they want. From the time our children are babies, they know that we love them; yet they cry (complain) because otherwise their needs will not be addressed. Complaining is not evidence of loss of affection or disloyalty. It is necessary to demand your rights. Those who do not demand their rights end up as losers.

Don’t be a loser. Be a winner. Accept criticism of your beloved leader. Reflect on it. It’s good for you and good for the country – and good for your leader, too.



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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