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Narendra Modi's Magic History Paintbrush

18/09/2015 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Gujarat state chief minister Narendra Modi, third left, former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, second right, and leaders of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in front, salute during the concluding ceremony of the eight-day RSS convention in Ahmadabad, India, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

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Narendra Modi - India's 15th Prime Minister - delivering the RSS salute.

An RTI inquiry by the Indian Express recently revealed that the Narendra Modi government has decided to discontinue the printing of stamps commemorating two of India's former Prime Ministers - Indira Gandhi, and her son Rajiv Gandhi.

This isn't the first time that the 1.5 year old Modi government has sought to diminish the stature of the mother-son premier duo. Earlier this year, the Modi government removed the names "Indira Gandhi" and "Rajiv Gandhi" from the "Indira Gandhi Rajbhasha Puraskar" and the "Rajiv Gandhi Rashtriya Gyan-Vigyan Maulik Pustak Lekhan Puraskar" - two national level government awards.

The Modi government has also repeatedly disgraced the memory of India's first Prime Minister and ardent freedom fighter - Jawaharlal Nehru - by, according to the Congress party, "diluting the essence of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library."

"The Modi government's blatant effort at historic erasure does not bode well for its image as India's messianic saviour. "

While all three of those individuals were as controversial in the minds of Indians as they were popular, they were, in fact, elected Prime Ministers of the republic. They were reflections of the Indian people's mandate in their time, and the Modi government's blatant effort at historic erasure does not bode well for its image as India's messianic saviour.

But it's interesting to note what was common between all three of these Prime Ministers that the Modi government is seeking to sling mud on.

All three of them were fierce secularists who tied strong leashes to the right wing Hindutva movement (which, if you aren't aware, seeks to tear down India's secular fabric and erect a Hindu state).

For example, of the three times that the RSS has been banned in independent India, the first was under the Nehru government and the second was under the Indira Gandhi government. Modi himself, along with other senior members of his government, were or are RSS members, and the Modi government's recent actions look more like pathetic retributions than progressive measures.

There is also the inference that Modi's quixotic "Statue of Unity" project is clearly designed to uproot one founding father's secular image by replacing it with the all too right wing leaning image of another founding father - Sardar Patel. Any rhetoric claiming unity through this statue is as empty (if not filthy) as Modi's promise to clean the Ganga.

Don't get me wrong, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the Indian republic's greatest founding fathers and the man who did much of the background work while Nehru delivered uplifting speeches to the masses of an infant nation. Sardar Patel was also an opponent of the RSS, going in so far as to blame them for Mahatma Gandhi's assassination (isn't it funny that the gravest terrorist act in independent Indian history was not committed by a Muslim, but arguably by a Hindutva organisation that claims Muslims are terrorists?)

He was one of the workhorses of the republic's foundation - but why would the Modi government pick Patel - a man who has been claimed to have not cared for Muslims during the partition, believed that minorities themselves had to prove their loyalty to India, and inaugurated a Hindu only swimming pool in Mumbai - as a symbol of national unity when there are clearly better options?

"The Modi government's history paintbrush has only just begun painting our nation saffron."

This and more are all the subtle hints left behind by a Prime Minister who is infatuated with revising Indian history to suit his party's and its allies' agendas.

The Modi government's history paintbrush has only just begun painting our nation saffron, and any leftovers from this renovation of Indian history are on track to be covered as well.

But what is most alarming about this saffron paint job is the fact that the Modi government did not receive the people's mandate to do it.

Narendra Modi was elected to lead a nation beleaguered by poverty and corruption to new realms of prosperity and progress, not deliver speeches on Sardar Patel's legacy (something Modi seems desperate to call his own), propagate linguistic chauvinism by replacing German with Sanskrit in government schools, or worsen India's communal equilibrium.

But Modi has a bad habit of convincing people to ignore bigger problems by blindfolding them with visions of nationalism and patriotism. In fact, when Modi announced his vision for the Patel statue, he was actually at a Dairy conference in Gujarat.

The year was 2013, and Gujarat's dairy farmers had been suffering for quite some time due to famine, high prices, and the corporatism that Modi embraced as part of his "Gujarat model". Unnervingly, Modi barely addressed these issues, and would spend most of his speech going on and on about Patel's legacy and how India has forgotten him. The people lapped it up, and, to this day, Gujarat's per capita milk availability is still low enough to exacerbate Gujarat's undernourishment problem.

And as 2015 approaches its dusk, more evidence of the empty rhetoric of a party built on nothing more than the impassioned but foolish Hindu vote slowly crawls into the light. The exchange value of the Rupee - unlike Narendra Modi's speech attendance - has fallen rapidly, Indian exports have dropped by close to USD 2.5 billion between July and August, and anyone who loves Onion bhajiyas is crying in a corner somewhere.

The fact is that the potential Modi showed when a year of his government had elapsed - a potential I was quick to praise in a previous article for the Huffington Post - has degraded to a terribly low level. I once believed that Modi represented a government that would finally place economics over egos, and progress over piety. The Modi government's blunt attack on the history of its party's opponents has made me reconsider that hope.

"Have we in our blind patriotism elected a Frankenstein's monster?"

In 2007, at an RSS Samajotsava in Mangalore, and in the presence of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Modi said, "The nation and Hindus are one. Only if Hindus develop will the nation develop." This is the man we have elected for inclusive growth? This is the man India trusted with the mandate of placing progress above petty politics? Or have we in our blind patriotism elected a Frankenstein's monster?

Unless the Narendra Modi government delivers on its promises - some grand and impossible (such as ending the black money scourge within 100 days of election), and others small and measurable (like improving India's economic outlook) - it is all too reasonable to expect this demagogic government to collapse under the weight of another mandate - perhaps a wiser and less nationalistic one.

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