It was a tumultuous week for the beleaguered Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as they were stung hard, ironically, by their favourite rocket-launcher, the dynasty bug. Former National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha literally rubbished the phlegmatic Indian economy under Narendra Modi, evoking universal approbation. His son Jayant Sinha, a minister in the PM Narendra Modi-led NDA government, wrote a prompt riposte (one assumes under some not-so-subtle diktat) which was like a government handout marinated with some Harvard sophistry. All hell broke loose.
A climate of oppressive fear has enveloped India like a nuclear cloud
There were early ominous signs for the discerning to worry, for the optimist to ignore, and the die-hard acolyte to still applaud. When Modi became Prime Minister with an overwhelming mandate in May 2014, many I am sure fervently hoped that despite his egregiously controversial track-record with communal politics, Modi would rise above his characteristic sectarianism. They hoped that he would not be the agent provocateur of religious politics. He had aggressively sold himself as the talismanic avatar of modern development during the election campaign; the questionable substance of the much-touted Gujarat model fell quietly by the wayside.
The world loves a winner; grave fault-lines are casually ignored, even sacrilegious blunders are glossed over in the intoxication of "people's verdict". Overnight, the man who willfully instigated a religious schism with deplorable lines such as "'Hum paanch hamare pachees' (five of us, and our 25)" began getting the sobriquet of being statesman-like by genuflecting editors. As things have since established, he is anything but. A climate of oppressive fear has enveloped India like a nuclear cloud.
A perfect example is the case of the three Khans. The incandescent silence of Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan despite brutal atrocities being perpetrated on innocent Muslims like Pehlu Khan and Junaid Khan is stupefying. They must realise that there is a life beyond an Eid film release that 170 million Muslims of India live in expectation of. But the fact is that they have been literally asphyxiated. Aamir Khan was targeted with frenzied ferocity by the right-wing brigade, particularly social media trolls and malicious BJP leaders. A Cabinet minister even alluded that Khan's celebrity endorsement deal with an e-commerce behemoth was abruptly terminated owing to pressures exerted on them. Democracy anyone? Shah Rukh Khan, who articulates with rare erudition on matters Catholic, has chosen the quiet solitude of his massive mansion at Bandstand over becoming easy pickings for the hate-mongers. His reluctance to even mention the issue of social subjugation of Indian minorities in his TED Talk disappointed me. But again, his film Dilwale suffered enormous losses as the Hindutva groups indulged in their mindless violence at cinema halls, threatening destruction and interruptions. Salman Khan has made intermittent protests, only to have his father issue apology statements. The irony is that the Khans have dominated Bollywood for over three decades, and their popularity is stratospheric, cutting across religious boundaries and narrow minds.
Trump, Modi, bhai, bhai!
But as India has made a sharp turn to the Right and becomes perceptibly conservative, they have been told to shut up. United States' President Donald Trump too is deliberately instigating a culture war in America to augment his white supremacist base. The "others" are being attacked and threatened.
Both Donald Trump and Narendra Modi have preternatural similarities in political strategy. They trigger a hyper-nationalistic fervour, exacerbate social divides, feed on the rising global Islamophobia that demonises domestic minorities, play on military adventurism and punitive attacks against adversaries, and vilify their predecessors' extravagant tolerance of cultural diversity as cheap vote-bank politics. Trump trashed the Washington establishment for creating a cosy cabal, and Modi postured as the iconoclastic outsider to the snobbish Lutyens crowd. There is one difference though: Trump is more honest about his unconscionable rabidity, no matter how stupid they are. Modi keeps silent. He dodges the issue altogether, and usually responds with grandiloquent theatrics months later, letting his rehearsed script befool all.
Modi seems blissfully nonchalant about his damaged reputation for social harmony. The Bhakts are happy. He merely wants to grow that tribe.
The end goal is, however, met both ways, you win through a free-kick or a penalty shoot-out. Trump's provocative broadside against Meryl Streep and NFL's Colin Kaepernick has invited an avalanche of ridicule, but he seems further emboldened by the liberal-centrist onslaught because his core constituency lionises him for the same outrageousness. Like him, Modi seems blissfully nonchalant about his damaged reputation for social harmony. The Bhakts are happy. He merely wants to grow that tribe.
Underlying the economic paralysis is the hidden factor; the government's fascination for communal polarization.
Trump and Modi certainly cheered stock-market bulls; both Dow Jones and the Sensex have demonstrated irrational exuberance, at odds with macroeconomic fundamentals. It may be early days for Trump, but the Indian economy has anaemic symptoms; virtually negligible private investments, falling consumer demand, stagnant exports, rising NPA's of public sector banks, a mounting job crisis, to name a few. It is unlikely that mere public expenditure can revive an economy with deep structural flaws, aggravated further by the Himalayan disaster called demonetisation, and the amateurish execution of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). But underlying the economic paralysis is the hidden factor; the government's fascination for communal polarisation. Economic growth needs a strong, united society as a prerequisite. Modi got his priorities wrong and has wasted 70% of NDA's term in creating religious tensions for winning state elections ('Kabristan/ Shamshan' being the astonishing marker in the UP elections).
The economy cannot be fixed through jingoistic sloganeering and sub-standard rhetoric delivered with an imperious flourish. That's why Yashwant Sinha hurt. That's why the Indian economy is hurting. That's why this could be the beginning of the end.
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