New Delhi: Some think he is a modern-day Nero, while others are happy to regard him as the Kalyug avatar of deity Ram.
Leading the Union government for eight years, Narendra Modi was India’s most polarizing prime minister since independence. Having led the Bharatiya Janata Party to two successive and overall victories in the legislative elections, he is the symbol of a “New India”, both inside and outside the country.
His supporters see the prime minister’s larger-than-life personality as part of an iconoclastic politics that developing India desperately needs right now. His critics, made up mostly of a savvy group of Democrats and Indian minorities, believe he has only used his chair to cement a kind of divisive demagoguery that could tear India apart in the future.
As his government celebrates eight years in power, the BJP counts its achievements.
He claimed that he will keep or has already kept all his promises ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Many of these promises kept are usually exclusive. The watering down of Section 370, the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act, the criminalization of triple talaq or the solicitation of a Ram temple in Ayodhya where BJP supporters demolished a 16th century mosque in 1992 are all part of a Hindu nationalist political agenda that has tried to solidify its grip on Indian politics since before independence.
Modis’ other set of promises related to his claim to make India an economic powerhouse and a corruption-free state remain largely unfulfilled. But these have been forgotten by the BJP as it celebrates its eighth year as the most dominant political force in India.
The embattled opposition forces, on the other hand, pointed to its failures in the areas of economy, governance and social harmony. They drew attention to striking facts that the unemployment rate, the level of poverty, income inequality, commodity prices or the deterioration of financial houses and democratic institutions have all reached an unprecedented level. under the Modis regime.
But Modis’ Hindu nationalist political project seems to supersede all that and more in popular perception.
The ease with which a majority of voters in the last two elections cornered their immediate economic interests to side with the BJP speaks volumes about Modis’ leadership.
But one has to ask what makes the Modis era so different from previous regimes. What draws people to a party that has openly embraced majoritarian and socially divisive rhetoric?
If the last eight years are taken into account, three major aspects of the Modis rule mark a specificity that India had not witnessed under previous regimes.
First, the BJP under Modi has led Indians into a state of collective amnesia. He counts his achievements day by day. From a free vaccination program to the installation of escalators in stations, the BJP projects all aspects of governance as “first of its kind” steps. Every move the BJP has made in the past eight years has been shown as the prime ministers current achievement, as something that previous prime ministers or other political parties were unable to conceptualize, let alone do.
Modis’ leadership is as much about counting his achievements as it is about making people forget the past achievements of India or its leaders by ensuring that every step Modi takes is a first for the country.
It is undeniable that no other party has had the unconditional support of corporations like the BJP. A bottomless BJP has the power to make every decision it makes an innovation through sophisticated PR mechanisms. Politics under the BJP is one big corporate event after another. The Prime Minister’s larger-than-life personality only adds the good flavor these events need to attract maximum attention.
The process of pushing Indians into this state of amnesia is also militantly supported by a concerted attempt to erase Indian history and replace it with a false version of events from India’s past that suits conveniently to the political interests of the BJP. This undoing of India’s complicated, yet syncretic, history is not brought about by the simple rewriting of history textbooks in schools and colleges, a process fostered by the previous BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. on social media platforms and perpetuating falsehoods with the help of the leaders of the BJP and its affiliate organizations across the country.
By forcing Indians to revisit traumatic events of the past without giving them historical understanding, the BJP has mastered the art of (mis)using history for political gain. The capital-rich BJP can rightly take credit for the unprecedented use of technology in such campaigns.
Secondly, India has never seen such an organized campaign against opposition forces and critics.
The Modis regime will be remembered for criminalizing dissent like no other government. The use of draconian laws such as sedition or UAPA against dissident students, leaders or minorities has increased dramatically. Such political practice began in universities where dissident students were charged with sedition and matured when investigative agencies began cracking down on opposition leaders in different cases. In its eighth year, India’s press freedom index is at an all-time low, with many journalists facing serious charges under India’s penal code.
These eight years were also the period when investigative agencies seemed to whitewash the sins of the BJP leaders. Whether it is hate speech or rioting, their alleged involvement in lynchings and murders, or accusations related to high-level corruption, BJP leaders have been largely left behind or have avoided any form of control. Such a trend is so clear that many opposition leaders have chosen to join the ranks of the BJP to avoid being under the control of investigative agencies that seem to have completely given up their autonomy.
It was the BJP under UPA rule which criticized Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s leading investigative body, of being a caged parrot. However, these agencies showed virtually no signs of escaping the cage during Modis’ reign. In fact, most of these agencies have only shown their tendency to genuflect before a clearly vindictive Modi government.
Two prominent institutions in the democratic media and the judiciary have helped the Modi government achieve complete dominance over the institutions even as the criticism against it from different corners is growing louder day by day. If there are any real firsts of the Mods regime, it is the complete collapse of mainstream media. Never has the Indian media been seen advancing the interests of the government as they did during Modis’ rule. Often the media can also be held guilty of promoting social division and majoritarianism.
During the same period, the judiciary did nothing to engender any confidence among the people. With the exception of a few important judgments, the entire judiciary has ruled largely in favor of the government, whether in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi order or more recently in its conduct in the Gyanvapi Mosque. India has had a history of judges ruling against undemocratic government orders, the best example of which is the dissenting judgment of Justice HR Khannas in the notorious habeas corpus case during the emergency imposed by the former Prime Minister of Congress Indira Gandhi. However, this standard seems to have radically transformed among the upper echelons of the Indian judicial system in the current era.
To finish, and most importantly, the Modi government has spearheaded the process of replacing constitutional nationalism that most other governments have embraced with its own brand of cultural nationalism. Politics, as projected by Modi, is no longer just about development work, governance and welfare, but about reclaiming India’s “lost” glory. The BJP has always understood India as a strictly Hindu nation, which enjoyed a golden age under the regimes of different Hindu rulers, but was ruined by Muslim invaders. The natural corollary of such an understanding was reflected in his political practice which sought to alienate Indian Muslims from the mainstream.
Modi has re-energized the majority Sangh Parivars program with unabashed vigour. By taking a decisive step to deny Muslims any electoral representation in the BJP, he charted a political formula for consolidating Hindus. He reaped the rewards of this clear and raw electoral strategy.
The cultural nationalism project is not simply electoral but has infiltrated all levels of the BJP. Workers are required to constantly invoke Hindu myths, to reclaim so-called Hindu shrines from Muslim hands, to urge people to assume their Hindu identity by frequently organizing religious events.
The pursuit of cultural nationalism by the saffron parties has been so strong that it has largely superseded the historically significant political contradictions of caste, patronage and class among Hindus, leaving virtually no room for politics derived from social justice, representation or well-being.
Much of the opposition forces that had relied on the values of democracy to practice their policies found themselves lost in the face of such Hindutva aggression.
At the moment, the BJP under Modi dominates all other political forces. And it will continue into the near future if opposition forces do not have an alternative and compelling cultural response to the BJP’s brand of cultural nationalism. Modi and his government will be remembered not only for using these combinations of factors to transform the BJP, but also for instigatinga large part of the Indians to claim their place in the politics of power.
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