When leaders try to become six-pack technocrat heroes, that machismo can be dangerous

Thursday, 15 May 2014 - 6:00am IST Updated: Wednesday, 14 May 2014 - 9:33pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
A contrarian view of India

Exit polls create a drama of numbers. The scores are huge, the graphics awesome. The Congress, a party which was part of the subconscious disappears without a trace. If numbers resonated as music, they would blare like trumpets, thump like dholaks to announce a Modi victory. Yet listening to exit polls, the chorus of anticipatory celebrations, I feel anxiety. It is not Modi’s victory that bothers me, it is my anxiety. I sit quietly, reflect and ask what is it about Narendra Modi’s coming triumph that bothers me.

Anxiety is always unstated. The labels one uses for it cover reality, becoming more like mere marks of recognition than understanding. I sit back and play my own psychiatrist wondering what my fears are.

The first signals are obvious. As a liberal and civil rights activist, I see my immediate spaces shrinking. My ecology is dying out. I saw what Modi did to civil society in Gujarat. He set the bureaucracy on them, turning them defensive, creating a paranoid world where the most open groups fall silent. When you threaten small groups with sheer survival, they cannot cope. I saw Gujarat fall silent. Even Gandhians forgot the tenets of their genius and invited Modi as a fellow Gandhian. It is fear of bandwagons, mobs echoing the same line, the vigilantes of the new consensus who bother me.

I was thinking of a simple possibility. I know people complain of capitalist cronyism but I always feel academic cronyism is more lethal. Academic cronyism chokes a whole generation and eats up dissent like a water hyacinth. Modi’s symbol is not the Lotus but the water hyacinth ruthlessly eating dissent. I already see academics lining up like think tanks ready to join the bandwagons of consultancy, the new committees that litter Delhi.

I confess I always hated the word development. When Modi uses it as an aesthetic and ethical word for his politics I feel worried. This sense of fear and trembling came out when I was watching a TV clip on Benares. They were beautiful shots of weavers looms, of sarees that took a fortnight to weave and the camera pans on the starved faces asking what will happen to this. Does development have a place for the weaver, the tribal in a world where Modi talks of development as the new win-win situation? What is win-win when a way of life disappears? Modi does not quite answer this question.

As my anxieties pick up pace, my questions about development broaden to questions of memory and violence. I lived in Gujarat in the decade after the carnage of 2002. 2002 like 1984 worried me. I realize the man next to me on the bus could be a killer. In 2002, part of a society turned killer and never returned to normalcy. I remember a parent approaching me once for help. She told me I am a school teacher but I feel helpless before my son. I have two kids, a girl and a boy. They fight often but now my son tells my daughter if you don’t listen to me, I will do to you, what Hindus did to Muslim women. The school teacher said, “I do not want to live in a society that feels this way.” I wonder what Modi would say about that. The problem of the Gujarat violence is not mere murder, it is the silence and the indifference that followed. Modi “normalised” Gujarat and I wonder whether he will normalize other places. I remember in a Delhi school when the first news of the Gujarat riots came through, a student leaped up claiming “at last 500 years of misrule has been defeated”. I hate having to live with that sense of history. Modi has always created history as a form of“resentment”. I think India of my era is far better of being androgynous rather than playing a six-pack technocratic hero we want our new leaders to be. Modi has that sense of machismo that worries me. He has that bully boy aggressiveness which is publicly visible. Bullies worry me and when bullies like Modi talk about security, I am more worried. This need to be decisive and strong, shows little sense of vulnerability and weakness. Modi is the politician of security, not the statesman of vulnerability I am looking for. I miss the poetics of vulnerability in the man. It is as if an ethical or aesthetic gene is lacking in him. I wish he assured one of compassion.

I must confess I am a laid-back person. I love my work, I work hard but I find this new aspirational generation as tiring as the old ascriptive one. One stifled through nepotism, the other threatens through over competitiveness. Neither can relax with themselves. They demand indicators of success. They want all their achievements to be ranked. It is not just development. It is our lives. Soon, we will rank production, education, athletics and creativity. Ranking Human Development was fun but the new rankings Society-a-la-Modi sounds tedious. This effort to make India a great power sounds hysterical, tedious and tiring.

Deeply, I am proud of being Indian but that means I enjoy a way of life. I am tired of coming battles between India and China and tired of an elite afraid of China. I want China to produce more because I know I can live on less. I do not want India to bully Pakistan or fear China. But it is precisely such a scenario that is confronting me. As an Indian, I feel India will outthink China in any battle, by inventing varieties of diversity and tolerance. I know this is the Indian strength and it will outlive any China pretending to be a madder America.

I am a patriot but my patriotism is a relaxed one like my Hinduism. A hysterical Hindutva, a patriotism on steroids distances me. I want my world to be easy with difference and not march to any concept. I am afraid Modi sounds like a band leader, looking for bandwagons. Saddest, he has destroyed my ideal of the dhaba. My dhaba is a dream space where ideas, and gossip brew slowly. Modi had ruined tea and politics for me and this I cannot forgive.

The writer is a social scientist


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