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The politics of dissent by Narendra Modi's critics

Monday, 23 June 2014 - 7:32am IST Updated: Sunday, 22 June 2014 - 5:32pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna
Though Modi has many opponents, they have not been able to argue their point against him
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A friendly BJP leader said in a quietly angry tone, “I know you have a pathological hatred for (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. You have a right to do so. You and people like you must revisit your premises.” He pointed out when asked about the decimation of the Opposition and what it means: “The attitude behind the question shows that you are not willing to accept the fact of the tremendous victory of Modi where the BJP has 283 seats. It is the people of India, the young, the poor who have chosen Modi. You are out of sync with India.”

The BJP leader’s assertion raises important questions about democracy, consent, dissent. It is a fact that a large number of people across the social and economic spectra had voted for Modi and the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. It is equally true that quite many did not vote for him or for his party. In a democracy, it is the majority view that prevails, and the others have to acquiesce. Even those who have voted against Modi will have to abide by the decisions of Modi, and they will have to accord to him the respect that is due to him as Prime Minister. This is the logic of democracy. There is a temptation to call this the morality of democracy. It is better to avoid the word ‘morality’ because it leads to conceptual labyrinths.

To get back to the issue of ‘pathological hatred of Modi’ versus ‘Modi’s massive mandate’. Pathological hatred in any circumstances is not acceptable though it remains a legal right as acknowledged by the BJP leader. Again, there is the temptation to argue that hatred, whether it is pathological or not, is morally untenable. It is better to leave out this morality business altogether because then one has to resort to some sort of Jain/Christian/Buddhist/Gandhian idealism of overcoming hatred with love. Modi has studiously ignored those who hate him, and there is a sense of contempt in his silence. Those who hate him are doing so more out of a sense of impotent rage rather than legal certainty. From a utilitarian and pragmatic point of view, hatred serves no purpose. Modi’s opponents have not been able to argue their point and they have failed to prove their case. 

To be specific, Modi is hated for his purported role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. When it is pointed out by defenders of Modi that no clear cut evidence has been established about his involvement or his act of abetment in the massacre of Muslims, the opponents cite evidence which just does not seem to survive legal scrutiny. They had to either bring forward some unimpeachable proof which could be used to establish his wrongdoing in a court of law, or defeat him in an election in the political arena. The opponents cite the complicity angle. This too comes under legal purview and it has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt. They have failed on the legal and political fronts. 
The lack of credible evidence in the 2002 Gujarat riots does not entail that his critics need to praise Modi for his able handling of the situation. It would not be wrong to hold that he did not do enough and that his response was inadequate. And perhaps Modi is himself aware of it though he would not ever admit to it. Modi’s defenders in the BJP and in the circle of BJP friends make the mistake of citing the clean chit he got from the courts as proof his innocence. Technically speaking, they are inaccurate. The courts just said there is no evidence. The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) said that there was inadequate evidence.

Politicians, police officers can and do make mistakes, and it would be much better if Modi accepted that there were mistakes and if his critics did not insist on hanging him because they have not demanded this from any other Chief Minister in any other state in the wake of a communal riot. 

There is the other kind of hatred that his die-hard opponents nurse for Modi. It is on ideological grounds. They think that he is the symbol of Hindutva and is therefore anti-secular. The opponents think that their belief in secularism makes them angelic and the one who does not believe in their creed is a demon. Therefore, Modi is a demon. The ideological opposition is understandable but the language and attitude is not. In a democracy, it is imperative to consider an argument with which we are in total disagreement and not treat that person as an untouchable. Democracy demands the co-existence of irreconcilable views. Therefore, the people who disagree with Hindutva and who disagree with Modi because he espouses Hindutva have to engage with him on other issues where there need not be a disagreement. The secularists cannot disagree with Modi on other issues on the ground of Hindutva. It is a non sequitur.
If the opponents of Modi and Hindutva have a democratic obligation to acknowledge Modi’s and BJP’s massive electoral victory, then Modi and BJP cannot argue that because they have 283 seats in the Lok Sabha, everyone should agree with them. Even if all the 543 seats had been won by Modi and BJP, an individual has a right to disagree with Modi and criticise his views and decisions. This disagreement with Modi does not have to arise from a pathological hatred of Modi. 

It is natural for BJP to cite the 283 seats it commands in the Lok Sabha to silence the critics but it does not pass muster. The critics too cannot argue that those 283 seats do not matter because they represent 31 per cent of the popular vote and that there are 69 per cent votes that went to other parties. In the system we have, parliamentary majority needs to be respected even while disagreeing with it and even opposing it.   

The author is editorial consultant with dna




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