Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Opinion | Six messages in Narendra Modi’s return to power

Secularism was always an atheist’s point of view on how believers should behave, and other lessons

The new alpha male of our times is a man who talks tough, but is also unashamed of tearing up, and of touching the feet of older men. But there are far deeper messages in the swag of Narendra Modi: One, if there were objective measures like elections in every sphere of Indian life, many Rahul Gandhis would be in trouble. Overnight, most of the “elite" in arts, activism, journalism and academics would be replaced by people who are more substantial, or admirable, or relevant.

Two, the Prime Minister of India can today face the whole nation and make fun of “secularism", as Modi did on Wednesday in his victory speech. Secularism was always an atheist’s point of view on how believers should behave. It never made sense to believers. In many Western democracies, secularism is denying god the right to interfere with law; in India; it means in practice, all gods have equal right to meddle with life. In Indian journalism, secularism was mostly a vacuous phrase and the subject of one of those foolish photo collages where the juxtaposition of a temple, mosque and a church, all of them probably encroaching public land, is portrayed as a demonstration of peaceful co-existence. After Modi’s dig at secularism, some journalists pointed out that the word was part of the Indian constitution (added late, though, in 1976), as if this somehow made it some sacred quality of Indian character. But then, Modi knew very early in his life that if a nation had to proclaim it was secular, it probably was not.

Three, in his speech, he said that he will create an India where a Pragya Thakur cannot win an election. Of course, he did not put it this way, but that is the meaning of an expression he used: “Inclusive India". This is unlikely. There will not be such an India for years to come. Modi was just reaching out, and being nice, which has its own value.

The lesson for Muslims in this election has been that their guardians have been duds. All those activists and poets and the “200 writers, 200 artists" who signed petitions were only good at signing petitions and nothing more.

In new India, Muslims will certainly find opportunities to excel; Muslims may continue to be film superstars, another Muslim might captain the Indian cricketteam, but a measure of freedom in a country is also the right to make a mistake and get away with it, or face only proportionate punishment. Imagine a Muslim in a white cap getting into a road scuffle with a Hindu. I don’t think this can happen anymore. For some time now, I have sensed a restraint in public expressions by Muslims, who in another time would have felt free enough to express anger.

Maybe the people who feared Modi and donated their hard-earned money to activist websites that claimed to be practising journalism may have been cleverer had they bought those shady electoral bonds instead.

Four, for several months, we have been told that demonetization destroyed the lives of the poor, and that the unemployment rate in India was now the highest in 45 years. And that these factors had diminished Modi politically. Yet he won.

Intellectuals now claim that nationalism and love for Modi are chiefly responsible for his victory. But it is hard to believe that Modi’s voters, who made up nearly 40% of the Indian electorate, would have rewarded him if the impact of his reign were as bad as academics claimed. Something about the average Indian voter’s relative prosperity, optimism, employment patterns, the psychology of their labour participation and about Aadhaar’s efficient distribution of welfare benefits was not captured by journalists and academics, who saw what they wanted to see.

Days after Modi announced the cancellation of big notes, I had argued in Hindustan Times that this was politically a sound move. I had then based my argument on how the average Indian, despite their own pains, would perceive the panic of their feudal masters. Modi, in fact, has led his party to over a dozen major electoral victories since demonetization. I don’t believe, though, that the memory of middle-class panic was relevant to this year’s general elections. Even so, if everything that most columnists and academics said about the impact of demonetization on the poor was accurate, Modi should have been routed. I am not saying it was a great idea. I am saying you don’t take away the money of the poor and win elections. So, Modi’s dramatic victory should tell us that it was not the disaster that intellectuals made it out to be.

Five, Kanhaiya Kumar would have realized by now that there is a mystical relationship between the poor and the refined Nehruvians. The poor do exactly the opposite of what the intellectuals have deemed the poor should do for their own good. Now that Kumar knows student politics and the admiration of the urbane does not prepare him for real life, he should consider liberating himself from the employment of his middle-class masters who have a habit of hiring revolutionaries. And, he must accept one thing they did not teach him in Jawaharlal Nehru University: that, when a guy mouths the same economic ideas that kept his mother poor, then he has been co-opted by the same kind of people who kept his mother poor.

Six, the sweet analysis of salad-eaters: “Priyanka should now enter politics" turned out to be not such a great insight, after all. What are the other important things they are wrong about?

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’