Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Why foes of India’s ruling party may be right this time

People who are not very fond of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been melodramatic, naive or plain wrong in their reactions to his policies, many of which were not even his ideas.

Their campaign against Aadhaar, which has transformed the lives of the poor despite its early glitches, was at first led by rural affairs middlemen, who were fighting for their own relevance in a changing world. Also, contrary to what such people claim, “demonetization" did destroy the value of illicit money, and the fact that 99.5% of the cancelled cash was returned to banks did not mean that the value of the illicit cash was not degraded before it was returned through proxies. And, their biases prevent them from seeing the fact that the full integration of Kashmir with India contained within its many consequences the liberation of ordinary Kashmiris from their corrupt, well-networked intellectuals. And that the abolition of triple-talaq probably had the support of a majority of Muslim women, at least in social circles that are most affected by such a facile form of divorce. And, activists who call Modi a “fascist" are usually the same serfs of a dominant culture that labels unfamiliar humans by a puerile template—as either saints or “fascists", or both, as Aung San Suu Kyi discovered.

But the people who are battling Modi over his government’s new citizenship law are right about almost everything they say about his immigration policy, which uses Islam to disqualify a broad segment of undocumented immigrants.

A few days ago, the subject text of an email newsletter from the Prime Minister’s office read: “PM disburses 12,000 crore to six crore farmers directly in their bank accounts." This is the sort of thing Modi wants to do with greater frequency—wire cash directly into the accounts of voters. The amended Citizenship Act, or CAA, as it is widely known, is intended to favour poor Indians at the expense of undocumented foreigners. It belongs to one of the two reformation methods that India has witnessed in recent years. One that works, and the other that sounds sexy in the beginning: The Delhi Metro Way of transforming India, and the Demonetization Way.

The Delhi Metro way of reformation is driven by the unglamorous and difficult task of creating infrastructure first and implementing intelligent designs that make it easy for Indians to follow rules before the grand act of announcing the system’s success. The Delhi Metro first won the respect of Indians by granting them their rights before telling them about the consequences of violating their duties to the nation.

But the CAA is in the league of government policies that are more about grand announcements made without undertaking the dull tasks of creating processes, explaining stuff, reassuring the weak and the nervous, and winning the trust and respect of Indians. The Act says the exciting things first; then fumbles to answer “how" it will be achieved. Why legislate on citizenship when it is still unclear what set of clinching documents would confirm the citizenship of a poor Indian?

The Delhi Metro Way assumes policy is not an idea; rather, policy is implementation of an idea. The Demonetization Way has the swag of a sensational announcement that precedes figuring out boring stuff like how to put new cash in old boxes.

Also, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems at risk of falling into a feedback black hole. I like to call it “the Ram Gopal Varma black hole". When a person is constantly criticized for his bold ideas, but these keep working, he finds it hard to respect the collective wisdom of the world. Then, when his instincts fail him and he makes bad decisions, he continues to disrespect external voices. Arvind Kejriwal appears to have fallen into such a hole. The BJP is now circling one. When should politicians whose instincts are far superior to those of commentators listen to other voices, especially those that have been wrong or dishonest so many times?

Nothing else explains the baffling stubbornness of the BJP in the face of obvious problems with the CAA. It is as if the party is unable to see the fact that a nation like India cannot discriminate even against foreigners on the basis of their religion. Even Israel does not have a citizenship policy that officially disqualifies those of a particular faith.

Also, there are things the BJP should not do precisely because it is the BJP. Its whole history makes Indian Muslims suspicious. And, the party has announced a string of policies that have greatly affected the lives and minds of Muslims. If the BJP is unconcerned about its image as an organization that has contempt for Muslims, and if this attitude emerges from its electoral charm with Hindus, then it must ask itself this political question: Why is there no political party in the world that claims to represent men?

A political current needs a wound. Of late, men are plagiarizing the movements of the weak to claim victimhood. Donald Trump does try to frame men as a single collective organism under attack. But it is very hard to sculpt a political bloc out of a broad group of dominant humans. Even women in advanced democracies have not managed to convert themselves into a formidable political bloc. So, the Hindu consolidation that the BJP has enjoyed may be momentary. The party has to find newer ways to define itself, more modern ways, even as its foes have successfully created a global perception that India is morally superior to the BJP.

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

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