Note: This is a guest article by Sri Narasimha.
India’s honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the person people love to hate. Of course he does have his supporters and his sympathisers across all walks of life and demographics, particularly in non-urban places but the folks who own the presses and the airwaves, so to speak, dominate this emotion of hatred.
I am a US citizen of Indian origin. I live and work in India for personal and professional reasons. I have `skin in the game’ here and want India to prosper.
With that as background, I must first confess that I am both mystified and disturbed by what I see in India. The most appalling thing that I have observed among many Indians is this deep desire for India NOT to be strong. NOT to succeed. NOT to really change. Certainly NOT to win! I’m truly mystified by this self-loathing and overweening self-centredness, a fundamental inability to put the society and country ahead of personal or sectarian interests.
Over the years, I have observed and met many Modi critics. These critics range from folks who either outright hate him or folks who are disappointed. In between, are a few other categories.
1. Professional Modi baiters: Essentially a variety of media persons and industry professionals who either did the brainwashing or were brainwashed about Modi being an evil person and point to the 2002 riots in Gujarat as evidence. Includes self-proclaimed leftists-liberals, supporters of the Congress party and its clones. Obviously, the political party ecosystem did the brainwashing. Many regular folks who got brainwashed will not change their minds. After all, it is easier to be fooled than to admit that you were fooled.
2. The aggrieved set: In this category are the folks who believe that the Hindu majority, over the last 70 years, has been marginalized by minority vote banks. They point to government control of Hindu temples, reservations and subsidies given to minorities as evidence of being systematically disenfranchised. The media has enabled and fuelled this picture by selective reportage of events and facts. By a variety of perception management tricks that preys on low critical thinking and built in prejudices, the media has demonized millions of ordinary folks while elevating others who suited their agenda. This category feels nothing has changed under Modi and feel let down by the first PM who conveys India and her civilizational pride. They see this social and legal distortion as the burning issue to be fixed and are losing hope that it will ever get fixed.
3. The closet `Singhis’: Overtly they say they support Modi as PM but have already decided that he has failed. These are not necessarily Congress party supporters but many well meaning folks who took pride in claiming that India had a PM who was an accomplished economist and decent human being. I have observed this pattern especially among a few smart, successful Sikhs who cannot digest the failure of Manmohan Singh as PM. This is clearly not about religion, it is just that a PM who was one of their own could have made them proud but ended his two terms being ridiculed and insulted.
4. The Status quo-ists: They have nothing against Modi personally but they hate him because he represents change. They see an orthogonal mind at work and a move toward structural disruption and this threatens their linear plans. Traders, Brokers, Industrialists, the Bureaucracy, and Intellectuals with preprogrammed DNAs who clearly found it easier to thrive under a predictable, venal arrangement. In this bucket are also people who like to claim that they are fair minded. `I actually want Modi to succeed but…’ is typically how they will start their narrative about how he can’t scale from a CM to a PM and how he needs to carry people with him and not be so autocratic. And with confirmation bias, they cherrypick slanted statistics.
5. Short-rope snipers: While they have given Modi a rope, it is very short and on the other hand they hold a sniper’s rifle. These are typically very smart academics and think tank types who are willing to hold their noses for some time only because they recognize that India was made ungovernable between 2012 and 2014. This category also includes folks who think he is a `vernie’ (someone who studied in a vernacular medium) and lacks the western sophistication. These snobs don’t fool me because I used to be one of them. Their mantra is `Not that we love Modi less but we love Raghuram Rajan more’ and includes economists and commentators on India’s economy. This group has a fantastic intellectual capacity but is theoretical in its approach. Most of them have never run anything in their lives, leave alone a turnaround situation. Their filters are macro and super macro. The types who are now saying `I too wished things would get better but you know I told you so, winning an election and running a government are different things’.
6. The Chatterati: This category has the glorious inheritors among in its club. They belong to tabloids and an assortment of institutions that exist only because of loyalty to some political dispensation. They have created halos around themselves through systematic PR. They are the celebrities whose only achievement is celebrityhood. This group prescribes what Modi should say, what he should wear and what he should do and not do. They even comment on the Defence and the Economy !
7. The Glitterati: Bollywood, and a few of the assorted `woods’ of India that are still unable to coin an original name for themselves and have a deep and long history of aligning themselves with the Modi baiters. From time to time, they smell the coffee and attempt to pay lip service to Modi’s governance. It does not take a lot for the façade to slip. A shout out from one of their pet categories about a crime and they quickly line up to blame Modi for creating an environment where `free speech’ is being trampled upon.
8. The Bitterati: Former Modi supporters who were hoping for some role in the government but have lost hope of getting anything. These are the folks who can easily put the nation ahead of themselves, and often struggle to do so, but the deep down, ambition gets the better of them. This includes politicians, former star CEOs, academicians, authors. They have allowed their feelings of self-aggrandisement transcend their feelings for the country. Among some, this bitterness is turning to schadenfreude.
9. The Forwarders: Urban India has millions of this category working in a typical corporate environment. Their world view is shaped by snatches of newspaper reading and TV and typically have that dangerous `half knowledge’ about most things. They will then troll social media for articles or commentary that confirms their bias and do their bit for the country by forwarding material and `Liking’ what they forward. They latch onto keywords like `Bhakt’ and paint Modi as someone who `spins’ achievements. And then go after his supporters viciously by denigrating their intelligence.
10. The insiders: As history has taught us, the one to fear the most is the enemy within. There are many in Modi’s party who will not want him to succeed. The fact that he is streets ahead of them in political astuteness, geopolitical vision and influence and in outcome-oriented governance makes them insecure. There are survival issues for them as well as issues of growth within the party and the government. When merit becomes the watchword in a feudal ethos, picture the panic.
The simple fact is that many of these folks agree that Modi is honest. They will broadly agree that he works hard even while pointing out that he travels too much. Pushed to the wall, they will even agree that his intent and commitment are strong. They will further ventilate that India is a mess and point to other countries (ah see Singapore!) as role models. Further, they know deep down that the earlier dispensation put the country in the Intensive Care Unit. They recognise that transmission of policy and governance sits on a complex, self-serving bureaucratic machine that can’t be wished away or transformed overnight. They frequently shout about how much India is divided on various lines, over centuries.
Now these same folks can see that many macro parameters are in India’s favor. They can see the strength of the Indian rupee after years of free fall. They can spend more time, do some independent research and understand the bottom up efforts being delivered through targeted governance.
But they will not give Modi an honest chance. They will not say `Finally we have a person of integrity who cares about our nation, who works hard and is getting folks around him to work hard, who is trying to make a difference, who has inherited a horrible situation, who has accepted that he could make mistakes, has reached out for ideas and help, who needs our support, our encouragement and reasonable time to repair the destruction’.
I wonder why.