Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Messiah Modi: What to make of him?
Milligazette, 1-15 September 2014
‘What is one to make of Pradhan Sevak Modi?’ is a question puzzling many. The RSS supremo has already gone public with his rejoinder to the BJP stalwart and former colleague, Mr. Modi’s characterisation of his electoral victory. Clearly, the RSS is also trying to cope with the Modi phenomenon. How the pariwar’s internal politics turn out will determine the immediate term in which Mr. Modi tries to extend his domination from the BJP to the wider Hindutva fraternity.
Central to this fight will be Mr. Modi’s attempt to dislodge the RSS’s claims on him by forging a direct link with his constituency, bypassing the RSS, his erstwhile support structure. The strategy he is using is to present himself as Messiah Modi, the Pradhan Sevak of India’s masses. The RSS for its part will try and keep its institutional control over him and his party. Bhagwat has already reminded Mr. Modi that the election victory was not about individuals. The contention can well end up over time as India’s own ‘night of long knives’, as Hitler’s purging of the Brown Shirts is known to history. In this case it would be Modi’s overthrowing ‘khaki chaddis’.
However, this article is more about the consternation within the Muslim community. What are we to make of Messiah Modi? We already have a view on this. Mr. Sirajuddin Qureishi, head of the India Islamic Cultural Center in Delhi, has opined that, ‘Muslims have started rethinking about their attitude towards the NDA government led by Prime Minister Modi.’ A press release from the IICC indicates that Mr. Qureishi was speaking at the independence day function of his institution, that is incidentally, so heavily subscribed that it has stopped taking applications for new members.
Clearly, Mr. Qureishi is a victim of the Modi puzzle. Mr. Modi in presenting himself as an individual, a messiah no less, without the ideological and institutional baggage of the parivar, has attempted to collapse the distinction between him and the government. This process has been on since the elections with the BJP campaign not talking of a BJP government, as much as a Modi one. Its president had to change his tweet within minutes of soliciting votes for the BJP substituting Modi for BJP. Therefore, if Mr. Qureishi confuses India’s government for Mr. Modi’s government, he can be forgiven.
However, the distinction is pertinent. Mr. Modi heads the government temporarily, as Bhagwat reminded him, till the next elections, when the people could also show him the door in case they want change. The government of India however remains. Therefore, there is no call for Muslims to change their attitude to the government. It can only remain positive and mutually supportive. Since Mr. Modi has promised a developmentalist agenda, it is one that Muslims can partake of. Therefore, there is no call for a change in attitude.
Now in so far as Mr. Modi is concerned, he has given no reason for Muslims to change their attitude. He has not expressed remorse for presiding over the carnage of fellow community members of his state. This attitude of his was exemplified by refusal to wear a muslim headgear despite his penchant lately for ethnic headgear, the latest being the red Jodhpuri safa sported by him at the ramparts of Red Fort. We know that this lack of remorse was to profit from a vote bank of the majority community, relying on the inroads the sangh parivar has made, with his active participation as a pracharak, over the past three decades. The election victory itself is outcome of polarisation attributed to his close aide, Mr. Shah, now elevated to head India’s ruling party.
Islam enjoins forgiveness, but in this case cannot be bestowed without evidence of any contriteness. In fact, the contrary is the case. The message from the election victory is that Mr. Modi does not need Muslim votes. He in fact can do without them, so as to keep his vote bank in the majority community intact. This is also evident from his independence day speech. Take for instance the call for a ten year moratorium (gives an indication of his intention to remain in power for at least a decade) on casteism and communalism. On the face of it this is unexceptional. However, it would be naïve to take a commensurate politician as Mr. Modi at face value. Since the BJP and its upper caste support base does not own up to casteism, this is more a reference to the parties and support base relying on backward castes. They are being exhorted to give up casteism so as to bring about the majority’s unity, and forge it into an unbreakable voter war chest for Mr. Modi.
By analogy, the communalism Mr. Modi is talking of is not that of the majority community. He has been reticent on this for the past three months, despite calls for him to declare that he has ended his association with his erstwhile communalist camp, the pariwar. Nothing of the sort has happened so far, implying that the communalism being referred to is that of the minority community. This yet again is part of the wider project of ‘peace, unity and harmony’ in which harmony is in acceptance of Muslims being Hindus, by Goa deputy chief minister’s definition of Indian. Even the President’s independence day reference to Shivaji’s letter to Aurangzeb asking for discarding jaziya suggests as much. The president in our system is mouthpiece of the government. Muslims now, as then, are being required to shed their intolerance. Then there will be ‘unity and harmony’. Clearly, the moratorium on communalism will be one sided.
Therefore, Muslims need to wait till Mr. Modi explicitly directs his message on communalism on his erstwhile camp followers, the RSS. This may well happen and will signify the culmination of palace politics of the pariwar. Even were Mr. Modi to take on the pariwar, there is the judicial accounting for a thousand lives. There is no question of changing attitude to Mr. Modi. Muslims need to wait out Mr. Modi’s innings at the helm, under which he would enjoy immunity from the legal pincers that were closing on him and his aide. Since he will head the government for the duration, till the RSS-Modi spat potentially upturns both, at the next elections, Muslims can only continue to engage the government, without mistaking it as Modi’s government.
It remains the government of India and shall continue to command Muslim respect and loyalty. Muslims will participate in its poverty elimination and development agenda. Of course, alongside we must eliminate intolerance that is within us as it is in all individuals and communities universally, if only to be true Muslims. Mr. Qureishi and his privileged compatriots at the elite institution on Lodi Road are at liberty to make of Mr. Modi as they please, including falling for his projection of himself as Messiah Modi.