Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s first address to Parliament was glorification of illusion. He continues to occupy an unprecedented majority by an incumbent government, yet continues to play the game of a rank outsider, and an underdog in politics. He keeps reminding people of his recent move from Gujarat and being a stranger to Delhi. He is heading the executive but continues to speak as a leader of the Opposition demanding that the Congress be answerable to its 'past sins'. He is the messiah, yet he is "taking the burden of cleaning India" of a ‘disease it has suffered for 70 years’. What is clear from these initial remarks is that Modi 2.0 is not going to be any different from Modi 1.0. He will continue to play the game of a decisive leader and a victim of the past. It is a chimera of Modi versus Modi. The question that is silently assuming a significant dimension is what is the consequence of this game for the Bharatiya Janata Party?
It is not clear if this image of an 'outsider', resembling a leader of Opposition and underdog that Modi is pitching for himself, is going to stick to BJP. In occupying the place of a dominant leader and the act of resembling the leader of Opposition in much of what he says, Modi is only foreseeing the end of the Congress but is not analysing its impact on the future prospects of BJP. Is Modi also eroding the future space and credibility necessary for BJP to enjoy popular mandate?
People are continuing to buy the arguments of Modi and under his charisma, the machinations of BJP president Amit Shah, from engineering defections to chasing the leaders of the Opposition with various investigative institutions. Modi talks of stability with `one poll one nation` but makes other parties unstable by poaching; he talks of less spending on elections, yet spends the most in any election so far. He talks of accountability, yet passes a Bill to accept undisclosed international funding for political parties. All this is going unnoticed by the electorate because Modi has assumed mythical proportions of being the consciousness and its alter ego – the conscious and the sub-conscious. He is the uncanny double, and therefore what goes on in the name of Amit Shah does not stick to Modi, resembling a `Teflon President` of yesteryear.
This, no doubt, is making things difficult for the Opposition to find an alternative pitch, and even if they find one, it is not catching up with the pitch that Modi is raising. Even as it arrests the Opposition, it is silently eroding the ruling party too. Second-rung leaders in BJP are also crammed for space to articulate anything worthy. Shah, too, looks an effective strategist in the shadow of Modi`s chimera. Without Modi as the leader of BJP, the same dynamics will take a dramatic turn. It is a narrative that will die with Modi`s exit. He is riding his own image, it is akin to Plato`s allegory of the cave where the prisoners mistake the shadows for the real things. Perceptions, illusions and forms, as shadows of the real-time events, processes and individuals, create a mirage that makes it difficult to be reflective.
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In a much similar way, Modi has created undeclared Emergency-like conditions but continues to be a dissenter of the Emergency of 1975; he and his party are watching over the growing number of lynchings but bemoan the rise of violence in Bengal; he is against the rule of a single family but continues to centralise power around a single individual. The shadows are disallowing the people to see the reality. The arresting of the Opposition, especially the Congress is coming at the cost of even greater damage being done to the BJP. Not only is there no second-rung leader but there is no effective agenda or image for the party independent of the leader. Even the Congress under the Gandhi family has not suffered this kind of collapse. The Congress party continued to be larger than the family given its anti-colonial legacy, what the BJP today has, is only a shadow that it is riding while the only real thing seems to be Modi himself. In fact, the way the Opposition is being painted is the ‘other’ of Modi`s own image, without the image of Modi, the image of the Opposition too cannot continue. As he has exhausted the space for the Opposition, the expansion of the BJP is only the shadow of Modi. This was already evident in the state elections that the BJP lost in December 2018. The electorate was unequivocal in their opposition to the BJP in the state, and support for Modi in the Centre.
In the kind of allegory Modi uses for himself, there is a hidden critique of BJP too. Modi is the quintessential `outsider`, not only to the Congress kind of politics but to the game of politics itself that includes by default the BJP, too. His oppositional politics by its very nature cannot include his own party; there is a silent critique that is articulated when necessary. His critique of Pragya Thakur, and his stance that he can never excuse her for the comments she made against Mahatma Gandhi is one such instance of how the point I am making was at its acute best where Modi is against his fellow party men and women. He is against the malaise that his own party spreads but he is under compulsion to put up with it. He is against corruption but cannot overnight clean it as it is everywhere including in BJP. He, too, has to compromise with the likes of the Reddy (mining barons from Karnataka) brothers in order to stay in power to fight many bigger battles. Modi`s now famous silence during his first term on many issues was a play of this shadow, where people could conclude as to how much can a single individual achieve when his own party men are not as committed as Modi himself. The eclipse of the party has never been so absolute. Once the sun sets, the shadows too will disappear with it.
The writer is Associate Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU. His forthcoming edited book is titled as ‘Secular Sectarianism: Limits of Subaltern Politics’. The views are personal.
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