The disaster of the last seven years is there for everyone to see – it does not require anything exceptional to say this – yet it is not an exception to find supporters and admirers of Mr. Modi, in spite of everything. Taking a closer look at them, those outside the trained cadre of the BJP-RSS combine, would help us understand the deeper and darker side of collective mobilisation.
There are certainly those among the still vocal supporters that belong to the higher echelons of society who think the current regime – after a long time – is the one that is unapologetically working towards preserving the privileges of those who belong to the upper castes, classes and are men. For this section, the current crisis has not had an immediate impact – their incomes have not dipped, they can afford private medication and therefore keeping those who can potentially challenge these privileges under check matters more than the crisis.
The more darker and challenging explanation is for those who continue with their support despite being the sufferers, and those were at the receiving end of the economic, and social crisis and now the pandemic. Here, the reasons could be fairly disparate. A section of them do not know who to blame and to blame the leader and a regime they supported so emotionally and as a matter of faith, more than reason, cannot be expected to withdraw. They are those do not know who to replace him with. It is an abyss they cannot face. Their continued support is a fig leaf to save them from their own conscience. If they do withdraw their support then they begin to be answerable to a whole range of issues going back all the way to 2002, and they don’t wish to be under that kind of a scanner.
There are others who realise and are prepared to come out against the regime, but are not convinced by the Opposition. It looks no better, and the crisis would have been more or less the same under any other government, they believe. They are prepared to agree that the individual decisions taken by Modi were disastrous, but not sure if these amount to him being a disastrous leader. Many on this count see moral inconsistencies all across the board. It’s not just finding all political parties to be immoral, but even honest individuals are prone to inconsistencies, which may not be false. Every moral position has its own frailties. Even Gandhi had his own weaknesses, be it the way he treated his wife and son, or his 'temptation' for sexual experiments. There is no moral calculus in which one can say with a sense of definiteness that Modi stands out in this. Those who stand for social causes too can be corrupt, manipulative and inconsistent, so what makes Modi more ominous?
As part of this, some identify with the vulnerabilities of weakness for power and compulsive lying as necessary, or as an everyday reality that many are actually part of. Is it not true that many of us have succumbed under pressure? How many of us have not tried to get away by bribing the traffic police when caught in hurry? How many of us do not take recourse to lying when a gun is held to our head?
One of the inherent problems with morality seems to be its either-or character. You are either moral or not. Once you tell yourself that you wish to be up righteous in life, then there is no looking back. It’s not that one can be morally honest on some occasions, and then we have a choice not to be. This inconsistency hurts more and sometimes our conscience is punishing. Modi is an answer or even a relief that his no-holds barred kind of persona seems to have no regret. The moral clutter is removed to perhaps say this is the only way one can live, and it makes it more authentic than to suffer various moral inconsistencies. Moral indifference is a way out of moral blackmailing, which often leads to a deeper sense of loneliness and guilt. Modi is someone who has come to grips with it. He projects a reconciled way of living a life that has no guilt and is uncompromisingly lonely. It is fairly clear that Modi and his regime are convinced that pushing more vulnerability into society will make it collectively realise that vulnerability is an irreducible reality of life.
The current regime – through symbolic representation – is silently posing and attempting to change the terms of reference. The moot question is: Does Modi and the RSS think like the common man on the street, while the rest of us may think for the common man? Often, moral exemplars are raised to a saintly pedestal because most realise it is not possible to lead such a life. Rejecting Modi with a sense of decisiveness would mean to tell oneself that one is prepared to suffer to stand for a certain ethical worldview. Most may not have such moral courage but it is for this very reason, as the wheel turns a full circle, Modi will come to remind us of the burden of morality that he was supposed to have liberated us from. This is when people may not directly, but more silently move away and withdraw their support. Withdrawal of support may not be dramatic; it will be a non-event. Modi may rescind into oblivion and many would not want to be reminded that they once supported such a heartless regime, but they may not still commit to criticise it because that will require certain moral gestation that is not easy by any means to follow in life. Even as we critique the current regime we may not want to miss the lessons it has for us.
(The writer is Associate Professor at the Centre for Political Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)