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Narendra Modi's Republic of Fear

Bharat Bhushan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

On 16 May, 2014 Narendra Modi was elected with a resounding majority to the Lok Sabha. And on 26 May, he was sworn in as India's Prime Minister. Two years later, has Modi managed to deliver on the promises that made people vote him to power? Catch is publishing a series of articles to mark the two years of Modi, and examining his record of governance.

Most Indian prime ministers have wanted to project themselves as fair, compassionate, statesman-like and hoped that they would be loved and admired by the people.

Not so Narendra Damodardas Modi. The last two years of his rule suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to be feared, more than anything.

His administration has instilled fear in the minds of many sections of Indian society from Muslims, Dalits, Christians, writers, artists, liberal intellectuals and the media to even university students.

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He certainly wants political parties in the Opposition to fear him. He threatens to expose their corruption without quite managing to send anyone to jail. Perhaps he does not want to actually prosecute corrupt politicians. He only wants them to live in constant fear of what he might do next. The second shoe never falls.

Even his own party colleagues fear him - as do bureaucrats. Those who have worked closely with him admit that he dislikes dissent and is vengeful against those who choose to question his decisions.

Modi seems to think that instilling fear gives him better control over governance

Those who differed with him have not survived politically in Gujarat and in Delhi too, they have been moved to the margins. He seems to trust only policemen and Gujarat bureaucrats who have learnt to kowtow to him.

Modi may think that instilling fear has given him better control over governance. But one can safely predict that intimidation of colleagues, the bureaucracy and also minorities, dissenters and public intellectuals, is unlikely to inspire the people of this country to do great things. Fear cannot foster the intellect required for nation-building, something that a talent-starved Modi administration desperately needs.

The logic of an authoritarian leadership style rests on directions from above bordering on coercion. Look at the way in which an eminent economist and Governor of the Reserve Bank of India is sought to be disciplined by being insulted on a daily basis.

Modi may style himself as the fatherly leader talking directly to the people on sundry issues over the radio. But do the people also see him in this way? He does not inspire the requisite trust and confidence.

Divisive figure

Above all, these two years of Modi have shown that far from being the great unifier he is a divisive leader. While claiming to unite India, Modi and the ideology he represents have created rifts in India.

Hindus have been pitted against Muslims and Christians; Upper Castes against Dalits; Universities against students; national art, culture and intellectual institutions against the very intelligentsia which populated them and gave them life; 'Patriots' against 'Seditionists'; flag-wavers against non-flag wavers; and those who shout 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' vs. those who refuse to do so.

That is not all.

People are also being divided between beef-eaters and cow-worshippers; those who venerate Mahatma Gandhi and those who proclaim his assassin, Nathuram Godse, as a 'patriot'; those who think that Bhagwad Gita should be declared a national scripture and those who do not; those who advocate that Hindu women are duty-bound to produce more children to protect their religion and culture and those who think this an unforgivably patriarchal and communal vision of society; and between those who think young people should be able to marry for love versus those who deem love beyond the boundaries of caste and religion as punishable by lynching.

Almost every day for two years running, the Modi government and its acolytes have manufactured new disputes. Sometimes they dub dissenting voices as anti-national and, at others, criminalise those who question the government and its policies irrespective of whether they are students, farmers, labour leaders, journalists or civil society activists.

No government has unleashed the repressive machinery of the state as has the Modi government on those raising the issues of the poor, the marginalised and the tribals who are not only being dispossessed by construction and mining interests but also by environmental catastrophe.

While Modi and his ideological family never tire of talking of an "Akhand Bharat (Indivisible India)", their actions show that they have done everything possible to deepen the existing fault lines while divisive ideas existing on the loony social fringe have been made into the 'political correctness' of our time.

Lack of concern

Nor does Modi's primary concern seem to be the poor and the dispossessed of India. He is happier being feted by world leaders and by people of Indian origin who gave up on India long ago.

He is already planning to meet the Spelling Bee winners of Indian origin in the United States when he visits that country in June, but has not gone on a tour of the drought affected areas of India. This, at a time when 330 million Indians across 256 districts are reeling under drought. According to the government's own estimates, there is a national crisis of drinking water and farmers have suffered severe crop losses for three years running.

With agricultural growth falling below 2% per annum, one wonders whether the agrarian crisis matters to him at all. Or, whether he is aware that social security under the rural employment guarantee scheme has shrunk under his watch instead of being expanded in a year of severe drought.

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The government has not injected the necessary funds into the scheme. Such is the apathy of the Modi government on the drought issue, that an NGO had to move the Supreme Court to step up the relief work.

Modi plans to meet Spelling Bee winners in US, but hasn't cared to visit drought-hit areas in India

There is a growing but as yet a silent constituency which is deeply upset with Modi. It does not have any leadership for now because the mainstream political parties have failed to speak up for them. The rise of a nobody, a mere student union leader like Kanhaiya Kumar and the kind of emotions he has generated across the country is testimony to the leadership vacuum of our parliamentary parties.

But fear alone will not make India strong and capable irrespective of slogans like "Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat (One India, Excellent India)" - which incidentally, appears to be lifted straight out of the "One Israel" and "One Malaysia" campaigns by APCO Worldwide, the image-improvement firm hired for Modi's general election campaign.

Fear not only brings out the worst in those who experience it but also harms those who impose it. If Modi does not develop the self-confidence to build others up, his power over them will continue to remain fragile. Those who have been bludgeoned and ridiculed will vote with their feet, come the next general election.

Edited by Aditya Menon

Also read: Congress in crisis: Grand Old Party, same old problems

First published: 15 May 2016, 10:57 IST
Bharat Bhushan @Bharatitis

Editor of Catch News, Bharat has been a hack for 25 years. He has been the founding Editor of Mail Today, Executive Editor of the Hindustan Times, Editor of The Telegraph in Delhi, Editor of the Express News Service, Washington Correspondent of the Indian Express and an Assistant Editor with The Times of India.