In the larger scheme of things, Modi has delivered

By Ravi Menon

There have been no major corruption scandals during the past two years, India’s growth story is back in the headlines and the country’s strategic outreach has deepened, yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being pilloried by the country’s liberals. For them, he can do nothing right and everything that goes wrong — including the weather forecast — is Modi’s fault.

   Some hotheads in the party have been intemperate, but surely Modi cannot be held responsible, for in the larger scheme of things, he has delivered. And in any case there is no alternative to Modi; Rahul Gandhi is incompetent and the Congress party is comprehensively out of touch with the nation’s mood. So goes the response from those who are not overly bothered with the semantics of nationalism, diversity or varying definitions of Indianness: the Hindu-Muslim and Hindu-Christian. Indeed this also explains the fact that Modi is the most popular politician in India because the average voter has no great desire to dissect abstract ideas concerning the Indian identity as long as at least some of the basics of civic life are delivered.

   Corruption is a big-ticket item for most and here, whatever else you may say against Modi, the man is incorruptible, for he has no greedy kith and kin. His predecessor Manmohan Singh was also perceived as incorruptible, but he was weak, unlike Modi who appears to be his own man.

   So are the liberals wrong? Is there an ideological divide that colours their judgement? This animosity appears to be anchored in broader philosophical and moral issues that transcend Modi. It is centred on the idea of India as envisioned by the Hindu Right and this is at the heart of the hostility. Modi has simply exacerbated this divide. Historian Ramachandra Guha asks: “Where are India’s conservative intellectuals? There is a paradox at the heart of Indian public life today: That while the country has a right-wing party in power, right-wing intellectuals run thin on the ground. This makes India an exception among the world’s established democracies.”

   Guha tells us how the lack of rigorous research and poor scholarship make most of the assertions of the Hindu Right seem bizarre — Modi claimed in a speech that plastic surgery was prevalent in ancient India — and then expands on how conservatism in general is rooted in nativism, religion and antiquity, unlike the liberals who dwell less on the past and more on the future. Their gaze is ever-outward and not inward: Never imprisoned by the past. Guha asserts that the liberals are on the right side of history and axiomatically, Modi and the Hindu Right are but a passing fancy: Yesterday’s ideas.

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