No Mask, “Pure RSS”

…..receive calls from Modi when chief minister, but only once to complain….My paper had done a story…in many parts of Gujarat Muslims denied benefits……Modi said story was wrong…. “You criticize me over Hindutva, that is fair…But
I object if you say I am denying poor Muslims a
hundred rupees a day”…….Subsequent checks showed….incorrect facts….we readily made amends……

We admire Shekhar Gupta as a honest-to-God journalist (one of the few ones we have) who bows before no God. Another brave-heart is P Sainath of the Hindu.

What we see is the Modi doctrine taking shape in which the Hindutva forces carry a big stick and talk softly. For many reasons this may be enough for a significant number of minorities to start voting for the BJP.

After all there is no particular reason why a Christian, forward-caste (FC) would vote for a Congress party that will primarily depend on the Muslim and Other Backward Caste (OBC) vote to win. Indeed the #1 Sikh party and the #2 Dalit-Buddhist party is aligned with the so-called Manu-vadi alliance.

The Deputy Chief Minister of the BJP led ruling coalition in Goa, Francis D’Souza, a Catholic, has recently created waves by stating the following: “India is a Hindu country. It is Hindustan. All Indians in Hindustan are
Hindus, including I – I am a Christian Hindu”

Normally it is understood that such a polarization strategy will primarily target muslims (and all other minorities are fine with that approach). But muslims can read the writing on the wall as well as anybody. From the polls (India Today) and field reports (The Hindu in Kerala and West Bengal), the arrow clearly points to this direction.

The goal is to divide muslims into two categories: (1) Hindustan first-ers and (2) Ummah first-ers. If this plays well politically, it will be recognized as the RSS version of the two-nation theory where a muslim is subjected to a loyalty test but not Hindus.
Answer this one honestly. In all your life, have you seen anybody
else, or specifically, any public figure who resembles his own mask as
much as Narendra Modi

You could possibly argue that computers have rendered mask-making
more accurate. Yet, we have never seen a real face and mask so like
each other as with Modi. Sometimes you’d even wonder which one is more
real. But why are we making such a big deal of it?

The mask has
been an essential metaphor in BJP politics ever since rebellious but
erudite K.N. Govindacharya mocked Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a mere
mukhauta (Hindi for mask) of the BJP while the real face was entirely
different. It was a diabolically clever description. 

What Govindacharya
meant was, RSS (and the Hindu Right it represented) was the real face of
the BJP. The liberal, secular, inclusive and middle-of-the-road
Vajpayee was just a mask to conceal it. Vajpayee was furious, but
admitted in a conversation with me a couple of months after losing power
in 2004 that this was indeed the reality. That what he represented was
not the real BJP and that Govindacharya was right.

Just about
three months since his ascent to power, you know that there is no such
confusion in Modi’s case. The mask and the real face are exactly the
same, physically as well as metaphorically. To that extent, Modi is
genuinely a leader of the nationalist Hindu Right and his government
India’s first genuinely right-of-centre one, socially and politically
for sure, and we wait to see if it turns out decisively that way
economically as well. 

Every major action and utterance of his, from
discontinuing the routine of 7 RCR iftars to his Independence Day speech
and now cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan,
underlines the same point. Americans would put it as, the man you see is
the man you get. In India, in BJP’s current context, it is, the man you
see on the mask is the man you get as your leader.

is a completely new phenomenon in Indian politics where
hypocrisy-signal left, turn right has been the norm. Barring some phases
of hard socialism, as under Indira Gandhi post-1969, all our leaders
have been a bit of this and a bit of that, pretending to be of the left,
but never quite true to it. That’s why India has always had a mixed
everything, from economy to social and foreign policies. 

Even economic
reformers like P.V. Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee have had to hide their
actions behind socialist camouflage, and L.K. Advani famously paid
homage to Mohammed Ali Jinnah at his mausoleum. In short, the mask has
been an essential equipment in the trick-box of India’s political class.
This is where Modi, and his BJP, I dare say, are different, and this
will be the hallmark of his tenure in power.

Unlike other
ideological leaders who, once they rise to the top, make course
corrections, usually moving to the centre, Modi has given every
indication that he will, as prime minister, be no different from the way
he was as chief minister of Gujarat. This reflects in the generally
underwhelming talent base of his Cabinet, reliance on trusted civil
servants, shutting out of the media and centralisation of power. He will
sound inclusive-as he has done in Gujarat consistently since his second
victory in December 2007-but will not reach out to any particular
community, whatever its sense of insecurity or hurt. 

And on issues of
national security, his actions as prime minister will be consistent with
his fundamental views and instincts. That’s why he would take no time
cancelling talks because Pakistan’s high commissioner meets Hurriyat
leaders while every other prime minister, including Vajpayee, had
ignored this as a mere side-show or tamasha. 

Read the text of his
Independence Day speech carefully. It is inclusive, conciliatory,
forward-looking and modern. But it is also pure RSS. Modi spoke as an
RSS pracharak would have, stressing family values, morality,
cleanliness, discipline and patriotism. But his tone was far from
threatening or overbearing, the choice of words careful, but with no
attempt to specially reach out to any particular section, minorities,
Dalits, OBCs, tribals. 

In the RSS worldview, all Indians are the same,
in fact in the purest ideological interpretation, as recently underlined
by Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, they are all integral to a common
identity of Hindutva, although Modi has never gone that far since he
rose to public office for the first time in 2001.

And chances are,
he won’t. Because, like every other follower of a sharp ideology, he
has indeed made a course correction, but he did so much before he rose
to prime ministership. He did so post-2007. His discourse became so
benignly inclusive that in the 2014 campaign you couldn’t find one line
you could object to on grounds of communal insinuation or even lack of
civility. But there was never a special approach to Muslims, and that is
how he is going to be as prime minister. His Independence Day speech
highlighted the same Modi.

What are the other clues from his past
and recent conduct that give you an insight into his mind? He ruled his
state for 13 years without a Muslim legislator in his party. Yet he did
not allow VHP and RSS a free run in the one state they would have hoped
to be able to call their own. You ask Pravin Togadia who is the one
fellow Indian whose guts he hates, and if he is honest, the answer will
be Modi. Alright, no VHP people were put away in encounters, but some
had cases of sedition filed against them. How he subdued these groups
was in contrast, for example, with the pampering they enjoyed in
neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. 

As time passes, expect more of the same
from him in Delhi as well. He may not have responded or contradicted
publicly to some of the recent utterances from RSS, etc, but you have
seen the static levels go down. Of course, disciplining the
sarsanghchalak is a different challenge altogether. Modi’s method,
therefore, is likely to be more in the nature of very soft Hindutva, and
very pronounced nationalism. 

You will be surprised if he allows his
Government to be distracted by the Ram temple, a common personal law or
the repeal of Article 370. Modi believes in employing his political
capital to further his ideology, but he will do this very, very
cautiously. As the India Today Group-Hansa Research Mood of the Nation
opinion poll shows, this seems to be already working: a surprisingly
large number of Muslims now say they will vote for Modi.

These are
early days yet, but could it be that Modi is now refining an innovative
ideology of the Right? Very nationalist, very moralistic,
self-righteous, uncompromising, yet non-threatening to minorities. He
and his Government show many other traits of the instinctive Right:
their penchant for giganticism, for example. Sardar Patel’s statue has
to be two and a half times the Statue of Liberty, and a country where
top speeds of passenger trains have remained the same in decades has to
suddenly leapfrog to bullet trains. More such traits will surface as the
months pass. India’s first genuinely right-wing government will unfold
into a fascinating political story.

Postscript: I did receive a few
calls from Modi when he was chief minister, but only once to complain.
My paper then had done a story saying that in many parts of Gujarat poor
Muslims were being denied NREGA benefits. Modi said the story was
factually wrong. “You criticise or question me over Hindutva, that is
fair and it is your right, because I believe in Hindutva,” he said. “But
I strongly object if you say that I am denying my poor Muslims a
hundred rupees a day.” I said I would have the reporter recheck his
facts. “What you people in Delhi will not understand is, in my Gujarat,
my Muslims are not so poor that they will work for NREGA. They are
mostly doing very well and will not waste their time in unproductive
work,” he said. Subsequent checks indeed showed the story to be based on
incorrect facts and surmises, and we readily made amends.

retrospect now, does this tell us something about Modi’s mind as it has
evolved through his long tenure as chief minister? That he will not
specially reach out to the minorities, but would so strongly resent it
if accused of being unfair to them as a ruler. We may, in fact, be
dealing with a leader who does believe in rajdharma, but would define it
for himself in his very own way.





Brown Pundits