By Promod Puri
The palpable answer is no one!
The dark cloud seems to have a lengthy stay. It overcasts the void-open sky without the silver lining so far.
Expect no optimism or prospect as long as Prime Minister Narendra Modi steadily contrives masterly strokes. He maneuvers his drives on routes paved with narcissist behaviour and absolute power.
On the country’s current political landscape, the recurrent question, if-not-Modi-who-else, offers a shield of defence for Modi Bhagats. The ardent followers themselves raise the question knowing it would not get a credible hint.
He is a cult figure for his worshippers, hoisting the image of a trusted saviour for the nation from years of misrule and corrupt regimes of the Congress Party.
Modi promises “good days” and brings back ancient India’s glory beyond the British raj and the Mughal empire in the realm of “Hindu Rashtra.” More precisely, in the precincts of xenophobic and bigoted beliefs of Hindutva that are striving to uproot the democratic and secular roots of Hinduism.
Embedded in the question, If-not-Modi-who-else is a robust rationale that casts a collapsing plot when we look around India’s current Opposition rundown.
The question does not suggest a quest for a comparable figure. Or a copycat of Modi. That would ensue and supplement the democracy-under-dictatorship, a unique socio-political article authored by the man veneered with absolute power.
If-not-Modi-who-else is a challenge to the entire nation to scout for an alternative to the politics he is playing, undoing what he has done to rescue India’s democratic traditions from being crushed.
In this salvage, a walk through the current landscape of If-not-Modi-who-else offers India’s clear political, economic, social, and religious outlook in its fast shift from democracy to autocracy.
Once India’s proud democratic institutions, for example, the media, judiciary, Election Commission, Film Censure Board, universities, bureaucratic functionaries like the statistic department and the Reserve Bank, etc., now look corrupted, compromised and abused. All of them, without exception, show visible dents of dictatorial impact.
From the demonetization in 2016 to the hastily and carelessly constructed farm laws that, instead of benefiting the farmers, would be disasters for them, to the current pandemic debacle, Modi’s callous and authoritarian leadership style has cost millions of people their lives and livelihoods.
The strongman of autocracy has not held a single press conference since coming to power in 2014. There has been no direct way to confront him about why he did not plan to prevent masses of migrant workers from perishing from starvation and thirst on the way back to their villages in 2020.
Modi’s reverence and value for the media are not limited to avoiding face-to-face encounters; instead, the wrangler carries the halter to restrain journalists. Many of them already stay in line; otherwise, the ominous signs are there. As a result, a class of journalists and their media outlets, known as “Godi Media,” meaning sitting on Modi’s lap, has evolved to promote him indiscriminately and defend any criticism or critical appraisal of him.
The range of If-not-Modi-who-else extends to the internet as well. He controls its on, off or limited services for the nation’s “interest and security.”
In this deployment, military-grade cyber weaponry has operated to spy on Indian citizens of every walks of life, from journalists to politicians, activists to academics, by hacking their phones with the made-in-Israel device called Pegasus. An assault has occurred, causing erosion of basic fundamental rights to privacy and free expression guaranteed under the Indian constitution.
Besides, he has developed an extensive network of social media, a propaganda factory manufacturing biased news and views for domestic consumption and worldwide export to sell his fake achievements and fake claims.
The “largest democracy in the world” raises an army of dedicated followers, aka “bhagats,” paid goons, street urchins, and lathi-wavering police contingents bolstering and contributing to his march toward fascism.
The despot has created an atmosphere of fear that silences the freedom to speak, write or express. Rising intolerance of dissent, treatment of the Opposition, midnight knocking at citizens’ doors, whisking them away, or implicating them in false cases that would see them running to the courts for years are the hallmarks of state terrorism. These are the escalating norms in the realm of If-not-Modi-who-else.
Swaying a machete of fear, Modi has effectively muted the nation, particularly its middle class. Voices of protest often end up sporadic murders or lockups, with or without bail. But the message gets across to behave or face the consequence.
Many prominent writers and activists either murdered or perished in prisons since the “man with 56-inch chest” vaulted onto the national arena with machiavellian skills.
To oppose the government is to be labelled “anti-national.” That is the benchmark in the land of If-not-Modi-who-else.
The National Investigation Agency is one of his handy weapons to execute draconian sedition laws increasingly used to stifle legitimate opinions, comments, or grievances. The intent is to harass and intimidate any form of Opposition.
The Indian democracy inflicted and wheezes with a novel variant introduced by Modi and his sidekick, home minister Amit Shah. The insidious couple emanates a new governing system infected with dirty politics at the cost of moral compromise.
From the soil to which Gandhi belonged, the Modi-Shah duo’s political arrangement deceivably looks democratic from the outside but horribly dictatorial, autocratic, and often brutal in its functioning from the inside.
Modi successfully expands his power base through a mix of scapegoating minorities, populist mobilization, institutional capture, suppression of dissent, money and media.
Moreover, obsessed with his diehard and ritualistic determinant, insufficient knowledge and limited perception of Hinduism, Modi undertakes a significant transformation of secular Indian democracy towards sectarian nationalism.
While annihilating fundamental human rights, the man in saffron steers India’s secular democratic fundamentals towards the dogmatic confines of Hindutva.
Clever as he is, the supremo has not demolished the nation’s democratic structures but rebuilt them to his temperament and taste. The symbolic love for his “temple of democracy” involves raising a brand new multi-million-rupee complex for both houses of the Indian parliament. But he feels more secure and snugged as he hides during extended parliamentary session breaks.
The uniqueness of the Modi-fabricated democratic structure lies in the installation of controlled windows of dissent. These regulated vents offer the nation’s citizens and the Opposition to let off their bits and pieces of criticism, anger, frustration, and protest.
In political terminology, these openings are called Overton Windows.
There are token signs of Opposition too. But these are either impotent or fragmented in their regional or ideological formations. Leading this disengaged pack is the dud leadership of the once-mighty Congress Party.
A few regional leaders, like Mamta Benerjee of Bengal, pose challenges to Modi. But the alternative at the national level seems like an evacuated space.
Rahul Gandhi, the sitting duck, offers weak, lifeless and apathetic leadership. Initially reluctant to enter politics, he still shows signs of detachment. Rahul Gandhi is a disappointment, and so are the rest of the Congress bigwigs.
Fragmented and suppressed Opposition adds to the narrative conceived and diligently run on the track of If-not-Modi-who-else with waves of intolerance for minorities, especially Muslims and Christians.
In these crests, “Love Jihad” is the conspiracy theory that Muslims deceive Hindu women through marriage and convert them to Islam, suggesting a sort of Islamic secret campaign to surpass India’s Hindu majority by the increased Muslim population.
Rape of Muslim girls, brutal thrashing and lynching of innocent Muslims, young and old, on hearsay and trivial accusations are so common that these do not stick on to the major media.
India completed seven years under Modi’s eroding democracy that survives in the bubble of government propaganda promising “Vikas” (economic growth) and “Achhe Din” (better days). But the reality is, if not Modi, who else can do a better job in wrecking India’s economy with spiralling unemployment and keeping the nation among the ten poorest countries in the world?
Sure, who can damage India on all fronts: from erosion of democracy, worsening ethnic intolerance, establishing fear among its citizens, controlling media and suppressing dissent, irrelevancy of the independence of democratic institutions, introducing anti-secular and communal agenda of Hindutva.
If not Modi, who else?