Telegraph Calcutta

Conversations with Mr Modi

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In the midst of the Modi mayhem that May 23 was, an alert sounded on my phone. It was a text from a politically engaged friend. It read: “If these are the results then this is not politics. This is not an election. This is a cultural revolution and it cannot be defeated. It will play out and do whatever it has to do.”

The image you see above was rapturously lampooned.

The images from around the time and locale of the image above were rapturously lampooned. Why is this man behaving as if he were walking the red carpet at Cannes? Who meditates with cameras all around? How could you be meditating wearing glasses? Meditation in a 5-star cave? You must be joking. But there you are, what a joke this whole thing is!

All those years ago, when he began to stir tea for Barack Obama on the lawns of Hyderabad House dressed in a suit pin-striped with the fullness of his name — Narendra Damodardas Modi — he was lampooned. What low megalomania is this?

When he said, having announced himself “no expert” on the subject, that he gave the go-ahead for the Balakot airstrike because he thought cloud cover would mask radar detection, he was lampooned.

When he screamed for votes in the name of jawans massacred at Pulwama, he was lampooned.

When he chose filmstar and treacly acolyte Akshay Kumar for an intimate interview — his first during the election campaign — he was lampooned.

When he returned from that copiously photographed and filmed getaway in Kedarnath at a press conference in New Delhi and said not a word, he was lampooned. This man, he thinks he is not answerable?

He isn’t. Not to those who believe he should be answerable to them.

Modi cared a lemon for all the lampooning.

He lumped it, although secretly he may even have loved it. The more he is lampooned by some, the more he is lavished by others. Modi is wise to that. Give to him the genius of the populist. Modi is wise to the merits of playing anti-hero just as Lalu Prasad of Bihar once was. His adversaries had nailed into him the ignominy of “jungle raj”; Lalu wrenched it off his chest and fashioned it on his head like a crown. “Jungle Raj? They are calling Biharis junglees? Are you junglees?” Bihar voted him back, against the run of play.

So too Modi, as he arrived at the press conference to potentially defy the dare that he had spent an entire term in office without opening himself to a press conference. He had his say. Thereafter, he sat there chewing on his jaws, mussing his manicured beard, surveying the field for who might hold his stare. Mocking it with his animated silence. You will ask me questions? You? And you think I will answer? Me? Chaliyedhanyavaadnamaskar. The tone was vanakkam, or the obverse metaphor he has created of the word, buzz off.

Most of the lampooning of Modi has been legitimate lampooning. Prime Ministers should not be turning out in public like fancy-dress exhibitionists. Prime Ministers should not resort to patently unrealistic brags. Prime Ministers should not serve out myth as science. Prime Ministers should not be invoking the armed forces as political ancillaries. Prime Ministers in democracies should take questions and furnish answers. What sort of Prime Minister is this? Legitimate question. Normal, and, in fact, right and necessary in the democracy to raise it.

But no. Who set these rules and standards? Off with them. There is a new setting of things — a new right, a new just, a new normal, a new playing field that is not level, it is majoritarian and it demands obedience: Bharat Mata ki Jai!

Modi has gone along inventing a new language and grammar of public and political ethics and exchange. Its first rule is to put inverted commas on words as they were previously understood. Legitimate — “Legitimate”. Normal — “Normal”. Necessary — “Necessary”. Right — “Right”. Question — Depends on whether I framed it.

His conversations are with those that understand the new language and grammar of his crafting. He stopped conversing with those that cannot, or would not, comprehend it. They are not worth his while. He has talked at them, not with them.

The outcome of May 23 is probably proof to him that the stoppering of some conversations paid off. And not only because it opened a new and robust one. The one that was happy to let it be one-sided. The one that was merely happy to listen. The one that did not ask questions of him. The one that allowed him to raise questions that he best answers. The one that believed what it is hearing is music. The one that wanted more of it. The one that will give more of itself to Modi if he goes on the way he has been going: “Ek kaam 70 saal mein nahin hua thha, woh ek kaam Modiji ne kar diya.” (There was one job left undone in 70 years, that job Modiji has done.)

There’s no code to understanding what job; it’s an open-code thing, it’s the thing that chorused from the rostrums throughout the campaign just gone. But if it still needs explaining, that was Durgesh Jaiswal speaking in a recent report in this newspaper. Dateline: Varanasi, parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Durgesh also calls Varanasi Pakistan because there are so many of “them” in Varanasi.

No need to specify what’s that one thing; everybody knows. It’s the pointed exclusion and othering of India’s largest minority, their formal notarising as the unwanted and dispensable ones, even as the ones that constitute the enemy.

But Durgesh is not happy to stop at that, the othering is the first step, it cannot end here, it has to be taken forward. “Hum log kuchle jaa rahe hain apne hi desh mein, abhi bhi ghulam hain, iska kuchh karna hoga. Isiliye Modiji ki zaroorat hai. (We are being crushed in our own country, we are still slaves, something will have to be done. That’s why we need Modi.)”

Durgesh must be introduced again. Durgesh is in his mid-twenties. He is unemployed. He works for the Samajwadi Party. He is an undying dyed-in-the-wool Modi-bhakt. For that one reason. For that one “job” Modiji has done. Durgesh might just explain to us the meaning of what my friend jumpily texted to me as the Modi numbers became a blizzard on May 23 — “…this is not politics. This is not an election. This is a cultural revolution and it cannot be defeated. It will play out and do whatever it has to do…”

The underpinnings of this election do really go beyond just the political. They are about the cultural. They probably even are about the civilisational. They must necessarily take us back to Modi’s triumphal proclamation when he emerged the victor in 2014. That India had emerged, with his arrival in power, from 800 years of slavery. His liberation date was not August 15, 1947; it was May 16, 2014. The marker for India’s enslavement well predated the takeover by the British crown, his marker was closer to the last battle of Prithviraj Chauhan and the arrival on Muhammad of Ghor. Modi’s narrative of India is steeped far deeper in history than the history of what came to emerge and be known, much later, as India. Modi’s narrative of India enslaved begins with the defeat of the last Hindu king of Delhi before him.

Back, briefly, to Durgesh, for he must be allowed an explanation to why he believes he requires Modi. And we may want to listen, if only because that may allow us to better understand why what happened this week happened more emphatically than it happened in 2014.

“Hum log apne hi desh mein ghir gaye hain, saans nahin le sakte. Isse bachne ke liye Modiji kaa hona bahut zaroori hai, aur woh kuchh karen, nahin karen, isse koi matlab nahin. (We have been encircled in our own country, we can’t breathe. For this reason it is essential that Modiji remains there, whether he does anything else or not, I am not bothered).”

Durgesh and Modi have never met, but they have a conversation. This verdict, in preponderant part, was a consequence of that conversation. It was an act, too, of furthering that conversation.

When I met Durgesh, he was engrossed with his smartphone, listening in to Modi’s conversation with Akshay Kumar. It cannot be mere coincidence that across three weeks on the campaign trail in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, I came across at least a dozen people similarly engrossed in that conversation between Modi and Akshay Kumar. It cannot be mere coincidence that all of those people felt they were watching something endearing and intimate; they hadn’t seen a Pradhan Mantri open up — to Akshay Kumar and, through him, to the people — so casually, so next door-neighbourly. “Kamaal hai, dekhiye toh, Modiji khud bol rahe hain, hum log jaise…” (What a wonder, just watch. This is Modiji himself talking, just like us.”

There you are, that is why Modi cares a lemon for being lampooned.

Monogrammed suit? “Why, you think Modiji, our Prime Minister, cannot afford an expensive suit?” Kedarnath showman? “Why, do you want to come between the leader and his followers, does he have no right to convey what he is doing? And he is doing what few leaders do, he is meditating.” Modi behaving like an autocrat, not willing to take questions? “But why must he give you the rank of middle-man, Modi is in direct conversation with us, you think you are more important than us?”

Modi delivered the whimsical shock of demonetisation. Modi hectored a complicated GST. Modi presided over rural distress. Modi produced no jobs. Modi took away jobs. What did Modi do? “Modi kept us safe. He said dushman ke ghar mein ghus kar maarenge and he did that. Desh ko bachana hai, Modi ko jitana hai. Modi hai to desh surakshit hai. Aur koi hai kya, is there anyone else?”

Do not for a moment be persuaded that those questions are all unattributed, words put into anonymous mouths. They are all questions being asked by Modi. Well, perhaps by his huge league of proxies that have handed him 303 seats in the Lok Sabha, but those amount to Modi interrogating India through the India that he has chosen to converse with.

His most insistent question may be this: So what do you make of Pragya Thakur in the Lok Sabha on a four-lakh-plus victory margin? Pragya Thakur, accused of terror, in the crosshairs for premeditated and sectarian murder, espouser of the man who assassinated the Father of our nation. Pragya Thakur, honourable member of Parliament on a Modi ticket and a double-decker ride of a mandate. Pragya is a deeper Modi probe into India — where are you really located, how far might I go, how far might you yield?

Modi’s conversation with India isn’t over yet, in fact it has just begun. Stay tuned. Isn’t Mann ki Baat scheduled to resume sometime soon?

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/conversations-with-mr-modi/cid/1691220

Telegraph Calcutta

The Opposition to Narendra Modi didn’t have a story

In the last episode of the just-concluded pop-epic Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister, the enduring imp of the Westeros court, tosses up a rhetorical question on what unites people. He then proceeds with his answer: “Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”

This election, the Opposition to Narendra Modi didn’t have a story. Modi had one. It was the story of stability, of ultra-nationalism, of unabashed majoritarian assertion, most of all, the story of Modi himself, a leader who has towered above all else since he opened his bid for power in 2013.

This election, the Opposition to Narendra Modi didn’t have a story. Modi had one. It was the story of stability, of ultra-nationalism, of unabashed majoritarian assertion, most of all, the story of Modi himself, a leader who has towered above all else since he opened his bid for power in 2013.

The Opposition’s story was one of disputing Modi, of labelling him a “chor”; it did not have a narrative of its own. What was it offering India? And under what leadership? It provided no tangible answers to the voter. The Opposition failed to tell a story of itself.

Or it had a broken story. It was, from the very start of the campaign, a story of disunity, disarray and defeat. It wouldn’t be terribly unfair to say that the Congress, the Opposition’s lead act, did not even fight 2019 to win.

Consider this: the Lok Sabha number the Congress’s vaunted data cruncher, Praveen Chakravarty, publicly projected for his party was 144 seats. The estimate was subsequently endorsed as a sign of the Congress’s renewed electoral ebullience by the likes of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath.

For sure, 144 represented a huge leap on the Congress’s 2014 Lok Sabha number of 44. But here’s the more germane way of reading that number. It signifies barely half of the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha; it announced to the electorate ahead of the battle that the Congress didn’t intend victory on its own strength. Why would the voter invest faith in a party that ran with little faith in its own bid?

But had it stitched up a confederacy that would rally on its flanks and shore up numbers? No. Was it infusing cohesion and conviction in what few partners it had here and there? No. Did it have a face to match Modi’s? By a far distance no.

Positing Congress president Rahul Gandhi as a possible alternative to Modi as Prime Minister was, throughout the campaign, an occasion for mirth, if not worse. Paraphrased, the most consistent refrain across the heartland to any suggestion that Rahul could replace Modi was: “Really? But you must be joking.”

The defining moment of the campaign to me was meeting the desolate chowkidar of the defunct Motihari Sugar Mill in north-west Bihar. In 2014, Modi had famously promised to get the mill going, even said the next time he would come he would sweeten his tea with a spoonful from the mill.

Ahead of the campaign, Rahul had struck a note of succinct determination: “We will not let Modi win.” Thereafter, he provided little evidence he wanted to act on his dare. There was no credible attempt to build a national coalition to take on Modi and his formidable poll machine.

In Uttar Pradesh, where it desperately needed crutches, it went in limping and ended up on its face. In Delhi, the bid for an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party became an embarrassing start-stutter-stop affair that took away more than just the seven Delhi seats; it took away voter confidence from the Congress assertion that 2019 was a battle in which it would “not let Modi win”.

The Congress had one stable partner in the north — Lalu Prasad’s RJD in Bihar. But with Lalu in jail, it was an orphaned alliance that neither Tejashwi Yadav nor Rahul could project with any authority. It was left for far corners of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to shore up the tattered numbers the UPA has returned with a second time running.

Where it did seem to have the beginnings of a story, it lacked an effective teller. NYAY, the Congress’s flagship promise, barely had any resonance on the ground. Far from it, large sections of the electorate seemed not even aware of the promise, the Congress palpably lacked the men or the means to take the message to the ground.

Recurrently on the campaign field in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — and this echo was brought back by colleagues who travelled to other parts too — I heard the refrain: “Congress charcha mein nahin hai” (Congress is not in the reckoning.)

So even if the Congress had a story — on unemployment, on rural distress, on alleged corruption in the Rafale deal, on the alleged mutilation of institutions — few had got to hear it, or bothered to.

The defining moment of the campaign to me was meeting the desolate chowkidar of the defunct Motihari Sugar Mill in north-west Bihar. In 2014, Modi had famously promised to get the mill going, even said the next time he would come he would sweeten his tea with a spoonful from the mill.

“Promise belied?” I asked the guard. “Yes, so far,” he replied, “but if anyone can get this mill going again, it is Modiji, nobody else.” Such was the investment of faith in him; more importantly, such was the utter lack of faith in any other.

Does it tell us anything that in the 188 seats where the BJP went head to head against the Congress, it won 174 with a 93 per cent victory rate? It probably tells us the Congress could not bring itself to even pretend as contestant in the Game of Thrones; turns out it had no game, turns out it has no throne either.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/the-story-of-modi-that-triumphed-the-opposition/cid/1691138?ref=top-stories_home-template

Telegraph Calcutta

See you on the other side

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Take a break. Mazaa aaya? Did you enjoy that? Must have. You only ever get to do it once every five years. Did it? Enjoyed it? How was it?

I’d never know. I’ve never done it. I don’t have it in me. To do it, you know. You need papers. Identity. NiradharCard. ThrivingLicence. WorthCertificate. Those sorts of things. I don’t have those. I don’t have it in me. To do it. You know. Come on yaar, samjhaa karo. All this collective business. Leave me out of it.

But you did it, didn’t you? Your duty? Do you have proof? Did you stick your finger up and take a selfie? Or get some other to photograph it? Your stained finger? As proof that you had done it? With all those percentages? 62. 67. 65. 59. 72. 68.5. 59. 73. There was also 14 and some minimal decimal somewhere. People are busy with other things. It is their right. To do. Or not to do. With me it is not even a matter of right. Or wrong. I am out of this. I have never had my fingers stained. I speak and clarify only on my fingers, mind you. My fingers have not been stained, never been. Wondering tangentially here about Mahadeb. What about you? Mahadeb? Did you? Ever? Get your finger stained? For such a thing? Are you listening? Can you? Where you are? Wherever you are? Alas we do not know where you are. And don’t know whether you hear us. Although we can hear you loud and clear whenever it is that you choose to speak to us. Anyhow. Do we deserve to know from you? Whether you stained your finger? For such a thing? We shall wait, we shall wait to hear from you. About a few things we have no option. We are reconciled. What is, is. What we get is what we get. I never even tried.

But I celebrate it that others do; this whole lovely variegated plural fair unfair dark light high low forward backward reserved unreserved northern southern western eastern gora kaala wheatish whitish bindu juslim kikh misai sickular fekular bhakt mukt jawan naujawan left right centre liberal blabberal aam amrud kela seb male female trans abcdeflgbyqrstuwe, the peepuls, bhai behen mitra and all that and sundry do. They all do. In large numbers. And having done, they raise their stained fingers as proof of having done it and photograph and advertise it. On Teetar. On Bacebook. On Hotsapp. On Wincetagram. On Dick-Dok. On What. On Not. On WhatNot. Don’t believe me? Go look. Go look into all these places I mention, and probably many more that a Luddite like me does not know of, and count the number of stained fingers raised. Count the number of those who did it, and are announcing proudly they did. As they well should.

Kiya?

Kiya!!!!!

How’s the hosh?

Hosh? Gosh!! What do you think? Once in five years. You can imagine. How’s the josh? There was josh. Now it’s gosh. Anyway. Since you asked:

KiyaHo gaya. Fingered it. With proof. On Focal Media. Go watch.

What does it look like?

Meaning?

What does it look like, the consequence of what you have done? With your fingers? Of all that fingering?

Let me see. It wasn’t me alone, you see. In this thing. There were many others, many multitudes. Doing what I was doing. You know. All that happens. You look at your options, and then you take your pick and finally deliver the jab. I mean finger it. At your chosen spot. Who knows who chose what spot to push their finger on. Who knows where whose sweet spot lies. You press your chosen one, of course you do, and that is your inalienable right in a mature dimocracee countree such as ours, but there are many you can choose from, multipul chwaaaise, as they say. You get to finger one, but you get to choose which one.

So who knows? Who can ever tell? Who made what chwaaaise? It was legally multipul chwaaaise. And what lies there looks a little hazy. And layered. And of differentiated hues. And certainly not clear. Smudged it is: smudged is what I can see. And you? Can you see anything? Clearly?

It may be a boast

For those ready to toast

But before you cut the roast

Picture abhi baaki hai dost.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/see-you-on-the-other-side/cid/1690772

Telegraph Calcutta

The SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh has unleashed a resistance the BJP cannot ignore

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Beyond the abject predictability of Varanasi, beyond the limits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, eastern UP begins to resemble the Bihar of 2015: a battle, a girded loin battle, between a juggernaut on the roll and newly aligned armies determined to grind it to a halt. You head towards Ghazipur or Chandauli, you head towards Jaunpur or towards Bhadohi, you head up north towards Gorakhpur, you head towards Mirzapur —- the pattern everywhere is the same: robust rival caste and creed formations locked in an intense smash and grab game.

In the Bihar of 2015, the challenge to the BJP came from the RJD-JDU-Congress combine. In 2014, the BJP had swept Bihar, taking more than 30 of its 40 Lok Sabha seats. But in 2015, bitter rivals Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar joined hands.

The BJP was routed. Here in the districts of UP’s Purvanchal, the SP-BSP alliance has unleashed a resistance whose prowess even the BJP’s election managers acknowledge. “Yahan Varanasi chhod ke kai seats mein fight hai,” a senior BJP leader visiting to oversee the campaign tells The Telegraph, “I am not saying we won’t do well, but yes, we are facing the heat. It is something we will have to work to overcome.”

As you leave Varanasi and enter the rural dustbowl, you’re likely to sense the high Modi decibel falling away and the clamour of a more even contest beginning to make itself heard.

Your hear “Contest hai”; you hear “phansaa hua hai maamla”; you hear “kaante ki takkar”. You don’t often hear what was heard at high pitch in Bihar next door this campaign and even elsewhere in UP, you don’t hear “Modi-Modi”, you don’t hear “Modi hi mudda hain”. You don’t hear the refrain that Modi alone is enough to swing it.

In Mirzapur for instance, Anupriya Patel, Union minister and Apna Dal leader, must rally her own troops and wage her own battles rather than rest easy on the Modi reputation.

“Anupriyaji has the support of her caste base and sections the BJP brings,” says Ratan Patel, an Apna Dal worker in Chunar, about 30 kilometres west of Varanasi, “But the others also have their votes, it’s a strong vote this time because the SP and BSP have combined. The fight will be hard.”

Rather than on Modi, the Patel camp may be keener on other factors at play. Which way, for instance, will the Muslim vote split between the SP-BSP and the Congress. Or whether the Congress’s Lalitesh Tripathi will manage to break the Brahmin vote. Or again, will the SP-BSP nominee, Ram Charitra Nishad (he is the sitting BJP, yes BJP, MP from Machhalishahar, and his switch might tell its own tale) be able to woo the substantive sections of the non-Yadav OBCs? The combinations and permutations are shifting and shuffling, like shards in a kaleidoscope.

Modi remains a factor, undeniably, but not a singular factor that can change fortunes. Neither does he soar above the field as the invincible one.

Often, you’ll hear him being dismissed out of hand. “Modiji kya hain? Dugdugiya madari hain, tamasha karte hain, bheed jutate hain, paanch saal mein aur kya kiye? (What is Modi? He is a street showman, he does tamashas and he gathers crowds, what else has he done in five years?)”

That may sound like a provocative shot fired to fetch a response from the few sheltering from the heat under a huge peepal.

It is past noon, and the Ganga ghat at Chunar lies bleached under the sun. Only young boys and buffaloes have dared the distance to the riverbank. Girija Prasad Yadav, the man who has just spanked the Modi reputation in public, holds his dare and looks around if there’s a response coming.

It does, soon enough, and it is another jibe at Modi. “Arrey madari nahin, Tughlaq hai Modi, roj naya drama-nautanki, kano kuchh, kabhi kuchh. Note bandi kiya, phir bhool gaye kitna bada julum janta pe kiye. Pulwama mein sipahi mare, laash pe naachne lage. Aisa koi pradhan mantri hota hai?” (Modi is like Tughlaq, every day something new. He did demonetisation, then forgot what an atrocity he had committed on people. Soldiers died in Pulwama, he started dancing on their bodies. What sort of Prime Minister is he?)”

This time it is a Nishad, a non-Yadav OBC, who has spoken up. Kirparam Nishad is his name and he runs a small kirana store in the bustee nearby. “2014 mein aaraam se jeete thhe, iss baar yahan woh maamla nahin hai. (The last time Modi had won comfortably, this time it’s not the same.)”

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/the-sp-bsp-alliance-in-uttar-pradesh-has-unleashed-a-resistance-the-bjp-cannot-ignore/cid/1690838?ref=india_home-template

Telegraph Calcutta

Understanding the Modi voter’s mind

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The converted, by definition, are not going to be convinced by anything contrary. It’s the reason they are converts. Durgesh Jaiswal probably knows there are flaws to the worldview that cocoons him, but you cannot take him anywhere near the possibility of admitting them.

Durgesh believes he lives in Pakistan. His full address is this: Lad Bhairon, Kazzakpura, Saraiya, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Translated in Durgesh’s head: Pakistan. Varanasi, the centre of the Hindu world, from philosophy to practice to its very physicality. But to Durgesh, Pakistan, or littered with many Pakistans.

“Hum log apne hai desh mein ghir gaye hain, saans nahin le sakte. Isse bachne ke liye Modiji kaa hona bahut zaroori hai, aur woh kuchh karen, nahin karen, isse koi matlab nahin. (We have been encircled in our own country, we can’t breathe. For this reason it is essential that Modiji remains there, whether he does anything else or not, I am not bothered).”

It is quite possible Durgesh, unemployed and in his mid-twenties, feels exactly how he says it: suffocated at home. Kazzakpura, like most of old Varanasi crawling along the Ganga, is a teeming warren of bric-a-brac housing and retail commerce. It is also overwhelmingly populated with Muslims. “How can one feel comfortable among them? It’s suffocating, and it’s not acceptable. This is our country, India, and we have to live in Pakistan.”

There’s no reasoning with Durgesh on what Kazzakpura is or what it means to him. What he believes, he believes with absolutism. And it’s not about Kazzakpura alone; it’s about all of this country.

“Poora India hi Pakistan se bhara hua hai, aur iske liye Modiji chahiye. Sattar saal mein ek kaam nahin hua thha, woh kaam Modiji ne kiya. (All of India is full of Pakistans. The one thing that had not been done in 70 years, Modi has done).”

No need to specify what’s that one thing; everybody knows. It’s the pointed exclusion and othering of India’s largest minority, their formal notarising as the unwanted and dispensable ones, even as the ones that constitute the enemy.

But Durgesh is not happy to stop at that, the othering is the first step, it cannot end here, it has to be taken forward. “Hum log kuchle jaa rahe hain apne hi desh mein, abhi bhi ghulam hain, iska kuchh karna hoga. Isiliye Modiji ki zaroorat hai. (We are being crushed in our own country, we are still slaves, something will have to be done. That’s why we need Modi.)”

It is this, essentially, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come to achieve — a confounding, and no less frightening, hypnosis on minds that has turned the bizarre into the believable. It is, if you like, Modi’s most efficient surgical strike — this instilling in India’s overwhelming majority a deep minority complex. It’s a project that has been in the works a long time, perhaps since before Durgesh was even born, but now the worm has been widely seeded. It wriggles in hearts and minds and it triggers a variety of symptoms — anger, suspicion, hatred, frustration, victimhood. You only have to sit Durgesh down and listen to him.

He doesn’t have horns on his head. He is as commonplace a youngster as you will come across. He wears ripped jeans and fluorescent trainers. His favourite food is Maggi noodles. He rides a bike and won’t mind acquiring a female pillion. He uses up 1.5 GB data on his phone each day. He can flash the most endearing smile. He is keen on the ICC World Cup. Somewhere along the conversation he also tells you he is a member of the Samajwadi Party (SP).

Clanger. What? SP? The same which is fighting Modi tooth and nail and which boasts of Muslims as its core votebank? “That’s the only problem with SP, they back the wrong guys, otherwise I have no issues with it. It is my party of choice. And please don’t bring in Modiji into this, Modiji is different, he is not about parties, he is above all this, he is essential.”

And because Modiji is Modiji, nothing he does, or does not do, must be criticised or questioned. Unemployment is not his fault, it always existed; the shaken economy is not his doing, when was the economy great; the deterioration of the situation in Kashmir is proof that Modiji is doing something right, he has driven them to desperation; his laughable description of why he thought a clouded sky was opportune for the Balakot airstrike is not at all laughable, it is Modiji’s “unique way” of explaining a complex military decision in “simple language”.

Unemployment is not his fault, it always existed; the shaken economy is not his doing, when was the economy great; the deterioration of the situation in Kashmir is proof that Modiji is doing something right, he has driven them to desperation; his laughable description of why he thought a clouded sky was opportune for the Balakot airstrike is not at all laughable, it is Modiji’s “unique way” of explaining a complex military decision in “simple language”.

There, in fact, lies in the sameness of responses of Modi supporters from remote and unconnected pockets from Bihar to Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, a key element of this election: the Modi machinery is leagues ahead in the communication game, it has anticipated chinks and parcelled out the mortar to plug them. The messaging to his constituency is clear and it has spread like napalm. Everybody, all across, is chanting the same defence of Modi’s indefensible lapses and failures.

By contrast, the Congress’ election call hasn’t travelled; to the carpet bombing of the Modi message, it is a bit of a dud. Rafale and “Chowkidar chor hai” don’t resonate much beyond the Congress dais; the cry on unemployment and an economy under shock remain lost in translation. The fancied promise of NYAY has no frisson with the voter.

A contrary version of “nyay” does; it’s the one Durgesh has turned a Modi devotee for.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/modis-most-efficient-surgical-strike-instilling-a-minority-complex-in-indias-majority/cid/1690735

Telegraph Calcutta

Modi-bhakti, a marvel stupefying after its own fashion

When he had come here in 2014 in his newly minted “chaiwala” avatar, Narendra Modi had grandiosely declared that the next time he comes he’ll sit down for tea with a spoon of sugar from the Motihari sugar mill. The mill had been closed for decades, but Modi was a man of his word; if he had said it, he would do it, ran the belief.

Modi can make that promise once again. The Motihari sugar mill remains what it was in 2014: shut. The periphery and the insides have been colonised by wild overgrowth, the mill itself is a rusted carcass of ironwork; it’s a miracle the shell hasn’t begun to fall off. This mill isn’t the only one wasting away on the promise of revival. The Chakia sugar mill not far away remains shut. The Motipur sugar mill a little further down remains shut. East Champaran is also abundant in litchi; a processing and market complex had been promised by Modi in 2014. That promise too can be made by the Prime Minister again.

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This stretch, like scores of others across the nation, is littered with the debris of promises forgotten or forsaken. The absence of public toilets and the preponderance of public filth. The persisting drought of opportunities that drummed-up projects like Make in India and Startup India had promised to bring. Struggling, subsistence farm holdings. Most of all, raging unemployment whose symptoms are the droves of youngsters batting flies at every crossroads, every village adda you come to pass: “Kya karte ho?” “Abhi to kuchho nahin.” (What do you do? At the moment nothing.)

But Modi-bhakti is a marvel stupefying after its own fashion, a plague fallen on reality and reason alike, a submission almost imperforate. It will not admit to the most flagrant lapses of its adopted deity, it will in fact argue back in defence.

No jobs. “But so what, if everyone gets a job who will till the fields?”

No industry. “And show me one industry that was here before Modi came?”

No impact of Swachh Bharat. “Do you expect the Prime Minister to clean your toilet? If people have filthy habits, what can Modiji do?”

The ransacking of public money by corporate carpetbaggers. “Arrey, it is because of Modiji’s fear that people like Nirav Modi and Choksi have run away, or else they would still be looting us.”

The mutilation of institutions such as the Election Commission, the CBI and even the Supreme Court? “Modiji ne sabko seedha kar diya.” (Modi has straightened everybody).

You might have expected the lone and despairing man posted to guard the wilderness of the Motihari sugar mill to be a little annoyed Modi hasn’t bothered with his promise. But he isn’t.“Agar iss mill kaa koi kuchh uddhaar kar sakta hai to Modiji, lekin unpar aur bhi badi-badi jimmewari sab hai. Desh surakshit rakhna hai,” he says. (If anyone can revive the destiny of this mill, it is Modiji, but he has more onerous responsibilities to fulfil. The country has to be kept safe.)

But it is not as if other voices do not populate this geography; very often they are forceful and girded for a fight. On our way back to Patna we halt at a tea stall. It’s raining fire from the skies, a dozen or so men are sheltering under the shade of the peepal. One of them is on his phone and laughing.

“Modiji ne sabka hawa phuss kar diya hai, social media par to ekchhatra raaj hai.… Facebook par bhi Modi-Modi hai.” (Modi has punctured the opposition. On social media he rules unopposed, Facebook is all Modi-Modi).

Another joins in: “India Modiji ke wajah se hi bacha hua hai, nahin to Pakistan kabjaa kar leta.” (India is safe because of Modiji, else Pakistan would have captured us).

This is too much for Bindeshwar Das, a wizened villager sitting nearby, to stomach. “2014 ke pehle humlog Pakistani kabja mein thhe kya? 1971 me Bangladesh Modi ne banwaya? 1965 ka ladai Modi lada? Yeh desh Modi ke baap ka hai kya?” (Were we under Pakistan before 2014? Did Modi create Bangladesh in 1971? Did he fight the 1965 war? Does this nation belong to Modi’s father?)

For a moment everybody is staggered. Then the Modi apologist responds angrily: “Don’t raise your voice against Modiji, he is our tallest leader, our Prime Minister.”

“You can’t take away my freedom to speak, nobody can,” Das shoots back, “I am not going to lose my rights at this age, many Prime Ministers have come and gone; it is we who make and remove them, don’t forget. Don’t take anything for granted, Modi ke naam par sab pagal nahin hain (not everybody is mad after Modi).”

We are in Vaishali, north of the Ganga from Patna. RJD veteran Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, in probably his last electoral contest, is pitted against Veena Devi of the LJP. Even detractors concede that Raghuvansh has the “chhavi” (image) advantage — a clean leader who as rural development minister in the UPA government built a reputation for nursing the constituency. Veena Devi, on the other hand, suffers for reputation. Her husband is a tainted contractor, and she herself has not much to go by in terms of what she may have contributed to Vaishali, an entirely rural belt.

Even those who ride the Veena Devi bandwagon aren’t able to defend her or her husband. But they have a fallback: “Modiji hain naa, Modiji ke wajah se jeet jaai Veena Devi taa jeet jaai… khali agar Modiji kaa jaadu chale.” (There’s Modiji, if Modiji becomes a factor Veena Devi may win, but if Modiji’s magic works.”

Telegraph Calcutta

Why Modi? Without him, there is no security, say voters

In a state dominated by two rival titans for three decades, a third man has grabbed pole position. His name is not Lalu Prasad or Nitish Kumar. He is not a Bihari either. He comes from the other end of India’s breadth; his name is Narendra Modi.

Five years after he made an audacious attempt on Bihar and swept it, Modi has come to establish himself as the single most important arbiter of electoral choices. Especially so in north Bihar’s Mithilanchal districts.

You either love Modi or you loathe him; the bold point subscript of this election is just that: Modi versus the rest. And the question that gets asked bluntly and very often is: “If not Modi, who? Is there another candidate Prime Minister we can see? Koi hai race mein (Is there anybody else in the race)?”

Where the NDA appears to be doing well, as in Madhubani, it is in Modi’s name; people can’t seem to be bothered who the local candidate is. A response you must expect and eventually tire of hearing as you travel across north Bihar goes: “Modiji kaa vote hai, local mein kaun khara hai isse kya matlab, Modi ko PM banana hai (The vote is for Modi, who cares who the candidate is, the vote is to make Modi Prime Minister again).”

Where the NDA prospects appear a little uncertain, as in Ujiarpur, it is Modi who is expected by candidate and votary alike to tilt the balance. “Candidate theek nahin hai, lekin Modiji hain naa, vote to unhi ko padega, candidate se kya matlab hai (The candidate isn’t good, but there is always Modi, the vote is for him. Why should we bother about the candidate)?”

Where the NDA is panting behind the Mahagathbandhan in the race, as here in Samastipur, it is again Modi, and Modi alone, who can save the day with some miracle. “Modiji kaa jaadu chala to kuchh ummeed hai yahan, aur koi kuchh nahin kar sakta. Lekin yahan jo bhi ho, PM to Modiji hi banenge (There is hope only if the Modi magic can do something, nobody else can help. Even so, whatever happens here, Modi will become Prime Minister).”

In the summer of 2014, these parts were in blind rapture with Modi; the carpet cry was to bring him on as Prime Minister. Five years later, that sentiment is intent on keeping him in office — that rapture remains undiminished among large sections that turned to Modi at the expense of local leaders five years ago.

There is one critical, and pertinent, difference: in 2014, Modi arrived on a wave of hope, this time he is marketing fear and playing chief insurance agent against “threats to national security”. It is the one factor that has been sold to near perfection: if there is no Modi, there is no security. “Modiji nahin rahenge pradhan mantri to Pakistan ko jawab kaun dega?”

What that has effectively achieved is to push Modi’s undelivered 2014 promises, his failures on many fronts, and the bushel of allegations the Opposition is thrusting in Modi’s face, beyond the scope of argument. “Desh hi surakshit nahin rahega to aur issues uthaane kaa kya matlab hai?” retorts Daya Prasad Singh, a public sector employee, lounging about a tea stall on the Samastipur-Darbhanga road. (What is the point in raising other issues when the nation cannot be kept secure?) Present company nods, there isn’t a sound disagreeing.

But has Modi not created the scare he is ensuring people against?

“Created?” Daya shoots back, affronted. “Are you saying Pulwama was created by Modi? Are you saying we would have been safe if he had not responded with Balakot? Kya baat karte hain... what are you talking about?”

The Modi following is hyper-political, almost cultish in the unquestioning way his votaries regard him. The result often is that there can be no interrogation of Modi’s record as Prime Minister — not on the downturn in employment, not on rural distress, not on the flight of mega scamsters, not on crony capitalists he has bred, not on controversial questions on the Rafale deal. Nothing.

Asked about the many financial scandals that have erupted during the Modi years, a schoolteacher seated beside Daya points to his cap. It is an AAPist paper cap, save that it is saffron of colour and written on it is “Main Bhi Chowkidar”. Argument over.

The owner of the shack has been listening in on the chatter. It’s a ramshackle shack, the owner has himself been yoked to the coal stove, clad in shorts and a torn vest.

How would Modi have altered his life and circumstances? “Not much, nothing at all in fact, I am the same as I was.”

And yet a Modi votary? “Ekdum,” he says emphatically, “Namak-roti khaayenge, Modi ko jitaayenge.”