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It's Business As Usual: Nothing Has Changed for a Weakened Narendra Modi

Those who imagined that “Brand Modi” will change because it is weakened need to understand what this brand is all about. Modi was christened “Hindu Hriday Samrat” in 2002 itself, when he had no pretensions of development or governance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: X/@narendramodi

Is a weakened Narendra Modi a different Narendra Modi? There are no tangible signs of any alteration in Modi’s personality or politics so far, except that nervous giggle that has now replaced the haughty countenance. He does chant “NDA-NDA” and asserts that his government was always a coalitional arrangement even while he enjoyed numerical safety, that’s a rhetorical deceit born out of tactical compulsion. His 10-year rule was all about Modi, both in theme and music. It was he who ensured the government didn’t step beyond the Modi cocoon. Modi was the engine, Modi was the fuel. Modi was the structure, Modi was the spirit.

Modi astonishingly said after becoming the prime minister for the third time: “What has changed? Nothing! It was NDA government earlier; it is NDA government now.” That was a confirmation that a weakened Modi isn’t a different Modi. He still relies on politics of deception and lies. He is stubbornly refusing to accept the ground reality, as he always does, and read the verdict correctly. He refuses to concede that his social contract with the people of India has lapsed. He refuses to believe that the people have sent him an unambiguous message of disapproval of his authoritarian ways and hubris. Instead, he is desperately trying to project the verdict as exceptional because people have chosen him to govern the country for the third term. Listen carefully, you will still hear “Modi-Modi” in the reluctant and feeble chant of “NDA-NDA”.

Can’t hear that? Then analyse the facts. Cabinet formation bears typical Modi stamp. Does Nirmala Sitharaman, back as the finance minister, herald change? Does Amit Shah in the home ministry reflect any course correction? Is the same old line-up of S. Jaishankar, Piyush Goyal, Ashwini Vaishnav, Dharmendra Pradhan symbolic of a metamorphosis? Modi does need props to run the system but the nut-and-bolt doesn’t change the engine. He is not willing to even part with the Lok Sabha speaker’s post, clearly demonstrating his rigidity to run parliament in the same manner that he did in the last 10 years. The new arithmetical dynamics in the Lok Sabha will indeed harbinger change but that shouldn’t create a false presumption that Modi will change his style of functioning. Will he allow debates on critical issues now? Rahul Gandhi’s brutal scrutiny of Modi-Adani nexus won’t be expunged now? Will the government accept a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Adani affairs and electoral bonds? The absence of brute majority is bound to manifest itself in the routine functioning but will Modi adopt a democratic approach to accommodate the Opposition? Perish the thought.

Also read: Time to Dismantle the Narendra Modi Personality Cult

Modi has been an insecure person even when he was safely nestled in his 300-plus fortified citadel. He was perpetually trying to consolidate his position through propaganda and plain lies. He crushed dissent, ignored uncomfortable incidents, and didn’t spare an inch for even his own party leader, what to talk of opponents. His armoury didn’t have conscience and compassion. Now when he is the most vulnerable and his insecurities have deepened, how can he be accepted to allow democratic space to critics and rivals? He didn’t offer himself for examination in the Rafale case and chose mysterious silence on Pegasus scandal when he had over 300 seats. Will he allow any scrutiny of electoral bonds when he is weak and so badly exposed? Will he unshackle the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) at this critical juncture? Will the central agencies stop their political machinations to empower the ruling combine? Will the appointments to the Election Commission and the judiciary be fairer? Will the media be given greater freedom to probe and report? Answer to all these questions is: NO.

Modi designed his politics in a particular way not because he had unbridled powers. He did so because of his mental orientation and ideology. In times of weakness, the only option for such leaders is to put their skills to optimum use. Modi at this late stage in his political career is not seeking personal or political redemption and reconciliation. He only wants to perpetuate power and expand his control. He has only lost strength, not reinvented himself. He is weaker, not wiser. He has shown his most vicious self in the campaign, wallowing in indignity and meaningless discourse. He broke parties, lured away MLAs and MPs when he didn’t need to do that. Why would he abandon his tools when he needs to consolidate his position for survival? There is no dearth of political observers and ordinary people who are convinced that Modi will reach 272 on his own within a few months. Give him an inch and he has the knack to take a mile.

Also read: Naidu Knows Modi-Shah’s Modus Operandi. It’s Time He Stands Up Against it.

There are indications to vindicate the argument that Modi hasn’t changed. To begin with, he never acknowledged that the mandate called for a deep introspection as the people appeared unhappy in many states. He claimed 400 seats and got 240 despite moves to cripple the Opposition parties and brazen exploitation of Ram temple for votes. His very first act after the result showcased political trickery; he got himself elected as NDA leader without facing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentary party. He then went to Italy for G7 meet in which India is not a member. He resumed his trademark public spectacle with Ganga aarti in Varanasi and Yoga in Kashmir instead of seriously handling issues like paper leakers and train accidents that shocked the nation. This was like extension of “taali-thali” show in the midst of death and destruction caused by the Covid pandemic. He will invariably invent a false narrative of success to suppress the real narrative of failure. Having created an anti-intellect atmosphere in the country – manifested most powerfully by the social media trolls – and crippling the autonomy of institutions, Modi said at the Nalanda University function that he wants to make India the global hub of knowledge. Knowledge? After the mangalsutra-bhains bunkum? After destroying universities by appointing undeserving vice-chancellors and strangling the tradition of freed debates and dissent? Any more proof needed to convince yourself that the country will be run exactly in the same manner it was run for the last ten years?

Those who imagined that “Brand Modi” will change because it is weakened need to understand what this brand is all about. Modi was christened “Hindu Hriday Samrat” in 2002 itself, when he had no pretensions of development or governance. He hadn’t installed even a hand pump by then. That tag he earned because of communal passion among the Hindutva bigots. That was the core of his political appeal. Then the corporate lobby, which benefitted from his politics, added new ingredients – real and imaginary, to build an enticing brand. After 13 years as a chief minister and 10 years as a prime minister, this brand was crying for replenishment in this election which came from the Ram temple, not economic achievements. Whatever is now left of the brand, that fetched 240 seats, is because of that core of communal passion. Will Modi abandon this in his hour of crisis? Will he change the brand because the sales have crashed? Corporate history, as well as political history, tells us that brands aren’t dismantled. New products are launched in the fond hope that the loyalty for the brand will help. Nobody knows it better than Modi what has sustained the loyalty for ‘Brand Modi’.

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