By Valson Thampu

I loved Modi’s election speeches. And I made sure that I did not miss any. He caught my eye. I sensed a whiff of freshness on the stale landscape of Indian politics. But my fascination was a mixed up affair.

On the one hand, I was buoyed up by Modi’s development pitch, the promise of better days for the common man. I was also, at the same time, increasingly alarmed by the blind force Modi was, perhaps wittingly, unleashing into the theatre of Indian democracy: The unprecedented centrality of mobilised, energised, frenzied crowds. I could not wish away the unnerving contradiction in the unfolding, unfamiliar national scenario.

It is to Modi’s credit that he is a genius of mass psychology. He understands and galvanises the crowds better than anyone else. Coming as he did in the wake of Manmohan Singh, he did not have to make laborious effort to position himself as the Heartbeat of the Masses. It must also be said to Modi’s credit that he knew, even while playing up to them with such effortless ease, that development could never be a crowds-driven agenda. Never once did he, in his impassioned election speeches, refer to the thorny path that the common man would have to walk to destination development. He reserved that for later days.

Modi’s skill as a ventriloquist of the masses is, apparently, not matched by his ability to rein in the mythological, anti-developmental energies lurking beneath the veneer of the parivar’s tattered pretension to modernity. It is here that Modi appears not to have applied his mind. So, apparently, there is a contradiction between the developmental agenda and the populist ambience based on the invocation of the masses. Democracy, surely, is not a matter of crowds alone. Democracy is a civilisation. It is, as B R Ambedkar insisted, a whole way of life.

The crowd represents, as every theorist on crowd behaviour has argued, the crudest element in any civilisational matrix. Vulgarity, violence and hate appeal instantly and deeply to the taste of crowds. The peddlers of communal venom as vote-catchers for the BJP know only too well that the developmental discourse was not really what drove the BJP chariot to the seat of power in Delhi. It was the personal charisma of Modi, magnified several fold by the political waste land that the UPA had created.

In such a context, even if Modi had spoken only of waste disposal, he would have carried the crowds with him. Almost 95 per cent of the time, Modi was attacking the “Mother-Son-and Son-in-Law” caricature, or treating the crowds to the “RSVP” (Rahul, Sonia, Vadra and Priyanka) joke than holding forth the promise of development. Had Modi limited himself to public lectures on development, BJP would not have won half the seats they did.

This brings us to an important issue. The media today, in particular its electronic segment, appears to be astonished that the so-called Parivar fringes are introducing cacophonies into the Modi symphony of development. They pretend hard to believe that this is an aberration quite alien to the grammar of Modi’s progressive agenda. The simple truth is that the communal and divisive outbursts – the likes of which Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti spewed the other day – is the flip side of the BJP paradigm of development. This juggernaut of development can have a smooth ride only if the BJP commands absolute majority.

That majority can, in no way, be earned by having recourse only to the fanfare of development, for the simple reason that nobody ever can have enough. The polarisation of the Indian electorate is essential to Modi’s strategy for development. Exorcising the demon of populism – symptomised by slogans like ‘garibi hatao’, ‘development with a heart’ and so on from the developmental paradigm is integral to Modi’s vision for India, as indeed it was to Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.
Decisive role
Surely, the Indian media knows better. The media has played a major role –indeed a decisive role- in conjuring up the hype of crowds. As of today, the impression cannot be resisted that crowds are an irresistible temptation especially for the electronic media. Energised, boisterous crowds afford electrifying visuals. They are gold mines for boosting TRP ratings. Ironically, the same media begins to cry wolf and spout indignation when the implications of the same demagoguery begin to bare their fags.

The scribes are wiser than they pretend to be! Surely, they know that the developmental posturing of Modi and the communal, divisive advocacies of his colleagues and trusted lieutenants are but two sides of the same coin. This is not to say that this is hypocritical. This is only to insist that this is real politik: the thing that is now presumed to deliver. It will deliver because of the crowd culture that has been brought centre-stage, largely aided and abetted by the media.

The crowd is emotional, not rational. Emotionalism does not lend itself to consistency. Impact is its sole consideration. What proves impactful will vary from context to context. On the stages that Modi fills as prime minister, the appropriate recipe for an emotional banquet is development and the affluence that awaits every Indian in the immediate future, Rs 15 lakh upwards.

But the Modi rhetoric will sit ill on the lips of the lesser luminaries in the Parivar and the cabinet. Some of them are alien, alas, to the alphabet of development. Hence, it is that we shall have to live with this national neurosis – this developmental-communal doublespeak – for the years to come.

(The writer is Principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi. The writer’s views do
not reflect those of any institution or community)

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