A scorecard for Mr Modi

Focus on issues

Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks upon his arrival for the winter session of parliament in New Delhi. AFP

What should be the electoral issues that lead to informed thinking before voters make their choice? Should we not take stock of what the Narendra Modi government has achieved in terms of job creation, in improving the state of our education and health, the shoring up of the general state of law and order in the country, in sprucing up our preparedness against natural calamities, in meeting our obligations on Sustainable Development Goals?

On a higher plane, should we not judge him on whether he made the grades in paying more attention to the shape of our national and international security, our relationship with our neighbours, particularly China and Pakistan, or whether his drift in foreign policy brought us dividends? Why shouldn’t he be held accountable for the pitiable state of our economy, reeling under the impact of his double whammy in the form of demonetisation and GST?

Should we buy the BJP’s version that all is hunky-dory in India? It does not matter that economic progress has faltered under Modi, thanks to demonetisation and the hurried introduction of GST and the banks burdened by stressed assets and increasing NPAs, that the lack of job creation has led to massive popular protests in state after state, creating expanding demands from powerful caste blocks for reservations, that India still ranks 131 among 188 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) for 2017, that cross-border terrorism has seen a spurt, not to speak of the general rise of attacks against Dalits and minorities.

What do we see instead? After four-and-a-half years of the Modi government, focus has suddenly shifted from ‘vikas’ to ‘Ram mandir’. The grapevine is abuzz with the ’expediency’ of building a temple in Ayodhya, which, according to Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari, is an issue bigger than the party, and the Modi government is committed to fulfil.

In retrospect, one might think that some of India’s darkest moments, the height of which is the case of Ayodhya, might not have happened had the media been more watchful and more vigilant, instead of allowing the campaign of demonisation of minority groups and the raising of imaginary threats to unfold on the large public canvas. The argument for a temple at the Babri Masjid site, an overtly political demand from one group, has been given the veneer of respectability by many in the media, quick to provide space for what was a blatantly sectarian impulse.

Proclamations made at the so-called Hindu Rashtra Conclave held in Goa between June 14 and 18 last year sought the establishment of a formal Hindu Rashtra by 2023 (and the public hanging of beef-eaters and the ‘seculars’). The year 2022 would mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Hindutva-Hindu Rashtra thesis propounded by Savarkar. Another putative term for Modi could mean he will preside over the inauguration of that thesis.

In 2014, the BJP was careful not to be seen to being strident on their core Hindutva agenda and was wary of going back to their ideological moorings, lest that should alienate a considerable section of voters. But without them, they began to look like a rightist version of the Congress since, after 1999, the BJP in government abandoned Swadeshi, the protectionist programme of the Sangh Parivar, as Vajpayee followed in the reforming footsteps of the previous Congress government. 

But Modi being no Vajpayee, the BJP is still the party of mandir and ‘Manuvad’. Now, Congress is trying to play the soft Hindutva card and is mockingly being called ‘Hindu Lite’. Let’s recall that Indira Gandhi cultivated the support of the Hindu majority, and Rajiv Gandhi appealed to “Ram Rajya” in his election campaign while VP Singh drew on the BJP’s support to form a government in 1991. Narasimha Rao allowed the movement around Ayodhya to grow until he could no longer stop it.

Misled by media

The problem is that the media does not help us to prepare an informed score sheet for Modi in an easy, understandable way. They distract us, instead, taking us to issues that matter least to the common people, such as the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, the renaming spree, caste and religious anxieties, though there are a lot of bread and butter issues to be addressed. Almost every other day, anchors of the majority of parlour debates on national television turn every conversation into a debate on religion and caste that tend to make the polarisation sharper. 

The Indian media is at risk of subsuming diversity and plurality of opinion to the interest of some of India’s biggest corporate conglomerates. It is a new form of embedded journalism where corporate interests are seen to dominate media houses in India at the expense of a free and fair editorial policy. Advertisement revenues are increasingly taking the form of promotion and propaganda. And this subservience to big industry houses and political parties, besides giving birth to a partisan and biased journalism, denting its credibility.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate the grain from the chaff in a situation where news stories are deliberately marshalled and inconvenient stories are suppressed, facts falsified and fabricated. Now, red herrings come through social media platforms in the shape of fake news.

A BBC study has revealed that fake news is fast spreading in India due to a “rising tide of nationalism”, where right-wing networks are pushing “nationalistic” fake stories. In a scenario thick with partisanship, the media in India stands to lose all its credibility if it does not train the spotlight on issues that matter.

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A scorecard for Mr Modi

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