'Kartavya Path': How Modi’s Tinkering With History Is Fraught With Anti-Democratic Designs

The central idea is to keep the pot boiling – keeping the masses distracted – and to position the Prime Minister as the only man who stands between our civilisational glory and national decline.

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Any first year student of Indian History in any decent university in India should be able to jolt  Prime Minister Narendra Modi out of his amnesia to remind him that “Rajpath” was a post-Independence name given to the imperial central avenue that was known as Kingsway.

Now as is his wont, the prime minister grandiloquently proclaims that ‘Rajpath’ stands renamed ‘Kartavya Path’; and, even more, significantly, he declares that we have finally got rid of our colonial hangover.

When Kingsway was changed to Rajpath the new name was a symbolically befitting reminder to ourselves that a new ‘nation’ was at work and it had put its colonial past behind it. Just as ‘raj’ in ‘rajghat’ – Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi – is a declaration that the new nation’s now had a genuine national shrine, where both the rulers and the ruled could bow their heads in humility.

For Prime Minister Modi to assert that a new name for ‘Rajpath’ heralds a new age of some kind of national rejuvenation is an extraordinary foray into historical spuriousness.  

Kings and emperors, of course, have the privilege of rewriting history, renaming monuments, reissuing new currency and coins, and reinterpreting facts. Narendra Modi is the closest thing we come to having a modern-day monarch and he is exercising his royal right to rewrite history. And, as L.K. Advani once noted, Modi remains the best event-manager; all these years of presumably serious engagement with stately purposes and worldly cares of a billion people have not dulled his appetite for staging and stealing shows. The bhakts have no cause for concern, at least on this count.

The alleged historical event that was staged on Thursday is to be seen as part of a post-2014 minted standard operating procedure. The central idea is to keep the pot boiling – keeping the masses distracted, never allowing them to feel settled, always to dangle before them this or that source of danger and instability, and to position the Prime Minister as the ‘Prophet of the People’ – the only man who stands between our civilisational glory and national decline. Elements of tamasha, carnival and festivals must always be in the play. 

Also read: Forget Your Rights and Do Your Duties: Modi’s ‘Kartavyapath’ is a Road Paved With Bad Intentions

The post-2014 SOP can be seen to be at work in all spheres of national arena – be it management of economy, conduct of foreign policy, architecture of defence and humdrum, everyday politics – all with the implied purpose of reaping electoral dividends, which are then encashed to keep a firm grip over power as well as to use the ‘mandate’ to further rig the game in favour of the entrenched coterie.

Masses are goaded to generate extraordinary emotional energy – and then it gets dissipated till the event managers think of next gimmick or  occasion to ‘celebrate’ another milestone. 

However, all students of modern communication are in agreement that the principal purpose of the state-sponsored propaganda is to coerce the populace towards an intended political line of action. Good and effective propaganda spares the King of the need to use physical force against unconvinced citizens. For example, all of us thought it was a rather innocuous symbolism on the part of the new regime in New Delhi to rename Aurangzeb Road as Doctor APJ Abdul Kalam Road; but, in retrospect, it would appear it was designed to prepare the average citizen about the need to roll back whatever ‘evil’ Aurangzeb stood for – and, to accept as necessary and even desirable all the highhandedness and discrimination that have been directed at the minorities in the country. Effortlessly, we have moved from a renaming a road named after him by the intriguing colonial masters to reclaiming a ‘mandir’ in a mosque in Varanasi. 

Similarly, it is easy to locate the strategic purpose in the renaming of ‘Rajpath’ into a ‘Kartavyapath.’ The new ruling class has made its intention clear: it is out to demand and insist on performance of ‘kartavya’ (duty) from the masses. In other words, everyone is obliged to render obedience, submission, compliance and surrender to the majesty of the new emperors. 

It should be recalled that it is a theme that the Prime Minister has flagged earlier also. It emanates from a distinct ill-liberal ideological orientation, that puts the onus on the citizens to perform and full-fill their presumed duties rather than expect or demand accountability and performance from the rulers, as per the hallowed tenets of ‘rajdharma.’

There was a time when a tall BJP iconic leader publicly exhorted then Chief Minister Narendra Modi to perform his ‘rajdharma.’ Having successfully defied his own party leadership and having succeeded spectacularly out of that defiance, Modi believes he is entitled to redefine the templates of kingship. The hapless ‘praja’ (subject) can now expect to be called upon to demonstratively do its part, perform its ‘kartavya’ – because the king has already self-servingly declared that he is working tirelessly for the masses.

Remember he has already renamed the Race Course Road as Lok Kalyan Marg, appropriating for himself the halo of dedicated service to the people of India. No dilution is allowed in this appropriation because it provides a license to the new princely order to claim righteous justification for the excesses and stupidities of the new emperors.

At one level this entire Central Vista Project is nothing more than Modi trying to repeat what Mayawati did in Lucknow some two decades ago. If as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh she could plonk statues and structures in the middle of Lucknow city and seek political mileage from them, Modi feels it is within his bandwidth to create his own sites of a partisan kind all over the country.