Prime Minister Narendra Modi will go down in history as a man who rode to power on dog whistle politics and sought to cling to office on vulture politics.
It has been a seamless transition from one technique to the other.
After bad mouthing India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru through most of his term in office, Modi has now started trash talking his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated 28 years ago. At an election rally, Modi called him “bhrastachari number 1” (corrupt number 1).
Modi and his consigliere, Amit Shah, have taken the Bharatiya Janata Party and turned what was once a cadre-based organisation in to a special purpose vehicle for one man and his megalomania and fear.
Despite the across the board outrage and Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s graceful reply, Modi doubled down on the venom – challenging the Congress to fight the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab in Rajiv Gandhi’s name, and citing the Bofors deal, the 1984 massacres and the manner in which the then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson was allowed to flee the country soon after the infamous Bhopal gas tragedy.
Thought out his own abysmal tenure in government for the fast five years, Modi has relentlessly blamed all his failures on Nehru and the legacy of Congress rule. Now he is seeking to make Rajiv Gandhi the main issue in the two election phases remaining.
He is doing this because he knows the tame media of his embedded ‘panna pramukhs’ will never dare ask why Modi is not running for office on his track record as PM. Why is he not citing his demonetisation ‘masterstroke’ as the reason why voters should give him another term in office? Modi’s obdurate refusal to even remotely refer to his promised “acche din” (good days) and “good governance” is stark yet no questions are asked.
It is clear from their campaign speeches that Modi and Shah are running on fear and a bogus national security agenda. Pulwama, which gave him a chance to change the theme of the election from his track record to ‘national security’ was actually a huge security and intelligence failure where more than 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed. Yet, Modi politicised the Balakot strikes as his ticket to re-election.
This politicisation of tragedy is not new for Modi. Recall the Godhra incident of February 2002 where 59 people died in a fire on board the Sabarmati Express. Modi used the tragedy and its gory aftermath – the 2002 Gujarat riots – as electoral manna from heaven.
As Gujarat chief minister, he relentlessly dog-whistled his way through virtually all his public speeches at the time, terming Muslim relief camps as “baby producing machines” and jeering at the riot victims with the phrase “hum paanch, hamarey pachees”, a crude joke on the fact that India’s family laws allow a Muslim man to have four wives.
Till date Modi has not expressed any remorse for the riots that happened on his watch. Modi has confined himself to saying “that you feel bad even when a pilla (puppy) comes under the wheels of your car.” Here is clarity to the dog whistle and no prizes for guessing who he was dehumanising.
Modi’s true appeal to his faithful is the 2002 riots and his othering of the Muslims. Modi has ensured that the bigoted true believers are always appeased. Hence his comparison of “kabristan” (graveyards) and “shamshan” (cremation ground) in February 2017 in Uttar Pradesh.
The anointment of extremist monk Yogi Adityanath as chief minister after the polarised UP election campaign – where Shah’s conscious strategy was for the BJP to not field a single ticket to Muslims – saw dog whistling come to life.
Now we have the candidature of Pragya Thakur, accused of terrorism in the 2008 Malegoan blasts case, from the BJP citadel of Bhopal. This decision underwrites just how toxic the BJP has become under Modi and Shah.
Modi has robustly defended Thakur’s nomination saying he was “punishing the Congress for insulting Hindus with the bogey of Hindu terror” This is the clearest message to the squeamish, who claimed they had held their noses while voting for Modi in 2014 for some sort of mythical ‘development’ agenda. The fact is that the only actual ‘achievement’ Modi had in his curriculum vitae was the 2002 riots. The rest was all marketing and wishful thinking, as the human development indicators in Gujarat make amply clear.
Modi has lowered the bar for governance to the level where his favours to cronies are seen as ‘economic development’. The same cronies have made the BJP the richest political party in Asia through opaque electoral bonds and are now in league with a pliant Election Commission – which given Modi and Shah eight clean chits for inflammatory speeches.
Yogi Adityanath calls the Army “Modi ji ki Sena” (Modi’s army), Shah says Modi “sent his airforce” and the two Dhritarashtras sitting in the EC find nothing wrong. One commissioner has honourably dissented in the serial issuing of clean chits.
And even all this is not enough. So now in desperation, Modi speaks ill of the dead. The RSS has been told by Modi and Shah that when the BJP comes back, the constitution will be tweaked to reflect India’s new majoritarian ethos and the secularism which they all hate will be excised.
The 2019 election is not really about Modi but about whether India will allow Modi to make the country toxic.