Ahmedabad: For any Gujarat-based journalist to see Rahul Gandhi being disqualified as a member of parliament for his statement of why “these thieves from Lalit Modi to Nirav Modi have the Modi surname” would sound nothing but a boring, casual political statement.
Because many of us have constantly and consistently followed Narendrabhai Modi. If I have to talk at a personal level, I have “dealt” with him ever since I was a cub reporter with The Indian Express covering the Somnath to Ayodhya Rathyatra phase in Gujarat. It was his hard work which was seen to ensure that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed the government in Gujarat in 1995. Then his banishment followed, and then his sudden ‘divine’ sort of appearance once the earthquake struck Gujarat in 2001 and thereafter.
So from the 1990s to 2001, Narendra Modi was a focussed, reasonably well-read man with his biggest strength being assessing the public mood. He often supervised hundreds of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers who would sit in buses. They talked of Congress corruption, Congress nepotism, Congress for just the marginalised and poor, Congress rendering a disservice to people from Savarna communities. This actually clicked. But to be fair to Modi, he did not indulge in uncultured, divisive and vulgar language then.
I had even met his Muslim barber who trimmed his beard for over 20 years near Kankaria. He had kind words to say for Modi. In short, Modi was no cult till then. It all happened in 2002.
This ethereal hologram – the ruthless modern politician as ‘prophet’ and ‘guru’ – has won two successive election landslides across a vast, extraordinarily diverse country of over 1.3 billion people. But who is the real Modi?
In trying to find out, I kept coming back to three key questions. Which country does he see himself as leading: India or Hindu India? Is he saving Indian democracy or is he subverting it? And is he, as he insists, a true economic moderniser – or a fanatical religious nationalist for whom modernisation is a tool to assert supremacy – with reforms proposed, chopped and changed for sectarian advantage?
I have come to the view that these questions can’t be resolved, unless he lurches to extremity thereafter, because Modi is another name for chronic ambiguity. A fervent Hindu militant in his teens, he now operates within a quasi-Western political framework he half-accepts and half-rejects but has not sought – or at least has not yet been able – to fundamentally work his way out of.
Tearing through a Divide
Once Modi realised how easy it was to tap an anti-Muslim strain in a significant section of Hindus, he grabbed the opportunity.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as a member of parliament for his 2019 statement where he casually remarked naming Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi as to why “these thieves these days in India have Modi as a surname”. Gandhi’s speech was in English and it was being translated. There is, of course, no way, I would support Rahul Gandhi or for that matter anyone, indulging in tasteless, vulgar or even casual public discourse.
But when I heard Rahul Gandhi in 2019 at Kollar, where I was present, I did not find it obscene, vulgar or below the belt. I was covering the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. I did find that Rahul’s statements were acerbic and that his political attacks were becoming more fierce and pointed.
Back in Gujarat
I hail from Gujarat. Since 2001, I have heard, watched and personally witnessed the death of decency in public discourse. Before that, I have to specify that the BJP was in power but did not indulge in this level of mudslinging. I once asked Atal Behari Vajpayee, when the BJP national executive was meeting in 1998 in Gujarat, as to what his dream for the BJP was.
“I want the BJP the rule India. But we have started with Mahatma Gandhi’s land. Gujarat is special for us. We will follow the ideals set by Mahatma Gandhi,” is what he said. Poor Vajpayee must be turning in his grave.
Full marks to Prime Minister Modi for his oratorical skills – in Gujarati and now a bit in Hindi. When he speaks in Gujarati, he can mesmerise a crowd. His Hindi too has improved. Despite the teleprompters, his English remains more about being a fun speech rather than a language for serious articulations.
Coming back to decency in public discourse, who but Modi should be crowned for assassinating it?
The mystery of Modi’s old speeches
Surprisingly and actually quite expectedly, we cannot find any of his 2002 Gaurav Yatra speeches on YouTube. But here I would like to point out to a link which I was able to locate after much work and time.
There was another event where he categorically said, “How will the country develop? Tum Panch, tumhare pacchees,” categorically pointing out to Muslims who are by law allowed to marry four wives. He was hinting at a widely held presumption amongst bigots that they have multiple children, as a result.
If this was not distasteful, what about his comments on the women of Gujarat? That malnutrition is a misconception. “Our women are very figure-conscious. They like to remain thin.”
If Sonia Gandhi’s neech rajneeti comment bothered Modi and he made a national scene out of it playing a perfect victim, much credit should be given to Sonia Gandhi for swallowing Modi’s jibes quietly. Sadly, her lazy party did not do enough. Today, Modi and his efficient digital empire have ensured that many of those vulgar videos where he stooped way below the belt trashing and insulting his political rivals are not to be found.
For instance, in Gujarat, he referred to Sonia Gandhi as Soniyaben to ek Jersey gay che and aa Rahul to ek Hybrid vachardu chhe. (Soniiya ben is a Jersey cow, And Rahul is a hybrid calf). Modi said this pungently adding that Sonia is a foreigner, just a dumb cow and because she married an Indian, Rahul is a hybrid calf.
He then said, me 20 loko no puchyu koi soniyaben ne clerk ni nokri no aape ane Rahul patawala ni. Aaawa loko ne aapne appdo desh apaay? (asked 20 people. Nobody wanted to make Soniaben even a clerk and Rahul a peon)
Because it was Gujarat, people cheered.
Rahul’s references to these thieves being Modi were not getting any traction in Gujarat because we are so used to vulgar, distasteful and uncultured comments.
And we are conditioned to it. 100 karod ni girlfriend becomes a joke, applauding and appreciating PM Modi’s misogynistic comment as his ‘sense of humour.’ Indeed.
Deepal Trivedi is the CEO and founder editor of www.vibesofindia.com.