A Modi-fied politics

Modi's prospects now depend on how much more our politics hurtles towards bankruptcy. One reflection of this bankruptcy is that attacks on him have a self-incriminating quality. Think of the charges. Modi has a cult of personality. In most political parties except for the Left, the individual leader looms larger than the party. Modi is a propagandist, a master of hype. True enough. But is this charge credible when, for decades, one family has used state power at the national level to stamp its name on every scheme, every space it can find? Modi's development achievements are exaggerated. Of course, Gujarat's development record is not what Modi claims it is. But the attribution of causality in development is always complex. If the Central government had been subject to the kind of scrutiny Gujarat has been subject to, our economic history would have been entirely different. It is an achievement that at least he shifted the debate to every tortured statistic one could find. He has no commitment to free expression. But how many others would pass the test of liberalism? Gujarat is an environmental disaster, we declaim. Compared to which other state?

Modi cannot be exonerated of marginalising minorities or worse. But consider this. The secular-communal divide in India, except at the extremes, is not so much a divide between two different species of citizens as a fissure running through most of them. This divide is activated by circumstances. It is not a structural fact. Second, we hope that the law will take its course and deliver justice. But Gujarat has, at least, been subject to serious court scrutiny, direct SIT investigations and so on. Even if they technically exonerate Modi, the political culpability remains. It is a political handicap he still needs to overcome. You can look at the convictions of Modi's cabinet colleagues and point to those as proxy proof of his culpability. You can also look at them and wonder why so many Congress cabinet ministers still have not been made to answer for 1984. The point is not to use 1984 to politically exonerate Modi. The point is that it is hard to attack evil when we so widely condone it in other contexts. Third, the social and political isolation of Muslims is a large, complex phenomenon, in part a product of the tyranny of the compulsory identities the Congress has produced. It is also exacerbated by the fact that friends of minorities like the Samajwadi Party are running no more than protection rackets for them, depending on a permanent tutelage. Unfortunately, attacking Modi has become a way of disguising our larger complicities. It is more about assuaging our guilty conscience than setting things right. No wonder the attacks lose their sheen.

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