Needed: A Helicopter View Of The Indian Political Landscape

Ramesh N Rao

May 28, 2024, 04:46 PM | Updated 04:46 PM IST

A BJP rally in Odisha. (X)
A BJP rally in Odisha. (X)
  • A better understanding of the Modi phenomenon is needed both at home and abroad.
  • The six-week, seven rounds of general election of 2024 is winding down with the sixth completed on 25 May 2024, and the last round scheduled for 1 June. 

    The media, Indian and international, especially the Western media along with the provocateur Al Jazeera-types, have gone overboard in trying to manipulate the electorate with half-truths, morbid speculation, kite-flying, and false flag operations, and pundits, Indian and Western, and Indians based in the West, have weighed in, with the truculent pieces being the ones published by left-liberal outlets. 

    Even the “experts” quoted in and published by conservative outlets like The Wall Street Journal are liberal wolves in conservative clothing. Much of the harrumphing, the scolding, and the ululative warnings have come from the usual quarters, with the US State Department and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom slathering their barbecue sauces on the Indian flesh they seek to burn this election season and gobble up on Memorial Day. 

    The Raghuram Rajans, the Ashoka Modys, and the Kaushik Basus have spent the past year drumming up fears about the “Modi economy”, the fate of democracy in India, and Hindu nationalism, while the Sam Pitrodas and other Congress party handlers fed skunk oil to the “barely there” Rahul Gandhi who has then managed to squirt the stink and the poison on matters he hardly understands. 

    There are then the usual global anti-Hindu cabals, including the troll-academics like Audrey Truschke, who have had a field day dumping their bigotry while squatting in Indian civilisational space.

    But beyond the provocative headlines and the theories woven out of two bits of data there have been only a few attempts, if any at all, at any intelligent understanding of Indian democracy and Indian nationalism at this juncture. 

    What is the health of Indian democracy at age 77? What is the nature of Indian nationalism and what is its status at age 77? How is Hindu nationalism different from other kinds of nationalisms? What made Indians choose someone like Narendra Modi to lead them out of the moribund economy and family-managed fiefdoms that had made them tired and dispirited and kept them colonised? What kind of a leader is Modi? What are his strengths, and what are his weaknesses? Why were his strengths needed at the 2014 juncture, and will those strengths still be needed five years from now? Ten years from now? 

    As luck would have it, Indian readers and viewers now have new sharp, incisive, intelligent voices to listen to and pay attention to — from the Anand Ranganathans to the Sai Deepak Iyers, from the Vikram Sampaths to the Raghava Krishnas, from the Nupur Sharmas to the Shefali Vaidyas — in addition to the older, more mature, careful, and considered commentators and writers, like Vamsee Juluri, who have managed to not only not sell out to the cash and influence-dolers of the West and the Middle East but have offered deeper-layer analyses of the present-day “free” world and its post-pandemic panic woven into the post-postmodern “woke” fabric made of whole cloth. 

    There have been some critics from within the Hindu civilisational space who have expressed concern about Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They hark back to the warnings issued by the likes of Sita Ram Goel who had not only labelled secularism a fraud perpetrated on Hindus but also said that the “RSS is the biggest collection of duffers that ever came together in world history”. 

    Without them using these remarks to do careful analyses — both fact-based as well as political/philosophical/theoretical — many of the critics have simply lambasted this or that policy of the BJP — done or undone or yet to be done — or behaved as spurned lovers — angrily or bitterly, with the most famous of them being Arun Shourie and Subramanian Swamy. 

    In this piece therefore, I will simply offer some of the observations that Eric Hoffer had carefully collected and commented upon in his 1951 book, The True Believer, which I believe may offer some help in understanding the challenges, the predicament, and the hope for India after this general election.

    1. “A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics, and consolidated by men of action” (p. 147). However, if we think of the RSS we cannot say that it was a movement pioneered by men of words. Surely, Dr Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, whatever his power to inspire Hindu boys and young men, was not a man of words. He was a man of action who was inspired by the writings of Tilak, Savarkar, Aurobindo, and Moonje. Even Golwalkar, whom the RSS followers revere as “Guruji” was not much of a “man of words” compared to other “men of words” preceding or succeeding him, neither the Gandhis and Nehrus nor the Savarkars and Aurobindos. The RSS is, even to this day, mostly led by “men of action,” who think that those who quote a few lines from the Bhagavad Gita or offer some trite pieces of wisdom from the Mahabharat or Ramayan are “philosophers” and “intellectuals”. Modi is a “man of action,” and we doubt, when he retires, that he will sit and write about his life and work. 

    2. Hoffer was mostly writing about some of the extreme/extremist movements in his lifetime — fascism, communism, Nazism — and from a keen understanding of how Christianity and Islam were founded, grew, and conquered. Still, there is much to be learned from reading Hoffer. How we apply some of his observations therefore of the world he lived in but also of his gleanings from the past to present-day India should be done carefully. Modi, in the mold of the RSS-man, is a “man of action,” and with his “appearance… the explosive vigor of the movement is embalmed and sealed in sanctified institutions” (Hoffer, p. 149). If we think of the Hindutva movement, led by the likes of Advani and others, and of its “explosive vigor”, which led to the tearing down of the Babri mosque, we may surmise that over the past ten years what Modi has sought to do is to build institutions. Alas, without much support from the men and women of words, those attempts have suffered somewhat, but instead, we have seen a lot of action that most of the men and women of words want to ignore: the miles of highway built, the number of bank accounts opened of the ordinary and poor Indians, the number of toilets constructed to stop people from defecating in the public, the number of villages connected to reliable electric power, to the number of cooking gas connections offered to the poor village women who had toiled in front of inefficient and even deadly “chulas” fired with ineffective kindle. More of the work of the BJP-led governments is listed here, here, and here, and it is not only in the development and economic spheres but also in foreign policy that Modi and his team have begun to make a mark on the world. 

    3. “The chief occupation of a man of action when he takes over an ‘arrived’ movement is to fix and perpetuate its unity and readiness for self-sacrifice. His ideal is a compact, invincible whole that functions automatically. To achieve this he cannot rely on enthusiasm, for enthusiasm is ephemeral. Persuasion, too, is unpredictable. He inclines, therefore, to rely mainly on drill and coercion…. The genuine man of action is not a man of faith but a man of law” Hoffer, p. 150). Once again, with the caveat that Hoffer was writing in the context of fascism, communism, and Nazism, we should consider how difficult and indeed immensely challenging and frustrating it is to lead a country like India with its eight national parties, 57 state parties, and 2,764 unrecognised parties; with its 22 official languages; with 28 states and eight Union territories; with a judiciary system that acts or does not act at its whim; with a restive and aggressive Muslim “minority” population, and a troubling, violent Sikh-Khalistan global dynamic; a dangerous neighbour hellbent on destroying India through a “thousand cuts,” and myriad other challenges that would make the hardiest man or woman’s hair turn grey overnight. Hindus are difficult to herd, and coercive power, whatever one might be able to muster in Delhi, cannot be exercised in the states that are ruled by other political parties. Thus, when friends or acquaintances, let alone the vast cabal of Indian and global journalists, write about Modi’s “authoritarianism” and “dictatorial behaviour,” one can either smile in sympathy or flinch in dismay. 

    4. “The man of action is eclectic in the methods he uses to endow the new order with stability and permanence. He borrows from near and far and from friend and foe. He even goes back to the old order which preceded the movement and appropriates from it many techniques of stability, thus unintentionally establishing continuity with the past…. Thus the order evolved by a man of action is a patchwork” (Hoffer, p. 151). We have read over the past ten years, and more frequently over the past three months, how the BJP and Narendra Modi have done this or that which reflects this or that from the past, and how the BJP/Modi are “no different” than the Congress party and its leaders, and so on. One can only hope that writers and Indian citizens, whether supportive of the BJP/Modi or not, realise the nature of political movements, dynamics, and the challenges of ruling vast countries with a diverse population and an old, old history.

    5. Finally, this remark from Hoffer (p. 152) will offer further clarity on the nature of how we arrive at a different stage of society from the time of upheaval and excitement to the conquering of power to ruling a nation: “In the hands of a man of action the mass movement ceases to be a refuge from the agonies and burdens of an individual existence and becomes a means of self-realization for the ambitious. The irresistible attraction which the movement now exerts on those preoccupied with their individual careers is a clear-cut indication of the drastic change in its character and of its reconciliation with the present. It is also clear that the influx of these career men accelerates the transformation of the movement into an enterprise”.  Hoffer’s remarks/observations need to be tweaked in the context of the modern Indian state and the challenges it faces, the work of the RSS and its presence now for nearly a hundred years, the dangerous “South Asian” neighbourhood that Indians live in, India’s colonial past, the new social-political-cultural dynamics in the West, the conflicts around the world in a multi-polar world, and the wish of Islamists for a global “Ummah”. 

    One can hope therefore that as the dust settles after the election, and with Narendra Modi and the BJP potentially winning a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha, there will be more careful and thoughtful analyses of what still ails India and what Indians, and especially Hindus, can hope for, because, like the Jews, we Hindus are an easy and convenient target for both religious and political monopolists and supremacists who have always used violence to pursue power, and who, without blinking once, will proclaim that they do so in the pursuit of peace, love and equality. 

    Ramesh N Rao is Professor, Department of Communication, Columbus State University

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