Underlying imitation lurk secret fears, fervent wishes, and a distressing feeling of inferiority. You imitate one who you feel is a paragon of success, which you think you can’t ever measure to. In working the crowds in Hyderabad to chant the famous slogan of American President Barack Obama – Yes, we can – and then, in a burst of creativity typical of the genre of pulp fiction, adding his own two – no, three-bit to it – Yes, we will – Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has provided us a peep into his own mind.
It can now be said with reasonable certainty – Modi is an imitator, a mimic, not the leader who is so often portrayed to have discovered new rules of governance, a new development model, and a new antidote to the ancient ills plaguing the country, now celebrating its 66th year of Independence. This fact only adds to the irony that the Great Hope of the Hindutva school, which conflates Hindu-ness and Indian-ness, should have turned to the West to borrow a slogan made famous worldwide six years ago.
Nevertheless, a spin was given to even this borrowing, revealing both the politics of semantics and Modi’s mindset. Obama’s slogan – “Yes, we can” – is not definitive; it presumes tremendous odds facing “we” the people in banding together to achieve a common goal. And because success was not assumed a certainty by Obama, the slogan of “Yes, we can” inspired and mesmerized people, as it emphasised on endeavour and struggle. To put it another way, Obama was implicitly telling people, yes, we can succeed but we may not, too.
Not for Modi these nagging doubts, the provision of chance intervening in his plan. But, above all, not for him the possibility that those who constitute the “we” may still remain a minority of the electorate, which is infinitely more varied than America’s. Indeed, “Yes, we will” presumes success, precludes failure, and leaves you cold. Modi’s certainty is the certainty of the monarch, for “Yes, we will” is a declaration of success, unlike what “Yes, we can” is – a statement of intent.
The two slogans, you can say, represent two contrasting personalities – one is a democrat, the other has authoritarian tendencies, an impression reinforced by many stories emanating from Gujarat, including from those of his own party. Others would even question Modi’s definition of “we”. Is he talking of India and Indians in the same manner as Obama did about America and Americans, exhorting people, despite their ideological and cultural differences, to come together to usher in change? The answer is a no-brainer.
It is puzzling why as popular a leader as Narendra Modi should steal a slogan that was coined in a different political-cultural milieu. Perhaps this plagiarism conceals Modi’s fervent wish that India had had a presidential system of election, and he didn’t have to countenance the parliamentary system of election and its inherent complexities.
As we all have witnessed over the decades, India’s election is fought at multiple levels. No doubt, there is a contest among leaders of political parties anointed, implicitly or explicitly, as prime ministerial candidates. But there is also an intense competition in every parliamentary constituency among party candidates to win the popular mandate. The voter is consequently faced with a dilemma: should he or she vote on the basis of his or her preference for the most suitable among prime ministerial candidates? Or should he and she vote for the nominee most likely to resolve the problems their constituency faces? These contradictory pulls on the Indian voter have been further aggravated because of the increasing tendency among States to not vote on a uniform all-India pattern, in sharp contrast to the dominant trend of the first three decades of elections post-Independence.
A wish, however, can’t possibly change the system which has been ours for more than six decades. Modi has consequently settled for the next best alternative of providing a presidential flavour to the 2014 General Election, being acutely aware that he could perhaps easily trump Congress leaders on the popularity sweepstake, none of whose reputation can possibly escape the singeing from the fire of disapproval and discredit consuming the UPA government. In invoking Obama’s slogan, Modi, to borrow a term from psychology, was responding to his repressed wish.
His unfulfilled wish for the presidential system of election surfaced in his Independence Day oration, which had been billed as a response to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech from the Red Fort. In the Indian political tradition, debates between prime ministerial candidates never had space. But this did not deter Modi from demanding, “Mr PM the nation wants us to spar against each other… Come let us have a debate between Gujarat and Delhi… Let our shortcomings come forward and your good deeds come forward.”
Presidential debates American style have become infamous for the undue emphasis placed on empty rhetoric, brazen spin, and meaningless persona the hopefuls seek to project. The more handsome, the more youthful, the more garrulous a candidate is, the better are his or her chances of success. Modi is undoubtedly a confident communicator. But he is also among those who puff their chests and dissimulate and boast.
Thus, for instance, Modi justified his invitation to Manmohan for a debate saying that would be preferable to the Congress online team “sitting in front of a computer to decide how to give gaalis (abuse)”. It’s a lie quite breathtaking. We all know about the Modi warriors who troll the net, fix polls, and display little civility in countering those who speak out or write against their hero. The sharp edge of the BJP’s IT cell has bruised and cut many, particularly those who left it. For instance, Partesh Patel, who once ran “Modi nu Gujarat” on Facebook, left the BJP because he thought it tended to ignore dedicated workers. He, as he told the Times of India, began to receive late night threatening calls.
Wish and fear are often two sides of the same coin. Modi, quite understandably, has inherited the BJP’s fear of the social and cultural diversity of India, believing an overarching ideology steeped in Hinduism can paper over the caste, linguistic, and regional differences. Hindutva, as many scholars have demonstrated, imitates the philosophy underlying the European nation-state, which, more often than not, comprises a national territory having one language and religion. To dislike or detest who you are often speaks of self-hatred. Attempts at a makeover mirroring another system reveal the inferiority of the imitator.
It has been nearly a century-old endeavour of the BJP to deploy Hindutva for effacing the caste, linguistic, and regional particularities of India. Communalism is perhaps its most effective tactic to achieve this goal. Obviously, they are still far away from bringing about the transformation they have in mind. Till then, in the rhetoric and slogans of Modi –Hindutva’s new general – will become manifest his wish for the presidential system of election, which appears tailored for a society having a great degree of uniformity.