23-29 August 2013 #670

Modi’s Obama wish

Narendra Modi harbours a desire for a more autocratic presidential system of government in India
Ajaz Ashraf
Barack Obama’s slogan, “Yes, we can”, is not definitive. It presumes that ‘we’ the people face tremendous odds in banding together to achieve a common goal. And because success was not a certainty by Obama, the slogan inspired people to try to achieve their goal. To put it another way, Obama was implicitly telling people, yes, we can succeed but we may also not.

The Chief Minister of the India state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, doesn’t harbour such nagging doubts. In Hyderabad recently, the man who sees himself as India’s next leader, used the slogan: “Yes, we will.” Not for him the possibility that those who constitute ‘we’ may still be a minority of the Indian electorate, which is infinitely more varied than America’s.

Indeed, “Yes, we will” presumes success and precludes failure. Modi’s certainty is the certainty of the monarch. “Yes, we will” is a declaration of success, while “Yes, we can” is a statement of intent.

The two slogans represent two contrasting personalities: one is a democrat, the other has authoritarian tendencies. Some 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?

Perhaps Modi’s plagiarism conceals his fervent wish that India had had a presidential system of election and he didn’t have to countenance the complexities of the parliamentary system of election. India’s election is fought at multiple levels. No doubt, there is a contest among leaders of political parties anointed as prime ministerial candidates. But there is also an intense competition in every parliamentary constituency among party candidates to win the popular mandate.

Voters are therefore faced with a dilemma: should they vote on the basis of their preference for the most suitable among prime ministerial candidates? Or should they vote for the nominee most likely to resolve the problems their constituency faces?

It’s because of this dilemma that Modi is desperate to provide 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 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. 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.”

American style presidential debates have become infamous for the undue emphasis placed on empty rhetoric, brazen spin, and meaningless persona the hopefuls seek to project. Modi is undoubtedly a confident communicator. But he is also among those who puff their chests, dissimulate, and boast.

Modi has inherited the BJP’s fear of the social diversity of India, believing an overarching ideology steeped in Hinduism can paper over the caste, linguistic, and regional differences. It 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 Sangh 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, Narendra Modi’s rhetoric and slogans will reflect his party’s communal agenda as well his wish for a presidential system of election, which appears tailored for a society having a great degree of uniformity.


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