Monday, September 8, 2014

With drum-beats and word-play Modi captured hearts. But wait, it's only 100 days in a Manvantar

Indian culture counts time in mahayug (4,32,000 years) and manvantar ( 71 mahayug or 30,67,20,000 years). We see a single day-and-night of Brahma as equal to 2000 mahayug or 8.65 billion human years. In such a tradition, the completion of 100 days by a Government should not attract even a cursory glance. We should just let it pass as a small collection of krati ( 34,000th of a second).

But the yugas have changed. The rishis of yore did not have to reckon with media. In those propitious times there were (a) no content-hungry channels devoting every krati of their time staging cockfights on camera. And there were (b) no political parties with officially appointed fighter cocks assigned to perform in public. Today these two forces have taken over our lives. So we had the privilege of 24-hour (or was it 72?) saturation feeding on "100 days of Modi". What did they give us? Certainly no new information on the Prime Minister's plans and priorities, no weighing of the multiple factors at play. They gave us two definitive conclusions. One, that Modi represented evil. Two, that Modi was God's gift to the world.

The problem is that we are no longer citizens sharing dreams about our country. We have become units fitted into separate compartments separately labelled as Congress people, BJP people, Leftist people, different types of Dalit people and assorted Nationalist Congress, Janata and Trinamool people. The result is that we judge government actions and inactions, not as citizens but as compartmentalised sectarian units.

In looking at the Modi Government's record, for example, the tendency is to see one side of the ledger and pretend that the other side does not exist. No ledger can exist without both the credit and the debit columns. The Modi Government has several entries on the debit list: The ascent of a single individual as the centralised authority; an increase in communal incidents with little or no action against those responsible; signs of a desire to influence the judiciary; avoidable rousing of linguistic emotions; planned moves to "revitalise" school curriculum, an idea that has caused widespread worry against the background of Dinanath Batra's publicised intention to "Indianise" education. His intolerance of opinions contrary to his has already led to the elimination from the Indian market of scholarly works hailed in intellectual circles everywhere including in India.

Critics of Narendra Modi will be justified if they analyse these debit entries and point out their possible adverse effects. But they will make no impact if they dwell only on the debits. Congress spokesmen did that and cut a sorry figure. For example, Anand Sharma, whose ego walked in front of him during his years of power, tried to do an all-out hatchet job. He roundly dismissed the Modi record as one of "non-fulfilment of promises, undermining of institutions and creating a work culture nurtured by distrust and fear".

Thick minds like Anand Sharma's would not understand that they could win a wee bit more credibility if they acknowledged at least a few of the Modi Government's credit points. Let us set aside for a moment important factors like improvement in business sentiment with market indices going up. But what about the toilet revolution Modi jump-started with a single speech. Defecation, fortunately, is not ideological and anyone could have paid attention to it. Why didn't Indira Gandhi do it? Why didn't Rahul Gandhi realise that he was trying to modernise India without recognising that it was the world's most unhygienic country?

It must also be recognised that Modi has surprised admirers and critics alike by his flair for foreign affairs. If the first overseas trips are any indication, he might emerge as India's most successful foreign minister, Jawaharlal Nehru not excluded. His Japan trip was a triumph not because of the agreements he signed, but because of his style. His felicity with words was clearly a winner: "Not red tape, but red carpet.... no more a land of snake charmers but of people who played with the mouse.... trust is superior to fevicol in binding countries together". Yet, dramatically more successful was his performance on Japanese drums. Was it real! If it was, Ustad Zakir Husain better be on guard.

For stock-taking, though, 100 days do not make sense. The trend now is that Modi is doing many right things, his party and allies are doing many wrong things. Since Modi is smarter than all the others, he might prevail in the end. In 1000 days?