Modi, public will and intellectuals’ club

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Modi, public will and intellectuals’ club

Sunday, 24 January 2021 | KK SRIVASTAVA

Modi, public will and intellectuals’ club

“The struggle for material existence is over. It has been won.

The need for repressions and disciplines have passed.

The struggle for truth and that indescribable necessity,

Beauty, begins now, hampered by none of the lower needs.

No one now needs live less or be less than his utmost.”

Scottish Poet Hugh MacDiarmid in Lament for Great Music.

I know some people may brook no immodesty but relevance overshadows immodesty when occasion demands it. My sincere apologies for reproducing from my own book — Soliloquy of a Small-Town Uncivil Servant. In a chapter titled “Within the Cave or Cave Within” there is a depiction of a civil servant visiting his superior officer fictitiously named Madam Mahavipida Devi, supposedly in charge of transfers and postings of officers (looking at the name one can imagine the plight of lesser mortals). Not a sanctimonious subordinate, his fault was he wanted to present her his book of poems in place of things that pleased her. Conversation ensued:

‘And then she talked about that book. ‘A book in Hindi.’ She kind of condescended. ‘No in English.’ Keeping her eyes peeled — ‘Your wife has written it. Does she know English?’ Is she from Delhi?’ ‘No, I have.’

Her eyes become wider and wider. ‘You have written?’ There was utter disbelief in her……..

‘How come you are stationed at such a place? How long has it been? Completed two years?’

‘Yes, madam.’

‘Move from there immediately.’

‘Where?’

‘Oh, oh, you don’t meet the parameters. You must understand that.’

‘Yes, madam. Parameters. Which parameters madam? None told me of them.’

‘Yes, you don’t meet these. Do I owe you an explanation? I know you fellows from the cow belt?’

The character Mahavipida Devi, who pooh-poohed the visiting civil servant for belonging to the “cow belt” and his not meeting “parameters” for posting to certain cozy stations represented that elite group whose members decide the parameters for access to certain rosy things, including postings and high positions, and also decide the persons who meet parameters to get these. How relevant it is in today’s context!

Professor Jonah Ruskin, the 78-year old American critic of renown, while reviewing my aforementioned book for New York Journal of Books, opined, “…Henry David Thoreau, the author of Walden and the essay ‘Civil Disobedience,’ said that the person he knew best was himself. Hence, Thoreau announced he would write about himself. If he knew another person as well or better than himself he would write about that person, he explained.” Great thinkers carry wonderful serenade with their thoughts leaving behind everlasting intellectual fragrance. Let me move to the principal theme of this article.

Of all my postings, three I identified for their uniqueness: Pondicherry, Rajkot, and then Trivandrum. Of relevance for this article is Rajkot. The time I spent in Rajkot in Gujarat brought me both as a citizen of the country and as Accountant General of the State face to face with a different place altogether. It was an enthusing place with smiling and welcoming faces and a whole mass of cultured, motivated people, ever ready to help anyone in need. People were industrious and society had no idleness in any sphere. It was not an idle society. Uninterrupted power and water supply, a highly responsive administration to citizen’s needs, almost perfect law and order situation in the entire State, and people with a sense of responsibility carrying on, with remarkable zeal, their responsibilities in various capacities were some of the attributes I noticed. One could earn well, live well and sleep well. My interaction with people — vegetable vendors, barbers, taxi drivers, students — I met during my evening trolls in the big campus of Saurashtra University, and a whole lot of people during my visits throughout the State gave me two messages. First, it was a well-governed State. Second, they loved and respected their then Chief Minister Narendra Modi because of whom and his model of governance they were enjoying high quality of life. For them, Narendra Modi was the be-all and end-all. I got to know what it meant by public will. I left Rajkot in 2009 with a question lurking in my memory. Why was Modi so popular? 2014 was not far behind.

Pontificated way back John Kenneth Galbraith in his celebrated book The Age of Uncertainty, based on his experience of interaction with a few world leaders like Hermann Goering, Joachim van Ribbentrop, Albert Speer, Walther Funk, Julius Streicher and Robert Ley who, to use Galbraith’s own words, “did pass under my inspection and interrogation” that great leaders were ones who had the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxieties of their people in their time. They not only shared what he called “mass anxieties” of their times but also altered themselves with changing “mass anxieties”. Galbraith found fault with late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on this count in as much as late Prime Minister Nehru did not keep pace with changing mass anxieties and the current problem in main Opposition parties is a reflection on their failure to live up to the expectations of what Galbraith referred to as “changing mass anxieties”. Galbraith also talked of “vested interests” to which I will come later.

The year 2014 saw dawning of a historical new world for India. People of India revealed their preference for a change. They had experienced a long rule by the Congress and coalition Governments but despite some good work done during last sixty years or so, there was a sense of desperation, a sense of suffocation, a sense of collective helplessness. Or alternatively put a collective desire for a change.  In power in 2014, Prime Minister Modi meant change; a shift. The manifesto of party set the ball rolling. He believed in experimenting with growth agents. He knew the behaviour of markets, producers and consumers.  He had guts. He knew how a leader in the BJP is born and evolves in the hands of stalwarts and statesmen like LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He inherited collective traits of a party that had struggled to keep its ideals and ideas aloft amid swinging fortunes. He started taking macro socio-economic decisions in overall national interest. He knew people’s disillusionment with previous regimes and the reasons for the disillusionment. People were watching him how he was going ahead with implementing the manifesto the BJP presented before them and they voted the party to power. Very importantly, people having evaluated “Gujarat Model of Development” decided to vote for Modi and expected results from him. What he inherited from the majority of previous regimes was at best an inheritance of great loss. He had two choices; implement manifesto; he had clear majority given by the people of India or slip into quagmire like other parties in the past. Gujarat model of economic development showed a pious path. It was a clean path too. I am not going astray but let us understand who is an intellectual?

For the league of people called “intellectuals”, the world has always been a complex place where they watch powers and countervailing powers vying with each other. They possess well-rounded worldview, have the capability to indulge in logical thinking and absorb happenings correctly and fairly. They are meant to observe and interpret national and international trends, relationships between countries, functioning of economy and democracy. They have a responsibility towards the plebeians to make them understand complex issues and mold their thinking and behaviour for a much enhanced sense of fairness and justice and better governed society.

Looking back at history of post-independence India, one realises the crucial role assigned by the rulers to members of the coterie or “elite group” that were fiercely driven by what John Kenneth Galbraith in his aforementioned book called “vested interests”. “People have an enduring tendency to protect what they have, justify what they want to have. And their tendency is to see as right the ideas that serve such purpose.” For example, in 2015, returning awards as a method was adopted by the intellectual elite to create superfluous controversies and divert attention from good work done by the Government. Controversies bring limelight and this is the raison d’etre of the annoyance of some of the puzzled intellectuals who choose not to blind themselves to the invading imaginary apocalypse when time ticks away and things don’t seem to be going their way. They don’t accept today’s New India where there is no space for the “coterie”, “elite group” or “vested interests”. True democracy nestles not in clubs of “elite groups” and “coteries”, with a sense of kinship, but inside the ordinary person who is a voter. Gone are the days when people obtaining degrees from “prestigious” colleges of metros particularly Delhi were destined to push elite culture in whatever walk of life they moved forth at the cost of umpteen number of ordinary folks far more talented than the former but pushed to the backwater. In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s period everyone has equal opportunity to ride the ladder and reach top positions. The Prime Minister himself being a shining example who has soiled his hands in the dusty streets of democracy which in turn has gifted him the wisdom and insight into segregating the important from the circumferential on what matters are important. Once important matters to be further pursued are decided, difficulties don’t matter nor difficult decisions. To answer a question raised earlier, this is the precise reason that accounts for Modi’s popularity, something I experienced in Gujarat.

Immense popularity brings with it critics who constantly look forward to use groups, elite groups, coteries of selected people in love for being branded as “intellectuals” to create controversies as they enjoy their oneness with Miley Cyrus’s averment: “People like controversy because that’s what sells.” This class of closely knit people gathers in the evenings in clubs, hotels or even someone’s house to exchange their points of views remarkably similar to views of other members. Thus homogeneity of views defines this class of intellectuals. Heterogeneity is unacceptable to them or their masters. Heterogeneity uncovers masks. It shows mirror and hence is an anathema. Second, each member considers herself/himself as past master expressing her/his point of view at the earliest available opportunity. Third, in the event of being in oblivion for long, they bring out their jointly nourished weapon from their armory: they become habitual signatories to letters addressed to no less than the President or the Prime Minister of the country. They know how to make efforts to draw attention and steal the limelight. Momentarily pleasures in waning hours are something to live by.

The problem with this elite group is that even a democratically elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not acceptable to them as they don’t realise their failure to identify themselves with the average citizen whose vote reigns supreme in a democracy. Any democratically elected leader represents the voice and concerns of the man in the street: the average man who represents the “mean” of the democracy. Fortunately elite groups of intellectuals don’t represent the “mean” of democracy. The “mean” of democracy is not merely a numeric figure implying number of votes fetched in an election but a trust that average Indian reposes in the leader and party that he leads. Trust implies the voters believe that the leader and party they voted to power will treat them well and fairly, look after their welfare and let them live and function with dignity. Indian society that is governed by democracy moves by and large on the principles of trust. Voting system implies trust and reciprocal faith.

Trust begets fairness: a fair deal to people. Here Narendra Modi has established his credentials. The huge victory of the BJP in 2019 under Modi’s leadership confirms it beyond doubt. Fairness calls for transparency and visibility. Provision of equality of opportunity to all, to the maximum extent possible, is not a myth. It’s possible. Schemes benefitting common people like water conservation efforts through Jal Shakti Ministry, reduced use of plastic, surrender by over one crore people of their LPG subsidy to enable the needy get LPG connections, States pairing with one another for interaction between their people, arrival of electric vehicles, Self4Society bringing volunteers to teach underprivileged children, innovation of ecosystem, phenomenal increase in Khadi sales, Beti Bachao, Bati Padhao scheme helping sex ratio at birth rise from 918 in 2014 to 931 in 2019, taking care of mentally disordered people through websites like Kiran, etc, are a few examples. People voting for the BJP are not guided by belief in Hinduism or Hindu model of society and development but by their belief in leadership’s competence, honesty, transparency and involved approach. Benefits from schemes flow to all citizens irrespective of their origin or religion. 

Another issue that figures regularly is that of intolerance and a hostile attitude towards dissent.  This is far away from reality. Those who quarrel on this count must remember Emergency days and nights. Journalist and thinker A Surya Prakash’ book “The Emergency: Indian Democracy’s Darkest Hour” and other writers’ books throw ample light on the consequences of dissent during Emergency. Yet another point of view presented by some intellectuals is that the present regime is psychologically thwarting the thinking capability of a category of people by not allowing them to express their views frankly and openly. Last six years have witnessed significant positive changes in the quality of society, and when these happen, sporadic noises by some are normal consequence. But when such noises continuously seem to aim at diverting attention from fruitful things being done by the Government and creating psychological hurdles in the process of development, there is a need for much deeper and more explicit “self-observation” as psychologist Wundt called it, of themselves by voice-makers in the context of their imagined fears and agonies.

Sometimes one looks amusedly at discussions centering on if there has been “too much” and “too less democracy”. There can never be at any time in the history of mankind a completely ideal democracy, for the word “ideal” renders itself to differing interpretations and when some titans from the same league clash over what level and kind of democracy be there as per their desire and choice, the battle, inter alia, boils down to exquisitely crafted English prose taught in posh colleges of metros. Democracy is decided by people and not by warring titans or intellectuals in cozy chambers where outside temperature gets regulated by machines hanging on walls. Those who don’t respect will of the people must feel enraged enough to come out to see natural warmth of air.

Yet another oft-repeated charge: Modi-led BJP is pro-Hindu and anti-minorities. India is a country which has a national character, national ethos and a national conscience and Hinduism is at the core of that character, ethos and conscience. By virtue of its benevolence and all-encompassing nature, it assimilates and absorbs. It does not discriminate. It believes in flexibility. Rigidity towards other religions is an anathema for it. It has suffered many onslaughts on its character and conscience and has emerged more and more vast, clean and large-hearted religion. Anyone disrespecting Hindu religion has to be condemned and dealt with accordingly. Appeasement policies to please minorities are not good for overall growth of the nation. A former Prime Minister went on saying, “We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that monitories, particularly the Muslims, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development.” Though later on clarifications poured in clarifying the intent but the cat was already out of the bag. The assertion raised two important questions. Did Muslims not enjoy equitably the fruits of development? Second, if minorities particularly the Muslim minority did not share equitably the fruits of development, which Government ruled for the large period of sixty years after Independence and was it not responsible for it? These need be viewed in the context of constant hue and cry by some public opinion makers against the present Prime Minister and BJP.

The heart of the matter lies in the fictitiously named lady Mahavipida Devi who not only believed in the “parameters” she, in cahoots with her ilk, made for selecting the kind of people who could fill the slots in posh stations and posh charges but also determined who didn’t meet the parameters. These persons form the coterie or elite group that thrives at the cost of majority of people in any organisation or country at the peril of the organisation or the country. Anyone from the marginalised segment coming to limelight attracts vehement criticism, whispering voices and slanderous propaganda against them by members of elite groups. Therefore these intellectuals’ puzzle is perfectly understandable but fortunately the man in the street resolves the puzzle quickly just like the civil servant who met Madam Mahavipida Devi and heard her lecturing him about parameters. Unwanted criticism by certain sections of society running contrary to public wisdom, verdict and will is not relevant. Why?

Viewing democracy in today’s India with jaundiced eyes by some of these intellectuals will produce for them only person perceptions but certainly not common perspectives. These men, gossiping in clubs and coffee houses, taken together believe they are supplying outside world very impressive amount of information but the harsh truth is they deplorably possess limited knowledge about real India and what makes real India. People in the service of preconceived ideas, policies and politics have fundamental problems in gaining insight into the modes of working of present Government that is determined to create a New India. For understanding a New India, one has to come out of the old India. Real problem lies there. New India has no “comfort zones” for anyone. Common perspectives come from masses who have felt the impact of various reforms and measures initiated by the Government. That accounts for continuing popularity of Modi and BJP’s victory in various elections.

There are two most important contributions of Prime Minister Modi. First, for a huge majority of population in the country, the necessity, to use Hugh MacDiarmid words “to live less or be less than his utmost” is over and equally importantly, he has made not only India but to a considerable extent, the world safe for democracy. Safety of democracy is vital as only a safe democracy serves majority of citizens and does not cater to requirements of a group of powerful individuals. The period of these groups enjoying disproportionate voice and control over words and national resources is over. Modi has given people a sense of identity. He has been extraordinarily influential in spreading globally the ideas of equality, human dignity, market, transparency, democracy, self and collective discipline and national glory. It is because of these and his popularity and connectivity with common people that Narendra Modi has acquired a clean, respectable international image and the world sees him and his vision of new India as a new hope for the world.

(KK Srivastava hails from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. He did his Masters in Economics from Gorakhpur University in 1980 and joined Civil Services in 1983. He superannuated in July 2020 as Additional Deputy Comptroller & Auditor General from the office of Comptroller & Auditor General of India. He is a poet, writer and columnist. Author of three volumes of poetry, his poems have been translated into Hindi (Andhere Se Nikli Kavitayen-VANI PRAKASHAN (2017) and his book ‘Shadows of the Real’ into Russian by veteran Russian poet Adolf Shvedchikov. His fourth book Soliloquy of a Small-Town Uncivil Servant: a literary non-fiction published in March 2019 by Rupa Publications, New Delhi has been receiving international acclaim in literary field. Views expressed here are his personal views.)

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