I have been in India for the past five months, writing extensively — a book on COVID is on the way — working on interesting film projects, spending quality time with myself and sometimes with my mother (Kirronji being in Chandigarh). I have also been reflecting on various subjects. That I am passionate and outspoken about matters pertaining to my country is well-known. Among the many topics, the one that has caught my eye is the repeated political success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Is it destiny? Or hard work? Is it about facing an easy opposition? My thoughts and research took me to the different arguments, which I will touch upon before sharing my views.
PM Modi’s critics — they like to call themselves Modi haters as well — have been consistent on one thing. They have spun tales about him, used all sorts of adjectives to describe him.
On October 7, 2001, when Modi first took over as Gujarat CM, the dominant view was: One year and he will be history. That was soon proved wrong. Through his tenure as CM, Modi was portrayed as a regional leader — satrap at best — who had no takers outside his home state. In the winter of 2013 and spring of 2014, the project “Modi is unelectable” reached its climax. The subsequent summer obviously proved them horribly wrong. The years after 2014 were spent convincing themselves and each other that Modi is a one-term phenomenon. Had any government voted to office with such a large mandate returned again, they asked.
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On May 23, 2018, an oath-taking ceremony in Bengaluru became the cynosure of many eyes. Standing on one platform were the all ends of India’s political spectrum, hand in hand, together in letter and spirit. This grand alliance would ensure the end of Modi, they avowed. Exactly a year later, on May 23, 2019, Narendra Modi returned to office with even more seats. (On a side note, the government in Karnataka did not last long, tumbling due to the weight of its contradictions a few months later.)
Since May 2019, the naysayers, cynics and so-called Modi haters have taken to another delusionary tablet — the TINA medicine. “Modi wins because there is no alternative”, “Modi’s best friends are the Opposition today”, “Only Modi can bring Modi down,” they now argue.
Unfortunately, the more Narendra Modi grows, the more delusional his critics become. Democracy can never have one pole. There will always be two or more poles, however minuscule the non-dominant one may be. The fact that the voting machine has a list of multiple candidates, represented by multiple symbols, shows that democracy is never short of alternatives.
Modi bashers have toyed with dozens of alternatives. Everyone has been kosher including extreme leftists, jihadists, failed dynasts, anarchists, separatists, even those who had earlier worked with Modi in the RSS and BJP. In 2013 and 2018, “alternatives” were seen even in Modi’s own party. Therefore, if any Modi basher is telling you, Modi succeeds because there is no alternative to Modi, they are obviously lying and being delusional.
The truth is, all alternatives were tried, propped up and supported but none cut ice with the voters. They have time and again reposed faith in Modi, who they see as a decisive, relatable and dedicated leader. Every alternative to Modi has failed because none of them can serve like him. In the last six years, he has delivered on the largest poverty alleviation drive seen in the history of India. The Jan Dhan Yojana got 40 crore citizens not only bank accounts but also a leak-proof way of getting due assistance from the state. Ayushman Bharat, PM-KISAN, Atal Pension Yojana, PM Fasal Bima Yojana and many more such social security schemes gave a safety net for the poorest of Indians to fall back on and prevented them from sliding into poverty. Ten crore toilets were built under the Swachh Bharat Yojana and eight-crore households were made smoke-free by way of the Ujjwala Yojana. In the last year alone, two crore households have been given piped drinking water connections — every household in India is to be given the same by 2024.
Under Modi, the corridors of power no longer reek of the stench of big-ticket corruption. Defence deals no longer feed the monetary hunger of a select few dynasties. Instead, they strengthen the nation’s armed forces.
The same Modi who was once seen as a mere CM and thus being unable to conduct foreign policy has demonstrated what an “India First” foreign policy looks like.
Which of the so-called alternatives to Modi offer such vast amounts of deliverables? From seeing him celebrate Diwali with flood victims in Kashmir, or with troops on the border to seeing him touch the feet of an elderly tribal woman or a safai karamchari; from seeing him wield the broom to hearing him talk about menstrual hygiene from the Red Fort, India relates with Modi. He appreciates the inherent strengths of the 130-crore Indians. Which other leader thought of writing touching letters or emotional tweets to sportspersons, artists, cultural icons and youngsters? He has made a place in lakhs of households as just another family member, with the people in good and bad times.
Is there any alternative to such leadership? I would love to know.
My father often taught me: If you are speaking the truth, you do not have to remember it. Today, Narendra Modi is the longest serving administrative head compared to all previous prime ministers. He has held the office of CM and PM for a combined total of almost 19 years. No previous PM has held both positions cumulatively that long. Such political success and affection have not come his way because “there were no alternatives” to him. It has come because Modi has immersed himself in his work. Political landmines and personal slander have been answered by more development. No wonder, while Modi is implementing his vision for a New India, his haters are stuck where they were two decades ago — confused about alternatives to him.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 26, 2020 under the title ‘The TINA delusion’. The writer is an actor and former chairperson, Film and Television Institute of India