What is Manmohan Singh’s decade defined by? The UPA era ended with a soft and corrupt government mourned by few and rightly so. But what work can we remember it for? Its laws. The Right to Information Act, NREGA, Aadhar, Right to Education, Right to Food, Direct Benefit Transfer. There is a theme here. We might debate over the relevance of these laws (and the Prime Minister has been having epiphanies on a couple of them). We may argue over the competence with which they were executed. But it is undeniable that there is a thrust and an intent present here: these laws are for the poor of our nation.
Over a decade ago, I returned to Ahmedabad to edit a Gujarati newspaper. The man I was taking over from, Shravan Garg, was from Bhopal, a few decades my senior and vastly experienced. On the night he was leaving, I asked him what he had learnt about us Gujaratis and our affection for the Modi government. He thought about it and said that urban Gujaratis were self-sufficient in most ways. They did not need the state for much, unlike Indians elsewhere, and hence their focus was on things like security. That was a very sharp observation. It looked at an essential aspect of the Gujarat Model.
What are the Narendra Modi years being defined by? I’ll come to that in a minute. Let’s look at the happenings unfolding around us.
We have an education minister who quotes Cicero on treachery and the perfidy of enemies within. The Cicero I read (and I have read him in full) stood for one thing in the main: opposition to one man dominating the republic. It was his fierce resistance to dictatorship and tyranny that the West treasures Cicero for, not for his attacks against students or free speech. It is in fact for his words that he received his martyrdom (Mark Antony has Cicero’s hands cut off and put on display because it is those hands that wrote against him and Caesar).
I wish the opposition (can we dignify the useless and feeble interventions of Rahul G & Co with the word ‘opposition’?) had offered some literate resistance to Smriti Irani’s potted history. Gifting us the memory of her hectoring, blouse sleeves rolled up, for three days running is something I will not forgive this dispensation for.
We have a home minister who opens fire indiscriminately from his armchair. One tweet from an account of unknown provenance is sufficient material for him to convict a fellow Indian of acting in concert with Lashkar-e-Taiba. Neither apology, nor shame, nor even retraction has followed.
I wonder if the BJP has realized that in their recklessness they have made Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid stars. Radiant, luminous, magnificent stars — and, I must say, deservedly. In his speech, Kanhaiya Kumar has coined two phrases of genius. One is “Madam ManuSmriti Irani”, the other (regarding the government’s desultory time in office) “teen saal ka talk time baqi hai”. In his speech, Umar Khalid, slender, dignified, speaks a very sanskritized Hindi, I noticed. These are talented, dangerous men. Modi should keep them locked up. When they are out and begin speaking, they will rout all who stand against them — Arnab, Zee, BJP, the lot. I guarantee it and it will not be pretty. The CPM and Mayawati could do us a favour and immediately nominate them to Parliament: it will raise considerably the quality of our national debate.
Five students and one slogan have brought all legislative activity in our country to a halt. Think about that for a moment. Mother India, five lakh of whose children die of malnutrition every year, and 38% of whose children are stunted, with no hope of a fulfilling life, has invested three days of her legislative time on the disagreeable words of students. The world must look on in amazement at this third-rate nation.
The puzzle is: why are we wasting our time doing this? For that we must look at our unanswered question: what are the Modi years being defined by? Where lies the thrust of this government’s messaging? It lies in national security, nationalism, clean cities, smart cities, beef, foreign policy, bullet trains, jihadi terrorism, Pakistan. This is undeniable: behold the relish with which ministers and MPs launch themselves into cases of individual students in Hyderabad and Delhi. With which the government deploys its full apparatus on issues that others in its stead would ignore.
This is clearly important stuff to the BJP. Why? Its constituency cares. There is as sharp a theme in this list here as there was in the decade of Manmohan. It is the concerns of the middle class. It is the government, as my friend Shravan Garg said, of those who are not dependent on it for nourishment, education, health. It is the Gujarat Model, and it has come to Delhi.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.