Messianic Modi

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

Bill Clinton had the reality distortion field. So did Steve Jobs. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of the co-founder of Apple, he writes: “Steve has a reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable.” In the book, Bud Tribble, an original member of the Macintosh design team, describes the phenomenon thus: “The reality distortion field was a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand.” Tribble meant the phrase to be a compliment as well as a caution. At the root of the reality distortion was Jobs’ belief that the rules didn’t apply to him. To others, reality distortion field was about cleverly disguising a lie but, as Isaacson says, it was in fact a more complex form of dissembling. The author quotes a former employee of Apple as saying, “Jobs could deceive himself. It allowed him to con people into believing his vision because he has personally embraced and internalised it.” Jobs had a trait of proposing your idea to you as if he thought of it. Elsewhere in the book, a reader is told about how Jobs admired and emulated Robert Friedland, who taught him the reality distortion field, for being mercurial, sure of himself and a little dictatorial. While Jobs’ “dogmatic stubbornness” coupled with his reality distortion field helped make Macintosh a household name, there was a dark side to it, too. “It was so seductive that (Macintosh) had sold well enough for the first few months, but when people became more aware of its limitations, sales fell…. The reality distortion field can serve as a spur, but then reality itself hits.”

Anyone who doubts whether Narendra Damodardas Modi has the same quality of reality distortion field as a Steve Jobs or a Bill Clinton might want to relook at how Modi gambled everything on winning Election 2014 by galvanising the BJP cadres like never before, cleverly marshalling his resources, selling the voter a dream and outwitting the opposition all at once. And much like Jobs before him, even when Modi sought about a moratorium on communalism, casteism and violence for 10 years in his maiden Independence Day speech, he was only echoing the sentiments of Narasimha Rao before him who appealed from the Red Fort on 15 August 1992 for a two to- three-year moratorium on conflicts. As it turned out, the Babri mosque at Ayodhya was demolished barely four months later. And, again, like the Macintosh losing some of its charm after it burst on the scene in 1984, Modi would carry his Election 2014 rhetoric into 7, Race Course Road, the official residence of the Prime Minister of India, only to see some sheen taken off his much ballyhooed development- driven agenda because he has been in perpetual election mode over the past year. Whether it was Madison Square Garden in the United States in September or Shanghai in China this month; cuts in welfare spending and using the money saved on social and subsidy expenditure for infrastructure stimulus or his appropriation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Modi has gone about pursuing his Third Way with an almost messianic zeal. “My thinking is of third type. I say this glass is half filled with water and half with air. You may be seeing it half empty but I don’t see it that way. That’s why I say that I am by nature an optimist,” he said in the Central Hall of Parliament on 20 May 2014 – four days after he won a landslide in the election and a week before he was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister.

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Modi’s supporters would argue that one year is too early to judge the performance of his government but if the 365 days gone by are any indicator, Modi has only tied himself in knots and become a victim of his own hype. He might have said at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January that hype helps to create a momentum, forces government officials to quicken the decision-making process and eliminates red tapism but by raising expectations and not being able to come good on some of his promises, he runs the risk of squandering the mandate he came to enjoy after Election 2014. Already, Arun Shourie of the BJP has dismissed Modi’s economic policy as lacking direction. The Modi government has spluttered, sprinted, stuttered and shouted during the first 12 months; it pushed through crucial reforms, like the auction of natural resources, but got stuck on land acquisition, and goods and services tax (see ‘All talk, little walk’ by Alam Srinivas). As Sitaram Yechury, the new general secretary of the CPM says, “The prime minister still continues to be in election mode while addressing people of Indian origin in foreign countries. He continues to make disparaging comments and hurl charges against the opposition parties on foreign soil. He would probably go down in history as the first Prime Minister of India to have gone on 18 foreign tours in one year.” Anand Sharma of the Congress party echoed similar sentiments last month when he said, “The Prime Minister’s statement on foreign soil, both in Germany and Canada, has been in poor taste. It is clear that (Modi) carries a hangover of the 2014 election campaign”. For his part, Modi might have made some right noises but his silence on certain issues has been deafening, be it the wanton remarks made by some of his Cabinet colleagues, the attacks on minorities and their places of worship or the agrarian distress compounded by unseasonal rains. However, Sakshi Maharaj defends Modi’s performance by saying that he (Modi) has delivered in one year what the Congress has failed to achieve after being in power for decades on end. “He has become a role model for good governance. I am sure that for another 30-35 years Modi will lead the nation,” the BJP MP tells Tehelka.

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