The indefatigable campaigner came steadily unglued in Bihar, reverting to a nakedly bigoted message
Since he was named the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate in September 2013, Narendra Modi ran a loud and aggressive campaign on two fronts: one, to run down the Indian National Congress as a corrupt force responsible for the lack of development; two, to sell a "happy days are here" story packaged with slogans and sound bites.
As such, he blanked out the Congress' impressive record of 10 years of eight per cent growth, painted a grim picture of the nation's economy and projected himself as the knight in shining armour, come to pull India out of the morass he conjured up in his invective-filled speeches. Using dog whistle communal messaging for his following of bigots while holding out the promise of strong leadership for others, he spoke persuasively of "achche din."
The strategy worked brilliantly. A year later, the BJP won a clear majority in the Lok Sabha and Modi was named prime minister.
Now, Modi finds that his majority in the lower house does not amount to much when faced with a determined and united opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The first-past-the-post system that gave his party a clear majority with just 31 per cent of the vote is not enough to sustain his fantasy of global power status he sold to credulous voters, leave alone a "Hindu rashtra" he has promised sotto voce to the bigots.
On the contrary, Modi's carefully-crafted image of forceful governance is taking a beating from the 69 per cent who gave him thumbs down in the 2014 election. Like bushfires, dissent is springing from every nook and cranny. These spontaneous protests have discombobulated him. The indefatigable campaigner came steadily unglued in Bihar, reverting to a nakedly bigoted message.
Asked to run interference, his spokespersons, in government and others like the puerile Chetan Bhagat, have raised a whataboutery defence, seeking to discredit the artists, scholars and scientists who have spoken out against the increasingly-evident Hindutva agenda: they are "Congress supporters who didn't protest in 1984" and theirs is "manufactured dissent."
When that didn't wash, they cursed the protest, calling it a campaign of calumny against the BJP by leftists and pseudo-intellectuals. Perhaps their most disingenuous defence is that the hate incidents happened in states that are not ruled by the BJP, ignoring the fact that the perpetrators were self-proclaimed supporters of the saffron calling, including union ministers, Members of Parliament and sundry state-level leaders.
About the only truth to emanate from the saffron defenders is this: the protestors cannot accept the BJP as ruling party and Modi as prime minister. This is largely because of their not-so-hidden Hindutva agenda. It is apparent that the narrow, divisive worldview does not resonate beyond fringe groups and that Modi and his supporters are mistaken in their loudly stated belief they represent the vast majority. Hobbled at first by a small but determined opposition in Parliament, now they face an existential challenge from the liberal legacy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel.
There promises to be no rest for the ruling dispensation until 2019; the fires of dissent will only continue to spread.
(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, November 2015.)