By Mosarrap H. Khan
Barkha Dutt published a piece in the Hindustan Times on Modi’s visit to Varanasi to file his nomination and the mass hysteria it generated on the streets. I have been meaning to write a response to the piece since I read it. However, Kavita Krishnan has since written an excellent rejoinder to Dutt’s piece, especially on the ‘Muslim question’.
Dutt’s piece seems to be suggesting that it’s certain Modi is going to be India’s next Prime Minister, with or without the Muslim support. In that case, how is he going to assuage the Muslim fear?
Here I will very briefly jot down some of my observations regarding the supposed Modi wave and, then, about the ‘Muslim question.’
Dutt’s piece is almost a continuation of her early morning pitch from Varanasi, “Chai Stop” (on 23 April). In this early morning conversation with the potential voters at a well-known tea-stall, she asked some of the visitors to the stall about their preferred candidate to represent Varanasi. What struck me was how all but two said Modi is their preferred choice; the two differing voices belonged to two gentlemen – one of them supporting the AAP and the other (who appeared to be Muslim) backing the Congress. The whole picture seemed quite absurd: in a gathering of about 50 people, 48 supported Modi. If one were to believe Dutt’s conclusion that there definitely is a ‘Modi Wave’ in Varanasi, it would suggest that more than 95% would vote for Modi.
Thus, after providing a graphic description of a Modi ‘surge’ on the streets of Varanasi, when Dutt concludes, “the images from Varanasi on Thursday afternoon brilliantly captured how one individual has succeeded in filling a leadership vacuum that the Congress only has itself to blame for. Looking at the mesmerised followers, it was also more than evident that the BJP campaign is now all about the Cult of Modi,” I am left wondering if Dutt was repeating from a script that she had set in motion with her first pitch itself. Her early-morning street-side show had set the stage already; her article in the Hindustan Times was merely a repetition of that.
We can’t possibly expect any different from the mainstream media, can we? After all, they have their TRP compulsions. When all that an assertive middle class would like to hear is the ‘garjan’ of a macho leader, the media must simulate that image as best as they could.
The murmurs of dissenting voices, which the mainstream media would not like to hear or entertain, get submerged in the hysterical simulation of a surge. However, as Kavita Krishan writes one never knows when these voices will pull a surprise. Modi might still win from Varanasi on the strength of his appeal as a prospective Prime Minister, riding the ‘political emotionalism’. It doesn’t render the marginal voices void.
Interestingly, post-Modi road-show, Dutt’s “Chai Stop – Narendra Modi now a Banarasi babu” (on 24 April) threw up more dissenting voices.
As one expects in such cases, Modi’s critics came down heavily on Dutt for her supposed pandering to the ‘Modi surge’. In her defense, Dutt said she wrote what she saw on the streets of Varanasi. Such a defense is perfectly fine. Yet, what puzzles me is how after the assembly elections merely a few months back the same media (NDTV included) disproved the theory that there was a ‘Modi wave’. What did really happen in four months that a senior journalist, Barkha Dutt, has woken up to the ‘Modi surge’? Is it an effort to mend fences with the would-be Prime Minister, as some of the western countries have started warming up to the man, who was once a persona non grata? Or was it that our big media houses were biased and have been deliberately ignoring Modi’s popularity so far? Instead of merely describing what she saw on the streets of Varanasi, it would be worthwhile for a senior and respected journalist like Dutt to answer some of these questions.
Coming to the Muslim question, Dutt writes that though Modi might win from Varanasi and BJP form the next government at centre, he “must begin a more compassionate dialogue with a community that remains fearful of the BJP and of him.” Krishnan’s excellent reply has already pointed out the fallaciousness of such a claim.
Dutt’s use of the word ‘compassionate’ is interesting. As Krishnan points out, it’s certainly offensive for Muslims. One doesn’t expect compassion from the man, who many Muslims hold responsible for the carnage in Gujarat. However, what intrigues one about the term, ‘compassionate’, is its underlying suggestions of theocracy. Modi has already reiterated that he has been chosen by God to lead India. Traditionally, most people (esp. the God-fearing ones) expect compassion from God. Dutt’s choice of word suggests that she unconsciously subscribes to the idea that Modi is God’s representative in India, like many of the medieval Kings believed. Are we anticipating Modi rule in a Hindu India, where he might compassionately engage with his subjects, Muslims?
However, I agree with Dutt that Modi must engage with Muslims. Also, the Indian Muslims must engage with Modi. Muslims must press on with their demand for justice. A pragmatic minority position would demand that Modi be asked the difficult questions that our mainstream media would not.
How Modi and Muslims will engage with each other is not certain at the moment because of the heavy distrust with which Muslims view him. But the very terms of their engagement might open a new era of inclusive politics in India.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Lucknow’s Many Muslims”. Edited by Prof. Nadeem Hasnain & Aseem Hasnain. The rich array of essays explores various facets of Lucknow, a ‘Muslim city par excellence.’