Editor’s Note: Modi’s diminished mandate a rebuke to emperor’s robes and divine halo

Published : Jun 11, 2024 22:14 IST - 3 MINS READ

The Lok Sabha election results show that voters have a message for Modi: Govern as elected PM, and not as Supreme Leader.

Some pieces, they say, write themselves. This was one of those. The concerns we have raised over and over in these pages—about untrammelled power, the signs of full-blown megalomania and narcissism on display, the dangers of hate speech and the demonising of certain communities, the risks inherent in seeking an opposition-mukt Bharat—are not light concerns but come from an engagement with history and a recalling of what such indicators have invariably added up to.

I don’t have to remind Frontline’s readers about Umberto Eco’s 14 aspects of Ur-Fascism, of which he said, “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it”, but it would be worth reiterating a few. For instance, the cult of tradition, the rejection of modernity, the idea that disagreement is treason, the obsession with historical victimhood and muscular retaliation—these are but a few of the signifiers Eco lists that contain within them the seeds of great social damage. We have seen them sprout and spread with astonishing speed in the past decade. The results of the just concluded Lok Sabha election are the first indication in 10 years that the country might finally get a shot at weeding out some of these dangerous ideas.

The answer to how India got here has been oft repeated—the biggest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, willingly oversaw its implosion. Clumsy, top-heavy, and far removed from the grassroots, the party was no match for the uber-wealthy, nimble, technocratic demagoguery of the BJP. Moreover, the BJP is ideologically driven, which makes it a formidable, committed, and zealous opponent while the Congress party’s effete drawing-room politics had no convincing ideology or passionate rebuttal on offer.

In addition, institutions crumbled, and a shamelessly servile broadcast media shifted en masse from journalism to PR, devotedly relaying the government’s press releases and talking points. The so-called liberal media were no less guilty. Take Modi’s meditation in Kanyakumari, timed just before the final phase of election on June 1 when his constituency Varanasi went to the polls, ensuring that photographs of his piety were widely published long after the Model Code of Conduct had kicked in, a tactic he deployed in 2019 as well. Everyone raged at the supine ECI, but all it required was for media houses to choose not to publish these photographs, thereby quite rightly denying unethical advantage to one candidate. Such editorial judgment has been missing for a while now, subsumed by fear of reprisal or a mindless understanding of media “neutrality” or simply a tragic decline in the profession’s adversarial role.

Against such formidable odds, the 232 seats totted up by the parties who allied under the opposition INDIA bloc is cause for celebration, not so much as an electoral victory but for what these 232 seats can ensure when Parliament reconvenes with 293 seats on the Treasury benches. The previous tenure saw two MPs who critiqued the Prime Minister banned from Parliament on flimsy grounds. It saw ugly hate speech by ruling party MPs, a toadying Speaker who spectacularly forsook his duty, and important Bills passed with no discussion or by brute majority. This can change when governments have to take on board many voices. It might be messy, but as large, tumultuous, and diverse as India is, it needs a government that understands chaos theory.

These results were also a sharp rebuke by the common people to a party that has overwhelmingly used religion to airbrush away real issues, and they handed the BJP a shock defeat in Faizabad, home to Ayodhya’s Ram temple.

Most importantly, this election was a message about how Narendra Modi should rule: as an elected Prime Minister, without emperor’s robes or a divine halo.

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