'Birthday boy' glows, critics wonder as India faces problems, yet why no backlash against PM

Nirendra Dev *

The single big takeaway from Narendra Modi's political career will be why despite challenges and multiple crises gripping his administration there is no backlash against the Prime Minister.

There are many ways to look at this. Many Indians are astonished that the coronavirus crisis, compounded by unemployment, rising fuel prices, inflation and issues of governance like alleged discrimination of minorities; still there is no serious challenge threatening Modi’s leadership.

In 2023 summer, the opposition parties did their best to highlight the Manipur mess and violence to pinpoint at the failure of the Double Engine governments; but nothing much has happened as far as Modi's image goes.

The G20 was handled effectively and a latest global survey Morning tracker has put him at the top with a whopping 76 percent approval. US President Joe Biden is much below with 40 per cent and the man who is second is Switzerland president has 64 percent nod.

In his birthday greetings on Sunday, Sept 17th, to PM Modi; his long time friend and Home Minister Amit Shah says, "In every Indian's heart lives a surprising/unique (adbhut neta) leader".

Modi admirers and those tracking his politics closely say Modi has rather always used the crises (or challenges) to reinforce his political position and offer himself to the people as a "strong Hindu leader" in a country with about one billion Hindus in a population of 1.40 billion (140 crore).

One Naga BJP lawmaker and state minister Jacob Zhimomi says the man, that is Indian PM, has "reignited the hopes and dreams of 140 crore citizens of the country". He even called Modi -- "the Father of New India".

Observers know, the BJP and the central government's spin doctors are 'hyperactive' in claiming a positive performance for the Prime Minister. And what suits the official gambit is that there is still no big challenge to Modi either from within the BJP and also from opposition parties notwithstanding some undercurrent of anti-incumbency feelings.

It is said, Modi's calculated gamble in playing his time-tested pro-Hindutva and often anti-Muslim cards with some uniqueness and variations has only endeared him to Hindu voters. The latest episode about 'reviving' the name Bharat or UCC is linked to that.

BJP national vice president, M Chuba Ao, also a Christian told IANS: "Shri Modi’s statesmanship always spells confidence and optimism. There will always be two ways of looking at things. Shall we live by fear of doubts and possibility of defeats? Or shall we live by hard work, hopes and by the approach to look at positive things. The second choice makes sense. This is what we have achieved in this year’s Summit".

These laudatory descriptions sum up Modi's politics as he looks forward to a hat-trick in next year's polls. Only Jawaharlal Nehru among Indian Prime Ministers had in the past won three consecutive elections.

Obviously on the ground, things couldn’t be more different, according to many. The middle class and poor are allegedly the direct victims of some of his policies, starting from his few corporate-friendly moves, demonetisation of 2016 and a uniform tax structure, GST of 2017.

In 2020, senior Marxist leader Prakash Karat wrote -- it is like the “juvenile state of capitalist exploitation". "It is the working class and the working people who are going to bear the brunt of the economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has laid bare the actual conditions of the working class — through the migrant worker crisis,” Karat said. However, in retrospect it appears nothing like that happened.

Modi's supporters and colleagues are now happy enough to look at Modi as someone who will 'rename' India as Bharat, as someone who will probably deliver 33 percent women quota in parliament and state legislatures and even bring in One Nation, One Election. In January, the Ram temple at Ayodhya will be thrown open for pilgrims.

In West Bengal, social analyst Ramakanto Shanyal says, the Modi regime in the last nine years and more has brought in massive socio-political changes.

"This transformation has pitchforked a new elite who are basically provincial, pro-Hindu and even pro-Hindi. They detest English and secular or world views and happily proclaim their Hindu identity. The end result has been the rise of an unapologetic fanatic. There is no intellectual youngster today discussing things like apartheid in Africa or the war in Vietnam and even the greater implications of Russia-Ukraine conflict".

He also says, there is a rise of a new social order now. "We may not see major upheaval or social destabilization and most of these changes are undercurrent. But in the name of anti-elitism what we have got is anti-intellectualism. and anti-liberalism,” Shanyal said.

The bureaucracy and governance system under Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first PM, was generally believed to “think in English”. This probably made people presume as being part of the 'world community'. That has begun to change. And this suits Narendra Modi's politics, known for his hardline approaches on various issues.

He even said India's partition of 1947 should be 'observed' as a day and he fixed Aug 14th for the purpose. This was the day Pakistan was born.

Modi has also abolished a clause in the constitution, taking away the semi-autonomous status given to Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state. This has upset and almost derailed Pakistan's 'Kashmir policy'.

However, what goes in BJP's favour is that the Congress and other opposition parties have so far failed to offer a viable alternative to Indian voters. The Congress is often faced with a dilemma. It most often courts greater controversies by remaining silent on issues of Sanatan Dharma or the Ram temple construction at Ayodhya.

They know that opposing the temple after a favorable judgment from the Supreme Court would be problematic. Similarly, they do not know how effectively to douse the flame of anti-Sanatan remarks of its ally DMK.

Congress has been described as an "anti-Hindu party". Hindu groups accuse it of projecting a distorted 'secular image' by largely depending on Hindu votes and appeasing Muslims. And there is a cost to it. The grand old party has suffered a drubbing in consecutive national polls in 2014 and 2019.

"Ram belongs to the entire country and Indian civilization as a moral guide," says Ilyas Quereshi, a Congress leader in Ahmedabad adding, the Indian economy is in the doldrums but this government's priorities are different and for polarisation.

Social activists even from the northeast understand the political compulsions. One of them, Theja Therieh says, "The idea of leaving personal choices and practices to individuals is deeply rooted in the principles of individual autonomy, freedom of conscience, and cultural diversity."

But he adds, there is a clear political motivation for the BJP to revive the Uniform Civil Code or Bharat-India debate at this juncture.

"Political opponents may feel the Prime Minister is indulging in doublespeak. The BJP leaders cannot deny the allegation outright. when PM Modi is in the US and also Egypt, a large Muslim-stronghold nation, the cards pushed were 'inclusive development' and to push Modi's image of a 'catalyst of modernity and transformation'....G20 was also such...But back home, it is election season and the BJP needs votes. So populism is a target, and thus to address to the core support base, the UCC or the Bharat-India issues have been flagged off".

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer is based in New Delhi and can be reached at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 18 2023 .

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