The Modi-baiter is seething with rage, pronouncing that such wretched governance was beyond comprehension, but the Modi-bhakt is emotionally stuck, dogmatically refusing to judge the Prime Minister on bread-and-butter questions.
A fascinating conversation with two persons, Prakash and Babu, both pushing 60 and grappling with challenges that any lower middle-class family faces, unravels what the merger of politics with religion has done to Indian society. While both understand that the past nine years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi were not good for them, their political responses are diametrically opposite.
Prakash, a Modi-bhakt, said: “All 17 members of my extended family will vote for the BJP. We love both Narendra Modi and Shivraj Chouhan.”
Responding to questions about jobs, healthcare and the glut of scams, he said: “There is doubtless a severe job crisis. Medical services have become abnormally costly. Prices have soared, making survival difficult. Recruitment scams also happened. But these are smaller issues compared to the larger issue of Hindutva and nationalism. My father says we have to support Modi till we get Hindu Rashtra.”
Asked about Modi’s achievements, he cited the removal of Article 370, the construction of the Ram temple and India’s rising status in the world.
How has the dilution of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir affected his life in Indore? Prakash’s reply: “Nothing, in no way.”
Has India really become Vishwaguru? His answer: “TV says Bharat ka danka baj raha hai. Even Modi says that.”
Does that affect his family’s existence? “No, not at all,” he replied.
Will the Ram temple alter his life? “No, but that will bolster Hindu pride. Ram ko upar rakhna hai (Ram has to be placed above all),” Prakash asserted.
Asked if the Sangh Parivar lives up to the ideals of integrity, justice and sacrifice that Ram is known for, Prakash bluntly said: “It is foolish to expect that from politicians.”
Then, should politicians drag Ram into their petty battles? “Ram is just a symbol for Hindutva. It is to show that the BJP is for Hindu interest,” he replied.
Prakash explained: “Modi might not have done wonders for our lives but we need him to keep Muslims in check. Look how he avenged Pulwama by attacking Pakistan. As soon as the Congress comes, Muslims feel emboldened. All the bomb blasts have vanished now. That’s why we say Ram ko upar rakhna hai. Cylinder price hurts, petrol-diesel hurt but that can’t decide the nation’s destiny.”
Asked about this feeling among voters, Babu, who runs a stationery shop and is also a devout Hindu, countered: “Pahle Ram neeche the kya? (Was Ram at a lower pedestal earlier?) Andh-bhakti ne barbad kar diya desh (Blind loyalty has ruined the country).”
He poured out his grief: “I have in the past earned Rs 2,000 per day from this shop. Now Rs 500 is difficult. JK Green A4 size paper used to cost Rs 160 six months ago. Now it costs Rs 260. A monthly ration of Rs 4,000 in 2013-14 now comes for Rs 11,000. Gas cylinder for Rs 1,100 is robbery.”
Babu continued: “The market never looked up after notebandi (demonetisation). Indore was called mini-Mumbai. Now all the showrooms remain empty. You go to Rajwada, Sarafa Bazar, everybody will say business is down for years. The BJP has no concern for education and healthcare. Government schools are in a shambles. Private schools charge astronomical amounts. We dread going to the hospital because of the high costs. During Covid, people were left to fend for themselves.”
Expressing outrage at the media and the falsehood spread through WhatsApp, he said: “Bhar diya dimag mein Hindu-Muslim, Azan, hijab, namaz…. The mind has become a festering wound. It is never allowed to heal. Newer issues of discord are invented after every three months. Wait, you will see something dramatic close to the 2024 election. People won’t be allowed to vote on real concerns. Those parroting Article 370 don’t even know what it is. We never saw such wretched times. Such a government was unthinkable.”
Asked how Modi has retained his popularity if he hasn’t delivered on his promises, the shopkeeper said: “He is the first Prime Minister who is known to every child across the country. Modi-Modi… as if the country rests on his shoulders. Nothing else matters. It’s all because of advertising. Thousands of crores have been spent on him. The entire government machinery and the media work to build his image. From the inauguration of Parliament to a train, he is present everywhere. Modi is the show and Modi is the loudspeaker. For others, bolna allowed nahin. The ED-CBI is waiting to hit out.”
While Prakash is a TV news addict, Babu has started spending his time watching comedy and dance shows. Or he listens to music on his mobile. “Music is better than fake news,” he said. “The country will be saved from Modi if it is saved from the media.”
Ironically, Prakash too pours disdain on the media: “Sab ghulam hain.” Ghulam means slave, but they love the forces who enslaved them.