Exclusive excerpts from Pride, Prejudice & Punditry by Shashi Tharoor
In my 2018 book The Paradoxical Prime Minister, I described the ruling party doctrine as not just Hindutva but Moditva – a cultural nationalism rooted in Hindutva’s SSR political doctrine, but extending beyond , wrapped in a cult of personality around Narendra. Modi. In addition to the founding of the Hindutva – a reactionary and regressive doctrine, with its roots in the ethics of “racial pride” that spawned fascism in the 1920s – he constructs the idea of a strong leader, powerful and decisive, which embodies the nation, and will lead it to triumph. When an equally dominant leader, Indira Gandhi, attempted a similar degree of assertion about Indian institutions, she declared an emergency and suspended many democratic processes, only to restore them completely after twenty-two months, to hold free elections. , lose them completely, and relinquish power. Moditva’s assault on Indian democracy is more subtle and more enduring: the changes he brings to Indian democratic institutions involve nothing as brutal as emergency decrees, but fundamentally alter the assumptions of how they work. ‘in a way that will inevitably cripple them as effective guardians of the nation’s freedom. The danger for liberal constitutionalism is clear.
Some, notably on the left, went further, evoking the dreaded term “fascism” for Moditva. In a now famous essay published in Seminar magazine shortly after the Gujarat riots of 2002, sociologist (and trained clinical psychologist) Ashis Nandy, who interviewed Narendra Modi in the late 1980s, long before he started its spectacular political rise, exposed this chilling diagnosis.
The future prime minister, Nandy wrote, at the time “one person, a little RSS pracharak trying to become a little BJP official,” gave him a “long, rambling interview” which “left me in no doubt that ‘this was a classic clinical case of a fascist. Nandy added: “I never use the term’ fascist ‘as a term of abuse; for me it is a diagnostic category including not only ideological posture. but also personality traits and patterns of motivation contextualizing ideology. Modi, I have no pleasure in telling readers, fulfilled virtually all of the criteria that psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychologists had put in place after years of empirical work on the authoritarian personality. He had the same mixture of Puritan rigidity, shrinking emotional life, massive use of ego defense by projection, denial and fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence, all within the matrix of clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits. I still remember the cold, measured tone with which he crafted a cosmic conspiracy theory against India that portrayed every Muslim as a suspected traitor and a potential terrorist.
Nandy is a respected scholar and there is no reason to doubt the objectivity of his analysis. Some elements he identifies are in fact avowed by Modi’s supporters themselves, but as virtues, not flaws: “Puritan rigidity”, for example, is an attribute of Modi – he told me himself – even as Prime Minister, he does not see films, for example; He is known to neither drink nor smoke, eats non-spicy dishes, enjoys a simple khichdi (usually alone) and frequently observes fasts on specific Hindu occasions, especially during the Navratri festival, when he drinks only nimbu pani and a cup of tea during the day.
Another is the “emotional life shrinkage” mentioned by Nandy. Narendra Modi lives alone and has little contact with his mother, his four brothers or his sister, although he has not been above demonstrating his filial devotion by seeking his mother’s blessing for her victory or by himself. having a photograph rolling his chair in the Prime Minister’s garden (before bringing it back to a life of anonymity far from him). Modi has no real relationship with those close to him and announces it as part of his incorruptibility. During a campaign rally in Hamidpur in Himachal Pradesh in February 2014, Prime Minister Modi said: “I have no family ties. I’m single. Who will I be corrupted for? ‘ adding, “This spirit and body are totally dedicated to the nation. His siblings are less enthusiastic about his righteousness. “I wish he would help the next generation of our family. But I’m sure he won’t, ”said his younger brother Prahlad Modi after Narendra Modi became prime minister. “He won’t even give someone tea for no reason, especially his family.”
Prahlad Modi is also the source of one of the few negative anecdotes about Modi in his youth. When he was younger, Narendra Modi loved to fly kites. Being the younger brother, Prahlad held the spool of string, or manja, while Narendra Modi did all the flight. “If I refused, he would get angry and hit me,” Prahlad says, “I’m still afraid of him, even today.
Narendra Modi said he slept about four hours a night, got up at around 5 a.m. every day to do yoga and meditate, and spent fifteen minutes reading the news on his iPad (this strangely little) and that he hadn’t taken a vacation for almost two decades. . An official response to a Right to Information Act (RTI) query filed in 2016 asking for the number of days off Modi had taken since becoming Prime Minister informed the requester – in terms unusually obsequious for a response from RTI – that he had not taken a single day off since coming to power: “you could say that the Prime Minister is on duty all the time.
The Moditva mix of a charismatic and austere leader, corporatism, an imagined utopia (“achhe din”), an evocation of ancient glories, “heightened nationalism” and Islamophobia, recalls the famous list Umberto Eco of the key ingredients of what he dubbed Ur-Fascism (taking into account the substitution of anti-Semitism with Islamophobia). This is what emboldens those who use the ‘F’ political word in India.
Yet, as I explained at length in The Paradoxical Prime Minister, I am not ready to apply the word “fascism” to the Modi regime: it has become a term of political abuse rather than understanding. And Il Duce has surely gone much further than the BJP would have imagined. “The free press has been abolished, unions have been dismantled and political dissidents have been confined to remote islands,” Eco says of Mussolini, while of Moditva the same sentence should be rewritten as “the free press has been emasculated, labor unions were ignored and political dissidents were denied important platforms in the mainstream media. Some developments in current Indian politics seem to bode ill for our institutions, but these were much worse under fascism: “The legislative power has become a mere fiction and the executive power (which controlled the judiciary as well as the media) has directly issued new laws. , Eco writes of Mussolini’s rule.
Nonetheless, it is instructive to note how many of the fourteen common factors of what Umberto Eco describes as “eternal fascism” seem to resonate with relevance when applied to the second-term Modi regime in India. The cult of traditionalism, with BJP greats tripping over each other to evoke the glories of ancient India; the rejection of modernism, not in the sense of usable technology but of the scientific temperament, the alleged depravity of the modern world and the decadence of modern lifestyles; the cult of action for itself and mistrust of intellectualism; the view that disagreement or opposition is betrayal; a fear of difference rather than immediate acceptance of diversity; racism (transmuted, in the Indian context, into Islamophobia); the appeal to a frustrated middle class that “suffers from an economic crisis or from feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by pressure from lower social strata”; the identification of an external enemy (Pakistan) and a thinly veiled xenophobia; the tendency to see enemies as both omnipotent and weak, accomplices and cowards; rejection of pacifism (evident in Hindutva’s ambivalent relationship with Mahatma Gandhi); the manifest contempt for weakness (particularly despised by the RSS); the cult of heroism, built in particular around the image-projection of Narendra Modi; hyper masculinity (celebrated in repeated evocations of Modi’s supposed 56-inch breast); selective populism, relying on chauvinistic definitions of the “people” that the movement claims to represent (as Eco says, “citizens do not act, they are only called to play the role of the people”); and finally, the intensive use of “newspeak” and a speech impoverished by elementary syntax and resistance to complex and critical reasoning. As Umberto Eco says, these factors are all found to a greater or lesser degree in Ur-Fascism, and the world must be vigilant whenever they occur. Sadly, the green shoots of each of the items on her list have started to sprout in India.
Autonomous public institutions threaten the dominance of the Moditva doctrine because, by design, they are independent institutions, with specialized mandates, commitments and responsibilities, and therefore, by their simple independent functioning, challenge the oversized cult of Modi’s personality. Naturally, when these institutions refuse to become buffers for whatever the ruling party wants them to do (thus the standoff between the RBI and the center led to the resignations of Raghuram Rajan and then Urjit Patel), the government’s response seems to be to cut these institutions at their knees or to hamper the institutional independence which is a defining characteristic of these bodies.
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Posted on: Sunday, November 21, 2021, 7:00 a.m. IST