FP’s Modi Muddle: Postcolonial Paleospeak


What Modi could — and should — have done upon assuming power in 2014, was to use his extraordinary power and influence to reform not just the economy, but Hindu nationalism itself. Not only were the major themes of the movement almost 100 years old, they were rooted in a crisis — the breaking up of British India into the nation-states of India and Pakistan, the reaction of orthodox Hinduism to the arrival of political and social modernity — that needed to be rethought for the 21st century.

‘Modi Is Married To The Mob’


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This piece is a Foreign Policy special. In a hundred different ways it is the sort of special that, starting the Great Depression, meant “kinda li’l slow’ and a half-century into PC-ness means the same again: the overstudied, underinformed special that blithely ignores the trees for the wood.

There is a serious enough argument that goes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not “married to the mob”: He is and always has been the mob.

In shuḍḍh Hindi, such connubiality is known as “गिरोही गंठबंधन” (girōhī gaṅṭhbandhan, marriage within the mafia). The inspiration for the headline here is obvious – but, for Providence’s sake, Michelle Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob was, in truth, married to a mobster.

Narendra Modi is not married to a mafioso, or to a mafiosa.  If he is married to anyone with a heartbeat, it is to himself. He is not a mobocrat (or ochlocrat), who typically favours political control by a mob. Every demotic action Modi is a testament to that which he doesn’t want of: He doesn’t want the mob in control. The control room is his to own, not the āām-dhām, ærā-gærā janatā.

To suggest this is rude, admittedly, but so is Modi the Offhand Outgoer, a man of action in the company of world leaders – pumping hands, draping arms round the shoulders of starchy, $5,000, bespoke cotswold suits, insouciant in his role as a miracle-maker in a deathbed democracy – and a strikingly louche logocrat, a flashy maker of promises, on his rare excursions into the boonies back home. If words cranks out had been worth a paisa each, every Indian would have been comfortable off him.

And this is precisely why to think of suggesting that Modi “use his extraordinary power and influence to reform not just the economy, but Hindu nationalism itself” is to, very alarmingly, top up on snake-oil. Modi is a man impatient with dull-paced, logy-headed reform. He considers himself the head of a subcontinent-size Maker Faire. Indians wisecrack that Modi doesn’t reform, he deforms. To many – seriously mobocratic Indians – ‘reform’ and ‘deform’ are pretty much the same thing.

This extravagant union of opposites is so not a secret that it is passing odd that Foreign Policy hooned straight past unmissable signs of it.

Whether Modi is singular or exists in the plural, it is a diagnostic cop-out to separate the man from his function. Modi is the beating heart of the mob upon which he brings himself to bestow scant attention (no delighted jhappā-jhappī here). Modi is the mob.

And given the movement’s insistence on doctrinal stridency and continuous provocation, it could not be reformed from below, by a cadre or a brain trust, but only from above, by a powerful general showing that the responsibilities of power required a new sense of maturity and grace.

Miseading Modi is one thing, misreading India quite another. @ Foreign Policy: India is expressly not a ground-up democracy. A “brain trust” here does not – because it cannot – function “from below”. That job, below, has long been taken.

Either the Foreign Policy desk edited this piece with remarkable insouciance or someone at the FP brain trust believes, utterly unironically, that such is how India’s first majority party in three decades actually works – by reverse-osmosis, bog-up.

In which case, this would make of India either a true-blue Marxist state – or a kakistocracy, government by the worst and most unqualified. I doubt that Foreign Policy wants to go there.

Modi could have stressed the need, when he had the ears of both friend and foe, for Hindu nationalism to lead the task of modernizing a society that leans reflexively on tradition. In fact, he has done this to a small degree with his focus on the construction of toilets. India is the country where open defecation is the most widely practiced in the world. Hindu tradition in particular encourages open defecation to ensure ritual purity, and so there was a real courage and provocation to the party faithful in Modi’s call in 2014 for India to build ‘toilets before temples.’

I cannot for the life of me imagine this general tarring of contemporary, revanchist Hinduism’s bum going down too well with the roaring tigers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadre. The second thing whose first I’ve heard of is that “Hindu tradition in particular encourages open defecation to ensure ritual purity…“.

While this might technically be correct – I make no promises as to verisimilitude: I’ve grown up hanging off Mr. Crapper’s tidy scoop – Indians (Hindus as much as of any other religion) take their dump outside because

  1. toilets cost big ₹, and most Indians own piffle
  2. the outside is so big;
  3. the gods couldn’t give less of a shit where their disciples crap.

I’m a bit bemused that the usually hyperreactive – and hyperreactionary – saffronísti haven’t lit a fire under Foreign Policy for farfetched, deliberate defamation of their whole ‘way of life’. Whole. Soul. And droll.

Moreover, exactly when did Modi have the “ears of both friend and foe”? (italics mine) I don’t recall that halcyon day – and I happen to recall everything. Modi’s ‘měrě sāāṭh yā Pākistān’ operating philosophy led long ago to a hardened Minus Modi Movement that’s ongoing.

Modi could have shown to young Indians today that it was time to leave behind the ghosts and resentments of the 20th century, and that Indianness was a natural right given equally to all who live in India. It would have been possible to attempt all this and yet remain a Hindu nationalist.

There is a great deal of this “could have” <> “would have” ping-pong in this pseudohistorical piece. Steinbeck’s ghost comes lurching out of the Depression Dustbowl, harrumphing, “…if he coulda…he woulda…!”

What part of “Hindu nationalist” does this liberal India, of a provenance far older than illiberal Bharat, not understand?

All of it, apparently.

• • • • •

C’mere, meet Acamedia, the Bizarro World bromancer of Academia.


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