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Mona Lisa of modern India

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Created by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 16th century, the Mona Lisa painting is probably the most valued art work in the world, touching almost a billion dollars. Numerous stories abound about it. Some say, Mona Lisa is a man or a transgender but not a woman. Some say the painting is that of a friend of Da Vinci, some say its a noblewoman, some say it’s that of prostitute and on and on the theories go. However, the most striking area of study is that of Mona Lisa’s smile. Is she smiling or is she inviting or is she disgusted or is she angry or is she surprised or is it a mix of emotions. It’s hard to say for sure but the more you think and the more you look at it from different angles, the more you scratch your head. And, this is where it compares to a queer situation that many (if not all) Indians face.

In many ways, Mona Lisa compares to Narendra Damodardas Modi, the Indian Prime Minister. It’s hard to say what Modi will do next and even if he may do something, when will he actually do it. He has his own MonaLisque style of functioning (and smiling) which promises to tell a lot without actually saying or giving away anything. Like Mona Lisa’s smile, it’s hard to read Modi. For a social media statesman which Modi is, his public aura is like that of an elephant’s tusk, which shines bright and majestic but doesn’t tell a lot about what he would do or what he is thinking. Nevertheless, the tusks hide something which no one can predict. Predicting him is far more difficult than predicting Trump, Putin or Xi.

Here is why.

The modern Sanatani’s conundrum

Post Modi’s 2014 victory, elements in the Hindu (Sanatan Dharma) community expected that Modi, the Hindu Hriday Samrat (ruler of Hindu hearts) would take quick steps to stop all appeasement of Muslims (not minorities as minority in India is a pseudonym for Muslims). This included steps like the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A (articles which provided special status to the erstwhile J & K state of India), solution to the Babri Masjid-Ram Temple issue, abrogation of the 1991 Places of Worship Act, removal of the Minority Affairs ministry, removal of the minority commission, declaration of Hindus as minorities in states where they are a minority, removal of Waqf properties act, getting rid of the Waqf board, freeing Hindu temples from government control, bringing in a Uniform Civil Code, passing an anti-conversion law, complete revamp of India’s education system, changes in names of places and infrastructure named after historical invaders, ending radicalization of Muslims in mosques and madrasas, creation of a cogent population policy and so on and so forth.

In the first term of the Modi government, no big decisions were taken. Hindus who had voted for the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in expectation of such changes gave Modi a free pass as the BJP didn’t have a majority in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament). Also, the attacks on Pakistan, introduction of GST, Demonetisation and other significant steps went on to soothe feelings to a certain extent. However, this group of Hindu voters had a bonanza very early on in Modi’s second term. Articles 370 and 35A were abrogated, the 500 year old Ayodhya Temple dispute was resolved and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed. Post this, COVID came and changed the discourse quite a bit.

However, once COVID was under control, the Hindu voter expected the government to look at their other demands. The events in the second half of 2019 had built a lot of expectations. To their dismay, things have not moved in the right direction. They claim the government is not being sensitive to its core vote base and its demands. However, the problem for such voters is that they have no alternative to Modi and the BJP. They also claim how the BJP left its supporters high and dry after it couldn’t dislodge “Begum” Bannerji from West Bengal.

So much so that these Hindu voters have started venting their frustration on Modi via traditional and social media. They claim why the government is dithering on tackling many socio-religious issues. Their usual refrain is, “they have more than 300 seats, what more do they want. So now, in a strange way Modi has been pushed out of the extreme Hindu faction and sits somewhere between Hindu centrists and extremists. Some may call him moderate but I don’t think Modi or his party care about these modern WOKE tags.

The Opposition’s Conundrum

Another disgruntled group that is unhappy with Modi’s ascendancy is the Indian opposition, their voters and sections of the media (variously described as Lutyens media and Khan Market gang). As soon as Modi won in 2014, there was expectation that he would start behaving like Adolf Hitler or Mussolini and would go hammer and tongs against Muslims and his other natural detractors. They expected chaos, violence, civil war, bloodshed and left no tables unturned to make sure that India as a country lost whatever brand it had built over 60 years since partition.

In their hate for Modi, they constantly attacked India, its institutions and lately even the voter. Some even ran to Pakistan and China asking for help to dislodge Modi. Others took and still take covert assistance from international media, forums, politicians and nations to belittle their own country, its people and its achievements. To this group of people, overnight India became an intolerant, deeply divided, sad and negative place to be in. People in this group started behaving like a child who cries over spilt milk.

Their various supporters within the bureaucracy, judiciary and state executive started pogroms of violence (West Bengal mainly and Kerala to some extent) and resistance. They started award wapsi and letter writing competitions. Every day these detractors hit a new low without understanding how deep they were falling in a hole they themselves had created.

The Result

So in essence, eerily enough after 8 years of Modi’s service; BJP’s core Hindu voter (also referred to as Hindu Nationalists) and its most virulent detractors like the Communists (Naxals, Urban Naxals, Maoists included), Socialists (Family run fiefdoms like the Yadavs, Bannerjis, Pawars, Karunanidhis, Raos, Badals, Gandhi’s, Abdullahs, Muftis etc.) and pathological hatemongers (like some in the media, judiciary, and bureaucracy) are in the same corner, albeit for different reasons. Modi hasn’t delivered their dreams and that is where Modi’s Mona Lisa smile comes into play. Or does it? What is behind Modi’s smile?

What could really be happening?

For Modi who is deeply rooted in the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the fundamentals of polity and the idea of India dreamt by the RSS hasn’t changed. And this means, the dream of Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) remains. As I have mentioned in one of my previous articles, “Who ruled India” (https://aruneshchoubey.medium.com/who-ruled-india-3fc4f91a1b44), Modi, his party and its philosophical parent are the only group in India who understand this properly and know that until they rule India from Afghanistan to Arunachal, Ladakh to Lanka, Kailasha to Maldives; India will always be under attack and there will be turmoil. Until then, Best of Luck ruling India! So, that is why Modi and the BJP do not satisfy either the Hindu nationalist or the Left wing narratives.

Modi charts his own course. He is a leftist (ok, a mix of right wing and left wing decisions) in his economic approach, centrist in social policies and conservative in philosophy and thinking. He commits only and only to a strong India and nothing else. So, if a decision has scope to cause harm to India, even if it is a demand from his core constituency, at best he takes a minor step, keeps quiet or provides cover fire through his many lieutenants.

This we can see in the fight for temples in Kashi and Mathura. Similarly, the same strategy has been followed when talking about hijab, beef, halal and loudspeakers on mosques. The strategy is to keep things simmering but not let it boil over. Like water simmering in a kettle builds expectations, similarly keeping things simmering helps the BJP in converting more and more Hindus into its fold. However, the balancing act is to stop things from boiling over.

Secondly, Modi and the BJP are wary of too much change, too soon. This anxiety is the result of a deep seated distrust (Surprise, Surprise!!) of Hindus that Modi and his party have. The cause of this is the division of Hindus into a large number of castes, sub-castes, clans, communities etc. based on a number of factors like language, state, dress, sub-culture and so on and so forth (https://aruneshchoubey.medium.com/india-the-fault-lines-1dbd5546a32e).

Thus, Modi knows that Hindus are not a monolithic community in nature and the divisions institutionalized in Hindu society are very difficult (if not impossible) to roll back. He knows that the Mughals and British couldn’t have created empires without being assisted by the Hindus.

The Hindu has always been open to criticism, debate, arguments, change and transformation. This independent streak makes it difficult to control Hindus, so they have been divided for centuries to ensure they could be ruled if not completely converted and subjugated. Modi knows that one wrong step could see large swathes of Hindu voters desert him. Also, sections of the Hindu voters are very transactional (swayed by prices of potatoes and onions).

Modi needs to ensure that the economy keeps ticking so that these transactional voters are also kept in good humor. Thus, a lot of stuff that his core constituency wants is dealt with mildly and slowly. There will be sudden spurts of action and then silence for a while and then again a spurt and then a lull and on and on this game goes. For India’s sake Modi is ready to mimic climate change, where things change slowly and people get used to it, finding solutions on the way. He knows that until the Hindus are united to a point where they are ready to leave him and the BJP behind in resolution of Hindu causes, only then can he be completely sure of taking quick, strong and decisive decisions.

Until then, he will behave like a Candy Man saying and doing a few things here and there, keeping his voters in good humor. Also, his trusted lieutenants like Amit Shah, Fadnavis, Himanta Biswa, Yogi and others will make the right noises about everything “right” ranging from UCC, temple corridor constructions etc.

Thirdly, Modi, BJP and the RSS are aware that to beat the Islamist-leftist nexus in India, the solution is not to create a Muslim second class citizenry. This may surprise many! Make no mistake that Modi is not serious about this. In Parliament, he had mentioned FDI (Foreign Destructive Ideology) in a reference to ideologies which were foreign to India. He knows that communism, Islamism and any faith which is not rooted in India is incompatible with India’s future.

What Modi believes is: Violence and war will be counterproductive in the longer term and will also be bad for India’s branding and economy. Waging economic warfare against his opposers (local and international) is the best bet. Thus, the best way to deal with Islamism is Ghar Wapsi (Return to Hinduism) using Saam Daam Dand Bhed (persuade, purchase, punish, and exploit the weakness). Ghar Wapsi is the single biggest reason why BJP dithers on having a national anti-conversion law. The current situation allows it to reconvert people. Modi understands that before he can take on Pakistan and Afghanistan and reclaim other territories, he needs to win India.

This will not be possible unless he squeezes the opposition and its supporters. However, this Ghar Wapsi will be done at the pace with which the earth goes around the sun. It will be so slow that it will happen and people wouldn’t even realize it. Under this, temples converted into mosques will be reconverted (already started), madrasas closed or transitioned (already started) and mosques converted into temples as Ghar Wapsi picks up. The same tactics that Islamists and Christian missionaries used against Hindus will be used against them.

Restrictions on NGOs which ran on foreign money has caused a lot of heartburn as much of this money was used for anti-India activities. Modi and his party think of Indians who have been converted into Abrahamic faiths as children of Hinduism who were forced to convert. The next few decades will be used to incentivise conversion into Hinduism.

Finally, Modi also believes that his supporters need to stop looking up to him to resolve societal issues. The Hindu society cannot outsource its responsibility to Modi, BJP and the RSS. Thus, Modi believes in empowering the society to resolve its own issues.

However, it is equally true that there is a risk that if he or the BJP cede the Hindu leadership space to the society, they may be left behind. So, sometimes just covering fire on Hindu issues may not be enough.

And, therein comes the art of balancing. If Modi and his successors end up creating a fine balance, then a thousand years from now Modi’s picture could be competing against MonaLisa’s at the Louvre.

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