Domestically and internationally, the Modi government is stumbling from one blunder to another. The devastating demonetisation was rung in on November 8, 2016, completely out of the blue. Even the Reserve Bank of India, the guarantor and regulator of the Indian currency learnt only three hours before Modi threw the demonetisation grenade on the bumbling RBI and the unsuspecting public. Ever since that shock, millions of people have been queuing up at the banks and the ATMs every day; despite the government’s promises to the contrary the end of queues seems not in sight.
While demonetisation wreaks havoc on the economy and a significant portion of India suffers in horrible poverty, Modi government, in the true Marie Antionette fashion of “let them eat cake”, is promising the tallest statues of steel, marble and stone. Modi’s right wing supporters such as the RSS, the Thackeray outfits and others are bent upon on reviving medieval fiefdoms of fanaticism, bigotry and intolerance; they are playing havoc with the essential ethos and fabric of the country.
2016 witnessed China’s increasing militarisation of the South China Sea and its deepening encirclement of India. In addition to continuing to strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea, on the man-made islands and otherwise, China has also been building infrastructure such as deep sea ports and roads in and to the countries around India – collectively called the string of pearls. Recently, Russia has expressed strong support for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of China’s Silk Road Project, which severely impinges on and violates India’s claim of sovereignty over the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Russia is even talking about its idea of a Eurasian Economic Union possibly merging with China’s Silk Road Project. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s term in power is almost over. While political analysts are out to make sense of Modi government’s achievements and failures in the last four-and-a-half years, I feel at least four phrases that sum up the tenure in a far more conclusive way than imagined. Semantics apart, these phrases created a perception that the government is either arrogant, anti-poor or doesn’t intend to keep its poll promises, or all of it.
- Chunaavi jumla: The term was used by none other than BJP chief and Modi’s Man Friday, Amit Shah, barely two days before the crucial Delhi elections. When asked about Modi’s election promise of getting black money back and depositing Rs 15 lakh in every person’s account, the BJP president said it was only a “chunaavi jumla” (election speech not to be taken seriously). Modi’s voters perhaps never expected a princely sum of Rs 15 lakh in their bank accounts once he won, but Shah’s statement showed something worse: that the BJP lacked the intent to fulfil big poll promises. Lack of intent is a serious charge. The BJP won only three of the 70 seats in Delhi, suffering a shocking defeat at the hands of a resurgent Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). With slogans now playing a major role in a hypermediated environment, the “chunaavi jumla” faux pas is bound to haunt Modi and his government for it’s the rest of its tenure.
- Suit-boot ki sarkar: After 60 days of his much-talked about sabbatical, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi returned to active politics with another slogan with far-reaching implications. Attacking the Modi government in Parliament over the contentious Land Bill, Rahul called the Modi dispensation a “suit-boot ki sarkar”, catching the BJP completely off-guard. India had still not forgotten the monogrammed pin-striped Rs 10 lakh designer suit that Modi wore on the reception for US President Barack Obama. The jibe resonated even more with a perception slowly gaining ground that the government is more interested in the interest of a few industrialists and not India’s poor. The phrase, like “chunaavi jumla”, is bound to haunt the Modi regime in future too.
- Presstitute: Miffed with the media’s alleged uneven coverage of his works, former Army chief and minister of state for external affairs VK Singh slammed the entire press fraternity by calling them “presstitutes”. Misogyny apart, the statement triggered outrage for its contempt for an independent press. Though Singh apologised later, in today’s digital era, once you have spoken a word, it remains there to haunt you forever. Time and again, #presstitute trends on Twitter, reminding us of its controversial speaker, one of Modi’s chosen men.
- Bazaaru media: Not to be left behind by his subordinate, even Modi could not resist the urge to attack the press. In the run-up to the charged up Delhi elections, he called the pollsters who predicted a rout for his party “bazaaru”. Not only was it unbecoming of a prime minister to shoot the medium rather than reading the message, he soon had to eat his unfortunate words when the BJP actually suffered one of its most humiliating defeats in the national capital. However, Modi was perhaps too big to apologise. I won’t be surprised if the phrase returns as a hashtag to haunt him.
The above list is in no way conclusive in a year that was marked by massive acrimony between the ruling combine and the opposition and the unleashing of a divisive Hindutva campaign on the ground by Modi’s close associates, whether it was Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s “Haraamzaade” shame, Giriraj Singh’s racist remarks against Sonia Gandhi, or Sakshi Maharaj’s call for four Hindu kids in every family.
For the remaining term, these words and phrases are bound to haunt Modi as his detractors will milk them dry to their advantage. Remember, perceptions and not reality drives contemporary politics. Modi still has a bit of his time in power with him. That is a great opportunity to correct the course and elevate political discourse. Isn’t clean India also about language?
For Indians, 2019 must be the year of rebellion– of the peaceful variety. There is nothing wrong with revolting against bad government. It is not sedition against the country. Indians must rise up in peaceful revolt and protest to ensure that their country’s government works for their collective dream of a better and fairer India of more jobs, good public healthcare, better education and less corruption. They must stand up in peaceful protests and tell the increasingly deaf government in Delhi they can’t eat statues, no matter how tall they are.