Modi must learn to take a step back
Narendra Modi’s political instincts have been developed by two events – the Gujarat riots of 2002 and his success in winning three successive Assembly elections in the state. What he has apparently learnt from this experience is that critics can be ignored. All that is required is a show of resoluteness.
On the question of riots, for instance, he once walked out of a television studio when asked about the outbreak. He was sure that his refusal to answer questions would not be seen as an admission that he had no answers. Instead, he was confident that his macho image would be enhanced.
It is possible that his conviction that arrogance pays has been strengthened not only by his electoral victories, but also by his success in quelling seemingly powerful dissenters in his own party in Gujarat and at the national level who were unwilling to accept his elevation. Modi has now succeeded in virtually reducing them to being cyphers.
Arguably, it is this brazenness which is behind his present attitude of standing by those appointees - big and small - of the government ranging from Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje to Gajendra Chauhan.
Irrespective of how much criticism they may face, Modi is unwilling to remove them, lest the step should make people think that he can be pushed around. As a self-made person, who has successfully withstood much of life’s travails, he probably nurtures the belief that a retreat will be seen as an indication that he is beginning to shy away from a challenge.
Modi’s obduracy, however, which was seen by the people of Gujarat as an assertion of the state’s <g data-gr-id="60">asmita</g> (pride), may prove to be counter-productive in the latest cases because he will be perceived to be backing those who do not deserve such support.
While allegations of impropriety have been levelled against the External Affairs Minister and the Rajasthan Chief Minister, what is curious is the government’s obstinate support for its choice of Chairman of the Film and Television Institute.
The bareness of the saffron camp’s talent pool has already been seen in the appointments of people like Y Sudarshan Rao, of whom few had heard, as Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), or Pahlaj Nihalani, a B-grade filmmaker, as head of the Censor Board, or a former editor of the saffron magazine, Panchajanya, as Chairman of the National Book Trust.
Their only qualification for the nominations is their RSS connection. The same criterion is also evident in Chauhan’s selection as chairman of the Film and Television Institute. However, neither Modi nor his party probably expected the outrage which has greeted the appointment of a virtually unknown B-grade actor – “What’s wrong in acting in B-grade films?” he has asked - to such a prestigious post in preference to stalwarts like Gulzar, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and Shyam Benegal.
Perhaps the Prime Minister and the BJP were deluded into thinking that they could get away with choosing undeserving candidates by the relative silence over the selections of Rao and Nihalani.
In the case of the ICHR chairman, the fact that only the academics who are known for their Left-Liberal views expressed their astonishment and displeasure enabled the saffron camp to ascribe their grouse to the choice of a “nationalist”.
In Nihalani’s case too, although several film personalities initially voiced their disappointment over the nomination of a virtual non-entity to a post which was held by celebrities like Leela Samson and Sharmila Tagore, the protests soon died down. If this hasn’t happened in the Film and Television Institute, the reason is that young students are more impulsive and cannot be easily persuaded to back off.
For the first time, therefore, the Modi government is facing a roadblock unlike other instances where it has had no difficulty in having its own way, whether in refusing to respond to an RTI query on the former Indian Premium League chief Lalit Modi’s passport lest it should embarrass Sushma Swaraj, or in persuading the National Investigative Agency to go slow in the cases relating to Hindu militants, or drafting a bill to exercise greater control over the management institutes.
The mulishness displayed by the government in these matters can also be discerned in I and B Minister Arun Jaitley’s reported comment to Oscar winner Resul Pookutty that although the Ministry hadn’t made the best of choices in opting for Chauhan, “as a government, we can’t retract”.
It is this obstinate practice of sticking to what is acknowledged to be a wrong decision which may bring the government to grief.
Compared to Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje, Chauhan is a small fry. But, the BJP is probably afraid that removing him under pressure from the film fraternity can lead to the unravelling of the party’s saffronisation agenda for all the institutes, whether dealing with culture, academics, or entertainment.
Bollywood, after all, represents India’s most potent <g data-gr-id="72">soft power</g>, both inside and outside the country. Having established their hold on historical research and moulding reading habits along saffron lines via the book trust, the RSS and the BJP will not want a key institute which prepares future filmmakers to pursue a liberal, non-sectarian line.