Millennium Post

So, to commemorate or not?

The Bard of Avon best explained human dilemma in the opening phrase of a soliloquy in his play Hamlet, now made famous through its Bollywood adaptation by Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider. Ordinarily the assassination of a prime minister would not have invited an article in a newspaper 30 years after her death. It has created the need for the articles for we were faced with a dilemma a few days back whether to commemorate a death anniversary or a birth anniversary.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided that his government this year on 31 October would celebrate the 139th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel rather than commemorate the death of a Prime Minister who died in office, the only one in our history so far, assassinated by her body guards. The prime minister’s government got the offices around the central vistas of Delhi shut post-lunch a day earlier as a run for unity was planned.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), was found unequal to the job of mobilising ‘all the students of Delhi’ for the run.

Therefore messages went out from the obliging quarters of the vice-chancellors of the universities to help in mobilisation and they most gratefully obliged. Thus buses, sponsored by the government, moved out from the campuses for the Raisina Hills and a few hours later, the nation ran for unity.
This was similar to the way the nation swept for unity a few weeks back. Like the level of filth in the BJP-controlled Municipal Corporations of Delhi has not declined despite the prime minister taking to broom, the nation is no better united despite the run flagged by Narendra Modi, as a few kilometres away across the Yamuna schools remained closed due to communal clashes.

A leading votary of Modisattva (as in Bodhisattva) Swapan Dasgupta recently said in his newspaper column that, ‘The truth that many of Modi’s critics have been slow to grasp is that, unlike conventional politicians, the prime minister is very picky with his public symbolism. The usual Amar-Akbar-Antony symbolism preferred by Bollywood has given way to something that is less contrived and, more important, modern.’  Agreed Mr Dasgupta, the prime minister’s choice of symbolisms are very meticulous but does their operationalisation have the same degree of thoroughness.

Before I discuss this any further, it’s important to refer to another of Modi admirer, who referred to the Prime Minister as an avatar of God and of being better than Mahatma Gandhi in the matters of ideas. Lokesh Chandra, the newly appointed 87-year-old chairperson of Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), who was once an Indira Gandhi loyalist, told a newspaper in an interview, that Modi is a ‘man of ideas, not of ideology’; who from a practical point of view ‘supercedes’ Mahatma Gandhi; who has made ‘a much more meaningful impact’ on the lives of the poor than Karl Marx; and who is virtually an incarnation of God (‘woh bhagwan ke avatar hain’).

Would the two learned gentleman, who vouched for the pickiness of the idea and also they being better than those of Mahatma Gandhi, would say that Run for Unity can be compared with Gandhi’s Dandi March. Since cricketing symbolism are believed to be most illustrative for easy comprehension in our nation, herein lies the difference – Modi is playing too much into T20 mould, whereas Gandhian ideas were crafted for longer innings.

But then the votaries could come back and say that this is an era of T20 and not of the test innings. True, era of T20 only in the matters of gaining television ratings, making commercial deals and embracing matters not purely cricket. It’s also true that many a stars of the T20 have come a cropper with their limited techniques, lack of patience and long term vision, which are necessary for a successful test career.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi as of now enjoys both the electoral and the social mandate. There is no threat to the former till the next poll but it’s important that he retains the social mandate. His managers have rated BJP’s performance in Haryana and Maharashtra in public to be a grand show. But were they in keeping with the expectation of the BJP top leadership? The answer is best left to them.

When Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1985, there seemed nothing to stop him for years to come. He enjoyed both the electoral and social mandate. Four years down the line he was ousted from the office, despite the Congress emerging as the largest party in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls. Gandhi’s electoral defeat was preceded by loss of social mandate after the Bofors scam broke out. He could never recover from it.

Some may say there is no need to pre-judge the prime minister’s performance but then there is also no need for cheer leaders to grow louder and louder in their applause. Recalling memory of a prime minister who met martyrdom in the same breath as the communal pogrom which followed her death, at the function to celebrate memory of another icon of Indian polity actually smacked of too much politics, brazen politics.

Both the Modi-admirers mentioned above have claimed that Modi as Prime Minister is different from Modi the poll manager. That’s not true. The Prime Minister is still to delete the spirit of poll manager from his personality. It’s true he is nation’s and not BJP’s prime minister, so was one of his predecessors named Indira Gandhi.

Modi’s presence at Shakti Sthal would have endeared him to masses for rising above politics and dwarfed his rivals assembled at Indira’s Memorial. His absence dragged his initiative at rightfully eulogising the contributions of Sardar into controversy. This could have been avoided.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post

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