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Why Our Average Social Scientist’s Reading of Modi Phenomenon Remains Flawed, Inaccurate

Constructive criticism is always welcome, for it elevates a debate. Agenda-laden criticism can, however, only debase a debate.

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A few months ago, during its State executive meeting, Gujarat BJP organised an exhibition of books written by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also written on him, according to media reports. This was interesting. Early this week, BJP National President J P Nadda announced that the party’s 10.40 lakh booths, across the country, would henceforth organize discussions on Modi’s monthly “Mann Ki Baat”. This was significant.

We have heard about accounts of Discoveries of India in the past, and all such accounts have their due place in history, but the sheer depth and expanse of the “Mann Ki Baat” series call for serious academic engagement and research. The series chronicles New India’s voyage, and brings the people and diverse cultures together. It makes their voices heard and aspirations known on a national platform. If you ever wondered what “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat” symbolised, the “Mann Ki Baat” series exemplifies the philosophy.

Any discussion, or a book, or an audio series on “Mann Ki Baat,” therefore, is significant. It’s all the more important because a section of our academics, media and intelligentsia and the International Press continue to regard Prime Minister Modi as the “Other” and the “Outsider”. 

The dominant discourse that this influential group of academics and social scientists peddles is that “Modi – and, by extension, BJP -- can only spell doom for Constitutionalism.” Such narratives are also woven into books, which are then amplified in the Western media.

Now, look at some simple facts: PM Modi tops global approval ratings. Indian media surveys say that people rank him as the best PM ever. PM Modi’s appeal is BJP Plus. So, when the people on ground embrace Modi and shower love and affection, what explains this pathological hatred that a section of our intelligentsia has for Modi? BJP’s recent national executive in New Delhi captured it well when it noted that adversaries had hatred for the party. 

This influential group of academics and social scientists holds forth on the Modi phenomenon but only appears to be doing what would be regarded as one-sided, and yes, biased, accounts. In one such recent instance, Prof Avijit Pathak, a respected, and much-loved Sociologist of JNU, rued “non-dialogic democracy” in present-day India. 

Ph Ds can be done and reams can be written on the transformative change – bringing India together, making it more integrated, to numerous social welfare schemes, benefitting the last man in the queue, to name two oft-quoted examples -- brought about in India in the last seven years, under PM Modi. The conversations that the PM has with common Indians in the “Mann Ki Baat” series are an excellent example of how dialogue and conversations enrich a democracy and inform policy decisions.

If someone were to identify only one significant strand of social change brought about in the last seven years, it could well be Modernisation of Indian Tradition -- a title borrowed from an iconic work in popular Sociology. Doyen of Indian Sociology Prof Yogendra Singh’s landmark work “Modernisation of Indian Tradition” is a must-read and celebrated volume for students of India, Indian Society, Sociology and Social Sciences. Using this prism, multiple reference points can be found in New India.

Consider, for instance, PM Modi’s public engagements in any given month. The calendar could include India leading the world at a Climate Summit, to engagements with Startup innovators, to events celebrating Adi Shankaracharya, to global FinTech events.

This, then, is a snapshot of an India which has set its sights high on the Innovation index, has set ambitious goals to emerge as the world’s factory and reach the $ 5 trillion landmark, and has combined Tradition with Modernity to emerge as a model nation dealing with Climate change, to name just three indicators. 

This is also an India that has rediscovered its civilizational moorings and learnt to celebrate hundreds, if not thousands, of its unsung heroes. To give one example, consider how icons like Swami Vivekananda to Aurobindo to Adi Shankar have been rediscovered to enrich the collective consciousness. 

We are often told that Democracy has been part of the Modernity project. It’s in New India that we have rediscovered, and it’s something that needs to be told to the world over and over again, that Democracy has been part of Indian ethos since time immemorial and that Democracy took roots in India. 

Constructive criticism is always welcome, for it elevates a debate. Agenda-laden criticism can, however, only debase a debate.

However, any motivated work, article or book, must be answered intelligently – an article for an article, a book for a book. It’s precisely for this reason that ideas like book exhibitions to discussions over “Mann Ki Baat” should be welcome.

In independent India’s journey, the Modi years are extremely important, for they have ushered transformative, fundamental changes, laying the foundation for long-term positive changes, now being planned for the next twenty-five years. India deserves an honest account of the change that has made PM Modi a much-loved, much-followed leader, from North to South, from East to West.

(The author, a JNU alumnus, is a political analyst. Views are personal)

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