Sensationalising individuals and trivialising issues

It is less than a fortnight since Yogi Adityanath had assumed office as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a state in India and also the world’s sixth most populous country. But, it seems like he has been in office for fourteen years, if one went by the reams written on him already. He has been the lightning rod for all criticisms that used to be reserved for Narendra Modi, hitherto. I had refrained from writing about his elevation to office because, as always, there is far too much noise and far too little substance in the arguments and counterarguments.

However, a piece by James Crabtree, formerly the FT Correspondent in India and now living in Singapore landed in my mailbox this morning and that made it easy for me to jump in. James Crabtree’s piece on Yogi Adityanath seems to be milder than what many self-styled liberals in India could whip up. How dare he could not be more outraged than this? Perhaps, he had failed his fellow Liberals 🙂

I think it is fair to state that the risk of PM Modi going the way of Erdogan is non-zero (one can never say never to anything in the world) but still relatively low. There are always similarities and dissimilarities. Just as statisticians can make the data confess to anything that they want, intellectuals can create reasons for their pre-conceptions. Indeed, Jonathan Haidt and several other psychologists have said that that is what reason is meant to do and has always done. But, that does not necessarily make them right.

I think that Modi likes to go down as a development colossus rather than a divisive leader. Nobody in India has been shut down, for writing all the stuff they have been writing against him in the last several years, even before the elections of 2014. At least, not so far. I do not think it happened in Gujarat either.

The problem with all the ‘Liberal’ narratives – including that of Crabtree’s – is that they are woefully one-sided. They lack historical perspective and they ignore the longstanding inconsistency in the State’s treatment of religions and officially sanctioned reverse discrimination in India.

To be sure, ‘What aboutery’ is wrong with respect to conduct because two wrongs cannot make a right but a very fair question to ask with respect to commentary. In other words, it is very fair to ask for intellectual consistency of ‘intellectuals’.

Sometimes, appointing someone like Yogi Adityanath may also be the best way to tame them and make them centrists. That is a possibility that cannot be ruled out even if the ex-ante probability is judged trivial by some.

Also, a very interesting story appeared in Economic Times about several Muslims having served the Gorakhnath Mutt for a long time. There is one more story. That raises another possibility that rhetoric in the rallies cannot be given too much importance. Yes, words can bind, constrict and dictate behaviour but, perhaps, Indian political rallies are different animals and that the words spoken there are to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.

So, certitudes, as PBM had displayed here, appear overdone. It should not be that difficult for intellectuals to accept that there are possibilities beyond their imagination or comprehension.

In Crabtree’s piece, the key prefix ‘illegal’ before ‘slaughter houses’ is missing. I saw that the National Green Tribunal in India had asked for illegal slaughter houses to be shut down. One may wish to see the pieces here and here.

Covering India should not be difficult at one level although it is a maddeningly complex place. There is no dearth of fault lines to be written about, in India – the soaring temperatures, the water crisis and the rising clamour for loan waiver for farmers. India is yet to recover from the last farm loan waiver announced in December 2007 and executed in 2008. The fiscal balance was damaged hugely and as Murphy’s Law would have it, the global financial crisis of 2008 followed. That necessitated further fiscal stimulus. It lasted far beyond its usefulness as the UPA government thought it bought them insurance against adverse electoral outcomes. They could not be bothered about economic outcomes. Now, Mr. Rahul Gandhi is again clamouring for another farm loan waiver.

There are suggestions that his remark, ‘Soot boot ki Sarkar’ killed whatever little liberalising instincts that Mr. Modi might have secretly harboured. They are unconfirmed because only PM Modi can answer that. Now, Rahul Gandhi is again throwing a clever political challenge (but likely ultimately economically disastrous) to the NDA government. By repeatedly calling the government pro-rich and anti-poor, he is proving that he can damage India not just by being part of a ruling dispensation but while being in Opposition too. Tamil Nadu’s Stalin has joined him in this demand. It will be a disturbing matter if the Prime Minister is swayed by it and sets out to prove a political non-entity like Rahul Gandhi wrong. In my book, that would be defeating India.

Loan waiver will not solve farmers’ problems. India’s farming is uneconomical. Land parcels are too fragmented for cost-effective farming. Worse, they are becoming more fragmented. That is what the Report on the ’State of Indian Agriculture’ of the Ministry of Agriculture for 2015-16 said. Check out pages 14-15. The Modi government launched crop insurance (PMFBY) at the beginning of 2016. It is important to ask how it has delivered and if it has delivered. Those questions are not being asked. In the final analysis, lots of marginal and small farmers must be allowed to exit farming and find alternative vocations. That is not happening. That is the bigger crisis than Yogi Adityanath becoming the Chief Minister. That would defeat India.

India’s big and relatively better-off cities like Chennai and Bengaluru are water starved. Chennai, more so, because monsoons have failed repeatedly. Global Climate Change is a big risk for India and in combination with reckless and mindless urbanisation, it is wreaking havoc and will continue to wreak havoc on India.

These are the real issues to focus as far as India is concerned.

My personal score card for PM Modi is that he has engaged in rhetorical populism but not economic or fiscal populism. Not yet. He has not engaged in religious fundamentalism. As for nationalism, that charge has to be dismissed summarily without trial because most commentators choose to refer to it pejoratively, when they do not like the leader in question. I would be worried if my leader is not nationalistic.

The time to worry about what Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi would do will be when they are re-elected in 2022 and 2019 respectively. Not now.

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