On 15 August 2014, in his first Independence Day speech as prime minister, Narendra Modi said: “whether it is the poison of casteism, communalism, regionalism, discrimination on social and economic basis, all these are obstacles in our way forward. Let’s resolve for once in our hearts; let’s put a moratorium on all such activities for ten years. We shall march ahead to a society free from all such tensions … My dear countrymen, believe in my words.”
Lots of red flags should go up when a prime minister puts an expiry date on social harmony, but most mainstream media quoted Modi’s speech either uncritically or approvingly, including a national daily describing it as “non-partisan.” By 2014, the media should have been alert to the doublespeak of, and the division of labour in, Hindutva forces. A speech in the hinterland might demonise Muslims; one at a media summit in Delhi might focus on inclusive growth and democracy. A speech made by Modi is not binding on Adityanath, then a member of parliament from Gorakhpur and today the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, whose repugnantly communal comments in the Lok Sabha, just a few weeks after the speech, did not ruffle the prime minister’s feathers.
But for the last five years, the English mainstream media and many intellectuals have helped to not only whitewash bigotry, but also to scrub Modi’s failures and missteps out of the public discourse. Today, clinging to his words instead of his track record has become a collective delusion.