What Narendra Modi has done to the country is evident. It has nothing to do with demonetisation, the goods and services tax, the faltering economy, our dithering foreign policy, or the mess in Kashmir. But it is evident in drawing-room conversations, on the streets, in our popular culture, and most visibly, on social media.
Certainly, a great number of people have always been bigoted in this country, but there was always a sense of shame. If you had a pretense to civility, to an education (not just in classrooms but even from religious texts), you concealed your bigotry. The removal of this sense of shame and pretense to civility cannot be welcomed as ushering in a new honesty in society. Modern societies impose a minimum set of common values, as laid down in a constitution, which are maintained through the rule of law. But much of what passes for civility is constrained not by the law, but by what is publicly acceptable.
Modi has made sure the sense of shame at bigotry has disappeared. The worst offenders today come endorsed with a “Followed by Narendra Modi” stamp. This lack of shame routinely leads to acts that violate values set down in the Constitution, but the institutions meant to check such violations have been compromised and are in no position to act. It is only this combination, of the end of shame and the collapse of institutions, which explains the mobs lynching Muslims under the pretext of cow protection. People lynch because they know the law will do nothing to them, they shoot videos of themselves doing so because they feel no shame about their acts of murder.
The RSS is harnessing the returns of this bigotry. It is not an organisation that believes in anarchy, or wishes to do away with the rule of the law. But it is willing to accept tactical departures from such norms as long as it helps the RSS attain its ultimate end—to make India a Hindu Rashtra. This was true of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992, the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, and it is as true now. In their idealised Hindu Rashtra, no mosque would be destroyed, and no Muslims would be killed by a mob. There would be no need to—the Muslims would know their place. They would know they live in India at the forbearance of the Hindus.
Gujarat is the perfect example of how it is possible to effect a Hindu Rashtra without any constitutional or legal change. Today, close to ten percent of its population has little representation in the legislature and almost no say in public life in the state. This Gujarat model has been in the making since 1985, when communal riots broke out in Ahmadabad to counter a Congress government elected on a KHAM platform—appealing to the Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim communities in the state—and isolated upper-caste Hindus. This Gujarat model is not Modi’s doing—it is a Hindutva project that began long before Modi and will continue well after him. This Gujarat model is what we have to fear in the rest of the country, not the rise or fall of Modi.