After having danced to Narendra Modi’s tune for over five years, the media is doing much the same during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections—only now, it is doing so without coercion. Much of the media is reporting, as it should, the violations of the electoral code, the divisive rhetoric, the bigotry and the sheer uncouthness of language that Modi brings to the campaign. But it is doing so with a misplaced sense of outrage. This language is exactly what is expected of Modi—he is not doing anything that is out of character. He has been elected and endorsed by a good many voters for doing exactly this.
We can but hope that at some point, some institution will show the necessary sense and courage to act, but it seems Modi’s actions are guided by careful deliberation. He appears sure that no one will act, and that the media will report events in just the fashion he wants, to provoke the outrage he seeks.
The latest such episode has involved some rather uncharitable remarks about the former Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. This attack was perplexing only given that Rajiv is Modi’s true spiritual forebearer. Rajiv handed Modi the template of using a single violent incident—the assassination of Indira Gandhi or the deaths in the train in Gujarat’s Godhra—as the pretext for allowing one’s political party to target a minority while ensuring that the police refuses to act, and even collaborates with the violence. And then, of using this orchestrated violence as the basis for a bigoted election campaign, driven by a professional corporate advertising agency.
In a real sense, it is the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi that scripted the first Hindu majoritarian election victory. This is not the only debt the Hindu Right owes Rajiv Gandhi. Having crafted a majority of exactly the kind the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh wanted and approved, Rajiv handed it over to the Bharatiya Janata Party by his opportunistic attempt to open the locks of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. So why did Modi choose Rajiv Gandhi as his target?
We do not have to look far for an answer. He was reacting exactly as anyone on the street would react, to the accusation that Rahul Gandhi has been throwing at Modi for the past few months. Essentially, Rahul has been telling Modi, “tu chor hai,”—you are a thief—and the only response to that on the street is “chor hoga tera baap,”—your father must be a thief. In this case, even the language of the street had first been ushered in by Rahul Gandhi. Delivering “chowkidar chor hai,”—the watchman is a thief—in a polished accent does not make it more palatable than the appropriate response delivered in a cruder accent.