Why Modi poured out Christ’s heart in Mann ki Baat

December 26, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

India, December 25, 2016: Modi enjoys springing surprises. Sadly, he is in a domain in which it is risky to spring too many of them.

Springing surprises is an old and honourable tradition. Those who lack energies of mind and are limited in imagination, peddle stereotypesand recycle clichés. There are but a few who escape this rut. Modi appears to belong to this rare species.

I have heard many a politician speak. I have endured them. I have heard, worse still, a large number of academicians speak. I have suffered them. I have listened to too many religious leaders. I have, somehow, survived them!

Modi began his Mann ki baat today with an episode from the life of Jesus recorded in St Luke chapter 21 verses 1 – 4. Jesus is seen standing at the treasury in Jerusalem temple. Many rich people, whose god is in their purse – whether in Israel or India, in Judaism or Hinduism or Christianity; it makes little difference in this respect – come and show off their piety by casting substantial offerings. In their train comes a poor, old, emaciated widow and casts two copper coins – all she had – into the offertory box.

Jesus remarks that the widow gave the most. Others gave a small portion of their abundant wealth, which they could afford to: insignificant portions with immoderate pride.

The widow, in contrast, gave ALL she had. She gave to the extent of hurting herself. She gave herself.

Jesus, Modi pointed out with characteristic acumen, not only served the poor but also respected the service rendered by the poor. He respected the sacrificial spirit of the poor. This, he said rightly, is basic to empowering them. The poor need empowerment, not charity.

Having been a hardcore academic, my mind began to tick. I needed an explanation for this surprising nuance in the unfolding Modi saga.

I cannot dismiss this as a clutch of fine words shrewdly spoken on the occasion of Christmas, when it is politically profitable to play to the Christian gallery, especially keeping BJP’s need to gain a foothold in Kerala.

My thoughts wandered to Rajaji Hall, Chennai. Modi paying homage to the late Jayalalithaa. I could not resist the thought that something native to his psyche – that remained for long in a hazy fashion – could have stirred up on that occasion.

The principal ingredient of the Jayalalithaa magic was her heart for the poor, her willingness to care for them, which gained her an abiding world of affection bordering on adoration. The loyalty of the poor was the principal reason for the political sustainability of Jayalalithaa too.

Pro-poor politics, unlike pro-rich or pro-corporate politics, is sustainable and affordable politics.

I will not fault a politician for seeking avenues to secure an enduring vote base. Only the incorrigibly naïve would expect politicians to be self-effacing saints.

Even so, politics affords two diverging paths to profit. The first, the most commonly followed, sees politics as the art of the possible, driven by money, caste, communalism and crime, which banks heavily on human gullibility.

The second is the path that Atalji called politics of dharma, or righteousness.

I remember having breakfast with Vishnu Hari Dalmia, who was then the national president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad. “My only remaining wish,” he told me with utmost sincerity, “is to see that a temple is built for Lord Ram in Ayodhya”.

“If Lord Ram is the embodiment of righteousness,” I asked Vishnuji, “how can we confine him to Ayodhya? Isn’t he relevant, as Gandhi believed he was, to India as a whole? Shouldn’t we think of turning India into a Temple of Righteousness? ”

I told Vishnuji at that time that I would work alongside him in this mother of all missions.

Not even my personal appreciation for Modi will prevent me from saying that demonetisation is more a political than an economic, exercise. Well, I do expect a politician to do politics, and not accuse him of politicising issues, as is fashionable these days!

I would want to believe that the thoughts shared in today’s Mann ki Baat mark a shift in Modi’s strategy. Very likely he realises that enunciating a politics of righteousness, distinguished by a caring approach to the poor and the hungry, is a far more powerful political strategy than derailing the country via demonetisation. The home-truth about our electoral politics is that the poor are the largest vote bank in India. It is a truth that, strangely, politicians and poll pundits remember only on the eve of elections and forget soon after the polling.

If any national leader wants to secure an impregnable, unassailable position in Indian politics, all that he or she has to do is to practise consistent pro-poor politics. I am all for vote-bank politics, except that I deprecate vote banks based on caste, religion, or region. The only vote bank I endorse is that of the poor. They are an overwhelming majority.

No political party has come to power at the Centre, for years now, with more than 45 per cent of the votes polled, which works out to around 25 per cent of our electorate. The poor, in comparison, are 50 per cent. So far the poor have remained an uninformed, disempowered lot. They did not know the power of their votes. Now they do.

I remember my driver in Delhi telling me in 2015 with startling exhilaration, “Sir, I have taken money from both and voted for a third.” That, I thought, marked a turning point of sorts. Modi, more than most others, has his ear to the ground. He knows that the earth has begun to shift under our feet.

Old tricks will work no longer. They could even be counterproductive. The way the poor and the lower middle class have responded to the ordeal of demonetisation could have encouraged him. He knows they will walk with him a thousand miles, if only at the end of the gruelling exercise, there is something to mitigate their distress.

If Modi wants to send them reassuring early signals, I’ll not grudge him his political acumen. Power emerges no longer from the barrels of guns. Today it rests at the fingertips of the poor; for they are the overwhelming majority in this country.

– dailyo

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