A ready reckoner of Modi's India 1.0

Cover of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India. Credits: Amazon.in
This is the book that spawned numerous political theories, including conspiratorial, after its New Delhi launch last month. One of the speakers, former Union minister Jairam Ramesh, made remarks interpreted by instantaneous analysts as soft on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He remarked it was time “we recognise Modi’s work and what he did between 2014 and 2019 due to which he was voted back to power by over 30 per cent of the electorate.” Abhishek Manu Singhvi picked up the cue and tweeted: “Always said demonising #Modi wrong. Not only is he #PM of nation, a one-way opposition actually helps him...”. The “final” evidence of senior national-level Congress leaders lining up at Mr Modi’s altar was Shashi Tharoor’s I-have-already-said-it statement: “I have argued for six years now that Narendra Modi should be praised whenever he says or does the right thing, which would add credibility to our criticisms whenever he errs....”


Undoubtedly, provocation for Mr Ramesh’s peppery remark was the book that gives away the author’s political orientation or perspective on the subject by including “malevolent” and “New India” in its title. Mr Ramesh was possibly stating that this book, written before the May 2019 Lok Sabha verdict, makes little effort to understand what makes Mr Modi tick despite his obvious divisiveness and the politics of malevolence he pursues incessantly. This limits the reach of the book, since it is likely to be picked up by the converted, or those outside the dominant fold of the times.


As the three Congress veterans’ remark, not all of them in the context of the book, there must be something that Mr Modi is doing correctly for him to increase his vote share by six percentage points between 2014 and 2019. This, however, is not the subject of the author’s scrutiny as he writes while explaining what made him take up this project: The London publisher invited him to lunch and asked if he would write a book on Modi’s India, or India after the prime minister assumed office in 2014. Mr Komireddi labels Modi as the “worst human being ever elected prime minister.”


The author is enormously angry. The concluding chapter, Coda, opens with a Nissim Ezekiel poem: “When, finally, we reached the place; We hardly knew why we were there. The trip had darkened every face; Our deeds were neither great nor rare...”. When elections were held this past summer, Indians already had “more than a glimpse of the New India he [Mr Modi] has spawned. It is a reflection of its progenitor: culturally arid, intellectually vacant, emotionally bruised, vain, bitter, boastful, permanently aggrieved and implacably malevolent: A make-believe land full of fudge and fakery; where savagery against religious minorities is among therapeutic options available to a self-pitying majority frustrated by Modi’s failure to upgrade its standard of living.”


The diagnosis is clinical and in prose that is hard to put down — in fact, the book began with a narrative located in the 1980s, when the dream of secular and inclusive India was beginning to sour, and written in a style that makes it one of the most fascinating non-fiction books this writer has read. As the last pages stacked up on the left of the book’s hinge, realisation set in that here was a writer who had matched Mr Modi rant for rant, the difference being that the spoken word was replaced by the written. Yet, there was no escaping the sadness at the book not turning out as one expected it to be. Not a very small measure of this was contributed by the author’s confession that the section on Murad, escapades with whom in the 1980s set the foundation of what Old India, as a juxtaposition to the New India, may have been, was “slightly fictionalised to conceal identities”.


Style apart and Mr Komireddi’s refusal to probe the reasons for Mr Modi’s ever-increasing stranglehold on the electorate despite escalating anger and fear of his ilk, the book is extremely valuable for people who have been spared the lives of worms in Mr Modi’s New India. This book was conceived over a London lunch chiefly for people who may have flipped through headlines detailing the latest horrific incident from India, but were unaware of the entire canvas of hate-spewing ideology and kangaroo courts engulfing India since 2014. The author lays bare multiple facets of this New India where an individual has become the party, the party has become the government and the government has become the nation, and how criticising one of them means castigating all.


Kudos to the author for seeing Mr Modi’s emergence as part of a political process that began in an earlier era. Almost one third of book, part one formally, can be considered a narrative on the pre-history of Mr Modi’s India and can be encapsulated in one oft-repeated quote of a certain Dev Kant Barooah: “India is Indira, Indira is India.” Fast forward to party leaders attempting to outpace rivals by statements eulogising Mr Modi and likening him to historical heroes of the Shivaji variety or terming him the “second Mahatma”. When the regime’s malevolence is incessant, it is often taxing to recollect details. This is where this book serves an important purpose. It is a ready reckoner on what is now past.

Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India 
KS Komireddi
Westland Books, 228 pages, Rs 599

The writer is a journalist. His latest book is RSS: Icons of the Indian Right. He has also written Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times (2013)


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