Modi's Image and Ego

Mala Jay

There is more to the anti-CAA protests than meets the eye. Ordinary Indians in dozens of cities did not come out on to the streets in their thousands only because they disagreed with the Citizenship Law or the National Register of Citizenship Law or the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The protesters were giving vent to their pent-up feelings of growing disgust at the policies of the Modi government since 2014. The feelings were bottled for long and have now erupted.

An eye-opening example of this is something that took place almost a year ago, in January last year. A group of students of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) sent a New Year gift to the Prime Minister—the parcel contained a tarpaulin. The attached note said since Modiji claims to be a devotee of Lord Rama, he should henceforth live in a tent—just as the idol of Ram Lalla was living in a tent in Ayodhya.

The emotion behind sending the tarpaulin to the Prime Minister are very complex. At one level it was severe sarcasm, at another level it was sheer frustration and at yet another level it was an act of defiance.

During demonetisation there was deep resentment but no major outward expression of rebellion. Nobody had the courage that the BHU students who sent a tarpaulin displayed.

Indeed, one of the most striking features of the current agitation—and there are several other very striking aspects—is spontaneous manner in which the students of BHU expressed their solidarity with the students of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia. It was an eloquent signal that young people today are not religious fanatics and are secular to the core.

This fact is all the more significant because BHU is situated in Varanasi the adopted Lok Sabha constituency of Narendra Modi. It cannot be without a deeper meaning that despite Modi's strenuous efforts to endear himself to the people of the holy city, the students of the most prestigious and historic educational institution in his constituency are not impressed. One of the jokes doing the rounds in the campus is that Modiji is a 'migrant infiltrator' to Banaras and he should have stuck to his home state of Gujarat.

It is not as if Modi has not made extraordinary efforts to woo the voters and citizenry of Varanasi. Apart from taking out massive road-shows through the city, he has made it a point to make the University gates a focal point of the live television coverage.

In April last year, Modi in fact started his seven-kilometre election road-show by first garlanding the statue of Banaras Hindu University founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Sporting an orange kurta, the Prime Minister sought to win the hearts of the mammoth crowds. Incidentally, two months earlier he had addressed the BHU convocation. As it now turns out, not everyone was bewitched.

The ongoing demonstrations across the country against the CAA-NRC-NPR have indeed exploded at least one myth that 125 crore Indians are staunch supporters of Modi and his policies. In his numerous public speeches, he has seldom failed to make the claim that he has the wholehearted endorsement of the entire population, barring 'anti-national Opposition party leaders' and a small handful of foreign-funded urban 'Naxalites' acting at the behest of Pakistan.

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Vol. 52, No. 33, Feb 16 - 22, 2020