What’s the secret to Modi’s success

Bloomberg April 14 | Updated on April 14, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally (file photo)   -  PTI

On the face of things, Narendra Modi has failed variously and spectacularly as India’s Prime Minister. After pledging to create millions of jobs, he has, according to a leaked government report, presided over a dramatic rise in unemployment among young Indians.

Vowing to vanquish terrorism, he took most currency notes out of circulation and cracked down hard in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir has since witnessed a sharp spike in militancy and its biggest terrorist attack in years.

Swearing ferocious vengeance against Pakistan, Modi has had to resort to dubious claims about destroyed terrorist camps and hundreds of dead Pakistanis in order to appear a man of his word. Indeed, in an effort to back up claims that India’s economy has grown faster under his leadership than his predecessors, his government has even imperilled the credibility of India’s official data.

Yet, it seems likely that Modi will return to power next month at the head of a coalition government. On the day of his election in May 2014, I described him as India’s canniest artist, who mesmerised restless youth with fantastical visions of the Indian past and future, as well as his own abilities. It seemed clear even five years ago that Modi’s main stock-in-trade was an illusion and that to fault him for his hostility to facts or indifference to rational discourse was beside the point.

Since then, India’s online population has doubled.Smartphones with cheap data plans have appeared in the hands of the poorest of Indians. This has, in turn, augmented Modi’s ability to create virtual realities and to persuade a significant number of Indians to inhabit these shiny illusions.

Its hardly surprising then that Modi has sustained his electoral appeal largely through over-hyped surgical strikes on Pakistan (eulogised recently in a Bollywood-style music video) and sensationalised reports of mass casualties, or that his fans are never more energised than when attacking beef-eating Muslims, liberals and other allegedly anti-national Indians.

If Modi’s economic record matters much less than it should to his supporters, it is because Modi has vastly enriched their private lives of fantasy.

(Written by Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg Opinion columnist)


For the latest on elections, click: Elections 2019

Published on April 14, 2019

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