I must confess to having felt diminished as an Indian at the sight of my prime minister wailing at a public rally in poll-bound Karnataka that 91 abuses had been hurled at him.
The vignette rather reminded one of Coriolanus exhibiting his patriotic wounds to a Roman crowd to regain their favour.
This seemed a sad, even if familiar, ploy to avoid meeting the hard critique of the BJP’s five-year rule in that state.
For some deep psychological reason, Narendra Modi always takes recourse to making himself the subject of any moment of history which is inimical to him and the interests he represents.
In other words, however high he may go up in the ratings, he never seems able to rise above himself.
And, arguably, this failing may indeed be the chief cause of why his image gets dented, internally and externally, rather than by some sinister supari [a hit job] that he has claimed is out to dent his image.
In passing, Narendra Modi seems always much more concerned about images than about realities.
It must be conceded also that Priyanka Gandhi had the most telling riposte to Modi’s embarrassingly self-loving lamentations.
She reminded him that if abuses were indeed to be counted, those that the right wing has hurled at the Nehru-Gandhi family would not make up just a 91-long list, but indeed a volume or two.
And, yet, far from exhibiting petulance, this family has not only taken bullets but are ready to take more, if need be.
She has appropriately observed that Modi’s solipsistic pitch was, at bottom, a political ploy to deflect the electoral contest from real issues and from the dismal record of the BJP government in Karnataka.
Against the charge, one that is hurting his party deeply in the campaign, that the government in Karnataka has been running a “40% commission raj” in the state – an allegation openly levelled by groups of contractors, and educational organisers, Modi has polemicised that the Congress used to run an 85% corruption regime.
The reference is to the statement once made by the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, that only 15 paise in a rupee of government spending percolates to the people, and the other 85 are gobbled up by middlemen.
It is indeed true that Rajiv Gandhi said so, but look at the irony: That was an executive head who openly acknowledged the failings of his government, and rued that such was the case.
How admirable it would have been of the current prime minister to emulate the late Rajiv Gandhi’s candour and acknowledge the corruption that diverse groups of citizens have alleged to have characterised the BJP government in Karnataka.
Can Modi indeed be unaware of what an erstwhile BJP man, and a contractor to boot, wrote in his suicide note about how the then minister, K.S. Eshwarappa, sought a 40% commission from him for clearing his bills?
If not, are we to believe what the ex-governor Satyapal Malik told the interviewer Karan Thapar about, as he claims, Modi’s indifference to corruption?
Although it may be too late in the day, here is what Shri Modi might consider: that no prime minister, not even Nehru, was ever loved by every Indian; and no prime minister, not even Nehru, was always beyond questioning, or always right.
Yet, almost without exception (barring the 19 dark months of the Emergency), all previous chief executives of the republic took criticism on their chin, either refuted it with facts, or used the input to make corrections wherever they could.
That is not a bad legacy to emulate so long as Modi remains in office.
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