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Opinion: Why Narendra Modi is not deterred by criticism

A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photograph:( Agencies )

Bengaluru, Karnataka, India Jan 19, 2018, 06.37 AM (IST) Pankaj Agrawal

Narendra Modi is a unique politician in a sense that he invokes extreme feelings. There is a legion of people who relentlessly fire a salvo at Modi, and that too in a brazen and unequivocal manner. Leave behind his usual political opponents, Modi even draws severe flakes from BJP’s allies like Shiv Sena and his own disgruntled party colleagues, such as Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha. But then Modi remains unperturbed and unchanged.  

Political commentators evaluate Modi vis-à-vis BJP’s other prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. During the course of his political career and en route his voyage to the summit, Modi has made more foes than friends. Vajpayee on other hand commanded all-round respect, even from his opponents. While Vajpayee maintained almost impeccable conduct in public/political life, Modi on the other hand never shies away from making unrestrained jibes on his political opponents. He has mastered the art of sarcasm and knows how to use it optimally to lure the voters as we witnessed in the recent Gujarat election.   

This debate prompts a very interesting point for discussion. While on a crusade, one cannot keep everybody pleased, although it should always be tried to keep as many people happy as possible. But what if you these two paths cross each other? Will you forego your agenda if you realise that it may antagonise few or tamper your public image or give ammunition to your detractors to bait you?

It reminds me of a narrative from Mahabharat, which actually gives unequivocal direction. During the war of Mahabharata, when Karna was unarmed, Krishna incited Arjun to attack Karna and kill him. Arjun hesitantly replied “Lord, that would be unfair, immoral and against the protocol as Karna is not having his weapons with him and moreover he is not on his chariot. My reputation of great warrior would be disregarded and forthcoming generations would loathe me for this cowardly act”.

Krishna replied “I agree that it would surely be a deplorable act. However, the future of humanity is only secured if Pandavas win this war. Pandavas can never win if Karna is not reined in and this is the only chance you have to kill him. So future of whole humanity, or your personal glorification. You think over it and make choice”.  Arjun did not argue further and killed Karna.

It also reminds me of one famous statement of Douglas Jardine. Jardine was skipper of England Cricket side during infamous Bodyline Test series (Ashes) during 1932-33. He asked his bowlers to bowl intimidating deliveries targeting Australian batsmen. Jardine used this tactic to tame powerful batting line-up of Australia, which included legendary Don Bradman. 

Jardine was widely criticised for this. During a gathering, one reporter asked Jardine that this way, he may not win many friends in Australia. Jardine promptly replied, which remains iconic to date, “I am not here to win friends. I am here to win the Ashes”.

Though in this story the reply only is memorable not what Jardine did; through the Test series, Jardine was actually highly disgraceful, acting deplorably and against the spirit of the game. The key, however, is that when you are on a crusade, the end result matters the most.

The moot question remains whether is it really possible to keep everybody happy, and to have nil criticism. My answer would be an emphatic: NO.  Once someone told me “remember, if everybody is happy with you then the something is wrong with the way you function”. This probably is a hyperbole but strikes a clear point.

Indira Gandhi is the starkest epitome of this. She was steadfast and really blunt in her actions. Indira rarely cared about other’s opinion on her actions. Abolition of Privy Purse was one such action. She faced a huge backlash from princes and till date they curse her, which they believe was an act of backstabbing. But she did what she felt was right for the nation. She went on, snubbed the US and world community with a great display of audacity and tactics during Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.

KPS Gill is the man who decimated militancy in Punjab. His motto was clear; take criticism in your stride if you are seriously pursuing a goal and you are confident that you are on the right path. He brutally crushed terrorism amidst a relentless tirade of human right violations against him and remained absolutely unperturbed during the course.

Cricketer Sourav Ganguly maintained his on-field aggression despite all the criticism he faced from the fraternity. Andrew Flintoff flaunted his shirt in India after winning a match and Ganguly gave it back by flaunting his from the Balcony of Lords a year later when India defeated England in the final of triangular series. People nailed him for his ill-manners but Ganguly had the temerity to make Steve Waugh wait at the toss, which was his way to deal with arrogant Aussies. He always pursued an agenda without considering that how people will weigh him. 

Today not even his detractor would deny that Ganguly is the man who gave Indian Cricket a much-needed lease of life in the new millennium. On the other hand, a decision influenced by the desire of self-glorification can be catastrophic. Rajiv Gandhi in his bid to become a proponent of peace at the world stage, sent IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) to Sri Lanka, a decision which severely backfired. It ultimately became the reason behind his assassination. VP Singh wanted to rewrite history by opening floodgates of reservation in 1990. His political career came to an end in a flash.

You need to pursue, what you feel is correct without considering the reaction of people and without considering what public image will you carry.  

There is always a counter-argument. You can be tipped of as a dictator, over-confident, undemocratic etc. Of course, you need to work with conviction but at the same time, you shouldn’t simply shut your eyes or ears to the criticism. It is little tricky as the line of differentiation between two situations is very thin and one has to take his own call where to stand and strike a balance. Indira Gandhi went overboard and breached that thin line when she imposed emergency in 1975. Voters immediately taught her a lesson in 1977.   

Modi takes tough stand and then sticks to it. In the 2014 Maharashtra election, Modi refused to bow down in front of the tantrums on Shiv Sena. The whole alliance was put on stake but Modi gave a clear message that time has come now for BJP to dictate terms. Till date, Modi is calling the shots in the alliance. He would move ahead with steps like demonetization and GST, snubbing all kind of criticism. He knew his party needs to win Gujarat, he went all out to achieve the same. The idea is simple – this is my agenda and targets, and I will bulldoze obstacles to achieve them.   

As amply clear from the above examples, if you are a doer and implementer you just have to be oblivious to flaks and Modi is from this class only. 

As they say, every good thing in life comes with few riders. Modi is a doer, a driver, has an agenda and he relentlessly works on it. He knows how to pin down his opponents. In the process, the intense criticism which he earns is the side effect of his actions. Modi also knows this very well and as long as voters are with him he won’t really care. Only thing is that he should not cross the line, the way Indira did in 1975.  

Eminent columnist Aakar Patel once explained it beautifully: in Gujarat, the shopkeeper community of small retailers, they don’t negotiate and you need to buy things at the rates they quote. 

Narendra Modi is like this only – unapologetically yours – no bargains, you take me or leave me.   


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)