Ten years of a powerful PM but the country is a landscape of worrying divisions: Christoffe Jaffrelot to Karan Thapar

Modi is India's most powerful PM ever but the country has become a landscape of very worrying divisions: Christophe Jaffrelot to Karan Thapar for The Wire. 
Image courtesy: The Wire

In an interview to assess Narendra Modi’s legacy after ten years as Prime Minister as well as to assess his political personality as we await the forthcoming national elections, one of the great scholars of Indian politics has said Modi is “the most powerful PM India has ever had”. However, Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot added that India has under him become “a landscape of very worrying divisions”. In an hour long interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire.

Christophe Jaffrelot, who is Professor of South Asian Politics at Sciences Po in Paris and also King’s College in London and author of ‘Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the rise of Ethnic Democracy’, said that during the last ten years of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister India has developed “a deeper state”, which he distinguished from a deep state.

He says elements of the Sangh Parivar and vigilantes have ensured that there is a distinction between what happens officially and what happens unofficially and even illegally. Often the civilian government is the front façade but at times it even seems redundant. Describing Narendra Modi’s handling of the economy as a “quasi-loss decade”, Prof. Jaffrelot said MSMEs, youths, farmers, Dalits and Adivasi’s have either lost out or stagnated under Modi but not oligarchs who have gained. He added the government’s claims on the economic front “are not supported by data”.

Referring to Thomas Piketty, Prof. Jaffrelot said India is the most unequal country in the world after South Africa. At one point in the interview he described Modi’s economic policies as “pro-rich”.

Speaking about Modi’s attitude to Muslims, Prof. Jaffrelot said “he looks at Muslims as descendants of converts or foreigners”. Prof. Jaffrelot said he treats them as second class citizens who should be ‘obliterated’ or ‘ghettoized’. Prof. Jaffrelot said the majoritarian attitude means “Muslims are at the bottom or margins of the social pyramid”. He said “Muslims are de facto second class citizens becoming de jure”.

In relation to a question about Modi’s participation in the Ram temple consecration, when he emerged as the high-priest of Hindu nationalism, Prof. Jaffrelot said “secularism is dying”. He called it “a dead letter”. Prof. Jaffrelot said not Hinduism but “Hindutva is the de facto ideology of the country”.

Speaking about the personality cult surrounding Narendra Modi, Prof. Jaffrelot first compared it to the personality cult under Indira Gandhi but added that for two reasons it’s greater and also more disturbing.

First, Indira Gandhi did not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. Second, she did not have access to the modern day technologies available to Narendra Modi.

Talking about Nehru, Prof. Jaffrelot said that he “thinks” that Modi does have a complex about Jawaharlal Nehru who he is constantly targeting and belittling. Prof. Jaffrelot said that if Modi is re-elected he does envisage definite steps being taken towards creating a Hindu Rashtra.

He says they are likely to be taken immediately after the re-election. Finally, Prof. Jaffrelot said “Modi has no successor” adding “it is very difficult to succeed a man like Modi”.

If you want to understand Narendra Modi’s legacy and political personality I cannot strongly enough recommend this interview? Prof. Jaffrelot has spoken analytically but also with illustrative detail. He’s measured but, at the same time, critical. Consequently, the interview is a tour d’horizon of the situation today as well as a perceptive analysis of the Prime Minister’s personality and political qualities.

Weeks before the next general election, I do believe this is an interview you must see to understand where we are, what sort of person is our Prime Minister, what are the implications of the policies he’s followed, their success or lack of and, at the end, what to expect if he wins as well as what to expect when he finally departs the political scene.

To help you I give below the list of questions.

1) Narendra Modi has been Prime Minister for ten years and he hopes to add another five at the forthcoming elections. Let me start by asking what is your assessment of his performance as Prime Minister over the last decade?

2) Modi frequently boasts of his handling of the economy. He says he’s made India the world’s fifth biggest economy and lifted 250 million out of poverty. His critics talk about unprecedented levels of unemployment, increasing inequality and K-shaped growth. What’s your opinion of how Modi has handled the economy?

3) Modi dominates the Indian political horizon and there is a huge personality cult that surrounds him. He only refers to himself in the third person and often his ministers and even a former Vice President compare him to God. His policies are called Modi’s guarantees. Is all of this understandable and justified or is it approaching megalomania?

4) Side by side with the personality cult and larger than life image is his style of governance. How would you characterize his handling of institutions like parliament, the election commission, the judiciary and security agencies like the CBI and ED? And the fact everything is run by the PMO, not ministers. He believes he’s deepened Indian democracy. His critics accuse him of authoritarianism. What’s your opinion?

5) One deep concern is the sharp divide that’s emerged between Hindus and Muslims. Modi and the BJP vigorously deny this but many believe they are responsible for it. What’s your view?

6) Under Modi the BJP doesn’t have a single Muslim MP in either house of parliament. It hasn’t fielded a single Muslim candidate in states like UP and Karnataka with substantial Muslim populations and in Gujarat for over 25 years. BJP chief ministers and MPs call Muslims Babar ki Aulad and tell them to go to Pakistan. We’ve even had calls for a Muslim genocide. Right through all of this Modi has kept quiet. What does this tell us about Modi’s attitude to Muslims?

7) On January the 22nd, when the consecration of the Ram temple happened, Modi seemed to emerge as the high priest of Hindu nationalism. What is the likely impact of this on India’s secularism, which is part of the basic structure of the constitution?

8) How badly has the line that should separate religion and politics been breached? I’m referring to the Sengol in parliament, the constant references to Hinduism in Modi’s speeches and his much publicized preparation for and role in the temple consecration. Is Hinduism becoming the de facto official religion of the country?

9) Can this increasing Hinduisation be reversed? Can we go back to square one? Or is that unlikely if not impossible? After all, Zia’s Islamisation in Pakistan may be criticized but it’s never been rolled back

10) Modi repeatedly claims he’s made India great again. He says this with reference to Pakistan, relations with America, the G20 and even International Yoga Day. Does the world perceive India as Modi sees it? As a vishwaguru? Or are there also deep concerns about India’s diminishing democracy, increasing communalism and growing intolerance of dissent?

11) Let’s talk about Modi the person. He is an incomparable orator. He has indefatigable energy and he is hugely popular. How does his personality compare with earlier prime ministers like Nehru and Indira Gandhi?

12) Modi is constantly targeting and belittling Nehru. Do you suspect he has a complex about him?

13) Modi doesn’t like critics, whether they are politicians or journalists. He uses terror and money laundering laws against them. He doesn’t hold press conferences. He only gives interviews to anchors who will never challenge him. What does this tell us of his political personality? Does it hint at a certain insecurity?

14) Before we end let’s talk a little about how India has changed under Modi. When I was young no one accused Muslims of love jihad or cow lynching, no one called them Babar ki Aulad and Abba Jaan. Now it’s commonplace. Has Modi awoken sleeping demons and made the unacceptable acceptable?

15) Let me ask a deeper question. What has Modi revealed about Indians? Do we prefer authoritarian to democratic rulers? Are we prejudiced against Muslims and Islam? Are we taken in by his oratory and his event management?

16) If Modi wins a third term what do you anticipate and expect? Do you envisage or, perhaps, fear a push towards Hindu Rashtra?

17) Finally, what happens after Modi? He’ll be 74 this year and this, presumably, could be his last term. What will happen to the BJP after Modi?

Here is the link to the video:



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