The Modi Order Has Regressed Into a Great Disorder

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Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

“A violent order is disorder; and a great disorder is an order. These two things are one.”

– Wallace Stevens, Connoisseur of Chaos

Perhaps the most perplexing – and intriguing – part of the 2024 Lok Sabha campaign so far has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s studied unwillingness to encash one his more enduring assets: the promise of national stability and cohesion. Instead of a spirited marketing of all the “achievements” of the “amrit kaal” advertised so copiously with billions of rupees of taxpayer’s money,  the prime minister is inexplicably but deliberately turning the 2024 vote into a referendum on the Congress and its alleged  politics of “appeasement.” In speech after speech, Modi has been at his demagogic best in inventing designs, connections, and conspiracies behind the Congress’s surprisingly animated campaign.

Instead of being a resting, reassuring anchor in choppy waters, the prime minister is navigating citizens into a raging storm of visceral animosities. The Modi order is melting down into a great disorder.

This regression – from order to disorder – has been in the making for some time though. As India’s overarching state degenerates into official lawlessness,  her citizens may finally be willing to speak up and act against this lawful disorder.

A few days ago, on April 30, a Delhi court found itself having to remind the dreaded and all-powerful Directorate of Enforcement that it, too, was bound by the rule of law.

According to Bar and Bench, the court said that in a democracy like India, citizens possess rights while the state has certain duties and this fundamental relationship cannot be inverted to invoke an authoritarian argument that the state has certain rights against citizens who are expected to reciprocate by submission through their duties.

“Not only would the acceptance of such an argument be an inversion of the social contract on which every liberal democracy is based but also a [violation] of the constitutional scheme and constitutional morality,” the court observed.

The judge warned that strong leaders, laws, and agencies generally come back to bite the very citizens they vow to protect and that after the “masculinity of the law has been expressed against the stated targets,” these laws are “invariably alleged to have been employed against the average citizens.”

The official highhandedness flagged by the Delhi court can be deemed to be a “legal” edition of what was known and decried two decades ago as “jungle raj” in Lalu Prasad’s Bihar or Om Prakash Chautala’s Haryana. A similar reign of official dadagiri has been internalised in Gujarat.

The dilemma of how to maintain an order without it becoming a disorder is the crux of statecraft and constitutional morality.

Take, for example, the Supreme Court’s recent reminder to everyone not to knock “the system” down. The admonishment was in the matter of the (un)hackability of the electoral voting machine system, the very instrument that is used to help citizens exercise their most cherished democratic right — to decide whether they want to throw out an incumbent regime or renew its lien. By implication, the apex court also lent its imprimatur to the Election Commission of India’s legitimacy and competence as a neutral fair umpire.

And, how does Nirvachan Sadan repay this faith? Even after two weeks, the ECI is not able to put out the absolute number of voters who turned up on polling day in each parliamentary constituency in the first two phases of the on-going Lok Sabha election. It has only provided vote percentages, that too after the inordinate delay was flagged publicly, inviting doubts and questions not just about its competence but also its neutrality and intent. Sadly, there is no recourse against the Election Commission’s obvious disinclination to be neutral and fair. That is a prime case of disorder.

The apex court opted for ‘order’ but the Delhi court had the prescience to point out how order can become disorder. And, this precisely is the moment in the life of the republic when citizens have an opportunity to judge for themselves whether the 10 years of Modi Raj have produced an order that is unacceptably violent and chaotic. And, whether an alternative order, even if disorderly, would be preferable to the dadagiri-centric order of Shahenshah and Shah – their munificence toward ‘labharthis’ notwithstanding.

The disquieting part of the Modi order has been the collapse of institutional guardrails in all constitutional bodies. Chief ministers get arrested and the courts are content to entangle themselves in procedural correctness over whether they should be granted bail. The apex court and other high constitutional bodies have failed to restore a sense of equilibrium in the polity. It seems that it is now up to ordinary voters to make up for the elites’ failure.

By constantly invoking the Hindu community and stoking its anxieties and grievances, Prime Minister Modi is forcing the average voter to ask herself why 10 years of a “Hindu raj” has not restored some balance in national life. Given what Modi has been asserting in his campaign speeches, it is clear that we, as a nation, are never going to have a modicum of communal peace and harmony. Does Manipur need to be repeated all over India?

That is the great choice before the nation. The Modi regime does not believe or does not know how to bring about reconciliation between angry neighbours. Craftiness has been its signature tune, underhandedness its default option. Overuse of the coercive instruments of the state has blunted the BJP leaders’ sense of empathy and sensitiveness.

If the prime minister is sounding more and more unhinged, it is because the campaign period is the only time when his minions cannot shut down other voices and arguments. An arrogant regime headed by an arrogant man is finding itself confronted by a multitude of dissents and disagreements against the officially mandated “immense disorder of truths.” The voter has a funny way of seeing through the Emperor’s sleight of hand.

Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.

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