The spread of the MODI virus – dancing the `Tandava Nritya’

Modi 1

While we are all worried about the spread of new variants of COVID-19 (whether we describe them as Delta or by some other name) all over the world, we tend to ignore the invasion of Indian society by another variant of COVID -19 which may be described as the MODI virus. It is a pandemic affecting every nook and corner of our existence – economy, administration, politics, culture.

The pathogenic roots of the virus can be traced to the year 2014, when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India. It was invented in his laboratory, and was first experimented upon the financial system, through two injections. The first was termed demonetization and the second GST. Both soon spread like a pestilence, afflicting vast sections of our people and spelling devastation for the middle and small scale industries. In its next manifestation, the MODI virus broke out in a rash of morbidities, soon after Narendra Modi’s return to power in 2019. His decision to impose a sudden lockdown in 2020 (following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus – the twin brother of the MODI virus) led to a plague – of an unprecedented economic nature, if one may describe it.

It spread to vast sections of the poor migrant labourers. Rendered unemployed by the closure of their sources of earnings, they were forced to undertake a tortuous journey to go back to their homes from where they migrated, and on the way many died. It caused debility among the industrial workers who were thrown out from factories which were forced to close down. The MODI virus thus brought the Indian economy to the brink of total disaster.

The second fang of the MODI virus infected the federal structure of the Indian state. It eroded the autonomy of the states by disabling them through withdrawal of financial support and imposition of central diktats. It was particularly directed against non-BJP state governments to bring them under the over-reaching contagion of centralization. It also poisoned the cabinet system of governance, by killing it and replacing it with the disease of increasing concentration of power in the hands of a single individual – Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The pandemic of the MODI virus

Narendra Modi has emerged as an all-embracing Prime Minister – reaching every sphere of the country. Not a single area has been left untouched by the pestilential spread of his policies. Like Shiva’s destructive third eye, wherever he sets his eye upon , the victim of his glance withers away. The last seven years of his regime had seen a steady destruction of the spiritual climate and an erosion of the major pillars that used to hold up our economy, politics, society and culture. His reign has polluted the political system through electoral malpractices like horse trading of legislators to further his party’s interests at the cost of democratic principles. The structures of administration are being crippled by the MODI virus, which through its agents has infected institutions like the Election Commission, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, National Investigation Agency among others. One of the agents is the newly appointed chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Arun Kumar Mishra. This gentleman, while occupying the seat of a judge in the Supreme Court in 2020 , gave a public speech describing Narendra Modi as an “internationally acclaimed visionary…versatile genius…” (re: inaugural session of the International Judicial Conference, January 20, 2020). How can we expect such an individual to be a dispassionate judicial arbiter to protect victims of the MODI virus – human rights activists, poor farmers protesting against eviction, Dalits and Muslims resisting lynching, women fighting against domestic violence and rape ?

When we turn to the social scenario, we find that during the last year or so, the MODI virus bloated itself into a new variant described as `Vaccine Maitri’. It has gone through various manifestations. In 2020 , it was flaunted as India’s capacity to develop its own anti-COVID vaccine (by two manufacturing units) and export it to the rest of the world as a gesture of `maitri’ or global friendship. It was hailed as a sign of `Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) – the phrase that cropped up every now and then in Narendra Modi’s speeches.

But within a year the two balloons of `Vaccine Maitri’ and `Atmanirbhar Bharat’ burst into thin air. It was found that the first balloon had flown millions of doses of our home-made vaccines to countries abroad, while at the same time, thousands of COVID-19 victims within India were starved of those vaccines which could have saved their lives. In its cringing attempts to impress the West with its much publicized export of the life-saving vaccines, the Modi government turned a blind eye to the needs of its own backyard. It reminds me of an old popular Bengali saying : “Mathaye ghomta, Pmode nangta,” which literally means: `While you flaunt the veil over your head, you keep your arse naked ’ ! Compelled by domestic pressures, the Modi government is now trying to cover the `naked arse’ of India with the rhetorical promise of free vaccine for all.

The second balloon of `Atmanirbhan Bharat’ has also been burst. Modi’s braggadocio of India being self-reliant in the production of the anti-COVID vaccine, has been demolished by the Indian vaccine manufacturers themselves. They are now begging the US President to lift the embargo on the export of the raw materials from his country on which our Indian manufacturers are dependent.

Meanwhile, the MODI virus helped its twin COVID-19 to spread itself among thousands of pilgrims who were allowed to gather at the Kumbh Mela by the BJP-led government of Uttar Pradesh. It was also allowed to spread among the people who were herded by the BJP activists to attend the election rallies of their leaders in Bengal and elsewhere. They offered a unique opportunity for COVID-19 to capture them as its victims.

Poisoning of Indian culture by the MODI virus

While all these misdeeds of one of the worst governments that post-Independence India had ever had, are well-documented , what is less known due to poor coverage by an indifferent mainstream media is the way the MODI virus is grinding down India’s cultural backbone. A bunch of semi-literate ministers of the BJP government and their armed vigilante goons are spreading the MODI virus by targeting academic institutions of repute, and intellectuals and civil society activists who uphold the values of scientific inquiry and challenge the invasion of our cultural space by orthodox religious and superstitious forces. Till now, at least four rationalist intellectuals had fallen victims to the violent attack of the MODI virus – M.M.

Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dhabolkar and Gauri Lankesh.

To give a few instances of the MODI virus swarming over cultural institutions – the prestigious academic body Indian Institute of Advanced Study is chaired by a BJP acolyte Makarand Paranjape; the President of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations is Vinay Sahasrabudhe, who is a BJP MP; the Chairman of the National Book Trust is Baldev Sharma, former editor of the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya. Soon after coming to power, the Modi government appointed Pankaj Nihalani as the head of the Central Board of Film Certification. Nihalani was the brain behind the `Har har Modi, Ghar ghar Modi’ video that was used by the BJP in its 2014 electoral campaign. He was succeeded by Prasoon Joshi, an advertisement man who composed the anthem Saugandh for Modi during that same campaign. Both were entrusted with the task of carrying the MODI virus to communalize the censoring powers of the Board. In April 2021, the Modi government went a step further by abolishing the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, thus denying filmmakers the right to challenge edits suggested by the Central Board. The MODI virus is strangling the film industry also.

In other spaces of public culture also, the MODI virus is manifesting itself as ugly aggressive spectacles – like the erection of a 597-feet statue of Sardar Patel costing Rs. 2.64 crores, and being flaunted as the world’s largest statue. The victims of the virus were the hundreds of tribal families who were forced out from their habitats to make way for its erection. Or, take the public spectacle of the renaming of a famous cricket stadium in Ahmedabad as Narendra Modi stadium.

Modi as Shiva dancing the `Tandava Nritya’

Watching the spread of the MODI virus in these various forms, we are reminded of the myth of `Tandava Nritya’ – the dance of destruction by Shiva. To go back to Hindu mythology from which the present BJP rulers claim to derive their inspiration, the god Shiva at one time appeared in the role of a destroyer, dancing the `Rudra Tandava,’ to annihilate the whole world. But at the end of this destruction, Shiva gave birth to a new world. It seems that in 21st century India, the saffron brigade has found Shiva’s reincarnation in the figure of Narendra Modi. Like Shiva, Modi is on a spree of devastating the entire economic, socio-political and cultural structure of India. But like Shiva again, he plans to bring to birth a new India. This will be the Hindu Rashtra, the sparks of which are being ignited by the MODI virus from the embers left burning after the destruction of the structure of our secular and pluralistic polity and culture.

Sumanta Banerjee is a political commentator and writer, is the author of In The Wake of Naxalbari’ (1980 and 2008); The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth-Century Calcutta (1989) and ‘Memoirs of Roads: Calcutta from Colonial Urbanization to Global Modernization.’ (2016).



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