There has been intense speculation regarding the emphasis laid on Swadeshi and indigenously manufactured products by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 32-minute address, earlier in the week to the nation. The speech stopped short of elaborating on the Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus to boost the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic; the details to do so were left to the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, who has been magnanimously doling out multiple packages in her briefings. The PM primarily concentrated on being “vocal about local”, and the necessity of buying Indian produced goods, rather than going in for branded imported “maal”.
The PM’s prescription to his countrymen to become self-reliant and self-sufficient was consistent with the thesis of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as well as top leaders of our freedom struggle, and those who subsequently followed them. However, most people, who sat steadfastly in front of their TVs or had earnestly tuned in to the radio, expected Modi to make some sort of announcement concerning the continuous lockdown that has been in force since the near end of March, with little signs of it ending soon. They were hopeful that the PM would provide some inkling regarding the exit policy, to ease out the lockdown, that has virtually atrophied normal activity and businesses. The script, though, did not go in accordance with the presumptions, and there was no reference whatsoever to the exodus of migrants, now known as “Nobody’s People”; who were struggling to make it on foot, in the blistering heat, without any food or water, to their distant villages.
In fact, for the first time in six years, social media made light of the PM’s speech with innumerable jokes and cartoons doing the rounds on WhatsApp. The world over, humour has been an intrinsic part of any political culture. In the United Kingdom, Punch magazine had a panache for taking potshots at leading politicians. In the United States, cartoons had a unique place, and political satires, used to have a regular slot in the Mad, and many other leading publications. Even in today’s times, US President Donald Trump is the source of humorous ridicule in prominent American dailies.
Our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru prodded cartoonists to jovially portray their ideas without a second thought. Shankar Pillai was one of the most eminent critics of the political system we inherited, playfully making fun of Nehru, Krishna Menon, Morarji Desai and others, in his celebrated magazine, Shankar’s Weekly.
R.K. Laxman was the doyen amongst journalists of this genre and his daily pocket cartoons in the Times of India have been immortalized, and many of them hold true even in the ongoing scenario. Rajinder Puri, Sudhir Dar, Abu Abraham and Sudhir Tailang were accomplished masters of this craft, defusing explosive political moments by introducing jest and witticism in their caricatures.
Former Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, has been at the receiving end of more quips than any other contemporary leader. Many a time, his cartoons tantamount to hitting below the belt, but he has graciously been taking it in stride. Some TV channels have animations depicting recent happening in a lighter vein. Therefore, any kind of lampooning is an integral part of the political discourse and is not reflective of the leader’s stature, accomplishments and commitment. In the present context, Modi remains the tallest leader in this country.
So far as speculation regarding Modi’s emphasis on issues close to the RSS agenda is concerned, there is neither anything out of line in it, nor is there any paradigm shift in the government’s strategy. The PM, under these exceptionally taxing economic times, clearly is desirous of promoting locally spun goods. Political observers are conjecturing that Modi stated so, so as to reach out to the rank and file of the RSS, since some key Sangh functionaries were evidently uncomfortable by the steps initiated by his government.
Paradoxically, these supposed differences had their origin when the Congress-led Madhya Pradesh government was toppled—with the active assistance from Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalists—with Shivraj Singh Chouhan returning as the Chief Minister. An erroneous impression was generated by some of the Prime Minister’s critics within the party that Modi was not in favour of Chouhan but perhaps preferred some other politician. However, the RSS directed the BJP to either go in for an election to elect the leader or reappoint Chouhan, who, in the past, has been a popular and successful Chief Minister. Chouhan was subsequently elected unanimously.
The point that needs to be noted is why would Modi have any issue with Chouhan, who, in any case, does not pose any sort of threat to his leadership. Secondly, if Modi had a nominee, how was it possible that the RSS would have prevented him from taking over the reins of power in the crucial state? Thirdly, Modi has himself been assigned significant tasks by the Sangh, which literally nurtured him to evolve, in his own right, as a top leader.
In 2013, it was the RSS that overruled claims by other senior BJP leaders, deciding to project Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate. On his part, the PM has superlatively delivered in both the Parliamentary elections of 2014 and 2019, and has spearheaded an unprecedented BJP surge. He has surpassed every BJP leader so far as popularity goes, and there is little doubt that after Indira Gandhi, he is one Prime Minister, who has all the reins of control firmly with him. Between us.