on | Why Pratap Bhanu Mehta is wrong about “there is no alternative” to Narendra Modi

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The real alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi will emerge in time and unexpected neighborhoods

In a hyperbolic editorial in Indian express(December 29, 2021), sociologist Pratap Bhanu Mehta tore Narendra Modi’s government apart. Mehta began with these words: “Even if the wheels come off the Republic of India …”

Now Prime Minister Modi has a lot to answer – from community polarization to inconsistent governance. He also deserves criticism for allowing a culture of sycophancy to build around him. But Mehta spoils her own case by abandoning the rational argument for polemical bluster.

The title of the play – “There is no alternative”, better known as TINA – appears with metronomic regularity throughout the editorial. Mehta’s rant argues with labored sarcasm that of course there should be an alternative. Only distraught Indian voters do not realize it.

But not once did Mehta state these alternatives. He could have said RITA – Rahul is the alternative. Or MITA – Mamata is the alternative.

That would have betrayed the game, however. The target after all is Narendra Modi. Why dilute the message? Besides, Rahul comes with luggage. Mamata too. RITA and MITA are not attractive alternatives.

Mehta isn’t the only one who despises Modi. The Prime Minister is abused, vilified, caricatured and mocked daily by newspapers, TV stations and digital portals. Mehta’s criticism of Modi, while shrouded in layers of lead-footed sarcasm, is relatively mild. Some are even justified. But it is largely piffle. Let’s look at both.

Exhibit 1: Mehta writes: “There was a Prime Minister who embraced Parliament. It turned out to be the kiss of death for parliamentary democracy. But the chorus says: “There is no alternative”.

Good journalism requires a balance. To be credible, criticism should not be selective. Does Mehta pass the test? He is careful to criticize the opposition towards the end of his exaggerated tirade: “Congress is unable to shed the baggage of its past mistakes. Many opposition state governments are not exactly models of institutional probity or principled defenders of liberal and democratic values.

The rap on opposition knuckles couldn’t have been sweeter.

Exhibit 2: Mehta writes: “There was a prime minister who made the stock markets go up. Like all governments over the past 20 years, his government has also done a few things well. Perhaps the richest 10 percent of the population has really prospered.

India’s welfare regimes, infrastructure, digitization, health insurance, rural electrification, sanitation and dozens of other initiatives are dismissed with this: “… her government has also done well. made some programs. Note the words: “… some of …”

Bias is the death knell for journalism.

Room three: Mehta continues: “There was a prime minister who promised strong national security. But the result was the loss of territorial access, attachment to the land border, and the prospect of war on two fronts. Yet the chorus says, “There is no alternative.”

The fact that India stood up to China on the Real Line of Control (LAC) for nearly two years is being swept aside. The same is true of Pakistani terrorism, supported by China. Not a word from Mehta either.

Exhibit four: Instead, he pivots to this: “There is a prime minister who has promised solid internal security. Indeed, this objective has been achieved. Now that Missionaries of Charity, human rights activists, environmental activists, various journalists and writers can be tracked down, we know the nation is safe. Didn’t we tell you: “There is no alternative”? “

Labored sarcasm aside, Mehta is on ice confusing the withdrawal of Missionaries of Charity’s permission to accept donations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) with homeland security and stalking journalists. and activists. Besides, if they were chased, Indian express would not run Mehta editorials gutting the government week after week.

Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy. Indian Express, NDTV, The Hindu, The Wire, Caravan, The Telegraph, Scroll and dozens of others defend this freedom by criticizing the government – as they actually should – without consequences. Their journalists remain free. Newspapers, TV stations and digital portals receive government advertisements. Hardly the sight of a dystopian state that a paranoid Mehta dreads so much.

Room Five: When hyperbole replaces commentary, we get this from Mehta: “Every institution has been decimated. But you see, ‘There is no alternative’.

Now Mehta has lost her sense of critical balance. He offers no solution. Not even RITA or MITA – he knows Rahul is not the alternative; Mamata certainly isn’t.

But here too, Mehta is wrong. In 1996-98 India had two low profile Prime Ministers: HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral. Few people remember that one of the most progressive Union budgets in the country (P Chidambaram’s “dream budget”) was presented in 1997 under the leadership of Deve Gowda.

Mehta’s fear of not having an alternative is therefore misplaced. There is an alternative to Modi. It doesn’t have to be Rahul Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee. One of them is a titular dynast with a personality disorder. The other is a rowdy with a temperament unsuited to high office.

The real alternative to Modi will emerge in the fullness of time and unexpected neighborhoods.

Indian democracy has toppled unannounced prime ministers – from Lal Bahadur Shastri and VP Singh to PV Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi.

Among the Indian prime ministers, only two were destined for this post: Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The rest were rejected by Indian democracy. Mehta shouldn’t give up hope. What he should lose is his bias.

The writer is editor, author and publisher. The opinions expressed here are personal.

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