An underlying assumption in the election of Modi was his rich experience as the administrator of a medium-sized state. Such experience, we were told, would come in handy when he took over the gigantic ship that is India that is Bharat. That assumption stands severely tested as the BJP-led government lurches from crisis to crisis with masterly ham-handedness. Mohammed Akhlaq’s killing could have shaped the regime’s response to Rohith Vemula’s suicide. It wasn’t to be. If the Hyderabad Central University episode was to have been a template for how (not) to deal with Jawaharlal Nehru University, we are yet to see it. That leads us to two conclusions: either the Captain of INS India is reluctant to use his full experience in guiding the nation through choppy waters, or his hands are tied. There is a third, more insidious, conclusion to draw: that the pracharak would like it this way to please his puppeteers. Either way, the show now playing out on a campus or TV screen near you brings little credit to a man of whom so much was (and is) expected.
Narendra Modi more than anybody would know that his victory engendered hope among the young that he would take India to the next level. That is not going to be achieved by keeping the pot on the boil or by being blithely unmindful to what is happening under his nose. Neither fits well with the image of a doer he has assiduously cultivated. As a numbers man, he would know that there is such a thing as diminishing returns even with nationalism. Last week—wrapping everything up in the permitted colours of jingoistic patriotism—extremist elements in his party, unused to that democratic process called debate, introduced a new element into the discourse: fear. Sure, in the short term, it’ll achieve its goal of sending a message: fall in line, or else. But in the long term, people are going to ask if this was the Gujarat model they voted for. Modi would do well to remember that while blowing air into the cauldron may be a good way of deflecting attention from socio-economic problems, it could very quickly blow smoke into his own eyes.