File photo | Prime Minister Narendra Modi | PIB

The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah government projects invincibility. Its public image is that it doesn’t trip or get spooked easily – not by CAA-NRC, JNU, Rohith Vemula, or Kashmir protests.

In the wider public opinion, Modi-Shah apparently don’t have an Achilles heel.

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But if you listen to the protesting farmers from Punjab and Haryana, they speak as if they have already achieved a never-before success. After all, they have managed to drag the Modi government to the negotiating table, they say. The government has never bothered to reach out to leaders of any of the previous protests. This is a government that is impervious to public pressure.

But now, just the optics of six rounds of talks with farm leaders – first Rajnath Singh, then Amit Shah – the Modi government is showing it is vulnerable to the constituency of farmers, at least in the perception politics. This, in spite of the fact that Modi has displayed absolute conviction in the rationale of the farm laws when he said that old laws of the past century have become a “burden”. And yet, his government is engaging in talks, which it hasn’t with other protesters. By contrast, he didn’t flinch even once after the draconian demonetisation.

The only other instance of an otherwise unyielding government relenting was on the land acquisition ordinance in 2015. This was after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi drummed up a campaign around farmers’ security. He tagged the Modi government as the ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ and it hurt. In his radio programme Mann ki Baat, while withdrawing the ordinance, Modi told the “farmer brothers and sisters” that he is “open to all views and suggestions”.


Also read: Modi faces no political costs for suffering he causes. He’s just like Iran’s Ali Khamenei


Unaffected, unrattled

In the past six years, PM Modi has gone through a series of controversial decisions not caring for the tremendous opposition – demonetisation, abrogation of Article 370, CAA-NRC, Goods and Services Tax (GST) and so on. Confident in his political hold and charisma, Modi rarely blinks.

If we were to do a roll call of protesting communities against the government, there are Muslims, Kashmiris, and students. But none of these groups rattle Modi. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has managed to win elections without Muslim support, has a sizeable fan following among the youth and has enlisted Dalits in its political project quite successfully.

Modi’s Teflon seems to come off just with two communities – farmers and Dalits.

Modi’s Achilles heel

The other time that the Modi government listened to popular protests was on the issue of dilution of SC/ST atrocities prevention law. In March 2018, the Supreme Court ruled on a provision for anticipatory bail to offenders under this law, and Dalit protests ensued, including a call for Bharat Bandh. The Modi government quickly annulled this provision through a review petition and restored the original atrocities law.

After the massive Bhima Koregaon agitation, a senior official told me that the government was so rattled that intelligence officers were asked to find out how such a large mobilisation had occurred. Who the protagonists were, how was the message circulated, what channels were used. The activists who had campaigned in Bhima Koregaon were rounded up, and still languish in jail without access to even basic rights.

The natural political question is: Are farmers and Dalits Modi’s Achilles heel?


Also read: The Modi playbook: Delay in PM condemning attacks on Kashmiris is part of a pattern


Politics of emotion

The BJP, under Modi and Shah, has been predatory, unwavering, uncompromising and winner-takes-all in its pursuit of power. But democracy isn’t just about winning elections. It is also about listening to and looking after interest groups.

‘Interest groups’ is a pejorative phrase in American politics, but it needn’t be. They perform an important role in democracy and policy making. A politician listens to some, disregards others. In this choice lies her political DNA and her idea of who she is and what she imagines her legacy to be. Politicians may use the word ‘nation’ in their rhetorical flourish, but in their day-to-day practice of democracy, they look at the country in segments – ethnic, regional, caste or religious identities. Any politician who tells you she doesn’t is lying.

But what is really curious in this is that farmers don’t vote as a single bloc. And Dalits are no longer voting as a bloc either for the Bahujan Samaj Party (Valmikis and Paswans have branched out). And Dalits have voted for Modi repeatedly and aided his victory in recent years. Clearly, then, it is not electoral stakes at play here.

So if Dalits and farmers are the two groups who make Modi blink, what does it say about his politics?

It has to do with what is called the cultural politics of emotion, a domain that Modi rules. He is not the only one. There are many politicians riding a global wave of emotional politics, where democracies are being transformed “by the power of feelings in ways that cannot be ignored or reversed”, wrote author William Davies in Nervous States.

How you navigate emotions and the interest group democracy is key to the image-making of a political party, and its leader. In Modi’s self-fashioning, the figures of kisan and Dalit are essential. He washes their feet, inaugurates Ambedkar memorials and projects himself as close to the soil – the real stuff of politics of emotion.

Hurting either of these two groups – one suffers from historical injustice and the other is hailed as the ‘annadata’ – has emotional costs, which speaks directly to his politics.

Views are personal.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. To Shri Vijaya Galande:
    Agree 100% with you.
    Only people. like the author
    of this article, just thought in this
    way we would not see this
    much of opposition for Modyji.
    This opposition is self centered
    and no doubt is not to save the
    so called democracy etc.

  2. The writer despairs at Modi’s teflon image that keeps repelling relentless attacks from opposition political parties, left wing media and self anointed “secular intellectuals” all of whom hate him intensely. Modi keeps winning because his vision inspires Indians the way no other Prime Minister did. His credo of “must do ; can do ; will do” resonates deeply in an era where leadership pre Modi was of the craven follow-the-crowd variety that pandered to its basest instincts. In stark contrast, Modi leads by articulating his vision for India and garners support by appealing to the patriotism of Indians and motivating them by showing the way to greater prosperity. No Indian politician ever took the kind of risks that Modi takes routinely. He does it because of clarity of thought, self confidence, ability to superbly articulate his ideas and of unimpeachable personal integrity. His ability to emotionally connect with his people through thought, speech and action is unmatched. That is why he surmounts every hurdle that invariably lies ahead while implementing his policies. The current agitation by farmers is entirely led by rich farmers from Punjab, financed by middlemen and politicians who stand to lose heavily when the new farm laws are implemented and all farmers (not merely the rich) benefit. Modi should not back down. Let the farmers do their worst.

  3. Everybody has forgotten Modi’s first roll back. Taxon EPF.. Modi survives like every previous Prime Minister by tweking the British made methods of “Divide to Rule” and “Redistribution of Wealth”.
    Modi is just one more Prime Minister. He is just another Namak Haram dhoke baaz in the long line of Prime Ministers, upholding the alien”divide to rule” Indian Constitution designed to keep India suppressed, by promoting India’s worst while suppressing India’s best by stealing from some for the benefit of others on the basis of caste, tribe, religion, geography, language and proximity to power, promoting corruption, and the import of goods and the export of wealth.

    Modi is a PANGOLIN* Socialist. A Khangressi in Saffron clothing using “Hindutva” like Nehru used “Indianness” to push British policies.

    He is a social climbing Gujarati OBC who has outdone his fellow Gujarati, Morarji Desai in violating Article 18 of the Constitution with an inferiority complex larger than that of the Dalit, Mayavati reflected in Modi Iron Statue, Modi Jet, Modi Sea Plane, Modi Parliament and Modi Shining doles to select sections of the populace such as Dalits, Moslems Judges, Bureaucrats, Police, Politicians and foreign countries.

    BJP is very much a Khangressi Socialist in Saffron clothing. I have written copiously on this subject in the past.

    “Sub ke sath, sub ke vikaas” (Together with all for development of all) is a Modi slogan that reminds me of Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” (Eradicate Poverty) , an equally specious and pretentious cover up for real politik which steals from the “haves” for the “have lots” (the Kleptocrats and their chosen) in the name of the “have nots” on the basis of caste, tribe religion, gender, language, geography, and proximity to power.

    His policies such as taxing EPF, Demonetization, “Anti-Corruption”, Lock Down , Farmer Laws and so on show a man who is almost catatonic in being oblivious to the Indian reality and lost in his own Monkey Bath day dreams like Nehru.

    Indeed, Modi is nothing but a Nehru in saffron turbans.

    For just a few instances, Modi upholds the Colonial Totalitarian divide to rule Constitution, upholds caste and tribe based reservations, upholds the atrocities act, upholds the regulatory framework which allows employees on State pay roll to extort and has indeed, formalized and rendered lawful both extortion and political and judicial corruption.The first bill the BJP majority parliament made law in 2014 was Khangressi. to send Neta-Babus abroad with family and friends for medical services at my expense while the NON VIP citizen suffers under the unaccountable Quota (Reservations-License) Corruption (Extortion-Scam) Medical system, doctors, nurses, hospitals etc. He attempted to tax Employee Provident fund, churned out doles to Moslems, Dalits, Christians, and backed Pranab Mukherjee’s “Retrospective” Tax laws to mulct foreign investors in the Indian Market.

    Modi has passed laws to foster corruption in at least four ways:

    His Government has created “Election Bonds” to foment political corruption without any accountability and with invisibility.
    His Government has made an “anti corruption law” that criminalizes the victim of extortion, the so call “bribe giver” which will ensure that those who are forced to pay sums of hard earned money to Government employees to receive timely services and entitlements from Government Departments and PSUs dare not even complain about it lest they be sent to jail for seven years on “own confession”
    His Government retrospectively amended the Foreign Currency Regulation Act to legitimize money laundering by Political Parties.
    His Government exempted lawyers from GST so that there may be no obstruction to Judicial corruption
    *Note: PANGOLIN: An enemy of India who believes in inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and persecution of some for the benefit of others. At present, the sole purpose of the Indian Republic, Constitutional or otherwise, is to pamper and provide for certain constitutionally preferred sections of society who the British found useful to hold and exploit India at the cost of those who the British hated and persecuted. The Pangolin is a creature that is unique to India and feeds on ants that are known in nature to be industrious and hard working if not quite as fruitful as bees who flee to better climes. (PANGOLIN is an acronym for the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Other (alien) Religions-Communist Consensus that usurped the British Mantle and has worn it with elan to loot, plunder, and rape India since 1921 and re write History and laws to their exclusive benefit since 1947)

  4. The laws of a sovereign state can not be challenged on highways by a motley group of self serving group desparate for survival. Can some group camp in Jan Path and claim that the very name of India should be changed. Let us stop playing Kisan Kisan. If farmers are not making money they should change their profession. Why should the honest tax payer fund their excess crop which nobody wants and ultimately rats eat it.

  5. As you go through most of the comments here one can easily see the desperation of the pseudo sanghis trying all they can in justifying this fascist government….but hold on what we are going to see will be written in golden letters of Jndian history…this arrogant Modi-shah duo have to finally bow down in front of these poor yet great farmers…

  6. “Jai Jawān, Jai Kisān”– what has happened to the first half of the slogan propagated in entirety since the time around Bhārat’s independence?

    Perhaps the second half still holds aloft the mirage of votes before the opposition, while foreboding disruption of public and private life.

    In earnest, both halves of the slogan should have been kept off politics, while being retained very much in policies.

  7. MODIJI with his HINDU SECULAR BELIEFS is facing pro pakistan jihadist proselytizing activist and left activist rented by china.

    These aren’t Achilles heel but a danger to well being of INDIA. And he knows how to deal with them in a constitutional way .

    Rest of the citizens MODIJI will talk too and ensure equal opportunities for all.

  8. Hmmmm All I gather from this article is that Govt is listening to the grievances of the ‘supposed’ farmers. That Govt is willing to come to the negotiation table. That Modi has in the past listened to public opinion and modified his decisions accordingly. These Hindu named communist authors should re-consider their critiques. They are in fact a validation of the Govt!

  9. The reason farmers suffer is the archaic system we have. Farming can not provide tomorrow’s jobs. The reforms government has brought are the right ones.
    That’s why only rich Punjab farmers are protesting. These are five-star farmers and some supporters of a separate nation.
    We hope Modi will not relent.

    • Mr Motabhai: You make the preposterous claim:

      “.. Farming can not provide tomorrow’s jobs ..”

      without having an inkling of the political economy of farming in a country like India.

      Economic and political history shows that almost all countries in the world, including rich countries in the EU still continue with farming. There are myriad reasons for this, food security being one of them. Indeed, countries like Sudan, Egypt, Bangladesh etc. that relied on cash crops like cotton, jute etc. have faced famines, food shortages and hike in food prices. Such famines have largely been a thing of the past in India – if you discount the hunger and poverty created by Modi’s foolish economic policies such as demonetisation, GST, sudden shutdown of the country due to COVID, dilution of MNREGA and so on.

      Even if farming will not provide the jobs of tomorrow, the BJP government has no immediate or for that matter long-term policies in place to absorb the influx of rural labour that will be rendered jobless if farming were to disappear. This is not to say that there is no need for reforms in the farming sector. But then, an Ambanification or an Adanification of India’s rural sector merely because these 2 Gujarati businessmen donate generously to Modi’s party is not reform of the farming sector. Instead, it is a handover of this vital sector to shoddy and sahdy corporate interests. Crony capitalism.

      I hope the Punjabi farmers don’t relent and teach the Gujaratis a thing or two about how to run the country.

  10. Indian reforms were done in stealth and any sign of protest Government used to freeze!!
    But building consensus with the people impacted is critical to make this happen!!
    Why is no farmers who will benefit not coming out in support after all they should be the ones benefiting!!

  11. The self proclaimed so-called Dalits are the only Achilles’ heel of Modi. And that is because the other supposedly privileged communities have not held his government to roll back caste based reservations and other undue advantages that these so-called underprivileged groups get from the government.

  12. Authors like this are the low-lifes of the society. They enjoy the comforts of a good city job and job security, but want to deny the same opportunity to those who are not as privileged as them. Authors like this are peddlers of poverty – they make a living by vulgar display of the poverty of others. They get threatened by any positive action – because that will take away their livelihood. For the past six years, people like this author and her ilk have been seething with anger and hatred for Modi – just because he does not come from their fashionable champagne sipping social circles. They hate him from daring to rise from the bottom of the society. They hate him for for being proud of belonging to the soil of this land. How dare he become the PM of India without going to some Doon school or St. Stephens college or Oxbridge or Harvard? How dare he denigrate the image of India by not sucking up to the West? How dare he not submit himself to the quack ideas of her ilk? The cabal of this author and her western masters have been wallowing in their own rage for six years – like the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter books – biding their time and waiting for the return of their Dark Lord (or Lordess). I am just an ordinary Ram or Jaggu, not a rich or influential royalty like this author. But I will give every rupee I can spare to destroy the evil forces that this author represents. I will donate whatever I can to the organizations that are working for an Indic Renaissance. This is a dharma yudh that I am engaged in for the time I have left on this earth.

    • I would differ from you on one point. These commies are usually poorly paid! They earn less than an average joe IT coolie. In fact, in my view, they are the worst paid amongst all professions! But then, its justified also. Look at how ideologically blinded they are. In every event they spew the same filth on Modi, Amit Shah, BJP. They are always crying intolerance. Their analysis begins before they present facts. In most cases they have no skill set. They have no specialization. They have generic degrees. Their minds are closed to the winds of change blowing around them. All that they have to show on these pages is how ‘committed’ they are to the communist and leftist ideology they represent. They have cozy circle in which they mingle and complement each other on such inconsequential articles, which no one reads. Keeping this in mind, I agree that they deserve to be poorly paid. Only few among them have made it big like Jholachaap Ravish, Rajdeep Sardesai, Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt etc. But then they were there at the right time and had certain skill sets. These young commies have neither. As you rightly said, all they can do is hate India, Indians, anyone who doesnt agree with them, anyone who is connected to the roots & culture of this country, anyone who cannot speak english, anyone who speaks highly of India, anyone who speaks highly of democracy, anyone who speaks positive things, anyone who tries to implement change, anyone who tries to do any work on the ground. These people are committed to only one dynasty.

    • RJ who are you exactly ? Looks like as per you only you should have opinion which you will tout as facts. Why are you ashamed of poverty ? It is there and needs to be pointed out so that people like you stop ignoring it and do something about it. The base of this poverty is also linked to the dharma that you profess where dana is only to brahmin and only he sits at top with kshatriya with untouchables denied dignity and pay for their labor. You are also an English school going community who call others elitist while hiding your fortunes from tax authorities and spending money to spread casteism around the world. You are people who want respect for no reason when you go abroad (and feel ashamed when you are clubbed with those poor uneducated Indians). You also nurse inferiority complex because you are only a middle class not having made it to Harvard (most of them who made it are from these 15% upper class of Hindu society) and you seek refuge in glorious tales from past to feel proud. You want to shout to world that India had surgery when Europe lived in caves all while using all modern amenities discovered by them and also commenting here using technology invented by Western Christians/Jew elites who spent their life and money to develop it. The problem is (with me as well) that people commenting here really have not achieved much in life other than middle class existence and just directing anger at people who are listened to or paid to write articles. You are nothing but one of the millions pawns to be used to achieve someone else’s dreams (& thrown in dust).

    • You are brain washed ! You can’t see the regressive effects of his foolish decisions! You will still praise because you have lost the power to see with clarity !

  13. Farmers were promised a doubling of their incomes in five years. The word Dalit used in a political context conjures up images of Rohith Vemula, Unna, Unnao, Hathras. Somehow noble intent, eloquently expressed, is getting jumbled in translation by the time it reaches the ground in actual implementation and outcomes.

  14. As of now Modi requires investments from Islamic nations, but the Modi govt does not respect Muslims. Hypocrisy is a staple diet of BootlickingBhakts.

  15. If Modi is not working for filling his own pockets, then what he is working for?
    Let us give him that credit and accept that he has his vision of development, one need not agree with it, but one must accept that there is no personal interest in that vision. While working for that vision he will shape his strategy to achieve that vision.
    He is smart enough to judge where he does not need to bother about the opposition and where he needs to handle them with kid gloves. His firmness in not bothering to entertain the opposition to De-Mo while pushing through something that he was convinced about is a proof in itself.

  16. While the author has a point, i am fairly confident that the govt will not relent this time. Modi also wants to be known as the reformer occupying the same place as Rao and Vajpayee. If he succeeds, he’ll get a bigger place than the two as he succeeded in reforming perhaps the most politically dangerous agri reforms. Let’s see. We can all speculate. Govt can do anything. Politics is afterall the art of possibilities.

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