By Adhirath Sethi
Say what you will about populist leaders, but you do need to marvel at the predictable homogeneity of their chosen courses of action.
Two years ago, America’s muddled masses confused reality with reality TV and elected an imbecile as president. As a country that believes itself a contender for the next world superpower, India watched with amusement as Donald Trump convinced us repeatedly of his ineptitude. Not only was he out of his depth, he was systematically pulling a proud nation down with him. For a brief moment, we held a certain pride that at least our Prime Minister knew what he was doing. Moral misgivings be damned; our man was a strong leader and had enough political experience, enough of a handle on the economy to pull us into a better place.
But it was a short-lived hubris that we revelled in. Like a Modi press conference, it came and went in the blink of an eye, leaving us to wonder whether it even happened in the first place.
While PM Modi may look the part in a manner that Trump never could, they each appear to have mirrored the other in the way they control their narratives. Both surround themselves with intense sycophants that don’t offer loyalty so much as a painful congruence of crude ideals. Both claim to be wizards of economic deal-making and yet cannot push basic reforms through without huffing and puffing and threatening to blow the house down. Both are intensely wary of experts who contradict them and will do anything to replace them with ready-made “yes men” that will gladly do their bidding.
The recent ouster of CBI chief Alok Verma is the latest example of this tendency.
Not only was he out of his depth, he was systematically pulling a proud nation down with him.
That a man cleared by the highest court in the land would then be stripped two days later by a three-member panel is the hallmark of populism gone rogue. As though the resignation of two highly respected RBI governors was not vexing enough, now we need to worry about who will be chosen to head the CBI. Perhaps a botanist or a philatelist will be called upon to lead our main investigative branch. It would make a fitting complement to the history buff now releasing ?40,000 crore to the government.
Leaving aside the fact that he was cleared by the Supreme Court, further scrutiny had already been assigned to determine whether any of the charges against Verma were worth exploring. In addition to this, the term of the CBI chief was set to end on January 31, so kicking him out with 20 days to spare seems a little on the nose.
Unlike the RBI spat, it must be noted that the panel that sacked Verma was well within its rights to do so. This was not a case of the government putting pressure until it eked out a resignation. It was a panel that included Modi, which had been assigned by the Supreme Court to take a decision on Verma. However, the alacrity with which they decided, combined with the fact that Verma had clearly dulled the lustre of Modi’s man – Rakesh Asthana – makes the whole thing look like a charade anyway.
It is as if the panel, led by Modi, has gone out of his way to make a statement, simply because he knows he can. And to add to the panache, he closed the matter in a couple of days; impressive, considering the Supreme Court took the case up in October and reached a verdict only earlier this week. It’s almost as if the Prime Minister is saying, “Let’s not worry about all that legal stuff… what does my heart tell me?”
Democracies run on due process, and due process is arduous and rarely simple.
Whether this is ire from the Asthana fallout or because Verma has visual proof that Modi’s chest size is only 53”, we cannot be sure. It is impossible to say, from what information the media is making available, whether Verma is truly guilty of the charges set against him. It is tempting to assume he’s innocent, considering how many good men the government has stomped all over these past few years. But that is neither here nor there.
Democracies run on due process, and due process is arduous and rarely simple. The Prime Minister’s committee has refused the accused the opportunity to defend himself. Even the most fervent Modi supporter should look at this and admit that it’s more than a little messed up.
In a sea of political scions, we looked to Modi to be the adult in the room. His arrival truly did unite the nation in the hopes of better days. But elections do crazy things to politicians. Sadly, in the face of losing power, Modi is showing us that there is little separating him from the guy sitting in the White House.
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