A wide gulf between preaching and practice – Deccan Herald

The promotion of a mobile brand or the advent of a new model named after the forbidden fruit with a Biblical injunction were all part of mainstream news across news channels across the world recently. One might ask why a particular brand attracts so many eyeballs. While we call this ‘brand building’, we might as well extend a brand as a metaphor for something extraordinary.
But persons such as Bill Gates and Walt Disney did also make for brands. So also some countries. That’s how we have always come to associate durability with German products, identify high-end technology with a Japanese product, etc. For years, India’s brand has been of its millennial pacifism, Gandhian ahimsa, Nehruvian secularism, and lately, its Hindutva and an aggressive variety of nationalism. What is the metaphor of ‘timeless’ India, if not for its ‘moksha’ and ‘nirvana’, often repackaged by specious charlatans posing as gurus and seers?                              
Former US President Donald Trump is a curious case study of a man seeking to become a brand. Now, if we consider Trump’s image of a billionaire businessman in an expensive suit with a cheesy truck-driver red baseball cap with MAGA initials, as yet another example of brand-building around a personality cult, Jawaharlal Nehru’s achkans (or the ‘Nehru jacket’), the dhotis worn by Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri, Modi’s customised suit that had his name embroidered (it was later auctioned for Rs 4.31 crore) or his Maybach sunglasses worth Rs 1.4 lakh, show how sartorial accessories serve to brand a persona.
Personality cult, thus, belongs to a category of branding that is carefully constructed with the help of totems, props and cultural artefacts. Nehru’s personality and charisma played a role in keeping the basic tenets of India’s foreign policy unchanged for over five decades, while Modi loves to see himself as ‘Vikas Purush’ and style a legacy on that image. On the occasion of the 72nd birthday of our PM, the release of a few cheetahs from Namibia into Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park looked very much in sync with the very cleverly crafted tool to develop Modi’s alpha male, 56-inch chest image. All of which have added to the building of a Brand Modi, a prototype of a strong yet avuncular leader.
The rub begins when our PM starts to project India in an image of a cultural stereotype very well known to the West, while the reality is often at variance to what is being projected. Nehru cited history frequently in his speeches, Modi cites tradition in historic references in speeches. But righteousness, one might understand, is part of their calling, and it is quite possible that they actually mean what they say.
During his visit to Central Asian countries in July 2015, Modi spoke of India’s Islamic heritage “defined by the highest ideals of Islam – knowledge, piety, compassion and welfare”, pointing out to the links of religion and culture, Buddhism and Sufi music, yoga and the Hindi language used by Bollywood, while on the ground, India under Modi has been determinedly disowning its Islamic heritage.
In January this year, Modi started on a platitudinous note, reminding us how the focus on talking about and fighting for rights in the post-independence years had kept the country “weak” and how the next 25 years should be expended on hard work, sacrifice and ‘tapasya’. In April, Modi soothingly said how our faith and the stream of our culture has always been “harmony, equality and inclusion”. In May, during his visit to Denmark, addressing the Indian community in the Nordic nation, Modi said it is “inclusiveness and cultural diversity” that powers the Indian community to feel alive in every moment and these values have developed within Indians for thousands of years, a theme repeated in the 89th episode of his radio address Mann ki Baat, where he again emphasised on the diversity of languages and scripts.
In a joint statement titled ‘2022 Resilient Democracies Statement’ issued in Germany on June 27, during the G7 Summit, Modi, along with other leaders said they resolved to “protect the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and ensuring a free and independent media landscape through our work with relevant international initiatives”. They promised to guard the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors, speak out against threats to civic space, and to respect freedom of association and peaceful assembly; in short, the internationally recognised principles of a liberal democracy.               
Alas, if only what was so piously being preached and sworn by were practised!
Modi’s Independence Day address invoking ‘Nari Shakti’ coincided with the release of all the 11 convicts serving a life sentence for the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of seven members of her family. This is perhaps the most glaring example of the gulf between Modi’s preaching and practice.
When it comes to guarding democratic freedoms, India fell eight places in the World Press Freedom Index, down to 150 out of 180 countries, due, according to critics, to increased pressure and violence against journalists.
According to the 2022 Index of Economic Freedom, India’s economic freedom score is 53.9, making its economy the 131st freest in a list of 177 countries that put it in the range of ‘mostly unfree’ nations.
In a report titled “Freedom in the World 2022 – The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule” by the US Freedom House which “assesses political rights and civil liberties”, India scored 66 out of 100 in 2022, making it a ‘partly free’ country in terms of democracy and free society in a list of 85 countries termed as free, 56 as partly free and 69 as not free.
When we consider that our Prime Minister is the chief endorser of Brand India, it is clear that on scrutiny, the claims made by him do not bear out when compared to ground realities.
(The writer is a Kolkata-based commentator on geopolitical affairs, development and cultural issues.)
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