"Where have all the Modibhakts disappeared?" an online reader reacted to an article on last week's hike in rail fare. On any other day, an angry army of BJP fans would have attacked this internet warrior and his family with choicest cuss words, questioned his nationality, or labeled him a Congi/AAP stooge or a disgrace to Hindutva. But, the jibe remained unchallenged for a long time.
Where have all the fan boys disappeared?
It would be fatuous to argue that the Prime Minister has lost the support of his army of followers. Faith and dreams do not die a sudden, peaceful death. Their demise is long and painful, interspersed by agonising bouts of hope that somehow they would survive.
So, this is not to say that the quintessential Modibhakt: the entity that formed the chorus at the PM's pre-poll rallies, the couch potato who listened to his speeches with the pious patience of a devotee and the internet soldier who hurled verbal nukes at anybody who dared to doubt the 'achche din' promise-has become extinct. But, the volume in the fan club has certainly come down several decibels.
You can't blame them. A lot has happened over the past 30 days to force the die-hard devout and the blind bhakt brought up on pre-election rhetoric to catch his breath and introspect. There is also an inchoate hint of self-doubt, if not self-flagellation.
First some of their heroes like VK Singh, stars like Smriti Irani and cheerleaders like Madhu Kishwar ran into controversies. Immediately afterwards, Nihalchand, a minister tainted with charges of rape, found his way into the dream cabinet. And then the spectre of Hindi chauvinism threatened to resurrect linguistic barriers and a north-south war of words. Simultaneously, some of their favourite weapons--chicken biryani, tainted ministers, inflation, fare hike--ricocheted on the BJP foot soldiers like rogue missiles. The silence is a justified symbol of a harassed army searching for new weapons and defences.
It is clear that the PM has his sights on the next election. Like a patient opener planning a Test match innings, he is not playing to the galleries at the beginning. He is hoping that once the innings stabilizes and the scorecard becomes healthy, the jeers would again turn into cheers. Only time will tell if he would end up putting up a huge total or wear out the patience of those who had come to the stadium lured by the promise of a T-20 game.
But already there are some ominous similarities between the start to the BJP government and the action-packed beginning of the Arvind Kejriwal government. Both stumbled from one controversy to another. The BJP, mercifully, has the advantage of a brutal majority and, thus, won't tumble like Kejriwal's house of promises.
But the comparison with the AAP government is at best superficial. A few days ago, Sitaram Yechuri had argued in the Hindustan Times that the Modi government is just old whine in new bottle, pointing out the similarities with the soundbytes of the UPA government. The recent pre-budget hike in rail fare and the BJP's cowardly defence of the bold move-blame Congress, don't own-up-indicates the Modi government has certainly inherited some of its predecessor's vices. The jury, incidentally, is still out on the status of the limited virtues the UPA had. The Parliament may have become Congress-mukt. But the government still has an unmistakable stamp of the Congress style.
What is the lesson to be revisited after the BJP's 30-days in power? Pre-election promises and slogans do not mean much. They are, as Bee Gees once sang, just words to take your votes away.
In the sixties and seventies Indira Gandhi said garibi hatao. Her son Rajiv kept repeating, 'hume dekhna hain aur hum dekhenge.' In 1989-90 VP Singh promised corruption-free India. He vowed to reveal the names of those who had taken kickbacks in the Bofors deal. A few years later, the BJP swore that it would build a Ram Mandir, and that too wahin.
Those who chorused the slogans on garibi, Bofors and Ram Mandir have been quiet for decades. So, why taunt just the ecstatic cheerleaders of the 'achche din' chant for their current silence?
(The views expressed are personal.)