Chowkidar kaun hai? or Will the real chowkidar please stand up?
Chowkidar Sashi Kumar is spending sleepless nights worrying about Chowkidar Narendra Modi's identity crisis as he plunges into election campaigning.
So…. I am concerned about our Prime Minister.
Sorry? No, no, no, no…not because of all that …
We’ve been hit by, and survived, worse disasters – earthquakes, the Tsunami,.. Ok, ok. So, demonetization isn’t a natural disaster, it’s a manmade disaster – and itcarries the stamp of the man who made it; almost as unmistakably as the bank notes carry the face of the father of the nation. And it didn’t just hit some of us in particular geographical locations. It hit all of us, right? And how! We’re still reeling
But that’s not what this is about. Were not going to discuss demonetization or even the ruddy mess they managed to make of the GST – these are things we chafe under and learn to cope with. With our unique Indian resilience. What I am concerned about, as I was trying to say when the opposition interrupted me, is something else. I’m concerned about our prime minister showing signs of an identity crisis.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s been referring to himself in public speeches in the third person. Modi will do this, Modi has done this, Modi will not tolerate this. And who is saying this? Modi is saying this. So why can’t he just say, I will do this, I won’t allow that? He doesn’t. He refers to himself in the third person.
Now, I don’t remember our other prime ministers having this problem. Did you hear Manmohan Singh, if and when you heard him at all, refer to himself like this ? “Manmohan Singh will bring you liberalisation. Manmohan Singh has brought you globalization. And just in case you’re wondering who’s speaking, this is Manmohan Singh telling you what Manmohan Singh has brought you, will do for you.”
But of course Modi doesn’t have to do or not do what other prime ministers did or didn’t do. He has, after all, set himself in stark contrast to all the rest – he’s clearly in a class of his own.
But this alienation or ‘othering’ of the self is a bit worrying . There are those, either in the opposition or who are anti national, who argue that that the party the Prime Minister comes from runs an ‘othering’ factory. But I don’t buy into that. So I am really worried about this self-othering.
In fact I was a lot more concerned until I found out that it’s a literary stylistic device – called illeism. Among its usages is that of grandiloquent self-reference by authoritarian figures. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, for instance, is always referring to himself in the third person.
“Yet Caesar shall forth
for the predictions are to the world in general
as to Caesar”, he’d say resolutely to himself.
“ Caesar should be a beast without a heart
If he should stay at home today for fear.”
He wouldn’t let go of this Caesarian habit until the very end.
Even when, finally, Brutus stabs him he gasps “Et tu Brute? Then fall Caesar”.
And promptly falls.
But of course all this doesn’t explain Modi’s identity crisis. It couldn’t be a literary stylistic choice because Modi doesn’t exactly come across as a man of great literary pursuit. And I’m certainly not foolish or anti-national to think its arrogance of power, like with Caesar, or megalomania of that kind that drives Modi to refer to himself by his name rather than simply say ‘I’ or ‘me’.
By the way, illeism isn’t to be confused with infantilism, which is when you find little children – tiny tots – referring to themselves by their names: “Babloo ko ice cream chahiye.” Who is saying this? Babloo himself. “Or, Chintu ko nahi sona hai.” Or “Mini ko nahi khaana hai…”
So, Modi’s identity crisis is not about arrogance of power. And its certainly not childish behavior. What is it about then?
The thought did cross my mind that it might be a ‘doppelganger syndrome’. Let me explain. You see, there were all these hologram versions of Modi in the run up to the last Lok Sabha elections. He was appearing in several places at the same time. That kind of virtual reproduction of oneself must take its toll, in terms of creating confusion in oneself about which one is the real self, right? But then we haven’t seen too many holograms of the man unleashed just yet this time round. So it couldn’t be the doppelganger syndrome.
Then it struck me that the problem is partly triggered by you know who – the anti national opposition - and partly by Modi himself. If Mani Shankar Aiyar of the opposition hadn’t got on to egging him about it, maybe Modi wouldn’t have got on to the chaiwala-humble-origin high horse and flogged it so hard. We’ve had other prime ministers like Lal Bahadur Shastri, even presidents like Abdul Kalam who didn’t wear their humble origins on their sleeve. But when the chaiwala imaginary began fraying at the edges and looked like nearing its expiry date, Modi reinvented himself - as the ‘chowkidar’.
So there was already a strain on the identity. Now, being a chowkidar is easier said than done, especially when those big shots who fleeced banks were slinking away abroad under the chowkidar’s watch. And to make things worse, Rahul Gandhi, who had meanwhile summoned up the supreme will to step out of his “Pappu” image, which the BJP had trapped him in, came up with the teaser line “Chowkidar Chor hai”. And kept driving it home every time a fresh revelation on Rafale was unleashed by The Hindu – the newspaper I mean.
You couldn’t expect Modi to take this lying down. He decided to do what he’s good at - make offence defence. He doubled down on his chowkidari. He called upon every Indian to be a chowkidar. His minsters and acolytes instantly took the cue and prefixed ‘chowkidar’ to their twitter handle names – so we have chowkidar Amit Shah, chowkidar Jaitley, chowkidar Smriti Irani, chowkidar Ravi Prasad, chowkidar Piyush Goyal… The name-grab contagion was taking alarming proportions. “Main bhi chowkidar” (Me too chowkidar) was becoming a national (as against anti-national) chorus. Even M.J.Akbar was indignantly tweeting “Main bhi chowkidar”. How could his name be left out of this “me too” moment, or movement!
Modi had neatly blunted the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ thrusts at him by Rahul. But in the process his distinctive chowkidar identity had become common property. If he had hoped that his exclusive humble ‘chaiwala’ alter ego of his first inning would neatly segue into his exclusive protector chowkidar alter ego in his hoped-for second inning, what he had managed, instead, was a big mess with everyone else claiming he or she was a chowkidar. If his holograms were replicating him in the last general elections, numerous clones would be out there wreaking havoc with his identity this time. He had probably deflected the ‘chor’ charge for the time being, but at the cost of his cultivated chowkidari. Rahul, that spoiler.
Rahul, meanwhile, was far from gleeful. He had learnt, at a huge cost, the difference between the generic and the specific particularly when leveling accusations. Modi had twisted the charge so that ‘chowkidar chor hai’ could apply to any and every chowkidar. To drive the point home he had delivered a speech to 25 lakh chowkidars in a near imitation of a state of the nation address. Rahul ruefully realized that he should have said ‘Yeh’ or ‘Woh’ - This or That – chowkidar is a thief. He must be wondering whether it was too late to add that qualification?
Now, we don’t know the identity-toll all this might have taken on the real chowkidars, those spending all those sleepless nights guarding the homes and riches of the wealthy. We don’t know whether chowkidars went into a tizzy and were planning to seek legal remedy, to sue those grabbing and misusing their title. Because, you see, for them ‘chowkidar’ is more than a job description or title, its a name. Their employers just have to holler “chowkidar”, and they know they are being summoned. Also because, you see, they are living, breathing beings who can do something about their names being appropriated, unlike Sardar Patel or Mahatma Gandhi who don’t have much of a choice in the matter.
So it looks like its not just our prime minister’s identity crisis I should be worried about. There’s an identity crisis all round – among the living and the dead.