The Framing Effect: Don’t Think of (PM) Modi.

An editorial from Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) was shared on a forum. Its opening sentence caught my eye and I read on keenly. Then I wrote and posted a response to it. The response and the editorial are shared below in that order, but if necessary the order may be changed while reading. Curiously, the editorial while discussing the mode of government tells how India’s Constituent Assembly consciously made a choice by rejecting the Presidential form, yet uses the archetypal USofA phrase *Founding Fathers*, albeit with modifications to include Mothers.
The title of the editorial talks of (BJP) Money versus (Congress) Money, but in the concluding paragraph leaves its verdict on the *money winner* unsaid. After saying that more than Rs. 80 million (Is it alluding to BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s figure?) are required to *fight* a parliament seat, it then quite naively adds “It is going to be a presidential-style race wherein money and wealth will hijack the electoral process” to suggest as if the required spend of over Rs. 80 million is not a highjack. Incidentally, it is said that Congress under Indira Gandhi chose to earn election funds among other things through India’s Defence Contracts -where suppliers are foreign entities and countries, and therefore in those *innocent* times discretion and secrecy could be maintained- in preference to Deshi Moneybags. It is in this context that the editorial comment –Big business is not so foolish to not know this, but yet it fully backs Modi. But do not underestimate the power of big business– is to be read. I wonder in this *Age of Loss of Innocence*, does anyone really underestimate the power of big business? The 2G, Coal Block Allotment, Krishna Godavari Basin Gas price revision, Iron Ore (illegal) mining, Upward Revision of Contracted Tariffs in Coal based UMPP, and so on are uninterrupted reminders of power of big business to influence government decisions. In fact, shrewd businesses know that it is an avoidable, if possible, risky proposition to highjack elections, when it is far more reliable to highjack government policy or better still to have government to formulate tailor made policies, irrespective of whichever party or parties come to power.
The critics of Narendra Modi, and there are plenty of them, probably do not know that unwittingly they are doing more for Modi’s cause than his diehard supporters. By telling constantly why Modi should not become prime minister, they are constantly linking in readers/listeners/viewers’ mind Modi to the position of Prime Minister. In Psychology, this is called “The Framing Effect”. Positive Framing elicits people to focus and respond favourably to what is Gained. Negative Framing engages people to become reckless towards Loss. People tend to gamble and assume far more risks when presented with Negative Framing than with Positive Framing. In the context of India, there is one more powerful effect at work. Indians are by and large chronic and incurable law-breakers. When we are told not to do something, we invariably would do it if we have reasonable probability of escaping its consequences. The din of *Don’t Think Of Modi(for premiership)* would inevitably drive people to *Think of Modi*. With this introduction, now I pass the readers on to my response and EPW editorial.
My Response
**With elections being framed as a presidential-style race**
It is surprising that largely studious journal like EPW has gone astray on the Modi-Topic. To call it a *Race*, there should be more than one person competing. To call it a *Presidential-style*, presumably US-style because no one in India is really conscious of say French style , there should be two, and no more than two (de facto), candidates. Who is in the race against Modi? Answer is clearly No One; but there are several aspirants.
Secondly, what Modi is doing, so far as projecting himself above party is concerned, is not novel to India. What did Indira Gandhi do? Those who were in high school (or ahead) when Bangladesh liberation happened (and M F Hussein painted IG as Durga ), would remember the slogan, India is Indira and Indira is India. Her Home Minister, Giani ji, propped up obscure but volatile preacher SJSB of Damdami Taksal against Akali Dal. That gave India violent Sikh militancy and in the end it consumed Indira Gandhi. After her assassination, Congress engineered one of the worst, bloody and murderous communal pogroms since the partition of India. That happened when Rajiv Gandhi was just days into premiership, seasoned Narsinh Rao was home minister, and Giani ji was president. Weren’t IG and  Congress divisive? Surely they were! Both Congress and BJP (most others too) are communal; former is Opportunisticallyand latter Ideologically.
The corner stone of Fascism, as I understand it, is smashing Institutions, and checks and balances of Liberal Democracy. Who systematically whittled down institutions in India- Parliament (party whips), Executive (kitchen Cabinet), Army (remember General S K Sinha), and even judiciary (appointing A N Ray, superseding 4 judges )? Didn’t Indiar Gandhi set India on this ruinous road? 

Criticise Modi as much as one wants, and there is lot to criticise, but one shouldn’t forget that he is simply not original; but a *proud* and *able* inheritor of the legacy that Indira Gandhi left. India has been misruled for long. Congress has been in power for long. Naturally, lion’s share of the blame for misrule has to land squarely at Congress’s doors. Whatever discontent that is seething in the population today, different sections for different reasons, has festered, ripened, and is ready to be exploited. Political parties would be and have been plotting how best to feed on it their legislative numbers at State and Centre, come elections.  Indira Gandhi’s dubious legacy was waiting for an inheritor. She used to psyche nation into fear of *foreign hand*, *communal forces*, *fissiparous tendencies*; and then pose as protector and saviour of the nation. Her mantle was lying idle for long. Modi saw the opportunity and has picked it. Words may change, slogans may change, enemies –real or imaginary- may change, but the underlying reality of their politics is unbroken from IG to NaMo. Would it be farfetched to imagine that he secretly sees her as his role model? There were reasons to be wary of IG. There are reasons to be wary of NaMo. The harm that IG and Congress did is with us. The harm that NaMo and BJP would do to India if they manage parliamentary majority can only be imagined at the moment, but, if we are unfortunate, not for long.

The Editorial from Economic and Political Weekly.
Vol – XLVIII No. 39, September 28, 2013
·         Editorials
With elections being framed as a presidential-style race, the integrity of India’s democratic system is at stake.
Public memory of how (the) fascists “use[d] and abuse[d] democratic freedoms in order to abolish them” (Hannah Arendt) was strong when India’s Constituent Assembly rejected the option of a presidential type of executive. But now, more than 60 years later, the coming general elections are being framed as a presidential-style contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) “strongman” Narendra Modi and the Congress Party’s “weakling” Rahul Gandhi, presuming, of course, that the latter will be named by his party as its prime ministerial candidate in next year’s general elections. In a recent Economic Times/Nielsen opinion poll of 100 chief executive officers, it was reported that 74 wanted Narendra Modi as prime minister compared to only seven who backed Rahul Gandhi. Surely the Washington-headquartered lobbyist Apco Worldwide, which had been hired by the Gujarat state government to promote the biennial “Vibrant Gujarat” summit, seems to have transformed the image of Modi from that of an infamous communalist bigot into one which big business regards as most suitable to be India’s next prime minister.
The founding fathers (and mothers) of the Constitution, apprehensive of the emergence of tyranny in the future, opted for parliamentary democracy. But communal politics, already given an ideological content with the founding of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), grew steadily after Partition. The Jan Sangh, the previous incarnation of the BJP, which joined the JP movement only after the Emergency, opportunistically entered the power structure via the Janata Party. And over time, the BJP, in a series of fascist manoeuvres within the parliamentary framework, established itself as the main competitor of the Congress Party for power at the centre.
To hell with secularism as defined in S R Bommai vs Union of India (AIR 1994 SC 1918)! Gujarat, with Narendra Modi as chief minister, became the RSS’, and, in turn, the BJP’s laboratory of Hindu Rashtra. Following the Godhra tragedy, as the late eminent civil rights lawyer K G Kannabiran, who was a member of the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal that inquired into the carnage in Gujarat in 2002, put it, “genocide was unleashed on the Muslim population of Gujarat …The mobs … converted Ram into a psychopathic, bloodthirsty god.” And, one might add, Modi was like the Führer who made the anti-Muslim pogrom possible. The direct perpetrators were the BJP state and Sangh parivar leadership, and, of course, sections of the state police, intelligence, and the bureaucracy who turned into a Hindutva brigade. In all of this, one needs to emphasise the power of sustained communal propaganda and mass communal mobilisation, and the influence of the ideology of Hindutva within the state police, intelligence, bureaucracy, judiciary, and media.
Now, just two days after the BJP’s parliamentary board announced, on 15 September, that Narendra Modi would be the party’s candidate for prime minister, the candidate, addressing a rally of retired military personnel and sharing the dais with the former army chief V K Singh, used the occasion to deride the “soft” stance of the government towards Islamabad and Beijing. It may be recalled that on 14 March 2011, at a “Know Your Army” exhibition in Ahmedabad, a major-general commended Modi’s “vision of development”, going on to say: “He (Modi) works like we in the army do. He sets a deadline … and then ensures that the targets are achieved … These are the qualities of a successful army commander.” Of course, at the last Vibrant Gujarat summit, held in January this year, the “captains of industry” were not far behind. This is what Mukesh Ambani of Reliance proclaimed: “In Narendra bhai, we have a leader with a grand vision”. His brother Anil went several notches ahead, hailing Modi as “a king among kings”! And Ratan Tata was all praise for Gujarat’s “investment climate”, attributing it to Modi’s leadership. All this admiration goes far beyond what the Italian bourgeoisie once said of Benito Mussolini – it was he who got the trains to run on time.
Big media is also doing its bit, even offering unsolicited advice. For instance, a Times of India (16 September 2013) headline: “Modi Campaign Should Be Premised on Growth, So Every Tea Vendor Can Be Upwardly Mobile”. Amusing, for is not Modi’s yarn titled “From Tea Vendor to Chief Minister”? Make no bones about the fact that Modi is solidly backed by big business, including the media. But, remember, it is the RSS that has appointed Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate; the BJP has only simply announced that decision. So it will be the RSS that will set the policy agenda. Big business is not so foolish to not know this, but yet it fully backs Modi. But do not underestimate the power of big business. To be a serious contender for a parliamentary seat in elections to the Lok Sabha the average amount that has to be spent is Rs 8 crore. It is going to be a presidential-style race wherein money and wealth will hijack the electoral process. Surely the integrity of India’s liberal-political democratic system is at stake.
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