A young man boarded the Shatabdi Express coach. After finding a suitcase on the luggage rack above the seat allotted to him, he provocatively questioned, “Whose is this?” When met with silence, his tone turned threatening: “Tell me whose this is, or I will throw it outside.”
Shortly, an elderly traveller re-entered the coach after bidding goodbye to his family and claimed the baggage as his own. Although adequate space remained on the shelf, the younger man insisted: “Main waheen rakhoonga (I will use that very spot”). While the old man struggled to shift his luggage, the younger one exuded satisfaction at victory. Welcome to ‘New India’ where, among other things, decades of warnings to be on watch for unclaimed baggage is used as license for incivility because impoliteness towards peers, often bordering vulgarity, has official sanction.
In a May 2013 article, Pakistani commentator and author Ayesha Siddiqa wrote about acclaimed TV anchor Quatrina Hosain being sexually assaulted at a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) election rally. The anchor made a point in her programme: “Criticise us (women) for how we dress but that does not give you a right to attack us physically.” Hosain’s dress was a pretext to pillory contrarians – a rising trend in India since 2014, sweeping everything from lifestyle to opinions to culinary habits.
Siddiqa understood this narrative and that of another correspondent – Taha Siddiqui of the Christian Science Monitor, who was attacked for suggesting Imran Khan’s fall from a forklift was not due to a political conspiracy but mismanagement by Khan’s security team – were welcome bells to Naya Pakistan. Siddiqa argued, “What is being posited as ‘naya’ is in fact as stale as the old.” Likewise, say anything against Modi’s narrative and you know the implications. New India too has nothing new but a different way of restating and repackaging the old.
Five years before Khan became prime minister, when he first announced the six-point Naya Pakistan pledge in March 2013, Narendra Modi’s campaign on the promise of badlav or change on this side of the border was well on its way to becoming a watershed.
Four years later, Modi unveiled the notion of New India in a speech after his party’s sweep of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in March 2017. This notional idea is his likely platform in the impending polls and is already being used to brush aside questions regarding the missing achhe din.
Like Khan, who had long suggested that there was a need to junk the old before projecting the political objective of Naya Pakistan, Modi too was ceaselessly disdainful of past achievements before setting targets for 2022. Like Khan, Modi’s approach was representative of politicians belittling the past, veiling present deficiencies and showcasing a promised land.
Several years later and after the almost-to-the-brink confrontation, both Khan and Modi continue using slogans of Naya Pakistan and New India to strengthen their political bases.
Modi has an election to win and is presenting New India – already ushered in, according to him – as a more muscular nation. Contrastingly, Khan reminds people of Naya Pakistan to tide over uncomfortable questions likely to emerge in coming days. Although the slogans have differing purposes, the concepts of New India and Naya Pakistan mirror each other.
To begin with, there is nothing new in either and both are just redrawing old pathways. If Khan’s Naya Pakistan is no different from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s promise of a new nation in the 1970s, Modi’s New India has been reconfigured from the vision of 21st century India that Rajiv Gandhi pedalled when his fortunes plummeted. Conceptually, both ideas have striking similarities.
Take Khan’s six-point pledge and replace Pakistan with India, PTI with BJP and jihad with dharma yudh. It will be hard for someone unaware of the switch to make out that these promises were not Modi’s:
I will never lie to the people of Pakistan.
Me and my government will wage a ‘Jihad’ against injustice in the country.
I will keep all my wealth in Pakistan, I will not be like other leaders who rule in Pakistan but keep their wealth abroad.
I will never take personal benefit from being in government, nor will my relatives be allowed to benefit from my being in power.
I will guard the nation’s tax.
We will stand together with every Pakistani in or outside Pakistan.
The similarities do not end here. The PTI claims itself as being committed to fighting the status quo and usher in an egalitarian Islamic democracy while the BJP is pursuing Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Antyodaya for the last man in line. Modi and his ideological forefathers did not fight for independence and Khan has no links to Pakistan’s political past.
Although both assumed office by cashing in on pent-up frustration, both required to identify with their nations’ freedom struggles. Modi incorporated Gandhi, Patel, Bose and many more while the PTI website says the movement for Naya Pakistan is “comparable to Jinnah’s movement for Pakistan”.
Engaging with the diaspora is common to both premiers even while they play the old game, reinforce existing prejudices with a new vocabulary that builds false confidence.
Both Khan and Modi promised to eliminate political dynasticism yet face questions over their respective parties’ democratic quotient. Both abuse the old elite but built new coteries and encouraged a neo-elite. They co-opted others and we witnessed the BJP’s ‘Congressisation’; wait for a few years before the PTI follows in the footsteps of other parties. Prior to the Pulwama attack, Modi appeared close to paying the price for setting the bar of expectations too high. One can visualise Khan facing the same prospect sooner rather than later.
Naya Pakistan is being promoted as a brand the way New India is used to project an illusion – there is now a Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme. Likewise, Modi uses New India as the new mantra or election drone. The shibboleths of the two leaders simultaneously range against and reinforce each other.
(Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is a Delhi-based writer and journalist, and the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. He tweets @NilanjanUdwin.)