By Dushyant Shekhawat May. 23, 2019
Disappointment for the anti-Modi crowd was as inevitable as someone saying “Winter is coming,” on a Game of Thrones episode. Still, that doesn’t make the bitter pill any easier to swallow. These are the five stages of grief, as experienced by non-BJP supporters.
Today is a great, great day if you identify yourself as a chowkidar. Supporters of Narendra Modi and his BJP party can rejoice, take a swig of gomutra, and go about planning the next five years of Rahul Gandhi insults. For those of us not in this jubilant majority however, the situation is grim. It isn’t easy to wait around for a miracle that never happens, like a producer of a film starring Arjun Kapoor. Contrarian voters failed to realise that #AayegaTohModiHi wasn’t just a hashtag, but a prophecy. And now, we must find a way to convince ourselves that this is the only version of acche din that we will see.
Of course, disappointment for the anti-Modi crowd was as inevitable as an invective-riddled shouting match on a Roadies episode. Still, that doesn’t make the bitter pill any easier to swallow. Coping with loss is difficult, whether it’s personal or political. But we have to move on.
These are the five stages of grief, as experienced by non-BJP supporters as the Modi wave takes the form of a tsunamo.
STAGE 1: DENIAL
When faced with a traumatic episode, it’s human nature to initially block it out. “This can’t be happening! Not this time.” “But what about the lynchings?” It’s our minds’ way of ensuring that triggering stimuli do not overload our emotions.
But over two tense weeks in February, we saw a terrorist attack a CRPF convoy in Kashmir, claiming the lives of nearly 40 soldiers, and a retaliatory strike by the Indian Air Force across the LoC in Balakot. Very soon, the IAF’s mission and the CRPF’s sacrifice became part of the political discourse. Among most of the public, this was concrete proof that Modi was tougher on terror and more serious about national security than his predecessor, Congress’ Manmohan Singh. The BJP’s talking heads added so much spin to the story it put the best deliveries of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan to shame, and India’s military forces became “Modi ki Sena” in the public consciousness.
It was truly a masterclass in political spin, and not only provided damage control to Modi’s reputation, slightly weathered after five years surviving the vagaries of the PM’s post, but refurbished it entirely, much to the naysayers’ dismay. Just when it looked like Modi was on the ropes, he staged a Rocky Balboa-esque comeback, and his critics couldn’t comprehend what was happening. A gathering of 21 Opposition parties issued a joint statement condemning the “blatant politicisation” of the deaths of soldiers, and liberals were ready to tell anyone who would listen how the air strikes flouted the usual norms surrounding such operations. “No way is he going to get away with such blatant appropriation,” we thought. Looking back, we should have realised we were on Stage 1 – Denial.
STAGE 2: ANGER
Anger is the second stage we experience after Denial. It’s the first emotion to come flooding back to us after we muffle them, and the aftermath of the Pulwama/Balakot episode made a lot of people quite angry.
This anger manifested itself as vindictiveness and vitriol levelled at Modi and the BJP. The liberal sections of society pounced upon the PM’s claim that his knowledge of cloud cover allowed the IAF to strike in Pakistani territory undetected. Cloud and radar jokes were the order of the day, and the mockery was savage. Criticism of Modi reached its peak during the seven phases of polling, as Opposition leaders took potshots at his and the BJP’s performance over the last five years. But it was futile, because while some thought a hearty serving of ridicule would slow down the Modi wave, it was like a kindergarten class team’s goalkeeper trying to block against Lionel Messi. And just like Messi has his talented teammates at Barcelona, even Modi and the BJP availed of some crucial assists with their friends in the film industry to weather the storm of anger that was Stage 2.
Contrarian voters failed to realise that #AayegaTohModiHi wasn’t just a hashtag, but a prophecy.
STAGE 3: BARGAINING
By the time you reach Stage 3, you are starting to come to terms with your loss. This is the stage where thoughts of “what if?” and “if only,” ring out in your head, and you begin trying to make sense of what has transpired. It’s the turning point, the hump day of the stages of grief, where things start to make sense again, even if they’re not pleasant. To those coming to terms with a second Modi term, the polling phases were when most of us reached the bargaining stage.
TIME Magazine’s cover story calling Modi “India’s Divider-in-Chief” is probably one of the most egregious examples. In it, the author, Aatish Taseer, asked the question of “can India survive another five years of Modi?” It provided a detailed breakdown of the many missteps of the Modi government since 2014, but in the end, its central question was rendered redundant. India will survive five more years of Modi as PM, because he is whom India picked. Any further pontification upon the matter is merely bargaining with reality.
It wasn’t just a single story from TIME either. Even The Guardian carried a story that said another term of Modi “will take India to a dark place”. Back home, Indian liberal publications reacted to the overwhelmingly pro-BJP results of the exit polls by putting out pieces with titles such as “Ten Reasons Why Indians Voted for Modi” as a means of walking back earlier claims that an upsetting defeat might be in the offing. While the BJP and their supporters began preparing for a celebration in the wake of the exit polls, their opposite numbers buckled in for the penultimate stage of grieving.
STAGE 4: DEPRESSION
Depression is a mandatory stop to be made on the journey to surviving grief. After the Bargaining stage, the reality that your loss is permanent and cannot be reversed sets in, and that can be depressing for anyone. People begin to wonder if they can even go on.
In the four days since the seventh and final phase of polling concluded, as it became clearer that we were indeed looking at a second consecutive victory in the general elections for the BJP, I’ve been a part of three separate conversations about leaving the country and settling abroad. Popular blogger and fiery BJP critic Humans of Hindutva has announced that he will no longer be running his page after today, which can only add to the depression of those who looked to him to find the humorous aspects of these polarised times. Getting out of bed today was difficult, because I knew I’d see the Modi lovers making merry on streets, in my office, and at family gatherings. But we have to go on. There are national anthems to stand for before movies, bank accounts and phone numbers to link with our Aadhaar cards, and GST to pay, and keep paying until we are dead. There’s so much life to live.
STAGE 5: ACCEPTANCE
What comes next? Can someone who’s suffered a traumatic loss ever truly recover from it? The answer to that varies from one person to the next, but even without a complete recovery, we can learn to live with our loss.
Stage 5 is a stage that neither I, no others like myself, who were holding out against the inevitable, have ascended to, because most of us are still coming to terms with what just happened. In three-and-a-half months, the span of a single political campaign, Modi was able to turn what we thought was a run-out situation after the state elections in December into a match-winning century.
Reaching Stage 5 will depend on whether or not he manages to assuage the fears of those who voted for candidates from parties bother than the BJP. If Modi can bridge the divide between his supporters and his critics, acceptance will become a lot easier to come by. And if not, then there’s nothing to be done, for the people’s mandate cannot be denied. We’ll just have to persist in Stage 4’s depression for five years until the next general election. And hold on to our belief that by 2024, a “saviour” will be born.