The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Is Modi “Progressive”?

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Narendra Modi, 2014 © Debby Wong

January 03, 2018 11:54 EDT

“A king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar” (Hamlet). Does that make the king a progressive?

As the year 2017 ended, NDTV (New Delhi Television) reported the exciting news from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “He said that it is time for the country to transform from a Positive India to a Progressive India. Mr Modi also urged the new voters take India to new heights of glory.”

The adjective progressive is one of the most difficult political terms to define. Borrowed from Western political culture, where it sits ambiguously alongside even more ambivalent terms such as liberal, left wing, socialist, it is far from clear what it might mean to a politician such as Modi.

Following Modi’s lead, The Daily Devil’s Dictionary will now attempt to define it. Here is today’s 3D definition:


An attribute solidly conservative politicians may opportunistically claim by slightly loosening their policy of intolerance of foreigners and minorities and proclaiming their commitment to change at those crucial moments when the population shows signs of frustration and restlessness

Contextual note

The Hindustan Times dissects Modi’s sudden enlightenment, attributing it to an attempt to improve his image abroad: “Every single of these messages appeared carefully tailored for an international audience and aimed at giving out the message that India is ruled by a global leader with progressive views.”

Historical note

The policies of Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have historically been associated with the values of Hindutva, an ideology of cultural nationalism that favors Indian culture and is suspicious of Westernization, in particular the kind of identity politics associated with Western progressive movements. In other words, with the exception of encouraging modern technology to fuel the economy, the BJP appeals to values associated with the most traditional Hindu culture of India.

It may be that Modi sees himself as taking a page out of the George W. Bush playbook, hoping his base will understand that what he says and what he does are two different things. He may have recalled that moment in September 2001 when President Bush famously proclaimed that “Islam is peace,” insisting that the US was not in conflict with the Muslim world. In the following months and years, he began launching a series of wars and airstrikes against as many as seven Muslim nations, while remaining silent when his supporters, betraying his wise counsel, claimed to be engaged in a “clash of civilizations.”

Author’s note

In this edition’s leading sentence, Hamlet is explaining to the king where to find the corpse of Polonius, whom he has killed in his mother’s chamber and, according to Hamlet, is now “at supper.” “Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet … A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm … a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.” (Hamlet IV.iii)

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Debby Wong /

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