NEW DELHI : Whether the upgraded threat to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's life is genuine or not, the singular fact is that it cannot be ignored or taken lightly. The stakes are very high in the run-up to the 2019 General elections and the plots and ploys will only thicken over the next few months.
It would not be paranoia to suggest that the much-used phrase of a 'foreign hand' being involved in creating chaos might well turn into a multiple showing of hands, for no individual has been loved, loathed and loved-to-be-hated as has Modi.
For or against, the prime minister is a formidable entity and has made an extraordinary impact, not just in the country but across the globe. You can rake him over the coals on issues and indict his team for acts of omission and commission but never has India been so squarely on the international scene and recognised as a nation to reckon with. Indians count.
It is exactly these shifting dynamics of the world's balance of power that would disturb many nations, who might see a strong and vibrant India as a threat and Modi as the symbol of that threat. If his image can be tarnished and enough mud flung on him to generate reasonable doubt in the public mind about his priorities, it could adversely hit the voting pattern.
These attacks will come from different angles. For one, the badmouthing will hit a new and not so splendid low and will be led by Congress president Rahul Gandhi. In fact, that descent has already begun with Rahul calling Modi a present-day Aurangzeb. The indictment of Modi as a Hindutva zealot and anti all other faiths will intensify and the packaging of the 'monster' will be escalated.
With a little help from their friends, the anti-Modi brigade will immediately jump on the international bandwagon as surveys and reports are released from outside India, placing the nation in the dock for its social and financial flaws. The recent Thomson Reuters survey giving us first position in the world for danger to women is just the initial salvo.
That Rahul immediately thought it fit for it to be used as an authentic weapon is worrying. Not just in the country but also outside, the aim will be to taint the Modi era of command as one marked by spikes of violence, divisiveness, casteism, religious intolerance, corruption and sloth. Our ills will be magnified and our wins isolated or dumbed down.
From now onwards, the shrillness of the attacks on Modi will intensify as stats will show how all his initiatives have fallen short. The economy will be a major target as will be the 'misery' of rural India. The shards of broken promises or unreached potentials will now be strewn on a regular basis. The next putsch will most likely be youth and unemployment and their collective disenchantment. Kashmir and the clear and present fissures will be encouraged by anti-Indian forces and we can expect things to get much worse.
While the danger of the assaults on Modi becoming physical is heightened by a clever bombardment of perceptions and an obliging media's readiness to give the Opposition parties a hearing, the central point of it all is whether Modi can take the heat.
He does have an inclination to rise to the bait and, at the same time, get down and dirty and engage in exchanges of insult which do not edify him. His frontline inspires lesser confidence than it should and barring a couple of exceptions has not endeared itself to the people as an 'A team'. The one-man show has gone into diminishing returns and will not be enough to guarantee a good triumph at the hustings.
His best bet is to maintain a dignified silence and rise above it all. The more he defends himself against the torrent of malice the more ground he will surrender. There are just too many ill-wishers who would want him to lose so India could be weakened globally and placed on the backfoot.
To offset that possibility is good enough reason to keep him safe.