It seems as though we need to set our watches in the immediate aftermath of each electoral victory of a BJP reinvented and reshaped by Narendra Modi and comprehensively transformed into an indomitable election-winning machine by Amit Shah.
Punctuality has new synonyms: Left. Liberal. Woke. Secular. Pluralist. The idea of India. Occurring like clockwork since 2014.
In the overall reckoning, the BJP’s serial electoral victories appear trivial in comparison to the nationwide phenomenon of a wide gamut of these usual suspects going berserk on the dot. Predictable. Unfailing. Like time.
The phenomenon is a surreal inversion of an anguished King Lear’s lament that melts the hardest rock, “Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?”
What is it about Narendra Modi that brings out the absolute worst in these usual suspects? Knowing their record, we trust their answer at our own peril. But the real answer is their own substantial and prolonged record itself. Their project of demonising Modi since 2002 is actually a richly documented manifestation of their deeper malaise which has even deeper and more prolonged roots.
Barring minuscule exceptions, this is the summary of their aforementioned record dating back to nearly three-fourths of a century: It is incredibly tough if not impossible to find even one positive or constructive contribution that they have offered in terms of nation-building, social cohesion, and even plain, basic decency. On the contrary, these usual suspects were the heralds of vulgarising public discourse. And their thick chronicle spans a spectrum that includes but is not limited to academia, education, culture, and media. (For details, see these essays.)
It is also the same record that informs their recurrent, unhinged behaviour, especially with regard to Narendra Modi.
But this time, the frenzy is especially heightened and more virulent because the BJP convincingly won not one but four states with Uttar Pradesh being the mother of all victories. And so, under the facade of election analysis and commentary and op-eds, what the usual suspects have unleashed is... retaliation. As usual.
One Far-Left eminence went so far as to declare that he will “reclaim the republic” whatever that means. But perhaps the most egregious instance of this retaliation includes what can only be described as a cheat-sheet prescription for further splintering India under the pretext of defeating “Modi-Shah BJP.” Here are the words: “... the best of all, have a regional, ethnic and linguistic fortress so strong that the Hindus vote primarily as Tamils or Malayalis or Telugus.”
Words by a veteran and influential newspaper editor, Shekhar Gupta, whom a far-Left magazine had once profiled in its not-so-flattering cover story. However, the point is not to selectively pick. Nor is it about the person but his prescription and what it truly implies: Sinister.
Shorn of sophistry and bush-beating, it is a diaphanous veil painted with the same coat of the breaking-India narrative first propounded and implemented by the British, then buttressed by Gangadhar Adhikari and recently updated in this essay. Shekhar Gupta’s variant of this narrative hue appears to be another show of desperation but it should not be taken lightly.
But I’ll spell it out for those who are history-challenged: Tamils, Telugus and Malayalis will retain their “linguistic identity” (another mischievous term concocted by our early Marxist “sociologists” that has no basis in Hindu history or culture or society) only as long as they remain Hindus. An alarming but verifiable phenomenon that has accelerated especially in the last two decades is the fact that our languages are steadily dying in the same proportion as the overall cultural climate of India is being de-Hinduised and therefore denationalised and therefore even more vulnerable than it already is.
Big deal. The most urgent and pre-eminent priority is to defeat Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Inversion and Mockery
However, on a nobler and profounder plane, Shekhar Gupta’s prescription is both a cruel and tragic antithesis, if not a vulgar mockery, of the ideals that animated our freedom struggle. A hugely inspiring national, cultural and spiritual saga spread over at least two centuries with the singular goal of seeing a free and united India. The stuff of world-legends. A goldmine for historians, artists, writers, dramatists and filmmakers. Countless creative works continue to be written and made on a relatively minor event like the American independence. What do we have to show in comparison?
And in the seventy-fifth year of the celebration of our Independence, we are witness to Indians — veterans of the fourth estate of the Indian democracy, no less — openly advocating the building of a “strong” “regional, ethnic and linguistic fortress”. Sure. Let’s take the logic forward. Exactly how many fortresses? How about 562? That was the number of Princely States that were integrated into the Indian Union. Think of 562 independent countries. Carved out of India. That is ultimately where such lethal prescriptions will culminate in.
Exactly how did we reach this nadir?
The short answer is also the familiar one: After the transfer of power in 1947, home-grown imperialism replaced that of an alien and imitated the worst elements of the departed oppressor. DF Karaka, the outspoken journalist and editor who paid a career-destroying price for speaking this truth, characterised these neo-imperialists as “traders in patriotism” as early as 1950. He was of course talking about the Nehru-led Congress government, which “has degenerated into a feudal organisation which is not ashamed of practising unabashed despotism. It has made a mockery of our freedom”.
Ousting the Good Men
But neo-imperialism took a few years to bear its fangs. And when it did, it drew an almost visible line that separated pre and post-Independence India.
Until then, politics — or public life in general — was dominated by the cream of the society and this cream was not characterised by privileged backgrounds or wealth. Rather it was comprised of true stalwarts whose distinction was just two qualities: unimpeachable character and an inner attitude of service. This is why someone like K Kamaraj who had no formal education had little to no barriers to entry into politics.
And those who were also learned, competent and brilliant also possessed these same traits of virtue. At this distance in time, our people almost exclusively identify Syama Prasad Mookerjee as a Jana Sangh politician. His real mien, however, was jaw-dropping scholarship on an astonishing range of subjects. Even worse, we have all but forgotten titans like “Right Honourable” VS Srinivasa Sastri, S Subramania Iyer, KT Telang, Gajendragadkar, Loknath Mishra, PV Kane, DV Gundappa, PS Sivaswami Iyer, BN Rau...
The obvious precept in all this should be spelt out in our own blighted times: That politics is the only realm that encompasses everything, which is why it is also the only province that must be populated not merely by the brightest minds but by unblemished characters. The aforementioned names belonged to that eminence of character.
And the other side of that visible line calculatedly ejected all such men until convicted criminals instead of being in prison were in Parliament. That path was first paved by Jawaharlal Nehru who cynically outmanoeuvred and ousted minds more accomplished than him but the real beginning of the downfall was the 1967 elections. This was DV Gundappa’s astute observation a month before the elections: “It is surprising in the extreme that after two decades of continuous hold on power, the Congress is not able to put more than mere mediocrities in the field. The overall significance is that men of acknowledged standing in intellectual achievement or moral prestige or record of social work are avoiding the hustings. It would be damaging to ourselves...to say that we have not a sufficiency of the requisite character and calibre in the country. We have such citizens in good numbers. But the atmosphere built up during the last 20 years has been such as to disgust them and frighten them away.”
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the chickens to come home to roost.
The Wages of the Downfall
This fallen political climate naturally spawned a concomitant academic and intellectual climate and public discourse, and it is no surprise that it could only produce prescription-givers and republic-claimers of the foregoing sort.
It is incredible how these usual suspects, to date, continue to whitewash the serial delinquencies of Congress with a clean conscience. For example, Indira Gandhi’s foul method of capturing the Congress and the government is brushed off by these worthies as if it were just a normal political event. To put it bluntly, the Congress “split” was a constitutional and democratic siege. But more accurately, “The techniques adopted by Mrs Gandhi to capture the party were not ordinary political methods...It was yet another instance of blatant misuse of powers vested in the Government by the people on trust.” That was the legendary Ramnath Goenka.
A parallel phenomenon is also unravelling in an oblique fashion. For all their decade-plus, dogged and unscrupulous hounding of Narendra Modi over 2002, the usual suspects have gotten away largely unscathed. Which are three things at the same time. One, it is a tribute to Modi’s acumen: He has made them irrelevant sans any retributive action. Two, the more they realise their own irrelevance, the worse they continue to expose themselves. Three, it is also a standing accolade to the Indian voter: The same voter who quietly demolished Indira Gandhi in the post-Emergency elections when she was expecting the opposite outcome.
In India’s case, Edward Murrow’s famous quote that a nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves perfectly and only applies to these prescription-givers. Thankfully, the elections of 2014 and 2019 showed that India is anything but a nation of sheep. That among other things is also what brings out the worst in them. Thus, especially after the 2019 elections and now, the demonise-Modi broth has been garnished with hate-the-voter topping.
Who knows what dish they will serve us after the next BJP victory? The nation must brace itself.
The author is founder and chief editor, ‘The Dharma Dispatch’. Views expressed are personal.