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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 23, June 8, 2024

India bestirred, a political era ends | L K Sharma

Saturday 8 June 2024

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Modi promised a political earthquake after June 4. What came was not the tremor he had in mind. He had expected an overwhelming electoral mandate to enable him to establish a Hindu Kingdom sanctified by his Godhood and a Congress-mukt Bharat! The voters denied a majority to Modi’s party, though gave victory to his NDA coalition.

June 4 marked the end of a dismal political era. Even the mixed poll results relieved millions who feared a rampaging unbridled horse. They hold Prime Minister Modi responsible for turning India into a Republic of Hate and Fear. The election results gave hope that India will emerge out of the dark abyss. Mortal Modi survived but Modi the God-King is gone! Modi will have to reinvent himself again. He has begun by talking of Sarva Dharma Sambhav. One may hear him quoting the Bible and see him wearing a skull cap!

The Opposition’s inability to come to power has not caused massive disappointment. Someone gives the reason in a social media post. He shows Modi and his opponent engaged in a duel. The opponent cuts the string of Modi’s pyjama, forcing him to throw away the sword to hold on to his falling pyjama with both hands. Now dependent on two key regional allies, Modi is pictured as yesterday’s strong man walking with crutches! Imagine the humiliation of a man who used to boast that he could take on all his opponents!

During the poll campaign, with supreme self-confidence, Modi kept threatening his opponents and regional allies that he will fix them all soon after the elections! Even earlier, the Prime Minister had publicly declared that he had files on everyone! These were indeed used to force some political opponents to join the BJP. As the election results came, Modi had to seek the support of allies to cobble together a majority.

Analysts say the NDA’s victory is no victory and the Opposition’s defeat is no defeat because of the circumstances in which the elections were held. They do not use the glib term “moral victory” of the Opposition. They cite the credible performance of the Opposition whom Modi had tried to cripple. Modi demolished the level playing field, using formidable resources, and striking against the Opposition leaders. The RSS cadres’ muscle power, partisan election commission and bureaucracy, servile media and moneybags failed to crush the Opposition.

Quibbling over the number of seats, the nature of the ruling coalition and coming political instability will continue but one must look at the larger picture. On June 4, the nation heaved a sigh of relief. The people spoke out. They ushered in a new political era, lifting the dark shadow of a populist colossus from over a democratic nation.

The political scenario changed drastically. During the last 10 years of Modi rule, a very large section of voters remained besotted with him. His powerful oratory and massive publicity made them overlook his mendacity, non-performance, corruption, and bigotry. In fact, bigotry became his plus point early in his political career as his anti-Muslim rhetoric swayed a large section. In Gujarat, after the killing of Muslims in 2002, Modi was crowned as Hindu Hriday Samrat. Injections of sectarian toxicity into national veins consolidated Modi’s position in Delhi.

Basking in glory, Modi went on to anoint himself as God-King and was duly applauded by Indians and the NRIs. Devotion to him was not disturbed by the growing economic misery caused by his Government or the exposure of shoddy deals by the ruling party and the Government. With a measure of public approval, Modi continued to attack the Constitution, subjugate independent official agencies, destroy civil liberties, belittle minorities, and pave the way for establishing a majoritarian state.

Communal polarisation spearheaded by him succeeded. His crony capitalism faced no opposition. Some say that Modi’s last scam was not the secretive Electoral Bonds but his blatant attempt to pump up the share market. He gave a tip that the stock market will break all records when the election results are announced. He implied that his re-election as the Prime Minister will cause that frenzy. The poll results hit the investors.

The numerous failings of Modi and his misdeeds did not dent Modi’s image. His expertise in event management ensured that. His blind followers as well as his political opponents came to believe that Modi is invincible. Modi claimed to be a Nonbiological Being, creating an aura around his head with the help of multiple cameras. Came the electoral verdict and Modi’s aura vanished. The voters shattered the myth of Modi’s invincibility. For a man like Modi, it is like losing life-blood.

On June 4, Modi was found out! It reminds one of the fictitious Kafiristan. There the tribals, impressed by the white skin of a visiting British rogue soldier, anoint his as their God King. One day, he tries to kiss a tribal girl and make her his wife. Out of fright, she bites him on the cheek and blood begins to flow from his face. His innocent subjects, who believed that God does not bleed, discover him to be a man and chase him away. June 4 exposed the Divine Modi to be a mere mortal!

The election results damaged his image and Modi further sullied it by inviting two major alliance partners to help him remain the Prime Minister. Modi courted two regional secular leaders whom he had assailed ruthlessly. Modi can no longer blame them for appeasing Muslims. By bending before the alliance partners, Modi compromised on principles. Here is the Hindutva icon depending on a regional leader, Chandrababu Naidu, who is committed to reservation quota for Muslims. What are Modi’s devotees, fired by his anti-Muslim rhetoric, to make of his compromise? Some of them want to take away his crown of Hindu Hriday Samrat, the Emperor of Hindu Hearts.

As the results were announced, Modi switched off his bluff and bluster. Ended the display of megalomania. Appeared on multiple occasions in the same dress. Having been robbed off his primacy, he cannot dominate. This will lessen the menace caused by the state-empowered bigoted mobs who used to roam the streets. Their patron saint has been rendered toothless. With the patronage of the powerful gone, most vigilante groups will leave the sinking ship.

Stricken with the mortal fear of not being the Prime Minister, Modi will appear in a new avatar. He cannot afford to offend his allies or potential allies. Having abused power, Modi is aware of the danger of being out of office. He knows what he did to those out of office. Fortunately for him, none of his political opponents has his streak of vengefulness.

One sees signs of the modification of Modi. This means the end of the muscular Modi who used to brag about his chest size. This means the end of his attempt to manufacture muscular Hinduism. This means the end of his muscular foreign policy. No nation need fear that Indian operatives would enter to kill its citizens. There was a Prime Minister who used to warn that it is new India which will enter you house and kill! Ghar mein ghuske marenge. Of course, some fear a wounded tiger becoming more aggressive.

June 4 heralded other changes. The election results have narrowed the dangerous north-south divide in the country that got widened during the Modi years. The populous UP remained as uninfluenced by Modi as some southern states. Also, the southern capitalists may now get a fair chance to compete against those having a Gujarat connection who got all government projects. With two major regional allies being part of the ruling coalition, the Centre will find it hard to ignore the interests of the States and undermine federalism.

Rahul Gandhi made solidarity with the poor and love for the fellow beings electoral issues during his spirited campaign. The media ridiculed ‘love’ as a non-electoral issue but the message went home, showing results. Of course, the genie of bigotry cannot be pushed back into the bottle. Nation’s veins, injected with toxicity cannot be cleansed of hate overnight. The vast network of cadres trained in bigotry will not vanish and paid groups will continue to troll Muslims as well as liberal Hindus. But it will now be a bit more difficult to cause social disharmony on a wide scale. Modi’s mongering of fear and hate will end. These are no minor gains.

Thanks to the June 4 election results, those lamenting the death of democracy in India see a glimmer of hope. Foreign media, unlike the Western leaders, highlighted the decline of democracy, civil liberties, and the freedom of expression in India. Indian democracy will now be reassessed by the world. In the neighbourhood, there will be less reactive communal violence, targeting the Hindus there.

With Modi’s brand image destroyed, no other leader will seek to imitate him. Consensus politics may regain prestige. These election results and the compulsions of coalition governments mark the end of a Prime Minister with draconian behaviour. This will have a desirable influence on the Constitutional authorities, judiciary, bureaucracy, the police, investigative agencies, and the income-tax department. The corporate sector may distance itself a bit from political leaders and will reduce its meddling into politics. The owners of the TV channels and news organs who turned Indian media into a laughingstock may start singing a new song.

June 4 signalled the resurgence of the Opposition that had been written off, not just by the lapdog media working as Modi’s publicity agent. So, in Parliament, one would no longer see scenes of disgraceful behaviour by the Speaker who could pass order after order favouring the government and punishing the opposition. The quality of political discourse inside and outside Parliament is expected to improve.

June 4, above all, demolished Modi’s Hindutva Project. The Opposition campaigned for safeguarding the Constitution and got some success in its primary goal even without coming to power. Modi sought help from the regional leaders who share the Opposition’s commitment to the Constitution and to secularism. It was a big setback for the ideologue Modi.

We will see the resurgence of secularism since the anti-Muslim campaign did not yield the desired results and the voters rejected Modi’s attempt to use Lord Ram as his poll campaigner. Modi’s majority in his own sacred constituency of Varanasi got reduced and the voters of Ayodhya ignored Modi’s spectacle at the new Ram temple and voted against his party.

Apart from common Hindus, some Hindu monks have started speaking out against inducting religion into politics. One of the Shankaracharyas made a notable contribution to the pre-election debates. They are driven by the authentic Hindu faith tradition having the inherent principle of non-sectarianism. Modi, who co-opted Sardar Patel, also co-opted Swami Vivekanand and the Ramakrishna Mission. He ignored the fact that Sardar Patel had banned the RSS. He ignored the sayings of Swami Vivekanand against sectarianism.

Modi would know about the Ramakrishna Mission by watching a video [1] of its highly respected monk Swami Ranganathananda who died in 2005. In a rare interview, he says that the secular state of India should never have allowed communal political parties. “If we had stopped that at the beginning of the independence, we would have none of these problems. Even now, it is not too late.”

The revered monk says: If you bring politics into religion, religions go down. We need religions to be retrieved from this situation. Religion inducts passion and frenzy into politics. We will have calm, silent steady politics if it is freed of religion. He says: “Our salvation would come when we have complete separation of religious groups from political activities. A secular State and religious political parties cannot go together. If the people realise it, it will be good both for religion and politics.”

A very large section of pious Hindus voted against bigotry. This was needed badly because leftists and liberals cannot combat Hindutva effectively. That can be done only by ordinary Hindus who protest any attempt to hijack their religion. Hinduism encourages discussion and dissent. It accepts even nonbelievers in its fold. Many Hindu saints had stayed silent when a politician was messing up with their faith tradition. A couple of rationalists were murdered. Now Hinduism scholars and priests may endeavour to explain to the people the tenets of Hinduism. Prof. Amartya Sen attributes the rise of communalism to the neglect of classical learning. This cannot be set right quickly.

However, the people’s latest mandate is sure to slow down some undesirable political and social trends. The BJP leaders, including Modi, have been reviled and ridiculed widely for making unscientific statements and trying to diminish Nehru’s stature. India may not turn away from modernity and scientific temper.

Even as the wily political operator adjusts to his diminished status and lost brand image, some commentators still fear that Modi will return to his default conduct and push his destructive plan for India’s future. Modi knows how to turn adversity into an opportunity, they argue. This is the residue of the evaporated myth of Modi’s invincibility. Others insist that shorn of his brand image and dominance, he is defanged.

Measured on the Danger Index, threats to democracy and secularism came down a bit on June 4. Measured on the Hope Index, faith in the wisdom of the people increased a bit on June 4.

(Author: L.K. Sharma is a veteran Indian journalist)

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