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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 8, February 14, 2015

Revolt of the Disenchanted: How the Mighty are Pulverised

Monday 16 February 2015, by Badri Raina

Muscular arms spread wide on either side of the lectern, self-love dripping from a habitually cocksure visage, the mighty one thundered thus at one of his several election rallies in the national Capital: “They say how lucky Modi is; he becomes Prime Minister and global oil prices crash by a whopping half; well then, I say to you, why vote for the unlucky, vote for the lucky one.”

Not so lucky, after all. While the great man thundered thus in complete self-assurance, like Eliot’s Bradford millionaire you might say, hundreds of thousands of the hoi polloi and thousands again of the middling and the well-to-do were making up their sinister minds to do Caesar in this once. Come the day of reckoning, and Caesar found he was not “constant as the Northern Star” but as subject to the ravages of time and the wrath of the underling as any lesser mortal.

A cartoonish antagonist, Sparticus of the streets, wrapped in a quotidian muffler, and coughing away uninhibitedly like any commonly afflicted citizen, but with the steel of the cussedly labouring in his back and battalions of brainy young ones out for the kill swarming the city like an army of modern-day Ninjas, speaking the language of home and hearth, and enlarging his charm with adroitly timed shafts of self-deprecation, has pulled the red carpet and the rug of power from under the thunderous loins and retrieved a canton for little men and women.

Suddenly, the exhaustion of rhetoric seems palpable. Nothing that the ruling self-righteous and their rehearsed spokespersons may say on the channels, and cloaked in whatever spin or garb, fools anyone into believing that this was merely a Municipal contention with which the Numero Uno had nothing to do. The battle in Delhi was conceived and led by Caesar and his lieutenant, although a far cry from Mark Antony, and executed on the ground under his larger-than-life presence and tutelage, which spared neither Ministers nor Members of Parliament from engaging the firefly that was lighting up the chastisement in the ordinary eye.

Have no doubt: Mr Modi has been given a taste of that which is bigger than him, namely, the revenge of the Ninja, the louring intent of the disenchanted citizen. Trounced with single-mindedly collective intent.

And, disenchanted across class and across caste, announcing a paradigmatic shift in the warp and whoof of India’s democracy, even though propelled by several disparate and discrete disgruntlements. Note that if Spartacus-Kejriwaal won in 26 of the 27 low-income constituencies, he also won in 31 of 33 middle-income segments, and what ought to be unbearably galling to corporate-Caesar, 10 out of 10 high-income electorates of India’s Capital city.

Could there have been a more comprehensive rejection of an establishment that thought mere words sounded with astute modulations and cunning pitch, a “nationalist” boast that drew the world’s most powerful Executive-Head into a sickening saga of self-congratulation founded on gas and thin air, as indeed the very same honoured guest turned round to underscore in an ungratefully candid assessment to a hall full of uppity hosts, and subtle and not-so-subtle appeals to civilisational glory would altogether benumb the citizen into acquiescence yet again.

Alas, and enchantingly, if the price of fruit and vegetable, and of electricity and water, the continuing absence of dignified conditions and opportunities of work, of sanitation, of doctoring and medicine commensurate with a humanist order of things, the near-impossibility of seeing the promised dream of a roof over the labouring head as the undivided energies of Caesar and his brood came visibly to be seen to be devoted to the lords of private wealth, the rampaging increase in the incidence of rape against a touted boast of rooting out barbarisms that seek to enslave women and diminish the nation, and a litany of other unremedied everyday oppressions steeled the preponderant hoi polloi to dismiss the Modi charm from its affections, the shocking forgetfulness of the Modi regime about its great agenda of burying big-ticket corruption through a Lokpal, and the undented corruptions of routine Indian public life, the cronyism on grand display as favourites among the bureaucracy, and other state institutions and among the corporate moneybags came to be seen to enjoy unabashed state patronage without a care of democratic propriety or fear of opinion,—these and other related grouses turned away the middle classes who had voted for “good governance” in May of last year.

Then there were those among both the middling sections and the rich who, albeit they would not say it, came to rue the consequence attendant upon Mr Modi’s election to power—namely, the sectarian, hate-spewing “fringe elements” who suddenly and without let or hindrance from the Chief Executive came to occupy centrestage day in and day out for a whole nine months of ugly social and religious mayhem, complete with riots and killings. This was not the agenda that the glad Modi-voter had bargained for in May of last year. A subtle sort of Hinduisation, may be; a gentle and periodic hint to religious minorities, may be, but a no-holds-barred pogrom actually to Hinduise Muslims and Christians, to subvert the Constitution, and to derail the secular Republic—this seemed too far out and troubling, as well as, most disappointingly, a deadly deterrent to the beloved programme of “Reforms” a la the “Gujarat model” that would ensure the transmogrification of India into the Shangrilla of the prosperous and the retribution of the “lazy poor” always seeking doles from the state. Thus, the “aspirational” vanguards who are convinced that the state is in fact only their handmaiden and must not be diverted either by the irritating existence of the poor or by the be it the saffron or the green brigade from its anointed task of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s alone have also found themselves wondering whether “good governance” has actually been happening over the last ten months or so, or whether the loudness of mouth has in fact dislodged the quietly efficient service of Capital.

Not a happy record of achievement, you would agree. And so it happens that the mighty, not yet quite mighty enough to undo the political system they have inherited, although chaffing at the bit, have been shown where they get off.

From everything one has heard and seen of the victorious Spartacus legions of the Aam Aadmi Party—made victorious by a political system that the Roman Kejriwaal did not have available—it is to be trusted that Delhi’s new rulers know in their hearts that humbleness must not be merely lip-service of the Uriah Heep kind, but felt in everything that is devised and executed from day-to-day. One has not heard from any of Kejriwal’s supporters who have dethroned Caesar the demand: “Let him be Caesar.” This augurs well. There is reason to believe that our new governors will rigorously avoid the hyperbole, be it of grand visions or of achievements on the ground, but implement what they implement with transparent dedication and share with the people equally transparently and truthfully why they did not achieve what they did not. The people—they understand, and reward or punish with equity.

Will Delhi’s capital phenomenon reverberate through the realm in the months to come, as franchise is called in other States? Without a doubt. One little lamp, as the metaphor goes, can light many fires. The question is: whether and how well those that oppose the spread of Caesarism can find within themselves the sort of steely humbleness and immersed and fetching ordinariness that has informed the revolt of the nimble Ninjas in the national Capital. Old habits of thought, of partisan cupidity, of grasping turf wars, of sectarian axes, of faded and jaded knowledgeabilities—these will not do. Nor vacuous visions ossified in their abstraction. Satraps will need to yield to Ninjas who emerge from under the earth and flit from one combat to another without being bogged down by old allegiances and ancient shibboleths. Those that call themselves Socialists will need to prove that so they are, and those that call themselves Communists will need to do more than sing of the “toiling masses”. Both will need to answer why, if they are all Socialists and Communists, should they be dissipated into several organisations rather than be united into a puissant anti-fascist front. Everywhere, women will need to be requested to lead, since everything that oppresses them oppresses the total life of the people. Men will need to allow, obey, and take a back seat.

Spartacus-Kejriwal has shown how this can be done. Let him not be ridiculed or patronised but be made tutor to many who will need to do similar things, beginning with the elections in Bihar. He will be the first to say that movements cannot be replicated mechanically; but all movements carry lessons that may be adopted and modulated to similar ends.

Shoulder to the wheel, and ear to the feel. Justice will prevail.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.

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