There comes a time when Caesarism begins to breed discontent and thoughts of another possible world begin to take hold. Indeed, when what might have been a reassuring visage becomes a daily irritant.
The decline began with the Gujarat polls where the sons-of-soil duo managed barely to cross the half-way mark, vanquished by a new willingness in the Congress to find allies and equations not considered before. Indeed, had the Congress and NCP struck an understanding, Mr Modi’s home State may been entirely lost to him.
Then the traumatic parliamentary defeats in Alwar, Ajmer, Gorakhpur, Phulpur, Araria—wipling off arrogant smirks from ruling visages. And nothing that Mr Amit Shah and Mr Modi could do in Karnataka yielded a vote-share even equal to that of the Rahul-led Congress, or translated the minority thirtysix per cent of votes for the Bharatiya Janata Party into a simple majority. Of the twenty or so constituencies where Mr Modi campaigned with vigour and aplomb, he won just six.
And now the rout in the fourteen recent bypolls, spread over a telling demography and geography, must confirm to any unmesmerised observer of the political scene that the Modi-Shah dispensation is confronted with something more than fortuitous pinpricks. Something more seismic is clearly underway, and it must help the transformative cause that the saffron camp continues to wish away these occurrences as the vain exertions of many little Davids who will yet again be blown off by the thunder of the Goliath. That narrative, if you have noticed, continues to receive, by and large, helpful propagation by friendly media channels and outlets who see in the possible collapse of the regime the prospects of huge setbacks to their corporate fortunes. Reason why the theme of the undefeatable colossus is sought to be kept in circulation; the idea being that the vast mass of people are cannily warned of the prospects of anarchy should the edifice come down. The thought that the new awakenings now in process may stop the no-holds-barred transfer of national wealth from public to private control, and push back the cultural mayhem calculated to relegate livelihood issues in the service of ever-more centralising monopolies is scary to the new yuppy classes and their favoured articulators in the media. The preservation of extreme economic centralisation has most need of a corresponding political centralisation—an ideological schema that is best served by Caesar rather than by holier-than-thou democrats whose allegiance to the Constitutional Republic may turn out to be more than mere lip-service or fake legitimising tactic. There is a terror in the air at the thought that the discourse of Rights may find new life and, should 2019 upset the applecart, bring the vast masses back into the reckoning of policy-making. India is best left to the one per cent who now own some seventythree per cent of national wealth. “Modernity” must not be allowed to be defaced by concern for equality, not even in socio-religious-cultural terms.
The bypoll results, however, threaten to disenfranchise those for whom franchise is a mere and miserable necessity—for now. If in Kairana, the Dalits voted with their nemesis, the Jats, and the Jats voted with their bête noire, the Muslims, the event was clearly something much more than an arithmetical coming together at the behest of coveted leaderships: it was a declaration from the field that disingenuous chicaneries and glib and vacuous claims have had their day. The people across the board seem willing and ready to reclaim the Republic, if indeed the political formations that represent them show the intelligence not to miss the wood for the trees.
Inevitably the onus and the opprobrium falls on the Indian National Congress. And it must be extremely disquieting to Messrs Modi and Shah that this hitherto slumbering whale of a force should be finding a new nimbleness and recognition with respect to the needs of the historical moment. The much-maligned Rahul Gandhi seems palpably not only to have honed the organisation and its spokespersons into a sharp fighting brigade but equally persuaded older scions used to more quiescent ways that when the time beckons much needs to be given in order that much is gained. This pruning and renewal of thought already lends heart to other political forces whose struggles in their own places remain admirably staunch and ideologi-cally willing. That the “Opposition” is refusing to fall into the trap set everyday by media channels on behalf of the ruling dispensation that the coming contest will be one between two personalities rather than two contrasting perceptions of how to salvage and run the Republic bespeaks a needed shift to democratic and devolutionary wisdom. Most of those who represent some sixtyfive per cent of the electorate have come to the realisation that should they fail in the coming General Electiions, the rules and structures of State may so change that there may be negligible chance of retrieval. Much as media propaganda will have us believe that this “ragtag bunch” and “motley crowd”—phrases suggestive of the great esteem in which media faithfuls hold the notion of representative democracy—the fact is that they are seeking to come together not just to save themselves but save the realm.
Indeed, if such be the understanding of a Chandrababu Naidu, a KCR, a Mamata Bannerjee, and a Naveen Patnaik as well, they must prepare to transcend old habits and animosities and play their part in the transformation for which some eighty per cent Indians pine.
In the months remaining to the Elections, although the discourse of “Modi magic and charisma” will not but become noisier, the “objective conditions” are such that the regime will be hard put to find avenues of retrieval; its recourse may be mightily to drum up the battle-cry, attempt something more than a “surgical strike”, shame us into “nationalist” surrender and so forth. Not to leave out the standard operating procedure of Hindutva’s cultural mayhem. One dare say that all this may not work as Oppositional arithmetic finds a new sentience from a felt chemistry of collective alteration. But never underestimate the State, specially when it be governed by a political force that draws breath from its coercive and cunning possibilities.
If the people are in their elements and the Opposition leaderships in their senses, all will yet be well with the Republic.
Those millions who lie buried and mingled with Mother India’s earth—mainly Muslims and Christians—deserve to hear good news in the coming days and months, as do other millions whose ashes flow and sanctify our rivers and seas.
Badri Raina, 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 book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.