By Swapan Dasgupta
If my good friend and Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tiwari who is showering media organisations with the full generosity of Bharat Nirman was to make himself even more popular, he should initiate a six-figure, tax free award for the most ‘supportive’ newspaper headline of the day. That he hasn’t done so as yet is unfortunate but he should be inspired by a headline on page four of the Delhi edition of Indian Express which may have displayed devastating political prescience: “No Modi effect, BJD sweeps civic polls.”
That the people living in the small urban clusters of Odisha are voting along traditional lines for municipal polls and not being swayed by pictures of NaMo pasted on walls by a BJP that still remains a poor third party in the state should, perhaps, be giving sleepless nights to someone in distant Gandhinagar. Indeed, by this logic, some of those BJP leaders who felt left out and eclipsed by the Parliamentary Board resolution of September 13 may still be fancying their chances as today’s Lazarus. Who knows, the ripples from small town Odisha may even persuade the BJP that putting up umpteen hoardings of the Man from Gujarat may not help divert the attention of the voters of Delhi state from the shortcomings of its local leadership.
In the whodunits of the pre-1945 era, the invariable refrain was that the butler did it. In the pre-election scenario of India 2013, the spirit of Modi is detected everywhere. According to this ‘narrative’ (a good word jargonised by a tribe of academic mystics across the Atlantic), good and ‘secular’ Indians are busy exorcising the evil spirit from their lives—as the Indian Express detected they successfully did in 65 of the 66 urban bodies that polled last week in Odisha. Likewise, the bad, communal people who don’t share the prescribed “idea of India” are apparently busy invoking the evil asura at mahapanchayats and sending forth the fanatics to either butcher innocent minorities or destroy their homes.
Who says “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” was a well-crafted but macabre Hollywood fantasy? According to the “narrative” we hear from alarmed intellectuals who are reading and re-reading their dusty copies of William Shirer, Ian Kershaw and Richard Evans, India in 2013 is exactly where a European country was in 1933. The only difference is that in 80 years a black paintbrush moustache has evolved into a white beard.
Like the ‘foreign hand’ which Indira Gandhi used to warn the country about from the months preceding the Emergency, sections of India have been engulfed by something resembling a ‘great fear’. For intellectuals, it is the great fear of a ‘narrative’ change and attendant losses of privileges that came from being part of the larger Nehruvian consensus; for a minusculity of aesthetes who are uncomfortable with people they didn’t go to school and college with, there are contrived fears of being forced to drink gau-mutra as a sun-downer; and for yet others, it is a fear of the very ‘idea of Modi’ that is disorienting.
Whether or not all these diverse fears will coalesce in 2014 to give the thumbs-down to the challenger is best left for assessment in the coming months, particularly after the December elections to the state Assemblies. Frankly speaking, it doesn’t matter very much if the intellectuals and the aesthetes treat the electoral outcome as a wake or a memorial meeting for a dispensation that has outlived its national utility. What is more relevant is whether the unending alarmist propaganda has a more sinister objective: to create panic among India’s Muslim minority.
Indeed, this is what appears to be happening. The reason why a small incident in Muzaffarnagar escalated into a serious communal riot had everything to do with the cynical politics of the Samajwadi Party-led government of Uttar Pradesh. What some people hoped would be a ‘controlled’ conflagration to reinforce a ghetto mentality abruptly went out of control and led to some deaths and large-scale dispossession. Ideally, the anger of those who saw their belligerence backfire horribly as the clashes spread to the countryside should have been directed at the political leaders who cynically used them as cannon fodder. Unfortunately, they have been encouraged by the entire secular establishment to view the Muzaffarnagar riots as a trailer of what is to come if Modi becomes PM. Cabinet Minister and Congress ‘strategist’ Jairam Ramesh said this quite explicitly, and this inflammatory formulation was greeted without any sense of outrage by the professional secularists. Indeed, the tensions in UP have become the occasion to press for the grotesque Communal Violence Bill which aims at the permanent compartmentalisation of India into a majority and minorities.
Sunday Pioneer, September 22, 2013