Sunday Pioneer, December 1, 2013
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Sunday, November 17, 2013
By Swapan Dasgupta
The only charitable thing that can be said about Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal is that he is unrepresentative of the class that remains totally unreconciled to the rise and rise of Narendra Modi. Those who are pathologically allergic to the Gujarat Chief Minister aren't those who chew paan and spit venom against someone who began life selling tea on a railway platform in Gujarat. No, a pointless remark that Modi's origins would rule him out from the Prime Minister's post would never escape their. The real detractors of Modi wouldn't provide him such a wonderful propaganda handle--one that would prompt an automatic unity of the less privileged. They would instead snigger at his apparently flawed exposition of history, snigger at the accent with which he said "Yes we can" at the rally in Hyderabad two months ago and proffer suitably erudite comments on how Modi's "idea of India" is at variance with the one they have never spelt out but yet hold dear.
The striking thing about the great polarisation that is happening as a warm-up to the real general battle in April-May next year is that the intellectual class has moved from open confrontation to guerrilla warfare. The New York Times may still pen an editorial stating that they find the growing national clout of Modi deeply disturbing. Similar tut-tutting accounts of Indian waywardness may still appear in occasional foreign papers, inspired in the main by non-residents of Indian origin who feel that the most convenient route to Western cosmopolitan acceptance is to decry what they perceive is the bigotry of the land of their origin. However, what is interesting is how little these 'global' interventions have impacted the otherwise phoren-loving citizens of India.
Let me be explicit. Till about six months ago, the conventional wisdom among the India-watchers of the world was that although the Congress was in a spot of bother over the inability of the shehzada to take off, Modi was hardly an answer to rampant anti-incumbency. What was this profundity based on? The answer is obvious: inputs from the intellectual class that hobnobs with diplomats, travel abroad for weighty seminars on strategic issues and, generally, are the resident guides to the native mind.
To such people, Modi was some tilak-wearing bigot with support among the Gujarati moneybags around the world but who would find it hard pressed to find a single respectable supporter in the class that knows the right way to use a knife and fork. It is interesting that within the European Union countries, the most dogged resistance to any contact with the Gujarat Chief Minister came from the ambassador of a country that successfully sells weapons to India but perceives itself as culturally superior--I really couldn't get more explicit. The reasons have nothing to do with their belief in the lofty principles of the European Enlightenment and everything to do with the Indian interlocutors of their choosing.
I refer to this not as an amusing aside or to point out the growing desperation of those who in the past quite arrogantly referred to Modi as a "mass murderer" but only to indicate that an intellectual establishment that had been nurtured on the loaves and fishes of the Nehruvian high table, has suddenly shifted gear. The swagger may have been replaced by a contrite admission that the Congress has 'mishandled' the Modi phenomenon and that, yes, the Gujarat Chief Minister is creating quite a stir throughout the country. But what hasn't diminished is the determination to ensure that the Modi project is either scuttled or, better still, completely emasculated.
Frontal and unambiguous opposition is easy to deal with. What is more problematic is the sly subterfuge of a project with the idea of ensuring that political change is accompanied by no real substantial change. Tragically, this is what happened to the NDA in the years of Atal Behari Vajpayee's prime ministership. In a bid to ensure that the BJP was transformed into a natural party of government, a section of the party convinced itself that the Indian establishment had come over to it lock, stock and barrel--just as it had come over to the Congress after the British packed their bags and departed in 1947.
Looking back, these were the years of missed opportunities. The old establishment remoulded the BJP leaders in their own image and, after the NDA's surprise defeat in 2004, went back effortlessly to the Congress. If the BJP was left dispirited and disoriented for eight years after 2004, it was partly due to a leadership crisis and partly an inability to define the party in its own terms. If some BJP leaders hadn't tried too hard to make themselves 'respectable' to an intellectual class that viewed the entire movement with social disdain, many problems would have been averted.
All political parties need to evolve with the times and the BJP is no exception. But this transformation can be effected in two ways: by assuming someone else's identity or a more organic evolution. The growing popular acceptance of Modi is not because the BJP's evolution is complete. In India people look at leaders first and endorse their agenda subsequently. As such the Modi project is still a work in progress.
This is fortuitous because the Gujarat Chief Minister can avoid falling into the same trap that was successfully set for the Vajpayee dispensation. He can live and grow with the opposition of the dominant intellectual, now licking its wounds and contemplating the next move; what he cannot afford is being embraced by the same rotters and coopted by them.
India wants change. Modi must not shy away from providing it.
Sunday Pioneer, November 17, 2013