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Hamara desh badal gaya hai

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Why Nitish’s latest defection is actually a desertion of an ideological offering which has run its course in the new, I-don’t-owe-you-nothing India.

There is no better pointer of the short-termism of our public debate than the fact that it is confined to the presumption that Nitish Kumar and his party’s mass defection from one political grouping to its ideological opposite means Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have sealed 2019. To argue the opposite, you will either have to be recklessly brave or drinking some dangerous moonshine sold illegally in Bihar. The real implication of this shift will last way beyond 2019.

It is how it signals a change in Indian politics and society, in short, public opinion. It also means the rise of a political giant more powerful and successful than Indira Gandhi. Don’t jump in protest saying Indira ruled more states, won three general elections. Because she had inherited a party already well-settled in power with little opposition. Modi won his, fighting against opposition within his (then) fractious party but also many ideological adversaries with large vote banks.

Now he and his party president control their party more strongly than Indira ever did. The opposition is at its weakest since 1952 (never mind its lower numbers in 1984-89 after Rajiv Gandhi’s sweep). The media is mostly and happily down on its knees, cheering from the sidelines, afraid to even ask a question like how is the RBI unable to count demonetised currency in a full nine months when ordinary human beings can produce another in that much time.

The judiciary, when not running Indian cricket, is engaged in such vital pursuits as teaching us unpatriotic half-wits respect for the national anthem, and now a national song, besides imposing a Rs 5,000-fine for defecating along the Yamuna. The only instance of constitutional defiance by the Supreme Court lately has been the striking down of the National Judicial Appointments Commission to protect its own freedom – to hire and fire its own. And some are complaining about a vice-chancellor asking for a souvenir tank to sit astride his unruly campus. We are fortunate he hasn’t asked for a police armoured car, if not a real tank with live ammunition on his unruly campus.

This is just a listing of facts as we see them at the end of what feels like a very long time in politics in Churchillian terms. Political analysis has to be divorced of the writer’s voting preferences, so we will refrain from calling it a good or a bad turn. But a turn it has been that dumps all existing assumptions, equations and linkages of our politics. Let us, therefore, only paint a picture of our politics post-Nitish, and after three years into the Modi-Shah project.

INDIA NOW has a new kind of political dispensation and a mood to match. Many of the values and ideas, some good, some not so good or obsolete, concepts of virtuosity and morality, and most importantly ideology, are now dead and cremated. It is tough to convince Indian millennials – an overwhelming majority of our voters now – of the virtues of secularism when every standard-bearer of the idea is a corrupt and controversial dynast. Or, the Left whose hypocritical idea of irreligious secularism is compounded by its globally failed economics.

It is impossible to peddle an idea of relaxed nationalism when your leaders have been raising questions over a catastrophic terror attack such as 26/11, speaking against death sentences to terrorists though confirmed by the Supreme Court, or calling the Batla House encounter fake although it took place under your own government’s watch and which gave the nation’s highest gallantry award to the police inspector killed. You might claim you have freedom of expression, but then also use it to speak the truth about your party’s leader.

How convincing will protests sound if the road leading to JNU was named after Savarkar or Golwalkar now? Remember, you named an auditorium in Jamia Millia after Edward Said, the road leading to it Shahrah-e-Arjun Singh. Or, your concept of pro-poor governance when all you managed to deliver were leaky, populist, vote-catching yojanas mostly named after your own ancestors. Check the great promise of social equality with the record of all the parties that would have constituted the fantasy of mahagathbandhan. Not one Muslim, Dalit or tribal leader has been allowed to rise, barring those leading their own mini-dynasties. And finally the commitment to liberalism had been reduced to this farcical opposition to Aadhaar, which was your own idea.

The fundamental mood change in India implied that what is virtuous in politics has been redefined by not one but two generations of voters. The past was rooted in politics of freedom movement. So self-denial and sacrifice, submission to a call of conscience, an exaggerated sense of political correctness are all dated. Today’s currency is power, and the ability to wield it without ever having to say sorry. Modi’s political CV tells you he passes this test more than any other political contestant today. Neither did he offer to resign, nor asked for anybody else’s resignation after the 2002 riots despite pressure from Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He ignored the Lalit Modi and Vyapam scandals with total nonchalance. Smriti Irani may have been moved to a less important position, but her rehabilitation is on. Want still more evidence of his approach: he hasn’t even fired the one man who has brought his government more embarrassment and ridicule than any dozen others: CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani.

In my first comment on the 2014 election results I had said that the new Indian voter had a post-ideological, I-don’t-owe-you-nothing and what’s-in-it-for me mindset. BJP’s continuing success doesn’t mean that Indian secularism and liberalism has ended. Question it raises is, how deep-set was the belief we seemed to have earlier. It is more likely that it wasn’t too deep. So a large majority now see a justification for what they always believed, but were constrained from speaking out because of old-generation morality, political correctness or hypocrisies. The Modi-Shah BJP has relieved new India of that old baggage. And Indians are loving it.

At this point, no opposition leader or grouping has a counter to this. Congress has shrunk to nothing and will nearly die if it loses Karnataka. Amarinder Singh, in Punjab, will then find himself in a Nitish kind of pincer, alternately pressured and charmed by the Centre, and handling interference and suspicions of the high command. Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal will hold out for some time but won’t be able to keep the mighty BJP at bay. Kerala still has some time to go, but Congress will yield some space there to BJP.

Fair or not, it is inaccurate to call Nitish a defector. It might be more apt to describe his flight to BJP as a desertion, a flight-in-fright and then seeking asylum with the BJP. He had the realism to acknowledge the futility of a fight to the finish which could have ended only one way. He is a survivor durable enough to know it’s a changed, me-first, self and selfie-obsessed Indian voter. The slogans he used so far, especially socialism and secularism, have no sex appeal. He has no fresh ideas. So better be a colonial-style Indian Raja and cede sovereignty for power over your subjects. Sooner than later, most remaining opposition leaders will face the same choices: desert or die. Or if you have the imagination, find a marketable new proposition.

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  1. This is an accurate reading of the national mood. Nitish Kumar is being a realistic – his caste credentials will never get him to be a bigger leader than Lalu. His only option to remain relevant is to align with the BJP’s base, thus forming a new and very wide social coalition. While this may seem galling to those on the left, Bihar is a desperately poor state and needs rapid economic development. That cannot happen in a dispensation that Lalu runs. One important omission in this otherwise brilliant article is the sudden prominence of the far left. The middle of the road socialists are withering, and seem to be aligning with the fringe on the left when it suits them. The challenge before the BJP is to ensure that the new generation of voters does not fall for a tired, old and bogus narrative that the fringe-left seeks top peddle.

  2. “It is tough to convince Indian millennials – an overwhelming majority of our voters now – of the virtues of secularism when every standard-bearer of the idea is a corrupt and controversial dynast.” — I don’t think our Indian millennials need to be “convinced of the virtues of secularism”. Sure, there might be a better balance of secularism than what the BJP offers — but the Congress, SP, BSP, RJD, TMC or the Left are not that.

    • There is an inherent suggestion that the millenials are not secular. That’s false. Most youngsters are less socially rigid than their parents, and a pan-Indian identity is done and dusted. Certain groups might self exclude from the mainstream regardless, but what can the other groups do about that?

  3. What a wonderfully written, well articulated, reasoned and realistic assessment of stated of
    political affairs of India. Kudos to Mr. Shekhar and thanks. Keep on enlightening us.

  4. Shekharji, Great write up, very insightful. It is the kind of stuff common man thinks /talks about our media( I dare say electronic media is too disconnected if not print media ) seems disconnected with general public feeling. Hope this gives a fillip to badly needed reform in higher education and push to state government’s( easier BJP ruled states) to reform faster..

  5. Shekhar ji!

    Spot on – the fact that even the Parliamentary committee could not extract a detailed reply from the RBI Governor who got away by saying additional counting machines are being deployed is like ” Alice in Wonderland “! By the time the populace realises their mistake it shall be too little too late – I know its regressive but the fact remains- UNIVERSAL SURFAGE DOES PROVE CHURCHILL RIGHT – rosary beeds in the hands of monkeys!

  6. Nothing succeeds like success. The trend suggest that. But Mr.Gupta covered only political aspect and impact of current scenario. He has not addressed the socio economic aspect of it.
    None of the economic plan of the current government had succeeded be it digital india, make in india, demonetisation, NPA of banks, jobs, Farmers , economy, relations with our Neighbors including Nepal a long time ally. Also on social front , mob lynching, beef, minorities, farmers nothing seems to work good for India.
    So if we compare current success of present BJP govt with its political gains some thru Electoral process some thru manoeuvring vs the socio economic problems I am not sure where India will stand in 2019.

  7. However much I might hate the conclusion, it is difficult to deny the seeming truth in Gupta’s cynical observations. And there is no reason to suspect his credentials, his newspaper is among the very few that are standing tall in this month of mayhem.

    But can faith and democratic values sell so cheap? Could a majority of Hindu Indians have hidden their antipathy towards the “other” so neatly just because of Nehruvian idealism and political correctness?

    I refuse to believe it. Who ever cared for Congress and Nehru so much?

    Or could it be a different proposition, that Indians are passing through a period of fleeting madness from which they will recover soon?

    There doesn’t seem to be light at the end of the tunnel, but it would be stupid to accept darkness as the last word.

  8. Good analysis of current picture. But, with political situation going the way it is going, the pertinent question needing discussion is : If Modiji turns out, in due course of time, a ‘benevolent dictator’ for India, through democracy only, is it good for a county like India? What could be long term consequences for India?

  9. Well, on the one hand Mr.Gupta doles out advice to the “liberals” and “intellectuals” that the new India is not burdened with notions and philosophies of yore and on the other hand he still seems to hang on to date and ill-found narratives. It is nobody’s case that religion driven fanaticism is good but it is not as if religion has taken centre stage in Indian society and it’s politics only with the Jan Sangh and BJP. Every single politician since Independence and even prior to that has used religion selectively to further his/her fortunes. The years of appeasement of certain sections of society has vitiated the fabric of Indian society and has created fissures which have been surfacing in the recent years. The day every citizen is treated equally with no reference to religion, caste, language or region is when the society will move forward to achieve the greatness that it aspires to. And who decides who is the flag-bearer of virtuosity. There is always an alternative view to every view and the so-called “liberals”, “intellectuals” and “analysts” better open up their minds and accept this reality.

  10. Journos like Shekar Gupta and likes of him earn their living by writing against popular positive trends of the country because it makes them stand out. Freedom of speech does not mean you abuse the situation and create a ruckus and throw mud on the government. Like Nitish journos like him are playing their last innings and I do my best is to ignore them because they market themselves – jaldi badal ja nahi toh koi nahi padega tere article

  11. One facet this column does not address is governance / economic development that must be visible on the ground to the average voter. That sustains long term political domination.

  12. Under the creation of illusion of a balanced article, Mr. Gupta has criticized Mr. Modi very unjustly. Does he believe in our judiciary or no? Does he believe that no matter how hard Congress tried, Modi came out smelling good about 2002 riots? Why should he have resigned? Did Mr. Gupta criticized any minister of UPA government for not resigning even after one scandal after another? And what is so embarrassing about what Pahlaj Nihalani has done that he should have resigned? So all in all just by also criticizing Congress Sarkar you cannot fool as a fair and balanced writer.

  13. 1) Nitish took a U-Turn not the people of Bihar.
    2) Parties may seem weak as opposition, does not mean PEOPLE will also succumb.
    3) Modi has wrecked the economy. May reverse political fortunes.
    4) Socio-religious fissures are out of control. Don’t expect uncritical support from people in 2019.
    5) Credibility of media has reversed in 2017. Same media cannot be trusted blindly now by 2019 voters.
    6) Corporate India vs Common People is more believable electoral plank now than ever before.
    7) To trust one man as capable of changing things is going to prove most difficult idea to convince voters now.
    8) Farmers, workers, white-collar employees, small traders or upper class all are facing economic downturn. Can we expect more support in 2019 for Modi than 2014?

  14. The author is more interested in showing his control of the English language! Very verbose; and successful in camouflaging the (few) important points in unnecessary sentences.
    God alone knows the (low) number of readers this article has impressed.

  15. Isn’t this change part of a global trend? Unlike in the past, consolidation to this extent is unstable given the impact of social media in constructing political narratives – a counter narrative can easily come about as quickly if the ground realities don’t change. Modi is indeed the most extraordinary politician India and perhaps the world is going to see but people in this age of speed itch for change as quickly as one changes their messages on twitter!

  16. ” desert or die. Or if you have the imagination, find a marketable new proposition”
    That’s how it always was.. the desert applies to an appalling rag tag bunch of scoundrels like you have mentioned. So really it has not changed

  17. How can U say that Supreme Court does not take decisions independently, It may be wrong from your point of view, but correct from the Supreme court point of view.
    Why do you always think that always you are right.

  18. Very good and apt and realistic description

    my own thoughts were that Modiji is going to take China way where economic freedom is there but no political one

  19. Nice article from Shakher when things are not going the way he think it should be.I have been following his interview,tv commentary on tv or his article and he tried to blame politician or political system whenever thing go other way.i have following query to ask.
    1.What about media which is biased either on right or left like republic ,timesnow or NDTV -will you ever accept ?
    2. What about truth -Hold you hand on your heart and say why ppl supported demonetisation and Modi won election after election.
    3.The major part of this frustration that social media challenging every view and journalist are worst hit who used to think commentary on issue is their monopoly.Every journo or Celebrity whether on right side or left on tweeter get 30-50 % tweet of counter view and around 10 percent abusive tweet which is normally global rate but ppl in media used it to reflect on other side and try to create environment of intolerance only suit their narrative.
    Lastly till the time media will not held actually people responsibile like Judges,police or local collector etc for law and order and try to make political about everything nothing will change.Nobody can support killing of people in the name of religion.

  20. First of all, Socialism and Secularism were part of original constitution created by freedom fighters. These poisonous idea was planted in 42nd amendment of Constitution by Indira when she had unrestricted power. Then masses were brainwashed to believe in these failed theories to the extent where they were ready to be sacrificed but will never stand for themselves. The sooner we throw these ideas, the better for us and our civilization. Otherwise, Hinduism will become a showcase in museums along with mummies & Greek gods.

    • Why sir are you so threatened for Hinduism? It has lasted 5000 years and it is dangerous to mix religion with politics. The Indisn constitution allows a person to follow their own religion. Hinduism has yielded global religions such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Have faith in yourself and don’t be insecure.

  21. Crazy article. Problem is not BJP but Congress. Y has no leader been developed in 65 years of Congress. We need leaders even for opposition. Modi is having a empty field. Thank God he is a good person or else Indian would be doomed

  22. Not sure – writer is feeling happy or sad with this development ? Or deciding ? Confused ? Like many of his ilk – unable to decipher what is happening around !!!

  23. Cynical and pessimistic, advocating “willing surrender to the inevitable”, in other words “enjoy the rape”.

  24. The greatest disadvantage congress has today is it has taken stupid decisions like dividing andhra pradesh.Andhra folks are blind followers of congress even in emergency.So in politics there will be no murders.It be only suicides.Hence it can never imagine to comeback.RIP

  25. Very succinct analysis. What about states like TN, Andhra/Telangana? To remain relevant, the opposition, if any must provide a better alternative.

  26. This is the most accurate write up on today’s politics. However, Since you want Modi to resign for Godra which was a reaction went uncomfortable, did you ask Rajiv to resign for created massacre of Sikhs nor questioned Sonia to apologize

    • Let’s not deflect the point made in this article or find ways to justify things. This piece is one of the best description of India today.

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