India’s political scenario today is unprecedented. All political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, still seem dazed by the recent Lok Sabha election verdict.
The 2019 polls truly stand alone — there is no comparable election, nor identifiable pattern. This is not the first time results have stumped parties and pollsters; those who have been watching elections for the past four decades are familiar with political quakes. But the way social and political forces are shaping up this time is new.
The BJP’s domination today is complete. The coming assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi may stir some interest, but the results are written on the wall. The media will probably whip up some superficial suspense and social media will tango and troll, but the mystery is gone.
It is not as if the so-called observers and experts have been able to decipher this. While there has been much ‘psychoanalysis’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, there has hardly been any mapping of what the next five years might be like.
Can history predict the future?
Indira Gandhi’s stunning victory in March 1971 did change the character of the Indian polity. It was the first time the term ‘wave’ gained political currency, with Indira Gandhi sweeping to power on the back of the “Garibi Hatao” slogan. Eight months later came the Bangladesh Liberation War, further cementing Indira’s status.
But just two years after that, India was hit by an economic crisis following the sharp rise in global crude oil prices. This was further compounded by the ‘century’s worst drought’, leading to widespread famine.
We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.
Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.
Massive social unrest followed, bringing to the national stage the phenomenon called Jayaprakash Narayan (JP). Political confrontation between JP and Indira, and the structural deadlock between the state and the emerging forces led to the Emergency.
Indira’s authoritarianism is often compared with Modi’s autocratic style. But the two leaders, as also their times, are very different.
Indira and Sanjay Gandhi’s defeat in Raebareli and Amethi in March 1977 was shocking, but the polity was not drastically changed. The JP movement and the Janata Party were rooted in the overall Congress culture. Jayaprakash provided continuity to the legacy of the freedom movement and then-Prime Minister Morarji Desai with Jagjivan Ram reflected the Congress ethos.
Although the JP movement’s popularity among the youth cannot be compared with the frenzy for Narendra Modi today, one common factor is the search for a drastic change by breaking the old shibboleths and the readiness to plunge into the unknown. Today, a large number of Indian youth may be driven by radical ‘anti-Muslim Hindutva’, but their life’s aspirations are material, not spiritual.
They might be swayed by the idea of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, influenced by polarised sentiments, but frenzies by definition are like tides. The strong tidal waves do create fright, but once they start retreating, the stark reality of the coastal damage and disruption caused by them becomes visible.
Party will need new causes
The coming assembly elections may provide an interregnum of sorts, but once they are over, the economic cyclone and the financial-institutional crash will become visible. Raids by the Enforcement Directorate or the Income Tax department on the Vadras and the Chidambarams may help score some brownie points, but they won’t hide the non-performing assets of the banks.
Further attacks on the Congress or the Nehru-Gandhi family will not rescue the BJP from political twisters, since the Congress will not be seen as a political challenge anyway. The party’s position is similar to one of confusion and puzzlement while regaining consciousness after being in a state of coma.
The looming economic disaster can’t be overcome by Hindutva, or by blaming Indian Muslims or by accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorism.
Campaigns against ‘love jihad’ or ‘anti-national’ intellectuals will cease to have the sting. Elections in West Bengal may provide some space for violent communal polarisation, but its life span will be limited.
The shock therapies like demonetisation or even surgical strikes will not make headlines anymore. Bringing back Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi may get some dramatic moments for the likes of Arnab Goswamis and Rajat Sharmas, but fewer and fewer viewers will tune in for the dead horse stories.
The invincible duo and new ‘Hindu Emperors’, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, will have no such helplines — the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, Hindutva, Pakistan — to play the game. Their ‘skills’ in headline management or theatrical foreign trips will lose colour.
The known and the unknown
Whatever happens, the BJP will not split. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will retain its hold over many institutions. The Election Commission will continue to be tame. The judiciary will remain cooperative and responsible, as recent communications between the Chief Justice of India and the Prime Minister show. The Reserve Bank of India will play ball in cutting or not cutting interest rates. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will be cooperative like the ED and the I-T department. The media, by and large, will remain embedded.
What no one can predict are the various international configurations. What US President Donald Trump will do and how global trade will affect India’s imports and exports. What will Pakistan or its non-state actors do and how India will react. What will happen in our neighbourhood and how China will impact the world and India.
The spectre of anarchy cannot be wished away by the oratorical skills of Narendra Modi, the ruthless strategies of Amit Shah and NSA Ajit Doval or even the diplomatic trapeze of Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar.
The country has been plunged into an uncertain future, even as its past is being reconstructed. That is perhaps the reason why the political class and the experts appear bewildered. They, too, have entered the dark cave without a candle.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.
News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.