The post-truth world believes perception is reality. Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks invincible. His popularity only increases – year after year, election after election. With majority support, it seems like only he could have abrogated Article 370 the way he did or criminalised triple talaq or won with a massive mandate even after demonetisation and downfall of the economy.
And yet, Modi is fearful. Who can possibly scare the Prime Minister? Not terrorists, trade unionists, voters or opposition leaders, but a small group of intellectuals. The thinkers of India.
The BJP likes to disparagingly call them the ‘Khan Market gang’ or the ‘Lutyens’ club’.
No Bolshevik Revolution here
India’s intellectuals are not plotting a Bolshevik Revolution to overthrow the Modi government. But the troika – Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Ajit Doval – treat them with nothing but contempt and suspicion. And now Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami has called them the ‘Negativity Gang’.
What happened to ‘sickular’ or ‘jholawalas’ or ‘NGO types’, one wonders.
The BJP’s social media machinery aggressively and viciously trolls this community. Sometimes, even supporters of Modi criticise his policies or statements. But the troll armies do not spare them either. They are instantly thrown into the Khan Market club. There is no mercy petition—be it a Mohandas Pai or a Tavleen Singh.
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This so-called class of intellectuals or media commentators is not united. Their ideologies are as diverse as the fifty shades of grey, like Manish Tewari likes to say. They do not belong to any political party. Indeed, they take huge pride in being totally ‘independent’. But Modi’s BJP likes to treat them as one bloc.
And it’s not like they criticise only the BJP. India’s intellectuals want Sonia Gandhi to take certain major steps and they advise Rahul Gandhi on how to be a leader. They write extensively on what the Left, in general, and communists, in particular, should do to come out of the irrelevance they are currently in. But none of them directly participate in any party fora.
I would not call them armchair pontiffs. Nor would I condemn them as self-centred bystanders, unwilling to take the plunge in politics. Most of them genuinely want to keep freedoms intact and scholarship alive. They do not want to fall prey to party discipline or tightly binding ideology. This class believes that the powers that be are afraid of ideas, debates and intellectual exchange.
A harmless community
So, in what way are they a threat to the vast power structure Narendra Modi has in his command? Or how can they make a dent in his charisma (manufactured or real)? They have no mass following, beyond Khan Market or Lutyens’ Delhi. They can only impress each other in the seminars at the India International Centre or the Habitat Centre. They gossip privately.
Politically, this community is totally harmless. These intellectual groups exist in most countries. For instance, in the US, this community is sardonically known as the ‘Boston Brahmins’. In England, in the post-aristocratic era, the university-educated elite acquired that status. George Bernard Shaw, in his famous play Pygmalion, characterises them as vain parasites.
In Communist Russia, this intellectual lot was called the nomenklatura, though their vanity and status came from their proximity to the state or party bosses. The Indian Communist parties too had their own ‘Marxist Brahmins’, who dictated and dominated the politburo – the Bhadralok in Bengal. Today, the Brahminical hold over this community is still deep and wide.
What scares Modi
But why does Narendra Modi hold this class in such utter contempt? Is it deep-rooted in the ‘anti-Brahminism’ of the OBCs? For the last few years, Modi has been wearing his OBC status on his sleeve. But there is a paradox. The RSS, even today, is extremely Brahmin-dominated. Although, there was a conscious effort when Balasaheb Deoras became the Sarsanghchalak to promote OBCs in the party.
There are often reports from within the Sangh Parivar that the RSS and Modi are not on the same page. Occasionally there is hush-hush talk about the RSS hostility towards Modi. The RSS apparatchiks say that the Sangh has always been against a personality cult.
But Modi’s power flows from that personality cult. If the cult goes, power vanishes. So, there are constant efforts to preserve the image. Press conferences or real interaction with the media can damage the image. So, the scripted interviews continue.
Arnab Goswami would be better than Ravish Kumar. Conversation with Akshay Kumar is better than with Ramachandra Guha. Prasoon Joshi is more suitable than Pritish Nandy. Monologue ‘Mann ki Baat’ is better than dialogue.
Neither the Modi government nor the Sangh Parivar has intellectuals in their vast armies. Even though Brahmin, most in the Khan Market gang are brought up on Western intellectual and literary diet. So, they do not join the Hindutva bandwagon. Some of them prefer to be quiet fellow travellers of the Parivar.
Modi feels intellectually vulnerable in their company.
No country for intellectuals
The mediocre is always afraid and hateful of the ‘buddhijivi’. Their inferiority complex and lack of comprehension of multi-dimensional reality make their choices limited. They prefer simplistic solutions to complex issues – like for Ram Mandir, triple talaq, beef, yoga, etc.
Modi is at once a product of the mediocrity of the Sangh and a megalomaniac personality. So, he feels threatened by clever people who challenge his facts and narrative. He tries to create the world in his own image. He is not happy to be just a Prime Minister. He wants to be a world statesman. The pliant media helps in this image-making process.
Modi’s attack on Khan Market and Lutyens’ Delhi is a reflection of his acute insecurity. Instead of facing the opposition, he runs them down in public; instead of arguing with reason, he creates a fog of faith. Instead of meeting the press, he meets embedded editors and bonded members of Parliament.
The Indian nomenklatura and the Boston Brahmins in Khan Market threaten his carefully crafted image. He knows that if the image cracks, his days as PM will be numbered. So, condemn the thinkers of India to rally around the mass of mediocrity.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.
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