Sunday 19 September 2021
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Modi Complacent?

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow do you try and stymie, if not unseat, an elected government with the first absolute majority in 30 years? Use agitational politics; go for the jugular, but try to win the battle of perception. Prevent all progress as best you can, and say, before each parliamentary session — getting things done, is the responsibility of the government. This was the muscularity hit upon by a badly mauled Congress. Still, with just 45 seats in the Lok Sabha, and some 68 in the Rajya Sabha, it took audacity. Good job that it happens to be working just fine, both in terms of its obstruction, and its ability to unite different elements of the opposition.

But, what else would have saved Congress from oblivion, after those general election results of 2014? Certainly not being a constructive, responsible opposition.

Besides, it was inspiring, an eye-opener, for all, to see what an NGO type, a complete Johnny-come-lately, could do. It was spectacular success for a new-fangled, do-it-yourself instant politician, and the political party he built from scratch. The AAP’s entire salience, man and machine, was born on a makeshift stage at Jantar Mantar, on a metaphorical Monday. It purloined the aam aadmi slogan on Tuesday; reprised the Gandhi cap in paper, with its party name printed on it, like ones made for American cafeteria employees, on Wednesday. And then, just like that, it stole the election for Delhi quasi-state, twice over; once on Thursday, followed by a tantrum, and then again on Friday, for keeps, or five years, at least.

What USP did this AAP use? Agitational politics of course, with anti- for a sauce. It was very different from the grim revolution advocated by JP Narayan all those years ago, but perhaps that was just the despair politics of a dying man. The AAP style is derived from the NGO universe. It uses slogans, placards, dharnas, hoardings, three-wheeled scooter portraits, marches, gheraos, wild allegations, fiery speeches, reheated Marxism, self-glorifying advertisements, donations, freebies, shaming, naming and blaming, a platoon of freshly acquired never-been-a-politician-before acolytes, and plenty, just plenty, of free media exposure, over and above the ads.

While Rahul Gandhi’s Congress has admiringly adopted a lot of this, his elders have gilded the lily, and turned the enterprise into something more sinister, befitting the political skills of a party that has ruled this country for decades. In the grown-up version, the orchestrated disruption in the legislature, the use of procedural blocks, vague threats, accusations, gratuitous insults, sneers, slurs, are all there, supplemented with making common cause with every anti-national enterprise on offer for a force multiplier, and to make trouble for the government.

But when the Congress was on the receiving end of such politics, it imposed the Emergency, way back in the seventies. Now, it has torn a page out of that very book, for inspiration. If the idea was to provoke the government into a crack-down, then it is starting to succeed. It has certainly closed the gap between seized issues — from a suicide Dalit/OBC student in the South, and over two dozen live separatists/seditionists in the North.

Both fall in nicely within the brackets that need to contain references to Leftist/Dalit/Muslim/Casteist emoticons — linked hopefully to the spontaneous arsonist’s tinder box. The Congress has invested much political capital and sunk-cost into this strategy. The civil disturbance pot is boiling nicely. It makes young veep Rahul Gandhi look much more focussed. It turns the public gaze away from the embezzled billions, the graft and payola of the Congress past.

The Modi government in its place, though electorally unassailable, must either prevail in the face of this growing mayhem, or be thrown out, much before the end of its term, let alone the next general elections. The chaos is growing; on the street, in the media, the campus, in broken and charred government property, uproar in parliament, abusive studio debates, religious passions aroused, caste slurs, wild talk of freedom of expression, the converse of alleged suppression. In social media slugfests, the divided judiciary, police, the armed forces, constitutionality itself. We have secessionism, terrorism, spies, fifth columns, rapes as protest, security compromised, mayhem, arson, blockades, outrage, fakery, lies, State, Centre — all on the menu.

Will this threat of growing anarchy peter out and stop in the face of determined government stonewalling or even a sustained counterattack? Or will it take hold, catch on, and spread like a virus that is out of control? Will the insurgency ever grow to the dimensions of the pre-Emergency period, when had shut down the railways, was calling for open rebellion, the Allahabad High Court had declared prime minister Indira Gandhi’s election null and void, and every major city crossroad was blocked with squatting demonstrators?

Even if it did, will Modi’s government tamely fall, or crush this hullaballoo of 2016 by turning the tables on the anti-nationalists and their supporters? If not, what is being hoped for — our version of the Arab Spring/ Civil war?

The Congress siding opposition has been searching for suitable hooks for a long time. It tried, to stir things up accusations of against the Modi government, two, maybe three, washed-out parliamentary sessions ago. But, it didn’t take. Next, the scene shifted to implicit accusations of fascism- the returning of Sahitya Akademi and other awards, popular Bollywood stars jumping into the fray and wringing their hands about ‘growing intolerance’, and a bizarre murder/lynching at Dadri. This one did much better- The BJP was routed in the state assembly election in Bihar, and all the award returning stopped overnight.

And now we have a couple of student agitations, just in time for the budget session. But perhaps this matter is already being overtaken in the news cycle, with the legal process beginning to unfold.

Besides, a group of humourless Jats in SUVs, armed with lathis, knives and guns, have critiqued and improved upon the Congress strategy already. Over a dozen have been killed but allegations have surfaced that the former Congress government may be instigating the violence here too. A former aide of erstwhile chief minister Hooda has been booked for sedition.

The Jats mounted a quasi-military operation — burning railway stations, police stations, schools, and a minister’s house, toll plazas, the properties of non-Jat groups like the Sainis, particularly in the epicentre of Rohtak. This, apart from the burning of the usual buses and cars. They cut trenches through highways, blocked Delhi’s drinking water, stopped trains and thousands of food trucks bound for Delhi. They marched, shielded by their women and children up front.

The Jats, who have contributed substantially to the armed forces, sports, the arts, and are regarded as a relatively prosperous community, have excelled themselves at insurrection this time, in their swift ferocity from a standing start, barely a week ago. And the Modi government, that knows a serious agitation from a stagey one, has wasted no time before promptly caving in.

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Gautam Mukherjee
Commentator on political and economic affairs

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