That Was a Poll That Was – Part III
Continued from “Games Statisticians Play with Figures”
Just how deep do you believe?
Will you bite the hand that feeds?
Will you chew until it bleeds?
Can you get up off your knees?
Are you brave enough to see?
Do you want to change it?
Long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi took his place on the center stage as a decisive winner of the 2014 elections, there were masked, wailing choruses − remember watching the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles − of India’s self-declared liberal intellectuals, invoking the ghosts of past with Adolf Hitler marching in the vanguard. Remember also how these oracles of doom have been predicting every now and then the imminent collapse of the Republic. Somehow they find it impossible to reconcile that the ruling family albums with their own pictures somewhere in the background won’t now be in circulation for years.
When the low clouds of lingering uncertainty were still floating on the horizons, the western media was the first to warn of the supposed impending doom that would descend on India if the Congress goes. One of the first to press the panic button was the London-based The Economist, the die-hard traditional mouthpiece of John Bull on the retreat. Its concern was so pronounced that it felt compelled to run a cover story explicitly urging discriminating Indian readers to vote against Modi. “By refusing to put Muslim fears to rest, Mr. Modi feeds them. By clinging to the anti-Muslim vote, he nurtures it,” the article warned in grim solemnity. The anti-endorsement was, like just about everything about Modi, extremely controversial in India.
The Economist warning was followed by a full-fledged assault by a brigade of Indian intellectuals, settled abroad, by writing a letter in The Guardian, which read:
If Modi is elected, it will bode ill for India’s future
Without questioning the validity of India’s democratic election process, it is crucial to remember the role played by the Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in Gujarat in 2002. The Muslim minority were overwhelmingly the victims of pillage, murder and terror, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,000 men, women and children. Women, in particular, were subjected to brutal acts of violence and were left largely unprotected by the security forces. Although some members of Narendra Modi’s government are now facing trial, Modi himself repeatedly refuses to accept any responsibility or to render an apology. Such a failure of moral character and political ethics on the part of Modi is incompatible with India’s secular constitution, which, in advance of many constitutions across the world, is founded on pluralist principles and seeks fair and full representation for minorities. Were he to be elected prime minister, it would bode ill for India's future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities.”
It was signed by a couple of dozen of self-proclaimed intellectuals headed by Sir Anish Kapoor the sculptor, Homi K Bhabha , Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, Sir Salman Rushdie, the novelist, Deepa Mehta, film director and artists like Dayanita Singh and Vivan Sundara.
That you and I chose summarily to ignore the dire warning is another story. An act of bravado, perhaps! However, should I tell the British electorate “don’t ever make the mistake of voting Tories back to Office”, I’ll be politely admonished for interfering in others’ affairs and offering unsolicited advice. We’re a different class of beings. Our affairs are everyone’s affairs and we must learn to listen to the mature counsels of others, especially our own wise brethren who couldn’t find anchorage in home waters but didn’t forget to issue grim warnings from abroad.
I saw the best explanation of the British hostility to our choice of government in a dispatch of Lord Meghnad Desai in The Indian Express dated May 25, 2014. It has a pithy sentence that summed it up: “The Guardian has described the result as the final departure of the British.” The lingering imperialists have finally been asked to quit. So, when the push came to shove, the departing interests and their upholders chose to give a parting kick. And for that they selected those among our expatriates whose heart are always bleeding at the plight of our polity.
Mishra’s Vitriolic Attack
I’m referring to our self-appointed Ambassador Extraordinary, Pankaj Mishra. In The Guardian , dated Friday, May 16, 2014 − when ballot counting was under way in India − Mishra issued a stern warning by writing a lengthy piece studded by literary allusions which convincingly declare his literary credentials, entitled “Narendra Modi and the new face of India”. He admonished his countrymen:
Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a “manly” nation. Vivekananda’s garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi’s public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress’s haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatization or outright gifts – of national resources to the country’s biggest corporations. His closest allies – India’s biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced….
The difficulty of assessing his personal culpability in the killings and rapes of 2002 is the same difficulty that Musil identifies with Moosbrugger in his novel: how to measure the crimes, however immense, of individuals against a universal breakdown of values and the normalization of violence and injustice. “If mankind could dream collectively,” Musil writes, “it would dream Moosbrugger.” There is little cause yet for such despair in India, where the aggrieved fantasy of authoritarianism will have to reckon with the gathering energies below; the great potential of the country’s underprivileged and voiceless peoples still lies untapped. But for now some Indians have dreamed collectively, and they have dreamed a man accused of mass murder.
(For readers not well-versed in Continental literature, like me, Musil referred to by Pankaj Mishra, is Robert Musil, an Austrian author who wrote a famously controversial unfinished novel,The Man Without Qualities. The novel hasn’t been read by many − except scholars like Mishra − because of its highly intricate and confusing plot. However, it is supposed to forecast the impending disaster in Europe with the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.)
Our intellectuals living in India who carry secularism on their shirt sleeves were are no less sparing in their condemnation of Modi and his deeds. Writing in The Statesman on May 22, 2014, Kudip Nayar, once the editor of its Delhi edition, said:
I did not want Narendra Modi to be India’s prime minister for ideological reason. His effort to polarize the country is not in the nation’s interest. But the voters’ choice is different. Modi has won the right to rule having won through a fair and open election. And he is entitled to pursue his agenda which offers, to use his words, the ‘politics of development and not revenge’. Modi should, however, keep in mind the larger picture: the idea of India.
The idea of India is neither territorial, nor ideological. It also has little to do with economics or politics. The idea, the ethos of this country and what we stood for during the freedom struggle, is democracy, pluralism and egalitarianism.
Beginning with India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who stood for a socialistic pattern of society, to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, believing in free market priorities, the idea has been mutilated by everyone who has come to head the government. The ethos has been pushed aside.
Arundhati Roy’s Tirade
Nayar is not alone. He is joined by the high-priestess of our intellectual class: the prolific Ms Arundhati Roy, who is ever-ready to come to the rescue of beleaguered right causes. Remember her 13-page essay in 2012 in Outlook magazine highlighting how ruthlessly and heartlessly, land acquisition was being carried out in India. Since, this time, Outlook space had been pre-booked by more influential Modi-baiters, Ms Roy turned to Dawn, the premier daily of our never-too-friendly neighbor, Pakistan. She poured out her anguish saying sobbingly:
“Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government. Technically and legally, there is no party with enough seats to constitute an opposition”. She’s so exercised by the fact that ‘Big money’ is backing Modi to end democratic resistance. Is it subtle request to the CIA to come to the rescue of the ever faithful?
Ms. Roy says Modi’s campaign saw massive money being poured in from corporate houses because they see in Modi the man who will carry forward their agenda of development. “What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” She adds, “The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”
According to Ms. Roy, the model of development promised by Modi is pro-corporates and one that is dependent on making sure that such vital resources as land and water are easily handed over to them for ruthless exploitation. The Modi model of development is akin to the colonization model that was followed by Western Europe on its path to ‘progress’ which relied on usurping resources from other countries, she says, adding, “India has no option but to colonize itself.”
The venerable lady isn’t the only voice that has come out and questioned the rise of Narendra Modi to the post of India’s PM. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the famous grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a favorite of the ousted Establishment chose to write an open letter to Narendra Modi, in The Hindu highlighting how Modi must dispel the doubts and misgivings of the minorities. According to him :
All religious minorities in India, not just the Muslim, bear scars in their psyche even as Hindus and Sikhs displaced from West Punjab, and Kashmiri Pandits do. There is the fear of a sudden riot caused with real or staged provocation, and then returned with multiplied retribution, targeted very specially on women. Dalits and Adivasis, especially the women, live and relive humiliation and exploitation every minute of their lives. The constant tug of unease because of slights, discrimination, and victimization is de-citizenizing, demoralizing, dehumanizing. Address that tug, Mr Modi, vocally and visibly and win their trust. You can, by assuring them that you will be the first spokesman for their interests.
And that’s not all. A bevy of disgruntled academics joined the former West Bengal governor to highlight that the BJP won a “mere” 31% of the votes, which invalidates its victory. Indeed! But where lies the flaw? Anyone familiar with our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system would know that an ‘outrageous’ vote share may return a government with a majority of seats. While most national governments have had a vote share of around 40%, major state elections have regularly seen winning parties polling less than 40% − the Trinamool Congress won 38.9% in West Bengal in 2011. And yet, no one questioned the victory. Didn’t the AAP Government rule in Delhi without commanding even one-third of popular vote? Again, A B Vajpayee’s 23.75% vote share that trailed the Congress’ 28.3% by over four percentage points, didn’t stop him from forming the government.
Contrary to the inferences drawn by a recent spate of pro-Congress write-ups against it, the main beneficiary of the FPTP has all through been the Congress. This has been highlighted in a recent study, The Indian Ideology by the British Marxist historian Perry Anderson. As a matter of fact, this British anachronism was devised, as I pointed out in my last piece in these columns, by the Congress Party itself to perpetuate its monopoly of power. And the Party consequently enjoyed massive majorities despite its vote share mostly remaining far below the halfway mark. The system is now being declared inherently flawed because this time it favored the BJP.
Our Rootless Intellectuals
Ever since the days of Plato and Aristotle intellectuals have always played a significant role in every society. Their mentor was Socrates who had aptly defined the role of an intellectual in society as a gadfly. It is he who pricks bubbles because they’re there. It is he who articulates thoughts about good governance and what is wrong with the state of affairs in the realm.
As the celebrated American intellectual, Noam Chomsky famously said “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. Modern intellectuals like him and Cornel West had the responsibility and the courage to go about speaking truth to the powers-that-be and work toward informing and empowering average people. The horrendous American atrocities against the unarmed people of Viet Nam and Cambodia were exposed by the fearless American intellectuals.
Often have media in our times played that time-honored role of stripping the veil of secrecy over the official heap of lies. The pre-eminent examples of that are the roles played by The Washington Post in exposing the skullduggery of Nixon White House, The Hindu exposure of the Bofors scandal of Rajiv Gandhi and the unveiling of corruption by Arun Shourie in The Indian Express of Maharashtra Chief Minister, A R Antulay, in the then notorious cement scam .
Generally, intellectuals are defined as propagators of ideas who exercise profound influence on policy makers and public opinion. Mostly, they aren’t directly accountable for the results. Thomas Sowell’s famous study Intellectuals and Society examined the record of the ideas of intellectuals in societies where they have been allowed “undue influence”. His conclusion was altogether unflattering, and that applies to our society very aptly. Our so-called intellectuals have most of the time while at home, played the role of the functionaries of Delhi Durbar in the true Mughal tradition that Tavleen Singh described so well in her book entitled Durbar. By no stretch of imagination would a Hindu nationalist – and Narendra Modi self-declaredly belongs to that much-derided species − will fit in the Durbar.
The Durbar and its seasoned darbardaars are aware that their days are numbered and the BJP government would spare no effort to dismantle it for the simple reason that the Lutyens’ Delhi culture is totally out of sync with the reality of times. No power clique in history has ever presided over its own liquidation. It just has to be dismantled simply because it is as thoroughly corrupt as it is deracinated without any roots whatsoever in soil of the land. The days of seasoned sycophants and professional courtiers (like Mani Shankar Aiyer and Digvijay Singh) are over. And once the present durbar is dismantled the real almighty energy of India will be unleashed. That won’t be automatic. That won’t happen tomorrow. It will take time. But it is bound to happen.