Beyond 2012: The old order changeth – Virendra Parekh

Virerndra ParekhThe combined effect of these forces–demography, urbanisation and media explosion–is that a new resurgent vibrant India is coming to the fore. The cities are emerging as a melting pot and even rural areas are no longer cut off from urban mores thanks to TV news and mobile telephony. This means that an increasing proportion of the population is going to review its self-perceptions. Caste, religion, or other forms of narrow identities may survive as elements of healthy social diversity, rather than divisive political fault lines. The aspirations of the young cannot be met with crumbs of reservations, entitlements and freebies. They want the sky to soar, not crutches to limp along.” – Virendra Parekh

Rahul Gandhi as PM!2012 was a trailer; the real film is on the way. India is on the cusp of a major political overhaul. Old perceptions, calculations and thought categories are proving to be inadequate even as battle lines are being drawn for a decisive conflict. The confrontation is between the incumbent decrepit political order largely fashioned by Jawaharlal Nehru and his political heirs on one side and an emerging vibrant Bharatvarsh on the other; between a vulgar politics of caste and communalism under euphemisms of secularism and social justice and a no-nonsense politics of development and aspirations that looks for and rewards nothing but solid performance on the ground; between a polity in which the government offers crumbs and crutches to select groups to retain their support and a polity in which the state opens the gates of advancement for all.

Narendra ModiGujarat saw the first battle of this modern Mahabharata, and the people of Gujarat have once again given a good account of themselves. Narendra Modi’s  convincing victory against the combined onslaught of the empress of Delhi, her crown prince, their satraps big and small, media suffering from a blind hatred for Narendra Modi, NGOs dancing to the tune of their foreign patrons, ‘liberals’ walking tall under delusions of being conscience keepers of Indian democracy, and quislings and traitors from his own ranks should be credited as much to the earthy commonsense of ordinary Gujaratis as to his own inspiring leadership and track record. By giving a thumping majority to Narendra Modi’s party for the third time in a row, by showing Keshubhai Patel his place and yet defeating several ministers from Modi’s government, the Gujarati voter demonstrated once again that no one can lead him by the nose. If a similar commonsense had been shown by voters in other parts of the country, we would have been spared the current rule of thugs and thieves.

Countless commentators have analysed Gujarat election results in great detail. Those who have sought to place them in the national context have focused on Narendra Modi’s prospects of becoming the prime minister.

Sharad Pawar & Sonia GandhiWhat they have omitted to see is that the socio-economic-political order that Jawaharlal Nehru fashioned and Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi  kept going, with modifications, is in deep trouble. It cannot possibly be restored to health. Sonia Gandhi’s valiant attempts to rebuild old caste alliances and vote banks cannot help restore it.

Despite all the reverses it has suffered in the recent past, Congress still remains at the centre of Indian polity. The tectonic shifts in the political realities are shaking its foundations. The characteristics which have defined and sustained it for nearly a century are now becoming problematic for it.

From the days of M.K. Gandhi, Congress is used to leadership from above. Gandhi did not rise in the party hierarchy. Having made his name and perfected his techniques in South Africa, he just took over the organization such as it was after the First World War and remained its supreme leader till his assassination on 30 January 1948 even after he resigned as an ordinary member of the party. Jawaharlal Nehru too came into the Congress leadership from above with efforts of his father and blessings of Gandhi. He did not graduate into it, as did others. Since then, Congress has seen dynastic succession at the top with increasing smoothness. Indira Gandhi’s conflict with the organizational bosses for supremacy in the party began only after they had placed her in the powerful office of Prime Minister. Rajiv Gandhi succeeded her without slightest resistance in true dynastic style. Sonia Gandhi was pressured into assuming leadership of the party despite her Italian origins, lack of experience and well-advertised distaste for politics.

Sonia Gandhi & Rahul GandhiThe Congress, thus, has no experience of doing without a supreme leader. And, as it happens with all dynasties, the law of diminishing returns has caught up with Nehru-Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi’s health would no longer permit her to fight the forthcoming electoral battles from the front. Rahul Gandhi’s ineptitude – his lack of commitment, low intellectual calibre and poor leadership qualities – is becoming more visible by the day. Yet his leadership is not questioned even after a series of electoral defeats. If anything, he is under pressure to take full charge, of course, under the benign gaze of Mama. The party will be in trouble both if he heeds the call and if he does not.

The traditional support base of Congress comprised minorities, weaker sections of Hindu society and upper castes, which add up to nearly one-third of the electorate but provided two-thirds of the votes polled by the party. The primacy of leadership in the Congress played an important role in getting it the support of the minorities and weakest sections of Hindu society. For, only a leader who was and could act above the organization can be attractive to them because the organization must otherwise mirror intra-Hindu conflicts as well as broad Hindu aspirations.

This symbiosis of interdependence has been shattered by the rise of powerful regional parties which have walked away, as it were, with Congress support base. Scheduled Castes have been lured away by BSP. Muslims deserted the Congress en masse after the Babri demolition and have since found SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress and other regional parties better bets for defeating BJP candidates. The upper castes were weaned away by the BJP.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra & Robert VadraThe principle of dynastic leadership, which earned Congress valuable support bases in the past, has now become a millstone around its neck. Congress cannot survive in its present form without having a member of the first family at the top (even Priyanka Vadra would do), but its supporters have outgrown their dependence on it. Congress needs the family, the country does not.

Congress’s political base was supported by economic policies purportedly centred on the weak and the vulnerable. Controlling and exploiting urban producers of wealth for the benefit of rural vote banks was the cornerstone of these policies. Socialism, a euphemism for an economy dominated by bureaucrats and politicians, was the central pillar of the Nehru system and that essentially remained the case under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. It is no accident that in course of time India became one of the most regulated economies outside the communist world, and thereby one of the most corrupt polities and bureaucracies. It is also no accident that each of the gigantic scandals that have shocked and rocked the country in recent years occurred in areas and activities where government retained a decisive say and politicians enjoyed discretionary powers.

M.K. Gandhi & J. NehruSecularism, or what passes for it in India, was an important pillar of Nehruvian edifice. As the Congress derived most of its support from non-Hindus or groups at the fringe of Hindu society, negating India’s civilisational ethos, controlling Hindus by always keeping them on the defensive and delegitimizing all manifestations of Hinduism in public life became the order of the day. The personality of Jawaharlal Nehru, a Hindu ‘only by accident of birth’ as he put it, played no small part in it. Over the years, secularism emerged as the united front of all anti-Hindu forces: Islam, Christianity, Communism and Macaulayism. Its practitioners, the Mullah-Missionary-Marxist combine acting as Leftist-liberal elite, positioned themselves as guardians of democracy and secularism in India.

As the ground started slipping from under the feet of Congress leadership, as the party suffered one electoral reverse after another, Sonia Gandhi has been desperately trying to resurrect its traditional support base by a return to the old policies involving entitlements and freebies for the faithful. But, like many a veteran general, she is fighting yesterday’s battle. These policies have now run their course. Economic reforms, in spite of being involuntary, limited and distorted, have demonstrated that less government and more freedom could lead to higher growth and better life for all.

Modi's youth support base is huge.Demography, urbanization and media explosion are triggering tectonic shifts in the country’s political firmament. Some 30 percent of the population is below 15 years of age, and 65 percent is in the working age of 15-65. This means more Indians than ever before have the future ahead of them than ever before. The country is 32 percent urban, and the annual rise in the urban population is 2.4 percent. If this rate remains constant, the urban population will double in 30 years. If it accelerates, urbanisation will happen even faster. Mobilisation of youth is easier than of other sections and it is easier in urban areas than rural ones where penetration of social media, mobile telephony and TV news act as force multipliers.

The combined effect of these forces is that a new resurgent vibrant India is coming to the fore. The cities are emerging as a melting pot and even rural areas are no longer cut off from urban mores thanks to TV news and mobile telephony. This means that an increasing proportion of the population is going to review its self-perceptions. Caste, religion, or other forms of narrow identities may survive as elements of healthy social diversity, rather than divisive political fault lines. The aspirations of the young cannot be met with crumbs of reservations, entitlements and freebies. They want the sky to soar, not crutches to limp along. The new India has no patience with demagogues and is unforgiving of non-performance. The old scare tactics will not work with this confident lot. The Hindus in it can no longer be browbeaten in the name of secularism, nor Muslims be scared into submission by conjuring up bogey of Hindu communalism.

TRape Victimhe new India is restless with the all-pervasive corruption and unbridled loot of public money. It is furious with the breakdown of the rule of law. And it is already asserting itself. The public rage against the clean chit to Jessica Lal’s  murderer, the crowds that poured on the streets of Delhi in support of Anna Hazare, the ongoing protests in Delhi over last month’s gang-rape are some manifestations of its distrust of and impatience with the present power structure. It asserted itself in the recent Gujarat elections, where the urban areas voted for governance as the BJP managed to convince the young that it can deliver this better than parties focused on freebies and caste. In 2014, the urban vote will influence more seats than ever, perhaps in as many as 180 seats all over the country.

The current political establishment knows not how to deal with these new forces released by economic liberalization and globalization. It persists in its old ways. Rahul Gandhi thinks that the direct cash transfer will win Congress not one but two Lok Sabha elections. Mayawati still sees advantage in fighting for SC quota in promotions, Sonia Gandhi in supporting that demand and Samajwadi Party in opposing it. BJP still craves respectability by supporting the agenda set by its inveterate enemies. The only leader who comes closest to understanding the new forces is Narendra Modi.

Let us have no illusions about a smooth transition to the new political order. The power holders and power brokers are too numerous and too well entrenched at all levels of Indian public life and administration to be quickly and painlessly dislodged. They will fight back. The stakes are high. The vehemence and the sweep of opposition to Narendra Modi has to be viewed in this light.

Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra ModiModi is a misfit in the modern era of coalition government, and the BJP is a communal party, we are told. A careful reading of the Indian history suggests an undying yearning for a strong centre. The ideal of Chakravartin (universal ruler) has inspired kings from the days of the Mauryas to the Moghuls. Coming to the present times, the people’s experience of coalition governments since 1996 has only sharpened this yearning for a strong and unifying force at the centre.

The whole secular-communal debate is losing relevance. For one, secularism has been exposed as the perverse anti-Hindu ideology that it has always been. Second, opportunistic alliances by political parties have robbed them of credibility to raise the issue. Third, Narendra Modi has been eroding the power of the Muslim vote bank from two sides. By focusing on a non-discriminating development agenda and keeping his state riot-free for a decade, he has blunted the edge of being anti-Muslim at least in Gujarat. At the same time, he has demonstrated the power of the Hindu vote. By sweeping assembly elections in a large state like Gujarat three times in a row without fielding a single Muslim candidate, he has shown a Hindu leader with credibility need not genuflect before Muslims.

Jain GirilalEven if we make the wrong assumption that the BJP is a party of Hindu nationalism, it cannot be a communal party because, as Girilal Jain put it succinctly, “Hindus have never been, and are not, a community in the accepted sense of the term. They represent an ancient civilization not known either to draw a boundary between the faithful and the faithless, the blessed and the damned, or to engage in heresy hunting and its counterpart, persecution of other faiths. Hindus are, in Western terms, pagans. Religion is a Semitic enterprise and is alien to their spirit and ways. They have no book and no church.” (The Hindu Phenomenon, UBS Publishers’ Distributors Ltd, New Delhi, 1994, p. 149)

The fight, therefore, will be fierce. But the final outcome can only be good. India’s polity will not be stabilized until the forces of her liberation – economic, political and cultural – finally triumph. – Vijayvaani, 12 January 2013

» Virendra Parekh  is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai.