Thursday, July 25, 2019

No Mr Aiyar, The Gandhi Family Is Not The Glue That Congress Needs To Stay Together

In a column in The Times of India on 21 July 2019, Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar makes a pitch for Sonia Gandhi and her family, and posits that the family is the glue without which the Congress party will disintegrate. He then proceeds to compare former prime minister Indira Gandhi with Sonia Gandhi—apple and orange—and deviously employs election results post-Rajiv Gandhi to substantiate his argument. 
The highest tally of Lok Sabha seats that the Congress party achieved after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was 27 long years back, in 1991, when it won 244 seats. Since Sonia Gandhi was not even in the frame then, Aiyar dismisses that victory, saying “Congress failed to win outright”. In 1996, a Sonia Gandhi-less Congress won 140 seats, and Aiyar rightly says it lost.
Now compare this to the spin he gives to the performance of the party after Sonia Gandhi took charge of it, after allegedly locking the then Congress president Sitaram Kesri in a toilet. In the election that followed her throwing out of Kesri, Congress won 141 seats, just one more than it did under him, but Aiyar calls this score "respectable". Worse, he not only gives a complete miss to the much lower 1999 tally of 114 under Sonia Gandhi, but also goes on to assert that "she led the party to victory in 2004 and 2009".
In 2004, Sonia Gandhi won just five more seats than Kesri did in 1996. In 2009 she won only 206, and that too thanks to Dr Manmohan Singh and the rejection, by core voters, of a secularised Lal Krishna Advani, in an almost presidential-style election marked by a low turnout. However, as per Aiyar, while 1996 with 140 seats was a defeat, and in 1991 Congress "failed to win outright" with 244 seats, 2004 and 2009 were victories “which proved that Congress needed the family to win elections”.
The Congress suffered its most humiliating defeat ever in 2014, when it was reduced to an unbelievable 44 seats under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The rout was so overwhelming and debilitating that one would have expected a seasoned columnist like Aiyar to have dwelled on it, and the causes for it, at length. But, no, just as he skipped the 1999 elections when Congress won only 114 seats, he gives this unprecedented rout also a complete miss, because it too does not fit with the case he is trying to manufacture for the Gandhi family.
If all this was not enough, Aiyar makes a further mess of his argument by pinning blame on the downward spiral of the Congress party, both before and under Sonia Gandhi, on its dumping of Nehruvian secularism and aping of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In fact, his only comment about the second consecutive rout of the party in 2019 is a disparaging one about the temple run of Rahul Gandhi in the run-up to the elections.
No wonder Aiyar is silent about why the ‘janeudhari’ Congress president lost in family bastion Amethi and, worse, why he chose to contest from a constituency where the communal and fundamentalist Indian Union Muslim League was needed to carry him to victory, and the majority was inconsequential. Why, even Sonia Gandhi would likely have lost from Rae Bareilly — despite non-BJP parties not putting up a candidate — had the BJP put up a strong candidate against her.
The rejection of the mother-son duo is that deep, across the country, but Aiyar cannot see it, or pretends not to.
Although she ruled India for 10 years and has been in the spotlight since the assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, little is known about what and who Sonia Gandhi really is as a person, and what her beliefs and ideologies are, except that she is an Italian by birth and a Roman Catholic by baptism. The same mystery surrounds her son too.
But the one thing that they both openly share, and are most charged up about, is their intense dislike, bordering on hate, for the Hindu Right. Sonia Gandhi told journalist Vir Sanghvi as much just after the 2004 elections. A few days back, Rahul Gandhi too left no one in any doubt when, in his letter of resignation as Congress president, he stated that “every single living cell in my body resists BJP’s idea of India.”
Aiyar, once again, conveniently misses both these visceral disclosures, only because they bust his “aping BJP” fantasy.
It is true that Rajiv Gandhi and other Congress leaders made feeble attempts to assuage the feelings of the majority which felt short changed even in free India, and that too despite a bloody communal Partition. But after Sonia Gandhi seized control of the party, all that changed completely, as I suspect Aiyar knows but will not admit.
Over the years, an increasing number of Indians have come to believe that the ideological problem of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi is not just with the Hindu Right, but with the Hindu majority itself, and that they identify only with Christian and Muslim minorities, who they consider their core vote bank. The task of bringing in the Hindu vote needed to make up the numbers to grab power has been outsourced by them to regional and caste-based parties, most of which see power as a means to maximise the personal wealth of their leaders, all means fair.
It is only the fear of losing the complete majority vote — own and of allies — that compels them to publicly attack the majority indirectly via the Hindu Right.
Remember, the target of the draconian Communal Violence Bill that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi pushed hard, despite strong opposition, is not the Hindu Right, but every single Hindu living in India. Similarly, every single Hindu is suffering the consequences of the 93rd Constitution Amendment, which Sonia Gandhi rammed through in 2004, even though she did not have the mandate to do so, as Congress won only 145 seats. Only Hindus have been disadvantaged by her sectarian Right to Education Act. And who can forget how Hindu terror was invented and the fact that Rahul Gandhi believes that radical Hindus are more dangerous for India than jihadi terrorists nurtured and unleashed by Pakistan?
In sum, it can be said that the Congress party did not flounder in 2019 because Rahul Gandhi tried to ape the BJP. On the contrary, it probably drove away a significant number of additional Hindu voters, who saw through the Hindu charade that Sonia Gandhi and her children were enacting to attract their votes. That is why they won a mere 23 seats in all of India outside Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
In the 21 years that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been at the helm of the Congress party, they have not been able to win a single election for the party. If one must compare Sonia Gandhi with Indira Gandhi, as Aiyar does, it has to be on the scale of seats won by them in various elections.
Despite the Gandhi brand name and the large legacy vote that Sonia Gandhi inherited, the figures of 141, 116, 145, 206, 44 and 52, in the six elections that Congress has fought under the Sonia Gandhi family, show that the family has not been able to establish a connect with the people, and now stands totally rejected. Only Swaminathan Aiyar can see in this Gandhi family the winner that Indira Gandhi was, when it is clear that only a non-Gandhi leader can pull the Congress out of the Gandhi swamp.
In a column in this magazine on 8 July 2019, this writer had argued that the grand old party is in the agonising throes of death and desperately needs fresh non-Gandhi air, if it wants to survive. The ecosystem, however, continues to peddle the lie that the family is the glue that is keeping the party together, and not the gas chamber that is killing it. What do you think?
This was first published in Swarajya on 23rd July 2019

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Can Someone Pull Congress Out Of The Gandhi Gas Chamber?

More than 10 years too late, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have finally been forced to look at the writing on the proverbial wall. The Congress president has formally taken responsibility for his failure to lift the grand old party, even marginally, above the shocking and humiliating bottom it hit in 2014, and resigned.
Unfortunately, not even a whiff of contrition or respect for the will and wisdom of the people emanates from Rahul Gandhi's resignation letter. Instead, it reeks of an undiminished sense of entitlement, hatred for the majority, fake love for Muslims and Dalits, and an almost missionary assertion that he will keep pushing the Congress party to strangle itself with his ‘Idea of India’.
It matters not to him that this so-called idea, alien to even his own father, has been so vehemently rejected by the people of India, that they have not only reduced his party to a once unthinkable 23 seats in all of India outside Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but also handed him a humiliating personal defeat in the family bastion of Amethi.
Sonia Gandhi too continues, overtly unfazed, as the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and together the duo have evidently no intention of gracefully stepping aside and giving the Congress, gasping for fresh air, a chance to rise and reclaim its place as the premier national political party of India.
Although the duo ruled India for 10 long years, a closer examination of all the elections that they have been actively involved in, especially the two verdicts that gave and kept them in power, reveals that, despite their power surname, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have not won a single election for the Congress party, and should have quit in or before 2009.
In 2004, only eight seats separated the Congress (145) and Bharatiya Janata Party (137). That was a verdict against the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and not, by any stretch of imagination, a vote for Sonia Gandhi. Between 2004 and 2009, even though no scam had yet come to light, neither she nor Rahul Gandhi was able to enthuse Indians to come out and vote them in again. On the contrary, they lost a string of states during this period — Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir. Their victory in Delhi was due to Sheila Dikshit, and in Rajasthan, they won only 96 seats to BJP’s 78, despite the fact that the latter had 60 rebel candidates out of whom as many as 27 won.
Their 2009 ‘victory’, thus, not only came as a surprise to many, but it also led even BJP leaders to hastily conclude that their party was past its peak, and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi would rule India, unchallenged, for decades. In hindsight, it is evident that nothing could have been farther from the truth.
What should have been an easy victory for the BJP in 2009 turned into a big shock defeat for two main reasons.
One, Sonia Gandhi, sensing that there was no enthusiasm for her and Rahul Gandhi among the people, played a masterstroke by making Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — "Singh is King” — the face of the Congress party. Singh, who had a clean image, had caught the imagination of the people with the manner in which he pushed the nuclear deal; in that act of his, they saw in him a patriot who had stood up to Sonia Gandhi, to protect India’s national interest. That solitary display of spine and intent by the prime minister led the people to believe that India was safe in his trustworthy hands.
Two, just a year after the 2004 debacle, causes for which he evidently misread, Lal Krishna Advani went to Karachi and called Jinnah secular. With that one blunder, he lost forever the trust of many of BJP’s core voters and destroyed his political career. To make things worse, in 2008 he blundered by not only opposing Singh’s nuclear deal, but in also trying to bring down his government and installing Mulayam Singh Yadav as prime minister, in a clumsy and shady manner. That killed whatever little enthusiasm there still was among core and potential BJP voters, and they showed their anger by staying at home on voting day.
So when a crafty Sonia Gandhi surprised everyone by projecting Manmohan Singh, and not her own unpopular son, as the prime ministerial candidate, Advani, imagining that the mild Singh was no match to him, played right into her hands. He made the contest presidential, which effectively put Sonia and Rahul Gandhi out of the contest. The rest is history. In that direct battle of trust, people made Singh the king and knocked Advani out.
Unfortunately, everyone, docile Singh included, soon forgot that people had voted for the prime minister, and that the Gandhis were undeserving beneficiaries of the faith that people had reposed in Singh who, as it appeared then, had also got the economy roaring. Instead, even though the Congress won just 206 seats, the family ecosystem built an aura of invincibility around Sonia Gandhi and put her on a pedestal above all, and beyond any criticism by anyone, BJP leaders included.
It took five more years and Narendra Modi — not to forget social media that ‘routed’ embedded mainstream media in a parallel battle — to shatter that myth of invincibility. And it has taken another five years, and an even more humiliating defeat, to ram home the truth that Rahul Gandhi and his mother never could, and never will, win the trust of the people of India.
Perhaps, Rahul Gandhi too had sensed the mood of the people in the run up to 2019; that is why he allegedly struck a Faustian bargain with Indian Union Muslim League to enter India’s Parliament. Who would have imagined in 1947 that 72 years after a bloody, communal Partition, the president of the Congress party would be reduced to such communal beggary, in India?
Unfortunately, going by the cringe-worthy sycophancy displayed by senior Congress leaders, many much older, and all certainly wiser, than Rahul Gandhi, there is little hope that the Congress party will break free from the shackles of the Gandhis, despite the fact that they have not been able to win a single national election for the Congress since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
After 18 years of failure and a disconnect with the people that is almost surreal, it is unbelievable that, in an arrogant display of sheer contempt for voters whose trust they never could win and have now irretrievably lost, they are still marketing themselves as the last and only hope for the Congress.
The grand old party is in the agonising throes of death. It is gasping for fresh air and not more of the family gas that is choking it.
The BJP faced a somewhat similar situation after its tally dropped to 116 in 2009. That party too had an entrenched cabal that did not want to give up its power and perch, party’s fate notwithstanding. Had its key leaders not made the inspired choice they did in 2013, it would probably have found itself staring at 44 seats in 2014 and irrelevance in 2019.
Captain Amarinder Singh, Jyotiradiya Scindia and Sachin Pilot, to name just three, are all capable of reviving the Congress. They can all do what Manmohan Singh did for the Congress in 2009, and more, sans the Gandhis. The family ecosystem never tires of praising them and the huge talent pool that they say the Congress has. But at this most critical moment in its history, it continues to peddle the lie that the Gandhis are the irreplaceable glue that is holding the 183-year-old party together.
Does the Congress have a Rajnath Singh who can pull the party out of the Gandhi gas chamber before it is too late, and oversee a smooth and complete transition of power?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ram Temple: Modi Has To Redeem The Sacred Pledge

The people of India have given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi a second term with an even bigger majority than they did in 2014. The party has won 303 seats on its own and has got more than 50 per cent vote share in as many as 16 states and Union Territories.
In fact, the BJP along with its allies — they too rode the Modi wave — got the same vote share, 45 per cent, in an intensely competitive and fractured environment, that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did in the first election to the Lok Sabha, when there was virtually no opposition to the Congress. Then, only 1,849 candidates from 53 parties contested, as against 8,040 from over 2,000 registered parties this time.
Whichever way you look at it, the 2019 victory of the BJP is the biggest and most defining ever, in India’s history.
A number of factors have, undoubtedly, contributed to this thumping and unprecedented win, but the one that really turned the wave of 2014 into the tsunami of 2019, is the trust that people have in Prime Minister Modi’s intention and ability to deliver what he promises. By that yardstick, there has not been another PM like him.
Though this has given him a heady win, it also means that the fall will be precipitous, if he fails to live up to expectations during his second term.
In Existence, Courtesy Lord Ram
But for Shri Ram, BJP would still be languishing as a perennial loser at the national level. He gave BJP its first big win in Uttar Pradesh and, later, in the Centre. But the moment the BJP led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee formed the government, it consigned the promised Ram Temple at Ram Janmabhoomi to the dustbin. People saw in it a betrayal of the worst kind, and in 2004, made it clear that they had not voted for a poor Xerox of the Congress party.
Although there was little forward movement on the Ram Temple during Modi’s first term, there was no abandonment of it either. In fact, in the run-up to the elections, BJP made every effort to assure its voters that that the party was committed to it, and needed a second Modi term to see it through.
In 2010, just before the Allahabad High Court delivered its verdict in the Ram Temple case, Lutyens media, expecting a verdict in favour of Muslims, went into overdrive to convince Hindus that India — read Hindus — had moved on and was no longer interested in a Ram Temple at Ramjanmabhoomi. The usual ‘Hindu’ suspects were also pressed into service, allegedly at the behest of Sonia Gandhi’s Congress party, to call Shri Ram a mythical figure, and make a case for building a hospital or a school at the holy spot, to liberate which Hindus have been fighting for centuries.
No one asked, then, whether Muslims had moved even an inch, and no one questioned their continuing support, even post-1947, for the invading barbarian who had razed the original Ram Temple in 1528.
If Ram Is Faith, So Is Allah. Why The Selective Demand For Proof Of Existence?
Ram is faith, as is Allah. In matters of faith, there never can be historical evidence or proof of the sort that courts of mortals require. Allah and Ram are real and living for those who believe and mythical for those who don't. Allah revealed Himself to the Prophet through an angel no one else saw or heard. Ram revealed Himself to Valmiki, a Dalit dacoit who became a saint after much penance, and, later, to Goswami Tulsidas. This is the belief of their followers. They do not need any 'proof' of their existence, or of Ram’s birth at the Janmasthan.
Lawyer Asaduddin Owaisi says the Supreme Court cannot decide the case in favour of Hindus on faith; it has to adjudicate solely on the basis of legal evidence. But Owaisi, a staunch Islamist, wants the Babri Mosque to be resurrected because, as per his understanding of his faith, only a mosque can be built at a spot where a mosque once existed. When told that mosques are regularly razed and shifted in Muslim countries, including the home of Islam, Saudi Arabia, he says what happens elsewhere is of no consequence; in India, his interpretation of his faith holds.
In sum, what this means is that the Supreme Court and the Hindu faith must both yield to Muslim faith, as interpreted by Owaisi, Babri Masjid Action Committee and their ilk, and agree to building a mosque instead of a Ram Temple at the holiest of holy Hindu spots. At the same time, they are also fine with temples - not built over mosques - still being destroyed brazenly in parts of undivided India currently under Muslim rule, the Kashmir Valley included. It is this attitude that has made anti-Muslim a positive Temple sentiment that never was anti-Mosque or anti-Muslim to begin with; no other mosque was attacked anywhere.
Be that as it may, the reality is that the invader-built structure has gone and a functional temple is in place at the Janmasthan. Hindus have shown enormous tolerance and patience, qualities that have enabled them to survive and outlast all other civilisations of the world, in so far as the building of a grand temple there is concerned. This is not ‘moving on’ as rootless Lutyenites like to believe, but a civilisational and spiritual maturity that followers of aggressive and violent “me-only” ideologies cannot fathom.
But, let there be no doubt that should anyone try to remove the idols of Ram Lalla from the temple, much less construct a mosque over it, Hindus will not embrace them with a naive sentiment of brotherhood.
In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi got the locks of the disputed structure opened. In 1989, he not only allowed shilanyas of the Ram Temple at the disputed site, but also began his own election campaign from Ayodhya with a promise to usher in Ram Rajya if elected. Had he lived and won power, there is little doubt that a grand Ram Temple would have come up, and much of what happened later avoided.
An Italian Job, Deviously Done
Unfortunately, with the rise of Sonia Gandhi, his Italian-born wife, who is said to have become an Indian citizen only eight years before his assassination, Islamic fundamentalists and Hindu-hating Marxists became all-powerful, and what looked like an easy resolution became an intractable confrontation that frightened even leaders of the BJP. Ever since then, every politician has been trying to squeeze political milk out of the situation. That milk, as Guru Nanak once demonstrated in another but related context, is red in colour, and people have seen it.
In 2014, many people, a large section of Hindus particularly, voted for Narendra Modi because he was quite unlike timorous BJP leaders who craved acceptance by ‘secular’ political parties and the Lutyens ecosystem, even if it meant betraying the causes they espoused and got votes for. Five patient years later, they have given him another five years, because they have sound reasons to believe that he will not sell them short, even though they are troubled by his prioritising of minority appeasement over core issues that set the BJP apart from Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.
The Supreme Court’s delaying tactics, the Congress party’s treachery - it is paying dearly for it - and the intransigence of Islamists notwithstanding, people expect Prime Minister Modi to finally undo this grievous historical wrong and find a way to clear the road for construction of a grand Ram Temple well before 2024.
All Hopes On PM Modi
People see in Narendra Modi the leader they were looking for but never found, and will not accept any excuse from him for failure on this count. They have patiently made, suffered and seen off leaders who failed them, and have given Modi a historic mandate so that he can unlock the door that his predecessors were afraid to even knock, and give Ram Lalla the temple He has been patiently waiting for. They are now convinced that its time has come.
No one knows this better than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Don't Be Fooled, Rahul Gandhi Is No 'Pappu'

Not enough attention has been paid to the visuals of Congress President Rahul Gandhi playing with his mobile phone for 24 long minutes during the President’s address to Parliament. Was Gandhi being the kid that some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders believe he still is, or was he deliberately doing so to insult the President of India with entitled disdain?

Having been a member of Parliament for over 15 years, Rahul Gandhi is fully aware that at least one camera is deployed to capture his every move and gesture inside the august House.  So it cannot be that he did not know that the visuals would be telecast by every channel into every Indian home. Fresh from another unprecedented rout which has reduced Congress to a shocking 23 seats outside Kerala and Tamil Nadu, a personal defeat in Amethi and a ‘victory’ gifted by Muslim League in Wayanad, why did Rahul Gandhi want to be seen exhibiting the kind of arrogance that he showed when he publicly humiliated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, when the latter was on a foreign tour? 

When Congress won a second term in 2009, there was a lot of buzz about Gandhi becoming a minister for a couple of years, before occupying the PM’s chair. As the subsequent slap to his Prime Minister showed, Rahul Gandhi—like his mother—saw Dr Manmohan Singh as no more than one of his many employees, serving under whom was unthinkable. The same attitude informed his relationship with Presidents Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee. President Kovind had to be shown his place too, and through it a warning conveyed to Congress leaders that they should remain In their place, resignation after rout notwithstanding. 

Rahul Gandhi, many believe, is a messed-up—and therefore dangerous—by-product of the marriage of dynastic Indian entitlement and White fundamentalist contempt for everything Indian.

As the great-grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and son of Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul has grown up believing that he has a divine right to rule India and Indians. As a result, he considers himself superior to and above every non-Family Indian political leader. In power or not, he expects Congress leaders, age and appointment irrespective, to pay obeisance to him, and non-Congress leaders to put him on a hallowed exclusive pedestal.

As the grandson of Mussolini’s Colonel Stefano Maino and son of Edvige Antonia Albina Maino, Rahul Gandhi manifestly sees India through the eyes of a White man who thinks nothing of India and Indians, and believes, with missionary zeal, that he is here to get Dalits out of the Hindu foldescape velocity of Jupiter, missionary visas, foreign funds—and to so demonise and emaciate other Hindus—Hindu terror, CVB, intolerance, majoritarianism—that they meekly submit, once again, to be ruled by ‘minorities’, as they were till 1947.

His mother, it must be mentioned, remained an Italian citizen, even though she was living in the house of India’s Prime Minister, till 1983, and became an Indian passport holder only when her own husband came within a step of becoming PM. She learnt Hindi only after his death, and only because she couldn’t do without the poison of power that literally fell into her lap. And it is from her, as he admitted in an old interview to Sagarika Ghose, that Rahul Gandhi learnt about India during his formative years, when his father was busy and mostly away. 

So when he uses BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh as key targets of attack, it probably flows from an irreconcilable ideological hate, and not from the politics and values he inherited from his father and paternal grandmother. 

It is not entirely a coincidence that while some leaders of Congress speak about building shelters for cows if their party comes to power, Rahul Gandhi not only takes pictures with Congressmen who publicly slaughter cows to hurt Hindus, but also does not speak up for their religious sentiments, or for implementation of laws banning cow slaughter. Nor is he ever seen with Hindu victims of cow smugglers. 

On the contrary, he has repeatedly spoken about the right of people to slaughter cows for food, even if it means flouting the laws enacted, ironically, mostly by his own party before it passed into his Italian mother’s hands. It is also not a coincidence that ‘Beef Festivals’ were organised brazenly in various parts of India, Delhi included, when he and his mother were ruling India.

Rahul’s latest tweet on Yoga epitomises this visceral hatred.

On the day the whole world was celebrating Yoga, India’s timeless selfless gift to humanity, one would have expected Rahul Gandhi to at least remain silent, if he could not bring himself to say something positive about it as an Indian. But, no, he had to let his bile flow. This was not a tweet by a politician; it was frustrated loser tweeting, riled by visuals of millions of Indians renewing their connect with an ancient Hindu practice that enables individuals to achieve physical, mental and spiritual well-being—and more—souls intact and unsold. 

That he is not bright is clear as daylight, but what is evidently not so is that Rahul Gandhi is not a harmless simpleton brimming with love. It doesn’t really hurt him when people call him ‘dumb’, ‘pappu’, ‘budhu’ etc. A simple man with heart of gold can always move people to vote for him, particularly if the main opponent is not as brilliant and rooted and trustworthy as Modi is.
So while making fun of ‘pappu’ is a good pastime, it has the effect of concealing the oppressive dynastic entitlement and an alien ideological hatred that defines the man, and makes light of the havoc he will ruthlessly create—Tukde Gang in the vanguard — should he ever drink the intoxicating poison of power again.

Never forget the danger, and never dismiss Rahul Gandhi lightly.

A shorter version of this post was published in Swarajya

Thursday, May 30, 2019

All Is Not Lost For The Khan Market Gang Yet

View of New Delhi’s Khan Market (@sahajloi/Twitter)
  • In the aftermath of the 2009 UPA victory, the Khan Market Gang had proclaimed triumphantly that their ‘Idea of India’ had conclusively defeated the BJP and would prevail for all time to come.
    Also, Amartya Sen is on the dot when he says that BJP has won “something in terms of power, but nothing particularly serious in the battle of ideas”.
    Will a new leadership emerge in the BJP to take the battle for the soul of India forward to fruition?
At the peak of Sonia Gandhi’s power, which she enjoyed for about four years after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Lutyens elite—the ‘Khan Market Gang’, as Narendra Modi calls them—had proclaimed triumphantly that their ‘Idea of India’ had conclusively defeated that of the BJP, which had thrown in the towel after that election, and that it would prevail for all time to come.
The Congress party won 2009 despite 26/11, and the lack of any visible public anger then—Balakot brought it all out—against its tame surrender and cosying up to Pakistan after that barbaric attack, had convinced everyone in its eco-system that they could impose almost any idea or law on the people of India and get away with it.
In 2011, Barkha Dutt, excitedly anticipating a verdict in favour of the Muslims by the Allahabad High Court in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, epitomised that rootless arrogance, even contempt, by declaring that India—Hindus only—had moved on, and was no longer interested in Ram or His temple in Ayodhya.
Such was the extent of BJP’s surrender during those years, that its leaders faithfully observed the Omerta Code when it came to the all-powerful Chairperson of the all-powerful and unconstitutional National Advisory Committee (NAC), and limited their attacks to Dr Manmohan Singh, the nominal Prime Minister, who Sonia Gandhi herself wanted to cut to size lest he pose a threat to her son, Rahul Gandhi.
To cap it all, in the run-up to 2014, so pathetic were BJP’s performances in most state elections where it was in the game or in a direct fight against the Congress—UP, Rajasthan, Karnataka, to name a few—that no one even in BJP believed that it would rise and win power ever again. In fact, there was widespread fear that if the Congress was voted back to power in 2014, then by 2019, Sonia Gandhi would ban the RSS and possibly even the BJP.
Even after a series of mega scams cracked the invincibility of the Congress party, not only did Lal Krishna Advani and his team fail to step into the breach, but the former actually admitted in a blog in 2013, that no matter which regional combination got most seats, it would need either the Congress or the BJP to form a government, and his hope was that it would go for BJP. Neither he nor his BJP had a plan to win 2014. They had simply given up.
On 23 May 2019, the BJP, led by Narendra Modi stormed back to power for a second successive term, with an even better score, both in terms of seats and vote share. This is arguably the first time that a sitting Prime Minister has won a full majority on the basis of performance during his first term. In Nehru’s time there was virtually no opposition, and Indira Gandhi won a second time as a challenger who had taken on the old Congress, and by riding on the Garibi Hataopromise that she would remove the curse of poverty from the lives of the poorest Indians.
This is a remarkable victory indeed. But after just five years of BJP rule and with five more years coming up, certain informed voices are telling us that this is the end of the Khan Market Gang—India’s ruling elite—and of the Congress party, which has been reduced to a Kerala plus Tamil Nadu party, where it has won seats only due to allies, with the Congress President begging the Muslim League for votes.
Exactly the opposite of the collective wisdom that was prevailing before Modi’s shock victory in 2014. Is it really the end for them?
With 303 seats in BJP’s kitty, it is easy to forget what the picture would be if the tally was 200 instead—it can happen in the future, like 2004 did, without warning. Jagan Mohan Reddy says if BJP had got less than 272 seats, he would have extended support to it only if it gave Andhra Pradesh a special status. Others would demand their pound of flesh too, one of which would be an amenable Prime Minister from BJP, who would let allies choose ATM berths, and then look the other way—if not join in—while they went back to the UPA ways and days of—-many allege—unbridled loot. Lutyens elite—powerful once again—would reinforce their ‘Idea of India’, besides reclaiming the few levers of control they had lost in five Modi years.
Also, Amartya Sen is on the dot when he says that BJP has won “something in terms of power, but nothing particularly serious in the battle of ideas”. Unless the latter is won in the court of the people, electoral victories will be limited to a change in the ruling party alone; the ruling elite will remain largely in control.
In other words, as profound a change as the mandate of 2019 appears to be, it is actually partial and is also a whisker away from unravelling.
Fortunately, what Amartya Sen and most fellow travellers do not yet see is that even their victory is/was illusory. Sonia Gandhi, clueless about India and everything Indian, thought she had won it all when she triumphed, with almost zero resistance, in the battle of ideas, in JNU, TV studios, text books and Khan Market. That is one reason why her collapse at the hustings has been so dramatic, twice in a row, and recovery looks so impossible today. If you derisively put a billion people out of the equation, you are always a push away from the abyss.
Be that as it may, the stark truth is that as of now, the scale of BJP’s electoral victory notwithstanding, there is only one man who is preventing New India from sliding back into the old pit. Narendra Modi will win in 2024 too. But will even another ten years in power, with HRD ministers like Prakash Javdekar, to name just one of many such, be able to tilt the balance in the battle of ideas decisively? Will a new leadership emerge in the BJP to take the battle for the soul of India forward to fruition? Or will there be another long—even terminal—relapse, under its old leadership, like there was after 2004, or whenever BJP loses again?
Winning power is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to win the battle of ideas. The coming five years will tell us whether Narendra Modi will do more than the little he could during his tough first term as Prime Minister, to emerge victorious in this sphere too, and reclaim the glory of India that he so wants to. Until then, all is not lost for the ‘Khan Market Gang’.