What Mahua’s Kaali controversy tells us: That even Mamata knows woke politics doesn’t fetch votes
The political terrain on the ground is a different ballgame. Mamata Banerjee understands this, as does the person in the Congress who took the call to steer clear of Shashi Tharoor’s olive branch to Mahua Moitra
Among the biggest mistakes that political observers in India made for a long time, was to deduce that the country by and large had accepted and adopted the Nehruvian idea of India. The basis for this deduction was that election after election, the Congress had remained the country’s natural party of governance. With electoral reforms, the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, economic liberalisation and many other factors coming into play almost simultaneously, it did not take long for the grand old party to lose this coveted status. If the Modi era has proven anything, it is that other than a fringe elite, large sections of the Indian masses have remained quite untouched by many of the Western ideals and the self-contempt that the Nehruvian worldview attempted to entrench in India.
Among the fringe elite though, the interpretation of events and circumstances, even after the displacement of the Congress from its erstwhile pole position, has been entirely based in denial. Narendra Modi’s advent on the national stage in 2014 was considered to be a black swan event. After the feat was repeated in 2019, they admit that the problem is larger than they thought it to be. However, they continue to believe that essentially, the country has only lost its way and it is a matter of time before the status quo is restored. Currently, the country lives in an artificial bubble created by communal and polarising forces, and supported by oligarchs. The moment people see through it and the bubble bursts, India will return to its golden era — perhaps backward and riddled with poverty but at least being guided by a secular elite and receiving validation from an enlightened West.
The fringe elite, therefore, while looking down on India condescendingly and waiting for it to see the light once again, has religiously kept up with the West. After all, unless what comes out of the fountain of civilisation and progressivism is replicated in India, there is no hope for India at all. Thus, if deranged and degenerate ideas like those from the woke stable begin dominating Western discourse, they are immediately adopted by the fringe elite back home. If rallies for gun control or against Donald Trump are held by liberals on the American East Coast, sure enough their South Bombay counterparts follow suit. Similarly, there is no shame in kowtowing to rabid Islamists and letting them run amok because one does not want to be an Islamophobe. But India’s own culture and religion has taken such an obscure and militant turn that it must be treated with contempt, hurled at with the worst insults, and dismantled part by part.
Here’s where things get funny. Some members belonging to the fringe elite have actually made it big in Indian politics. However, what they generally fail to realise is that they have peaked not because of the secular or woke credentials that they protect so fiercely, but despite them. For example, Rahul Gandhi, who often speaks like a philosopher, would have continued being the scion of the Congress irrespective of how muddled or how misunderstood his thought process is. Shashi Tharoor is not a three-time member of Parliament because his constituents read his books or admire his vast vocabulary. Similarly, Mahua Moitra is often compared to the outspoken American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but her entire political career and relevance rests on Mamata Banerjee’s assent. It is unlikely that the JP Morgan investment banker-turned-Indian politician will survive the rough and tumble of West Bengal politics if Banerjee were to ever pull the plug on her prospects.
With the belief that their brand of politics actually finds acceptance among the Indian masses, these members of the fringe elite power through with their agenda. Recently, in what falls perfectly in line with the rabidly woke worldview, Mahua Moitra was heard making controversial remarks about Goddess Kali. Whether these comments are insulting or unacceptable, and what relative lines they might have crossed, can be debated eternally. What there is little doubt about is that the crude caricaturing made many Hindus uncomfortable, and that since it was said in defence of people whose objective was exactly that, her motive remains suspect. Immediately after these comments were made, her party came out and distanced itself from them. Shashi Tharoor then came out in her support, and funnily enough, his party came out and distanced itself from Tharoor. Clearly, even sections of the Opposition that have blinded themselves with hatred towards the ruling party, do not subscribe to this colonially-inspired or woke-inspired brand of elite politics.
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The political terrain on the ground is a different ballgame. Mamata Banerjee understands this, as does the person in the Congress who took the call to steer clear of Tharoor’s olive branch to Mahua. On the ground, there are no brownie points for undermining what the majority community holds sacred, unless you are Asaddudin Owaisi catering solely to a particular vote-bank. Even Opposition parties with a long track record of appeasement politics are well-aware that politically, such an approach is not viable because they continue to depend on the majority for at least a part of their votes.
Their appeasement politics, let alone any anti-majority politics, has now become increasingly unpalatable to the majority and therefore unsustainable. The Mahua controversy sends a clear message to fringe elite politicians across the spectrum — political relevance is determined by votes, not by the validation that New York Times or your Instagram following bestow on you. There is only so much that Nehruvian delusions or AOC replications can do for you in the Indian political scene today.
The writer is an author and political commentator. He has authored the book, ‘Himanta Biswa Sarma: From Boy Wonder to CM’. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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