Politics has the uncanny ability of letting a lumpenised impulse dominate one's intellectual or political training. India's parliamentary history is replete with the instances of political parties propping up a strange variety of leaders solely for their robust lung power.
For instance, the Congress suitably used the vocal chords of KK Tiwari from Buxar and Kalpanth Rai from Mau to intimidate their opponents in the 1980s and 1990s. In the years since, the BJP developed its own army of such leaders, although most of them are inclined to articulate issues pertaining to religious identity. Such practices are taken as an inalienable content of demagoguery — an essential component of today's politics.
But Mani Shankar Aiyar belongs to a rather new genre of leaders within the Congress. He is gifted with the ability to give more power to his party's opponents the moment he either opens his mouth or picks up his pen. In a write-up on a website, he not only predicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ouster on 23 May, the day of the counting of votes, but also advocated his arraignment on the charge of anti-national activities. At the end of his article, he justifies calling the prime minister a "neech aadmi" (lowly man) on 7 December, 2017 that led to his sacking from the party.
It would be naïve to blame Aiyar for becoming emboldened enough to launch such a rant against the prime minister. Perhaps no party except the Congress has promoted such an ecosystem in which rivals are derided in the most vituperative terms for not belonging to a class of political aristocracy. Right from Morarji Desai to HD Deve Gowda on the national scene and regional satraps at the state level, the Congress showed its deep-seated distaste for "upstarts" and ran them down. With the party's overweening dominance on social and intellectual discourse, it often succeeded in its designs to convey the message that governance is too complex a business to be left to the hoi polloi. Thus, the party justified the rise of political aristocracy till recently.
Look at the manner in which Aiyar had launched his rant against Modi in the past. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when Modi had spoken of his humble beginnings and endeared himself to voters as a 'chaiwala', or tea vendor, Aiyar asked him to come as a 'chaiwala' and sell tea at a Congress function. The party not only condoned him but also encouraged him to carry on with his vituperation. Of course, Aiyar had taken a cue from his party's general secretary BK Hariprasad's evocative description of Modi as a "gandi naali ka keeda" (a vermin from the sewer) before the Gujarat Assembly election of 2012. The party president back then, Sonia Gandhi, gave them the signal when she described Modi as a "maut ka saudagar" (the merchant of death) during electioneering in Gujarat. It’s another matter that voters read the signal differently and the remark backfired on her party.
Interestingly, the time-tested tactic of running down "upstarts" that succeeded in the past invariably boomeranged on the Congress when the subject was Modi. That is because the Grand Old Party of India has singularly failed to realise that Modi's ascension to power, whether in Gujarat or at the national level, is the result of a silent assertion of a numerically strong subaltern class that no longer beholds the "political aristocracy" as its patron. Modi speaks a language that resonates with this class, but remains alien to a well-entrenched political aristocracy. One may find fault with the coarseness of his dialogue, but its accessibility to the masses is indisputable.
Of course, Aiyar and his patrons in the party have genuine reason to be frustrated when they find their barbs hurting themselves more than the opponents. In the process, those opposing Modi start speaking the language that gives leverage to the BJP propaganda machinery to amplify it further and create a sense of victimisation around Modi. Lieutenant-General HS Panag was seen to be endorsing a suggestion in a tweet for staging a coup against Modi should he win the election. His clarification came a tad too late to dismiss the insinuation that those against Modi are prepared to resort to violence or even a coup to depose an elected prime minister.
As the situation stands today, Modi seems to be drawing enormous strength from the inability of his opponents to come to terms with the changing grammar of national politics. He has changed not only the vocabulary but also the syntax of the discourse and reduced the likes of Aiyar to being no more than sidekicks of a dying dynasty.
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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 13:13:57 IST