Narendra Modi 2.0: How Congress-led economic liberalisation, birth of social media contributed to its fall and BJP's rise
In many ways, BJP’s journey from two MPs in 1984 to 303 lawmakers in 2019 is also a story of the rise of India.
In many ways, BJP’s journey from two MPs in 1984 to 303 lawmakers in 2019 is also a story of the rise of India
he trouble with Congress that it gradually became a family enterprise that nurtured courtiers through an intricate system of patronage
t is difficult for the Congress to reverse the process of decline in this changed political context unless it stops being Congress
In the general election that took place in 1984-1985 shortly after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv — who was the Congress president — ascended the throne in Delhi with 426 MPs. The BJP was reduced to two — AK Patel from Gujarat and Chandupatla Janga Reddy from Andhra Pradesh. In many ways, BJP’s journey from two MPs in 1984 to 303 lawmakers in 2019 is also a story of the rise of India.
It is the journey of a nation that gained Independence from British rule in 1947, but remained colonized by a small coterie of elites who controlled everything from politics, businesses, policies, academia and even the media. They lorded over the nation by controlling the levers of power. To gain access to that exclusive club of elites meant you either had to be born within that ecosystem or possess certain tools — such as proficiency in English and foreign education — to break into the coterie. The club was exclusive, insular and snobbish.
This ecosystem was nurtured under the benevolence of Congress rule that barring some periods in the history of Indian politics has been continuous and linear. The Congress-nurtured ecosystem set the narratives, wrote history books, monopolised academia, controlled media and reserved for itself the right to issue certificates on liberalism, secularism and all other ‘isms’ of any consequence. This cabal of self-proclaimed “liberals” were intolerant of every other except their ‘Idea of India’, stifled alternative voices, suppressed conflicting narratives and denied platform for other ideas to bloom: all in the sacred name of “liberalism”.
Worth noting two views from two columnists in different publications written since the rise of Narendra Modi to power in 2014. The views expressed by the writers largely explain the tight control the old elites had over India’s manifest destiny, enabled by a Congress whose role with this cabal remained transactional.
Economist Sanjeev Sanyal, now the principal economic adviser in Union ministry of finance, wrote in Project Syndicate in 2016 that “Many of these dynasties have roots that stretch back to the colonial era, implying at least seven decades of dominance. Every point of leverage — from government contracts and industrial licenses to national awards — is used to maintain this ecosystem of power… Unsurprisingly, the result has been the creation of a class of people with a strong sense of entitlement, who react to even minor challenges by closing ranks.”
Three years later, while writing on India’s ruling elite after Modi secured a second consecutive term with an even bigger mandate, columnist Tavleen Singh, a self-confessed member of the “old elites” wrote in the Indian Express that “as someone born and bred in this group of privileged Indians, I speak as an insider. So believe me when I tell you that we controlled everything. Politics, government, business, foreign policy, the police, the military and the media. All this was possible because we were to some degree all courtiers in the court of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty since the British left. We knew that their ‘socialism’ and ‘secularism’ were as fake as their ‘idea of India’.”
Very often, the seeds of political change that may transform the destiny of a nation are sown by forces outside its control. In India’s case, two epochal developments acted as catalysts of this churn. One was the economic liberalisation in 1991 that unleashed India’s exponential growth in decades to come and gave rise to a new, aspirational middle class. Two, the birth of social media that empowered this middle class and gave them a voice that transformed the “silent majority” into a vocal majority.
Thus began the end of Congress.
The trouble with Congress that it gradually became a family enterprise that nurtured courtiers through an intricate system of patronage and favours. It forgot that for a party to survive and thrive in a democracy, it needs to connect with the people, show conviction in its idea, differentiate itself as a brand in marketplace of ideas and change with the times.
It was possible for the Congress to remain in power for a long period of time as long as Indians had not tasted the fruits of economic liberalisation and ambition had not permeated their veins. Congress subverted democracy and reduced it to tokenism. It maintained control over the levers of power through its many arms monopolised by old elites and threw doles and emoluments during elections to buy the votes of masses.
Its idea of secularism was as corrupt as its rule. All India Muslim Personal Law Board, set up during Indira’s time, became the power brokers for all Muslims who were driven by fear and kept in poverty to serve as voting bloc that came handy for the Congress. Secularism became a ‘code’ word for fake appeasement, but the Congress could get away with it in absence of a Hindu awakening that changed completely the rules of the game.
Where the BJP triumphed was that it was allowed a chance to engineer that Hindu awakening through Rajiv’s folly in Shah Bano case. Rajiv gave in to the blackmailing of Muslim zealots who denied Shah Bano a meagre allowance, and then to restore some balance he removed the locks on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babari Masjid in Ayodhya. It set forth a chain of events that culminated with the BJP aligning itself with the Hindu cause to launch a grievance narrative that gradually found greater expression.
But the BJP, in its effort to challenge the hegemony of Congress’s political dominance (not necessarily that of the party itself but the paradigm created by it) was aided by India’s rapid growth and prosperity. It unleashed, as pointed out earlier, a generation of Indians who were ambitious, aspirational, hard working, meritorious and abhorred the idea of entitlements. This class marries technological prowess with traditional values and believes in nationalism. This is not a deracinated class, but one that takes pride in its Hindu inheritance and believes that Hindutva is an inclusive concept, not an exclusive idea where Muslims are considered outliers.
For them, the Gandhi dynasty evokes no misty-eyed nostalgia but animus towards an entitled family that took power for granted and suffered from a sense of marvelous self-delusion. It is this class that Modi has made his own.
As Shekhar Gupta wrote in The Print, these “tens of crores of rising, aspirational, post-ideological Indians, children of poorer parents like mine who beg, steal, borrow, scrounge, starve, deny themselves that pack of cigarettes to give us opportunity, if not houses in Shanti Niketan or Kautilya Marg or Golf Club memberships” were denied voice by “secular fundamentalists” and now have been co-opted by Modi.
For them, the story of Modi is an embodiment of their own story, and therefore the identification with ‘Moditva’ is greater. It is difficult for the Congress to reverse the process of decline in this changed political context unless it stops being Congress and makes itself free of Congress-ism.
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