Ashok_Vajpeyi
Praful Shankar
The Pseudo-Liberal’s Beef With Modi

A moment of genuine reflection would lead one to conclude that those crying out that liberalism in India under Modi is in danger, are themselves not liberal in the first place. They are in fact, privileged elites who see, in the rise of Narendra Modi, the beginning of the end of their privileges.

There have been few elections in India where a change in government at the Centre has also meant a dramatic change in the larger cultural and social landscape of the country. Most changes of leadership in New Delhi have involved the Congress party and the Gandhi family passing the baton of national leadership from one family member to another. During the few times that power escaped the hands of the Congress, incoming dispensations have largely stuck to the established and well-rooted political consensus around socialism and a convoluted interpretation of secularism, loosely termed these days as Nehruvian.

India’s first national dispensation which effected a marked departure from the established consensus was that of Atal Behari Vajpayee in the late nineties and early 2000s.Yet, even the Vajpayee government was fraught to take on the entire existing Nehruvian ecosystem that the Congress had established over decades. More a statesman than a politician, Vajpayee preferred to effect a delicate balance between the organizational and cultural forces that powered his rise and the entrenched establishment powers that existed at the time.

During the UPA decade which followed the Vajpayee premiership, the strength and influence of Congress ecosystem multiplied manifold. The political leadership of the country was completely subservient to the whims of the Dynasty, allowing those who enjoyed patronage to run amok across the political, economic and cultural spectrum.

It was a merry party for all until the rude shock of May 2014 came along.

The existing Nehruvian establishment reacted to the rise of Narendra Modi in two ways. First, they attempted to scuttle his rise to power through orchestrated legal campaigns which were given plenty of airspace by the Congress’ hangers-on in the media. And when the ‘Big Blow to Modi’ headlines failed to land the knock-out punch and Modi railroaded his way into 7 Race Course Road, the establishment then tried to co-opt him. Readers would remember the subtle appeals made to Modi imploring him to become more statesmanlike across TV discussions –post the May 2014 results- by the same people who used to call him an un-electable, mass murderer barely a month earlier.

It wouldn’t have taken too long for the harsh truth to sink in that the Modi premiership was going to be a fundamentally different one from that of any of the Congress’ prime ministers and even from that of Vajpayee. While the Modi government has preferred a more deft method when it came to economic realignment, its approach towards defense and foreign policy has been strikingly different from what had been seen until now.

Even more of a drastic departure from previous dispensations has been the Prime Minister’s fervor in celebrating the rich civilizational heritage of India and bringing it to the forefront of almost all of his undertakings both in India and abroad. In both speech and in action, the Prime Minister has not concealed his intent to spearhead the movement towards a future with a strong and modern India which is built on the legacies of it glorious past – where technological advancement and economic prosperity will be rooted in a cultural ecosystem that is inherently Indian. While this may seem unpalatable to those cut from the Congress cloth, it is one which resonates very much with a growing number of India’s masses who are increasingly looking to break away from the defeatist mentalities of the past.

The increasing mass popularity of Modi’s message and the systemic changes he has been ruthlessly putting in place to achieve his goals, by cutting off the reins of power from Nehruvian elite, has resulted in the New Delhi establishment being pushed into a corner.

The current spate of motivated ‘intellectual’ attacks on Modi have to be seen in this light. The crass, visceral hatred that has been harbored by the establishment towards Narendra Modi goes beyond any of his actions as Prime Minister. At the heart of it lies their complete hatred for the man, everything that he represents and the fear of a future where his success will mean their own downfall.

The string of electoral successes the BJP enjoyed in 2014 forced them into studied silence. Post the Delhi election verdict, the discarded elite have seen a glimmer of hope and found a template with which they can launch their attacks on the Prime Minister. If it was the manufactured outrage around the attacks on churches – now clearly proven to have nothing to do with the BJP or the Sangh Parivar – during the Delhi campaign, it is the devious manipulation of message around the horrific Dadri lynching now.

The past few weeks have seen an orchestrated wave of manufactured outrage, artificially constructed around the theme of ‘growing intolerance and the shrinking of space for democratic dissent’. Seemingly unconnected events like the murders of rationalists in Maharashtra and Karnataka, the Dadri lynching and the immature shenanigans of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai have been stitched together in order to create a picture of ‘India under Modi’ which is far from reality. The final act in this rather unfortunate piece of theatre has been the never-ending list of authors returning government awards in protest. All of these events have been subtly clubbed by the national media into a larger narrative of liberalism being under threat in India.

As with most instances of synthetic outrage against Narendra Modi, the gaudy media and ‘intelligentsia’ narrative is completely disconnected from the truth.

The Dadri murder was horrific and there can be no justification for such cruel torture meted out to any human being. But can the outrage industry please explain what the Prime Minister has to do with a horrific act which happened in a remote village in Uttar Pradesh which is being ruled by the ‘secular’ Samajwadi Party? As any lame follower of politics would tell you, India follows a federal structure of governance and hence, law and order is under complete control of the state government.  

Yet hours and hours of airtime were consumed my media charlatans pontificating on the Prime Minister’s silence, his social background etc etc. At the same time, Akhilesh Yadav was given an absolute walkover despite the fact that the true reasons for the Dadri lynching can be attributed to the absolute breakdown of law and order under his regime. Similarly, the fact that both the state governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra were run by the Congress when the rationalists were murdered was a fact that almost never found mention during the wailing performances that many forgotten note-worthies delivered on primetime.

By attempting to surreptitiously link the Prime Minister to the Dadri tragedy and the murders of the rationalists, his detractors have proved that justice for the victims remains the least of their concerns. The only goals here have been to inflict maximum damage to the Modi government and prove their undying loyalty to their political patrons.

But what has been even more revolting than the devious misrepresentation of the truth by these ‘secular’ crusaders has been their attempt to paint a picture of India drifting into the dark ages with a change in government and of themselves as some sort of liberal resistance.

To begin with, the characterization of the decline of India under Narendra Modi is factually incorrect. Data regularly released by the Finance Ministry and other economic journals of note have only served to demonstrate that the Modi government –within a space of 18 months – has not only stopped the downward spiral that the Congress has pushed the nation into but that it has begun to turn the India story around. Almost all major economic indices show that India’s economic growth has begun to recapture the pace which was lost half a decade ago while also keeping inflation under consistent control. Even in terms of communal harmony, government figures have shown that the average number of communal incidents has only shrunk since the Modi government took office.

And finally, let us also touch upon the so called liberalism of the anti-Modi wailing club. Not one of these luminaries would support the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code – the cornerstone of any liberal democracy- partly because the BJP supports it and partly because it would embarrass them in front of their other ‘liberal’ friends. Not one of these ‘defenders of India’ spoke up with outrage when crores were looted by Congress over the past decade, depriving all Indians –majority and minority- of wealth which was rightfully theirs. Not one of the legions of protesting writers thought of returning their awards when Sikhs were mercilessly massacred on the streets of Delhi or when Kashmiri Pandits were brutally driven away from their homeland or when 42 Muslim men were shot by the police in Hashimpura and their bodies dumped in a canal in 1987.

The sustained preferential treatment given to people of a particular gender or religion because of a Uniform Civil Code not being in place should have resulted in a campaign from the likes of Nayantara Sehgal and Ashok Vajpeyi. The fact that most of the guilty from the Sikhs riots and the Hashimpura murders have not been punished should have seen the self-proclaimed liberals up in arms for decades. They should have not accepted any award conferred on them by Rajiv Gandhi who was in power when both these incidents happened.

These are issues which strike at the heart of liberalism and for a class of people who claim to be wedded to social justice and freedom, these silences are inexplicable.

Unless, they were never liberal in the first place. Unless, all they are is a privileged elite who see, in the rise of Narendra Modi, the beginning of the end of their privileges.

This writer can be contacted at prafulshankar@gmail.com or at the Twitter handle @ShankarPraful