As the plane began its descent preparing to land in Mumbai on the day the city was brought to its knees by Dalit protestors against ‘New Peshwai’, there was a sinking feeling in the stomach. The flight was probably descending into chaotic conflict that wasn’t going to subside soon.
Commemoration of 200 years of victory of Mahars over Maratha army at Bhima Koregaon is only the tip of the iceberg. We have witnessed over the past three years and half many such sparks threatening to ignite devastating conflagrations. The fault lines in our society can no longer be plastered over or wished away. Re-emergence of identity politics with a vengeance in Gujarat leaves no scope for complacence.
If things have to come to a sorry pass, BJP can’t avoid most of the blame. It has failed miserably to rein in what are euphemistically referred to as the ‘lunatic fringe’. The steady rise of vigilantism is deeply disturbing. Be it the gau rakshaks or self-styled custodians of swadeshi culture, the anti-social elements have turned into lynch mobs with frightening frequency flouting the Rule of Law. It’s impossible to deny that various freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution have shrunk. Hate speeches go unpunished while public-spirited scribes and cartoonists are hauled up or harassed.
The unrest among the downtrodden and exploited, Dalits and the tribal, marginal farmers and the unemployed that has been long simmering has now reached boiling point. Statistics of steady progress no longer can act as a safety valve to release pressure and avert scorching explosions.
Nor can Congress be acquitted of charges of playing with fire for partisan gain. For Rahul Gandhi, at long last elevated to the INC Presidency, this is the last chance to stay in the 2019 race. Ever since Ahmed Patel’s election to Rajya Sabha, new life has been injected into till then a comatose party. The arrogant overconfidence of the BJP ended up administering a nasty shock when the results were announced. The final tally in two figures was far short of the expected number. Both the parties had thrown all they had in this battle. It is difficult to imagine that except in Karnataka, the INC can repeat this performance. Even in Karnataka the Congress is vying with BJP in gau raksha to prove its ‘Soft Hindu’ credentials. It can’t afford to be seen as the party that appeases minorities.
Dalits have long forsaken it not only in Maharashtra but in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other places. Its support of tainted allies like Lalu Yadav has also eroded its credibility. RaGa continues to launch scathing attacks on Modi during his foreign visits to receive applause from fawning followers but there are few who believe that he can sway voters.
As we approach the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the picture is getting murkier. Much of the self-confident euphoria has dissipated and the road ahead appears hidden in gloomy mist. It should be made clear at the outset that the ‘euphoria’ triggered by the Modi-BJP electoral victory was not confined to what is referred to as the Saffron Sangh Parivar.
The election results (so it seemed then) indicated that the Indian voter was breaking out of fettering shackles to choose development over caste, community and clan. Divisive identities failed to repel the tidal Modi wave that swept or drowned all in its way. Constitution of India, declared the new Prime Minister, was the Religious Book he abided by. Majority of Indians most of them young were excited. They could smell a ‘Cool ‘n’ Crisp’ liberating ‘Breakthrough’ in the air. The Millennial generation felt that their moment had come.
In the final analysis, it is not charisma or lack of it that will prove decisive. It’s the state of economy and the government’s ability to convince the citizen-resident Indians, not only the pravasi, that it can and will come what may not discriminate among them on grounds of religion, caste, language or region that will nullify the anti-incumbency factor. Let’s not forget that repeated efforts to forge a United Opposition Front have floundered miserably. This may be good news for the BJP but can’t be considered good for India. Not only democracy thrives on a strong opposition, inclusive development too requires intellectual ferment that can constantly throw up contending ideas and diverse options. We must learn to balance excellence with equity and celebrate diversity.
Mumbai, that was once Melting Pot Bombay, has transformed beyond recognition. The rural hinterland—in Maharashtra and other states—has changed even more. Both the Congress and BJP along with other political parties, national and regional, appear dangerously out of touch with ground reality. That’s why Jignesh Mewani’s derisive and dismissive comments on Parliamentary politics, institutions and individuals are so alarming. The Metro may be limping back to normalcy but beware of lurking Chaos casting its dark shadow.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University