The trouble with victory, rather a string of victories, is that it catalyses and nurtures hubris. Aristotle said people are hubristic because they think they are better than other people. In the modern age hubris simply denotes overconfidence and a pride enveloped in arrogance. This week the electoral juggernaut of the BJP, pumped up with hubris, encountered an entry in the lexicon, known as blunder.
P V Narasimha Rao, the polyglot grand guru who understood political intrigue in multiple contexts, once said that every controversy was an opportunity to bury the previous one. He practised this with élan with success almost always. As with all clever -isms and desperate bargains, the truism comes with a caveat which says, ‘conditions apply’. The spin doctors of the BJP hope for the page to be turned, but it is unlikely that the stain of the events of the week will wash off easily.
The utterances of the BJP candidate for Bhopal, Pragya Thakur, sordid and obnoxious to be repeated, not only disrupted a delicate narrative crafted by Narendra Modi through the campaign and through a dozen print and half a dozen television interviews but also opened a can of political babel from its supporters—some even questioned the martyrdom of Ashok Chakra awardee Hemant Karkare, in the process insulting the bravery of those in uniform.
Obliged to explain, the BJP, post the outrage, distanced itself with the standard alibi of “personal opinion” stemming from personal experience of torture. It could be argued there was torture—others accused and acquitted earlier have made similar allegations. So the moot point is why the BJP, which has been in power since 2014 and has a battalion of lawyers, did not redress the grief, not take the matter to its logical and legal end with a case against custodial torture and violation of constitutional rights.
The spot the BJP finds itself in can only be explained by untrammelled hubris. And it starts with the nomination. The ‘accidental’ candidature of Digvijaya Singh, a BJP-baiter and accidental candidate of the Congress, offered an opportunity to raise the ante on Hindutva. The BJP has deftly used development and defence as the glue and Hindutva as the hardener to manage the narrative and political order. But did the case for Hindutva and the campaign against Digvijaya need to come clothed in questions and controversy?
Bhopal is a seat the BJP virtually owns—since the beginning of the Ram Mandir movement in 1989. Could the world’s largest political party, mandated with the first full majority in 30 years, ruling in 15 states, not find a suitable candidate other than the one they chose? It could have nominated three-time CM Shivraj Chouhan, strongman Kailash Vijayvargia, or the original Sadhvi, Uma Bharati, who trounced Digvijaya Singh in 2003. Would they have been less effective and symbolic?
One of the fallouts of rising hubris is disconnect with consequence. There are unintended consequences and then there are unattended causes. Last week, the stock markets recorded new highs boosted by inflows, but declines in the broader market outweighed advances, reflecting underlying nervousness.
The tremors in the debt market continue unabated—there is the bankrupt but not bankrupt case of shadow banker IL&FS, which owes investors and banks over Rs 90,000 crore, there is the Damocles sword of value realisation on holdings where promoters have mortgaged shares, and the worries of credit availability haunting NBFCs and debt issuing corporates hurt by lower consumption. Fear is now creeping in. India’s largest mutual funds are writing to unitholders to either roll over, take a pause, or even a hit on their investments in the absence of clarity on repayment—thanks to the extend and pretend tactic adopted.
Earlier this week, India’s second largest airline, Jet Airways, was grounded. The state of Jet Airways was known for eight quarters— the distress calls have been loud since October 2018. The issues around relief and rescue measures were being debated long before the first aircraft was grounded by lessors. Elementary business text reveals that businesses are best rescued when they are ongoing. In April 2019, it is a classic Humpty Dumpty rhyme, “all the lenders and banks and all the mighty mandarins could not get the airline in the air”. The result: fliers are paying more, families holidaying are stranded, refunds are hard to come by and, of course, investors and savers are left holding the can.
The insolence about the political consequence of the crash landing of Jet Airways again stems from hubris—an overestimation of the capacity to game the system and the narrative. A regime pummelled by questions on job creation is now left to field questions on job losses—do the math for 600 flights a day and 30 million passengers the airline carried in a year. Meanwhile, Air India is awaiting its fate since five years in the hangars of policy.
In the television drama series Rome, Julius Caesar tells Mark Antony, “Its only hubris if I fail”. The observation squarely applies to the Bharatiya Janata Party. A party mortally dependent on one individual can scarcely afford the level of hubris it harbours.