It’s tough being the spokesperson of a political party. It is more challenging if the outfit happens to be the Congress that has gone from being the Grand Old Party to one with only 52 seats in the 17th Lok Sabha. It becomes further complicated when the spokesperson in question is suspended from the party for outspokenness, a euphemism for a call to look inward.
For anyone who has seen a television news debate in the last decade would know that Sanjay Jha’s heart beats for the Congress. On the face of it, Jha—unceremoniously dropped from the party for writing an op-ed piece that urged it to have “a thriving internal democracy” among other things—might no longer be a card-carrying member; however, his heart still feels the pain to see Congress fail India.
As a ‘former’ spokesperson of a party whose electoral fortunes refuse to revive, at least in the last two general elections, Jha’s book The Great Unravelling looks at the changes that have occurred in India’s political landscape since May 2014. The book joins an ever-growing list of titles that argue how the ‘Nehruvian idea of India’, which the author suggests to be read as ‘liberal, secular, scientific’, has come utterly undone since the arrival of Narendra Modi at the national level.
Using topics that dominated mainstream media, Jha makes a passionate case about how institutions and economy have suffered, and how a new political narrative nearly treats 200 million Indians as irrelevant. While Jha is scathing in his indictment of the first Modi government for the sorry state of the ‘idea of India’, it appears that he has a bigger issue with the media and dedicates a significant portion of his denunciation for Arnab Goswami.
In the introduction, Jha mentions a reply to his post-2019 election tweet from a friend, who would start to look for permanent residency visas outside because ‘Congress let me down’ as the reason to write this book. As Jha tries to decipher what these changes mean in the larger context, he also looks at what ails the Congress and seeks the reasons for the party’s acute ‘lack of oppositional ability’. Reading Jha’s book when there is news of the Congress party all set to have an elected president in June 2021, makes it surreal. It reminds you of what Abraham Lincoln believed: “With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”
It is interesting when Jha ponders, and to some extent, even acknowledges if his commitment to the Congress’ ideology and disdain for BJP made people like him blind to Modi’s accomplishments. At the same time, he questions Congress’ shortcomings but never suggests that perhaps his erstwhile party’s policies are not hitting home with the average voter.
As someone well-versed with cricket, Jha’s one-time internet venture was CricketNext.com. Jha structures his narrative like a seasoned batsman would pace a good inning. As in cricket, the reason for any batsman is apparent—either put up enough runs or chase down the target set—Jha, however, appears to be unclear about the purpose the book ought to serve. He makes an excellent case for Rahul Gandhi and his leadership but at the same time points out that it’s not easy to get an audience with the leader.
He recounts how in early 2017 he flew to Delhi but waited endlessly to meet Gandhi to present a strategy report for the party. Jha mentions that Congress’ 2019 manifesto game-changer NYAY and other solutions such as abolishing the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee needed to be communicated better, especially the former, which he feels had a strong appeal only for Left-liberal analysts. The Great Unravelling is an earnest treatise from a former Congress party member asking questions that remain unanswered. Is it possible that perhaps Jha could be asking the wrong questions or doesn’t like the answers, which to quote Bob Dylan shamelessly, are blowin’ in the wind?