Decline then, distrust today, decline again

Consistency isn’t a political virtue. The BJP’s advantage is that it thrives on a consistent ideology promoted by an iconic leader, which makes selling its agenda easier. 

Published: 27th September 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2020 10:41 PM   |  A+A-

BJP flag, Congress flag

Image of BJP, Congress flags for representational purpose (File photos | PTI)

Politics is the abattoir of aspirations and ambitions. Currently, the loin chop isn’t doing too well for the Gandhis and their party. What’s cooking? The BJP needs the Congress as the scapegoat for India’s unravelling economy and society.

The Congress calls the BJP the scapegrace of democracy. The intellectual base of the early Congress was the English-savvy middle class, which found no incongruity in doing puja in the morning and going to a cocktail party in the evening. The Modi-BJP’s base is the new Indian middle class whose majority live in smaller cities and towns.

They are both fanatically proud of their language nationalism and equally comfortable with Levi’s jeans and jagrans. The first group resents the Lutyens gang because they speak with the right accent, and went to Oxford and Harvard. The BJP’s anti-intellectual stance is discomfort with their cosmopolitan values and linguistic confidence.

But in the space of a generation, the new middle class will be the new elite. In 2018, there were seven lakh Indian students studying abroad and all of them didn’t go to Doon School or Bishop Cotton. Going by the growth of English schools in the Hindi hinterland, aspirations have changed. But nationalism is the glue that binds both generations. 

The freedom struggle nationalism promoted by the Congress simplified Indian history into heroes and villains. They glossed over the fact that Indian rulers largely worked closely with, or for, the Mughals and the British. India is a dormant communal volcano; the freedom fighters had no idea one day Maulana Azad would be defiled as a Muslim while Sardar Patel would become an anti-Nehru Hindu icon.

No point blaming saffron savants for owning the national divide that masquerades as communal hatred: in the end it’s politics, stupid. History is not a simplistic calendar of events. It’s a highly complicated snakes and ladders board game of individuals and cultures seeking preeminent advantage for themselves. Both the Vijayanagaram kings and Tipu Sultan were notorious for savagery towards their own people. The king is an Indian hero while Tipu was one, until recently. 

India is a land of dynasties more than any other country. A symbol of the first Indira Gandhi-led Congress was the cow and the calf—the comparison needs no explanation. The Gandhi Family missed the bus, or in this case the bandwagon—ideal politics is a meritocracy, which espouses a moderate ideology and promotes a progressive, egalitarian economy.

The post-Independence Indian economy was very confusing. First free market and pro-multinational, turning Socialist (to be flip, because Nixon thought India was a bitch) and returning to liberal free market economy—all during Congress rule. Consistency isn’t a political virtue. The BJP’s advantage is that it thrives on a consistent ideology promoted by an iconic leader, which makes selling its agenda easier. 

Yes, the Congress is to blame for fracturing Indian society and economy. Ideologies in governance have a tendency to imitate predecessors because governance is about power. The BJP may want to heed that such atavism is an inevitable infirmity of political DNA.

Ravi Shankar


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