Prem Shankar Jha


An awful cancer has invaded the soul of India. This is the country where Gautam Buddha,  the greatest saint humanity has known, was born. This is the country where Bhakti and Sufi  poets and saints stripped Brahminical Hinduism and orthodox Islam of ritual, idol worship and clerical control,  and preached union with the almighty through  love and submission,

This is the country of Swami Vivekananda, who electrified the World Conference of Religions at Chicago in 1893, by telling the delegates that Hinduism did not merely tolerate other religions but accepted them,   because the great religions are  like rivers that have carved out  different paths but end in the same sea; like paths up a mountain that end at the same peak.

This is the country that produced  Mahatma Gandhi, who drove  the British out of India without  firing a shot at them. But today this same country is in the grip of a blood lust in which the only issue being discussed ad nauseamis ‘how many terrorists/ Pakistanis/ Muslims did “we” kill in Balakot?

Nowhere is the new bloodlust more visible than on Indian television,  which is being watched abroad with growing horror on Youtube. A report in the Washington Posthas summed up its irresponsibility with damning precision:

“More than two weeks after the (Pulwama) attack, our analysis finds that no news site had rectified the errors in their reporting, leaving these misleading facts as a matter of public record. Instead, the Indian media has ascribed to itself the role of an amplifier of the government propaganda that took two nuclear states to the brink of war. Many TV newsrooms were transformed into caricatures of military command centers, with anchors assessing military technology and strategy (sometimes incorrectly). Some even dressed for the occasion in combat gear. Speculation and conjecture were repeated ad infinitum, and several journalists even took to Twitter to encourage the Indian army”[1].

If blame can be ascribed to any single individual, it has to be Prime minister Narendra Modi, who is willing to stop at nothing  to win the next election. But why have the media , that pride themselves on being the Fourth Estate of democracy (“The Nation wants to know”)  joined in so enthusiastically? The short answer is that the audience to whom it panders is not the India that has existed for ages, but a  new India being created mainly in the urban areas today.

That India and its proponent, the RSS, are products of modernity and the rupture it creates with the past. For this India  religion begins and ends with the robotic performance of ritual,  poojato idols, pilgrimages to Vaishno Devi and Amar Nath, and ‘purifying’ baths during the  Kumbh Mela at the confluence of  the  stinking Ganges and Yamuna rivers that they have not the slightest intention of either reviving or cleaning up.

This new India is still very small. Even in 2014, barely 31 percent of the electorate voted for Modi. So why are there no defenders of the old India out there? While many factors are responsible, in the political sphere the answer seems to lie in the cultural vacuum at the core of the Congress, the largest party in the opposition. The leader  of the Congress is a lady born in Italy and raised a Catholic. The President of the party is only one quarter Hindu by blood, and not Hindu at all by nurture or education. Neither of them has a gut  understanding of the core values of Hindu society; its syncretic, accepting, pluralism; its willingness to adapt, live and let live. So neither of them is able to  feel the anger that the  degradation of Hinduism, and  perversion of  its core values by the RSS has created in caste hindus of the old India, and the fear it has inspired in the Dalits, some of the backward classes and the Muslims.

This emotional vacuum at the top has led the Congress into the trap of trying to compete with the BJP by peddling ‘soft Hinduism’, instead of opposing  the ‘hard Hindutwa’ of the RSS, tooth and nail. Before the Gujarat elections Rahul Gandhi visited temple after temple, came out of them with a teekaon his forehead and proclaimed that “I am a Hindu” in much the same way as a convert to Islam or Christianity would proclaim that he or she is now a Muslim or Christian.

This “soft”  Hindutwa explains why he was so quick to accept Pakistan’s culpability  in the attack, why he   described it almost sentimentally as  “an attack on India’s soul” and,  without prior discussion, committed not only the Congress but the entire opposition to “fully supporting  the government and the security forces” in their actions. By doing this he legalized in advance every action that Modi has taken against Pakistan.

“Soft Hindutwa” also explains many of his subsequent silences and omissions, such as why he did not point out that Pakistan was only indirectly to blame because the suicide bomber was a Kashmiri youth; why he did not immediately condemn Modi’s dangerous brinkmanship in launching a pre-emptive attack on a Jaish-e-Mohammad madrassa and training camp  at Balakot, and why he did not immediately condemn Modi’s calculated silence  over the expulsion of thousands of Kashmiris from apartments, rooms and hostels by frenzied mobs across north India. To the minorities, as well as to the Hindus of the ‘old’ India , it conveyed the disheartening news that for the Congress too political expediency trumped the rule of law. So why bother to vote for it?

This lack of courage  has allowed Modi to turn the tables on the opposition. Whereas it is he who is playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship in a desperate effort to win an election he was almost  certain to lose,  with the help of the ever-subservient media he has been able to  portray  the opposition as unprincipled, opportunistic politicians who care two hoots about India’s security and standing in south Asia and the world, and are only intent upon ousting the BJP from power at any cost.

As a result, Modi has been able to make a significant part of the population of the country forget, at least for the moment, the collapse of the economy, the crisis in agriculture, the stagnation of industry, the  11 million jobs lost by it over the past five years, and the hollowness of  the grandiose promises he made to them when he came to power. Whether Modi  will be able to make their amnesia last till the general elections remains to be seen. But Rahul Gandhi’s silence on this front too is not going to shorten it.

Unfortunately this is not the end of India’s misfortune for, having made one major mistake, Rahul Gandhi seems intent on making another, even bigger one. This is not to understand the imperative need to avoid fracturing the anti-BJP vote at any cost. Instead through his lack of experience and his want of leadership qualities, he is doing the exact opposite: in state after state he is  allowing the shortsightedness and greed of his  party rank and file to make him demand far more seats in than the Congress’ share of the vote merits, and thereby  disrupt the building of a common front against the BJP.

In Delhi the Congress has flatly refused  to make any  seat-sharing agreement with the Aam Admi Party, and has decided to fight all the seven seats by itself, despite the fact that it does not stand a snowball in Hell’s  chance of winning even a single seat,  and can only divide the vote in favour of the BJP. This has been made abundantly clear by an opinion poll based on  a mammoth 18,750 person sample has  shown that while the AAP still holds 52 percent of the vote, the Congress share is a paltry 5.5 percent.

In the crucial state of UP the Congress has already published the names of 11 candidates and intends to fight many more seats in spite of  having won only 2 seats out of 80 in 2014 and commanding barely 11 percent of the vote. In UP  too whatever little chance the Congress had of cutting into the BJP vote to win some seats has been destroyed by its tame acceptance of Modi’s leadership in dealing with the aftermath of Pulwama. Today, all that the Congress can do is to increase the number of seats that the BJP will win.

As if these setbacks are not enough, if reports in some newspapers are accurate, relations between  the Congress and Tejaswi Yadav’s JDU are also becoming strained in Bihar.

How costly Rahul Gandhi’s immaturity , and lack of leadership qualities,  can prove was  shown by the results of the Gujarat state assembly elections in December 2017. Long before  he turned on Mani Shankar Aiyar, the most eloquent speaker in  his  own party, when Aiyar defended  the Gandhi family against an unprovoked slur by Modi  by calling him  a neech kism ka admi, (which Gandhi misunderstood as a neech jaat ka admi) ,  he had already  ensured a BJP victory by spurning the  Aam admi party as well.

Well before the election,  Arvind Kejriwal had made three attempts to contact Rahul Gandhi in order to forge an alliance with the Congress in Gujarat. Kejriwal had understood that  while the AAP could not win any seats on its own, it did command a sizeable  share of the vote in Gujarat. He was therefore willing to put up AAP candidates in seats selected by the Congress, where the AAP had the greatest capacity to cut into the BJP’s vote.  Rahul Gandhi did not even bother to reply to his a phone calls. So  BJP came back to power by the skin of its teeth, winning 18 seats with a margin of 5,000 or fewer votes and nine with a margin of less than 2,000 !

Today the Indian nation is facing a crisis whose seriousness almost no one in the Congress party understands ( and the few who do dare not to speak). Thanks to Rahul Gandhi’s inexperience and indecisiveness  there is now a distinct possibility that the BJP will emerge as the largest single party after the next elections and be able to  form a government with disillusioned elements of the Mahagatbandhan.Should that happen, the dwindling but still substantial number of Kashmiris who   want azadiwithout losing their links with India  will lose all hope and  start backing those who  want to secede from India. India will  have lost  Kashmir forever. Worse still, a future BJP government’s  attempt to hold on to it by force alone, as Modi has done for the last five years,  will almost certainly precipitate a war with Pakistan.

In the Indian heartland democrats and dissidents will be silenced through a wholesale use of the sedition laws.  First the High courts and then  the Supreme Court will collapse under the burden of the cases that the victims will file. Vigilante rule targeting Muslims and Dalits will  gather momentum. As faith in the police and the judiciary dwindles first a few, and then more  Muslim youth will  conclude that it is better to die fighting than live in fear forever, and swing to terrorism  as hundreds , if not thousands,  of Kashmiri youth have done in the past five years. The police repression that will inevitably follow will destroy the last vestiges of democracy and the rule of law.

State governments not under BJP rule will not take this lying down. Their attempts to protect their democratic systems will lead to the splintering, and then disintegration, of India. The portents of disintegration are already visible: Modi has not held a single meeting of the National Development Council since he came to power, and questioned the very need for its existence in January 2015.

And the first signs of rebellion by state governments against arbitrary rule by the Centre have already appeared. Between November 2018 and January 2019 three states – Seemandhra, West Bengal, and Chhattisgarh, have withdrawn their ‘general consent’ to Central enforcement agencies, to operate in their territory  without prior, specific permission, under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.

The portents are unambiguous: if the BJP of the Modi era (not to be confused with the BJP of the Vajpayee era)  is returned to power  it is not only its democracy but its unity, and its syncretic culture that will be in mortal danger.



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