Commenting felicitously on what he has called India’s “age of ambition” scholar and commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta has characterised “infrastructural nationalism” as the most dominantly visible feature of this ambition.
Speculating on how this new ambition is symbolised by an architectural assertion, Mehta wonders if it may also generate a new “righteousness”.
Well, the answer seems to have found its way to us, sooner than expected.
Alas, the “righteousness” that was in evidence on Friday in the Lok Sabha was not of the kind that Mehta may have had in mind.
Rogue brazenness: ‘Double engine’
It was rogue brazenness at its best. Words hurled by a parliamentarian of the ruling party at a fellow parliamentarian from another party, who happened to be a Muslim, in a rush of abusive, sectarian invective, is best read in media reports.
This was indeed “righteousness” as condemnable hubris issuing from a new sense of historical conquest that, matching the grandeur of the new building, expressed itself as the contempt of the despot conqueror for the trampled adversary.
The “age of ambition” that Mehta speaks of with perspicacity is, if I may be forgiven, harking back to one of my earlier columns, best captured in the metaphor of the “double engine” that the ruling BJP so often lauds and peddles, except that my use of the metaphor is widely (and wildly) different from the meaning the ruling party scions attach to it.
One engine pulls fast forward, embracing every bit of the latest technology that science makes possible, all the way upto the south side of the moon; the other rushes the republic backward to the mythic glories of an ancient past, stamped most emphatically on the spot where the rover landed as “Shiv-Shakti Sthal.”
Put succinctly, the two engines denote two engines of the ruling right-wing ideology which, even if seen to be slightly different in direction, crucially, complement each other’s trajectory to a common thesis.
As during the crusades, the dominant ideological contour of the “new age of ambition” is to project material victories as the matching expression of the strengths of a new collective religious identity.
So, the message goes, we are conquering technologies, reaching the moon’s south pole, engaging start-ups of all kind, running ahead of the world’s economies, because we now know the power of being Hindus, after all.
What could have been a more abrasively gauche demonstration of this concatenation of India’s current history than afforded by the right honourable MP, Ramesh Bidhuri, who thought nothing of damning a fellow elected member in crass, hate-filled religious epithets, as if to say, you may be an elected representative too, but you now live on the sufferance of the ruling Hindu.
After all, do recall what the honourable prime minister himself said when he first entered the portals of parliament in 2014: “we have achieved independence after 1200 years.”
Thus if one engine is meant to scale the furthest reaches of technological modernity, the other is programmed to a revanchist agenda calculated to assert the glories of a cultural and religious past, versus the ‘Left-Liberal interregnum’, one that I define as the freedom movement and the six decades of rationalism.
Therefore, the struggling republic squeaks, to retain a semblance of an egalitarian democracy, India’s “ new age of ambition” requires an unbridled centre of authority that is derived from a revived religious/cultural assertion rather than from just universal adult franchise (although the latter may be retained as a necessary nuisance till the crusade fully reaches its culmination).
Imagine for a moment, if what Ramesh Bidhuri has hurled at Danish Ali was hurled instead by Danish Ali at Ramesh Bidhuri; would he just have been warned by the honourable Speaker to desist from repeating the offence?
The answer crossing your mind is the crisis of India’s present moment.