Future historians will surely club April 2, 2018 with August 25, 2015 as a significant milestone on the road that led to an unravelling of the Narendra Modi arrangement. On August 25, 2015, it need be recalled, a congregation of more than five lakh people gathered in Ahmedabad in response to a defiant call by a young man named Hardik Patel. That massive presence was a declaration that they had seen through the legerdemain that was called the “Gujarat model of development”. That seminal event was the beginning of a process that culminated in the near-dethroning of the Modi regime in Gujarat last year.
Similarly, the April 2, 2018 Bharat Bandh was much more than an expression of Dalit resentment. It was a rejection of the “New India” and its cultivated social prejudices. The Dalits are not alone in feeling left behind. The bandh simply confirmed the rumours that buyers’ regret has long set in among vast segments of the Indian electorate. The promises and probabilities of 2014 have given way to a feeling of disappointment and disenchantment, a sense of being taken for a ride.
The hard-core of the Modi constituency – the middle classes and the corporate honchos – may have a reason to feel dismayed over televised images of mobs roaming the streets on Monday; yet, these very middle classes have been given every reason to infer that the strongman who so extravagantly promised stability and social harmony has failed to provide either. At the end of his fourth year in office, most segments of Indian society have a reason to be unhappy, angry and emotionally exhausted; we are painfully aware that we stand depleted of all our collective nobility and goodness.
If the middle classes are alarmed at the spectre of disorder and anarchy lurking around the corner, they also know that it is the Modi establishment that has ended up endorsing – even legitimising – the use of violence in pursuit of a partisan political agenda. First, the micro-aggression on social media – all that venom, obnoxiousness and intimidation – was sought to be laughed away as much-needed catharsis. The argument was that the people were angry with the ancien regime and they had a right to vent their unhappiness. In the process, we were all invited to become rude and impolite. Then, we were all egged on to be aggressive, even violent, in defence of deshbhakti and the cow and against anyone suspected of lacking in patriotism. We were invited to be less than reasonable against those who dared to differ from the new orthodoxy. Conformity was indeed demanded at knife point.
The Supreme Court’s March 20, 2018 judgment on the SC/ST Act – as well as the reactions to it – has to be read in this particular political context. The judges are not – and, cannot be – unaware or uninfluenced by the political predilections of the day. A certain kind of insensitivity is in play. That insensitivity, in turn, can be traced to the ruling regime’s political preferences and social prejudices. The apex court’s unwillingness, on Tuesday, to pull the regime’s chestnuts out of fire only demonstrated the limits of petty cleverness as a guiding principle for statecraft.
The Supreme Court’s touching concern for a potential abuse of the SC/ST Act can be juxtaposed graphically with the prevailing political order in the largest state in the country. For months now we have in place a state-sponsored ‘encounter regime’ in Uttar Pradesh. These cold-blooded murders are silently applauded because these are perceived as directed mostly against the social backwards: the Yadavs, the Dalits and the Muslims. Yet no institution of the Indian state has felt sufficiently agitated or concerned to demand that we have an obligation to remain a country wedded to the rule of law. Instead, the requirements of law and the rites of retribution are being left to the mercies of trigger-happy policemen. This is caste-vendetta; this is surely not what the middle classes had bargained for.
So the Bharat Bandh has to be seen in this larger context of unreported and un-corrected rampant unjustness and discrimination. Social groups do take time to understand what is happening to them and how their equations with others are being changed to their disadvantage. The middle classes have been forced to examine the damage the Modi regime has done to our social fabric by introducing violence as an acceptable currency since 2014.
If the outbreak of a million mutinies is a sufficient cause for alarm, the middle classes have another reason to be deeply disappointed with the Modi regime: its un-kept promise of competent governance.
The dogmas and attitudes that at first appeared so charming and so refreshingly different from the staid and somnolent Manmohan Singh arrangement no longer thrall. Instead, a painful realisation is setting in: the regime’s inherent incompetence and limits have curdled up the governance matrix. The precariousness of our institutional edifice was never so obvious.
Nothing exemplified more poignantly the middle classes’ disappointment than the government’s response to the CBSE examination-paper leak. The CBSE examination is a middle class festival of aspirations, but the sanctity of that festive occasion stands violated. All this at the end of the fourth year of a supposedly super-efficient, non-corrupt government. Of course, nothing has been heard from the megalomaniac who till the other day was strutting around telling students how to crack their examinations. The HRD minister was left both speechless and clueless; and the ministry’s bureaucrats angrily insisted that all was well because an inquiry had been ordered.
Barring a few functioning exceptions, administrative shoddiness has become the defining feature of New India. The middle classes and the corporate managers have seen through all those slogans and acronyms as meaningless, insincere jumlas.
Even the RSS has suddenly felt it very necessary to distance itself a bit from the Modi regime’s hubristic attitudes. The RSS has never been comfortable with the Modi personality cult and all its obvious disabilities. Individual sangh functionaries may have found it profitable to have a transactional relationship with the Modi regime but the RSS has sufficient institutional memory and self-assurance to realise that the maddening, amoral pursuit of power – winning the next election, by hook or crook – has acquired a life and a logic of its own.
The itch to control the media is the last straw. The “fake news” fiasco betrayed the ultimate secret desire of every wayward regime – to coerce the media into a compliant megaphone.
Today, no one believes the country is on the path of social or economic, leave alone, moral redemption. If the gathering disappointment has acquired an angry edge it is because everyone is wisening up to the squalidness of the “New India”.
Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi. He was, until recently, editor-in-chief of The Tribune.