Do The Election Results Indicate That The Nation Is Saved?

Do The Election Results Indicate That The Nation Is Saved?

The traumatised souls of the last ten years are a pragmatic lot. They know that the nation is still not completely out of the woods. It’s only a temporary recovery

AshutoshUpdated: Monday, June 17, 2024, 09:41 PM IST
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The sun has peeped through the dark clouds but the bright sunshine is still far away. | Representative Image/Pixabay

“The country is saved”, is how an elderly friend reacted when I called him up after the election results. I can’t call him a left liberal but he is a hardcore political person for whom “country first” has been the leitmotif for life. I have known him for a very long time and can vouch for the honesty of his conviction. He was a worried man. We had had many discussions over the years since the Bharatiya Janata Party formed the government in 2014. As elections neared this time, he told me in one of his friendly but very enlightened chats that if the BJP were to get more than 300 seats, then the country would not be the same again; the Constitution would be changed, Parliamentary democracy would be consigned to the dustbin of history; Parliament and the Constitutional institutions would have no meaning and the country would be proclaimed a Hindu Rashtra. He said this even before BJP called for “Iss baar, 400 paar” and before the Opposition accused the Modi government of having intentions of changing the Constitution if it managed to get 400 seats.

No doubt, within the left liberal group, it was the common refrain that democracy had come under serious threat in the last ten years and would drastically slide further if the BJP were to come back again with a thumping majority. No wonder, a large section of intelligentsia, journalists, professionals working in different walks of life, activists with no affiliation to any party, who had been critical of the Congress in pre-2014 era, and even those who were considered to be rightists or supporters of Hindutva philosophy, gravitated towards the Congress. In their opinion, the rise of right-wing fascist politics was due to the decline of the Congress as a robust political force. And if the country had to be saved then the Congress had to be strengthened. The Congress which was criticised for corrupt practices during its governments, for pursuing anti-people policies and imposing the Emergency, was now hailed by these people as a democratic force despite its several infirmities. Many of them are still critical of its dynastic politics, but in private conversations confide that if the choice is between dynastic democracy and dictatorship, then one would prefer the former.

After the exit poll results, gloom permeated their hearts and the subsequent tense two days tormented them no end. I was surprised that many of them did not have a nervous breakdown. But by 10am on June 4, once the results trickled in and it was apparent that the BJP was not getting the numbers that the pollsters had predicted, they were overwhelmed by relief and mobile phones started buzzing with congratulatory calls and messages. The nation has finally survived, was the common call. By noon, pollsters lost whatever goodwill they had, and were cursed for selling their souls. These are brilliant people who have done well in their respective fields, and wear love for the nation on their sleeves; yes they are not fashionably pompous about their patriotism — for them India is a lived reality, a commitment, and not a delusional society’s false imagery. For them, nation means pluralism, a free society, freedom to express themselves, where the voice of dissent is celebrated, not mauled; where minorities live with dignity without fear and persecution, where the state is creative and harmonious and not discriminatory, and liberty is the uncompromising cardinal principle of life.

But the traumatised souls of the last ten years are a pragmatic lot. They know that the nation is still not completely out of the woods. It’s only a temporary recovery. The sun has peeped through the dark clouds but the bright sunshine is still far away. The new government has been formed. Unlike the last two, it’s not a majority government. Crutches are needed to run it. The prime minister is theoretically weakened but his team is the same. Therefore to imagine that much will change in the near future is assuming too much. The prime minister is making every effort to show the world and his critics that he is in total command, and that nothing has changed due to the diminished numbers. Though, the coming week will unfold the truth about his real demeanour when parliament will be in session. Unlike the last two terms, the Opposition will be more robust, the Congress will be bolder due to its enhanced numbers in the Lok Sabha; one can see better floor coordination as the results have proved that if the Opposition is more cohesive and united then the government can be tamed, the invincibility of the prime minister was only a myth and if he could barely win from Varanasi then he can be beaten in his own burrow.

But with Modi at the helm, overconfidence can be disastrous. It is true that he has never run a coalition government ever since he became the chief minister of Gujarat. He always had a majority on his own and he was never constrained by mundane things in his party and the government. He was the boss and ran both the institutions like his fiefdom. In fact, he so jealously guards his power that he did not tolerate the RSS, and during his time as chief minister he ensured that none of the RSS pracharaks and officebearers would have any say in the party or in the government, and those who dared challenge his authority were brutally shown the door and could not survive.

A similar model has been active in Delhi since 2014. It was his government. Even senior BJP leaders had no authority, their job was to implement what was being decided or ordered by the powerful PMO. A senior cabinet minister once told me that he could not even choose his own secretary; the one that was sent by the PMO did not see him for a week, and did not even make a courtesy call. Through Amit Shah, the prime minister has total control over the party. Almost every institution has crumbled in the last few years, behaving like an extension counter of the government and the party. But this was the case when the prime minister had the majority on his own, and his government did not depend on others’ support. Now the situation has changed.

Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu are mavericks. They know how to protect their interests and demand their pound of flesh. Both have worked with the PM in the past and had their skirmishes with him; together they command 28 seats, which is enough to destabilise the government with the support of others. It’s a relationship of distrusting partners. The PM knows that if any of their demands is not fulfilled then neither will hesitate to pull the rug under his feet and the two of them are well aware that in his quest to get 272, the prime minister can hijack their MPs too. So one should not buy into their smiles and hugs.

The election of the Speaker in Parliament will be the first test of the coalition government. If the BJP cedes the Speaker’s chair to a coalition partner then it can be argued that the partners have decided to buy peace and Parliament will have some amount of autonomy in its functioning. And if the BJP carries the day with its nominee then uncertainty will continue.

The second test will be the appointment of the BJP’s party president. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statements are a stiff reminder that the RSS has decided to not mortgage the party like it did earlier. It has not taken lightly the statement of JP Nadda that now the BJP has become self-sufficient and it is not dependent on the RSS to win elections. The RSS would like to have not only its own person but also somebody who is strong enough to stand up to Modi-Shah, one who is not a puppet to the two.

A senior RSS person told me long back that Modi’s priority could be to be the prime minister which is not that of the RSS, whose civilisational project is to unite Hindus. The RSS has realised that Modi’s style of politics has no doubt consolidated a section of Hindus for Hindutva but it has created more fissures in the society which can jeopardise its long-term civilisational goal. It did not interfere earlier as it knew that it could not win. Now is the right time for the RSS to assert itself, when Modi’s popularity is declining and he does not have enough numbers. This battle is serious and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. For the time being, democratic forces can rejoice in their own tempestuous glory but there is no guarantee that the joy will be permanent.

The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B

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