Ever since the regime change that India witnessed in May 2014, the country has seen determined resistance to the new order from the well-entrenched oligarchy that had called the shots for the previous six-odd decades since 1947. This happened despite the overwhelming majority of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance in the Lok Sabha and in the majority of states.
The nationalist forces or the Indic civilisation advocates were routinely outmanoeuvred, outsmarted, outwitted and outgunned by the Lutyens Zone (LZ) cabal and the secularist storm-troopers (hereafter SS), a term which this commentator pleads guilty of having used for the first time more than a decade ago. These two groups often overlap each other and invariably function in tandem. Both of them fine-tuned their techniques during the Congress regimes; indeed, some analysts say that this lot has been practising their craft for hundreds of years, under the Muslim rule and then the British.
It must be stressed that the LZ term is not restricted to folks, who are residents of the exclusive municipal area in India’s capital, named after the imperialist architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who wanted to create an island of Pax Britannica amidst the dust and heat of north India. Physical location is not a prerequisite for the LZ cachet. LZ people are paid-up members of an exclusive club that screams “privilege” and “entitlement” as a matter of right and heredity. As one of them confided to me many decades ago, LZ is a frame of mind. You can be born into it, and you can also be inducted into it, if you qualify later on.
As far as the SS are concerned, they have a deep animus against India’s ancient culture and civilisation. In their eyes, the thousands of years of Indic civilisation amount for nothing. It requires another detailed study to unravel how and why the SS internalised their ideology.
To return to the hurly-burly of present-day Indian politics, many of the members and leaders in the new administration were so often humiliated and defeated by their old political foes that some serious questions started being posed by observers and analysts.
What were the reasons behind the repeated debacles of the new regime and its sorry record in the battles and skirmishes that were being fought so regularly? Some facile answers were trotted out by both sides, whether by the actual combatants or their apologists. It would be useful if we were to look at these explanations and subject them to some tests.
The first explanation that did the rounds was that the new occupants of Raisina Hill were wet behind their ears and, therefore, were easy meat (with all its resonances). The second reason cited was that the oligarchs of the Congress, its allies and their supporters had humongous resources at their command, parked in India and abroad. It did not matter where, because of the fungible nature of financial assets and instruments these days. With one stroke on a keyboard, money and financial resources can be transferred wherever they are required.
More ingenious assessments were also trotted out, sometimes by the apologists of the new regime, to explain their dismal performance record in some areas, and very often by the old guard, to sow dissension in the new administration. This is the “fifth column” theory and it basically hinted that there are senior functionaries in the new government who are very close to the Congress cabal and did not really want the BJP-NDA government to do well at all, so that the old gang could come back to power in the 2019 general elections.
Then, there are the doomsday club members, who kept proclaiming that India has too many civilisational, cultural and religious fault lines to allow any type of uniformity in rules, regulations and management in political, social and economic matters. For want of a better term, we can label this lot as the India International Centre/JNU intellectuals and jholawallahs.
Finally, there are the beneficiaries of the loot-and-scam raj of the previous Congress-United Progressive Alliance junta, who are feeling very threatened by the new regime’s proclaimed ideology of good governance and zero tolerance of graft and corruption. These people want their nemesis to be jettisoned from power at the earliest and any tactics are fair in this war for survival. They, therefore, put forward a whole range of hypotheses about the inbuilt defects of the new government and its underlying thought processes.
If we look at each of these hypotheses separately, we will not get a satisfactory and complete explanation of the scenario. In other words, the full assessment of the non-performance of the new regime will still elude us. We will, perforce, have to construct a comprehensive model of how political frameworks are weakened and sabotaged from within and outside, in order to engineer their eventual collapse.
At the outset, we should remember that the 2014 general elections and the installation of the Narendra Modi government was a political tsunami for the entrenched oligarchy and elites in India. Our body politic, that had remained more or less stagnant for 67 years, showed signs of a beginning of fundamental change. The change of guard in Raisina Hill was by no means a full transformation, but a baby step in that direction. Nevertheless, for the forces of status quo, this was perceived as an existential threat.
The entrenched groups which realised that their bailiwicks were in mortal danger are the following:
- The bureaucracy at all levels
- The entire judiciary
- Crony capitalists ranging from the top business groups to the local kirana shop, all of whom thrived on tax evasion and looting the financial institutions
- The managers of rural — often caste-based — vote banks, who do not want their roles as intermediaries to be diminished
- Religious pressure groups, often financed from abroad, whose allegiances are to institutions based outside India
- Academicians and “intellectuals” who had long supped from the deep pool of resources supplied by the previous rulers
- Small/regional political parties that have acted as power brokers in some parts of the country and have built up critical mass and a war-chest of funds.
This list is not organised in any order of priority and/or importance. However, the above groups have a high degree of overlap with the LZ and the SS coteries defined earlier.
Soon after May 2014, these seemingly disparate cohorts started mobilising their resources and cementing their alliances to take on the new dispensation. The process of joining hands was hardly seamless, since the satraps in each of these groups were individuals who carefully guarded their bailiwicks.
It should be mentioned at this stage that the subject of disintegration of countries and nation-states has been studied extensively in the last few decades. The causes underlying the break-up of countries have been rigorously assessed by a number of scholars and researchers. Here we must distinguish between the collapse of regimes/ruling oligarchies within a country and the disintegration of a country as a whole.
We must emphasise that most countries that fall apart do so “not with a bang but with a whimper”. This was the conclusion of an incisive study in 2012 in the respected journal Foreign Policy. In this path-breaking essay, academics Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson identified the major reasons that lead to countries imploding. While identifying the chronic failed states in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America, the study zeroed in on some of the principal reasons why nations fail. They range from a “tilted playing field” in South Africa during apartheid, big men being very greedy (Egypt under Hosni Mubarak), elites blocking new technologies (in Austria and Russia in the early 20th century), to no law and order (in Somalia presently), a weak central government, and bad public services and political exploitation (in present-day Colombia, Peru and Bolivia).
The parallels with India, after more than six decades of woeful misrule of the Congress and its acolytes, are stark. The study also emphasises the importance of an effective centralised state. Without this, it is most difficult to ensure order, an effective legal system, basic public goods and systems for resolving disputes. This, again, will resonate with Indian social scientists.
What the Foreign Policy study of 2012 fails to identify is a scenario where a country’s collapse is brought about by opponents of structural reform and change that a new regime is attempting to bring about, when it assumes power by dislodging entrenched elites, as happened in India in May 2014. In other words, what we are seeing in India is tension created by the status quo advocates rather than disruption brought about by forces that seek change and reform.
In the present crisis that is gripping the country, the LZ coterie and the SS oligarchs are fighting a desperate war (albeit undeclared, at least till now) to forestall any fundamental change or reform that the BJP-NDA is attempting to bring about. The Indian scenario can be summarised as follows, without mincing words.
In the decades since Independence, the Congress juggernaut (along with its allies) had implanted itself in every nook and corner of the administrative and power structure of India. The present government was the first credible threat that the Gandhi-Nehru-Gandhi cabal had ever faced. The short interregnum that India saw earlier between 1977 and 1980 and 1999-2004 were minor distractions and kerfuffle for this power elite.
For 10 Janpath, the elections of 2014 were a combined earthquake and tsunami of epic scale. However, entrenched oligarchies do not disintegrate or descend into disarray. Their DNA does not have a panic button. Therefore, the coterie’s high command set into motion a scorched earth policy against the new regime.
This involved the utilisation of institutions and individuals in equal measure. The seven forces that were identified earlier have now been fully mobilised to engineer the collapse of the present regime, even if it entails the dismemberment of the Indian republic in its present form and, eventually, the Indian nation-state as we know it. Is this an alarmist view? Some observers, including a few in the nationalist camp too, would probably say so.
However, the empirical evidence stares us in the face. The decades of Congress corruption and abysmal governance have ensured that the Indian republic today is a leaking and rusting ship of state. Foreign Policy and the think tank Fund for Peace jointly compile an index that measures the weaknesses/strengths of most of the countries in the world. The annual study is called the Fragile States Index Report (earlier, the Failed States Index). The rankings are from 1 (the most fragile) to 178 (the most stable and the least vulnerable). In 2016-17, the 1st and the 2nd positions were held by South Sudan and Somalia. The strongest (and least fragile) position was that of Finland. The other three Scandinavian countries and Switzerland comprised the rest of the top five positions.
India’s rank is 72, just ahead of Jordan and behind Benin. We are in the category of “Warning” in this index. The only saving grace is that Pakistan is in the 17th position (along with Burundi), and Bangladesh occupies the 39th rank, both in the “Alert” category.
All this demonstrates that our country’s structural stability is far from safe. There is little room for complacency if India is subjected to sustained efforts from determined groups to destabilise and even dismember it. Moreover, history is replete with examples of rearguard hostilities and undeclared war adopted by displaced oligarchies and elites.
In recent history, we have seen, on a number of occasions, the phenomenon of snipers and fifth columnists left behind by fallen regimes. There were the White Russians after the Russian Revolution of 1917. A few centuries earlier, the Royalists in France after 1789, and the Empire Loyalists in the US after 1776, were examples of forces that have tormented successor regimes. Even now, we have the residual Taliban in Afghanistan that wreaks havoc every now and then.
The Breaking India forces are not really a figment of imagination in the minds of those who are sympathetic to the present dispensation in Raisina Hill. This is not just coffee house chatter that confronts our republic.
Jay Bhattacharjee is a policy and corporate affairs analyst based in Delhi.
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