At the peak of Sonia Gandhi’s power, which she enjoyed for about four years after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Lutyens elite—the ‘Khan Market Gang’, as Narendra Modi calls them—had proclaimed triumphantly that their ‘Idea of India’ had conclusively defeated that of the BJP, which had thrown in the towel after that election, and that it would prevail for all time to come.
The Congress party won 2009 despite 26/11, and the lack of any visible public anger then—Balakot brought it all out—against its tame surrender and cosying up to Pakistan after that barbaric attack, had convinced everyone in its eco-system that they could impose almost any idea or law on the people of India and get away with it.
In 2011, Barkha Dutt, excitedly anticipating a verdict in favour of the Muslims by the Allahabad High Court in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, epitomised that rootless arrogance, even contempt, by declaring that India—Hindus only—had moved on, and was no longer interested in Ram or His temple in Ayodhya.
Such was the extent of BJP’s surrender during those years, that its leaders faithfully observed the Omerta Code when it came to the all-powerful Chairperson of the all-powerful and unconstitutional National Advisory Committee (NAC), and limited their attacks to Dr Manmohan Singh, the nominal Prime Minister, who Sonia Gandhi herself wanted to cut to size lest he pose a threat to her son, Rahul Gandhi.
To cap it all, in the run-up to 2014, so pathetic were BJP’s performances in most state elections where it was in the game or in a direct fight against the Congress—UP, Rajasthan, Karnataka, to name a few—that no one even in BJP believed that it would rise and win power ever again. In fact, there was widespread fear that if the Congress was voted back to power in 2014, then by 2019, Sonia Gandhi would ban the RSS and possibly even the BJP.
Even after a series of mega scams cracked the invincibility of the Congress party, not only did Lal Krishna Advani and his team fail to step into the breach, but the former actually admitted in a blog in 2013, that no matter which regional combination got most seats, it would need either the Congress or the BJP to form a government, and his hope was that it would go for BJP. Neither he nor his BJP had a plan to win 2014. They had simply given up.
On 23 May 2019, the BJP, led by Narendra Modi stormed back to power for a second successive term, with an even better score, both in terms of seats and vote share. This is arguably the first time that a sitting Prime Minister has won a full majority on the basis of performance during his first term. In Nehru’s time there was virtually no opposition, and Indira Gandhi won a second time as a challenger who had taken on the old Congress, and by riding on the Garibi Hatao promise that she would remove the curse of poverty from the lives of the poorest Indians.
This is a remarkable victory indeed. But after just five years of BJP rule and with five more years coming up, certain informed voices are telling us that this is the end of the Khan Market Gang—India’s ruling elite—and of the Congress party, which has been reduced to a Kerala plus Tamil Nadu party, where it has won seats only due to allies, with the Congress President begging the Muslim League for votes.
Exactly the opposite of collective wisdom that was prevailing before Modi’s shock victory in 2014. Is it really the end for them?
With 303 seats in BJP’s kitty, it is easy to forget what the picture would be if the tally was 200 instead—it can happen in the future, like 2004 did, without warning. Jagan Mohan Reddy says if BJP had got less than 272 seats, he would have extended support to it only if it gave Andhra Pradesh a special status. Others would demand their pound of flesh too, one of which would be an amenable Prime Minister from BJP, who would let allies choose ATM berths, and then look the other way—if not join in—while they went back to the UPA ways and days of—-many allege—unbridled loot. Lutyens elite—powerful once again—would reinforce their ‘Idea of India’, besides reclaiming the few levers of control they had lost in five Modi years.
Also, Amartya Sen is on the dot when he says that BJP has won “something in terms of power, but nothing particularly serious in the battle of ideas”. Unless the latter is won in the court of the people, electoral victories will be limited to a change in the ruling party alone; the ruling elite will remain largely in control.
In other words, as profound a change as the mandate of 2019 appears to be, it is actually partial and is also a whisker away from unravelling.
Fortunately, what Amartya Sen and most fellow travellers do not yet see is that even their victory is/was illusory. Sonia Gandhi, clueless about India and everything Indian, thought she had won it all when she triumphed, with almost zero resistance, in the battle of ideas, in JNU, TV studios, text books and Khan Market. That is one reason why her collapse at the hustings has been so dramatic, twice in a row, and recovery looks so impossible today. If you derisively put a billion people out of the equation, you are always a push away from the abyss.
Be that as it may, the stark truth is that as of now, the scale of BJP’s electoral victory notwithstanding, there is only one man who is preventing New India from sliding back into the old pit. Narendra Modi will win in 2024 too. But will even another ten years in power, with HRD ministers like Prakash Javdekar, to name just one of many such, be able to tilt the balance in the battle of ideas decisively? Will a new leadership emerge in the BJP to take the battle for the soul of India forward to fruition? Or will there be another long—even terminal—relapse, under its old leadership, like there was after 2004, or whenever BJP loses again?
Winning power is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to win the battle of ideas. The coming five years will tell us whether Narendra Modi will do more than the little he could during his tough first term as Prime Minister, to emerge victorious in this sphere too, and reclaim the glory of India that he so wants to. Until then, all is not lost for the ‘Khan Market Gang’.
Vinod Sharma tweets at @vinod_sharma.
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