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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On May 21, 2023

    By Karan Thapar

    I’ve often wondered whether coincidences are just meaningless happenstance or if there is a deeper and richer meaning to them. Something we cannot understand or, even, perceive but which will reveal itself in the fullness of time. It’s possible something like that happened last week. Let’s see if you agree.


    On friday I interviewed Parakala Prabhakar on his latest book ‘The Crooked Timber of New India: Essays on a Republic in Crisis’. It’s a stinging critique of the Prime Minister and the way he’s transformed the Bharatiya Janata Party. The bite will become obvious when you discover who Prabhakar is. On saturday the BJP was humiliated in Karnataka. It’s solitary southern bastion slammed the door on Hindutva. On sunday Prabhakar’s book was formerly launched in ‘liberated’ Bangalore.


    I don’t intend to precis Prabhakar. Given his personal position it’s better to let him speak for himself. Here’s what he says of the economy: “The nation’s economic woes stem from the Modi regime’s staggering incompetence. It has been unable to put together a well thought-out, cohesive economic philosophy.” The government, he writes, is “obsessed with untrammeled power to do as it pleases. Democracy is a nuisance”. Consequently, “fear is a hard and visible reality today – never since the Emergency of 1975-77 has there been so much fear in society.”


    Prabhakar’s conclusion is blunt and brutal. “Our democracy is in crisis, our social fabric is torn, our economy is in peril and we are being dragged back to the dark ages”.


    However, it’s what he says of Hindutva – as well as the opposition’s inability to respond to it – that bears relevance to the outcome in Karnataka. “(Hindutva) thrives on skillful manipulation of the base instincts and socio-cultural insecurities that lie barely concealed beneath the political top soil of the nation”. He told me it’s an appeal to the dark side of our character.


    Many believe that is what the Prime Minister was surreptitiously, though skillfully, attempting when, in the closing days of the campaign, he repeatedly told Karnataka voters to press the voting button whilst chanting Jai Bajrangbali.


    Given the Karnataka result, where the BJP was trounced for its failure to perform and its reputation for corruption, Prabhakar’s conclusion is revealing. “It is not from performance that the present dispensation draws and renews its political legitimacy and power. It is from an assertion of Hindu identity. From the process of othering non-Hindu identities”. Jai Bajrangbali and not good governance lies at the core of the BJP’s claim to power.


    Let’s now come to what Prabhakar writes of the opposition. “(The) failure of the non-BJP political class is the main reason why our country today is a crooked edifice … the most effective challenge … should have come from political parties ideologically opposed to the BJP and its parivar. But they have failed us – a long, consistent failure of vision, strategy and energy”.


    I think the Congress campaign in Karnataka is the first convincing indication of how the opposition is overcoming that failure. In terms of vision, it offered welfare and a sympathetic response to the real concerns of the voters. In terms of strategy, it deftly avoided rebutting the Prime Minister’s charge it was anti-hindu. And, in terms of energy, it literally bubbled with the stuff. I’m sure Prabhakar would agree.


    As the campaign reached its climax, Congress seemed serious and determined, with its ear to the ground and its eyes focused on the people. In contrast, the BJP sounded shrill, desperate and, at times, hysterical. Was this because Hindutva was on the backfoot and struggling? Was this because Congress knew it was offering what the voters wanted?


    Now, does the sequence of events I’ve sketched out and their intriguing chronology suggest they were mere accidental occurrences? Or is an inexplicable quirk of fate at work? I, honestly, couldn’t say. But I do think both the Prime Minister and opposition leaders should read Prabhakar’s book. It has warnings for both. And a few lessons too!

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