On May 23, the day of the election results, I tweeted to Rahul Gandhi, sending him warm wishes from the land of magic. Admittedly, I was under the influence of binge-watching the American TV series Once Upon A Time, which tells the tales of a land where magic is real, heroes always do the right thing, good always wins over evil, no matter how powerful the villain is, ‘saviours’ are products of purest love with the heart of the truest believer, families always stay together, and the only weapon one needs to sleigh the dragon is to be told, “You can do it” by their loved ones.
Decades from now, somebody would look back and wonder, was magic real once upon a time in India in 2019?
They say, when a terminally ill patient is told she is dying, she goes through five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As the 2019 Lok Sabha election results poured in, I went through something similar. I was in denial in the beginning. This must be a big mistake and the Election Commission (EC) would soon hold a presser to fix it, I thought. The shock was not because the BJP emerged as the winner — but because they had outdone the 2014 verdict. This defied all my political logic and rationale.
Days before the results, over 20 lakh EVMs had reportedly gone missing, and videos of trucks full of EVMs hovering around the strong rooms were floated on social media, giving rise to oft-heard suspicions of EVM manipulations, which was promptly dismissed by the EC. I agree, these allegations have become boring, but the results were just so uncanny. Laugh at me as much as you want, but I really couldn’t find any rational explanation behind the number of seats the BJP won.
Then came the second stage — anger.
Why did we not see it coming? Why were we all so far off the mark in our expert analysis? Who fooled us? Every opinion poll, every prime-time debate and analysis, op-eds, my own field visits — all pointed towards a decline in BJP’s number of seats. The Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance was seen as a masterstroke.
Number crunching went on for hours on TV, explaining how the alliance might reduce the BJP to single-digit seats in UP. Advocates of robust federalism hailed the regional satraps as kingmakers, and enthusiastically claimed that the centre has shifted down south, that from 2019 on, India’s politics would be driven by regional leaders.
On the day of phase 6 of polling (May 12), a noted human rights activist confidently told me, “He is not coming back.”
Where did all this confidence come from? Was there another magical haze that clouded our minds and prevented us from seeing ground reality?
But then — what is reality? What we see or how do we interpret what we see? Seeing isn’t believing, as the proverb goes. One could clearly see that Modi’s first term was no success story. Throughout the term, even as some people alleged that PM Modi had captured the media space, it was still filled with news and reports of how badly he was doing.
It started with cases of mob lynchings in the name of cow protection which was interpreted as a direct consequence of voting Modi — the poster boy of Hindutva — to power. Around the same time, the government imposed a nationwide ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter and introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill, both of which seemed to be targeting religious minorities. Secular liberal thinkers filled pages with criticisms and condemnations of the Hindutva fringe, marked their protests by returning government awards, launching human rights initiatives like Not In My Name, Karwan-e-Mohabbat, India Against Hate, India Inclusive, etc., and writers, artists and activists all came together, extending financial, legal and social support to victims of hate crimes.
For five years, the entire nation was on the boil as protests erupted from various sectors. Farmers walked hundreds of kilometres with their grievances for the Kisan Long March; student protests erupted in universities across India with the suicide of Rohith Vemula, and the increase in university fees and changes in UGC rules; Supreme Court judges protested against their own Chief Justice, holding an unprecedented press conference. The word ‘unprecedented’ soon became repetitive as an 'unprecedented' turf war broke out in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with the government allegedly trying to destabilise the institution. 'Unprecedented' were the reports that the government had allegedly fudged data to show fake GDP growth; 'unprecedented' chaos emerged in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as two governors quit the position, both allegedly not being able to withstand reported political pressure. Two senior non-government members quit from National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) to mark their protests alleging that the government had allegedly stalled the ready-to-publish jobs report with uncomfortable findings that India was facing a 45-year high unemployment rate. Even the EC is now facing an internal war as dissenting member Ashok Lavasa expressed grave concern over how dissenting opinion was apparently going unrecorded.
Never before in India have we witnessed so much disagreement and discontent between government or political forces and subject matter experts.
Modi announced demonetisation, apparently ignoring the feedback from the RBI that such a move will not curb black money, and might affect GDP adversely. Modi also revealed how he used his personal ‘raw’ understanding of clouds and radars to carry out the Balakot air-strike.
During the campaign, Modi, to my mind at least, appeared nervous, scared and scornful. Pointing fingers at the past, Modi admitted that he cannot fulfil all promises in five years. He didn’t speak of difficult subjects like demonetisation and jobs, rather, he kept the focus on terrorism, Pakistan and nationalism. His speeches hit a new low as I saw it, using Army, Balakot and Pulwama as poll planks; profiling Indian citizens as minority and majority; endlessly abusing the Gandhi family — including Rajiv Gandhi’s death. Each time Modi’s false claims were busted, and his abuses were condemned by respectable groups like the armed forces and bureaucrats — but he remained undeterred and continued to campaign on hate, anger, fear, envy, victimhood and his personal image, making it a presidential-style election.
He left no scope of doubt that the election was all about Modi when he declared, “Your each vote will go to Modi’s account.”
On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi was talking of ‘all’.
“I listen to all, I learn from all, I don’t speak my Mann Ki Baat but I am here to listen to all,” were some of the statements he made in his speeches. Over the past two to three years, Rahul had emerged as a considerable alternative to Modi’s style of politics, results of which were visible in the December 2018 state Assembly elections. I had written in my DailyO column that Rahul is a complete antithesis of Modi — and that is his vantage point.
While Modi didn’t hold a single press conference in five years, and agreed to only certain kinds of interviews and maintained his enigmatic image, Rahul made efforts to open himself up to the media by giving a range of media appearances, print and TV interview, open press conferences and impromptu sound bites from campaign trails. By the end, Rahul started to look a lot like Emma Swan, the saviour, who kept running all her life, but finally woke up to her destiny and saved the day.
To the liberal media’s eyes, the 2019 election was a battle of ideas, a battle to save the Constitution from being altered, a battle between love and hate, truth and lies, Gandhi and Godse. The last scene of the battle seemed apocalyptic with one billion people expressing dissent, despair, fear, hate and anger — and Rahul was all set to end it with one strike of the sword.
Clearly, we were looking at the nation through the wrong camera.
There was nothing apocalyptic, nobody was in distress or despair. Hale and hearty people came out of their homes dancing and sprinting to the polling booths to re-elect the greatest leader they have ever known, the greatest wizard of Indian politics — Narendra Modi.
The final stage of dying is acceptance. I therefore write today to concede defeat in this battle of ideas. I accept that the soul of India has changed — and liberal and secular values must die. India has decided that a Hindu majority nation deserves a Hindu majoritarian leader who puts Hindus first, and there shall be no more affirmative action for the minorities.
I accept India has rejected the liberal, cooperative model of leadership that Rahul Gandhi offered and chosen the tough, virile, masculine and authoritarian model.
In the ruthless world of transactional politics, Rahul offered a heart, but it is time we accept that’s not what India wants. A new India with 84.3 million first time voters, and around 15 million between the ages of 18 to 19 years, have clearly chosen the narrative Modi offered, no matter how flawed it seems to us.
From LPG connections to toilets, to the goal of the Hindu Rashtra, to the pride and satisfaction of electing a tough leader who dares to attack Pakistan, to the defeat of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and the end of Rahul Gandhi’s warm and fuzzy discourse of love, hugs and Gandhigiri, whatever may be the motivations behind voting Modi, now is not the time to analyse any of it. It is time to accept and let India be left to its fate for better or worse. People have chosen a path, it is time we let Modi set sail and see where he takes the nation.
Rahul Gandhi is rightly determined to quit from the party presidentship — he never wanted to join politics to begin with, neither did Rajiv Gandhi nor did Sonia. They all were dragged into politics by the Congress’s old and corrupt war horses who simply needed a Nehru-Gandhi face at the helm, while they retained control in their hands. Rahul is tired, he doesn’t need any of it — what he needs is to have a life.
With Rahul Gandhi gone, there would neither be any future for the Congress party, nor would there be any opposition left in India, but that should not be his concern. If India needs an opposition, let India find a leader.
A Congress-mukt Bharat and an opposition-free rule for 50 years is all Modi and Shah ever wanted and they got it — their happy ending.
As for me, I would continue to do the only thing a scribe can do: keep a record of how the nation’s soul was darkened and how we lost democracy, or not.
Time will tell.