Fascism-by-consent? India is witnessing an unprecedented situation. Here's why the NDA should come back to power

We are living in a time when rhetoric and jingoism have subsumed rationality and real issues. Perhaps there is no cure for the malaise though other than the fever to run its full course.

 |  6-minute read |   24-03-2019
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Could one have imagined such a scenario five years ago?

Two complete opposites in character, a hero-like Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and a villain like Nirav Modi – have both come in useful for the BJP during this election, at a time when the sole occupation of every BJP leader is apparently to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

Much is possible in the twilight zone we have stepped into.

A few days ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Lok Sabha MP Sakshi Maharaj said that the “Modi Tsunami” will sweep everyone and reportedly that there won’t be any elections in the country in 2024 after the General Elections this year. About five years ago, Sakshi Maharaj and his purported utterances would have been dismissed airily as the ravings of the ‘fringe’.

sakshi_032219083400.jpgSakshi Maharaj has kicked up a storm by reportedly saying that if BJP comes to power in 2019, there'd be no elections in 2024. (TV grab)

However, Union Minister Mahesh Sharma, while addressing a public gathering at the Bhajan Lal Temple in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr, reportedly said, “How can an MP fulfill all wishes of the general public if the God himself cannot… If God has sent us in this world then it is his responsibility to arrange bread, cloth, employment and education for our children.” (sic) 

Want to outrage against this?

Make fun of him?

It would be pointless.

It would seem that we are not dealing with adults any more. Prima facie, we are dealing with stubborn, resentful infantile minds that apparently lie brazenly, shoot and scoot, say anything that comes into their mouths — and have a support base behind them. Finance minister Arun Jaitley’s recent comments about Nehru, in which he describes the latter as the original sinner, who favoured China over India for permanent membership in the UN Security Council, sparked off outrage and a slew of articles disproving him, but was there any apology from Jaitley?

No.

You are not going to get any feedback or clarifications, no matter how much you fact-find or debunk.

Jaitley is not ignorant of history. However, he is well aware of the immediate damaging effect of a dramatic statement and the impression it creates on social media among voters. This consistent guerrilla approach to attack opponents has been the signature style of the ‘fringe’. 

Now, five years later, and on the doorstep of a General Election that might well decide India’s fate as a secular, multicultural and plural nation, similar statements are becoming common.

job_032219084114.jpgThey're still breaking rocks: The real issues of India are simply lost in the current cacophony. (Source: Reuters)

We have gradually, like the analogy of the frogs in boiling water, normalised the unthinkable and even become party to this in the way we have taken political corners and become self-appointed lawyers — especially on social media.

There is a very specific moment when Sangh Parivar followers stopped using the quasi-apologetic term ‘fringe elements’ — Yogi Adityanath’s appointment as UP chief minister on March 26, 2017, was one such moment. 

After all, how can you call a CM ‘fringe’?

In fact, how can you even call an MP like Sakshi Maharaj 'fringe'? 

Yogi’s appointment was the point when the ‘fringe’ clearly became mainstream. It was at this point that many BJP supporters started distancing themselves from the party. While they did not become completely anti-Sangh, they did become fence-sitters.

The rest became hardened Modi lovers — and the cult grew stronger. 

Several lies became brazen. To my mind, today’s #MaiBhiChowkidar campaign is the culmination of a culture of consent that has been long in the making, and nurtured carefully by a combination of Geobbelesian lies, repeated until they become truth.

This is the outcome of the collectivist behaviour of a group governed by emotions set in belief systems deeply rooted in prejudices and xenophobia — not in logic or rationality.

In my view, one is arguing against belief, not informed positions when engaging with regimented, conformist Modi-cult devotees, educated or not. Till date, no one has been able to give any logical and coherent explanation of the BJP government’s actions, or a list of achievements that have not been debunked by facts, without eventually meandering into defiance and whataboutery — and the worst of them all, religious bigotry, which comes as the last resort.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi's speeches, unlike Modi's, are fact-based, coherent, devoid of sloganeering and bluster, appeal to reason, and are not aimed at optics and identity politics.

rahul_032219082652.jpgRahul Gandhi scores over Narendra Modi in terms of clarity of thought and ideas. But does anyone care? (Photo: PTI)

But who is listening?

This jabbering about farmers, jobs, economy and Rafale is a language nobody understands — or is interested in.

Post-Pulwama and the Balakot air-strikes, the narrative has been clearly captured by Modi and some would say that the arrest of Nirav Modi by the London police has come at a very gratifying time too, peaking so close to the polls, a concrete affirmation of the ‘chowkidar’ image. It would be naïve of us to expect him not to extract mileage from this development.

It does not matter if Nirav Modi gets bail, nor does it matter that the legal process might take months or reach a deadlock. The immediate optics matter. This is being seen as a financial air-strike in London — and another feather in Narendra Modi’s cap.

Meanwhile, there are so many bizarre lies coming thick and fast that when they are followed by outrage and corrections by a small minority of liberals, they are ignored. This is an exercise in futility. The overarching narrative of jingoism prevails over all this. If the BJP comes back to power (with a lesser majority, as some are predicting), for how long can they keep this smoke and mirror show into even a second term?

mods_032219084321.jpgThe NDA government may well make a comeback under PM Modi given the current circumstances. (Source: PTI)

There has to be a saturation level.

It is the BJP-created ‘climate of consent’, in my view, which has pushed the other parties to toe the Hindutva line. On the ground, there is hardly any difference between the leaders of political parties — we see this happening in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh with the state Congress governments. One is not surprised that they booked three people, accused of cow slaughter, under the National Security Act (NSA) in MP. Or that in Rajasthan, CP Joshi of the Congress could make a casteist statement like “Only Brahmins understand the meaning of Hinduism.”

The fact that a large portion of the populace is oblivious to ground realities should concern us all.

Perhaps there is no other cure — the fever has to run its course before we can hope to reverse this trend of what I call fascism-by-consent.

Perhaps we do need another term of the NDA, if only for this.

Also read: Lok Sabha 2019: The Opposition looks a divided house, and its weakness could help the Modi govt return for a second term

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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