Arun vs. Arundhati

Unlike his country-man and the “leading thinker of the world” Arundhati Roy, Thalekkara (TK) Arun is a pragmatic leftist. He is also a big-time fan of Sonia Gandhi and the Nehruvian parampara. He is stead-fast in his conviction that Congress is the natural ruling party of India because of its secular character.

As is clear from his response below, Arun is not prone to “sky is falling” hysterics, he knows that insulting his countrymen by calling them neo-Hindus is unlikely to win any hearts and minds, and he makes a clear case for liberals (and the media) to be calm and vigilant.

A convincing read for un-biased, neutral people (the majority) mostly because Arun’s biases are very well known. Respect where it is due.

Narendra Modi has trounced the Congress roundly
and demonstrated that voters today value the prospect of prosperity much
more than identity and voice for their communities, offering which some
parties had thrived in the past.

The Congress strategy of voluble
championing of minority rights even as Congress-led governments lock up
Muslim youths on unproven or subsequently disproved terror charges, has
served to alienate both the minorities and the majority. 

For the first
time ever, the Congress share of the popular vote has slipped below the
BJP’s — 19.3% vs 31%. The vote shares have flipped from 2009. Even in
1998, when the Congress had got just 118 seats against the BJP’s 182,
its vote share of 28.3% had been five percentage points higher than the

The tale goes beyond the Congress and the BJP, of course. By choosing
to declare that they did not care about Modi’s close association with
the Sangh Parivar and its Hindutva project, of which the Gujarat riots
are just one instance, voters would appear to have given the polity a
distinct rightward push. But it would be a mistake to over-read this.
There are two distinct reasons for this.

One, voters needed an alternative to the Congress for venting their
pent-up anger against corruption, indecision, growth slowdown and
inflation, all of them brazenly held out to the voters packaged in smug
certainty that there was no alternative if you wished to stay secular.

Two, about 65% of voters have voted against the BJP and its allies.
And for the 100 million or so new voters added to the rolls this time
around, the Gujarat riots happened when they were at the most 10 years
old, some would have been as young as six. They know of the riots only
through the election discourse, in which they also hear about the
Congress’ culpability for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, not to speak of the
atrocities committed against the local populace by security forces in
Kashmir and the Northeast,
with the impunity offered by the Armed Forces
Special Powers Act. For them, there was no real choice untainted by
sectarian violence between the BJP and the Congress.

Nobody pointed out to them that, as an ongoing project, Hindutva
closes the democratic space from which a true alternative has to emerge
more effectively than the occasional, opportunistic bouts of communalism
on the Congress’ part.

For the new voters, Narendra Modi came across as a person who looked,
acted and sounded like a leader while Rahul Gandhi, coached by
apolitical, rootless wunderkinds, came across as the caricature so
popular as the butt of a million Rahul Gandhi jokes that whiz around in

To not overestimate the polity’s rightward shift is not to
underestimate it either. Even if nearly two-thirds the voters have voted
against Modi, the levers of state power are now with him. He is bold in
his imagination, aggressive in execution and thorough in planning — he
has already launched his 2019 campaign, saying he needs 10 years to
deliver on his promise. He owes a big debt to the RSS and the rest of
the Parivar, all of whom worked tirelessly for his victory. When these
creditors call in their debts, the polity will squirm.

But, it is not the end of the idea of India as the world in
microcosm, where diverse identities coexist in harmony, without being
forced to merge into an amalgam. Yes, a dark shadow hovers over it but
we have not yet put out the light in order to put out the light.

Political forces that work to take Indian society closer to, rather
than away from, the Constitution’s ideal of liberal democracy have to
work honestly and tirelessly round the year, on all fronts, and not just
in overtly political activity at election time. They have to work as
political parties that truly represent the people’s concerns and seek to
enforce their rights, instead of promising patronage during polls. They
have to work in education, in skill-enhancement, in improving
healthcare, in the entire range of cultural production that shapes the
public discourse.

In this, the media deserves special attention. Television, print and
the new media will play an ever-increasing role in sharpening public
interrogation of power. Equally, it can divert attention from such
interrogation through breathless focus on sensation, glitz and trivia..

Mastery over the media has been a strong building block of the Modi
effect. And it would be a mistake to credit it just to money power. He
planned it, he genuinely excited thousands of media volunteers ,who, in
turn, inspired thousands more of volunteers on the ground to spread his
word. Modi deserves flattery for what he had done with the media —
flattery of the best kind.

The forces of democracy have to go far beyond training spokespersons
to create a public discourse that is critical, liberal and plural. That
is a sorely needed guard against further rightward movement of the


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