Il­lib­eral democ­racy rising

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Latha Jishnu

In­dian democ­racy is quite of­ten about the pol­i­tics of vis­i­bil­ity, the im­age most of­ten re­plac­ing the sub­stance. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties cel­e­brate their lead­ers, both liv­ing and dead, in huge news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ments that cost an enor­mous amount. For lead­ers who have passed on, there is usu­ally a re­mem­brance on their birth and death an­niver­saries whereas in the case of serv­ing politi­cians just about any oc­ca­sion is an ex­cuse to in­dulge in an extra splash of im­age build­ing.

In re­cent days, the clash of ide­olo­gies and per­son­al­i­ties of In­dia past and present has been play­ing out even in the ad space with the BJP and the Congress mark­ing an­niver­saries that com­mem­o­rate crit­i­cal mile­stones in In­dia's demo­cratic jour­ney. Loud and char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally in your face was the ad­ver­tis­ing blitzkrieg un­leashed by the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to mark the sec­ond an­niver­sary of the Naren­dra Modi regime (May 26). And there was a twist. Most of the ful­some tributes came from party chief min­is­ters in BJP-ruled states who, like the vas­sals of yore, lauded their chief­tain for his ' out­stand­ing gov­er­nance' or 'great achieve­ments' or the 'in­nu­mer­able achieve­ments' of his 'charis­matic and vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship'. So we know who picked up the tab for this an­niver­sary ex­trav­a­gance apart from the gov­ern­ment of In­dia.

A day later, there was a much smaller ad - and very few of them - in mem­ory of In­dia's first prime min­is­ter Jawaharlal Nehru on his death an­niver­sary. That com­mem­o­ra­tion did not come from the gov­ern­ment of In­dia as it should have; it was put up by the Congress party.

This was all of a piece with the pol­icy of the BJP regime which is try­ing to oblit­er­ate Nehru's mem­ory and legacy in mis­sion mode, and not just be­cause of his staunch ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­si­tion to the pol­i­tics of com­mu­nal­ism. That legacy of his which kept In­dia on the sec­u­lar path for decades is be­ing whit­tled away by a fe­ro­cious po­lit­i­cal cam­paign and in un­savoury ways by the saf­fron un­der­belly of the party.

Hin­dutva's loathing of lib­er­als is a spillover from the time of Nehru whom they view with rage and envy. An en­tire on­line in­dus­try has sprung up to pro­mote web­sites that spew venom against In­dia's first prime min­is­ter with gross calumny while its army of In­ter­net trolls flood so­cial web­sites with mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions that only re­veal their lack of history and cul­ture.

It is un­doubt­edly galling for the BJP and its ide­o­logues in the par­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, that they can flaunt no he­roes of their own from the free­dom strug­gle. That they did not take part in the free­dom move­ment is a his­tor­i­cal truth they can­not undo. On the other hand, they have to con­tend with a Nehru who spent close to nine years in prison and was once pa­raded in chains by the Bri­tish.

That is one rea­son why the Hindu su­prem­a­cist BJP re­sents Nehru and the lib­eral, sec­u­lar In­di­ans who sub­scribe to his ideals. The most irk- some is Nehru's known op­po­si­tion to re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism which, like poverty, he be­lieved to be the worst scourge of the coun­try. But there are clearly more rea­sons for the Hin­dutva brigade's im­pla­ca­ble ha­tred of the man who steered In­dia in the first 16 years of its in­de­pen­dence, an ex­tra­or­di­nary stint that was marked by vi­sion­ary suc­cesses and some pro­found fail­ures.

At the sim­plest level it is, per­haps, a class is­sue. Nehru was Bri­tish-ed­u­cated and patently Western­ised even if he wore khadi and a Congress cap along with his trade­mark band­hgala - Modi's at­tire, in­ci­den­tally, is a flat­ter­ing im­i­ta­tion of this at­tire, down to his churi­dars - and he was suavely cos­mopoli­tan. He wrote and spoke in el­e­gant English and he was com­fort­able in the com­pany of women. To add to his aura was wealth which he gave away, a fact that the class of peo­ple who sub­scribe to the saf­fron ide­ol­ogy prob­a­bly find as­ton­ish­ing. Be­sides, he mat­tered greatly in the global scheme of things.

To­day, when lib­er­als ask why they are the tar­get of the saf­fron brigade, the an­swer could be that for the most part they come from a sim­i­lar back­ground and cham­pion the val­ues that Nehru held dear. The au­thor, once a Con­gress­man, now has clout in the BJP. He is a mem­ber of the Ra­jya Sabha (up­per house of par­lia­ment) and is na­tional spokesman of the party. If he could he per­suade Modi and his ca­bal to read his book, would it change the dis­as­trous tra­jec­tory of cur­rent pol­i­tics?

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