Success is a lousy teacher! Reminds Swami Vivekananda in his Karma Yoga. Failures, insults and humiliations are a better teacher as they help us identify the faults, to reflect where things went wrong and find ways of fixing them. Or at least not to repeat same mistakes. This is the hidden power of defeats.
However, if the initial reactions of the urbanised and ivory tower intelligentsia towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resounding re-election is an indication, even failures are not good teachers. Most of them settled for the same narrative: the victory for hate and divisive politics, five more years of shameful India or Maya of the voters who are unaware of the evil that stares before them. some went to the extent of discrediting the exit poll as manipulation by money bags who wanted temporary and quick gains between elections and counting. If national and social media are not sufficient, some of them enlisted western media to forewarn and then repeat their oracle. Modi is bad for India.
The silent voter is better nuanced and the 32-percent arithmetic argument will not be enough this time. And for a second time, the Congress party failed to get a minimum need to be recognised as the formal opposition.
Arrogance is always terrible; more so, the intellectual arrogance. If ordinary mortals can be humbled by defeats, the elites need new rationale to cling on to their old stories. Even a resounding defeat cannot not force them for an introspection. Scores of faculty members and students, present and former, took time off and campaigned for student leader Kanhaiya Kumar in Begusarai and until the fateful day were hopeful of a stunning victory ‘thanks to’ Modi and his ‘witch-hunt’. Truth is often stranger than fiction and the four lakh-margin cannot explain the failure to ‘read the ground reality.’
While the victory is undoubtedly Modi’s he had the willing collaboration of the opposition. The fundamental problem of the opposition parties is their failure to unlearn the UPA model. In 2004 the loose coalition emerged merely to prevent Atal Behari Vajpayee from becoming prime minister. The Stop Vajpayee agenda resulted in conflicting, contradictory and ideologically incompatible parties to rally first behind Sonia Gandhi and then Manmohan Singh to form the UPA. The ideological contradiction came into open when the left parties refused to join Manmohan Singh’s second innings. When the UPA parties faced the electorate in 2014, they hoped that the voters would support their one-point age+nda of Keeping BJP out.
This narrow UPA agenda did not change with Modi’s victory five years ago. They tried the same with differing combinations. While some of them overcoming past animosities and hatred was a welcome development, the opposition parties were unable to project a common positive agenda. As the wise Indian electorates found out even their hatred against Modi was insufficient to unite them and there were at least a dozen aspirants for the top job, with Rahul Gandhi being endorsed only by DMK leader M K Stalin.
Modi’s landslide victory will force political parties to reflect on their defeats. Having brought two successive and ignominious defeats, Rahul Gandhi will not be able to pass the buck and sooner or later the Congress party will have to abandon its preference for hereditary leadership. Other regional leaders, including the mercurial Mamata Banerjee, cannot escape asking: what went wrong!
However, a far more significant challenge faces the Indian elite or Khan Market Gang as Prime Minister Modi described them colourfully.
The massive mandate in favour of a political party is not always good for democracy, but this cannot be remedied by social media ranting, political scientists crying before the western audiences, pontification by armed-chair journalists, wise words of BMW Socialists or Stalinist Democrats. An honest self-reflection is necessary.
The elites, irrespective of their ideological leanings and political preferences, are the conscious keepers of a nation. However, to perform this sacred role, they must keep away from power, ruling classes and consciously avoid political patronage, concessions and above all awards and accolades. For too long, especially under various Congress governments, many have mortgaged their consciousness, abused their social respect and reduced themselves to be agents of the ruling dispensation. If the governments used Padma awards to co-opt the journalists, many among the tribes lobbied for awards and positions.
This approach made a large chunk of the Indian elite beholding to powers-that-be and, in the process, made them irrelevant to political changes taking place in the country. They need rediscover the basic principle for an elite: to be credible, keep away from the Raisina Hills.
Time for some intellectual introspection. If defeat does not teach a lesson, what will?
By P R Kumaraswamy (The author is a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)