Finding A New Abode For “Secularists”
They have not given up. Battle-lines are drawn. The intellectuals, leftists, secularists, a few media elites and those who turned their anti-Modi movement into a small-scale industry perceive an opportunity in the forthcoming Delhi State Assembly elections to retrieve their relevance, even if partially, which they lost with the advent of Narendra Modi.
In fact, some people who have little to do with the ethos of the present government have already secured comfortable positions. Dr Amartya Sen continues to preside over the Nalanda University project, despite alleged bungling. The Ministry of External Affairs continues to pour in money for the most ambitious enterprise. But at the same time it has let things adrift.
Sen is the same Nobel Laureate who said he did not want Modi to become India’s Prime Minister as he did not have secular credentials. He also criticised Modi’s model of governance saying he did not approve of it. This is contrary to Indian government’s own report.“Yes, I don’t want him,” Sen told a private TV channel in reply to a question on whether he wanted him as his Prime Minister. He reiterated, “As an Indian citizen I don’t want Modi as my PM… He has not done enough to make minorities feel safe.” “No, I don’t approve of it… I don’t think his record is very good. I think I don’t have to be a member of the minority in order to feel insecure… We Indians don’t want a situation where the minority feel insecure and could legitimately think that there was an organised violence against them in 2002. I think that is a terrible record and I don’t think Indian Prime Minister as an Indian citizen… Who has that kind of record? No, I do not,” he added.
Sen said physical infrastructure in Gujarat may be good but Modi has not done enough for minorities or for the majority. He also said that the Gujarat model needs to do much more on the health and education sectors and bring equity. He said Modi could have made the majority community feel that they are not maltreating the minority and are not going against the long Indian tradition of being tolerant.“He could have also taken both of the facts that Gujarat record in education and healthcare is pretty bad and he has to concentrate on that… as much as he is concentrating quietly as it has happened on physical infrastructure,” he stated.
Has this kind of venomous attack on Modi prevented Dr Sen to come to India since Modi became Prime Minister or is he plain afraid? Granted that any measure to remove him from Nalanda’s charge would be interpreted as being vindictive, but then working and management of the internationally famous and prestigious venture should have been good, which, reports allege, is not. Why then such leniency towards a person who hates the present regime. The External Affairs Ministry seems to be ignorant about all this.
Then, the 87-year-old Lokesh Chandra, a scholar on Tibetan identity, a former Congressman, an Indira Gandhi loyalist, has become the chief of India’s cultural diplomacy arm—Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). If a vintage Congressman was to be chosen, what was the reason for picking up another one? Dr Karan Singh’s study of ancient Indian vedas and culture is unparalleled. He has been replaced by a man who, it is now said, has RSS leanings. A life-long Congressman with RSS leanings? Anyway now Chandra has focused his attention on Modi, and it seems he has gone overboard in gratitude. In an interview with The Indian Express, he said “Woh bhagwan ke avatar hain (He is reincarnation of God).” He is “a man of ideas and not ideologies”, and “from a practical point of view supersedes the Mahatman”. At 87 he seems to have gone through a complete metamorphosis. The External Affairs Ministry obviously knew of this change of heart.
Now take another appointment. Kavita Sharma, was Director of India International Centre, when Madhu Kishwar was not permitted to have the release of her book on Modi. Incidentally intellectuals branded Kishwar as traitor. Ms Sharma has now been appointed by the External Affairs Ministry as President of the South-Asia University. A reward of sorts, but reward for what!
How strange all these sound! Intellectuals should at least thank the MEA for selections and measures the earlier dispensation, would have taken.
So, all is not lost for intellectuals, as yet. Now, the hope is that Arvind Kejriwal, who is popular among the slum-dwellers and poorer segment of voters would once again stop Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from an outright victory, and even might win this time. This anti-Modi group would actively try to help Kejriwal as much as possible.
This is reflected in the sudden increase in the number of interviews that Kejriwal has been giving on TV Channels. The campaign this time would be strategically paced. Kejriwal has also increased his public appearances and is issuing, almost daily, his comments and views on policies and actions taken by the Government.
One learns that door-to-door contacts would be the first step, then posters and after that corner meetings. Kejriwal has been apologising for resigning abruptly after 49 days. He has already made BJP’s reluctance to name a chief minister, in case the party wins, an electoral issue. A commentator said, “The fact that if AAP is in a position to form government, Kejriwal who is still quite popular and a familiar face. A leaderless BJP would be handicapped.”
But BJP hopes that like in Maharashtra and Haryana, Modi would be able to drum up support. AAP insiders however feel his wave will not be able to seduce voters in slum areas or have any impact on those belonging to low-income groups. However poll surveys predict ‘finis’ of AAP. But hope lingers until the last. Intellectuals along with their friends in the media are anyway set for a proxy war. And as information leaks, a few jaichands in the saffron party are also trying to squeeze in people who have been non-believers of Modi’s theories and actions.
That brings us to the swelling numbers of members in Doomsday Club. They see nothing right or beneficial in whatever Modi Government initiated or proposed. Mani Shanker Aiyer, MP, is a leading member of this Club.
Members of the Lutyens and Doomsday Clubs are basically for status quo. They prefer the old system which helped them to wield influence and become an authority on all issues, political or social, and of course get privileges, perks and pampering by the government. They did not care that the system bred corruption and feudalistic divisiveness.
The advent of Narendra Modi cast a shadow on them, the writers and commentators, all hailed as great intellectuals, whose verdicts and edicts were treated virtually as Commandments. In the last six months they are living in forced dormancy and seldom get a chance to speak or write. Those who were used to be interviewed on TV channels or have their articles published regularly have been feeling abandoned. All this is a terrible calamity for the whole tribe which had over decades come to consider privileges and perks accorded to them as their right.
Rajiv Gandhi government allotted flats in Asiad Village to a few favourites occasionally in the name of their spouses. The real bigwigs got apartments in and around VIP area in South Delhi. They were selected for jaunts, made heads of delegations and could have access to any minister or secretary. Their interviews and write-ups on edit pages were most frequent.
Likewise, the most media pampered and intellectuals-favoured Modi-baiters like Teesta Seetalvad and Sanjiv Bhat, Zakia Jafri and spokespersons of organisations like the Human Rights Watch could be found on front pages quite regularly. Appearances on TV channels too were quite frequent. They were generally questioned, gently, by like-minded anchors.
But in the last six months, the rather misplaced sense of importance and the self-assumed authority allowed to them was all gone. Their main mentor Congress itself was in tatters. The Lutyen Club members, considered possessing wisdom of King Solomon, intellectuals and the media elites who were treated as VIPs and were most articulate in pronouncing unabashedly—unasked—their views and verdicts, fell from their high pedestals, unsung.
Modi effect on this group evoked concern and fear as far as Britain. Led by Salman Rushdie, Anish Kapoor and 50 other intellectuals, Professors in Colleges like King’s College signed statement warning India against Modi. Published in the Guardian the letter said: ‘Were he (Modi) to be elected Prime Minister, it would bode ill for India’s future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities.’ A similarly worded letter was published in the Independent. These encouraged their Indian counterparts to mount verbal assaults on Modi with greater severity.
But when, despite a well-orchestrated ‘Stop Modi From Being PM’ campaign, the electorate gave Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a simple majority for the first time in the Lok Sabha, thanks to his personal appeal, the Lutyens Club elites and other Modi-baiters were noticeably affected. Shell-shocked that their pearls of wisdom were ignored by the masses, they for the first time after decades, felt threatened. They suddenly began to be ‘left alone’ and not many publications or TV channels invited them for their opinions or judgements. Worse persons to the Right or left-to-centre, who were ignored for long, came into reckoning.
Desperate and disgruntled intellectuals and secularists smell a chance to regain some recognition and relevance after the assembly elections in Delhi, since unlike polls elsewhere, it is not absolutely certain that BJP would secure absolute majority.
Such hope is ridiculed by analysts. Even at the peak of his credibility, popularity and influence Kejriwal could not emerge as number one in the last polls. Why should the Modi baiters hope that tables would be reversed this time? Their biggest mentor Congress is being increasingly wiped out and the BJP could be contesting Delhi polls fresh after wins in Jharkhand and most probably in J&K.
Kejriwal could be dreaming big. But in reality he could be in shock. Unfortunately for the intellectuals, secularists, members of the Lutyens and Doomsters Clubs, they could sink deeper with the wiry Kejriwal.
The wall of intellectualism and secularism protecting the denizens of Lutyen area and Congress pampered elite is under heavy assault. The aspirational young generation which believes in change, development, opportunities and attaining a global-level of standard and quality of life has no time nor are they respecters of the nose-in –the-air variety. See how an ordinary young woman employee of Tehelka boss made his life.
As for the tribe of Rushdie in the West, they should worry more about their future in the country where the Sun has set. They should not be concerned about cousins in India. The country is on the threshold of joining the Big League.
The Indian intellectuals and secularists have to either accept the reality or join the mainstream or just sulk. Their golden period is over for good.
They need not feel despondent. Reflect on the saying…the moral and intellectual degradation increases in direct proportion to the adoration accorded. And remember how much you all were pampered.
By Vijay Dutt