Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Aatish Taseer has the final word (NaMo vs. RaGa)

A masterful article which explains succinctly why elites like Rahul Gandhi lost (and will perhaps never rule India) and what is the exact problem with a man of the masses like Narendrabhai Modi.

‘Then, referring to Rahul Gandhi’s comment the other day—and he only ever refers to him as ‘shahzada’—that poverty is “a state of mind”, he said: “Now what I want to know is: Is this poverty that the Prime Minister is asking Obama to alleviate real? Is it the poverty of our streets and neighbourboods? Is it real poverty? Or is this also that state-of-mind poverty?”

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This election began for me with a Modi rally in Delhi last September. I was struck at the time by a number of things. These are my impressions from that day: .....And then, just as P— and I were getting pretty restless, the strangest thing happened. The sky darkened. A cool wind began to blow, and the temperature seemed to drop by several degrees.  

A long narrow poster of Modi tied to the metal frame of the tent came free and began to blow in the wind. But in such a way that it seemed—because of the little ripple that [ran] through the poster—that Modi was waving at us.  In fact, many people from the press corps—you know how India loves a bit of magic!—got up and began to photograph this strange phenomenon. Not just because on this day of ‘chamchamati dhoop’ it was suddenly cooler, and the glare from the sky was gone, but because this apparition of the leader seeming to wave at the press enclosure coincided exactly with Modi’s arrival on stage!  

And when I stood up on my chair to see the reaction of the crowd, it was not so small. Not small at all, in fact. 
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‘He began in humour. And this is [rare]. This is not a funny country: there are very few political leaders who can really make people laugh. “The Prime Minister is in America at the moment,” he said, embarking on a cruel impression of the PM. “He is grovelling before Obama. He is telling him that we are a poor country, and that America should help us. “‘We are,’” he went on, in a weak plaintive voice, “‘a nation of 125 crore, but we are poor. Please help us!’”
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‘Then, referring to Rahul Gandhi’s comment the other day—and he only ever refers to him as ‘shahzada’—that poverty is “a state of mind”, he said: “Now what I want to know is: Is this poverty that the Prime Minister is asking Obama to alleviate real? Is it the poverty of our streets and neighbourboods? Is it real poverty? Or is this also that state-of-mind poverty?”
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And for many minutes, this was all that he did. He just made us laugh, at the expense of the discredited PM, and The Madonna with Child.
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‘But then—and one could almost not tell when it happened— all the humour fell away. And he was angry. Full of this emotion that I now think of as distinctly his: this mixture of pain and sadness edged with great anger.
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‘… His victory will decimate the opposition. Not just in terms of numbers, but philosophically too. It will be a long time before the Congress finds its way again. The [pundits in Delhi] will say I’m wrong. How will he find the numbers? they ask. But the numbers will come. This is going to be one of those elections when all the old calculations cease to apply.’


And, if I have sympathy for Modi, if I wish to see him succeed, it is because of my sympathy for the people who support him.
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It is this India—clear-headed, restless, hungry—that has energised this election. It is the India that some of us have been waiting to see come into being.
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It is also my concern for this India that has prejudiced my view of this election. The reason is that I grew up among a class of Indians—privileged, exclusively English-speaking, intimately connected to power and politics—who loathed this other India. They turned their nose up at their bad English; they complained of their body odour; they described them, while doing an impression before a hooting drawing room of people (I’m thinking now of a large mondaine of Delhi society) as ‘ball-scratchers.’ They hated their beliefs and practices; they held their religion in contempt; they lived in open terror of their rise.
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Only the Poor were beautiful. The people I grew up among had great reserves of feeling for the rural poor. And through their many schemes and yojanas, their fraudulent plans for empowerment, their concern for tribal art and religion, this crowd of ethnistas and Oxbridge Lefties worked hard to make sure that the Poor never lost the thing that gave them their great charm, namely their poverty. Now while it would be unfair to say that the members of this class supplied leaders exclusively to the Congress party—many of them went on to join other parties, some even to lead large states—it would not be an exaggeration to say that if one party were to be singled out as sharing the beliefs and prejudices of this class, it would be the Congress Party under the leadership of the Gandhi family.
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And the decline that was to be observed between Jawaharlal Nehru’s generation and Rajiv Gandhi’s was visible everywhere. No one perhaps expected that it would have brought us so soon to Rahul Gandhi; one might be forgiven for thinking an intervening stage was needed; but decline itself was inescapable. It is not possible for a class to remain vital if it cannot draw cultural nourishment from the place it inhabits. That class then will produce people without the means to deal with India; it will produce Coomaraswamy’s intellectual pariah, ‘the nondescript superficial being’ who is neither of the East nor the West. 

Because the sense I had at that rally in Rohini—then subsequently, in Kanpur, and then again, here, in Benares— was of a country unbound. A country coming free of its historical obeisance to the class the Gandhi family represented. The change was happening not because the new middle classes sensed the danger the elite posed to their own growth. No: it was much more basic than that. It was that the cultural gap had finally grown too wide. And if they turned away from Rahul Gandhi, it was not because they saw him as a threat to their own interests, it was because they couldn’t understand a word he was saying. In the past, this might have produced a feeling of apology in them; it now produced an equal and corresponding feeling of contempt.
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It was there in the voice of a young priest who came to see me the other day. He was of a grand line of priests belonging to the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. He wore jeans and a kurta, pink-stemmed rimless glasses; his ringtone was: ‘Yada yada hi dharmasya…’ There were broad streaks of yellow on his forehead, pierced red at the centre, and he wore a ring of Hessonite, for his Rahu was bad. We had not met to discuss politics. 

But the young priest, after making apologies for being apolitical, as men of God frequently do, could talk of nothing else. Of Modi, he said: “Rahul Gandhi se toh zyaada sincere hain. Kam se kam unko bataana toh nahi padhha ke yeh Vishwanath hain. Rahul Gandhi ko bataana padhha ke yeh Vishwanath hain.” Then, as if coming to the heart of the difference between the two men, he said Modi knew how to perform all the rites at the temple. “Rahul Gandhi,” the priest added cruelly, “toh sona-chaandi dekh rahe thhe. Unko toh Vishwanath se koi matlab hi nahi thha.”
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This was what was new this election. In another time, Rahul Gandhi would not only have been forgiven his deracination; he would have been admired for it.
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But cultural rootedness came with problems of its own; in fact, it came with the problems of that culture. And, likeable as the priest was, he was an effortless bigot. He lamented the fact that all of India’s Muslims had not been sent to Pakistan in 1947; he spoke of the need, when Modi came to power, for one decisive riot that would show Muslims their place. To hear him speak was to be reminded of how dangerous it was to romanticise one India over another. It was also to be reminded of the man the priest supported this election, the man from whom such a wide range of things were expected.
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Modi, that day in Rohini, when I first heard him speak, had said a few things that worried me very much. He said that at that same breakfast in New York where our Prime Minister had been insulted, some Indian journalists had been present. Would they, he thundered, those journalists, be answerable to the people of India for why they had been eating Nawaz Sharif’s breakfast while their Prime Minister was being insulted?....No press freedoms would need to be reeled in; the change of air was often threat enough. But, more than all this, what really worried me about what Modi said that day was that it suggested a certain kind of man. Whose principal crime, in my eyes, is not so much that he is a bigot, but a provincial.

The provincial is a problem not because you can’t have a glass of wine with him, though that would be nice too. Nor is it simply that he is not a man of the intellect—not a reader, not someone of subtle mind. The provincial is a problem because his plan for Development, on which his entire fame rests, often ends up being too shallow a plan. Too limited in its scope. 

Modi, if he is to bring profound change, must not go the Erdogan or Rajapaksa route. Because the conditions for the emergence of that kind of leader do exist in India. There is the malaise left behind by the previous government; there is a loud majoritarian feeling; there is disgust with the elite; and there are people baying for a strong leader. It is very easy to imagine an India in which Modi, if he delivers on Development, will be forgiven everything else. And anyone with a harsh word to say about him will be driven out of town. It would be terrible if that atmosphere were allowed to grow in India. 
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Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/voices/the-light-of-benares
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regards