Recently, I came across an article by a senior member of the Khan Market Gang on the 2019 Lok Sabha election results. It is full of angst about the failure of not being able to produce a result that would give cause for wild celebrations by the Gang. It goes as follows:
Dear Sentinels of the Republic,
We goofed once again. As in the 2014 elections, every assumption we made during the 2019 campaign has been savaged. Each one was premised on the values we cherish — freedom, justice and fraternity. Yet all that we did to promote them was to create fear in the minds of voters: fear of Hindu nationalists continuing their control of levers of the state. It prompted us to clutch at the slenderest straw in the wind. That compounded our discomfiture.
We assumed, for example, that while Congress will go a little beyond three digits, its tally of seats would allow it to be more than a bit player in the formation of the next government. That didn’t happen. We also reckoned that BJP-led NDA would fail to reach the halfway mark this time. This would compel it to rope in ‘secular’ non-Congress, non-Left regional parties to take another shot at governance. The latter, we took for granted, would extract their pound of flesh: deny Narendra Modi any role in the new dispensation.
Towards this goal, we added our two-penny bit. We missed no chance to harp on Modi’s RSS background. Time and again we raked up the 2002 violence in Gujarat. We pooh-poohed the ‘clean chit’ the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team and a lower court in Ahmedabad had given Modi. We picked gaping holes in his much-vaunted development model. And when this was not enough to corner BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, we latched on to the intolerance card. On all these counts, we came a cropper.
Congress suffered its second-worst rout in history. The decline in the Left parties continued remorsely. Caste-based formations that wore secularism on their sleeves did no better. On the other hand, BJP got what it wanted: a consecutive 272+ outcome. No non-Congress party had secured successive majorities on its own since the first general elections in 1952. Add to this the seats gained by BJP’s pre-poll allies. That has placed NDA in an invincible position once again.
So why did we lose the plot? The plain answer is that we misread the nation’s mood yet again. We didn’t gauge the depth and sweep of the popularity of Narendra Modi and the real delivery of so many popular welfare schemes. The dread possibility of ‘communal’ forces returning to power, we believed, would override all other concerns of the electorate, including the unproven leadership of Rahul Gandhi, Congress’s mascot. We drew a blank.
An equally miserable failure of ours was to underestimate the spell Modi continues to cast on the electorate. Armed with a hugely expensive media blitz, he led another intensive, spirited campaign built around his personality. He tapped into voters’ aspiration and confidence that India had moved significantly forward and that the future will be even brighter. He also tapped into voters’ yearning for a leader endowed with the will and aptitude to bring prosperity to the people, ensure clean and effective governance, provide security and instil national pride in citizens.
We made light of all this. The Modi wave of 2014 was a black-swan event, we argued, and the handiwork of media that had been bought over by India Inc. Poll results showed how hopelessly we were off the mark: education, jobs, sound civic services and good governance mattered more to voters than narratives of victimhood replete with populist promises.
We still try to comfort ourselves with the thought that over six out of 10 voters didn’t cast their lot with BJP. Comfort can’t get colder than this. What we need is to acknowledge the flaws in our idea of secularism. Correctly or otherwise, it has been perceived as a hostile attitude to even the most uplifting traditions of India’s myriad religious and spiritual traditions. And, by that token, it has been equated with an indulgent attitude to Muslim extremism. A course correction is in order.
We also need to renounce our animus against economic reforms and modernisation of our armed forces. At the same time, we must not lower our vigil to ensure that casteist, communal, sexist, hyper-nationalist and regional chauvinist forces of all shades do not threaten the fundamental rights of citizens. These rights are the foundation on which rests the edifice of our Republic. And we remain its steadfast sentinels.
Actually, this is not an article written in May 2019, but in May 2014. It was authored by the late Dileep Padgaonkar.
All that I did was to do some small changes to make it look like an article written in May 2019. The essential message of the May 2014 article has been kept intact. So little has changed in the mindset of the Khan Market Gang (KMG).
In May 2014, Padgaonkar had asked for introspection by the members of the Gang so that an honest appraisal is made for their failure. Instead, the Gang members indulged in all sorts of chicanery and tried to create a false narrative with an intention of demonising the NDA government in general, and Narendra Modi in particular.
The manner in which the KMG went about its task of trying to keep its relevance post-2014 has been quite succinctly set out by Surjit Bhalla in his article in The Indian Express (June 17, 2017) where he wrote:
“The Indian people are asking more questions and demanding greater accountability from dynastic political leaders. But the old elite — politicians, corporates, left-intellectuals, academics — cannot be expected to give up their privileges so easily. They will try to derail the transformation and object at every turn: If that means fake analysis, they will do so. If that means intellectual gymnastics, they will do so. The key point is that they must do so.”
What Bhalla calls ‘old elite’ is the same as KMG, and fake analysis and intellectual gymnastics are a polite way to say that they were telling lies. These lies were in the form of taking isolated incidences and project them in a way that the NDA government of the day was responsible and in particular Modi himself personally. The strategy is best stated by Anand Ranganathan in his following tweet dated January 2019:
Church Attacks. FAILED
Award wapsi. FAILED
Selective outrage. FAILED
Judiciary in danger. FAILED
Emergency is here. FAILED
Intolerance 2.0. FAILED
Make NO mistake. The vipers are writhing in the sand again for something new.
— Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72) January 18, 2019
These vipers added few more fake narratives to the above list during the time of the campaign and each of them failed due to the push back by the people of India:
Balakot distortion. FAILED
Signature campaign. FAILED
EVMs are hacked. FAILED
Clearly, there really was no intention to do an honest introspection, as suggested by Padgaonkar, because the Gang knew that the result would be that they would have to stop writhing in the sand and crawl back into the woodworks. (All metaphorically.) For the society, this would be a very happy state of affairs since it would pave the way for a sane discussion to take place leading to enduring solutions to the problems that India is confronted with.
At the time when Padgoankar wrote his article in May 2014, I wrote a response which is available here: The parable of Emperor has new clothes, with an Indian twist.
I looked at one of the Hans Anderson’s fables, where a couple of swindlers in the form of weavers fooled an emperor into parting large sums of money for his passion, bordering on the vanity, for clothes. The swindlers told the emperor that they can weave a cloth which only the wise and the competent can see. Apart from being an owner of this ‘magical’ cloth, the emperor thought he could also weed out the fools and the incompetent from his court. It took a little innocent boy to announce that actually, the emperor has no clothes.
The Khan Market Gang was weaving a false narrative that they grandly called Idea of India. No member of the Gang dared to question the Idea because they would then be termed as fools and incompetent and banished from the Khan Market. The voice people at large was suppressed by the members of the Gang, till the arrival of the internet and Social Media. Slowly a momentum was being built up against the Gang members, which the doyens of the KMG were blissfully unaware of since their reference points were the thoughts of an incestuous group which had not only become disconnected from the society but also seriously incompetent.
And like the swindlers in the Anderson fable, the members of the KMG extracted money from the society because they posted themselves in various public and private posts, giving themselves grand titles to indicate that they are intellectuals. This money was more than enough to maintain a lifestyle which only the generation after next of the people at large could aspire for.
India is headed in a positive direction forward which will unleash the inherent energy of the ancient civilisation. The members of the KMG can decide to be a part of this movement, or continue to oppose it as they have been doing for the last five years – through ‘fake analysis and intellectual gymnastics’. They will only slow down the momentum, but not stop it. In the process, they will be subjected to a lot of verbal abuse by the people at large. They will use this abuse to project that they are being victimised. But their sad story will no longer be accepted.