The shocking defeat of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 2004 general elections had left a deep scar on many committed BJP supporters and Hindutva sympathizers. All opinion polls and exit polls were suggesting that Vajpayee was set to return as the Prime Minister, and the BJP was confident too, so confident that they had advanced the 2004 Lok Sabha election dates by at least three months.
BJP wouldn’t stop talking about how “India Shining” campaign was working wonders as a communication strategy, while Advani would talk about “feel good” factor that supposedly preceded the 2004 voting.
Congress didn’t seem to have any plan. Their savior Sonia Gandhi had joined active politics in 1997, but failed to stop BJP from winning the 1998 Lok Sabha elections the following year. Sonia then gained control of the party in 1998 and became its President. And the following year, in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections – which were necessitated because Vajpayee lost the vote of confidence by just one vote – Congress lost again and BJP won.
“She fought like a tigress” in words of fiercely independent and unbiased journalists, but Vajpayee won and ran a government for the next 5 years. While Vajpayee ushered his party and the nation into a new era, Sonia struggled to keep Congress together with stalwarts like Sharad Pawar leaving the party over the issue of her leadership.
Today some fiercely independent and unbiased journalists might try to rewrite history crediting Sonia Gandhi for defeating Vajpayee, and for giving Congress party a new lease of life, but the truth is that Congress didn’t appear to have any plan in 2004.
It was an election that BJP lost, not Congress won.
BJP supporters could never really recover from this loss. I was not exactly a BJP supporter back in 2004. I was a young man who had started his career in the TV news media and who appeared more interested in girls in the newsroom than leaders in the parliament. But over the years as I developed interest in politics, and as I warmed up towards the Hindutva ideology – a journey of mine which I’m trying to capture in a book – I realized how painful 2004 was for a BJP supporter or for a Hindutva guy.
Almost as soon as Narendra Modi won an impressive mandate on 16th May 2014, almost every BJP supporter or online Sanghi was like – Great, but what about 2019? This fear was especially pronounced after BJP lost the Bihar and Delhi assembly elections a year after the grand Lok Sabha victory of 2014. The ghosts of 2004 were just refusing to go away.
Back in 2016 itself I had written an article alluding to the ensuing 2019 Lok Sabha elections, saying, “Modi is working not to repeat 2014, but to ensure that 2004 is not repeated. And he appears to be on the right track, with much needed help from his haters.” And well, on 23rd May 2019, I was proven right.
Were the ghosts of 2004 finally buried on 23rd May 2019? As I write this, BJP supporters again are worried about how BJP is losing narrative war, how liberals have taken over Instagram, how social media is being manipulated, how fact-checkers are creating a parallel universe of alternate realities, how Modi government is not promoting core Hindutva agenda, and many such things. Many are again warning that BJP can lose 2024. Now the fear seems to be that will 2004 repeat in 2024?
One can dismiss these fears as “kitna rote ho yaar tum log” but the fact is that an electoral loss means more than just an electoral loss for a BJP supporter or a Hindutva supporter. It is almost a matter of your survival.
Today, on the first anniversary of Narendra Modi coming back to power with even a bigger mandate than 2014, I just want to share the fears that I personally had till the afternoon of 23rd May 2019.
Although I started leading OpIndia only in October 2016 in formal capacity, the truth, or should I say the secret, is that I was part of this website ever since its inception, including at the time of booking of the domain name and installing the CMS on a shared server. While that bit of information was not public, what had increasingly become apparent and public knowledge was the fact that I had grown more and more vocal about my support to the Hindutva politics after 2015 or so.
Again, I will pimp my half-finished book already where I will pen down this journey and change in myself, but the fact is that by May 2019, OpIndia and everyone associated with it were either loved or hated. We couldn’t be ignored. In the run up to the 2019 elections, we had published a series of articles about Gandhi family’s financial transactions and land dealings, which were never debated threadbare as other controversies were in the mainstream media.
The rest of the media, expectedly, entirely ignored it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself talked about these issues raised by us. He even once indirectly mentioned our reports in one of his many interviews he gave to various media outlets, asking why were they (the journalists) ignoring such reports. The media still ignored them, while we were attacked by the Congress ecosystem.
“If Congress comes back to power, they are going to come after you guys heavily” was the oft repeated concern from friends and “well-wishers” I would hear.
I will pretend not to get scared with such talk, but the truth was that deep down inside, I too was worried that what if 2004 repeats in 2019?
I was getting a decent salary in Network18 before I decided to leave that and help OpIndia grow. It was a start-up so I couldn’t have taken the kind of salary that I was getting in a big media house. We had got moderate funding to keep our show running and as on May 2019, we were yet to find a self-sustainable business model. Essentially by May 2019, here I was, earning substantially less than what I would have been had I not bothered about running this website and being vocal about Hindutva politics.
I will be finished if Congress comes back and starts witch-hunt against OpIndia. Bigger concern was that OpIndia had almost 20 members by then, as we had started both in English and in Hindi. What will happen to these guys? I will always carry this burden on my conscience that I derailed their career plans.
Add to that, I had become a father in 2017. Our first child, our cute little daughter; will I have enough to give her a good education? Maybe I will sell off the house in Mumbai that I had bought – whose EMIs I’m still paying by the way – and that will give me some money to start something new. I will keep trying to allay my fears by making such plan-bs.
Mentally I was prepared to lose it all. I was prepared to go back to Patna, live in my parents’ house, so that living costs come down, and slowly go into oblivion – assuming that the new Congress government allows me that luxury – and use the money from selling off my Mumbai flat to start a new venture so that when my daughter grows up, she has a decent education. Because just like Congress came back in 2004 and then won the 2009 elections too, Congress was not going to lose power easily if they win in 2019, I felt.
In retrospect these might appear exaggerated fears – although now they don’t, given how OpIndia was targeted last week – but this is the kind of fear Congress and its ecosystem generates.
These fears in my case obviously were quite personal and not applicable to every sympathiser of the Hindutva politics. But everyone or the other could have a similar horror story to tell if 2004 repeated in 2019. Some would have to bear great personal losses, while others have to suffer professional setbacks, and for everyone else, an emotional scar, again, would have been certain, which would have totally broken them.
It was given that if Congress returned to power in 2019, they will double down on their toxic secularism, pushing Hindus to a further stinking corner. Communal Violence Bill, which will officially make sure that a Hindu is never seen as a victim of communal violence would have been there. New laws to punish “hate speech”, which essentially would mean you can’t assert your Hindu beliefs, would have been there. Private companies too would have been pressurised to get rid of anyone having an influential social media account. The great purge would have begun.
I know that some people on the ‘right’ here might be itching to say that these things are happening even in Narendra Modi 2.0 era, but deep down inside, they also know that it is not the same thing. You can’t compare common cold with coronavirus, even if symptoms appear similar. Nonetheless, the objective of this article is not to talk about what has happened since May 23, 2019, but what happened on May 23, 2019.
It was not just Modi returning to power with a bigger mandate, it was a day when I do believe that the ghosts of 2004 were finally buried. Fears were replaced with hope. Diffidence was replaced with confidence. Nightmares were replaced with dreams.
In the last one year, there could be many problems and complaints, but it’s time to rediscover the spirit that was discovered a year back. Arm yourself with hope. Act with confidence. Live your dreams.
We are here to stay.