Can four dots make a square?

In the second week of August leading up to the completion of India’s 65th year of Independence, when the whole world was immersed in its quadrennial global orgy of sporting indulgences to crown the reigning super power of the world to its preeminent position in the global pecking order, there were 4 minor events in India, which when sewn together could potentially formulate the destiny of India’s right over the coming years. Independently, these four events were shapeless dots that could well be forgotten by the time the monsoon session of the parliament comes to an end, for they were nothing but minor blips on the political radar of any astute antenna that is tuned to the politics of the right in India. But then, observing the right of India’s political firmament has its own pleasures of piecing together a jigsaw that is almost always never what it seems at the outset and invariably takes a shape of its own that could never have been preordained. The jigsaw of Indian right is an abstract of the multi-linear karmic outflow of the Hindu philosophy; it is an experiment to understand the multiple outcomes of a single event at one level and the interactions of multiple events to produce a solitary outcome at another level – nothing short of a special (political) theory of relativity.

The Blog

In the Cyber World, 5th August 2012

When the patriarch indulges in political tarot card reading, the entire spectrum of India’s political scene is forced to take notice, for he and his politics predates almost every entity along the political horizon of the country. Especially when some of the prophecies in his blog propose a seemingly bipartisan, above the mundane political posturing & a rather frank analysis of what is likely to happen in the next general elections, that too on a slow news Sunday littered with Kejriwal shenanigans, especially then, the world notices each misplaced sentence through a political microscope of convenience. Lal Krishna Advani has been there and done that, he knows what would evoke a debate among the chattering classes, he surely knew that there would be a distorted emphasis on the “non-Congress, non-BJP Prime-Ministerial possibility” alluded to by him, yet he went ahead with his blog post. The prediction that Congress might end up in double-digit territory has been propagated by many electoral pundits lately; in fact, every political observer worth his salt does know that the electoral destiny of Congress is doomed, at least in the near future – there is almost no novelty left in that hypothesis. What excites the intelligentsia and left libbers these days is a possibility of a third front, and the Advani blog was a perfect antidote for their disenchantment with Congress bungling and an increasingly resigned acceptance of a Modi ascendancy.

Off late the speculation on Narendra Modi being the alternate leader of India is not just limited to the conspiratorial labyrinths of the cyber world, but has also percolated to the more serious elements of statecraft; namely, international think tanks, serious political magazines, global economic forums and possibly even the much berated Indian intelligentsia. It was just a matter of time before the average left-liberal secular-socialist hack would also start analysing this phenomenon, but the Advani intervention has pushed that date further away. Despite many of his recent strategic errors, it would be unwise to presume that Advani ji did not foresee the kind of reactions that have followed his August 5th blog, for that would be tantamount to questioning his basic intelligence. Similarly, on the other hand, it would be a fallacy to attribute the vanity of political insecurities or the ambition of Prime Ministerial office to his blogged analysis.

The Advani conundrum is more complex than what is made out to be in the media narrative, Indian right (especially of the internet variety) would be well advised to consider that he is after all the progenitor of the entire movement. The grand old man of Indian right strongly believes that there is a deeper malaise within the party and he also genuinely believes that only he, as the architect of the party, can relieve the party from its ills, if necessary by cutting off those cancerous body parts. In the process any prime-ministerial happenstance simply ought to be considered as a corollary to the healing mechanism and not as an overt ambition.

The Statement

Delhi and Nagpur, 9th August 2012

Ordinarily, it would be inappropriate to make any comment on the Sarsanghchalak, for that institution is beyond the banal everyday politics, it is the ideological fountainhead of the very essence of Bharatavarsha. But then, ordinarily, a Sarsanghchalak does not give press conferences, especially not to the international press and especially more so when there is no great urgency to speak on issues that concern the nation. What happens when such an unwarranted press conference is conducted is exactly what happened on that Thursday afternoon; Bihar was given precedence over Gujarat, on the one criterion that the Gujarat CM is trying to build his entire political capital on – developmental economics of the state.

The fact that many ideologues from within the Sangh Parivar and leaders of various right-wing socio-cultural organizations were stunned by the statements emanating from that “meet the press” event in Delhi is nothing but an understatement. Yet there were probably equal number of people within the parivar who were not surprised by the statement because it was considered as long overdue. The irony of convoluted Indian right-wing fate is such that the Hindu Hriday Samrat is actually a more reviled figure among the hard core Hindutvawadis than among the moderates; thus on the one hand while the left libbers and secular socialists are baying for his blood, on the other hand the ideologues from within are waiting to show him his place. To top it all, mother-nature has decided to intervene by gifting the state with a drought in this election year.

If Narendra Bhai manages to lose Gujarat by the end of this year, then the entire debate about NDA/BJP Prime- Ministership leading up to the next general elections would be turned completely upside-down, so much so that the only logical pathway would lead us to the doorstep of the patriarchal residence. Nitish Kumar has already made it quite clear that his ambition does not transcend beyond Patna for the time-being. In any case, he is a practical politician and knows pretty well that his 20 odd MPs can only buy him a short-term lease of no consequence in the 7 race course road residence at Delhi while also permanently dislodging him from Patna. Bhagwat ji on the other hand was always considered as an all-weather friend of the patriarch and maybe the Thursday statement should be seen in that background.

The Movement

5th to 14th August 2012, Jantar Mantar, Ramlila Grounds & Ambedkar stadium, Delhi

K.N. Govindacharya always explains that any political movement or andolan should never be seen as a linear pattern of continually increasing mass support but should be seen more as a wave format of ebbs and flows. Yet, the fact that the Anna movement was fast reaching its expiry date is undeniable. When the team made the basic error of disowning right-wing forces to believe in their own myth of a self-sustaining movement that would run on people’s fuel and media spectacle, it was bound to fail. Half-way measures can only take a movement that far and no further; the next logical step was to equate congress with corruption, instead the team decided to fall into the media trap of maintaining equidistance from all political parties. Furthermore, to redeem themselves from being a uni-dimensional fasting brigade of Jantar-Mantar, the team decided to take the plunge into the political arena on their own.

Fortunately, Anna Hazare’s advisors and strategists from the right managed to save him by forcing him to disband his motley team to redeem some of his brand value. In such a backdrop the Baba Ramdev show in Ramlila Maidan was supposed to be a non-starter, mostly news-media and the chattering classes remained lukewarm to the latest anti-corruption fast in town. Intelligentsia in India has always under-estimated the mass-mobilization capability of rustic non-Delhi based leadership of India (remember Mahindra Singh Tikait and his siege of Meerut and Delhi in the 80’s?). The Monday march from Ramlila grounds to Ambedkar stadium was a reminder to the Delhi-Sultanate and its cohorts about the war-cry of India.

On the eve of the Independence Day, Congress stood isolated in front of the country on an issue as loudly in your face as corruption. Baba Ramdev had managed to achieve where Anna team had failed, what is more, within a span of two weeks, the entire anticorruption movement had acquired a Ramdev patent, thus rendering it easier to control by the strategists from the right. This control was visible in the way BRD decided to prematurely end his agitation on the 14th, on the advice of his “strategists”, ostensibly as a mark of respect to India’s freedom fighters, although he could have possibly gained greater eyeballs by adopting a confrontationist attitude till the 15th of August. It was virtually seen as BRD granting the UPA government a straw to hang on to, so that the PM can address the nation from Lal Qila.

Baba’s political capital has never been in doubt, with this week’s victory and his ability to unite almost the entire non-Congress opposition, even though symbolically, his stock has gone up by many notches. The large following that the Yoga Guru commands in northern India is seen to be believed and it is not limited just to UP or Haryana, for instance, the spread and reach of Patanjali Yog Peeth in the east Punjab region is simply humungous, so much so that it would not be an overstatement to suggest that his followers probably outnumber the combined might of Dera Sacha Sauda and the Radha Soamy Satsangh in that region (although there would be a great deal of overlapping). His recent attempts to breach the Vindhyas to reach out to the south has also met with great success, for example his participation in Kalburgi Kampu in Hyderabad Karnataka (organized by Govindacharya ji) or his satsanghs in Sangli-Miraj-Kupwad & Kolhapur region of Maharashtra have all been blockbuster hits with the local populace. Thus having Baba Ramdev as an ally could well be the defining element of the Prime-Ministerial CV in 2013/14.

The Mob

Azad Maidan, Mumbai, 11th August 2012

Ironically, it was in the Azad Maidan of Mumbai that Anna had first managed to lose some of the sheen from the anti-corruption movements of 21st century India. The fact that huge success in Delhi, relentless media presence, widespread anger amongst the populace and a strong social media campaign could not bring in crowds to Azad Maidan in December 2011, while just a few falsified stories of distant Myanmar Muslim massacre and an SMS campaign of the religious rabble-rousing variety managed to bring overwhelming crowds into the same grounds on Saturday the 11th, tells us all about the misplaced priorities of an entire community of people and their leadership. Mumbai police knew that the initial permission given for a gathering of about 1500 people was simply a practical joke and when eventually more than 30 thousand people did gather, the cops were not exactly taken by surprise. Yet, the initial response by the Mumbai police to the wanton acts of barbarism was one of baffling restraint, almost as if an unknown power was holding them back from taking any action, only when the situation really got out of hand did the cops initiate action.

To attribute purely political interference to the bewildering police management of the south Mumbai riots on Saturday would be naïve, for there is definitely a lot more to the story than just vote-bank politics of the ruling Congress-NCP alliance in the state. Surprisingly, the atmosphere in Azad Maidan that day or the mood in the Muslim mohallas of Mumbai – which is usually the precursor to the Muslim mood of the country – has been one of blatant anti-congressism. There is a theory that certain influential Maulvi groups have been consistently feeding this anti-congress mood among the Muslim community over the last few months at the behest of a powerful political cabal of Assamese origin which has grandiose plans of forming a national coalition of Muslim parties to bring vast numbers of minorities under one common platform. Intelligence inputs in the weeks preceding the Azad Maidan riots have apparently reported a surprising polarization in the country along religious lines not seen since 1992, of the Babri Masjid vintage. For starters, even the 2002 post-Godhra riots were limited to a few districts of Gujarat and did not produce this kind of polarization across the nation, although there was an overwhelming feeling of victimhood in the community; social scientists believe that was largely because 9/11 had made a lot of Muslims weary of any polarized anger. Thus the police restraint on Saturday could be, at least partially, explained as a deliberate attempt to limit the riots to a smaller radius and also probably as an experiment in controlled outlet for mob anger, owing to the intelligence inputs.

Dr Subramanian Swamy has probably been right in his assessment that there is a large scale polarization in Indian society today, although many political commentators, some even belonging to the right side of the political divide like Swapan Das Gupta have vehemently disagreed and have argued about economics being the core theme of Indian political narrative. To be fair, polarization along religious lines has not been visible at least as far as the Hindu side of the political landscape is concerned; even in electoral terms, as the 2009 elections held after the 26/11 attacks or the recent UP elections conducted in the backdrop of Muslim reservation issue have shown quite clearly that there was no visible polarization of the Hindu vote. Yet, electoral outcomes are not necessarily the right measurement of political under currents, for as we have seen in the past, certain political themes only mature after a certain lag effect and manifest into tangible outcomes in a post-facto scenario, due to various underlying reasons. For instance, even though the Ram Janam Bhoomi andolan had peaked at around 1991-92, the fruits of the Hindutva political campaign only became evident around 1998-99 in electoral terms (which is widely misunderstood as purely a vote for Vajpayee’s inclusive Mukhauta).

The Muslim disenchantment of this decade can be traced to the Allahabad High Court judgement of August 2010 in the Babri Masjid demolition case, which has probably over a period of time metamorphosed into full-fledged anti-Hindu polarization. Thus if there is polarization in India as seen in Rajasthan riots last year, or in Assam and UP (Mathura Bareilly) communal riots recently, which has now reached the shores of Mumbai, then rest assured there is an equal and opposite reaction to the same in the form of counter-polarization (underlined by the “mass exodus” from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and other cities). As has happened many a times in the past, the Hindu anger sometimes initially manifests in the form of anticorruption mood or anti-establishment mood, which when given the right direction, almost always becomes an anti-congress force-multiplier. In such a socio-political muddle, a farfetched theory can actually manage to incorporate the fourth dot to complete the political square by overplaying NAMO’s outreach initiatives like Sadbhavana/Urdu interview etc. and by mainstreaming ardent Hindutvawadis under the leadership of the original Hindu icon with able assistance from the anticorruption movements. The anti-Mandal agitation turning into a positive Kamandal force is a historic reminder to that end; incidentally, Shri L.K. Advani was at the forefront of that transformation.

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Praveen Patil

Praveen Patil

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.