If there is one advantage that the Congress still holds over the BJP even after its humiliating decimation in 2014 General Elections, it is the entrenchment of their belief system within the New Delhi establishment – extending across party lines (especially the ‘secular’ ones) into the bureaucracy, a section of the entertainment fraternity and the news media. This is partly the reason why the so-called ‘intellectuals’ of New Delhi, even as late as April 2014, could not foresee the electoral Tsunami that would engulf them.
By the virtue of having ruled India for over 60 years, the Congress managed to set and drive the national agenda on a host of issues, ranging from economic policy to foreign relations and, of course, secularism. This was done through the dissemination of a vast network of allied intellectuals, civil servants and friendly editors among others. While the 6 year Vajpayee regime did manage to unseat some elements of this network and achieve a certain degree of meaningful realignment in matters of the economy and foreign policy, post-2004 the usual suspects were able to return to their customary positions of influence with full force.
These are the same set of people who spent the last 10 years feeding of the crumbs thrown at them from 10 Janpath and spewing venom against the then-Gujarat Chief Minister. A labored myth was created and dispersed through willing journalists and opinion makers delving on a vast array of reasons why Narendra Modi would never become India’s Prime Minister. Of course, the practicality of these theories and the illusions of grandeur of their owners were destroyed within an hour of the election results coming in. Faced with the harsh reality of their own irrelevance and the sheer scale of the electoral verdict, the establishment went into shutdown.
While there has been the expected occurrence of some opponents crying themselves hoarse about a change of heart viz-a-viz the very same man they derided just a couple of months ago, the vast majority of the establishment chosen to retreat.
However, those who expect this to be a continued state of events or held a glimmer of hope that there would be even a slight measure of reflection on the parts of those who have been proven wrong by such a drastic scale might be wise to think again.
Nevertheless, there does seem to be a realization within the Congress that it is very difficult for them to take the PM head-on on concrete matters of policy and governance. Neither does the Congress seem too keen to challenge him in Parliament. It doesn’t help matters for the Grand Old Party that Modi himself is not one to ever run away from a slugfest. He has shown himself to be an expert at turning antagonistic rhetoric into political Bhramastras. The Congress also realizes that if Modi is able to deliver on governance the way he did in Gujarat, they may be destined to the Opposition trenches for some time.
Faced with their most potent political foe in a very long time, one who also enjoys massive public support at the moment, the challenge to Modi appears to have been launched through stealth – by activating the always loyal establishment network to tarnish the image of the government through a spate of artificially manufactured issues.
Which is why we saw that within a couple of weeks of the new government being formed, Opposition MPs had begun to castigate the government for not controlling prices. Not one media expert found it prudent to point out to the Congress, during countless idiot box discussions, the absolute absurdity of expecting a dispensation to bring down inflation within a month of being sworn in.
If that wasn’t enough, one is now regularly treated to the comical spectacle of a prominent TV news anchors, establishment bureaucrats and condescending Congress leaders lecturing the newly elected government and its ministers on how they should go about their job. These delirious characters seem to blissfully ignore the fact that the Indian public chose Narendra Modi as their leader for the sharp contrast he represented from how the Congress went about governing the country and not for him to continue doing more of the same thing.
One particular such TV discussion is worth mentioning, where a Congressman, a retired IFS Officer and the ‘neutral’ anchor castigated the Modi government for its handling of the Kerala nurses stuck in Iraq. The news anchor seemed to suggest that the solution to the problem would for the government to ‘talk more to the media’ and the bureaucrat came up with the ludicrous suggestion that the Foreign Minister should have hopped on a plan and travelled from one middle-eastern city to another in order to secure support for the release of the nurses. The show was interspersed with sound-bites of ‘intellectual’ Congressmen like Salman Kurshid and Mani Shankar Iyer summarily declaring that PM Modi and Sushma Swaraj were out of their depth. The general consensus was that there was little hope for the stranded nurses, the fault lying with Modi government, of course. As matters turned out, the nurses were released the very next day but far from having a good word to say about the businesslike approach adopted by the government, the pliant media moved onto other inane discussions like Aravind Kejriwal’s latest delusions.
Modi and BJP supporters will remember the Vajpayee years when Congress leaning bureaucrats, opinion makers and media personalities ganged up against the NDA government, working with stealth at multiple levels, chipping away at the goodwill Vajpayee enjoyed and creating a perception that a BJP government was not much different from a Congress one. It took 10 years of rudderless UPA rule and the arrival of an even more differentiated political figure than Vajpayee to correct that perception. Modi can expect more of the same treatment, this time even shriller and even more malicious.
Hence, the Indian public can get prepared for the Congress and their willing co-conspirators in the media amping up the volume on criticisms of the ‘Modi Sarkaar’ – both real and manufactured. Ved Prakash Vaidik will be described as an RSS man and a BJP hand will be insinuated in the Saharanpur riots. It will be huge crisis of morality when the BJP appoints Amit Shah as its President because he has court cases against him but the fact that Sonia Gandhi continues to be Congress President despite the National Herald case will escape media scrutiny. If it is the requirement of the Prime Minister to speak on each random instance of communal violence one day, on another it will be a demand for a completely unnecessary discussion on the Gaza violence in Parliament.
In his political career thus far, Modi has displayed the ability to defeat such attacks through his powerful oratory, his deft political maneuvers and, most importantly, his development work on the ground. He has shown enough signs of continuing the same modus operandi in Prime Ministerial avatar. Modi supporters across the India look to him to truly transform the country – from what it is today to what it should have been a long time ago. The historic mandate he has been given symbolizes the urge across the country to break away from the Congress agenda, away from socialist economic models and spirit-sapping babu-dom.
For this very same reason, most of the New Delhi establishment views Narendra Modi as their greatest existential threat. Mandate or no mandate, these groups will not go away without a fight and as Modi himself knows, they don’t always fight fair either.
It’s about to get ugly.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the twitter handle @ShankarPraful