Narendra Modi was sworn in for his fourth term as Chief Minister of Gujarat last Wednesday to the horror of those Indians who have spent more than a decade portraying him as a demon. These include leftists of varying shades of pink, Muslim intellectuals of varying shades of fundamentalist Islam, social activists of varying causes and political analysts whose intellectual development appears to have stopped when the secularism versus communalism debate died a natural death. What unites this motley crew is a deep fear that if Modi does become Prime Minister in 2014, their dominance of the national discourse, their virtual monopoly on tickets to enter politics, high national awards, Government largesse and other forms of patronage like regular excursions to foreign lands will end. Let me explain in more detail.
The Congress, in its long decades at the helm of India’s destiny has cultivated a particular breed of ‘intellectual’ assiduously. Those who fit into the leftist, liberal, secular category have been given Rajya Sabha tickets, Padma awards and other prizes and have been rewarded with Government jobs and houses in Delhi. The Government of India has enormous powers of patronage and the Congress learned long ago to use them very effectively. So if you are a ‘sarkari’ intellectual, you could find yourself in charge of any one of a myriad cultural and social organisations that come with low salaries but high perks. So if for instance you became head of one of the Government’s literary or music academies you would be entitled to a nice bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi and a car with a red light on it. If you failed to get one of these jobs you could be rewarded in other ways for your loyalty to the Gandhi family and the Congress ‘ideology’.
So I know many ‘intellectuals’ in Delhi who have been given Government grants for promoting things as diverse as the Urdu language and the environment. If you are well-connected enough, you might even be able to get more than one Government handout without any questions being asked. So you could be a patron of Urdu poetry and the editor of an ecology magazine at the same time.
If you are clever, then you should be able to extend your ‘expertise’ in Urdu or Sanskrit to land yourself a Doordarshan series on the history of these languages or some related subject and you would never need to do what most Indians consider a regular job. In my long years of covering politics and governance in Delhi, I have met retired bureaucrats, failed Bollywood actresses and filmmakers, socialites and relatives of successful politicians who have benefited from Government of India largesse in an extraordinary variety of ways. Nobody has ever questioned this largesse because in the brief moment that the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Delhi it continued the practice because the very same ‘intellectuals’ that had lived for years on Government largesse switched political sides effortlessly and switched back to being Congress loyalists when the political fortunes of the BJP declined after 2004.
It may seem hard to believe if you are not from Delhi but trust me when I tell you that the same filmmakers, movie stars, writers, dancers, musicians, artists and other ‘intellectuals’ that thrive on Government of India largesse today were once in the inner circle of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Even the political analysts that today boast of their closeness to Sonia Gandhi were to be seen in those days waltzing in and out of the Vajpayee household as if their loyalty had always been to him. Why did he allow this? I have asked myself this question often and the only satisfactory answer that I have come up with is that the people who surrounded the BJP Government at the time were new to the foibles and fakery of Lutyens’ Delhi and did not see duplicity and chicanery even when it happened under their noses. By the time they understood what was happening the general election that put the BJP back on the Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha had come and gone.
What worries the ‘intellectuals’ of Lutyens’ Delhi is that Narendra Modi may not be as easy to seduce as Vajpayee was. He may find it easier to discern between cant and real culture and between courtiers and real loyalists and this would inevitably lead to a total overturning of the patronage applecart. So the demonisation of Modi has been a joint project on a scale that has been quite unprecedented in the political history of modern India. It would be fair to say that no Indian politician has been demonised in quite this way and usually because the measure by which he has been judged has not been applied to anyone else.
Whenever I have tried to argue that what Modi allowed to happen in Gujarat in 2002 was modelled on what Rajiv Gandhi allowed to happen with the Sikhs in 1984, I have hit an impenetrable wall. As recently as last month when my new book ‘Durbar’ came out I had a long conversation with a senior bureaucrat who tried to convince me that I was wrong in writing in the book that Rajiv had been complicit in the massacres of the Sikhs. “You must understand that he knew nothing of what was happening,” this gentleman argued, “You must understand that he was a political novice and did not know what was going on or he would never have allowed it.” When I reminded him of the famous ‘big tree falls, earth shakes’ speech, he changed the subject.
This is how it always is whenever Modi’s ‘crimes’ are discussed. The discussion simply ends and if you persist in trying to continue the argument then you get labelled. You get called a ‘Sonia-baiter’ or a ‘saffron supporter’ or that most evil of things in the eyes of the denizens of Lutyens’ Delhi — ‘anti-Muslim’. Well, we do not know what Modi will do if he does become Prime Minister. He may, like Vajpayee, do nothing at all to upset the applecart. But, for the moment his victory has sent such a shiver of fear along the spine of Lutyens’ Delhi that you can almost hear the sound of it rustling like a demonic wind through the corridors of intellectual and cultural power in this city.