In a democracy there is no such thing as permanence. It is, therefore, surprising that the media reads the emergence of the BJP across India as a reassertion, the return of legitimacy and the rejection of pretenders.
Attempts to draw validation of that thesis from the election of Donald Trump as United States president, the Brexit result, and the sweep of the Right in most parts of Europe are misplaced, because though defeated in the polls, the Liberals are far from vanquished. The street protests in the US and Scotland’s rebuttal to London are examples of limits to the march of the Right.
Admittedly we have yet to see a similar response from ‘Liberal India’. It is shocking to read some people who were regular and prominent faces at ‘Liberal’ feasts today seeking a chance for Yogi Adityanath on the development plank!
Samajwadi Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav lost the election and we lost India despite impressive records of development. Ours was obfuscated by foisting a shadow of corruption and Yadav was burdened with an exaggerated allegation of messy law and order. Yet no voter seems to have cared to question the unwarranted misery of demonetisation and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan continued to be mocked by mounds of garbage all around us.
The visionary manifesto of the Congress was of no interest to anyone. Our past record of citizen-centric schemes such as the RTE, RTI, MGNREGA, farm loan waiver, to name but a few, was not even mentioned. Truthfully the talk of development was a smokescreen for two frightening dimensions of public policy: To rewrite our past; and to redesign our future. The war that has been waged is not for growth and development as ingredients of justice, but as instruments of dominance of social choice. Ironically, the social justice movement, that only a few years ago, under the banner of Mandal looked invincible, has crumbled in the face of “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”.
If the EVM issue is not to be taken seriously as seems the case now, the support for the BJP across castes and classes is unprecedented, upsetting the cosy caste havens of the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party. But this could this be a blessing in disguise and the beginning of serious maturing of democratic attitudes in UP? Or will there be a similar backlash a few years on that will bring back the forces of social justice with a vengeance?
Anything is possible. Carefully crafted class conflict obscured by a cynically chosen common enemy cannot last indefinitely; nor can the impact of doling out everything to everyone. Beware the wrath of the citizen who feels betrayed, particularly when alibis of failure run out.
All this does not mean that the Congress and other centrist-to-Left parties need to do nothing but wait. This is the phoenix moment to work not just for political revival but a renaissance in our society. Generations that did not participate in the Independence movement and, therefore, have taken freedom for granted will discover its value. Freedom of the mind and soul, the most cherished of freedoms, is what we have to collectively preserve and protect.
Those who foolishly believe that the India we know has no concern for this freedom, do not know India, no matter they call it Bharat or Hindustan. There will indeed be a new India but the narrative will be authored by the inheritors of freedom and freedom fighters of tomorrow. Let the gauntlet be picked up and the battle joined in right earnest.
Salman Khurshid is a Congress leader and former Union minister
The views expressed are personal