2019 polls: Noida versus Lodhi road - Hindustan Times
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2019 polls: Noida versus Lodhi road

ByAbhinav Prakash Singh
May 02, 2019 09:15 PM IST

This poll is about who will dominate power in the future and whose idea of India will reign supreme

The battle for 2019 is in full swing but there is an even bigger war being fought for over a decade now which will have a more decisive say on the future of India. Since Independence, the destiny of India has been dominated by a small group of urban upper-caste Nehruvian elites ruling in alliance with local feudal elites who were responsible for ensuring election victories. The social structure of power was simple: The urban elites would dominate the academia, bureaucracy, institutions and policymaking, and local feudal elites would be left alone except to undertake some token pro-people actions like tenancy reforms which would be passed off as land reforms. The poor and destitute could hardly exercise their votes freely. They voted as they were told to by the feudals of the dominant castes or were denied the vote. Booth capturing and preventing people from reaching the polling venues were common events.

This Lok Sabha election is a war between the old urban power centre and the new upcoming challengers(Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)
This Lok Sabha election is a war between the old urban power centre and the new upcoming challengers(Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)

The major reason why the Nehruvians ruled unchallenged for years and a specific Idea of India reigned supreme was this politics of unfreedom at the grassroots notwithstanding all talk of social justice and democracy in the seminar halls and party manifestos. This was challenged vigorously from the 1980s by the Dalit and OBCs’ (other backward classes) assertion which changed the dynamics of the electoral battle and reduced the space available to the traditional elites in the direct exercise of the power. But even they couldn’t challenge the hegemony of the Nehruvian consensus as the terms of reference remained the same old Idea of India which is a secular-socialist, Gandhian dystopia. Even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remained stuck within this framework.

But something else was churning on the ground. The economic reforms created a new class of people who were not part of the old elite. They were not landed elites in the countryside or part of the bureaucratic structures or derived their power and wealth from proximity to the corridors of power in Lutyens’ Delhi. They were simple middle and neo-middle class folk from small towns armed with modern education for whom the avenues of socioeconomic mobility were suddenly opened up by the growing private sector. Over the past two decades, millions of them moved from mofussil towns and regional capitals to the burgeoning metropolises of Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. They could hope for a better lifestyle and opportunities without being part of the old system.

These new urban denizens were not part of the globetrotting old urban elites. They did not have foreign degrees or relatives settled in the West. They were rooted in their customs and traditions and their drawing room talks centred not on US politics but local concerns back in their home districts. They were to be found in the rapidly growing new urban landscapes of Noida and Gurugram. Their dream, and the dream they inspired back home, was to buy a flat in the satellite towns of metropolises — not to move to London or the US. And they did not agree with the Nehruvian Idea of India imposed from the top through newsrooms and academic propaganda. They looked at the old elites with disdain and held them responsible for the bad policies which kept India a poor and backward country. For them, the nation and nationalism were not abstract concepts nor was their religion or culture an academic object to be deconstructed using psychoanalysis and twisted beyond recognition. They had had enough of being talked down to by the high priests of the Nehruvian consensus on the virtues of secularism and socialism.

Rebellion was in the air but the old elites, nested comfortably in Lodhi Road, had no idea about its existence. And then came social media. Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter completely changed how public discourse was conducted. No longer could journalists, news anchors or even academics, pass on their versions as indisputable facts. They were challenged by your average officegoer or by college students. One by one, all the myth-making of the Nehruvian consensus was shredded by the millions who now had a voice and an audience. It is they who rooted for the new BJP under Narendra Modi in 2014 and swept aside the old mainstream media. It is they who have been marked as the new evil by the old elites as bhakts who must be demonised and purged. It is this war of the narratives that underpins the 2019 elections. It is about who will dominate the avenues of power in the future and whose Idea of India will reign supreme. It is a war between the old urban power centre and the new upcoming challengers. It is a war between Noida and the Lodhi Road.

Abhinav Prakash Singh is an assistant professor at SRCC, Delhi University

The views expressed are personal

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