More than three years ago, when Modi swept into power, the number of critics was few, and those willing to take a clear public stand even fewer. After the shocking murder of the senior journalist Gauri Lankesh this past September, it was clear from the nature and extent of the ensuing protests that this had changed dramatically. During a protest at the Press Club in Delhi, people were practically fighting for the microphone, wanting to be seen to be protesting.
After hearing Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt, I had had enough. When I later expressed my discomfort—given that I had earlier written that “the path away from Modi cannot lead us back to the Congress”—a friend asked me, “Where would this neti, neti lead?” It is a fair question, but journalists are diagnosticians—solutions must come from elsewhere. I had then stated, “The danger of the current liberal consensus is that it seeks to speak against a new establishment without looking within. The compromises and corruption that liberals participated in during the UPA’s rule are what led us to Modi in the first place.” This is even more evident today.
Modi may no longer command the awe that he did in 2014, and we are seeing the beginnings of an opposition forming around the Congress, but in wishing an end to Modi’s regime, it is necessary to begin with some understanding of why he became prime minister in the first place. Of course, he is a man who has built up a mass appeal, backed by a well-organised publicity machine that he controls and oversees. But it would have amounted to little without the work of two organisations—the Congress and the RSS.
By 2014, the Congress had become a mockery of what the name represented before the advent of Indira Gandhi. Unchallenged within, the Nehru-Gandhis left in the party seemed to have neither the ability nor the appetite for electoral politics. They ran the government by proxy, weakening the already timid image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Their sporadic and wilful interventions left the impression that no one was really in charge, and cabinet ministers from the party or its allies ran their ministries as businesses pursuing personal enrichment. From the 1980s onwards, no new prominent party leader with mass support emerged. Instead, the party was staffed by lawyers, technocrats and managers who were comfortable in Delhi and nowhere else. Their rise to prominence was not guided by a sense of ethics or principles, and it was only boosted by a starring role in the massacres of the Sikhs in 1984. The party had become a patronage network.
This corrupt Congress leadership permeated the business and intellectual life of the republic. In the interaction between corporates and the Congress, it was difficult to tell where business ended and politics began. This part has been well-documented, but much the same was true of academics, journalists and civil-society activists. The universities had become places with eminences close to the Congress or the Left (strangely no one seemed uncomfortable with this odd intellectual partnership)—with their best work well in the past. These institutions were busy creating fiefdoms which employed their mediocre students. Espousing ideas that once animated the Congress, the academics were happy conflating these ideas with the husk that now survived; a confusion that was beneficial to them and the party. In much the same way, many journalists had moulded themselves to this patronage network. As long as they had a patron in the party, their ideological bent mattered little.