What are we smug about anyway?

Updated: Oct 28, 2019, 08:01 IST | Ajaz Ashraf | Mumbai

Maharashtra and Haryana may have slowed the BJP's rise, and of its Hindutva ideology, but 'People Like Us' have no reason to be puffed up as the intolerant trend in our democracy remains unchallenged

PLUs are serenading the people for teaching the BJP a lesson for ignoring their economic travails and spinning a spiel on Kashmir and Pakistan. File pic
PLUs are serenading the people for teaching the BJP a lesson for ignoring their economic travails and spinning a spiel on Kashmir and Pakistan. File pic

Ajaz AshrafThe state Assembly election results of Maharashtra and Haryana have brought to the fore the angst, desperation and helplessness of People Like Us, or PLUs, a category comprising citizens who belong to the English-speaking professional middle class and are steadfastly opposed to Hindutva's illiberal agenda. Instead of slipping into depression, as had happened after the 2019 Lok Sabha election, PLUs cheered the Assembly election results even though the Bharatiya Janata Party will still rule the two states for another five years.

PLUs were chuffed over election results largely because the BJP fell far below its own boast and did not perform anywhere near their paranoia. PLUs' paranoia stemmed from the BJP's trumpeting that it would bag 225 seats in Maharashtra and over 75 in Haryana. They believed the BJP, not least because its prediction was dutifully echoed by the media.

Don't blame PLUs for refusing to apply their minds to analyse Maharashtra and Haryana's political context. After all, they had been sure of the 2019 Lok Sabha election producing, at the least, a hung Parliament, even after factoring in India's airstrikes in Balakot. They were stung to see the BJP zoom beyond 300 seats, which had been precisely the forecast of the party's leaders.

Chastened, PLUs cultivated indifference to the happenings in Maharashtra and Haryana, more so as Article 370 had been read down before the election process began in the two states, just as the Balakot airstrikes were launched before the Lok Sabha election. There was also the incessant chatter about preparing a nationwide National Register of Citizens and state agencies raiding Opposition leaders to portray them as inveterately corrupt.

The cultivated indifference of PLUs segued into hope as soon as the exit poll of India Today-Axis – the only one among the many – predicted a hung Assembly in Haryana and a dip in the BJP's 2014 tally in Maharashtra. Justifiably worried at India's political trajectory, manifest in lynchings and hyper-nationalism, PLUs took to their mobiles to seed hope in each other.

The behaviour of PLUs last week testifies to their isolation, to their acceptance of the little influence they wield over the formation of public opinion. They are tragically reconciled to their inability to read the public mind. In May, they were aghast at people lapping up jingoism despite the economic hardships they had been subjected to because of the Union government's faulty economic policies. Emotion trumps reason, PLUs argued ruefully, dismissive of the people's ability to check our liberal democracy taking an illiberal turn.

In October, PLUs are serenading the people for teaching the BJP a lesson for ignoring their economic travails and spinning a spiel on Kashmir and Pakistan. You can't fool people all the time; their inherent democratic spirit will arrest India's lurch towards authoritarianism, PLUs declare. In their enthusiasm, they gloss over certain imponderables: Did the Jats in Haryana and the Marathas in Maharashtra consolidate against the BJP because its five years of rule denied them control over the levers of power? Did agrarian distress alienate these two dominant communities, which still have deep roots in agriculture? Why was their political reaction so remarkably different in May?

The results have made PLUs believe that Hindutva has now become subject to the law of diminishing returns, which says that the 10th rasgulla doesn't provide the same satisfaction to the consumer as the first one. Kashmir, therefore, couldn't harvest votes for the BJP as Balakot did. Or, to put it in another way, a stronger dose of Hindutva will be required to woo voters. But consider this: If the Supreme Court's judgment were to favour a temple in Ayodhya, can PLUs be confident that Jharkhand and Delhi, the two states which go to polls next, will not sway to the BJP's Ram dhun?

India is witnessing the rise of rightwing populism, which, as elsewhere, has streaks of unmistakable authoritarianism. Maharashtra and Haryana have shown that India's bewildering diversity is difficult to steamroll and homogenise; social groups outside the ambit of power combine to challenge those who seek to suppress them and their leaders or engage them in a zero-sum game. Maharashtra and Haryana have shown the way to Opposition leaders for confronting the BJP, a valid reason for PLUs to rejoice.

Yet, a caveat: Neither Bhupinder Singh Hooda nor Sharad Pawar, the two heroes of the Assembly elections, opposed the government's Kashmir policy. Hooda, in fact, publicly supported it. Unless Opposition leaders hit the streets when the next lynching takes place or rights activists are hounded, as is happening with Gautam Navlakha or Indira Jaising, or another dreadful decision is introduced in Kashmir or elsewhere, PLUs should know that election contests have become, like movies, engaging, even comforting, but always unreal; and that our march towards illiberal democracy continues.

The writer is a senior journalist Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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