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Survival of the fittest!

Survival of the fittest!
The Kurukshetra ground has been chosen. The Mahabharata characters have waded in. Varanasi has been demarcated to be the modern-day battlefield of an epic proportion. Narendra Modi has finally bypassed the gerontocratic, hierarchical structure of a party that is fast losing its relevance, led by the anachronistic RSS. The Ayodhya paradigm the latter had created, had lost ground in the search for a consumerist model of Indian modern consciousness.

Now that the old guard of the BJP, represented by Murli Manohar Joshi of Somnath-to-Kashmir Akhand Bharat-march fame, has yielded ground, Modi has an additional burden of not only keeping the party ‘relevant,’ but winning. The party nomenklatura represented by Joshi – though he was a party president once upon a time – will only accept him if he does well with what he has been tasked to do.

Modi has chosen his man-Friday, Amit Shah, to set things right in Uttar Pradesh, the place the party had chosen to be its central piece in the electoral puzzle. The state had 85 seats and selected eight of independent India’s 15 prime ministers. Today, it has 80 seats. And the promise of being the staging post for a ‘Ram rajya’ has been set.

But a failure to create the early notion of an ‘ideal state’ and not being able to translate that in the real realm, can be corrosive for the core of an exclusivist party philosophy. The Congress party played that same game when Mohandas Gandhi led it. He created an idea of how governance would work on the scheme of a post-Independence India. But his agenda of creating his own Ram rajya was not in consonance with the one for modern India that his designated executor, Jawaharlal Nehru, had dreamt of, to contradict Gandhi’s ‘gram swaraj.’

Modi has the added opprobrium of being reminded about raj dharma by Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the height of the Gujarat riots, post-Godhra in 2002. Vajpayee had been marked out by Nehru in a moment of high non-partisanship, as the leader who would lead India in the future. When that moment in history came, despite the RSS trying to control his own agenda through an Advani or a Joshi, Vajpayee had shown his mettle of rising above sectarianism.

Nobody of equal weight and vintage has told Modi that he is a natural choice. So, he is still the outlier. His advocates in the media had been arguing the fact that he was indeed the ‘one.’ This was to counter the phenomenon of Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, who had the novelty factor working in his favour, and of not being a co-opted player of the Indian elite, yet. In this turn of the Indian history, Kejriwal has the historic task of launching an ‘outside-in’ attack on Modi, as a representative of the India of inchoate demands.

Modi in this story is not just the representative of the Hindutva agenda, but its expected and overt marriage with corporate capital. For a long while, the RSS could not make up its mind what the ‘Hindus of Hindustan,’ should do with their economy. Hence, there were political spaces for leaders like Vajpayee, who had a strong sympathy for the ‘socialists’ of the Ram Manohar Lohiaite school, while the RSS played the role of a facilitator of trade and commerce – from big to small.

But that was when India had not had its ‘economic reform,’ which made international capital to tie-up with its Indian counterparts in an exploitative bonding, ranged against the most vulnerable 60 per cent of the Indian population. The figure of 60 per cent by the Indian people being poor has been enshrined now in the Indian policy-making framework by the UPA II’s acknowledgement of the reality.

It is this 60 per cent, which would have to engage Narendra Modi in a battle, not just across the country in 543 constituencies, bus especially in Varanasi, on the bank of severely polluted Ganges, where the religious spirituality of the Hindus of India with their civilisational weight, commune with the river that is pan-Indian at least in the north of Vindhyas.

The quasi-urbanised, and at the same time lacking in any sense modern aesthetics – thus raw – town of Benares, with all its Hindu religious communication tools, is in a way a perfect setting for an epic battle – if Kejriwal chooses to join. This contest is between aspirational Indians who seek modernity of social relations over the straitjacket of social mores, designed not by the way of life in synch with their economic quest, but by regressive forces of reaction who seek monopoly over thought.

The other half of India, the Muslim India, is almost absent in Varanasi in any cultural or social assertion. Being about 16 per cent, they will be a nominal factor in this poll in Varanasi. The same RSS-BJP combine that essayed the destruction of Babari Masjid in Ayodhya, had sought to bring into its fractious politics the Gyanvapi Mosque, a mosque built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in Varanasi. But severe reaction to their actions in Ayodhya and its fall-out had convinced the BJP to lay at rest that part of their agenda. One has to see whether Modi’s battle in Varanasi will let the ‘sleeping dogs lie?’

The author is a senior journalist
Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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