To be fair to TIME Magazine, they, while putting out Aatish Taseer’s ‘Divider-in-Chief’ cover article on Narendra Modi, did also put out Ian Bremmer’s counter opinion as to why Modi will be the best option for India’s economic reform and progress in the same issue, which was released two weeks prior to the election results announcement. They now have produced a new article claiming that the same ‘Divider-in-Chief’ has united India like ‘no ever Prime Minister in decades’. Supporters of Modi and critics alike, are tagging this as a U-turn which is unfair, given that they have tried to fairly represent both sides of the coin, and majorly, because they, as an American media house, can’t really be expected to go beyond their bubble and make anything but general comments about the rest of the world. Let’s be reminded that TIME Magazine covers the Indian elections or India once in a while, or for that fact, every third world country once in a while, not because they actually care about such countries, but because they need exciting news, opinions and a ‘humanistic coverage and portraits’ for Pulitzer prize hungry journalists to feed on. A business corporation after all, can’t be accused of doing business.
But again, as I had previously written, with Modi’s win in 2019 Indian liberals are being forced to reckon with their present and the very conflicting present of the country, which they claim dominance over, because the two, are or have become drastically different. Let’s not be mistaken, if India is a divided country, it is now divided only between the English speaking, Lutyens Delhi liberals and the non-elites. Winning more than 60% of the voters’ share doesn’t show a divided country, sure, one can claim with great certainty that America is a divided country when it comes to Trump, but India, isn’t, when it comes to Modi.
Aatish Taseer’s article was actually a great analysis of what is to come and what has come and gone for India under Modi, but what he fails to understand that Modi’s war against the elites is not much a cultural war than it is an economic one. That is how his populism, or for that matter, any populism in the last 10 years has gained traction around the world. When Wall Street crashed in 2008, sending shock waves across the global economy, when critics on the left lauded themselves for being witnesses to ‘yet another collapse of capitalism’, the right is what actually tapped into the economic insecurities that were spun out. Taseer write about this war against the Indian elites:
Modi in 2014 was able to make the cultural isolation of the Indian elite seem political–part of a foreign-led conspiracy to undermine the “real” India. He revealed that a powerful segment of the country was living in a bubble. It was an effective political tactic, but it also obscured the fact that “real” India was living in a bubble of its own. Nehru had always been clear: India was not going to become a modern country by being more authentically itself. It needed the West; it needed science and technology; it needed, above all, to embrace “the scientific temper” and to eschew the obscurantism and magic that was at the heart of its traditional life. Modi, inadvertently or deliberately, has created a bewildering mental atmosphere in which India now believes that the road to becoming South Korea runs through the glories of ancient India.
Here, one must disagree with and actually be sympathetic towards the ‘bubble’ of ‘real India’. If the majority of people in a country, are to think every minute of their day as to where the next meal is to come from, that sure doesn’t sound like a bubble to me, but more so, a constant and a gruelling grip with reality. Bubble? Who wouldn’t want to live in a bubble? If we were to confront the reality every day of our lives, we would be dead by 25. And citing Nehru’s obsession with the ‘scientific temper’ wouldn’t do much good either for these people, who can barely make their ends meet. Nehru’s lineage of elitism and his place in the ivory tower of India, is after all, very well known. Idealism is good, so long as the realism of politics and the nation feeds it.
This is a repeated mistake that we liberals seem to make, to blame the poor for practising religion and for not being smart enough to see through the bullshit of it all. It is also a mistake specifically Indian liberals make, that we think that things that aren’t necessary for us mustn’t be necessary for the rest of the country as well, and that the problem of religion is a problem most peculiar to India. For the Indian farmer whose harvest has gone wrong after years of prayer, he has but the two options of further religion, or poison. The issues at core are always very deeply economic and until we strive to change that, nothing will really change.
Sure, communal violence remains a big issue in India, but that has always been so, given the strong line of contradictions that Indians are forced to live with. That India has remained united for so long, is a miracle in itself. And communal violence doesn’t need any heating by a particular right wing party alone, as we saw in 1984. Taseer however wouldn’t really blame or see through the overlying secular ideology of the Congress party to understand the abuse of power or rather than power has no ideology. He writes, “The country had a long history of politically instigated sectarian riots, most notably the killing of at least 2,733 Sikhs in the streets of Delhi after the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Congress leadership, though hardly blameless, was able, even through the selective profession of secular ideals, to separate itself from the actions of the mob.” This is very typical of the Indian liberal, or for that matter, any left wing intellectual, to be ignorant to how power actually works, to be yet supportive, say, of a communist state despite communism’s years of horror, while being staunchly against the right wing for all the very reasons. The work of an intellectual is not to side with power, ever, but to question power, in all forms, be it the left, the right or the centre, and to have the broader understanding about the illusion of ideology, and that power has no ideology, and it does what it wants.
So, if we liberals are to confront with the changing times, we are to confront with our own bubble first, rather than blame the other side for having a bubble of their own. India is not a divided country, at least not as per the last two election mandates. Even if it is divided, it is the economic division between the elites and the rest of India. We must act before we become, in history, foreigners in our own land.
Swagat Baruah is the founding editor of Catharsis Magazine.