Monday 27 May 2019

Tumhari Hai Tum Hi Sambhalo Ye Duniya: An Appeal To Fellow-Liberals In India

Tumhari Hai Tum Hi Sambhalo Ye Duniya: An Appeal To Fellow-Liberals In India

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 27 May, 2019


Liberals in India have tried for the past five years to convince their fellow-Indians that Narendra Modi should not be re-elected in 2019 — and failed. Modi has come back to power with a bigger mandate than in 2014. What this means is that the other side is not receptive to the arguments of us liberals — for whatever the reasons may be. There is therefore no point in continuing to highlight what we liberals believe about Modi being bad for the country — the strategy has clearly not worked.

It is therefore time for liberals to take a step back and to disengage from political discussions for a year or two, and watch what actually happens in India under Modi 2.0. If things are bad as we fear, then Modi's supporters will realize the facts for themselves. They will be more likely to admit that things are wrong if they do not have to constantly defend Modi against attacks from liberals. And if things in India actually end up being as rosy as supporters of Mr. Modi believe, then it will be the best of all possible worlds for all Indians.

A Time to Understand Reality

It is now 4 days since the election results were announced. Liberals who fought the war of ideas on social media with the supporters of Mr. Modi are shocked, angry, and depressed that he won with such a large mandate.

They say grief is a multi-stage process, and many of my friends are in different stages. I understand it is hard. I myself have been very involved for the last five years in pointing out the problems in this administration and in trying to convince people not to vote for Modi for a second term. I only achieved closure after I posted my last post titled “A Farewell to Arms” (Apologies to Ernest Hemingway.)

So, while I understand what all of you are going through, here is my appeal.

We tried to convince people that re-electing Modi would be a mistake. We pointed out the various problems, whether economic, social, intolerance-related, related to the scientific temper, or relating to foreign policy. We argued. We shared opinions.

But we failed in convincing people. Modi was re-elected with an even bigger mandate.

What does this tell you? I don't know, but it tells me that whatever I have been doing for the past 5 years has not worked. And so I have understood that repeating that pattern will not convince the other side, either.

Unfortunately, I see many of my friends getting into the same pattern again. That was fine for the last five years, but to continue it is destructive and futile. Yesterday some community leader made some inflammatory statements, and everyone has been posting the video of those statements today, talking about how things in India are getting worse. Others are still arguing as to whether this was a “stolen” election — whether EVMs were selectively tampered. (It does not matter. Even if you somehow discover that they were, the ECI is not going to rerun the election.)

All this is not going to help. These are the things that we tried explaining to them for 5 long years. The other side is not interested in listening. I found recently in a WhatsApp group that I belonged to that highly educated folks from the other side were not even reading my posts — including even instances when my posts had nothing to do with politics. Such is the rift between the liberals and supporters of Mr. Modi. They have closed their minds off and will not read anything you write — because it is you, a liberal, who is posting it. As symptomatic of that, I just responded to a Modi supporter who commented on FB regarding my “Farewell” post without even reading it and started telling me that I was wrong - even though he did not even know what I had written in it.

That is how things are today. You can post all your arguments on how things are bad under Modi. The other side is simply not listening. And, with Modi having won a resounding mandate, they have even less incentive to listen to you.

The Way Forward

So what should we liberals do? I would say we should just take a deep breath, and stop posting on politics, Modi, Rahul, Muslims and Dalits getting beaten up (there are going to be a lot of such incidents now, because lumpen elements on the street will feel vindicated and think they have carte blanche now), and similar topics. Post absolutely nothing on any of these.

Wait for a year at least. Maybe two. Let us see how things pan out.

This has been a war of ideologies. There are those who believe that Modi will bring a golden age to India. There are those of us who believe that he is going to ruin India. Let us understand one thing: both sides genuinely believe that they are correct.

Let us see who is correct here. If we are correct, the other side will realize that things have gone terribly wrong without us telling them a single thing or reminding them by sharing news links. They can read newspapers and websites too.

If they are correct, then that is good news for us too. If the country is indeed going to be better because of Mr. Modi's wise leadership, all of us will be happy. We opposed him only because we are worried that bad things are going to happen. As of now, I believe that, based on what has happened during the last five years. But if the results are different in the next five years, I will have no problem with Mr. Modi. He has been making inclusive speeches since he won. Let us see if he delivers on those words. And let us hope his handling of the economy is better than it was in the last five years.

But clearly, arguing on Facebook is not helping any of us. If the objective is to learn, then we seem to have come to a pass where the other side is simply not interested in even looking at what we share, let alone absorb and learn.

Either they will learn the hard way that what we were saying was right all along, or we will learn the happy way that what they were saying was right all along.

So that's my appeal to you: stop arguing, stop posting news links talking about all the bad things that are happening. Cede the social media space to them. Stop wasting your time arguing. And even if they taunt you, don't respond. After you stop responding a few times, they will stop taunting you, because there is no fun if the other person does not react.

Maintain complete radio silence at least for a year. Or two. There may be times in the next year or two when terrible things happen. Maybe a village of Dalits gets burned (I am not saying it will, just giving an extreme example to make a point). Resist the temptation to say, “See? We told you so!” Let them introspect and come to the same conclusion on their own, without any prodding from us. As long as we are taunting them, they will defend Modi even if something indefensible has happened — just because we are attacking them.

Let us see the worst (or best) that Modi can do.

As Guru Dutt says in the immortal song in “Pyaasa,”

Tumhaari hai tum hi sambhaalo ye duniya (“The world is yours; you take care of it.”)

So, my fellow-liberals, take care of yourselves and your families, use the time that you were spending on Facebook and WhatsApp all these years on reading, music, travel, whatever. Cherish your loved ones. I would even advise not watching news on TV. I have stopped doing that. I get the newspaper anyway — I do not need to know what is happening minute by minute. If Rahul Gandhi is going to resign, it is fine if I find out next morning — it's not like I will go to his home to convince him otherwise if I find out at 3.43 pm.

With that, I will keep my end of the bargain and post nothing more about Indian politics, at least for a year. I will wait and watch what happens and what Mr. Modi does.

I would like to thank all those who have been part of this journey of the last 5 years with me. Your feedback, encouragement, and engagement have meant the world to me.

But now it is time for me to rejuvenate myself. A writer needs to read a lot. Without that, he cannot write informed commentary. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and so if you write a lot, you do not get that time to read. I hope to use this hiatus to catch up on my reading.

I have also made many great friends through my writing – people who I admire and in whose presence (real and virtual) I delight to be. These friendships will continue, and I would aver that, in the end, that's what really matters.

With that, Adios, and good luck in all your endeavours!

Peace to all.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Sunday 26 May 2019

A Farewell To Arms

A Farewell To Arms

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 26 May, 2019


The 2019 General Election in India represents a fundamental shift in Indian thought. The foundation of the Indian state in 1947 was secularism, that India was a country for people of all religions, in sharp contrast with Pakistan, which was conceived as a state for Muslims alone. India’s founding fathers wanted to prove that Pakistan was a mistake; that Muslims could live and thrive in a Hindu-majority India. India was conceived as a rejection of the “two-nation” formula on which Pakistan was predicated. That era is over now, and India is now a de facto Hindu nation if not de jure. It will become a Hindu nation in law in a few short years as well. And in such a state, there is no space for a secular party such as the Congress of old to survive.

The Three Cassandras

Five years ago, I formed a Facebook chat group with two of my close friends. The name I gave the group then, though we changed it later, was “The Three Cassandras.”

For those who don't know, Cassandra is a character in the Trojan war, in the epic by Homer, the Iliad. She is the daughter of the Trojan king Priam, and is a priestess of the temple of Apollo. It seems that the god Apollo (the Sun god) was infatuated by her, and wanted her to be his lover, and as an inducement gave her the gift of seeing the future. But even after getting the gift, Cassandra refused to become his lover. An angry Apollo cursed her, saying that her gift of prophecy would be useless to her, because nobody would believe her prophecies from that time on.

So, when the Greeks pretend to leave Troy after 10 years of fighting, and leave a huge wooden horse on the beach as a gift to Apollo (but within which Greek warriors were hiding) — the famous Trojan Horse — Cassandra realizes this is a false gift, and warns the Trojans not to bring the wooden horse inside the walls of Troy, which the Greeks could not breach for 10 years. But because of the curse of Apollo, nobody believes her. The result is that the Greeks come out of the horse at night and kill all the Trojans.

Now I think that name I gave the group was very accurate. The three of us were certainly Cassandras — nobody listened to us as we pointed out the dangers of majoritarianism and of electing an unlettered and ignorant person as the PM. Now the Troy that is India is going to be saffronized, irreversibly. To me that is as good as destroying India. India without its secular fabric and scientific temper — and a religious state is the very antithesis of scientific temper — is as good as dead. A religious state, by definition, implies that there is only one version of the truth, and that everyone must conform to that version, under pain of punishment, and such dogma is antithetical to scientific thinking.

IAC as My Inspiration for Blogging and Facebook Posting

I was inspired to write by the political movement of the IAC — the India Against Corruption movement led by Anna Hazare in 2011. Until then, I was one among most Indians who was only worried about making my life more comfortable. I did read the news in the paper, but not very critically or analytically. The 2011 movement started the process in my life when I started reading the news more critically, started examining whether what politicians were saying was true or not, started delving into various domains like law, the Constitution, the history of independent India, economics, etc.

While I lost my fascination for IAC and the AAP a little later, I continued to examine issues critically. I started writing a blog, and that started right at the time of the IAC agitation, because I realized, after even participating in an IAC rally in Pune where I shouted slogans like “Ek sur, ek taal, Jan Lokpal, Jan Lokpal,” that street politics and organization were not my cup of tea. So I started thinking about how I could contribute — and I realized that maybe writing about issues was a way to contribute, since I could write. But I knew I could not sit idle — I had to do something. I was inspired by what Gandhi had said: “Be the change you wish to see.”

Although I was initially fascinated by Modi in 2013 and 2014 (I was not very familiar with what had happened in 2002, because I was away in the US then and not at all connected to Indian politics then — it was a different time, with little internet access), I gradually found my voice as a liberal. To me, it is the only position that an educated and critical thinker can have. The idea that all humans are essentially equal, no matter what their differences are, is a powerful one, and so I became opposed to majoritarianism of any kind.

Being a Liberal In The Modi Years

And so I found myself in constant opposition to the policies of this government. I found myself repeatedly horrified by the silence of Prime Minister Modi in the face of repeated public lynchings of innocent Muslim men. To me, that was and still is tacit encouragement of violence towards minorities, and no amount of whataboutery can change that. Or the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to treat Muslims as the “other” — it is hard to think of a policy that is more polarizing than that. And telling me that well, the people of India voted for Mr. Modi again, does not change that. If a principle is wrong, it is wrong, no matter how many people support it. And a liberal is all I can be, no matter how much the environment around me changes. I cannot find myself discriminating against someone else because he or she belongs to a different religion, or supporting anyone who does.

I realize the current political environment does not offer choices in terms of principled politics. Is there a single party that resonates with my liberal ideology? No. The Congress Party had adopted a line of soft Hindutva in these elections that seemed to serve it well in Kerala, but not in the rest of the nation. Clearly, pandering to soft Hindutva in the matter of Sabarimala helped them unseat the Left. Digvijay Singh publicly performed a puja to help him in his re-election with the help of “Computer baba,” but was defeated by Pragya Thakur, a terror-accused out on bail.

How about the AAP? This was the party that forced Bollywood composer Vishal Dadlani to apologize for criticizing the Jain monk Tarun Sagar giving a sermon to the Haryana legislature.

So no, there is no party in the country that actually completely subscribes to a liberal ideology. But as a practical matter, what does a liberal do when these are his choices? The only thing possible is to vote for the lesser evil. With all its flaws and hypocrisies, the Congress is still the lesser of the evils. And its manifesto for these elections was a breath of fresh air, and a clear departure from the past — exactly the things a liberal would wish for — and so I hoped the Congress would win. It was not to happen.

The Congress Party’s Shifting Ideologies

Several articles criticizing the Congress Party have appeared in the print and online media following their loss in the 2019 general elections. Many of my friends are in denial, but the points need to be seriously considered. Think, for example, about the point that the Congress does not have a consistent ideology. Isn't this true today? It used to be that the Congress was the secular alternative, and some might say with some justification that they went too far in trying to be secular.

But after seeing the BJP inflict drubbing after drubbing on them in state elections after 2014, the Congress decided to rework itself into a soft Hindutva party. Shashi Tharoor even justified it in an interview by saying we are a democratic party and so we have to cater to what our constitutents want. So essentially, when the people of India moved to the right — and I don't think any clear-headed person will dispute that — then the Congress party, in order to represent them and so win elections, decided to move to the right as well. Rahul Gandhi proclaimed that he was a “janeu-dhari” (someone wearing the Hindu sacred thread) Brahmin and a Shiva bhakt, and went on a pilgrimage of holy shrines to prove it to the public.

The problem with that is that the party is seen to have no fixed ideology.

Compare that with the BJP. They have had a consistent ideology for decades. Hindu Rashtra. Ram Temple at Ayodhya. No Muslim appeasement. End the subsidy for Muslim travelers to the Haj pilgrimage. End Reservations. etc. etc. No change in any position, just keep hammering away at it until it happens.

Even the regional parties have more consistent ideologies than the Congress. BSP stands for Dalit upliftment, DMK stands for Dravida upliftment, and the SP stands for OBC upliftment. Caste based parties have a clear ideology. They exist to uplift the condition of the people from their caste, be they Jat, Patidar, Yadav, Bodo, or whatever else.

The Changing Face of India And The Irrelevance of Secularism Today

Why did the Congress abandon its long-standing philosophy of secularism? Because they were losing.

And there is the rub. India is changing. While there is still some room for caste-based politics (Hindutva does not mean the end of selfishness), there clearly is no room for a secular philosophy, a liberal philosophy, in India today. To be clear, the people of India at large are not interested in oppressing or killing Muslims. They just want a better life. But if oppression or killing does happen, they don't care any longer. Who is responsible for this? The blame should fall on the shoulders of the people of India for the unsympathetic attitude they have taken. But this does not mean that politicians are not responsible. The RSS has been propagating the poison of intolerance ever since Independence, but this was taken to new heights by Advani and Vajpayee during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the late 80s and early 90s. While people still bear the responsibility for their actions, the hate speeches of the BJP leaders during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, culminating in the destruction of the Babri masjid, definitely poisoned the minds of countless Indians. When you constantly hear about how someone like Aurangzeb oppressed our Hindu ancestors, and when you hear a big leader like Advani equate the Mughals with the ordinary Muslims of today, not everyone possesses the discrimination needed to understand that a leap of logic has suddenly been made. The hardline intolerance of most Indians today definitely owes a lot to the speeches of Mr. Advani and his companions, such as Uma Bharti.

The BJP tradition of stoking the anger of the Hindus at wrongs committed centuries ago and blaming the Muslims of today continued over the years and found a new messiah in Narendra Modi after the 2002 riots. Modi is infamous for having given a sspeech in Ahmedabad mocking the Muslim community for its birth rate with his infamous “Hum paanch, hamare pacchees” (“We are five, our family is 25”) speech. More relevant is his speech during the 2014 election campaign, where he said in a speech: “We have heard of the green revolution, we have heard of the white revolution. But under the rule of the Congress party, they have created the pink revolution” referring to the slaughter of cows for beef and the implied suggestion that Muslims are responsible for this. When the atmosphere is constantly vitiated by hate speech such as this, is there any surprise that cow vigilantism has been a major issue during Modi's first term? Supporters of Modi ask me how Modi can be held responsible when someone decides to lynch a Muslim - can he be monitoring every citizen? No, but all this violence is a consequence of the hate he spewed against Muslims in his speeches. People don't forget.

And so, while it is the people who are responsible for their choices, politicians do make things considerably worse. Since winning the elections on the 23rd of May, Modi has made fairly inclusive speeches. And I am inclined to believe he is sincere now about not wanting to target minorities. As a Prime Minister, widespread violence in the country does him no good. But the problem is the Jekyll-Hyde character of Mr. Modi. Modi the campaigner is a different animal from Modi the Prime Minister. PM Modi would like Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty and not each other. Campaigner Modi would like to further cleave apart faultlines between Hindus and Muslims because it helps unite the Hindus to vote for him. Unfortunately, the two cannot coexist. What has happened is that the continuous infusion of hate for the last 30 years from the BJP has fundamentally altered the character of the Indian people. I have actually criticized Modi for his silence when an Akhlaque or a Pehlu Khan or an Afrazul was killed and people of his party support the killings or garland the murderers. But Modi is silent for a reason — and it is not that he wants these people killed.

Modi is silent because if he criticizes those who commit these atrocities, he risks losing his support. After having been egged on to think of Muslims as the enemy for decades, if his followers now commit acts of violence against the Muslims and if he criticizes them, he will be seen by them as a turncoat. Modi is a keen student of history. He has seen how his mentor, LK Advani, fell from grace not too long ago. Advani was the darling of the right wing, and it was a given that if and when the BJP came to power again, he would be the PM since Vajpayee would retire soon. But he ruined his chances in one moment of weakness — in a visit to Pakistan in 2005, he visited Jinnah's tomb and publicly praised him as a secular person and as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. That moment of weakness cost Advani the Prime Ministership and future leadership of the BJP. It was a key factor in the BJP cadre deciding to support Modi over Advani in 2013. Modi was seen to not be weak like Advani. And so, if, in the interest of a stable country, Modi actually chides his followers for committing acts of violence against Muslims, the backlash against him will be severe. Already the right wing of the BJP is upset that so many promises are pending, such as the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. That's why he will make token noises about “never forgiving Pragya Thakur for her comments against Gandhi,” but he will never take concrete action.

In fact, as I have stated many times on social media, the big mistake the liberals in India have made is to imagine Modi as this villain who is solely responsible for all the ills happening in India. Modi is simply an agent. Even though liberals do not like to acknowledge it, democracy is alive and thriving in India, even under Modi. Elections in India are never perfect, but I do believe that Modi being elected is the full expression of a democratic country. I am not a believer in EVM conspiracy theories, and I do not believe that 2019 was a stolen election. And that is, to me, the scary part. Modi said in his victory speech that the 2019 victory was a positive mandate for the good things he did. I am not arguing with the idea that many people voted for him because they thought he was the Messiah who would make India a great country. My only point is that none of the people who voted for him was the slightest perturbed about the persecution of minorities and the total silence from the ruling government on the atrocities. Nobody was bothered in the least as a Union minister garlanded murder convicts who were released on bail, or when another minister draped the body of a man who was part of a lynch mob that murdered a Muslim (for allegedly eating beef) in the national flag and paid homage to him on his death. To me, these things represent the death of secularism in India.

Some of my friends might disagree with my analysis because the Congress’ vote share has actually gone up by around 2.5% in this election compared to the 2014 election. Isn’t that a vindication of secularism, one might ask. But then you would forget the fact that in this election, the Congress abandoned secularism as their platform. I would argue that the Congress did so well only because it abandoned secularism — that if it had continued to talk about secularism and the protection of minorities, it would have done worse than it actually did.

Media has played a major role in this election — and in fact, for the past 5 years. And this is not just because of the large sums of money that Mr. Amit Shah has given them. Most of media is owned by upper caste Hindus, and most of them are sympathetic to the Hindutva cause. Just one look at the coverage of the election campaign by the various TV channels would have made that abundantly clear. Media anchors were behaving like cheerleaders for Modi. This is why a major scam like Vyapam, in which 40 people died (tell me how many people died in 2G?) was quietly swept under the rug. Just imagine — a scam is so big that 40 people are killed to prevent them from speaking up — and yet the media hardly spoke about it. Would this have happened if the Congress Party was ruling the country?

Or think about demonetization. What a massive scam that was! The bank in which Amit Shah was a director made a killing. Dozens of BJP functionaries were found with hundreds or thousands of crores of freshly minted 2000 rupee notes in their possession. Yet, was there a national outcry about corruption due to demonetization? No.

But is it only the media? How many of you have the guts to go to your offices and criticize Modi and the BJP when you go for a tea break? Just try it, and 20 people will descend on you like hawks on a mouse. Some of them will gently tell you you are deluded and falling for “sickular” propaganda, others will denounce you outright as an “anti-national.” What does that tell you? Forget whether you are right or wrong. It tells me that Modi has wide public support.

Or go to the villages. I have seen interviews in which villagers would rationalize on Modi's failures. Such as saying, “Yes, the stray cows ate my entire crop, and caused me huge financial loss, but I will still vote for Modi. I think he will fix all this.” There were others who blamed the state leadership even though demonetization was a central measure.

As some in the media have commented, some of Modi’s development initiatives may have had an effect. But that is not my focus here. I am not going to argue here on whether there has been enough progress in the country or not, or enough rural development. I have done enough of that, in excruciating detail, elsewhere.

My key point, as a liberal, is that secularism is no longer an issue in India. And that was obvious even before the election. That we could see a Shambhulal Regar could torture and kill Afrazul in front of a camera, and then see people protest his arrest in Rajasthan, spoke volumes of the change in values of this country. Similarly, that a Pehlu Khan, clearly an innocent, was publicly slaughtered in Alwar by cow vigilantes, with someone filming the killing, and the police letting the killers off, citing lack of evidence, tells you how deep the rot in values is.

There are many more instances, and the point here is not to discuss who was responsible for the killings or for the inaction in prosecution. More importantly, it is to highlight the complete indifference of the public to these public murders. The nation as a whole was not shocked or stunned. No candlelight vigils. No protests on the street demanding that the government of the day should do more in protecting its minority citizens. Nothing. About all that happened was that a bunch of liberal commentators wrote articles about it in the media and hyperventilated in debates on TV. Nobody cares in India about murdered Muslims any longer. Once they had a national party called the Congress that cared. Now the only party that cares is Asaduddin Owaisi’s MIM.

And there is a cautionary tale in that observation. If Muslims feel that there is no moderate party like the Congress that will stand up for their rights, and if the Congress has vacated its role as a guardian of secular values, then some other party will step into that vacuum — and the new entrant may not be moderate at all (I am not referring specifically to the AIMIM). This bodes ill for religious harmony in India in the coming years. Mr. Modi might find the lack of the use of the secularism slogan in this election something to gloat about, as he did in his speech on the evening of the 23rd, but this very thing can come back to bite his government in the times to come.

The Existential Crisis of the Congress Party

Many have analyzed this election as a failure in leadership of the Congress Party, and have put the blame on Rahul Gandhi. But is this the right diagnosis? The big news today was that Rahul Gandhi had given the Congress Working Committee his resignation and they had rejected it, but that he was firm on resigning anyway.

One of the things blamed on Rahul Gandhi is his failure to stitch together an alliance with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, along with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, in Uttar Pradesh. But look at the vote shares of all the parties. The BJP got nearly 50% of the vote share in UP. The BSP got 19%, the SP got 18%, the RLD got less than 2%, and the Congress got around 6%. Add them all up, and you still have only 45%. They could still not have beaten the BJP. So the Mahagatbandhan could not have won UP even if the Congress had joined them.

Or take Delhi. Again, Rahul was blamed for not being able to reach an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for the elections. But look at the vote shares: the AAP got 18% of the vote, and the Congress got 22% of the vote. In comparison, the BJP got nearly 57% of the vote!!

In Karnataka, by mighty striving, with phone calls almost daily, Rahul managed to save the alliance with the JD(S). What happened? The BJP got 51% of the vote. The Congress managed only 32%, and the JD(S) 10%. Even with the alliance, they could not beat the BJP. Or take Haryana, where the BJP itself polled 58% of the vote. Even if all the other parties had united in an alliance, they could not have beaten the BJP.

No. There are larger forces at work here — and it is beyond your and my poor power to add to or to detract from the damage these forces can cause and are causing.

The larger problem the Congress faces is not one of leadership, but of philosophy. They can replace Rahul with, say, Shashi Tharoor — but will that solve their problems? I don’t think so.

Why? Because the foundational philosophy on which it rested for 70 years since Independence — secularism and inclusiveness — has become irrelevant in today’s India. There was a reason why India became a secular country whereas Pakistan became a Muslim country. It was Jinnah's contention that Hindus and Muslims could never live together, and that was the basis of his demand for Pakistan. This is popularly known as the “two-nation theory” — one nation for Muslims alone and another for Hindus alone. The founding fathers of India, in contrast — Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad — all felt this was a wrong prescription, that India could be a successful secular state that accommodated all religions, and argued that this is why partition was a bad idea. This prescription worked well for 70 years. But now Indians, by and large, have rejected secularism – a point not lost on PM Modi who, in his victory speech on the 23rd, proudly said that in this entire election campaign, not one person had the guts to say the word “secularism.”

Mr. Modi is a very smart man politically. He knows what is at stake here, and what the BJP is fighting for. And he knows they have achieved their objective.

The Congress understood this shift in the Indian polity, but its response — an attempt to reinvent itself as a soft Hindutva party — was destined to fail. In Tamil, there is a saying that translates to “selling halwa to Tirunelveli.” Tirunelveli is a town in Tamil Nadu that is very famous for its halwa (a sweet). So selling halwa to a person from Tirunelveli is a metaphor used when you are trying to compete with an expert in the topic he is already an expert in. There is no way on earth the Congress could have competed with the BJP on Hindutva and won — the BJP practically invented the term.

Some may say the Congress won in Kerala using soft Hindutva, especially in its position on Sabarimala. But Kerala is a very different state from the rest of India. Hindus, Muslims, and Christians have been living in harmony in Kerala from the time of the Arab seafarers and Vasco da Gama. It has never been invaded by Muslim invaders. So what works in Kerala will not work in the rest of India. Sabarimala was more of an issue of Kerala culture than of gender equality under the law. The fact is that although the SC verdict was legally correct, the people of Kerala really did not care about it. The ban on menstruating women was a tradition that had to be respected in Keralite society. And the Congress understood this.

Concluding Thoughts

So where does all this leave the Congress – and India? The Congress Party has clearly no future in present-day India. It is not about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Many other parties have a clear ethnic basis for their existence. But not the Congress and its offshoots, such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar, which also lost heavily in this election. The writing is on the wall for another Congress Party offshoot, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, where the BJP made astounding inroads this election. And why is this? Because all of these parties are secular. And secularism has become a dirty word in India today. The BJP even made inroads in Telangana, which has a Chief Minister, K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR), who is always traveling on pilgrimages, spends public money on renovating private temples, and spends public money on conducting “yagnas” for the long life of his government. That's because there is a difference between Hinduism and Hindutva. KCR is a devout Hindu. But it is not enough to show that you are deeply religious in today's India. You have to be seen as capable of putting the fear of God in the Muslims. That is Hindutva - Hindu majoritarianism. And KCR cannot afford to do that (or thinks he cannot afford to do that) because Telangana has a large Muslim minority whose support he believes he needs to win elections. The BJP, in contrast, believes it does not need a single Muslim vote to win an election — because 80% always trumps 14%.

Secularism has been comprehensively rejected by the people of India in the last five years. And the result is that the Congress Party has lost its moorings. It cannot try to ape the BJP and become a Hindu party, no matter how many pilgrimages Rahul or Tharoor do. Because, as I said above, it is not enough to show that you are a devout Hindu. You must also show that you are capable of frightening the Muslims so that they can be “put in their place.” It requires an ability to be silent when people lynch Muslims in broad daylight, with full video recording of the act, and pretend that the murder never occurred. And since the Congress cannot bring itself to do this, it will die, because it is this kind of “toughness” that the people of India want — a hard, ruthless, unbending attitude towards Muslims. Narendra Modi’s dream of a “Congress-mukt Bharat” (A Congress-free India) will become a reality very soon. But Modi has succeeded not just in killing the Congress party; he has succeeded in destroying the very foundations of the nation that Gandhi and Nehru built. If Gandhi or Nehru had been alive today, they would have been denounced as anti-nationals. And there is no point in blaming Modi or the BJP for this degeneration of values. They are only doing what the people of India want. They have learned, sooner and better than others, that a tough and ruthless attitude towards minorities is necessary if one is to win elections in India comprehensively. Just look at the high-profile lynchings of Muslims that have happened in the past five years — Mohammad Akhlaque, Pehlu Khan, Afrazul, Junaid Khan — think of how many BJP leaders publicly supported these killings; and then think of the fact that the overall vote share of the BJP has jumped from 31% in 2014 to 37.4% in 2019. If the people of India were repelled by these murders, they certainly did not show their disgust at the ballot box.

India appears all set to become a Hindu nation. The wish to transform India from a secular to a Hindu nation has been clearly articulated by several BJP leaders in the last five years, and no one should be in doubt. Most of today's BJP leaders have been raised in the RSS, which considers the secular Constitution of India an insult to Hinduism and to Hindus. They have said so publicly too many times to recount. Several BJP MPs, such as Anant Kumar Hegde, have publicly said that the Constitution should be changed. Modi himself has been a lifelong pracharak of the RSS, and there is no reason to think that he differs with his colleagues on this matter.

All that stands between them and their dream is numbers. To change the Constitution to make India a Hindu-majority state, you need a 2/3rds majority in the Lok Sabha, a 2/3rds majority in the Rajya Sabha, and the approval of 50% of the states. With 350 seats in the NDA, the coalition is only marginally short of a 2/3rds majority of the total strength of the house (543), which is 358. After this resounding victory, more allies will join the NDA, and the BJP will have the requisite 2/3rds majority in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha will be reconstituted in 2020 and 2022, since 1/3rd of its members are replaced every 2 years. Given that the BJP controls most of the state legislatures, a 2/3rds majority in the Rajya Sabha will also be achieved by 2022 at the latest. The BJP already has governments in most of the states, so getting 50% of the states to approve the amendment is easy.

Some will point out that there is something known as a “basic structure doctrine” of the Constitution that will prevent this. But I will simply remind them that the Judiciary, too, come from the same mass of Indians, and they, too, have been infected with the same Hindutva virus. If you have doubts about this, think of this election. The role of the Election Commission is to ensure a free and fair election. And yet, this was the most biased Election Commission in history. Every complaint against Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah was summarily dismissed, and opposition leaders were being pulled up for minor offenses. So if the Election Commission, which is supposed to keep elections free and fair, will not properly discharge its duties, why do you feel that the Supreme Court, which should protect the Constitution from being tampered with, will do the right thing as we see it? Remember that these are all judgment calls: what constitutes an element of the basic structure is a matter of interpretation. If the government proposes a bill to amend the Constitution, somebody will definitely challenge it. Then it is up to the SC to decide if the amendment is violative of the basic structure doctrine. If the SC then decides it is not, then there can be no further challenge. If a hate speech that is clearly violative of the Model Code of Conduct can be given a clean chit, then so can a Constitutional Amendment that is violative of the basic structure doctrine. People should at least now give up their naivete.

And so India, by 2022, will become a Hindu rashtra. There will not be much outcry about this, because a majority of Indians have voted for this. They will say that they did not vote for a Hindu rashtra, but for Swacch Bharat or Ujwala or whatever. But they were under no illusions that this was the intent of the BJP - several MPs and MLAs have made it very obvious that if they returned to power, they would make India a Hindu rashtra. So you may have voted for Modi because you think he will make India a “vishwa guru,” but you also ignored the clear signal that the BJP intends to make India a Hindu rashtra — it was not important enough for you. Some liberals will shout until they are hoarse when this happens, but it will matter little. I have already written about what this entails for India. And anyone who reads that will realize that even many of those who are celebrating today will mourn in a few years. But they will only learn through bitter experience.

And, as for me, I now know that there is no space for a liberal commentator in India. The problem with Cassandra was that she kept advising the Trojans, even though nobody was listening to her. That only causes pain. Five years of writing about this has not yielded much result for me. I have only managed to convert one person in five years to my point of view – and that is one more than most liberal commentators can boast of doing. I spent so much energy on my blog and on social media because I hoped to help avoid the eventual transformation of India into a Hindu state. But now I see that it is inevitable, and am giving up my struggle. It will not change who I am as a person, but clearly speaking about this has not helped in changing minds. Will I stop posting on social media? I don’t know, I still might through force of habit, but eventually you can only bang your head on a concrete wall until it starts hurting. But the fight has gone out of me, because I realize that what is coming in a few years is inevitable. Our last chance was the 2019 election, and now it is over.

One thing I must mention is that in many ways, India’s rightward tilt was inevitable — after all, this is a global phenomenon. From Erdogan to Trump to Brexit to the AdF in Germany to the neo-Nazis in Austria, the right has been gaining ascendancy everywhere. And there is a reason for that.

Right-wingers unite very easily, and they operate very cohesively. It is very easy to get 10 million people to like a toxic and hateful post that targets minorities on the basis of outright lies. The post may be badly written and badly composed — this is often seen in India where English is not the first language of many of the people who post this. But nobody cares. Every right-winger cooperates in spreading the message. Right-wingers in any country do not worry about differences of opinion. If I hate someone, and you hate someone else, it doesn’t matter. We’ll add him or her to our list, too.

But trying to get liberals to share a post is asking for the moon. I know a friend who will not share a post if there is a single typo or grammatical mistake in it. Every liberal has his own fetish. If two liberals agree on 99% of all issues — the economy, environment, trade, helping the homeless, universal health care, acceptance of minorities — you name it, but have a difference of opinion on one issue, say, abortion, one of them might block the other for it. Liberals can be incredibly petty about small differences of opinion. Most of them are highly educated, and fight on largely irrelevant and minor points of difference. And so liberals are never united in their causes, and make easy targets for conservatives, who gloss over such fine details. That is what has happened in India as well.

India is sinking into a deep abyss. Only the people of India, if they can one day get out of this madness in their majoritarian thinking, can change things. That might take a very long time — perhaps decades — Iran is still unable to get out of the control of the mullahs, 40 years after their Islamic revolution. I fervently hope that day will come before I die — if not for me, at least for the next generation.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.