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Mathew John Mathew John
22 Apr 2024

This election is the moment of final reckoning for our democracy! The choice is stark – between freedom and tyranny! Our situation couldn't be more desperate, what with religious bigots, extortionists, commission agents, protection racketeers and vectors of hate ruling the roost, shored up by lawless enforcement agencies and complicit institutions of governance. Their rallying cry, "Iss baar 400 paar", is the Damocles sword hanging over our benighted land.

Is PM Modi's confidence in winning 400 plus Lok Sabha seats for the NDA combine plain braggadocio? Or is it an assertion of his regime's brute power and dominance of the polity? The editor of a leading daily has ominously warned that the out-and-out victory slogan of 400 plus seats has "the ring of abiding conquest and a permanent majority" and an "opposition-mukt Bharat" that threatens the very idea of India as our founding fathers conceived it. Stated blandly, their endgame is to upend the Constitution and install a Hindu Rashtra of Veer Savarkar's making.

Cunning subliminal games also operate behind this 400-paar jingle, which can best be explained through a cricketing analogy. The most successful Test captain of all time with a win/loss record of 4.55 - Steve Waugh, not the most excellent man to know, adopted what became known as the "mental disintegration strategy" against his opponents, playing on their psyche to intimidate, taunt and rattle them into loss of belief and ultimate submission. In like vein, Modi's "400 paar" brag and much-publicised advice to his cabinet colleagues, to the ministries and to the RBI to be ready with plans for the first 100 days of his new regime are intended to demoralise and break the spirit of his opponents even before they enter the electoral battlefield. Even more dangerous is the message to government officials across the board that they should, for their own good, toe the line or else….

How has the Opposition responded to the life-threatening peril that a third Modi term spells for the nation? I remember Arun Shourie's warning ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election that the only way to stop the BJP juggernaut was for the Opposition to ensure one-on-one contests in every constituency. The sheer small-mindedness and misplaced confidence of the Congress resulted in a splintered Opposition handing a cakewalk to the BJP.

This time around, when the survival of our democracy is on the line, these lilliputians with giant egos are unwilling to make the mutual concessions vital for bringing the disparate parties together to fight this evil power. The Opposition is splintered in West Bengal, Punjab and the Kashmir valley, the three States outside the south where a united front could win every one of the 50-odd seats on offer, but now the triangular and four-cornered contests give BJP more than a fighting chance to get a bagful of seats. As a matter of fact, the well-known political strategist Prashant Kishore believes that the BJP will be the foremost winner in West Bengal. In Maharashtra, the Prakash Ambedkar-led VBA, pivotal in a handful of seats, has not joined the Maha Vikas Aghadi – a shot in the arm for the "400 paar" gang.

Evidently, the frayed INDI Alliance is an association shot through with resentment and ill-will that has ensured against gestures of large-hearted accommodation among the constituents. For instance, shouldn't the Left have avoided fielding candidates in Thiruvananthapuram and Wayanad in lieu of matching adjustments elsewhere, if only to convey to the rank-and-file and the wider world who the real enemy is in this life-and-death war for the idea of India? These self-serving midgets who are incapable of rising above narrow, immediate interests should be reminded that if Modi wins a third term, he will hound and crush them first, and no tears will be shed.

Let's face it; the chances of Modi winning a third term are better than ever, and that portends a fraught future for the country. We have already seen how, in the last few years, the institutions designed to protect our freedoms have rolled over without a fight before the brute power of the authoritarian. It is plain as daylight that in the event of teesri baar Modi sarkar, the servility and dishonourable collaboration will only intensify as every institution turns deep saffron. What then?

There was a time when social scientists believed that of the four Estates – the legislature, the political executive, the judiciary and a fourth group of forces outside the established power structure - it was the Fourth Estate or the common citizenry that had the power to bring about transformative change in society. The great humanist and thinker Howard Zinn described ordinary citizens as the "ultimate power" and "the locomotive that drives the train of government in the direction of equality and justice." He passionately believed they could bring down unjust institutions and discriminatory policies through direct non-violent action.

Zinn had in mind our Independence movement, Martin Luther King's civil rights crusade and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, but there's more! I am ancient enough to remember with pride another momentous occasion when the people of India booted out the first dictator in Independent India in 1977. But that was straightforward lumpen fascism or gunda raj that deployed the surgeon's knife, the stick and intimidation to instil fear and disarm opponents with hardly any method or subtlety to the madness. The Emergency, presided over by Sanjay Gandhi and his thugs, was oppressive in every way, the only saving grace (if you can call it that) being that their victims were not identified based on caste or creed but on their political affiliations.

A lot has changed since then. The power elite who occupy the strategic command posts of the social and economic structure have learnt their lesson and put up effective roadblocks to protect the interests of the powerful and the privileged against those protesting growing social and economic inequalities. As a result, the Fourth Estate's fight for justice has been registering many more misses than hits in recent years.

The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2008, which was a full-throated protest against corporate abuse and greed, sent seismic ripples across the world and yet neither transformed society nor impacted growing economic and social inequalities, thereby underlining the brute power and resilience of the reigning oligarchies. At home, the passionate anti-CAA protests spearheaded by women in 2020 were ultimately routed by the brute power of a majoritarian State, its foot soldiers and a pre-planned riot.

People's movements can only succeed when there is unity of purpose and collaboration among the various sections that make up civil society. Ominously, in the last decade, the politico-religious party that has taken the country by the scruff has consciously encouraged and fostered schisms within society by playing on the fears and insecurities of ordinary citizens. The methodical undermining of social solidarity has ensured against the kind of mass mobilisation against the government that we saw during the India Against Corruption movement in 2011-12.

Of course, there is one group that is totally disconnected from popular struggles that defend people's rights and promote their welfare – my ilk, the middle class. They constitute that despicable section of civil society who are either active collaborators or unconcerned spectators of the horrors happening around us.

But the most reprehensible of the lot are the cowards who swear by liberal values and think that their muted disapproval of this evil regime sets them apart from the active collaborators. These are the guys constantly looking over the shoulder, afraid to express their views even in informal gatherings lest it become known that they look askance of this regime. Is it asking too much to expect them to express their disapproval, at least in informal forums, because every voice for justice, however faint, matters? Such craven expedient silence has encouraged the impunity of the tyrant and his minions, who know that these fence-sitters are their great allies by default. Some of these uncommitted guys try to justify their ostensibly grudging support of Modi by asking the rhetorical question, "Who is the alternative to Modi?" My angry response is: "Is there a hotter place than the hell that the country has become under Modi?"

Our PM is one of the few leaders in the world who has wilfully divided his own people to stay in power. What's frightening is that a chief reason for his god-like status among a section of our people is their belief that their superman knows how to deal with Muslims. That's his USP, and he goes full tilt on this divisive strategy at election time as he now has with his mendacious linking of the Congress manifesto with the Muslim League.

But hold on! Modi's third term, though still the preponderant prospect, has not happened. We don't need a revolutionary people's movement yet to get back the Bharat conceived by our founding fathers. This election provides the country with a god-sent opportunity (many think the last through the electoral route) to rid the country of an authoritarian who is corrupt to the core and has ruled by dividing us.

This election is nothing less than a fight to win back the nation's soul. It is a moral obligation for all who care for the country and its values of tolerance, equality, and justice to rise above self-interest and petty differences and bring democracy and decency back to our polity. Let me remind you, and particularly my Gujarati brothers, that Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel – the quintessential Gujaratis - represent who we are as a people and not the two charlatans who have brought us to the brink of hell.


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