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Why Modi appeals to both techies and the 131 CAs who took on 108 economists

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 24, 2019
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/right-and-wrong/why-modi-appeals-to-both-techies-and-the-131-cas-who-took-on-108-economists/

Every general election in India experiences an explosion of passions. This summer’s festival of democracy is likely to be no different. Yet, since popular memory tends to be remarkably short and because the shrill electronic media is inclined to amplify differences and transform political competition into a gladiatorial encounter, there is an impression that India is polarised as never before and that, far from resolving legitimate differences, the election will create new wounds that will linger.

Superficially at least, contemporary India seems replete with echo chambers that are watertight and self-contained. Among the so-called liberals — where lifestyles tend to be more cosmopolitan — there is virtual unanimity that India must vote resoundingly to defeat Narendra Modi. Although this enthusiasm to end Modi rule isn’t always matched by a corresponding enthusiasm for any ramshackle alternative that could come in its place, the feeling in these echo chambers is that even a bout of instability isn’t too high a price to pay for ridding India of this monster. What is at stake is their ‘idea of India’ which conflicts sharply with the other ‘Hindu idea of India.’ The so-called defence of the Constitution and the preservation of institutions are just different ways of saying that the liberals feel that the differences are irreconcilable and that it must be a fight to the finish.

On the other side is the chowkidar army and fraternity of bhakts that genuinely believes that India under Modi is on the cusp of achieving greatness and if the project that began in 2014 is somehow stalled, India will regress, and the purposefulness and energy of the past five years will disappear. For them, the re-election of Modi is a nationalist project and the fulfilment of India’s manifest destiny. A more sweeping version of this narrative suggests that India has finally come into its own after more than a thousand years of servitude and that this sense of fulfilment must be fiercely defended and nurtured.

There is a class and cultural dimension as well. In an essay written in 1967, Nirad Chaudhuri had observed the dominance of a ‘new intelligentsia’ over the ‘traditional Hindu middle class’: “The new middle class knows very little about the old, and when reminded about its existence feels inclined to scoff at it. Perhaps … the new intelligentsia could, by dint of trying, arrive at an external understanding of the traditional middle class, such as a European or American living in India might, but the new intelligentsia and its ideas were bound to remain unintelligible to the traditionalists. They can regard the Westernised type of Indian only as a renegade or usurper.”

Nirad babu’s observations are worth assessing. First, contrary to facile observations of Modi being an instrument of extreme polarisation, the cultural schism has been in existence for more than 50 years. What has changed with Modi is that the ‘new intelligentsia’ — it is more accurate to call it ‘old establishment’ — now sees itself as beleaguered. Unlike the past where it combined political power with cultural disdain of the dhoti-wallas, it is anxious to convey an impression of rootedness. This explains the desperation of the brother-sister duo to be seen to reach out to Hindus in temples.

Secondly, with rapid economic growth and prosperity — a process that began in 1991 — the world of Hindu traditionalism has experienced a dramatic change. The most important of these has been the expansion of the middle classes resulting from increased opportunities. A neo-Hindu middle class that combines livelihood in the ‘modern’ professions and a commitment to technology with an adherence to traditional values and robust nationalism, has emerged and grown in self-confidence. Modi is an expression of this phenomenon and appeals to both the aspirational techies of Bengaluru and the 131 chartered accountants who decried 108 economists for their “politically motivated attempts to discredit India and dent its credibility.”

Finally, in his essay, Chaudhuri anticipated that the resolution of the conflict involving the westernised intelligentsia and the traditional middle classes “could be brought about only by the complete subordination of the one to the other.” After the 1967 general election he noted that “the traditionalists are becoming more and more powerful, and it is quite possible that they will become dominant in the life of the Indian people in the very near future.”

A mere general election will not settle a war that has been waging since 1947. However, a second term for Modi may ensure that the intellectual discourse will not be as one-sided as the past five years.
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