A fervent appeal to Indians to reclaim the republic through an unabashed narrative that comes with rare insights into political history of modern India
By Amitabh Ranjan
Demonetisation was the ne plus ultra of failures… The last time a monetary decision produced so much tumult was when Mohammad bin Tughlaq suddenly replaced gold dinars with copper and brass coins… Tughlaq’s name has since become synonymous with stupidity; placed next to (Narendra) Modi, he appears Solomonic.” On quite a few occasions, verbiage and hyperbole characterise the diction of KS Komireddi’s. His anger, however, at everything that has gone awry for the Indian republic sounds genuine throughout.
The author’s first book is a critique of political developments in post-independence India, leading to the negation of all that the founding fathers of the constitution stood for. With a lethal combo of logic and vitriol, sprinkled in good measure across the political spectrum, he puts into the dock everyone who has been responsible for turning a benevolent republic called India into a malevolent one. If he points to the “vandalism of key democratic organs by Modi and his accomplices”, he also takes to task in no uncertain terms the Congress, our very own Grand Old Party, for battering them through the decades.
For Komireddi, reminiscences of his childhood, early days in Hyderabad with his friend Murad, getting his primer in Indian pluralism at a madarsa, the city’s post-colonial history, its rise as Cyberabad in the 1990s, Babri Masjid demolition, post-Godhra riots, Mecca Masjid blasts, the police crackdown on Muslim youths, his childhood friend meeting him after a quarter of a century just to say goodbye — together work as a microcosm for the rise and depletion of India’s secular values. Substantially, the book dwells on the deepening of the saffron hue in the Indian polity and society and, of course, their repercussions for the economy. But not before the spotlight is put on the Congress and its dramatis personae during the major part of the country’s post-independence journey so far.
The concept of dynastic succession first choreographed by Motilal Nehru and then perpetuated by the Congress leadership, with the exception of a brief interregnum of Lal Bahadur Shastri and then the PV Narasimha Rao phenomenon, meant that “the country belonged to the Congress and by extension to the Nehrus”. The intervention of Sanjay Gandhi in governance and Indira Gandhi’s hunger for power threw out of the window any semblance of a democratic government. Emergency was its most conspicuous and abhorrent example.
Rajiv Gandhi and his friends struggled with India they could hardly comprehend. “They thought of themselves as modern democrats, but oligarchy was the condition of their supremacy.” He enjoyed a bigger parliamentary majority than any prime minister before him but was crippled by a peculiar sense of insecurity. At the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century, India was on the verge of an economic collapse. What brought India back from that precipice and made it by the turn of the 21st century wealthier and more powerful than any point in its history was the prescription of its finance minister Manmohan Singh and the political will and courage of Rao to put it into action. While liberalisation was the feather in Rao’s cap, Babri demolition also happened under his watch. This was the greatest affront to India’s core since the foundation of the republic.
The India of Manmohan Singh’s two terms as prime minister is best described by Princeton economist Atul Kohli, who called it “a two-track democracy where common people are only needed at the time of elections, and then it is best that they go home, forget politics, and let the ‘rational’ elite quietly run a pro-business show.” So, when Modi came to power in 2014, there was hardly any resistance. After six decades of faltering secularism, India yielded to the Hindu nationalist insurgency. On his campaign trail, he fed the masses all that they were denied till then — a picture of corruption-free and Congress-free India, for corruption and Congress had become synonymous; 20 million jobs every year; repatriation of trillions of rupees stashed illegally in Swiss banks to be distributed equally among Indians; a sparkling clean Ganga; a muscular foreign policy, among others.
Modi looked invincible even before he entered office, the most powerful politician since Indira Gandhi. Today, in its subservience to a single man, the BJP has become Congress-like. It has taken Modi only a few years to accomplish what took Indira nearly a decade to achieve.
India’s tragedy is that just when it is faced with an existential crisis, there exists no pan-Indian alternative to the BJP. What remains of the opposition is bleached of conviction. The values of Hindu nationalism have become the default setting of Indian politics. But the good thing about bad times is that they are great clarifiers. BJP’s rule in the past over five years has belatedly awakened us to what we may be poised to lose forever. It has revealed to us that the republic that we inherited from its founders was an idea worth fighting for and standing by. Rising phoenix-like from the inferno of Partition, it was a rejection of the baleful idea that national unity could not be forged in the crucible of human multiplicity, that a permanent political division was the only resolution to the predicament of religious variety. The book is a fervent appeal to Indians to reclaim that republic. It is recommended not only for its unabashed narrative but also for offering rare insights into some of the key events and personalities in the political history of modern Indian. And, if you are the type who will not move onto the next sentence until you have understood the previous one, keep a good dictionary handy.
(A former journalist, Amitabh Ranjan teaches at Patna Women’s College)