The Bold Voice of J&K

Time to reconcile to new dispensation

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Swapan Dasgupta

In a lecture last month, historian Romila Thapar, in a direct reference to the India under Narendra Modi, regretted “the narrowing of the liberal space”. Whether she was observant or needlessly paranoid is dependant on how the term “liberal” is interpreted. Viewed in its classical sense, as the shorthand for economic and political freedom, it can well be argued that the past six months has witnessed greater economic freedom and no discernible truncation of personal liberties. However, if the term liberal is associated with support for political organisations that feign opposition to the so-called Right wing, greater state involvement in the economy and the deification of a lop-sided secularism, India has certainly changed – I believe for the better and Thapar feels for the worse.
Of course if you are the type who attends literary festivals or umpteen book releases in the Capital organised by the handful of big publishers, you would get a completely different picture. Without any disrespect to the author, I would hazard the guess that a survey of the audience at TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai’s book on the 2014 election would have indicated a definite anti-Modi bias. The PLUs are no doubt split but it is my impression that the intelligentsia and the media haven’t reconciled to the new dispensation with good grace. Indeed, when the publishing head of Penguin (India) introduced P Chidambaram to the gathering as the “Honourable Finance Minister” it was a Freudian slip.
Each section of these self-professed guardians of the proverbial “liberal space” has their specific gripes. The “eminent historians” – Arun Shourie’s evocative description of those who feel that the past can only be viewed through pink-tinted glasses – are understandably outraged that they have been cut out of committees and Government-sponsored institutions. The literary types like my friend William Dalrymple have aesthetic problems with those who don’t see the India between the 11th and 18th centuries as India’s real golden age; others are so agitated with the rough edges of aspirational Indians’ behaviour on international flights that they wish for a time overseas travel was for the crème de la crème; and the bleeding hearts in NGOs believe they are threatened with redundancy and loss of income if non-productive welfare outlays are stopped and the consultancies distributed by the Rural Development Ministry during the UPA dispensation are guillotined.
Opposition is only nominally born of ideas. Political attitudes are also determined by tastes, access and, finally, patronage.
If Modi had been a Tony Blair who accumulated the ‘luvvies’ – that trendy breed of communications professionals, we-don’t-wear-ties techies and sociology lecturers – into his charmed circle, the foreign press would have been singing his praises. Unfortunately the tea seller from Gujarat is a workaholic who hates the very idea of purposeless chatter and is most at home with bullet point presentations and flow charts. He is in every sense an outlander who is inspired by the non-sanitised version of Swami Vivekananda.
The media has its own complaints: this Government has fixed its internal plumbing as a priority and leaks very little. This means that an entire body of media-people that existed to ferret out advance information – if only to stymie decision-making and set the cat among the pigeons – find themselves quite redundant. Indeed, some have become so underworked that they have created umpteen twitter handles to let off a volley of poison pen missives aimed at creating discord. Inspired by lesser Congress functionaries, pink paper employees and (allegedly) some orphans of the old durbar, their latest aim is to pit various BJP functionaries against each other. A vicious campaign of calumny has been launched against two women ministers and there is a bid to create conflict between Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi.

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