As India goes to the polls and awaits the unpredictable results that will begin to emerge on May 16, the living rooms of New Delhi are at their toxic best. The results could rock the crème de la crème of the city’s social scene who have taken full advantage of their proximity to those in power and have benefited for being ‘loyalists’ of the ruling party. These people, who have been in denial about the impending outcome of the elections, are now expressing their anger at those people who saw the writing on the wall and spoke out about the dangers ahead. Tragically, those at the top, owing to their insular mindset and their choice to only listen to tale-carrying loyalists, lost their way in the changing political space.
If the political class in the capital has become abusive and toxic, always taking recourse to lies and misrepresentations, Delhi’s high society is a mirror image of that venality. The city is abuzz with whispering campaigns: people who repeatedly warned others of the things to come are now being labelled ‘rats’. The real rats now feel threatened and are running for cover; they fear that if the ruling dispensation changes at the Centre, their privileges might be taken away from them. They will have to change their strut to a reticent step; they have to stop name-dropping and boasting about their closeness to powerful figures in every conversation. Never before have the political and social discourses been so vile.
The basis for the people’s anger at the non-performing United Progressive Alliance government is quite sound. It did not restructure outdated laws and regulations or make government servants and politicians accountable to the public. This has been the undoing of the Congress. Despite that, votes for the old, tired party remains substantive and could become a force to reckon with in the years ahead.
Left to himself, with the old guard off his back, Rahul Gandhi could do some good; he could open the gates to dialogue and discussion, refuse to allow coteries to develop, and work towards making the the party and its politics democratic. He could change the Congress.
To preserve the ethos of this vibrant country, transparent democratic machinery is required. That has to be the engine pulling the nation forward. The rail lines leading to real progress will run parallel, then converge and branch out into various critical directions, effecting change across the layers of this ancient, complex civilization.
Totalitarian or majoritarian positions are anathema to India and its people; should the country be subjected to leaders who hold authoritarian views, it must be resisted, and in time must only be treated as a hiccup in the country’s democratic tradition. In the end, democratic consensus will have to be the chosen path for governance in our diverse, pluralistic society. The country had not tolerated the state of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi for too long. The Congress has failed India. This is lamentable but it is true. To report the truth and raise concerns is in the nation’s best interests and must be encouraged, heard, and acted upon.
As observers of public spaces both political and social, it is apparent that the political situation at the moment closely resembles scenes from a vivid film about the ‘end of an empire’ — there are big cities and a grand capital, replete with the court jesters and hangers on; there are the dancers and designers, the scribes and sycophants, the traitors and liars. There are families, friends and coteries, all insecure in one way or another, trying hard to cover up their fear, and looking for ways to land on their feet with their privileges intact, should new, unknown people come to power.