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regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

The four horsemen

Rather than zooming into this fleeting moment of two months, an imaginary zooming out might allow us to see these elections and their ramifications in the context of the recent past and the near future

Ruchir Joshi Published 14.05.24, 05:54 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. Sourced by the Telegraph.

At every election, the tendency is to put a microscope to the current moment and magnify it for examination: what has been the state of the economy? What has triggered the most recent protests? Who is defecting from which party? What scandals and criminal cases are affecting which candidates? How is the Main Leader doing in public ratings? And so on and so forth. It might, therefore, be counterintuitive, or perverse even, to try and see this moment as a temporary, very short-lived, constellation of forces and issues in the larger flicker of history. Rather than zooming into this fleeting moment of two months, an imaginary zooming out might allow us to see these elections and their immediate ramifications in the context of the recent past and the near future.

Here, in no particular order, are four things that come to mind.

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1. The alternative media genie. No matter who wins, a certain ground-level genie is now out of the bag. Social media has exploded in a way we haven’t quite seen before. Not only the official videos put out by the political parties but all sorts of maverick, independent postings are now all over the internet. The jokes, the caricatures, the skits, the memes, even the simple running of a clip of, say, a Narendra Modi or an Amit Shah speech — the absurdity and mendaciousness of it are so self-evident that the only thing needed at the end is a small laugh track — all these are making the rounds. So are smaller, serious video interviews and discussions of the kind the godi-menagerie-media have been loath to run. To an even greater degree, the internet is inundated with material supporting the current regime and attacking its challengers.

Whoever wins this election may want to stamp down on critical content; certainly, the current regime has brazen form on this, although previous governments weren’t innocent of underhand and open censorship either. Whoever ends up in charge once the dust of these election settles, that party will have a stiff challenge in trying to control and snuff out critical media. When the heart’s major arteries are blocked, the smaller, arterial pathways take up the load. Similarly, in the absence of a free mainstream media, the samizdat, underground, under-the-radar channels have now grown. If some coalition of the current Opposition does come to power, it would do well to understand that the sangh parivar cluster will also use this same network to undermine whatever the new government tries to do.

2. The South is a different country. Those people fearing secession may be thinking in extreme and unrealistic terms but the fact is that there are two or even three very different countries developing in the containing sac of the Republic. The South is growing, and growing away from the rest of the nation, not least by the dint of having educated its children better over several generations and reduced its population growth. This momentum towards separateness won’t slow down or stop unless some radical change for the better takes place in the North. Looking at the map of India, there is, in fact, the distinct possibility of a curve developing where the South can pull towards itself everything, from Maharashtra and Goa at one end and Odisha and West Bengal to parts of the Northeast, any place, in fact, that doesn’t fully share the North’s debilitating cultures of Hindutvaisation and institutional misogyny. It’s not impossible to imagine that the North would actually be a massive but isolated pocket consisting of parts of Bihar and Jharkhand, all of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana, but not Punjab, Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and large parts of Himachal. This would lead to a highly divided society that would resemble the United States of America with its split between the middle and the coasts.

3. We need to talk about China. Even as India desperately needs to put money into public health and education, we’re going to need to do something about the sorry state of our defence. It’s difficult to say precisely how the fires in Gaza and Ukraine will affect how China behaves in the next few years, but it’s clear that we need to counter and contain our biggest trading partner and most fearsome antagonist. The Blinkens and Camerons may hug this National Democratic Alliance government with one arm while holding their noses, or they may be more genuinely warm towards a new, truly democratic, dispensation but the fact of the matter is that we can now no longer trust either Vladimir Putin’s Russia or the Western powers when it comes to helping us against China. Whichever political group comes to power in June, a smarter, tougher, and more transparent policy towards China is going to be urgently needed.

4. It’s the global warming, stupid. Surviving subcontinental desis looking back at the tepid little circus of these elections from, say, the end of the century will shake their heads and curse us. They will note with a looping incredulity that no political party made the ongoing environmental meltdown a major, leave alone central, plank in its election campaign. They will note that one current argument as to why this was so was that the task of educating an unaware public about ‘abstract’ and ‘complicated scientific’ concepts of the environment was deemed impossible and foolish by today’s politicians. They will note that in the middle of unprecedentedly horrendous heatwaves, droughts and floods, not one eloquent political orator felt he/she could join the dots for the voters, not one felt that he/she could explain the tsunami to the public, even as the wall of water approached from the horizon at speed.

The future inhabitants of whatever remains of this subcontinent will, of course, see from the records that the argument of the more ‘eco-savvy’ politicians went something like this: ‘If we talk about all that, they will be distracted, confused and put off by us. Let us retain/come to power first. Once we are sworn in, we will prioritise the environment!’ They will also see from the records that once power was attained it was business as usual, the argument now going: ‘Let’s not rock the boat, we need steady growth, we need to give people a standard of living, then we can speak of the environment.’ The future deshvasis will note that this went on until the time there was no business left, no ‘growth’ left, no economy left, no cohesive society left.

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