Valson Thampu

Easily the most significant thing in Indian politics today is the emergence of Rahul Gandhi into serious reckoning all of sudden. His speech in the Parliament on the no-confidence motion against the Modiregime was the turning point in this respect. He took Modi by surprise. It was there for all to see. Modi, otherwise assuredly self-composed at all times, was visibly flummoxed. He didn’t seem to know how to cope with being kicked and kissed in the same breath. Nothing else could have nonplussed Modi as much as that hug-surgical-strike did. It was almost comic: the giant seriousness of a no-nonsense tiger being discomposed by the naive gesture of a genial lamb.

Barely six months ago, national surveys on the popularity of top leaders, used to show Rahul way down on the ladder. On the latest count, he at 36% to Modi’s 46%; gulf narrowing down to a mere 10%. And that, when ‘opposition unity’ seems hardly convincing. Opposition unity is, if anything, the litmus test and authentication of Rahul’s leadership. What if this assortment of disparate parties decides to unite behind Rahul?

There is juicy irony in this; and it merits a mention. The lynchpin of the election strategy of Amit Shah is to cast the national election in the Presidential mold, pitting Rahul against Modi. The allurement of this strategy lies in its prospect for obscuring pressing real-life issues. Issues of failures in governance, of the growing burden on the common man, of the disarray in the national character of unity in diversity, of the distress our democracy is under, of the failure in delivering the promises made in 2014, and so on. The largest democratic exercise in the world can be reduced to a personal combat – after the fashion of the Middle Ages – between champion Modi and the new kid on the block, Rahul, too raw and inexperienced to pose any problems.

Now it seems that the frustration of this strategy is morphing into an imperative for the shelf-life of Indian democracy. To understand this aright, we need to reckon the spiritual foundations of democracy, even if it is unfashionable to mention it today. The very idea of the will of the people being sovereign, as against the sovereign’s will being absolute, is tantamount to a spiritual revolution! The idea that every human being is equal in worth – even if that worth is reckoned only once in five years – this ‘one-man-one-vote’ thing is an irreligious but spiritual breakthrough in history. Equality is not an ideal native to nature, human nature or history.

The panorama of nature is ruled by ‘might is right.’ It is right that a strong animal attacks, kills and eats a weaker one. It makes sense that compunction is irrelevant to this sphere. It is ‘natural’ that the right of the lower and weaker creature is suspended for the sake of the stronger and the higher one. Even the deer gets resigned, after the initial frenetic struggle, to the tiger’s right to have a meal at his expense; much like the down-trodden acquiescing in a scheme of things that perpetuated their destitution and privation in pre-democratic societies deeming it to be ordained from above.

Finer sensitivities are alien to nature. A poet may behold the panorama of nature and read his own sublime sensibility into it. But nature, per se, is a realm of cruelty and brutality, as anyone who has walked through a forest at night, or traversed a desert in daytime, would agree. Notions like ‘justice, liberty, equality, fraternity’ – the four pillars of our Constitution- are alien to nature and to the physical world in general. We have never seen a lamb ‘hugging’ a lion, like the way it happened in the Parliament. The lion has every right to feel offended at the impertinence of the lamb for daring to belittle nature’s protocol of inequality and inequity.

The idea that the forthcoming general elections should be cast as a wrestling match between Modi and Rahul is a ‘natural’ idea in this sense. Nature and spirituality are two contrary paradigms, even if mystics claim to experience God through nature. They work on mutually exclusive principles. In the spiritual sphere, love is mightier than hate. Humility will outlast hubris. Not the proud and the arrogant, but the meek will inherit the earth. The Babe will rattle the king; for the future belongs to him. The almighty heroism of Modi, his seemingly supernatural invincibility, his birthright to stride like a colossus on the national stage towering above the rest, are all cast and choreographed in the paradigm of ‘nature,’ which is anything but democratic. In comparison, love – which Rahul says he wishes to revive and revalidate – is democratic. So too are things like rule of law, caring for the least and the lost, and upholding justice at all costs.

The secret behind Rahul’s resurgence is that he has, for the first time, sensed the feasibility of a political paradigm-shift – from hate to love, from exclusiveness to inclusiveness, from domination to dialogue in mutual respect. He has begun to believe in his role within this process. That is a historic thing. While orchestrated attempts are made to stymie him as an arbitrary beneficiary of the dynastic, Rahul locates himself in the zone of the democratic, the humanistic and the paradigmatic. The contrast between him and Modi – Rahul appears keen that it is noted and understood – is not the contrast between the dynastic and the democratic, or that of a novice pitted hopelessly against a champion wrestler, but the symbolic and historic struggle between two contrary political narratives. It is not a happy sign for the Modi camp that the people of India have begun to sense this as such. And a nascent responsiveness is developing between what Rahul signifies and the instinct of India. When two paradigms collide in the destiny of a people, we should expect surprises. The good thing is that the wait won’t be long.

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