Praful Bidwai


As Prime Minister Narendra Modi chooses his team of senior advisers and top bureaucrats who will faithfully further his agenda, some well-meaning commentators are urging him to follow proper appointment procedures, adopt the dharma of inclusion, “reach out” to the 69 percent of the electorate who didn’t vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party, and in particular assure Muslims that he means well and that they should feel secure under him despite the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.


These commentators are unpardonably naïve in asking Mr Modi to do the opposite of what he stands for, and to be dishonest to the main appeal he conveyed through his election campaign (which, incidentally, got seven-fold greater television coverage than Rahul Gandhi’s canvassing).


If Mr Modi wanted to send a message of conciliation to Muslims, he would have long ago mourned and expressed sincere regret for the 2002 mass killings. He hasn’t done so even once, and defiantly says there’s nothing to apologise for: “if I’m guilty, I should be punished, but I won’t say sorry.” Why, while canvassing, he wore every conceivable kind of headgear, including a Sikh turban and an Arunachali hat with horns and petals, but pointedly, and repeatedly, refused to don a skullcap!


The Modi government’s moral apathy towards Muslims was even more eloquently conveyed by the sole Muslim in the cabinet, minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah, through her very first public speech declaring that India’s Muslims are too numerous to be a minority; that term best applies to Parsis—our wealthiest, most educated and otherwise ultra-privileged community.


This makes nonsense of the idea of protecting the rights of underprivileged religious minority groups against majoritarianism, the liberal-democratic rationale and mandate of her ministry.


Similarly, Mr Modi has never shown respect for democratic norms and conventions in making appointments. He ruled Gujarat for 12 years with an iron hand: nobody mattered in the state but him and his loyalists like Amit Shah. He is practising the same methods as Prime Minister.


Thus, instead of choosing someone with scholarly gravitas, interest in academic pursuits, or a deep understanding of the challenges that education faces in India, he allotted the weighty cabinet-rank human resource development portfolio to former actress and groupie Smriti Irani who has shown no interest in or aptitude for education, who filed contradictory affidavits about her own educational qualifications, which may be a criminal offence.


Worse, Mr Modi used the ordinance route to override the Telecom Regulatory Authority Act, which bars the TRAI chairman from ever holding government office, and stipulates a cooling-off period before taking up even private-sector assignments. This bar—enacted, ironically, by a BJP-led government in 2000, citing the public interest—is meant to prevent favouritism and promote impartiality and transparency, and should have been respected.


But Mr Modi was in such a rush to appoint former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra as his principal secretary that he refused to wait for barely a week for Parliament to convene and amend the Act. The ordinance violates the Supreme Court judgement in the DC Wadhwa case (1987), which says the ordinance power “is to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be perverted to serve political ends”.


Mr Misra’s is clearly a political appointment. He is no ordinary bureaucrat. He was until recently on the executive council of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a well-funded Right-wing think-tank located in a posh building in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave.


VIF ( is an offshoot of the Vivekananda Kendra, started in 1972 by former RSS general secretary Eknath Ranade. VIF played a crucial, if silent, role in the anti-corruption protests led by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare beginning in 2011. It runs several security- and foreign policy-related and “historical and civilisational studies” programmes.


VIF’s website is replete with hysterical pro-Hindutva and ultra-nationalist articles. One article describes well-respected US scholar Wendy Doniger as someone who delights in “denigrating Hinduism. Most of her own and her students’ dissertations/books… have often been described as pure pornography…”


Doniger’s book on Hinduism was pulped—setting a nasty precedent of successful intimidation of publishers by RSS pracharak Dinanath Batra’s Shiksha Bachao Andolan, since carried over.


VIF’s director is none other than “master spy” and former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval, who has been appointed the National Security Adviser. As I discovered during a television debate a few years ago, Mr Doval belongs to a school of policing that believes “in shooting first and asking questions later—that’s the only way to deal with terrorists”, real or imagined.


Mr Doval has rationalised any number of fake “encounter killings” of suspected terrorists and advocates a militarist approach towards Maoists—regardless of legality and social and human rights consequences. He calls for a hard line against India’s neighbours, including friendly Bangladesh, who he believes, threaten India’s security through active subversion, which must be ruthlessly put down.


Many VIF leading lights discount the potential for peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan and argue that “illegal migration from Bangladesh” constitutes a grave “security threat” to India. India, they demand, should stop being overly “generous” towards its neighbours in economic cooperation, trade, visas, even water-sharing.


VIF, with many other pro-Sangh Parivar outfits such as Deendayal Research Institute, Niti Central, Public Policy Research Centre, Friends of the BJP, India Policy Foundation, Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, Centre for Policy Studies and Rashtriya Seva Bharati, are expected to provide policy inputs to the Modi government.


Under their toxic influence, we are likely to witness a powerful, well-orchestrated campaign to shift India’s foreign, security, economic, social and cultural policies firmly to the Right, in keeping with Mr Modi’s own orientation, but with disastrous consequences.


It’s hard to see how the Parliamentary opposition, itself feeble and demoralised, can resist this onslaught. Many non-BJP parties, especially regional outfits like the Samajwadi Party, buy into the paranoid ultra-nationalist premises and hardline approaches of the ruling dispensation.


Where does that leave the greatest losers of the elections—the Congress, the Left, the BSP and the Aam Aadmi Party? The first two have suffered their worst-ever defeats, and are down to respectively 44 and 12 Lok Sabha seats (if two independents backed by the Left in Kerala, who won, are included). AAP, which showed great promise in December in Delhi, has also come a cropper, winning only four seats, all in Punjab, and losing deposits everywhere barring Varanasi.


All these parties now face an existential crisis. The Congress is simply unable to reconcile itself with its defeat and still deludes itself that the Gandhi family will somehow rescue it. The family refuses to own up to its comprehensive leadership failure. Yet, no one questions it to demand that the party frees itself from that millstone around its neck and start afresh.


Unless the Congress methodically rebuilds its base among the people, especially the Dalits, Adivasis, lower OBCs and the urban poor, by agitating for their livelihood rights, it’s likely to go into steep, possibly terminal, decline—especially if it loses the coming Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, as seems likely given the huge (20.5 percent) margins with which it was trounced in Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha polls (compared to 15.2 percent nationally).


The base of the Left has been eroding since 2008 everywhere, especially in West Bengal, where it won the same number of seats (two) as the BJP. Its leadership should have responded to this with alacrity; several heads should have rolled, and the Left parties should have criticised themselves for relying largely on “politics from the top”, based on unstable and sterile electoral alliances, rather than on vigorous mass-based activity.


However, the Left has failed to draw the right lessons. Unless it urgently corrects course, updates its programmatic perspectives, and develops a grassroots-based mobilisation strategy by taking up basic issues like healthcare, food security, employment, education and defence of people’s livelihoods threatened by predatory industrial, mining and water and power projects, it too will be doomed.


The solution lies in radical rethinking, painfully critical introspection, abandoning the Democratic Centralism organisational doctrine which prevents healthy debate, and joining people’s autonomous struggles even where it doesn’t lead them. This is a tall order, but the Left has no soft options.


As for AAP, it must reinvent itself not as a party, but as a political movement based on participatory, associational activity not narrowly focused on corruption or “crony capitalism” alone. AAP must practise what it preaches—transparency, political honesty and inner-party consultation.


A lack of these aggravated AAP’s crisis, leading to Shazia Ilmi’s quitting, ideologue-strategist Yogendra Yadav’s resignation from party posts, and sullying of Arvind Kejriwal’s image as an egoistic, unreliable leader.


AAP must not shy away from ideology, and link “crony capitalism” to policy-related corruption and communal-neoliberal authoritarianism. The BJP embodies all these and is clearly the main enemy. Rather than concentrate exclusively on the coming Delhi Assembly elections, AAP must join a broad-based national campaign against neoliberal Hindutva-capitalism with other forces. That’s the only way forward.

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