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    The Battle for 2024 Is Between Modi and His Corporate Backers, and the People of India

    Barely 48 hours have passed since the announcement of the Lok Sabha poll schedule but the line-up in the grand battle is already distinctly discernible. For the first time since 1952, when independent India held its inaugural general election, the electorate is being invited to choose between the most vested of vested interests on the one side and the nation’s well-being and public good on the other.

    Consider, simply, the headlines this Monday morning.

    On March 18, the Business Standard, that respected voice of the capitalist establishment, chose to publish  a “CEO Poll.”  As per its survey, India’s captains of industry unanimously believe that the disquieting disclosure of the identity of donors and recipients of the electoral bonds will not sway voters at all. Translated in simple language: it will have no negative impact on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) presumed front-runner position.

    Implicit in this judgment is the view that despite the suggestions of a quid pro quo, the voter is not going to go all moralistic on the BJP and its allies. The bottom line in this corporate assessment – or hope – is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used his popularity and trustworthiness to firewall the regime from the fallout that details of a nexus between corrupt business and crooked politicians is likely to generate.

    It is therefore no surprise that when asked “How would you rate the past five years in terms of governance and development ?” the CEOs were overwhelmingly approving of the Modi regime. Never before have the captains of the industry felt so secure and comfortable in openly displaying their prejudices, political preferences and indifference to morality.

    If there was any doubt about the jugalbandi between crony capitalism and the Modi regime, it stood dispelled by the front page advertisement in the Indian Express today, with the familiar visage of Prime Minister Modi staring down at reader. The advertisement promotes a corporate event – “Rising Bharat” summit – being organised by News 18, a channel owned by the Ambani group. The prime minister heads the speakers’ list, with other senior ministers lending their two bits’ of presence. The reader is served up various catchphrases – innovation, climate action, inclusion and empowerment, world peace, governance – to inspire her but there is not a single voice or face from the non-BJP corner. At least the country’s biggest industrial house has made its preference known loud and clear.

    While any so-called “entrepreneur” is entitled to show his cards, what should we make of the curiously innocuous view the Rashtriya Swayamsevak is taking on the electoral bond disclosures? According to RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, the use of anonymous bonds as an instrument for political financing was just an “experiment” and that “questions are raised when a new thing comes up”. Confronted with the sordid details which have emerged so far, the tone of compromise from the Hindutva quarter is loud and clear.

    Here is an organisation which for the past 78 years has been arrogating to itself the right to be the sole guardian of moral standards and ethical values in our political system. Confronted now with damning evidence of the indefensible nexus with business at the core of the Modi regime, the saffron commissars are at a loss for words.

    Not to leave any doubt about the line-up which has emerged behind the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections, consider today’s reports of a mob in Ahmedabad targeting foreign students for offering namaz at Gujarat University. Expectedly, the Ministry of External Affairs has rushed in with its own damage-control statement, telling the global community of some arrests made. But the foreign service officers are in no position to control the larger eco-system of hatred and bigotry that makes a Hindutva mob feel entitled to engage in violent moral policing.

    For sure, the Ahmedabad mob must have felt emboldened in its lawlessness by the sudden resurrection of the Citizenship (Amendment) on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls – a decision taken at the highest level of the Modi regime. It was a clear signal to lumpens all over the country to feel free to practice their craft.

    The Ahmedabad violence underscores a challenge the BJP/RSS corner will face, having unleashed ugly and raw impulses in the majority community. The resulting polarisation helps the party electorally but the spectre of mobs on the rampage could curdle the Modi regime’s promise of order and stability. The middle classes – core supporters of the Shahenshah and Shah regime – would be mortified at lawless crowds taking over our streets and cities.

    Arrayed against this phalanx of greed and bigotry is the somewhat incoherent song of ‘mohabbat’, or love, being sung by Rahul Gandhi and the rest of the opposition. The non-NDA parties, in their own idiom and language, are putting together, however inadequate this may seem, a counter-narrative of harmony and inclusiveness. On the last day of his second Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi tried to project himself as the ‘outsider’ who was not at all enamoured of the ‘system’.

    After 10 years in office, Prime Minister Modi today represents the worst habits of the old, rotten system. He may think of himself as an incorruptible deshbhakt, a nationalist leader of men, but as Rahul Gandhi noted in his speech at Dharavi in Mumbai, the prime minister is simply a ‘mukhota’, a mask, kept in good humour by the billionaires’ loot-and-greed axis. The violence-prone lumpens provide cost-effective ‘jan shakti’ to the unethical and immoral practices.

    In the next few weeks, voters will be called upon to choose between two macro-impulses. One impulse promises stability, decisiveness and ‘vikas’ undergirded by corporate loot, the other banks on sensitivity and empathy for the vast majority and its unfulfilled aspirations for a better hand in life. The Opposition’s narrative carries with it the risk of incoherence and fragmentation; whereas Modi promises a familiar authoritarian solution.

    The Opposition will need to reassure the electorate that effective governance is feasible and possible even in a collective coalition arrangement. The Opposition leaders, individually as well as collectively, will need to understand that in the end, the final battle is between Narendra Modi and his corporate backers and bankers, and the people of India. Even if the Opposition leaders remain unequal to the task of tapping into the voters’ anxieties and fears, the electorate in its innate wisdom will see to it that the Republic recovers its lost equilibrium.



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