Sanjaya Baru has done it again. Seven years ago his book on the then PM, Manmohan Singh – titled ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ – captured the zeitgeist of the last days of the Congress-UPA era. Then then Opposition latched on to the book as proof of the supine nature of the UPA Government. Seven years on, Mr Baru has now published a book on how under Narendra Modi, a new elite is on the ascendant in India. The celebrated political journalist, Coomi Kapoor, has reviewed Mr Baru’s book for the Indian Express which is rapidly becoming the only mainstream English newspaper in India to actually carry news.
The central theme of Mr Baru’s book will be of interest to anyone who is interested in understanding how great democracies evolve: “Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the term power elite has acquired a new, thought-provoking, somewhat sinister inference. Modi, as Baru sees it, has dismantled the old order of power elites in Delhi and seeks to impose an unquestioning hegemonic domination on an ideological basis. Globalised upper-class intellectuals and liberals are suspect and to be replaced by middle-class Hindu nationalists who serve, ostensibly, the larger cause of Bharat as opposed to that of India. Any negation of the new faith is viewed with unconcealed hostility….Modi’s predecessors, once they arrived, sought to become a part of Lutyens Delhi and woo what was considered the Nehruvian elite. Modi, in contrast, makes no attempt to fit in. Rather, he seeks to annihilate the old landmarks of the power elite from the Nehru-Indira era. The conversion of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library from a memorial to Nehru alone to one for all PMs is one such example.”
Parts of the book are unlikely to go down well in the corridors of power in our capital city. Mr Baru draws some parallels between the current dispensation in New Delhi and similar anti-establishment administrations elsewhere in the world: “Baru draws parallels with Modi’s socially divisive, disruptive movement and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the difference being that while Modi wants to purge the old elite outside his party, Mao wanted to rid his own party of doubters within who wanted to remove him. Mao’s revolution was Marxism, Leninism and Maoism while Modi’s is premised on the Sangh’s version of Hindu nationalism. The Cultural Revolution gave free rein to the Red Guards (student-led paramilitary services instituted by Mao) to take the law into their own hands. Similarly, self-proclaimed Hindu vigilantes seem at liberty to strike anarchy and fear over cow protectionism, love jihad, alleged sedition by Muslim minorities and left-wing radicalism.”
For those who see the current government as being a flagbearer for upper caste Hindu right wing extremism, Mr Baru’s message is that it isn’t as simple as that: “The era of coalition politics and the introduction of Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservations, brought into prominence elite, regional parties and politically influential castes, which were not at the top of the traditional caste pyramid. Upper castes in the first Lok Sabha occupied half the parliamentary seats, while OBCs were 10 per cent. Since then, upper castes have yielded to the OBCs within Parliament and it would have been helpful if Baru had provided some current statistics. Even the once upper-caste Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has opened its top rungs to the OBCs, the category to which Modi belongs.”
And, finally, Mr Baru reserves his harshest criticism for India’s media rather than its politicians: “Dispersal of media power has also helped cut to size the Lutyens legacy and to reshape power elites. The cosy relationship between senior media professionals and the government has ended. Despite the growing wealth and power of owners and editors, there is a fundamental shift with politicians either controlling or owning the media directly or through proxies. The growing assertion of state power at the centre and in the states under Modi has forced the media to become docile or openly partisan with some honourable exceptions. Modi has unabashedly bent the media and the celebrity to serve his cause.”
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