Is it the beginning of the end?

Live Television coverage of political events 24x7 can be both comic and revealing. Reading the tea leaves by watching TV channels can be exasperating and rewarding

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An Opinionated Observer

As the newly elected MLAs emerged in Lucknow on March 18 from their closed door meeting with slogans of ‘Har Har Yogi’ resonating behind them, the instinctive reaction of people in the studios and of people watching television, besides surprise, was to say spontaneously that BJP's development mask was off, revealing its hardcore Hindutva agenda and its true RSS face.

The instinctive reactions were:

  • Modi's successor in 2024 if not earlier has been anointed by the RSS, responding to the popular majoritarian sentiment
  • Ram Temple in Ayodhya would definitely be built in Yogi Adityanath's tenure as CM, given his Matth's active commitment to it over three generations, and
  • An inflection point had been reached in RSS's journey towards the Hindu Rashtra.

When a haggard-looking Modi turned up during the swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow, it was his moment of sympathetic whispered communication (perhaps commiseration?) on stage with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, the stalwart upstaged by his own son and successor Akhilesh Yadav who went on to lose the election, rather than with the official star of the show, Mahanth Yogi Adityanath, the brand new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, which caught the attention of the cameras and became the defining image of the historic day.

Modi, who seemed to have turned totally grey overnight, had clearly lost his usual effusiveness and aggressive energy, and appeared uncharacteristically subdued and quiet. The moment was reminiscent of the BJP’s Goa Conclave in 2013, in which Modi decidedly upstaged Advani, and became the Man of Destiny as BJP's PM candidate.

The wheel had turned full circle and the new enfant terrible of Hindutva had arrived on the national stage. The so-called lunatic fringe had been mainstreamed with a vengeance. Shah, by the way, was seen standing closer to Yogi, with even a smile on his face, in the ceremonial pictures being flashed from Lucknow on that fateful Sunday, March 19, which will be etched in India's collective consciousness as a day of destiny, when the nation's journey took a momentous turn towards the extreme Right.

When the Yogi came to Delhi on March 21 and entered the Lok Sabha to give his farewell speech as a five-time MP, he was greeted by slogans of "Bharat Mata ki Jai" by BJP members—an unprecedented occurrence.

The House and the nation listened with rapt attention to his speech which was uncharacteristically respectful, soft, sentimental and urbane, full of warmth, hope and humour—but the PM was not there to listen to it.

The Yogi, with his arms full of flowers and with a disarming smile on his youthful face, went to call on the PM, who seems to have greeted him with an uncharacteristically awkward reserve. The body language of the two leaders in those televised moments and in still photos of the meeting speak volumes.

Dressed completely in ghostly white, with white locks to match, and a pale look on his face, Modi can be seen sitting well back in a corner of his office sofa, with both hands held tightly locked before him while the Yogi leans in his seat with a charming smile, holding his hands relaxedly folded, leaning eagerly towards his wary host.

Perhaps Modi's basic training as a mere pracharak puts him in awe of the Matthadheesh of a 600-year-old order of ascetics. One can't act familiar with the Pope or the Shankaracharya, after all.

But Modi's posture was also of a reluctant surrender before the inevitable march of Time, of the defeat of advancing age by careless, vigorous youth. And here the anointee also had the approval of the patrician mentors of Nagpur, Modi's own patrons and masters.

Interestingly, the Yogi also called on LK Advani with a bouquet of flowers, and the head of the Margdarshak Mandal could be seen, after a long time, with a broad smile and a genuinely cheerful look on his face. It appeared that he for one did certainly believe that his ‘Biter had been bit’, that karma had caught up with his ungrateful disciple in the shape of his vibrant visitor from Lucknow via Gorakhpur, who would surely take Advani's interrupted Rath Yatra to its logical conclusion.

Soon after that one heard that a rare phone call of sympathy and good wishes was put in by PM Modi to the Rashtriya Janata Dal Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had memorably stopped Advani's inexorable Rath at one point in history, ostensibly because the Bihar leader had suffered an accidental fall from a ceremonial stage and been hospitalised for a brief spell. Ironies abound in the history of Indian politics.

As the Yogi was leaving for Lucknow after these ceremonial visits, he got a call from Amit Shah, whom he had neglected to visit. His own sense of self-worth as a power to reckon with in UP and as a Matthadheesh whom even RSS patricians are forced to treat as equal, probably did not let it even occur to him that he should have called on the BJP National President, something no other BJP CM would have forgotten to do.

The Yogi quite naturally feels entitled in his own right, and is beholden to none, not even to the RSS who had to concede UP to him as right, not as a favour, especially if they wanted the Ram Mandir to be actually constructed in Ayodhya, and save face in the next general elections, given the fact that the Yogi, his Guru, and his Guru's Guru have been extraordinarily committed to the Ram Mandir cause and have played important roles in the history of the campaign to have it built.

The Yogi immediately turned his cavalcade back and obliged Shah with a visit, but the very fact that Shah had to prompt him to do it gives a lot away about the changed dynamics now operating in the RSS-BJP universe.

It is also educative to analyse the way corporate media, print and TV, reacted to this indubitably unexpected development in UP politics, which threw them so out of kilter to begin with, say between 6 to 9 pm on Saturday March 18, that some of their reactions were atypically spontaneous and gave the game away.

Starting off with shock, and incredulous "this cannot really be happening " expressions of denial, and moving quickly into "this is just not done " mode, a few comparatively liberal anchors, who thought their masters would react adversely to this coup staged by the RSS against the Modi-Shah duo, could soon be seen changing their tune, presumably after orders from owners, and the chorus then turned into "this is a master stroke of the RSS-BJP for keeping up the intensity of the UP election campaign and to win the 2019 election on the provenly successful Hindutva card".

This volte face occurred because, whatever be the inside story, in public perception, nationally and internationally the one thing that the Modi-Shah duo could under no circumstances be seen as doing, was losing control.

Till 5 pm on the evening of March 18, Modi and Shah were seen to be running a tight ship, with everything firmly under control. But by 6.30 pm the same evening, the whole world knew that the situation had changed, definitively and irrevocably.

The Spirit of India had found its own way to reassert itself and start the beginning of an end that carries within itself the seeds of a new beginning.

The author is a retired senior bureaucrat.

This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.

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