The speech that Modi never gave

A bored Indian middle class did defeat me. It was the middle class I invented, loved and adored...

Photo courtes
Photo courtes

Shiv Visvanathan

I feel different today. I would almost say I feel diffident today. Diffidence and a sense of difference come at a moment of defeat. Today my party can no longer form a majority in the Lok Sabha. A moment of defeat is a moment of reflection. Suddenly, I understood the Congress better. The Congress is grand enough and old enough to outlive defeat and victory. The BJP as a party of upwardly mobile did not have that grace. Power had to be instant gratification, or we faced instant defeat. We lost for the same reasons we won last time. Last time, the Congress catapulted us to power. This time the Congress and its recovery created the template for defeat.

I need to talk about the Congress. It is like an epidemic that is all over, a virus that haunts every move, contaminating history, memory, nation state, development. It dominates our ancestry. It is now ready for the future. I felt broken in the last few weeks that I went to Nagpur to talk to the elders. They gave me the same speech, but now it made little sense. I was no longer the young monk in a shakha. I have seen the world from Davos to Beijing and, yet, Nagpur lectured me as if I was a matric pass, forgetting that I was the chai wala who made it to Tussauds. Let me say that for the last four years I was a hero, a hero of the middle class, a hero who overthrew the Congress. I felt proud like a Rana Pratap who won the battle of Haldighati. And that was the sadness of the RSS. We sought to cure ourselves through history. Instead of psychoanalysing history, we turned bad history as psychoanalysis.

My psychiatrist called it “Congress envy”. He told me a story one never hears in a shakha, a nursery story not from the Mahabharat. A story of a wicked witch who poisoned a beautiful princess because she wanted to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Every night, she would look into the mirror and ask, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?” She would go hysterical if the mirror said, “Snow White”. I was a defeated man. I did not have a mirror. I pressed the computer button to say, “who was the leader, the greatest party of them all?”. Off late, my data started whispering, “Congress”. I went mad with rage.

The Congress is not a party. It was a way of life, a hypothesis reinvented everyday as a myth, history, folklore, as storytelling. The sheer richness of its legacy. Every time I asked my mirror who was the greatest, it would print out Gandhi, Nehru, Indira. I, who wanted to be equal to Gandhi, could not even enter a calendar with him. Even a measly KVIC calendar had no space for me.

My psychiatrist, an old Bengali babu, used to laugh and say, “Narender Sahib, you have to understand that they are history, they have the magic of history in them. You are news, the day you are defeated, you are yesterday’s newspaper.” I hated the old man. He perpetually hummed songs from the Beatles. But I needed him; he was the only one who told me the truth.

He told me: “Congress envy haunts all of you in the RSS.” I could never understand how a party like the Congress survived. It was full of compromises, mistakes, contradictions. The more it contradicted itself, the more it worked. I could never understand it and my Banerjee would say, “when you have a mind like a shakha, you cannot understand the Congress.” He was right with my mind, my shakha mind. I could not understand Lutyens’ Delhi either. I hate the elite in particular. They arrogantly called me chai wala in private, but in their drawing rooms they groaned. They felt that I was not even Earl Grey, not yet Orange Pekoe. Their contempt was laced with snobbery. I hated them, but they made sure I made the mistakes which would cost me power. Never trust anyone from Lutyens’ Delhi. They are a conspiracy of power which never forgives an outsider. At the end of four years that is all I was, an outsider, without ancestors.

My party erred twice like the Congress. In the first, we destroyed the link between civilisation and nation state, losing that forest of values that made the nation a thinking entity

My Banerjee sahab, I cannot explain why I liked him. Maybe he had a touch of Nehruvian elegance in him. He said to me, “Congress was not a party to you Modi sahib. It was a fetish.” “Look at it,” he told me gently. “You are like LK Advani. Straight, straight-faced, puritanical, unforgiving. You smell of the shakha in your sleep. Advani could have led a million shakhas, but never lead the country. Vajpayee did and had a touch of elegance. Vajpayee made mistakes, had desires and was relaxed with power. Advani saheb and you never knew how to relax with power. You lusted for it, and lust, unlike love, is difficult to sustain. Your power will turn boring and it is this boredom that will defeat you.”

A bored Indian middle class did defeat me. It was not Mamata Banerjee. It was the middle class I invented, loved, adored, that middle class defeated me. You see, as Banerjee sahib said, even the Congress does not understand how you lost. But the people of India understand the Congress in a way even the Congress did not. I did not realise that the Congress is India’s legacy and not the party’s patent.

The best ode to the Congress was an essay by a political scientist I never met, a certain Rajni Kothari. They gave me his paper in jail during the Emergency.

I ate mumphali and samosa on it. It was one of my greatest regrets. How was I to know that not reading a paper in the MA syllabus would lead to defeat? Professor Kothari had this ancient paper saying the Congress party was not a party with factional interests, but a commons, a mirror of India with its confusion.

It was a miniature India ready for survival as long as this image ran in the unconscious of the politicians. When the Congress rejected itself, it lost twice. A party like the Congress understood India better. What made it backward also kept it together. It was as a moderniser that India rejected me.

My party erred twice like the Congress. In the first, we destroyed the link between civilisation and nation state, losing that forest of values that made the nation a thinking entity. Secondly, we tried to rewrite history and we made a mess of modernity. For a while, the middle class agreed with us, but when the RSS began acting like the Atatürk on the past, morally policing food, body, dress.

The Indian who is always a Rip Van Winkle got up late and struck in 2019 when everyone predicted my victory, when I had my cabinet all drawn-up. India felt I was like a rocket launch, a space mission, but what Indians wanted was to muddle through. We at the RSS thought India was like plumbing, a machine to be repaired. The Congress luckily recovered the knowledge that India was like cooking. The same dish had different recipes in different parts of India. India can only be plural. Unless we solve a thing in seven ways, politics does not make sense. This is something a moderniser like me did not understand. When India says “yes”, we should be wary, because one never knows which India is saying it. It reminds me that India, the India that defeated me, is like a Stegosaurus. Unless both the brains respond, the answer is not clear.

Even a section of the Congress was ready to join in. But the people wanted me out. They needed a different political brew. Finally, there was the violence. The violence of the mob, lynching of workers across India as strangers, was the last straw. The trade unions and civil society recovered even as the RSS demanded we rethink policy

It was not the Congress that defeated me. It was India. Firstly, the India of agriculture, not the India of villages. As a modernising party, we tried to destroy agriculture without realising that agriculture, more than Hinduism, is a way of life. To apply the fundamentalism called modernisation to agriculture was silly. It created an enclosure movement, a large homeless population which voted us out. We policed food but did not understand agriculture. We were mercantile imaginations that worshipped the cow without understanding agriculture. Secondly, there was education. We destroyed the universities and did not create employment.

We got sucked into the corporate game but did not realise India lives in ten time zones. We did not understand like the economists that livelihood is not a job. It is an ecology. As the Adanis destroyed the coastline, the battles for the sea destroyed us. The coastline was a different India. We thought it was missionary, Christian, alien. My landlocked RSS mind never understood the sea in all of us. Sterlite and Adani destroyed a party. They filled our coffers but emptied our mind.

We did not destroy planning. We reinvented it so badly that it destroyed us. Finally, and sadly, it was the Hindu that defeated us. Hinduism realised the wisdom that an old sage once warned us about: that it would feel alone without Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity. The RSS never understood that all it did was to ape the West. They were the real converts, white men in modernist feathers. India watched us as a spectacle and then moved on.

Let me emphasise that only Congress leaders did not defeat us. India did. The people defeated us and that is the final revenge of democracy. The people defeated Indira Gandhi after the Emergency. They defeated me when I imposed a dozen emergencies on them in the name of development. The pollsters all voted for me. Even a section of the Congress was ready to join in. But the people wanted me out. They needed a different political brew. Finally, there was the violence. The violence of the mob, lynching of workers across India as strangers, was the last straw. The trade unions and civil society recovered even as the RSS demanded we rethink policy.

… (the rest of the speech is not available)

For all the latest India News, Follow India Section.