A Wink and a Whimper
31 May 2019 | 9 minute read
(Editor: Post Narendra Modi’s election win, MJ Akbar wrote “The Price of a Wink” that gave a good overview of the factors that lead to the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s comprehensive loss in the Lok Sabha 2019 elections. Almost a full year prior, Jay Bhattacharjee wrote a prescient article titled “High Jinks That May Cause A Cabal To Collapse” on IndiaFacts.org, now reproduced here with permission as “A Wink and a Whimper”. )
History is replete with examples like the one that India saw on TV on the evening of Friday, the 20th July, when Rahul Gandhi, in a bizarre (almost macabre) display of immaturity tried to pull a fast one on Prime Minister Modi and the nation as a whole. The Congress crown-prince thought he had pulled off a coup of sorts by trying to take NaMo for a ride. The poor fellow hadn’t quite bargained for the tsunami that hit him. More on that later.
In an era of instant punditry and immediate ripostes, the entire media went into overdrive to come up with eye-catching comments and headlines to capture the moments of the insane puerility of RaGa. I am not being harsh on the desi journalists in the print and electronic media – their background and livelihood compel them to resort to easy routes and solutions. However, I feel that the RaGa episode in Parliament on Friday deserves a thorough assessment. Not because of the fellow himself, but because of what his gesture portends.
This could well turn out to be the beginning of the end of the Gandhi-Nehru-Gandhi (GNG) cabal that has brought so much grief and tragedy to this ancient civilisation and culture of ours. Yes, I know this prediction of the collapse of the Congress junta has been made many times before. However, till May 2014, such forecasts were actually products of wishful thinking. When the number of Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha after the 2014 elections touched 44, this changed the ball game forever. The beast somehow proved to be more resilient than what most observers and commentators thought. Even in its death throes, the INC managed to pick up 4 more Lok Sabha seats to take its tally to 44 in mid-2018. Friday night’s high jinks by the Crown Prince may finally be the game changer for the 2019 elections.
This commentator, like many others in the Indic civilisation camp, has been quite critical about the performance (or lack of it) of the NDA government in many crucial areas. Among the new occupants of Raisina Hill, a few members got infected by some of the deadly maladies of the earlier UPA lot, while others proved to be wet behind their ears. The bureaucracy and the other pressure groups like big business, large media houses, and local vote banks based on caste and religion, made life difficult for NDA 2. The net result was that the Union Government conducted itself on many occasions like the great thespians who had forgotten their scripts while they were on stage before sell-out audiences.
Yet, my faith in the current dispensation never evaporated. I clung to it, because the alternative scenario is so dismal and revolting. How dismal it is was brutally underlined by the events in the Lok Sabha last Friday. They were a wake-up call not so much for me but much more so for the hundreds of millions of Indian voters who have been ruminating about what 2019 holds for them.
Before we get to the main issue about what RG’s antics symbolised, we must pose, as starters, the obvious query that the courtiers of the Lutyens Zone will never ask the Crown Prince and the Empress. Did the chap really think that his little wink would not be caught for posterity by the high-tech gizmos of today’s security equipment in the Parliament House? Or did he think that he (and his fellow-dolt, Scindia) were a grade smarter than the rest of the world? RG, of course, plumbed new depths when the PM mercilessly tore apart his antics and he tried to protest.
I would now like to get to the crux of this essay. Along with some of my confreres, it appears to me that the Congress, the Grand Old Party (GOP) of the country, and its associated political platform, are now staring at the abyss. Possibly, we are witnessing the beginning of the death throes of the old monster, because the symptoms are clear.
In ancient Greece, one of the principal factors responsible for the collapse of decadent social orders was hubris. As many of us know, this was the Greek term for excessive pride or self-confidence. In Greek tragedy, it manifested itself as the main reason behind the defiance of the gods that invariably led to nemesis. For 10 Janpath and 24 Akbar Road, all this is, of course, Greek as far as the top honchos are concerned.
To return to ancient history, even Roman chronicles (that the Maino-Gandhis may not be too familiar with), offer us many lessons. The classic harbinger of imminent collapse was when the Roman Emperor, Caligula, appointed his horse as a Consul. The man was certainly deranged enough to have actually done it; according to the historian Suetonius, Caligula loved his horse Incitatus so much that he gave it a marble stall, an ivory manger and even a house. Another historian Cassius Dio wrote that the servants fed the horse oats mixed with gold flakes.
All this sounds so familiar for jaded Indian analysts who observed the antics of UPA factotums like Montek Ahluwalia declaring in 2011 that the poverty line in India for a family of 5 people was a daily income of Rs.32. The same fellow had no compunction whatsoever about sanctioning a lavatory for senior officers in the Planning Commission at a cost of more than Rs. 35 lakhs. Wags could not resist calling it the Loo Raj (ugh!)
If we look at the system of succession in ancient Greece and Rome, it will be evident that one of the most difficult problems was choosing a new emperor. In Greece, the transition may not have been smooth but it was at least consistent on most occasions. The Romans never created an effective system of determining and selecting new emperors. The choice was always open to debate between the old emperor, the Senate, the Praetorian Guard (the emperor’s private army), and the official army.
Gradually, the Praetorian Guard gained complete authority to choose the new emperor, who rewarded the Praetorians, who then became more influential. The cycle was perpetuated. The parallels between ancient Rome and Lutyens Zone Delhi will not be lost on my readers.
The historical equivalence gets even more uncomfortable for the GNG coterie. In 186 CE, the army strangled the new emperor and began the practice of selling the throne to the highest bidder. During the next 100 years, Rome had 37 different emperors – 25 of whom were removed from office by assassination. This contributed to the overall weaknesses, decline and, and eventually, the fall of the empire. Anyone listening in 10 Janpath?
Most serious socio-political and historical research on failing or collapsing regimes, whether they are empires, dynasties or political parties, identifies the following common symptoms and characteristics: (a) uncontrolled hubris (b) insatiable greed (c) insufferable contempt for the ordinary citizens (d) utterly cavalier disdain for laws, rules and regulations, almost all of which were framed by themselves and (e) severe myopia that prevents them from seeing beyond the next week.
As we have seen earlier in this essay, the GNG cabal and the INC display all five symptoms mentioned above. In addition, there are two others that are important ingredients in their DNA – the “Gunga Din” factor (or the Macaulay indoctrination) and the Stockholm Syndrome. It is very possible that there are other features but one would like to think that they would be variants or versions of the seven that have been listed here.
It should also be stressed that these seven elements are inter-connected; indeed, it is a matrix that we are referring to in this analysis, and one should be prepared to study a large number of permutations and combinations. I should emphasise that this would be a long, rigorous, complicated and complex study that must necessarily be done in a separate forum.
At this juncture, we need to understand the last two factors in more detail. The Gunga Din / Macaulay symptom is the ingrained feeling of inferiority that the desi elite and the GNG gang have vis-à-vis the white man and also the Muslim /Mughal conquerors of North India.
One of the definitive studies of the mental and psychological make-up of colonised populations was done by the great Franco-West Indian scholar Frantz Fanon, whose iconic work The Wretched of the Earth is well-known in India and the English-speaking world. It is however, his earlier book Black Skin, White Masks (1952) that contains the most perceptive analysis of the issue we are discussing here – the feeling of inadequacy and low self-esteem that colonised people display vis-à-vis their erstwhile conquerors and colonisers.
In this pioneering study, Fanon looks at black people who had lost their indigenous culture and had embraced the civilisation of their occupiers. They ape the norms of the colonisers fervently, while running down their own indigenous roots. This trait, according to Fanon, is particularly widespread among the upwardly mobile and educated blacks.
The crux of the vicious disease that afflicts the INC and its senior echelons is summarised in Fanon’s epochal work. After 800 odd years of Islamic and British rule, the INC’s top leaders are copybook examples of the Fanon phenomenon – living, breathing purveyors of a sordid ideology. Their make-believe world is that of the Mughal conquerors and the English overlords; it is through these prisms that they look at their own glorious pre-colonial civilisation and heritage. Denigrating their own ethos that is about 4000 years or so is what gives these people their daily high.
Allied to this is the seventh disease of RG’s coterie – the Stockholm Syndrome that they suffer from. Ironically, the initials “SS” are also used to describe the INC’s principal fan club, the “Secularist Storm-troopers”. This behavioural pattern has been studied in depth for many years and the research findings show that people who suffer from this problem are victims of torture and imprisonment who gradually come to identify with, and even admire, their captors and torturers in a desperate, and often unconscious, manner. It is a form of self-preservation and is fairly common in the most psychologically traumatic situations.
The effects of this syndrome do not disappear when the crisis ends. In many cases, the victims continue to defend and care about their captors even after their captivity ends. In German concentration camps in World War 2, some of the inmates were discovered to be fans of their SS guards and murderers. There can be no other plausible explanation of the psyche of the upper-crust Hindus in UP and other parts of India, who were faithful minions of the Muslim / Mughal rulers and later seamlessly transferred their allegiance to the white sahibs.
Bengali Hindus, who were mercilessly uprooted from East Pakistan and pushed across the border into West Bengal in at least three murderous pogroms from 1947 onwards, also have an inexplicable magnanimity for their erstwhile tormentors. Forgiveness on their part can possibly be explained but complete amnesia? It has to be a more malignant variety of the Stockholm Syndrome that is at work here.
I feel we have now looked at and assessed all the seven factors that are involved in the collapse of empires, regimes, juntas and ruling cabals. The INC and the GNG lot are a specific amalgam of these four groups – an animal all by itself. This lot is now well poised to head into the sunset and implode.
There is a most evocative Bangla word, অর্বাচীন (in shuddh Hindi, अर्वाचीन) that our elders and betters employed in our salad days to castigate us whenever we overstepped the bounds of decorum and decency. This word is an omnibus term that has multiple connotations in English, ranging from “unwise”, “backward”, “inexperienced”, “foolish” and “low”. Ouch, the last one hurts. RG would definitely have faced this whiplash if he had ever consorted with the actual bhadralok at some stage of his life.
I feel it is the wink that is going to do them in. Will future historians come out with obituaries like “a wink and a whimper”?
Jay Bhattacharjee is an advisor in corporate laws and finance, based in Delhi. His other areas of interest include socio-political issues and military history. He has been a commentator and columnist from the mid-1990s.