The elevation of Narendra Modi to the BJP’s Parliamentary Board has brought about a virulent reaction from the Congress and the secular brigade; the first casualty of which has been the NDA. Nitish Kumar’s arrogant departure from it, and the sulking of the senior leaders in the BJP, reminded me of a book of essays written by Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian-British author and journalist, after his travels to India and Japan in 1959. The book titled “The Lotus and the Robot” primarily explored Eastern mysticism, through the practices of yoga and Zen. The book was promptly banned in India by the authorities then in power.
Koestler was a political activist, having lived through perhaps the most turbulent period of European history. He was thirteen years old when the First World War ended in 1918 that saw the end of the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman, and the Tsarist Russian empires. As a German-speaking Jew in Europe, the period between the First and the Second World Wars was perhaps the most stifling time for a writer of his talents. Educated in Austria, he joined the German Communist Party, but was soon disillusioned by the state of terror unleashed by Stalin. He resigned from the Party in 1938, having closely witnessed another facet of totalitarianism in Franco’s Spain, and immigrated to England. In 1940, he published “Darkness at Noon”, a novel that is as strong an indictment of totalitarianism as George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four”.
Koestler’s terrific sense of phraseology has resulted in some very catchy titles that adorn his writings. Apart from the two titles mentioned above, he also wrote: “The Yogi and the Commissar”, “The Ghost in the Machine”, “Thieves in the Night”, “Arrival and Departure”, and “The Age of Longing”, besides several other works of fiction and non-fiction.
The end of the Janata Party experiment in 1979 that brought back the Congress to power under the total control and command of Indira Gandhi also saw the morphing of the old Jana Sangha into the BJP, replacing its symbol of a lighted lamp with a lotus flower in bloom.
Indira Gandhi systematically dismantled the structure of the old party by concentrating absolute power in her hands, and forcing the state legislatures to (s)elect her nominees as their leaders. Each Chief Minister was nominated by her, and the party had no say in the matter. Inner-party democracy disappeared and the space vacated by dedicated Congressmen was quickly filled by sycophants and flatterers. Dissent was promptly suppressed and chosen commissars were unleashed upon those who dared to differ. They were heckled and hounded out of the party by being dubbed as “CIA agents” or as anti-nationals. The “court jester” of a Congress President, Deb Kant Borooah completed the transformation of the once grand old party to a fascist dispensation when he said that “Indira is India, and India is Indira”. With Indira Gandhi at the top of the pyramid, the rest of the structure consisted of automatons that were programmed to utter only such sentiments.
The crumbling of the Janata Party that was brought about by the socialists within it who took objection to the Jana Sangha members retaining their membership of the RSS, resulted in the formation of small, left-leaning, regional, parties, while the Jana Sangha rechristened itself as the BJP. The blooming lotus, sacred to the Hindus, replaced the lighted lamp as its symbol. Other sectarian parties soon joined the bandwagon, splitting and merging into a veritable forest of acronyms, with and without parentheses. The political landscape of the country had completely changed from the days of Nehru in the first flush of Independence, when people voted without such considerations as caste or creed. Vote-bank politics, that was largely absent till 1979, raised its head, as political parties vied for power on narrow regional, sectarian, class and caste calculations. Punjab was the first state to burn in this conflagration.
The actions of the two Sikh bodyguards of Indira Gandhi, in 1984, would have very far-reaching ramifications. Coincidentally, it was the year that George Orwell had chosen for his ‘futuristic’ depiction of a dystopic state at its peak of power and repression. The resultant retribution that the automatons and their mindless legions visited upon the hapless Sikh community has been recorded in great detail, and it is not my purpose to revisit those terrible times. Within less than a generation after the dismemberment of the Indian subcontinent, India was once again descending into religious fratricide, dividing the nation into smaller constituents of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs etc., and into even smaller fragments along sect, caste, and class; each constituent ready to spring at the throat of the other at the slightest provocation.
This is the state of affairs that has continued from that fateful year in 1979 when the Lotus and the Robots have been contending for political control of the centre. The automatons of the Congress have systematically hounded out all potential threats to the First Family, and have brought the party down to such farcical levels that the best it could field in the UP elections last year was, to my mind, a robot from the movie Star Wars, known to the people who saw that film, as R2-D2. The Rahul-Digvijay combination was fielded by Sonia Gandhi to decimate the vote bank of Mayawati, the elephant queen, and her “evil” empire. That a plebeian medium of transport, represented by a bicycle, would be the runaway winner had not even entered the calculations of the ruling party at the centre. Mulayam was not in good health, and his son Akhilesh did not have the good fortune of being born in the Nehru-Gandhi family. The D part of R2-D2 felt bold enough to declare that his party would win at least 100 seats, and was ready to wager a crate of imported Scotch whisky. (Of course these Rajas are not expected to know that an Indian Single Malt, Amrut, is considered by some experts as one of the three top single malts in the world).
Indira Gandhi started the emasculation of the Congress party and gradually replaced the human elements with mechanical robots, trained only to genuflect to the ruling Deity, and to open their mouths only to stifle dissent and to sing paeans in praise of the First family. The same policy was followed by her son, and perfected by her daughter-in-law. Along with R2D2 she has also fielded other Robots, now occupying enviable positions of power. No prizes for guessing who. This collection of programmed and programmable automatons would do any puppet-master proud. The Robots have been unique in letting opprobrium upon opprobrium to wash off their synthetic backs, day in and day out and still continue to crawl when asked only to bend. They are the closest to Orwell’s Winston Smith after having been “treated” by O’Brien and his colleagues, and brought round to see the “light”.
Meanwhile, the lotus, after the departure of Vajpayee from the scene, has been unable to raise its head above the mud. L. K. Advani, with his penchant to go on rath yatras on makeshift automobiles, in search of a utopian Ram Rajya, looks more and more like Cervantes’ Knight of the Sour Countenance, while his corpulent sidekick would make for an admirable Sancho Panza. Tilting at imaginary windmills, this Don has made his party a laughing stock, thereby losing one state after another and destroying any chances of it becoming a serious contender for power at the centre. If that were not enough, you have the likes of Raghavji inaugurating jail blocks only to receive him as an inmate on allegations of severe moral turpitude. What a contest we will have in 2014?
“The people who must never have power are the humourless.” This is what Christopher Hitchens wrote in June 2011, shortly before his untimely death. Can you imagine a more humourless bunch than Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, and R2-D2? Add the visages of Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, A. K. Antony, Salman Khurshid, and the entire cabinet, and you will be seeing perhaps the most humourless faces in one group in history. To quote Hitchens once more: these are the kind of people who are “secretly hoping to prove that it is they themselves who are the pet of the universe…those who overcompensate for inferiority are possessed of titanic egos and regard other people as necessary but incidental.”
We must hope that the general public is no longer swayed by these interlopers and has learnt to use its vote with deliberate discretion and careful consideration.