“Lock her up, lock her up” they chanted in collective unison, a hysterical mob who were frenzied supporters of Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. It was vicious and manifested hate towards the challenger who right-wing conspiracy theorists believed ran a child prostitution racket. The perceived immoral larcenist was Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate who, right until a week before voting day, had a slender lead over her vitriolic mercurial rival.
Clinton would go on to lose to Trump in one of the most stunning upsets in American electoral history in November 2016. The 45th US President haughtily took off from his dazzling Trump Towers in New York to the storied White House in Washington. A wide supercilious smirk accompanied him.
Many believed that the preposterous hyperbole of the election campaign would give way to a more nuanced, mature, reasonable political conversation between the exuberant Republicans and the still gobsmacked Democrats. That never happened.
How Donald Trump Was Ousted
After four traumatic years, the world’s oldest democracy was pounded and pummelled relentlessly to a pulp. Donald Trump clobbered American politics, annihilating its quintessential core, its constitution. The Republicans caved in pusillanimously to Trump’s bedazzling influence on white supremacists and evangelical conservatives.
The dystopian nightmare would culminate eventually at US Capitol Hill, where pornographic violence played out in broad daylight as Trump’s loyal storm-troopers went amuck. 6 January 2021 was a dark day for America.
Although 20 January 2021 was still overcast and cold, the sun did shine too. There was a sliver of hope. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr was sworn in as US President. He said: “ We need unity. We need to work together”. But there was a deeper profundity when he added. “Democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile”.
Thousands of miles away in India, I hope both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Congress President Rahul Gandhi were listening.
BJP & Congress Have Both Contributed To Making India’s Public Discourse Farcical
Let us face it: we do not have a two-party presidential system here in India, but the Congress and BJP represent two diametrically different political platforms of public choice. They are the lynchpins of coalition arrangements. If Republicans and Democrats took their tendentiousness to levels of refractory obtuseness ( the government had to shut down) the BJP and Congress have made India’s public discourse equally farcical.
In America, sadly, filibustering — once an exception — has become the norm. In India, former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s rodomontade was unmistakable — “Parliamentary obstruction is BJP’s political strategy”.
If Trump abandoned a 152-year-old tradition of an outgoing President attending the swearing in of the incoming one, a churlish, infantile act of an incorrigible narcissist, Modi’s call for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ was equally unprecedented. In a democracy, there must be an ideological and political space for mutual coexistence. We need to be subordinated to a basic minimum civility. Right now, that is absent. Modi was not just calling for Congress’s political sayonara, he was effectively wanting it coffined. That is a dangerous fetish; the absence of opposition. Demagogues usually distrust media, opposition, NGO’s, intellectuals, liberals etc and not necessarily in that order. Even the farmers were not spared the State’s suspicion.
The Age Of Partisan Brinkmanship: Cong & BJP’s ‘Mortal Combat’
The Farm Laws amplify India’s political conundrum. If the BJP was smart they would have co-opted the Congress on them as that was exactly on the latter’s election manifesto of 2019. But consumed by a contemptuous disregard for their political opponents, they self-destructed.
The Congress on the other hand could have been the imaginative trouble-shooter, negotiating deftly with farmers, creating a collaborative architecture for finding a solution. But we live in the age of partisan brinksmanship. Both parties behave as if they are mortal enemies even if that results in mutual destruction. That is why both parties infiltrate institutions with supine loyalists who do their political bidding.
The law-enforcement entities (CBI, ED, police personnel, Income-Tax) are usually emasculated; they become instruments of political vendetta. Fear is the key.
Politics in India is not pellucid, it is putrid. Both parties are contributing to the stench. The Congress must recognise that the Modi- Shah jodi has altered BJP’s mainstream clout with a whopping 38 percent vote-share; the pre-2014 condescension will not work.
And despite appearing anaemic, the Congress still commands a foundational presence that under an inspired leadership can result in an enduring resuscitation. The BJP can never obliterate the Congress. They should stop daydreaming.
BJP & Congress Must Understand Importance Of Détente
Of late, Congress’s social media has become as virulent as the notorious BJP IT Cell. But the over-the-top Modi hammering is not working. Polarisation is getting calcified. Both sides are operating on hard turf refusing to confabulate with each other. The BJP’s “win-at-all-costs” approach (Operation Lotus and manipulation of constitutional loopholes) has damaged trust, and trust is the foundation of a bilateral relationship. The Congress — were it to win in 2024 — will probably reciprocate the gesture.
Bottom-line: India will remain permanently divided if its two mainstream parties do not understand the importance of détente.
At peril is Indian democracy itself.
(Sanjay Jha is the author of ‘The Great Unravelling: India After 2014’. He is a former National Spokesperson of the Congress. He tweets @JhaSanjay. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)