Because their liberalism was fake, elitist, dishonest and out of touch with reality
So, as sociologist Yogendra Yadav said in an interview to Mint a few days ago, India is “entering a long and dark tunnel" for the next five years. Journalist Kapil Komireddi wrote in The Guardian that Narendra Modi, if re-elected, will take the country into “a dark place". Activist Ruchira Gupta has written in Thenation.com that in these Lok Sabha elections, “for democratically minded Indians, the stakes couldn’t be higher", and “a Modi victory [will put] India’s 200 million Muslims in danger". These are just three recent examples out of dozens of opinion pieces by “liberals" in the last few months predicting doom if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power.
But the writers of most such pieces reveal their illiberalism much too easily. By implying that “democratically minded Indians" would not want Modi back, Gupta gives herself the prerogative to decide who among her countrymen believe in democracy. It is astounding that she can’t understand how elitist and undemocratic that is. Yadav, in his interview, said that “if Mr Modi forms the government…we would be taking many steps towards… electoral authoritarianism…a regime where… everything other than elections that a democracy needs does not exist".
Yadav surely knows that Jawaharlal Nehru banned umpteen films and books, and jailed several journalists and authors, including the eminent Gandhian thinker and historian Dharampal. The very first amendment to the Constitution, which Nehru pushed through, within 18 months of India becoming a republic was to curb press freedom. He even allegedly barred a speech by the then-president Rajendra Prasad from distribution. I need not waste any words on Indira Gandhi.
The Modi government did not ban a single book or film. In fact, Haider, which openly advocated azaadi (freedom) for Kashmir, won five National Film Awards, including Best Screenplay, in 2015. As for “electoral authoritarianism" at work today, Yadav must be aware that Mamata Banerjee has been presiding over a reign of terror and potentially incendiary communal politics in West Bengal, where the police force has been emasculated, where Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officers were arrested when they tried to question the then police commissioner of Kolkata for his links to a massive financial scam, and the commissioner—surely a unique event in the history of the Indian Police Service—sat on a dharna with the chief minister. Yet, Yadav circulated a video asking people to vote for any party other than the BJP. What are the values he stands for?
The truth is that many of the world’s “liberals" are the most illiberal people around. Research studies in the US show that candidates without left-liberal leanings have little chance of getting a faculty job in the humanities departments in most American universities. And one thought that being liberal meant being open to ideas.
The other insidious disguise that “liberals" in India adopted during the first Modi regime was that of “fact checkers". While they did a splendid job of tracking down hundreds of fake news items spread by the BJP and its supporters, they were completely silent on the other side. For instance, Rahul Gandhi claiming that Modi had given Anil Ambani ₹30,000 crore when the whole Ambani contract is worth just ₹800 crore. Or saying that the government had passed a law allowing security forces to shoot tribals indiscriminately. Or the electronic voting machine hacking allegations, when it is absolutely clear if you care to listen to the facts that the devices cannot be hacked, either remotely or manually. That is plain dishonest.
What these fellow-travellers do not understand—and this is an across-the-world phenomenon—is that they are out of touch with reality. They are increasingly confined to their echo chambers and all they have left is frustration, cant and self-righteous rage. They love the unwashed masses when they vote as they—the “liberals"—would like them to; otherwise, they are idiots. Their stated belief in democracy is a mask for their elitism, intellectual hubris and intolerance.
Obviously, the BJP and its ecosystem have many very dangerous people. I am frightened by what even some highly educated BJP supporters say, and seriously believe they need help. But the way to fight them is not through just a negative campaign and offering nothing as an alternative. It only showed your ideological and intellectual bankruptcy, and common Indians, who you will now brand as fools, could see that.
As for “200 million Muslims in danger", the BJP could never have won so many seats without a large number of minorities voting for it. In her piece, Gupta calls for India’s return to “policies intended to uplift the lives of the poor" instead of communal politics. She may be in for a surprise here. On the day the exit poll results were revealed, the one pollster who got the National Democratic Alliance numbers exactly right said on TV that in his travels around the country, he could not find a single poor rural household that had not been touched by some central government scheme. That is why Modi won so big. He couldn’t have done it only by invoking narrow sectarianism.
Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of 'Open' and 'Swarajya' magazines