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Indian intellectuals hate Rahul Gandhi as much as they hate Narendra Modi

By Kumar Ketkar

Almost all intellectuals have come to the conclusion that the so-called opposition unity is impossible. This outright rejection of the idea of “Index of Opposition Unity (IOU)” is particularly shrill after Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati slammed both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress last week for failing to check rising fuel prices. It’s also because the BSP, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Left did not join the Bharat Bandh on 10 September.
Some intellectual-columnists blame Rahul Gandhi for failing to build an opposition front. Some others say that the Congress party, irrespective of Rahul, is responsible for this situation by being too arrogant, insensitive and stubborn. Then there are those who interpret this failure in sociological terms and say that it is inconceivable that Yadavs and Dalits can come together.
Some pundits view the incompatibility of the opposition parties in personality terms. They feel that Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, N. Chandrababu Naidu, and even Naveen Patnaik and Sharad Pawar have prime ministerial ambitions. Therefore, they cut into each other’s ambition. Some speculate that in case of a hung Parliament, even Pranab Mukherjee can throw his hat in the ring.
Will 1977 repeat itself?
There are also “optimists” who visualise a split in the BJP, blessed by L.K. Advani himself! They speculate the breakaway group of the party will join the motley opposition. These “rebels”, they feel, will draw courage from Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, both ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, who have launched a nationwide campaign, attacking Narendra Modi and Amit Shah over the Rafale deal, rural distress and dictatorship.
Their argument is that in 1977, the rebellion by Jagjivan Ram, Nandini Satpathy and H.N. Bahuguna against Indira Gandhi convincingly nailed the Congress. The hastily carved out Janata Party and even the popularity of Jayaprakash Narayan could not have brought down the Emergency regime! Indeed, there were leaders like George Fernandes who advocated not to fight the elections because there was little chance that the Janata alliance could win.
This group of intellectuals have a similar assessment of the political situation today. But these intellectuals, self-styled or otherwise, do not belong to any organisation or any party, nor do they have any ideology and neither do they follow any individual leader. These intellectuals, almost by definition, are individualists.
They cannot be brought under one banner or one ideology. The defining characteristic of intellectuals is that they are highly opinionated, with often uncompromising opinions, even if they do not have facts to back them. “Don’t give me facts that distort my opinions” was an anecdote attributed to one US President.
Most intellectuals are known to have detested the Congress, except during the Nehru era. They hated Indira Gandhi the most. Some techno-intellectuals did join Rajiv Gandhi, but later deserted him. The intellectual-columnist community often advises Congress in general and Rahul in particular. But that also comes with a lot of doubt and disdain. Some of them expect (and even want) the Congress to win a respectable number of seats, but don’t like Rahul. Many of them did not have a high opinion of Sonia Gandhi too. However, some among them prefer Sonia to Rahul!
The Jana Sangh, and later the BJP too, was never a favourite with the intellectuals. The RSS outfits are known to have been either ridiculed or demonised as medieval in their worldview. The so-called “Right wing” intellectuals were few in number back then but they too did not prefer hobnobbing with the ‘Saffrons’. The Swatantra Party had a top intellectual-founder like C. Rajagopalachari but it could not gather a similar class of people around it, except the retired ICS and some ‘bohemian’ aristocrats.
The Communists did attract some intellectuals, but the liberals among them hated their dogma, their Stalinist past, their so-called unmannerly and, some would say, even uncouth and loud behaviour.
The fellow travellers, who were not part of the Communist parties, got associated with the “Left Congress” during the Indira period. Their mentors were P.N. Haksar and Mohan Kumaramangalam among other such British-educated elite. Many fellow travellers like Romesh and Raj Thapar became hostile to Indira after the Emergency.
Then of course there was a large, disparate, self-styled liberal-Left intellectual class who vacillated between Ram Manohar Lohia, Acharya Narendra Dev and Jayaprakash Narayan. They became socialists, environmentalists, educationists, Gandhian of sorts, sarvodayees, and anti-corruption crusaders. Most of them were known for their hatred for the Congress, even Nehru and certainly Indira.
These disparate “socialists-Lohiaites” were the makers and breakers of the Janata Party.
After the splintering of the Janata Party, various “Janata outfits” like the SP, the SJP, the RJD, the JD(S), the JD(U) and half a dozen other parties in that genre were born. But most liberals, well-settled in life, and the private sector (corporate) executive class had no love lost for these parallel Left parties. Members of these parties were often ridiculed as “Jholawalas”! Many would argue that some of these “Jholawalas” were also loose cannons or self-indulgent intellectual nomads.
The point to note is that none from the “intellectual class” felt close to the Congress or to the BJP.
However, some years ago, there was a cry in the wilderness that there was no “genuine Right wing” intellectual community. Therefore, the term “intellectual” seemingly got associated with the Left or even Marxist Left! The “intellectuals” seemed to occupy a “liberal, secular, progressive” space. It was believed that this kind of space was closed to any Sangh-affiliated person.
This is the psycho-sociological reason why the Saffron Parivar perhaps hates and detests “intellectuals”, particularly the Left and the secular ones! Since the space for a “Right wing” intellectual was vacant, many pro-market, pro-American, pro-consumerism, pro-corporate individualists turned to the BJP. Although they did not appreciate the strident Hindutva, they had no option but to become the ‘Saffron fellow-travellers’. Their hatred for the Congress, utter dislike for Nehruvism or the dynastic culture, their contempt for welfarism and social activism brought them within the larger BJP circle.
Many of them are uncomfortable with Narendra Modi’s style, and crave for Vajpayee and his seemingly ‘Right wing’ liberal legacy. But they know that Modi cannot become Vajpayee. They are now intellectually trapped because they cannot join the mahagathbandhan or a unified opposition’s ship.
And, they certainly don’t want to be anywhere near the Congress. They detest Modi but they detest Rahul more. They don’t like ban on cow slaughter, ban on beef, lynchings, or Mandir Movement, but they tolerate it, even occasionally defend it, for a larger “cause of keeping the Congress out”.
The other assorted Left and liberal community also hates the Congress, but it regards the Sangh Parivar as mediocre, regressive, close-minded and non-modern. So, it has started gravitating towards the Congress, notwithstanding its dislike for the “dynasty”.
Therefore, just as there is no proper mahagathbandhan or a new UPA, there is no integrated NDA either. As a result, the cry for a ‘Right Wing’ intellectual space persists. On the other hand, the Left-liberal intellectual is still in search of a party, and perhaps a proper ideological positioning. The Left-Liberal does not want to admit that s/he is confused.
It is in this intellectually barren land and ideologically vacuous atmosphere where the BJP is looking for intellectual sanction and the Congress is seeking a new respectful identity!