The Modi era has found a name: Amrit kaal. Conjured up last year in wake of the dreadful Covid Wave II, it is now official, finding mention – according to statisticians with nothing better to do – in the prime minister’s Red Fort ramparts speech, all of 14 times. Narendra Modi’s contradicting of Himanta Biswa Sarma the other day on the next prime minister (PM) has put at rest the question that plagued Nehru starting about a similar juncture in his tenure: ‘After Nehru, who?”
It’s going to be Modi for some time. He needs outdo Indira’s 13 years, plain-sailing after an inevitable hat-trick (pun intended) in 2024. His photos from the Garden of Five Senses at his Lok Kalyan Marg residence testifying to his pracharak-edifying physical fitness, he will saunter past Nehru’s, 17. His sanskars - judging from those of the Brahmins let-off for rapes and murders in the Gujarat pogrom - are celestial. Besides, lessons learnt from the security breach on the flyover in the vicinity of Bhagat Singh’s shrine at Hussainiwala and from the chip-laden man gate-crashing National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval’s residence (that saw the first instance of accountability of any kind in the Modi tenure in the sacking of three of the NSA’s personal security minders), should see him through to Mugabian longevity.
The very plausible excuse will be that his party needs him. After all, its twice-won parliamentary majority owes to the ‘Modi wave’ in each case. In the first instance, it was manufactured on the back of the black operations comprising an India-wide terror bombing campaign that created a Muslim ‘Other’ to carve out a Hindu vote-bank. It then appropriated the national sentiment against corruption by subverting the movement from within by sending in stooges as General VK Singh, ‘Crane’ Bedi and ‘Baba’ Ramdev, all of who were rewarded subsequently. The second time round, the promise of acche din having being dashed on the rocks of demonetization and a botched ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ rollout, required another resort to black operations: this time at Pulwama.
At Pulwama, a militant in and out of custody some six times reduced a bus in which 40 security men were travelling to ashes. Apparently, there is a book out that tells of where the 80 kgs of explosives came from, but, to cognoscenti, that the explosive found its way – as did the 26/11 attackers into Mumbai and the terrorists targeting the Pathankot airfield – tells its own story. Reportedly, another book tells of the accuracy with which Balakot was targeted. Balakot was the military-feat-that-wasn’t but provided enough space on its back for Narendra Modi to ride into power a second time round. (This author suffering from ‘confirmation bias’ - as trolls inform him on his twitter handle - has no intention of reading either book.)
As Modi ages, the excuse to continue milking his persona will be that there are alternatives, but fratricide might result if he were to depart the scene or settle into Rashtrapati Bhawan for life. A prime minister-in-waiting might not make it past Covid Wave VI. One who could make a credible alternative has been sidelined from the party’s parliamentary board. Pretenders to the throne are aplenty and all in the age bracket and ambitious enough to see them respectively bid for the new prime ministerial residence at Central Vista. There is an ascetic being mentored for the role, testified to in photos of the prime minister - who changes his shawl at every turn of their stroll together during the tutoring session; a minister with a foreign degree and whose daughter does not own a bar; a chief minister leading a civilisational war between the rest and the Muslim one-third of his state; and, not to forget the South, a brash young man last seen in Srinagar stirring up passions over the tricolor on Lal Chowk, though taking care to stand right behind a gun-toting Sikh cop. The ‘After Modi, who?’ conundrum will be flogged to keep the patriarch going even as he chugs past Biden’s current and Trump’s by then-second term landmarks.
Under continuing Modi leadership, Amrit kaal is at hand. By the centenary of Independent India, New India is to be a ‘developed nation’, two aspirations advisedly twinned. Both journeys began with the end finally of the British Raj in 2014 - as the Bollywood ‘Queen’ reminded us. The nation building part of it has been on for about a century, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at it since its inception. Over the past eight years, the Republic is no longer Mahatma Gandhi’s and Nehru’s, but ‘Veer’ Savarkar’s. The nation includes only those subscribing to the latter’s punya bhoomi thesis, though the thesis shuts out spiritual winds – that can only but be universal - from elsewhere. Strangely, while ancient India can be vishwa guru in the spiritual sense (and all other senses including technological), other lands and their peoples cannot.
The development promise is held out yet again to keep the corporate and commercial elite alongside. They fund the project in exchange for second generation neoliberal economic reforms that Modi promised to unleash untying the animal instincts, energies and appetites of capitalism. The middle classes who seek to profit from this marriage of convenience - signified by Hum Do Hamare Do - are doubly advantaged: not only getting an identity-kick from the ‘nation’ but also corral the benefits of development, its underside be paid for by other sucker communities on India’s social and geographic periphery. Luckily for Modi, Covid intervened timely to provide him with an alibi of mahamari to show for a derailed economy – his election a second time round obscuring that his actions had brought this on well prior to Covid onset.
Modi, ably assisted by NSA Doval, fostered ‘politico-military collusion’ – in the words of a leading military watcher - whereby he set the external security coordinates in a manner as to not interfere with or trip up the internal political project, Hindutva. It is two birds with one stone. The two neighbours – Pakistan and China – have been kept mollified, even as the appeasement that has brought this quietude on the borders is projected internally as a work of deterrence. Internally directed information war has it that the two neighbours have been suitably impressed by the bared fangs of the Modi-inaugurated Simha atop the new parliament building. This suffices for voters, willfully and self-interestedly beguiled by the lapdog media with the lies earlier on Balakot and later, on Ladakh.
While on the borders, both sides have been kept engaged by the typically-Indian approach to talks: interminable and meaningless. These have been secret with Pakistan and been between the two militaries with China. Since there is no known expertise in negotiations with the intelligence hands undertaking the secret talks (other than hostage taking negotiations) or with the military, these can get nowhere. Arriving at resolution through talks was never macho enough, even with Manmohan Singh’s (MMS) India, even though the receptive Yin was not absent in MMS, which Anupam Kher purposely over-acted out in his rendering of the Singh character in The Accidental Prime Minister.
The quietude on both lines of control – ceasefire on one and status quo (though not status quo ante) on the other – allow for the political space for consolidation of Hindutva. All institutions – including the judiciary having been brought over and bought out – once there was only the military left. This is being hollowed out by the Agnipath scheme. It is kept without the jointness that a Chief of Defence Staff might have instilled. Thus, the dominance of Hindutva over the political paradigm and political culture going official in an impending make-over of the Constitution by a switch to Hindu Rashtra, there would be no institutional rearguard for the First Republic.
This setting provides for three possible trajectories of the future: the officially-conceived Amrit kaal; a contested Amrit kaal; and, last, an alternative Amrit kaal.
The official Amrit kaal
New India, duly impressed by the success of Har Ghar Tiranga, puts aside its diversity. From a salad bowl it gets to being a melting pot. Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan resonates, including in the South, where Hindutva made inroads beginning with the Telangana elections. Hyderabad’s Owaisi fled to Dubai, taking his millions, while his pocket borough lined up for ghar wapsi. The Pasmandas, serenaded by Modi, pleaded for the reservation dividend, but there were no sarkari jobs as the government bailed out from its enterprises, including the corporatized and then sold-off Railways. New India swept past the $5 trillion mark and lined up within sight of $30 trillion by when it got to a Grand Old Party-mukt centenary.
The Agniveers thwarted the Army’s last-ditch institutional-interest driven backlash, siding with the deep-selected CDS to thwart the ex-National Defence Academy, combat arms cabal of generals. The generals pleaded that they had mistakenly taken the NDA prayer seriously, that has it: ‘Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.’ Judicial infrastructure was improved, especially judges residences, as was personal security. The judiciary tamped down challenges to the Constitutional make-over to Hindu Rashtra, arguing that the democratic verdict in 2024 indicated that it was the collective will – harking to the ‘collective conscience’ that did Afzal Guru to death.
To provide space for Hindutva to grow roots and sprout, Akhand Bharat was suspended till after Amrit kaal played out. Pakistan was offered ghar wapsi into an India-led South Asian federation. Diminishing marginal utility of the ‘Bangladeshi’ illegal immigrants issue catching up, after its use as another tool to beat Indian Muslims with the compilation of the National Population Register, they were given labour documents and their Aadhar, voter and ration cards taken away.
China, having displaced the United States (US) as the hegemon after the US civil war over Trump’s second loss in the Presidential polls – this time to a coloured woman - dissipated its status, could no longer be messed with. Taiwan, with US having fallen off the radar, fell in line, putting paid to the hope of realist strategists that China would implode, leaving India as the new kid on the block. Dr. S Jaishankar was put to pasture and pension.
After Modi attained nirvan for his upholding the raj dharma ever since his 2002 ‘action-reaction’ days in Gujarat and Ram Rajya that made Amrit kaal possible, the British war-commemorating India Gate was displaced from its location and a temple dedicated to Modi was constructed. The humble tea seller in him had decreed from his death bed that its glory should not match that of the Ayodhya temple that he had conferred on the people.
A truncated Amrit kaal
In retrospect, it appeared that the ‘developed nation’ strategy required sequencing. Being double-engined, there was more likelihood of a wreck. Both engines, trying to get ahead, tripped each other up. Getting to ‘nation’ required Hindus to give up their identity, anchored historically in caste. Depressed classes were offered cosmetic hand-me-downs, but then instances, as of the upper caste teacher thrashing a lower caste student for partaking of water from his pail, set back the idea. Muslims, already nonentities politically and marginalized socially, did not take up the ghar wapsi bait since it meant getting reinstated at the bottom of the pyramid whence an ancestor had fled. All indicators pointed that they were already there.
As for ‘development’, New India continued plunder of forests, extracted coal, sold it off to China and used the strategic roads - constructed to keep out China - for bringing in China-made goods in return. Corporates into export of armaments drew a blank as Ecuador took India to trade arbiters over imported Dhruv helicopters falling out of its skies. The Agnipath scheme could not absorb all the surplus would-be Agniveers. Most millionaires, not needing cue from the Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya, decamped for Canada and the Caribbean, in footsteps of 31000 who’ve left since business-friendly Modi’s ascent. Unicorns turned out myths. The right wing control of Hyderabad and Bangalore, led up to restive social relations, frightening off the investments in the two Information Technology hubs. Tamil Nadu’s finance minister challenged the federal arrangement as keeping his people back. Tamils drifted back to its skepticism of the Center that it had given up during the 1962 War.
The Gandhi siblings - physically fit and relative young - took their street fighter avatar that fortuitously emerged from their faceoff with the Enforcement Directorate further. They were joined by the farmers, displaced tribals, Muslims threatened with disenfranchisement, the unemployed, assorted denizens of the Khan Market gang and Lutyens’ Delhi, climate change victims and laid-off Agniveers. Even though China rebuffed them – not needing to lend a hand to have India keel over since India was doing a fine enough job on its very own - the Maoists emerged from their forested hold-outs. Though the Bhima Koregaon detainees numbered into three digits, even though many succumbed to malaria in custody, their apologists in the academia helped forge linkages within the underclass. RSS shakhas were disrupted in the mohallas and rural unrest widened. Climate change heat waves pushed many into poverty, making the country side resemble India of the sixties.
Pakistan, espying opportunity, diverted some Punjabi jihadi energy to Kashmir. There was enough hardware from the $7 billion left over by the Americans in Afghanistan to equip them with. The army reverted from the Ladakh border. The Chinese 1959 claim line was conceded and de-facto Chinese occupation accepted with Ladakh demilitarized. This didn’t help in the western front since Pakistan was now a frontline state again, but being a Chinese proxy enjoyed impunity. It turned out, happily, that India’s nuclear weapons were indeed – unlike what Modi said – meant for Diwali.
In a succession battle, Modi was kicked upstairs as Rashtrapati and had the PM Cares fund to retire with. His saffron-robed successor won a Moghul era-resembling succession battle. Churchill, in his grave, was reportedly pleased to note India reverting to his description of it as a ‘geographical expression’.
A wishful Amrit kaal
The stench from the regime’s electoral pursuit was too much even for bhakts. People could see that though a Muslim, Bilkis Banu was a woman. An agitation equaling the one for Nirbhaya, forced her rapists – even though Brahmin - back into jail. This turned out the second peoples’ victory after the farmer’s agitation. As prices went up, people asked for acche din in return for their vote. Noticing that these were placed some 25 years away by the Amrit kaal rhetoric, they emulated counterparts in Sri Lanka. The once-failed Agniveer agitation - that went violent and lost peoples’ support - was revived. The Sarkar was prevented from disinvesting (euphemism of allowing a national asset to go to seed so as to have an excuse to hand over at a pittance to a capitalist crony). Godi media anchors started getting heckled, its reporters pushed around and its outdoor broadcast equipment mysteriously catching flames.
In 2024, Modi was voted out of power. His ghost-written memoirs only rivalled Mein Kampf sales in Gujarat. Critiques panned it as a Bunch of Lies, recalling RSS’ Guruji’s title, Bunch of Thoughts. His foray into speech-making, à la his good friend Barack Obama, flopped because the teleprompter cat was long out of the bag.
A peoples’ agitation, reminiscent of non-violent Quit India protests, got going in Kashmir. Its leadership invited the Kashmiri Pandits back, guaranteeing their safety and dignity. Pakistan, with a new dispensation in Islamabad - and the military duly chastened from their support and its aftermath for Imran Khan - was more politically able. India was in a position to restart where talks left off in 2008 and had sputtered to a halt with Sushma Swaraj’s Islamabad visit. India had secretly conceded more ground than Modi or Doval would care to admit, so the start point was mutually agreeable to both. Kashmir reverted to statehood and fair elections held.
China, deprived of a proxy partner to tie India down to South Asia, was more amenable to talks. Talks were upgraded to diplomatic level and mandated to deliver a border settlement in a time-bound manner. India was willing to countenance tradeoffs, and went public with the options. This transparency helped mould public opinion, allowing the two sides flexibility on the table. China, for its part, was sanguine that India not a rentier state for the US. Within India, Amit Shah’s ‘chronology’ abandoned, India could reach out to neighbours, together creating a South Asia at ease with itself.
India made environmental laws stringent. Development was no longer at the cost of future generations or its adivasis. Climate change effects and extreme weather events were not denied any more in policy making circles. Cooperative federalism was more in evidence. Economic devolution to states was its spirit. The judiciary suddenly found its mojo and reopened the case of death of Justice Loya and the case he was engaged with when he died. The accused could not this time round circumvent court appearances.
The right wing party was purged off its extremist leadership that had taken over in a party coup by placing the party’s elders into a marg darshak mandal, and reverted to being a normal conservative party. The Left parties made a comeback with their critique of the economic path hitting home. Thus, India ended up with a four cornered contest: conservatives, middle roaders that included the Congress and identity-based ones, the Left and regional parties. Hinduism was wrested back from those perverting it. Reportedly, a shocked Churchill slipped and fell into purgatory.
Of the three scenarios, it’s easy to see where India is headed. A cataclysm lies ahead. A timeline that has Nadir Shah’s sacking of Delhi, the Mutiny and Partition well spaced out implies that another could be in the offing. The relations with neighbours and an internal situation that is delicate, strategic structural infirmities and doctrinal ambiguities and the leadership’s moral deficit all conspire to set up a ‘perfect storm’. The scapegoat - Muslims - is readily available, so are storm troopers and mass (mis)leaders. The RSS has inserted its tentacles into all walks of life, deflating all institutions of any moral worth. All the Chanakyan cunning of the presiding duo and the vaunted strategic acuity of Doval and his coterie will not measure up. This is known best by them, which explains India pussyfooting round Operation Swift Retort and in Ladakh. It’s far easier to badger a minority through micro-terrorism than to be confrontationist externally. Akhand Bharat is without any cost, being but tall talk. Internally, it is far easier to coast along than to chance reforms of the police and corrections system and insist on application of the rule of law. The fixation on the Dynasty shows up a fear, since the Dynasty can serve to focus and articulate the hopes of the people. If a mere tweet can have the trolls scurrying to the aid of the Emperor, other modes of political action are both plausible and potent. This shows some relief in the gloom. Even as the regime contemplates what to substitute the words, ‘We, the people…’, with ‘We, the Hindus/Sanatanis/Brahmins/Bhatkts….?, ‘the people’ themselves have merely two years to ponder who they are and who they want to be.