Never mind the lifeless opposition. The real challenge to Modi and Shah comes from ordinary Indians

Tens of millions of Indians remain committed to an idea of constitutional patriotism that is steadfastly opposed to Hindutva.

There are many adjectives one could apply to the political parties who constitute the opposition to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Corrupt, cronyist, weak, disheartened, listless, lifeless, lazy and incompetent might do for a start.

The last two characteristics have been much in evidence in recent weeks. Following the farmers’ unrest and police firing in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, in which five farmers were killed, the Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, visited the district. A less lazy politician would have set up base there, identified with the protesting farmers, and not left until the Madhya Pradesh government had punished the errant officials, paid adequate compensation to the families of the victims, and set in motion other remedial measures to alleviate agrarian distress. Instead, Rahul Gandhi came to Mandsaur, got himself photographed, returned to Delhi, and immediately proceeded to Europe on holiday.

Opposition failure

Meanwhile, the incompetence of the Opposition was manifest in its unconscionable delay in deciding on a suitable candidate for the presidential elections. Among the names being discussed was that of the scholar-diplomat, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a man of such stature that he draws admiration from two bitter rivals who agree on nothing else, namely Mamata Banerjee and Sitaram Yechury. Had the Congress, as the largest non-BJP party, led the Opposition in nominating someone of the calibre of Gopal Gandhi, and done so early, it would have placed the ruling party on the back-foot. The BJP may have still had the numbers to elect their candidate, but there would have been a real contest, feeding positively into the campaign for the 2019 general election. But the silence and inaction of the Congress president allowed Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to announce their own candidate, thus shaping the debate in their favour.

These two episodes confirm what I have been arguing for some time now – namely, that the Congress, under its First Family, is making itself increasingly irrelevant to democratic contestation in India. Meanwhile, while the Congress at least presumes to have a nation-wide footprint, the other parties that are in Opposition to the BJP are confined to particular states, and often to particular social groups within them. These smaller parties are also either beholden to an autocratic leader or are extremely corrupt (sometimes both), and hence unlikely to mount a credible challenge to the BJP in the years to come.

The dismal state of the Opposition means that the BJP is overwhelmingly likely to win the next general elections. It already controls the governments of the large states of northern and western India, with the exception of Bihar. While its influence is restricted in the East and the South, the BJP is in office in Assam, and might claim Odisha yet, while in my home state of Karnataka it has a 50-50 chance of regaining power in 2018.

In an electoral sense, then, the BJP is dominant across most of India. And its dominance is set to grow even further. Over the next decade, as it further consolidates its hold on state and Central governments, the BJP will aim to remould Indian society and politics in its own image. The individuals at the forefront of this remoulding will be the two men who have taken the BJP to its present position – the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the party president, Amit Shah.

(Photo credit: Reuters).
(Photo credit: Reuters).

Democracy in name

What will be the consequences for democracy and nationhood of the political dominance of the BJP, and of the personal dominance within the BJP of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah?

The first thing to remember about Modi and Shah is that they have no real commitment to democracy beyond winning elections. As they have demonstrated, first in Gujarat and now at the national level, they have contempt for the legislature and for the media, two institutions that are meant to hold governments and politicians to account.

While disregarding Parliament, Modi and Shah also seek to undermine the autonomy of other key institutions of Indian democracy, such as the judiciary and even the Army. They further wish to control and manipulate regulatory institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, and to make them instruments of the ruling party.

Modi and Shah have an impoverished understanding of democracy and democratic procedure. And they have no commitment to religious pluralism either. The leaders of our freedom struggle and the framers of our Constitution were clear that our national identity would never be determined by, or held hostage to, a particular religion or language. But Modi and Shah, bred in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, think otherwise. In their view of India, those who are not Hindus are not equal citizens of the land. Muslims in particular must accept a subordinate position. Shah’s majoritarianism is writ large in his actions (notably, his exclusion of Muslims from representation in the BJP’s candidate lists). And those who, back in 2014, thought Modi had outgrown his sectarian past should think again, in the light of his studied silence on the continuing attacks on innocent Muslims in BJP-ruled states. This is a man who will tweet sympathy for victims of a forest fire in distant Portugal but ignore the murder of his own countrymen by his own partymen.

The Opposition is in disarray. However (and this is our republic’s saving grace) democracy is about more than party politics. Thus the ideas and policies of Modi and Shah are being contested by Indians who shall never fight or win an election, even a panchayat election. While large sections of the print and (especially) electronic media have become mouthpieces of the ruling party, there remain some newspapers, some editors, and some reporters who write fearlessly and on the basis of facts about the crimes and errors of the BJP and the governments it directs. And some websites are more independent-minded still. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the paid armies of right-wing trolls, on social media too democratic and liberal voices are becoming more visible and active.

Constitutional patriotism

In spite of the time, energy and money that the BJP spends on controlling mainstream as well as social media, it has not been able to suppress either reasoned debate or independent documentation and analysis. Meanwhile, in society at large, tens of millions of Indians remain committed to an idea of constitutional patriotism that is steadfastly opposed to Hindutva. These Indians do not want their country to become a Hindu Pakistan. They do not want to be told what to eat, how to dress, whom to love and whom to vilify. Seventy years of independence and of life under the Constitution have led to the inculcation of mores and habits that run against the grain of authoritarianism and majoritarianism.

Will this independent, non party, opposition to the BJP crystallise over time into a party (or parties) that can defeat the BJP in the general election of 2024? Can there be a Emmanuel Macron-like phenomenon in India? Those questions this historian cannot answer. But I would like to reiterate the main thesis of this column – that democracy must never be reduced to, or equated with, the winning and losing of elections. Democracy is a way of life, a system of values, that must be practised every day, not brought out of hibernation once every five years. Many Indians subscribe to this deeper understanding of democracy, which is why, in spite of a single party being so dominant in the sphere of elections, its policies and politicians face such searching criticism in the public sphere.

The admiration for Mussolini and Hitler of Hindutva ideologues in the past; the brash, abusive style of BJP leaders in the present; the intimidation and harassment of its critics by the use of State power; the street lynchings by gau gundas – all these have led left-wing intellectuals to speak darkly of fascism. Such hyperbolic talk diminishes both the institutional history of democracy in India as well as the democratic instincts of Indians. Even if the Opposition, united or divided, currently seems incapable of taking on or even containing the BJP, other Indians will continue to challenge, question, and hold to account the ruling party and its leaders. Modi and Shah may have vanquished the likes of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi; but they still have to contend with the legacies of the likes of Ambedkar and Nehru, who gave our republic the democratic and pluralist template that the Hindutvawadis seek to damage but shall never be allowed to destroy.

This article first appeared on The Telegraph.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.