Opinion

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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

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