Open Diary

Swapan Dasgupta is an MP and India’s foremost conservative columnist
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Media as the BJP's only opposition, David Goodhart's new book and a visit to Pakistan

IT IS DIFFICULT to say which occasioned the greater surprise: the results of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly poll or the selection of Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of India’s largest state.

By the afternoon of May 11th, the studios were full of experts with hang dog expressions trying to figure out either where they miscalculated (if indeed it was an honest misjudgement) or how to somehow save face. The discomfiture was obvious in the case of Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party leaders who had genuinely banked on celebrating a victory. However, there was a parallel drama involving journalists who had blown up lots of their organisation’s money dissecting caste and sub- caste when all that was there to report was a huge electoral wave.

Under these circumstances, the appointment of the Gorakhpur Yogi came as a veritable godsend to those who were squirming with embarrassment. It allowed them the space to convert self-pity into outrage. On May 11th, there was little the anti-BJP media crusaders could do but genuflect before the principle of democracy (and silently curse the voters for not being sufficiently enlightened). But the moment the BJP leadership anointed Adityanath, their mood changed to bellicose outrage. In lamenting the assault on liberalism, the Idea of India, syncretism and even the Constitution, they finally found a cause that would remove the stain of unprofessional conduct during the campaign.

On the evening of May 11th, one of the despondent editors who had hoped UP would be Modi’s Stalingrad—demonetisation having apparently created the overreach—posted a tweet suggesting that the media was now the only opposition left. Now, that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Politicians of all parties, not least the anti-BJP forces, know that it offends public sentiment if the Yogi’s legitimacy is questioned solely because he heads a temple and wears saffron robes. But the media and intelligentsia live in an echo chamber that has more in common with cosmopolitanism than rooted Indian-ness. One outraged notable even announced on Facebook (after having called the election all wrong) that he was going to unfriend anyone who was kindly disposed towards the Yogi.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will be smirking if this lot is going to be the real opposition in the next two years.

THE TEMPTATION TO equate the totality of the UP verdict with the Donald Trump victory in the United States and the rising anti- immigrant sentiment in Europe—a factor in the Brexit verdict in the United Kingdom—is likely to prove irresistible. Already reams have been produced trying to locate today’s ‘populism’ in the excesses of globalisation. There have also been suggestions that the metropolitan elite got too obsessed chasing the Davos ideal to worry about residual nationalism and the problems of those who were left behind by the new economy.

Many of these issues have been deftly captured by David Goodhart, the editor of Prospect, in his new book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. Goodhart divides the world (or at least democratic societies) into two types of political people: the ‘anywhere’ people and the ‘somewhere’ people.

The ‘anywhere’ brigade is blessed with a large measure of universalist thinking. They are inclined towards cosmopolitanism, either because of exposure or due to the nature of work. In the West, particularly in multicultural cities such as London, New York, San Francisco, et al, this extends to lifestyles as well. The ‘somewhere’ people are far more rooted. Their conservatism—like all conservative thought—is national and also centred on geography. The ‘anywhere’ lot would be more relaxed about, say, unfamiliar or even ‘forbidden’ food. The ‘somewhere’ lot would balk in horror at the mere suggestion.

There is, however, a small problem in this neat categorisation. How would we, for example, locate the politics of minority groups. In lifestyle and orientation, they tend to be very ‘somewhere’ and resistant to attempts at integration. Yet, they invariably ally and make common cause with the ‘anywhere’ lot, providing bus loads of arguments during shows of strength.

This is a debate that is certain to go on and on.

AFTER A GAP of nearly 17 years I travelled to Pakistan, or, more specifically, Islamabad. Actually I visited the grand Hotel Serena for two nights.

I went out once to a shopping mall and once to the parliament building. I didn’t get to taste any biryani or any local delicacies. The journey, incidentally, took 12 hours each way because the tickets were via Abu Dhabi.

Some visit!