December 11 - The Day Saffron Turned To Blue

Raman Swamy

It is unlikely that future historians will mention the second week of December 2018 as some kind of turning point in the story of India. 

Nothing particularly earth-shaking has happened except for a handful of provincial elections in which some parties won and some lost.  

But that is the drawback of all history books - unlike daily newspapers they seldom capture or reflect the mood of the moment. 

Writing about an event or period long after it is over and has receded into the forgotten past, is not the same as living in tumultuous times and attempting to chronicle developments as they take place amidst all the uncertainties and unpredictable possibilities. 

December 11, 2018 was an important date, nevertheless.   Let the archivists disagree decades later.  

It was the watershed moment in which those in a position to influence public opinion regained their voice and were liberated from the fear of telling the truth.   It was the day the false narrative of the previous fifty months was exposed for what it was.  

No, the Congress party had not been consigned to the dustbin of history, never to be seen or heard of again.  No, its leader Rahul Gandhi is not just a dumb kid or a part-time politician who was more interested in spending quality time with his pet dog than in listening to the cries of his fellow-countrymen. 

And no, the BJP is not the irresistible force that would hold sway over the destiny of the nation for generations to come; and no, Narendra Modi is  not the much-awaited ninth avatar who would transform Kaliyug into Ramrajya. 

TV anchors in particular were among the first to sense the change.  As the results trickled in from counting centres in different States, it began to dawn on them that neither was the Congress the utterly irrelevant spent force that they had relentlessly led their viewers to believe nor was saffron the only colour that mattered in Akhand Bharat.  

At first there was bewilderment.  Soon there was palpable tension in television studios where partisan political activists masquerading as journalists discovered to their  horror that the vote count and seat tally were not trending as per script.  

Fancy electronic scoreboards which had been pre-programmed to paint the map of India in spectacular swathes of saffron were slowly but surely awash with splashes of blue.   By the end of the day – and the day did not end till well past midnight -- the election wall was unrecognizable with a solid blue ribbon right across the midriff of the nation. 

The babble of non-stop running commentary and instant wisdom also began to take a turn in directions that had not been anticipated and indeed had strictly not been permitted in all of the last four years of live television.   

Spokespersons representing out-of-power parties who hitherto had come to expect and accept  that their role was to be seen but not allowed to be heard, began to speak with greater confidence and were even able to complete full sentences without being heckled and without the volume of their microphones being turned down so low that their faces often used to resemble fish in an aquarium. 

If not for anything else, December 11 will be remembered as the day free  speech was partially – and temporarily -  resurrected on private channels of the electronic media. 

Some of the hosts, too, evidently sensed the chemical change that was taking place and were street-smart and nimble-tongued enough to switch sides and direct a few bold and brash questions at ruling party spokespersons who were taken aback at such treachery and increasingly went on the defensive, for the first time in years.    

The tone and tenor of media coverage was however not the main reason why December 11 could prove to be a turning point in the country’s politics.   Nor was it just the fact that the BJP was voted out of power in three States and that the Congress had made a comeback.  

There was more to it than that.  A kind of invisible veil seems to have been lifted from the psyche of the nation.   The popular discourse has altered in a subtle but unmistakable way.   It is discernible among the common people and the thinkers and intellectuals alike. 

The signal has been sent that it is no longer taboo or hazardous to job security and career prospects to air one’s opinion freely.  In a democracy, that is no small thing.  

It may not last.  There could be a backlash and even stern reprisals.   But for the moment,  as the year 2018 draws to a close, there is something refreshingly different in the air, which even the polluted winter fog cannot conceal.   

On the road to the next Lok Sabha elections, the decibel levels will undoubtedly rise to higher than ever heights, and the vocabulary of the contesting parties will no doubt touch new lows.   But, hopefully, the media and message will be less tilted than has till now been the case.   At the very least, nobody can call Rahul Gandhi a political novice anymore and nobody will describe Narendra Modi as invincible.

Dec 20, 2018

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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