When the Emergency was imposed in 1975 and fundamental rights were suspended, the vast majority of Indian intellectuals and commentators protested. Most newspapers carried sharply critical comments and truthful accounts of the excesses perpetrated to defend India against contrived “threats.” Many critics were arrested or sacked.
In contrast to this stands the near-euphoric reception being accorded by much of the media to the emerging Right-wing threat from the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial-aspirant Narendra Modi, and worse, rationalisations for him by certain “liberal” columnists, who held him culpable for Gujarat's 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom.
Today, they are trimming their sails to the wind -- and playing to the pro-Modi gallery. They see virtue in him, including “moderation.” An analyst recently lavished praise on him for not highlighting trade-mark Hindutva issues: Ram temple at Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 pertaining to Kashmir, and a Uniform Civil Code.
The BJP's 2014 election manifesto now shatters these delusions. The “Trident” issues figure in it just as they did in all its manifestos since 1996 (barring 1999, when the BJP-led coalition issued a “National Agenda for Governance,” which opportunistically omitted them.)
The past manifestos termed “Sanatana Dharma” synonymous with “nationalism,” declared “Shri Ram lies at the core of Indian consciousness,” and equated “the Hindu world view” with “cultural nationalism.”
The new manifesto is no different, despite minor changes like building a Ram temple “within the constitutional framework,” and a UCC with “gender equality.” It lifts entire sections from Mr. Modi's recent “Vision” document and the Gujarat-2012 Assembly manifesto: it's a manifesto “for, by and of Modi.”
This shows the BJP remains firmly in Hindutva's vicious grip. The RSS has tightened its hold on its day-to-day working, organisational appointments and ticket distribution as never before. L.K. Advani wouldn't have been compelled to stand from Gandhinagar had the RSS chief not intervened.
The RSS is fully complicit in Mr. Modi's plans to weed out everyone associated with the Vajpayee legacy. Mr. Advani stands utterly marginalised. The Gujarat BJP's huge posh new headquarters has rooms for national and state office-bearers, a media centre, meeting rooms, an auditorium, a 120-seat conference hall, a library, etc, but no room for Gandhinagar MP Advani!
As for those who see “moderation” in Mr. Modi's team, his right-hand man Amit Shah recently spewed communal venom and called for “revenge” at Shamli and Muzaffarnagar, worst-affected in last September's anti-Muslim riots that left 60 dead and thousands homeless. One hopes the Election Commission will exemplarily punish Mr. Shah.
Those who have gone soft on Mr. Modi advance two other arguments. First, they point to the BJP's internal “checks and balances,” including presence of the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh chief ministers, and elected party committees.
Mr. Modi has taken care not to antagonise these. The BJP, the apologists claim, is more democratic than the dynasty-controlled Congress, and parties centred around one or two leaders.
This view is partly true, but dangerously one-sided. Most parties other than the Communists don't hold genuine internal elections. The Congress works more through nomination-from-above than election-from-below. They all do internal consultation. But that doesn't make the BJP a “bottom-up” party.
What makes the BJP truly different is RSS control of it. And the RSS is not an elected body. All its office-bearers from the sarasanghachalak downwards are nominated. It calls the shots in the BJP.
It's the RSS that asked Mr. Advani to resign after his 2005 speech extolling Jinnah, and later sacked him as opposition leader in the Lok Sabha. BJP President Rajnath Singh owes his position to the RSS. The RSS nominated Mr. Modi as PM-candidate.
Mr. Modi today needs BJP and non-BJP regional leaders to win votes and build alliances, but he will treat them like dirt once they have served their purpose. Mr. Modi is incurably authoritarian and brooks no dissent. The RSS is with him, and the BJP lists “Modimantra” as its website's topmost “core issue.”
RSS control apart, elected BJP bodies like the 12-member parliamentary board and the 19-member central election committee are regularly bypassed on crucial decisions -- like Mr. Jaswant Singh's removal from the Barmer seat. So much for “checks and balances”!
Another line of defence of the Modi apologists compares him with “tough” (read, semi-autocratic) ultra-nationalistic leaders of other countries, like Japan's Shinzo Abe, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
All these leaders are intolerant, advocate cultural exceptionalism and wish to avenge real or imagined past humiliation. They are all staunchly pro-Big Business.
Their relative “popularity” in their “democratic” home countries, the apologists hold, is a new regional/global trend. So there's nothing particularly odious about Mr. Modi. If Mr. Abe represents “Asian nationalism,” so does Mr. Modi, who resents the West's denial of a visa to him.
These comparisons are deeply uncomplimentary. All three leaders are authoritarian Right-wing hyper-nationalists, suspicious of democratic institutions (in Mr. Abe's case, even Japan's pacifist Constitution). The last two have sent their economies into a tailspin despite early growth and huge natural wealth. They are extremely divisive.
Mr. Abe is no “Asian nationalist,” but an apologist for Japan's imperial past, which he wants to recreate by militarising Japan and confronting its neighbours, especially China, with territorial claims. He is post-War Japan's most Right-wing conservative leader -- to be opposed, not extolled. He's also strongly pro-US. Mr. Modi too is pro-US and will strengthen “strategic partnership” and economic ties with it despite visa-related personal resentment.
Ukraine is Mr. Putin's foreign policy disaster. Blatant Western intervention there must be deplored. But Mr. Putin overreacted by annexing 4.5% of Ukrainian territory. He has gutted his own plans for a Russia-led “Eurasian Union” and sent Ukraine into the European Union's arms. His policies and corruption are causing a massive exodus of talented youth and capital flight.
The less said about Mr. Erdogan's repression of peaceful protests, divisive ethnic impact, media clampdown, massive corruption, and the gathering economic crisis, the better.
India will be hopefully spared the Japanese-Russian-Turkish experience -- and a Modi prime ministership.
The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.