The Face of the Power Elite
By Amit Khanna | IANS
Since their inception, various government organisations, both policy making and dealing with education and culture, were packed with handpicked Left-leaning members of the New Delhi elite (now epitomised as the Lutyens Delhi or IIC/Khan Market gang). Air kissing socialites in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata where they would meet with khadi clad intellectuals of Delhi and whatever the new royalty discussed would soon influence public discourse. After all this was civil society. All a part of a cozy club with similar antecedents – privileged upbringing, public school education, Oxbridge or at least elite college (St Stephens, St Xaviers, Loyola, and such like) club memberships, summers in the hills, golf, polo, inherited lineage and property or government issue (GI) luxuries.
Then there were ministers, MPs the sahib log of government, armed forces, railways, diplomatic corps, editors and the recently minted nouveau khadi brigade or what I call jhola carrying Nukkad Natak Mandli of activists — all part of a well-oiled machine of new India of Garibi Hatao and people’s revolution champions. I too belonged to this exclusive 0.1 per cent India with the added bonus of Bollywood celebrityhood. A New Delhi boy who had made it big in the big bad world of Hindi cinema. Since I ticked all the right boxes and was articulate with the heart rightly positioned to the left, I was on every government Committee, adequately rewarded with occasional government favours till the early part of the last decade. I still have several friends who continue to be flagbearers of the Lutyens’s tradition.
Parallel to this hallowed group of social nobility in the 1960s emerged a new class the power brokers called Liaison managers. Meanwhile opinionated editors and journalists, retired and serving bureaucrats and service officers, academics and progressives (a rather undefined term) were suitably rewarded by grants, scholarships, government patronage bungalows and junkets. These were thinkers whose scholarship was generally steeped in colonial perspective of Indian history and culture with totemic references to the critics, arbiters of public opinion and the influencers of the fifties and sixties. The only patronage was state sponsored and the License Permit Raj favoured a select few with little droplets of largesse. Utopia disguised as idealism was the currency of thinkers. India hobbled along a nation of perpetual shortages where frugality was a virtue and consumerism a sin. Nepotism was a favoured pastime as a seat at the high table was passed on with club memberships. The odd sophisticated business scions were coopted to this commune of Left-wing academia, writers, media and artistic fraternity. After all some help in cash and kind or patronages didn’t qualify as a sellout. What’s a free air ticket or foreign trip or a case of Black Label between friends and Chairmanships of top institutions and even a Rajya Sabha nomination?
In most democracies, ginger groups exist among journalists, intellectuals and other members of society. What happened in India is this motely group of elitist opinion makers blurred the line between cheerleaders and umpires. An odd critic here and there like Devas Gandhi, Frank Moraes, Shankar, most media was content in towing the government’s line except on rare occasions like the TTK-Mundra scandal, 1962 debacle in the war with China. Nehru did not change his lot. By the early sixties media, intellectuals and the haut monde had morphed into what would ultimately be called the Khan Market Gang. As long as you had a sinecure, why complain. Of course, within this system was a strict pecking order depending on your access to the top. Let us not forget except for cinema all other art, culture, academics, media (broadcasting was state owned, print was regulated through newsprint allocation and government advertising). Films, though in private sector, were subject to strict censorship and even raw film was rationed. None of the cacophonous lot of eliberals’ lamenting an imaginary loss of freedom ever talks about what happened in the first 40 years after independence except for an occasional throwback at the Emergency.
This was the power elite – Lutyens’s favoured progeny has since dominated the social, cultural and intellectual discourse. For 70 years the debate has been dominated by Leftists and their cousins that it is difficult for them to accept that a tectonic shift has happened. Liberalism in not the sole preserve of one section of Indians. I too am secular and liberal but I am not a Modi basher. I condemn every discrimination or killing Muslim, Hindu or any citizen of India. But I am not selective. My history does not begin in 2002 or even 1526.
1975 is a watershed year in Indian history. Driven by a lust for power and a desire to makes her son Sanjay her political heir, Indira Gandhi upset the applecart. Surrounded by some ambitious young Left-leaning acolytes, she clamped down on all and sundry and even changed the Preamble of the Constitution.
The charade continued till the Emergency. Social ferment and a people’s movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan turned Indian polity topsy turvy. Leninists joined hands with the Hindu Nationalists, Socialists, deposed princesses and backward class leaders, journalists, academia, artistes all turned storm troopers in the quest for eSampoorn Kranti” (Total Revolution). Swayed by family loyalties and poor advice of courtiers, the first family of Indian politics began floundering. Rampaging through institutions, even upsetting the traditional apple cart of the privileged anarchy was let loose. By the eighties, things began to crystallize in the cauldron of political and economic alchemy. The Lutyens scorpion, however, still had a sting in its tail. It struck back. But, this time the membership of the exclusive club of movers and shakers was enlarged incorporating not by choice but the changing socio-economic paradigm. The next gen (baby boomers), Leftwing radicals, academia, artistes and media with a smattering of activists, Lohiaites, Rightwing moderates and professionals – all now became members of the new power structure.
The Left still dominated but new interlopers appeared on the scene. In a rather unholy alliance, various disparate groups like Marxists, Hindu Nationalists, Socialists and others joined hands to form a short-lived government. But the Mandal (caste) and Kamandal (religion) politics of the early nineties permanently altered the power balance in India. The global collapse of Communism further fanned the winds of change in India. A new India emerged amidst the shifting quicksand of global geopolitics. For the first time, caste politics overtook the Hindu-Muslim issue out of the electoral math. This was also the time of the rise Hindu Nationalism, Dalits and an aspirational India. India said in unison eYe dil mange more”.
The assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in a matter of few years (and Sanjay Gandhi’s death in an accident) happenstance threw up a new Prime Minister in P.V. Narasimha Rao who (with help of his protege, Manmohan Singh) opened India’s moribund economy. The Elephant begun to move and with TV fueling a consumer boom — a new middle class of dreamers and achievers ushered in an aspirational India. This was the time that the Hindu majority asserted itself for the first time in a thousand years. Atal Bihari Vajpayee led a BJP dominated coalition government to power. For the first time, a Right-of-Centre government was in power. There was substantive change in the Indian socio-political alignment. New interlopers moved towards the hidden treasures of subterranean power in New Delhi.
After a six-year honeymoon, the Congress led intellectual mafia struck back and regained power in 2004. The jholawalas, the Leftwingers came back with a vengeance, fumigating the corridors of power and refurbishing their exclusive club. A supra club called National Advisory Council consisting of Leftwing activists, journalists and other Club members overruled the legitimate government. Once again, public discourse was heavily tilted in one direction. Any one who did not support this Brahmanical order was to be kept away from all government-sponsored schemes and institutions. Loyalists were suitably rewarded. The creative fraternity and media fed on patronage. As the economy was on a roll, the largesse could be accommodated. And who cared about fiscal deficit. Harebrained schemes by mothballed crony capitalists was the norm and the unsaid motto was “Milkar looto baant ke kahao” (rob together and share the bounty). The ten-year second romance with destiny came to a rude halt in 2014.
Amit Khanna is a media personality.