Parakala Prabhakar
Author & Columnist
Prem Panicker
Journalist & Editor


Review of the Session by Dipankar Khasnabish

It was an interesting session with Parakala Prabhakar on the occasion of the release of his book “The Crooked Timber of New India”. He was in conversation with Prem Panicker.

I have not read the book, so this summary is based entirely on the conversation. Many important topics were covered, and I will suggest one may spend 100-odd minutes going through the recording of the event. Nevertheless, these for me are the key takeaways (including comments by Prem, which was agreed upon by Parakala):

  1. The performance of the economy during the current central is bad, but given the dominant narrative that has been successfully seeded, issues like the economy, etc. are largely irrelevant in the country today.
  2. It is also to be noted that BJP from its inception has not had any coherent economic policy. For example, at the time of its genesis, it spoke about
  3. The dominant narrative, which is centered around “identity” and “othering” has also helped to subsume other flagrant aberrations/ violations, like no credible data being published by the authorities, inconvenient data being suppressed, or delay in the data collection exercise itself.
  4. The narrative has also helped in weakening the institutions. For example the surrogate digital media campaign by the PM in the recent Karnataka elections even after the 48 hours moratorium started was not even an issue. Ideally, Election Commission should have stepped in.
  5. The narrative has been built on the RSS ideology of how to handle Muslims in India. There were primarily three options – Tiraskar, Puraskar, or Sanskar.

With Puraskar never being on the table, the Sanskar model of including all in India as part of the same great culture was initially tried. However increasingly it has come to the Tiraskar model, and the “othering” of the community has seeped deep into the national psyche.

  1. These changes in the society has not happened overnight, it is a very long project where thousands (if not millions) of Karyakarthas has given their life in propagating the ideas to the nook and corner of the country, as part of the social upliftment. And the manifestation of this hate is more prevalent in the urban areas, among the affluent, and educated.
  2. The challenge is not an individual or a group of individuals, loosely called the cult. It is about an idea, which is now deep-seated. So a simplistic approach of attacking the figures will not be effective at all.
  3. So the solution can’t be a silver bullet. An election win will do precious little unless a large section of the civic society dedicates a substantial portion of their life to taking back this narrative war in the nook and corner of the nation. This will take time, maybe even decades – and we should be ready for this.
  4. We see a gradual change of narrative from secular/ non-secular to Hinduism/ Hindutva. By doing this, we are shifting the battlefield to religion. What we need to focus on is the battle of the fundamental principles of the Constitution, what it enshrines, and how they are being violated.
  5. In summary, it is a battle of ideas, not individuals. Election wins are good but with limited impact. Unless we look at the long term, and take the fight to society. This will require the commitment and dedication of many. And possibly decades.