In my younger days, when I often heard ardent card-players shout “Three No Trumps!” I came to understand it as the triumphant cry of victory from a winner in a game. I am still puzzled as to why three resounding Nos amount to trumping your adversary. But these days in politics, it has acquired a new meaning. United States President Donald Trump is a ruthless businessman whose overpowering urge is to cut a deal no matter how it hurts his allies or other partners. A recent example is the notorious ditching of the Kurds in Iraq. He is likely to flaunt before his friends and advisers three NOs that he will present to his Indian hosts.
On the eve of Trump’s portentous visit to India, there had come a terse statement from the White House that there would be no talks on trade deals with India but defence would be the main concern. The military-industrial complex happens to be the prime driver of both US capital and foreign policy. So the sale of sophisticated American weapons and the containment of China would probably be on the agenda. While it might appeal to the militaristic mind-set of our current rulers it is unclear what substantial benefits India will gain from these talks.
Trump seems to have ruled out at the outset three things: No trade deals that will be of help to Modi to prop up a tottering economy, for example getting preferential trade terms for Indian industries such as pharmaceuticals. Second, no comment on such international concerns about India as the abuse of law and threat to civil rights, except in the case of religion, because one of Trump’s primary constituencies is the numerous bands of evangelical Christians and the lunatic fringe of Christianity in America, such as the Creationist anti-Darwinians. Third, not much of a major political re-orientation, such as distancing America from its older ally, Pakistan. One should not be surprised if he next pays a surprise visit to Pakistan.
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But, there will be an awesome publicity extravaganza where the US president will be gratifyingly wowed by a promised crowd of millions. But this is meant rather more for the awe-struck Indians than for the cannier American crowd. The visual pomp and splendour of two world leaders fraternising on the stage are calculated once again to bewitch Indians with vicarious pride, as did the ‘Howdy Modi’ glitz in America. But, conceivably, it might also push a profligate government towards driving India into a deadly debt-trap.
What it actually betokens for India is to be found in the mesmerising fable of the Grand Inquisitor in Russian writer and thinker Fyodor Dostoevsky’s extraordinarily imaginative and clairvoyant novel from the 19th century, The Brothers Karamazov. In the fable, the Grand Inquisitor arrests Christ at his Second Coming, before he can do much damage to the Satanic empire on earth, which is under the former’s guidance, by delivering all from bondage. Then, he makes a secret visit to dungeons to talk Him out of His mission.
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Though I am changing the context, the fable applies in a way to our politics today. The Grand Inquisitor reasons with Christ that men are fallible and cannot “bear very much freedom”. What they crave for is minimal security and order in their lives. In place of the freedom that is their birthright they may and must be kept in their place by three Ms: miracle, magic and mystery. That is what his Church has been doing, according to the Grand Inquisitor, by keeping people enthralled.
Does Trump represent the caucus of which the Grand Inquisitor is a member? Some critics in America think so.
What are the three Ms for our country? First, miracles that bewitch the masses. Like the incredible electoral victories delivered by intoxicating propaganda at the grass-roots and an efficient workforce that can drive voters to the right button in the booth. And ‘surgical strikes’ like the legendary bombing of enemy hideouts.
Invisible to sceptical Westerners, this terrible revenge is a lived reality for Indians. And GST summoned like an angel at an auspicious moment to propel the country towards ‘Development for All’. A third example is the magnet that attracts members of the Opposition in hordes to the ruling camp.
Second, magic. No better example can be found than the sweep and celerity with which facts are turned on their heads to the befuddlement of the masses, with the Opposition watching helplessly. A downturn becomes an upswing. Decline in production and sale of cars is indication of phenomenal popularity of cabs at a call.
A post-truth regime is established that makes it impossible to know truth from falsehood.
And finally the esoteric mystery that has marginalised rational ideology. This, of course, is reserved for the select few who reveal it to their devoted followers, who in turn feed it in tolerable capsules to the masses. For example, the great idea that the Indian notion of ‘Dharma’ is much more profound and more vast than the wretched trappings of Hitlerite Nazism.
Only the true Brahmin grasps it, and as for the rest:
‘Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to do and die.’
True democracy, instead of the fake version, is supposed to be a rule of the wise who can best control money and power “for the benefit of all”. But what about the immortal soul in all human beings that our great medieval saints had sung about? Only the people of India can answer whether they are ready to surrender it to the Grand Inquisitor or will ultimately side with the Son of Man.
The writer is a literary critic and commentator on socio-political issues. The views are personal.