'It promises to get much, much darker before the dawn.'
'But at least dawn has a fighting chance,' says Mitali Saran.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
It's been an exhausting four years for secular, liberal-minded Indians, but here we are, finally, at a place that once seemed impossibly distant -- the last lap of the Modi government before the next general election.
They say that it's darkest before dawn, but nobody tells you how dark.
Things looked pretty dim when Mohammad Akhlaq was murdered in Dadri in 2015, and Union Minister Mahesh Sharma draped the corpse of one of the assailants in the national flag.
But by the time we got to BJP ministers organising protests in defence of the rapist-murderers of an 8-year-old child in Kathua earlier this year, we could no longer see our hands in front of our faces.
What a distance the BJP has come since 2014.
From the high-water mark of the Modi wave, when the Lok Sabha and state after state came to belong to the party.
From the time that wave drowned out all criticism on the insane assumption that might is right.
From the point when the BJP IT cell gremlins over-ran social media, using volume and abuse to quieten critics.
Most of all, from the time when a second term for Mr Modi seemed like an unquestionable certainty.
Indian voters are wary of politicians.
Between political party-hoppers and egomaniacs, incompetents and the corrupt, the hate-filled and the disinterested, the foolish and the too clever by half, we don't have a lot of great choices.
Our hopes are mangy, skittish creatures that live underground and emerge warily only to be run over again before limping back to their dens.
Secular liberals have watched with growing horror as the BJP has rampaged all over the joint, picking at communal and social sores in the name of healing the country, delivering marketing and hashtags and acronyms instead of product, and beating its own chest even as it issues statements -- about Vedic-era plastic surgery, about women being responsible for rising numbers of rape, about media broadcasting the Mahabharata war live, about Sita in the Ramayana being a test tube baby -- that make it a national and probably international embarrassment.
Team all this with the horror show that is public information.
Our relationship with events is mediated by a media emasculated by corporate ownership, and driven by profit rather than public interest, as the Cobrapost expose makes clear.
Streams of fake news, propaganda, and official and unofficial misinformation have infiltrated news.
Social media creates mutations and echo chambers.
And voila, we end up a disaffected, angry, confused electorate that feels cheated, confused, betrayed, neglected, and worst of all, taken completely for granted.
The BJP's string of electoral successes seemed to suggest -- and the BJP insisted -- that this state of affairs is what the country wants and votes for.
But it appears that the BJP's momentum truly has foundered on hubris.
Today everyone from its opponents to its supporters is mad at it.
Whether it's because of high petrol, diesel, and LPG prices, or because of unemployment and agricultural distress, or a surfeit of godmen and a deficit of sensitivity, or because Robert Vadra isn't being prosecuted, or because there's no sign of a Ram temple, or because of a laundry list of corruption and scam charges, or because birthday greetings fly thick and fast while atrocities bring on a great silence, or because there isn't enough polarisation, or because of the leadership's arrogance, everyone is pissed.
Friend and foe finally have common ground.
So -- with great surprise -- hope for the Constitutional idea of India has recently dared to stick its miserable nose out again.
The BJP's much tom-tommed invincibility has been stripped away seat by seat in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, in the Karnataka elections, and in the recent by-polls in UP and other states.
It says a lot that the Kairana seat went to a Muslim woman.
It says a lot that social media spends its considerable comedic energy roasting the Shah-Modi combine, with the invaluable contribution of fact-checking Web sites and clear-eyed citizens.
Most heartening of all, the Opposition has finally discovered that power lies in the phrase 'unity in diversity'.
The stakes are monumental for the BJP -- the problem with riding high is that it's a longer way to fall.
It has already taken to whining about how it's so unfair that the Opposition is effectively opposing it.
Perhaps the party, clinging to the coat-tails of one’s man's vaunted charisma, has not yet emotionally processed its own diminishing popularity.
There have been dark rumbles for many, many months about how this next general election is going to be the dirtiest, most desperate play for power yet.
It promises to get much, much darker before the dawn.
But at least dawn has a fighting chance.