It’s something to do with the age: everyone, it seems, is fallible. Each individual who lived blissfully in a cocoon of undimmed vigour and elan is suddenly faced with a new awareness of mortality. At a time when the image of humanity is marked by symbols of vulnerability—the double mask and a fear of being with others—Indian politics didn’t remain immune to the infection. It was given a paradoxical inversion of those symbols, but with the same message. For nearly a decade, the BJP has been galloping over the landscape in the self-assured manner of an expansionary Mongol army—or like the storied spectre of the ancient ashwamedha ritual. The saffron army seemed to possess that impermeable armour no one could pierce. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi was like that grand steed no one could catch. In reality, there had been setbacks earlier—a series of assembly election defeats, from Delhi in 2015, to Rajasthan-MP-Chhattisgarh in 2018, to Maharashtra et al in 2019—and yet the overall elan of victory elsewhere masked over that. But the summer of 2021, in the midst of a pandemic that has brought India to its knees, that mask of invincibility lay like a fallen shield on the battlefield. The Teflon coating, finally, seemed thin. Head to head against a woman leader who just wouldn’t give up, Modi, the Alexander-like conqueror, finally appeared in the ranks of other, lesser mortals—as vulnerable, as fallible, the body unaware of its depleted oxygen.
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