Politics is brutal in India, the winner takes it all in an ugly, bitter brawl-fest, festered over five years before the apocalyptic denouement. The loser does not get a runners-up trophy.
As I boarded my Indigo flight to Delhi on the penultimate day before the actual counting of votes in India's sixteenth general elections, I could feel my stomach-knots tightening up.
My nervousness was palpable; a gentleman sitting nearby nodded in empathy at my visible discomfiture. I smiled back. That would be eviscerated several hours later as I sat motionless stunned by the voting trends flashing with kinetic frequency on TV screens the next day.
By the time the scorching Delhi sun had begun its predictable descent, so had my Congress party's hopes of even a modest revival that could be the stubborn embankment against the Bharatiya Janata Party's aggressive juggernaut push towards the saffronisation of India.
Post-mortems will happen, but one fact is incontrovertible: India has changed. It's almost as if its blood type itself has altered on account of a fresh, imported transfusion. Our moral boundaries have shrunk inwards and, thus, there is no revulsion or outrage at the morbid attacks on primarily innocent Muslims killed on suspicion of eating beef or child-kidnapping.
Barbaric hate has mushroomed, assuming violent manifestations with chilling unpredictability. Mohammad Akhlaq's murder in Dadri momentarily shamed us, but the more recent killings, equally heinous, are now a fleeting news item on a fast-moving scroll on TV channels.
The methodical mainstreaming of hate-attacks through sporadic incidents is now India's depressing truism. A few horrific incidents have already occurred since last Thursday; this is not altogether an unusual happenstance.
There are no escape routes. A sense of claustrophobic fear is gripping the nation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was adamant on hitting below the belt during the sulphurous election campaign. His speeches were meant to confusticate, and were totally bereft of any moral compunctions. He actually alleged that the Congress party was in cahoots with Pakistani terrorists, an absurd, laughable tosh borne of a malevolent hate for India's Grand Old Party.
Elsewhere, religious schisms remained BJP's core strategy as it has always paid an electoral windfall, with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and BJP president Amit Shah leading the charge.
Modi's pathological abhorrence for the Gandhi family surfaced at intermittent intervals. His disparaging attacks on late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi were distasteful, disingenuous, but he was determined to tarnish his name. After all, his potential nemesis was Rajiv's son, Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
Modi, I presume, rehearses speeches for most of his working time and then a shivering, shrivelled media obligingly amplifies his vituperative barrage. The public is deceived into falling for the insidious propaganda. For instance, while lambasting dynastic politics in the Congress party, he happily accommodates both Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi in his own. Like American President Donald Trump, Modi revels in crafty dupery of voter emotions.
At a private club in Mumbai, a Stanford postgrad, with a smattering of salt and pepper in his enviable hair, tells me that his biggest fear is that the Muslim population will overtake the majority Hindus in a few decades.
I tell him that it is as much a mathematical fantasy as those fanciful notional losses in auditor reports that destroyed the previous Congress/UPA government.
It is evident that the BJP's unhinged social media fake news factory has devastated the human membrane. Many are parroting their phantasmagoric lies like robotised clones.
India's democracy is on creaking legs and is seeing rampant digital manipulation. Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are popular social media platforms that have augmented the dissemination of morphed images and twisted facts. What you see is not what you get. But people are snacking on sound-bytes and Modi has monopolised that space by keeping it suitably lubricated with stuff like Naamdaar-Kaamdaar, Khaandaani Chor, etc. He caused Cyclopean damage to the Congress party.
In 2019, Modi studiously stayed away from any pretensions of being a free-market darling: the chicanery that had befooled many in 2014 and obviously still does.
He has turned the famous 'It's the economy, stupid' on its head, upending conventional wisdom that a distressing agrarian crisis, record unemployment, collapsed small businesses, plateaued private investment and questionable GDP growth, among others, would seal his fate in the electronic voting machines.
One of Modi's celebrity supporters, a Big Bull from the Mumbai stock-markets disquietingly said that India's growth story was being hindered by its democracy. Once upon a time in India that would have led to a major kerfuffle, but not now. India is happily acquiescing with authoritarian leadership, economic corporatism and religious conservatism. It is quite a mix.
Incidentally, India's economy is headed southwards, with macroeconomic fundamentals indicating an imminent slowdown.
Narrative-setting is a cakewalk for someone who has captured a kowtowing mainstream media, playing propagandist content on hyper-steroids towards masses of susceptible populations, deluged repeatedly by curated material. The psychological brainwash is done methodically using a saffron detergent.
Thus, Modi mesmerised the nation post the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot strike into believing that nothing else mattered: nothing, other than national security and that he was the sole saviour of India's territorial boundaries.
It seems India fell for this masterclass in deception hook, line and sinker. People seem to have forgiven him the innumerable lies, Rafale corruption, destroyed institutions and broken governance. He now gets a second term that will take him into a decade to lead the futures of 130 crore Indians. Many are understandably terribly nervous.
But it is not the overwhelming majority of seats that BJP has won that is the real story of 2019 elections. It is the vote-share. In 2014, BJP's vote-share climbed to a staggering 31% from a mere 18%, seemingly on Modi's dodgy Gujarat model of development.
But this time Modi gave his earlier Acche Din (good days) promise a contemptuous, cursory goodbye. So what explains the considerable jump to 38.5%? People seem just okay with his theatrical oratory that sells majoritarian nationalism and muscular Hindutva. Issues evaporate and the hard populist push shatters traditional caste-community barriers.
India has changed. India has moved consciously to the Right. It is perhaps not so infelicitous then that Pragya Singh Thakur will soon step into the sacrosanct chambers of Indian Parliament.
On May 23, 2019, Mahatma Gandhi was killed all over again.
Sanjay Jha is the National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. He tweets from @JhaSanjay.