This election verdict will have vital ramifications for democracy’s onward journey for decades together, and silencing and further invisibilisation of religious minorities would be its logical outcome.
SUBHASH GATADE | Caravan Daily
A journalist friends’ prophesy has finally come true.
The day India launched ‘surgical strikes’ across the border supposedly to avenge the Pulwama terror attack, this friend immediately sent a message on a WhatsApp group that Narendra Modi has ensured himself a second term. He stood his ground despite few heated exchanges on the group from Left leaning friends.
In the coming days, this not so expected debacle of the secular camp and the surge of the Hindutva Supremacist camp in newer areas and communities would be further analysed/debated/discussed from various angles. It will be debated why despite the caution expressed by the likes of Amartya Sen, who had concluded how India has taken “a quantum jump in wrong direction since 2014”; how despite being cautioned by leading scholars, intellectuals, scientists of our times that the very idea of India is at stake in the elections, the people in general did not pay any heed to their appeals and have resolved to continue the journey with a renewed frenzy in the same direction or have fully supposedly embraced this idea of ‘New India’ jettisoning the old one. Remember, not only has the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) been able to garner more seats than last time but its vote share has also increased more than 5%.
No doubt, the results have shocked many but the signs were ominous with new factors at play and new players in power and with the ‘project to radicalise Hindu India’ by design and delusion gaining further momentum.’
People will also try to analyse how far the elections were influenced and impacted by the rapid spread of social media, especially WhatsApp in India, which helped the rapid spread of Right-wing ideas and exclusivist agendas much to the detriment of voices of moderation and inclusion.
For anyone who had looked at the pre- and post-poll surveys done by more professional institutions, say the CSDS-Lokniti survey, it was amply clear which way the wind was blowing. How there was less traction for the issues of farmer distress, unemployment, rise in prices etc., and growing traction for issues of security, nationalism, Balakot etc. and how the election “may have been driven by personality, at least partially”. And this despite the fact that even members of PM Modi’s think-tank had themselves acknowledged the ‘crisis shadow on India’s economy’ and how it is ‘[r]unning the risk of a structural crisis, and could soon be ensnared in a “middle-income trap”‘.
The question arises what prompted this less traction for real livelihood issues and a surge for issues of passion, issues of emotions? Why this huge gap between promise and performance as well as rhetoric and reality did not worry the populace.
As an aside, it can be shared that the coarse sounding discourse from the ruling dispensation, vis-a-vis the ‘arch rival’ (ghar mein ghus kar mara) (entered the enemy’s home and killed them) or the casual manner in which use of nuclear weapons found mention, must have found a deep resonance in the citizenry which has been bred on Pakistan bashing, which it equates with nationalism.
It is true that not only Congress but other political formations like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party, Trinamool, Left etc. will have to do a lot of soul searching to understand why they collectively failed to stop the Modi juggernaut and how they need to strategise in the coming months so that the idea of Hindutva which — to paraphrase a famous revolutionary, has become a material force since it has been gripped by the masses — could be challenged effectively.
The plight of the entire ‘secular camp’ can be described by a simple fact. It will be the second consecutive term of Parliament when there would be no Leader of Opposition (which demands that at least the largest opposition party should get at least 10% of the total seats)
A few aspects of this verdict will have important ramifications for democracy’s onward journey for decades together in this part of South Asia.
- It appears that majoritarianism — rule by majority — which sounds very similar to democracy but which essentially stands democracy on its head, which made a powerful entry last elections, would be normalised here.
- Silencing and further invisibilisation of religious minorities would be its logical outcome.
- The 2019 elections, which were fought around the image of Modi — a continuation of the 2014 experiment — have inadvertently or so ushered this parliamentary system in a presidential form.
- This development where personalities take centre-stage will severely impact the whole idea of party organisation and the tedious process of building it.
- The BJP, the ruling party at the moment, which had tried to project a collective leadership of sorts, also finds itself at a cusp of great change, and would now grow more in the shadow of the personality cult of PM Modi.
The tremendous challenge which awaits secular Indians could be gleaned from what Professor Suhas Palshikar had to say about this ascendance of BJP in India. According to him, it has definitely contributed to what is being seen as ‘[e]mergence of a new ideological framework to India’s democracy and public life in general’ and ‘politics of crafting a new hegemony’ is underway. (Economic & Political Weekly, August 18, 2018, Vol LIII, No 33, Towards Hegemony – BJP Beyond Electoral Dominance)
Elaborating further, Palshikar had discussed how the “second dominant party system”, represented by BJP, is more than a mere party system; it is a moment of the rise of a new set of ‘dominant ideas and sensibilities’ that have provided ideological sustenance to the dominant party system. For him this ’emergence of new politics’ is ‘going to be a blend of new Hindutva and the political economy of a new variety.
This Hindutva asks its followers ‘to become Hindu politically’ and become “religious Hindu” by way of public manifestation of religiosity, and conflation between nationalism and Hindutva is the ‘backbone of the new ideological dominance’. This ideological stand not only helps it in ensuring that “anti-BJP” would not only be equated with “anti-national” but also helps it attract new recruits for whom ‘being a staunch Hindu becomes a vehicle that expresses their nationalism’.
Palshikar also discusses how it has been possible to weave together ideas of Hindutva and development with nationalism, turning them into an arsenal of ‘political and ideological offensive’. Underlining the utility of “separate yet connected” network of affiliated organisations of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has helped it push further the ideological battle, it also tells us how this ‘new hegemony’ may usher in a new “normal” as far as our collective imagination of what democracy means and what it should do, is concerned.
This craving for establishing hegemony has always been one of Hindutva’s long cherished ambitions. RSS, the self-proclaimed ‘cultural organisation’ , which is the key figure in all these transformations in tandem with plethora of its affiliated organisations, has always described itself not as Samaj me Sangathan (Organisation in Society) but as Samaj ka Sangathan (Organisation of Society).
And before one brainstorms around counter strategies to challenge the hegemony, it would be rather apt to brood over a query posed by an incisive documentary titled, Azmaish: A Journey Through the Subcontinent, made by a promising Pakistani filmmaker. The documentary tried to understand whether after 70 years after Partition: is India, like Pakistan, turning to religious extremism? The film looked at a retreat from liberal democracy on both sides of the border.
For any independent observer, while Pakistan’s slow metamorphosis into an Islamic country is well documented and fairly well understood, India’s changing of colour has been a recent phenomenon which still baffles many. How and why does a country which refused to have religion as a basis of nationhood despite a bloody Partition, which saw deaths of around two million people and forcible displacement of 10-12 million, and which had a robust leadership with firm commitment to secularism to handle the post-Independent challenges, is slowly on the way to look like its ‘arch rival’.
Is this type of journey unique to a country like India, which was under colonial regime, where a largely secular nationalist movement led its struggle for independence, or can one see similar examples in other ex-colonies where a similar non- religious/secular leadership led struggles against colonial bondage?
Or could it be seen as part of the burgeoning of Far Right the world over, where a party, the BJP “[h]olds governmental power on its own” with a specific history unlike in any other country where the Far Right “with obvious fascist characteristics, that has existed now for over 90 years” and involves the rise and spread of neo-liberalism with obvious devastating consequences, leading to ‘new and more powerful forms of social disorientation and alienation’, with people rushing to “seek psychological refuge in clinging to ‘unchangeable’ ascribed identities of ethnicity, religion, race, caste, and nation, either separately or in combination”?
Subhash Gatade is an eminent author, activist and the Convener of New Socialist Initiative. He is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010), Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India (2011). The article first appeared in the NEWSclick.