SOME OBVIOUS LESSONS FORM RECENT INDIAN POLLS

The obvious lessons from State polls-1
Image courtsey: www.newskarnataka.com

The recent Assembly Polls have been interpreted variously as invincibility of Solo Women Mamata and Jayalalitha, BJP succeeding towards its goal of ‘Congress mukt Bharat’ and emerging as the true national party, Congress and the Left, as national parties, on their death throes etc. On the face of the results these statements appear true. However, given the character of Indian politics, the nature and manner of party management among political parties, personality based structure of these parties and the caste based identity politics that is prevalent in India, there is no final word about anything that is being said and what can happen in the future. But some things are apparent with regard to what Indians look forward to during elections. That applies to the victory or loss of Indian political parties starting from Lok Sabha 2014, Delhi-Bihar last year to the recently concluded elections.

Continue reading SOME OBVIOUS LESSONS FORM RECENT INDIAN POLLS

Banal Nationalism: the Measure and Marker of Belonging

 

 Modi government is nearing its two year rule and hardly anyone, except the Modi bhakts, feels much change except that the government is making enemies of citizens and communities throughout the country. Ever since BJP came to power in May 2014 with Modi’s slogan of ‘development to all’ what the nation has been witnessing predominantly is a divisive identity politics in the name of ‘nationalism’ and discourse on belonging. Such an overt divisive language was shunned by European democracies for what it did to people who were minorities (or different) in the 20th century in the name of ethnic nationalism. Even those who claim to be patriots, and whose actions are nothing but patriotic, are being branded ‘anti-national’ under the banal slogans such as ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. This witch-hunting of those who dissent, those who profess a different religion or those who refuse to be cowed down, has taken a new mode which is vividly described recently by Benjamin Zachariah in dailyo.in (on 26th April 2016). After discussing about what is going on in Turkey today and drawing a parallel with the megalomania, narcissism and brutality of Turkish President Erdogan against those who differ or oppose him, Zachariah has the following view about Modi’s India:

Continue reading Banal Nationalism: the Measure and Marker of Belonging

ETHICS ABOVE IDENTITY

One of the pursuits in my life and especially the final aim of my research is to come up with some cogent arguments as to why adhering to our identities (such as religion, caste, class, language, place, nation, race, gender etc.) at the expense of ethics (moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour which affect how people make decisions and lead their lives), or in other words, being partisan towards the group that we belong to at the expense of fairness and justice, is at the root of all conflicts: internal and external, between individuals, families, communities and nation-states. So, the whole issue revolves around why human beings need identities (communities). It is about how people understand and live their identities and why, given their nature, identities cannot be the standard or the prism through which we should view the world and behave according to what our identities force us to do. If we, as humans, wish to construct a world with peace that can allow us to live our lives unhindered by fear of conflict, we need to understand the strengths and limits of our identities and their effect on our thinking and behaviour. Continue reading ETHICS ABOVE IDENTITY

IT’S TIME TO VALUE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVENESS

 

The terror attacks in Belgium on 22nd March, horrifying though they are, do not come as a surprise or shock. Primarily because of the ease with which terror cells operate within Europe, the low quality anti-terrorism apparatus in a politically divided Belgium and Europe’s continued piggybacking of American war on Terror which has created the Monsters such as ISIS and al Qaeda. But the greatest facilitating environment for the growth of terror cells is well articulated by Sushant Sareen in dailyO.in in a comment article recently. According to him Europe’s “inexplicable liberal, white man guilt that informs policy-making in most of Europe and which pretty much translates into a combination of inveiglement, appeasement, benign neglect and abject surrender” have not only allowed the radicals to preach their hate mongering but also to build excellent networks and obtain arms. Continue reading IT’S TIME TO VALUE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVENESS

DALITS AND MINORITIES IMPOVERISHED BY HINDUTVA COW

With one stroke the NDA in power has provided a blanket license for Hindutva vigilante groups to indulge in mob violence against Indian farmers, Dalits and minorities. In the name of cow protection the upper castes perpetrate violence in India with impunity by elevating the cow, a puranic symbol, above human life. In this way the NDA has managed to delegitimise the way of life of everyone who is a meat-eater or deals with livelihood linked to meat namely beef export and leather industry through beef ban and mob rule. A recent report in the Times of India puts it in this way:
“Across the country, especially in rural areas, there’s simmering unease bordering on panic. Farmers no longer think freely about buying or selling cattle. People, especially from the minority communities, can’t easily think about meat of any kind. Truckers are worried about transporting cattle, even buffaloes. Dalit leather artisans live in terror. All this because of small vigilante groups taking upon themselves to prevent ‘cow slaughter’ through violence, although in most cases this turns into attacks on minorities and Dalits on unfounded reasons.” Continue reading DALITS AND MINORITIES IMPOVERISHED BY HINDUTVA COW

YOU HAVE THE MANDATE: BE A STATEMAN

 

There was a time, just as when Modi became the Prime Minister, people thought India is on a glorious path of development sans communalism or corruption. In just over a year after he donned the mantle of Prime Ministership instead of development what the nation has been witnessing is a regressive Hindutva agenda and vigilante groups such as Hindu Senes of various sorts interfering in people’s life to the extent that even those who praised and supported Modi are frustrated and angry. The horrible state of unfreedom that India has been reduced to is well explained (humorously) in an article in scroll.in under the following heading: The incomplete guide to living in Modi’s India (as defined by Hindutva apologists). Continue reading YOU HAVE THE MANDATE: BE A STATEMAN

CONGRESS: A PARTY USED, NOT OWNED

Of the 67 years of post-independence India the Indian National Congress has ruled the country for 55 years. During this period it has occupied an ideologically centrist space tolerating plurality and democratic contestation. Though, it would prefer to assume the mantle of secularism, in real practice, it has employed caste and communal politics to consolidate its position in electoral terms. However, having nose-dived to the lowest number of seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections when compared to its past achievements, the weaknesses of the party in competitive politics have come to the fore clearly. The weaknesses stem from its clear lack of ownership by any social group, sycophantic manner of its functioning from top to the bottom of its organisation and its sheer failure to address the issue of leadership. At its current state, it exhibits signs of a party that lacks leadership; a party that has failed to capture Indians’ imagination. With the embrace of globalisation Congress has jettisoned its socialist identity and, hence, lacks a language to address a populace that has moved on from Congress’ traditional ‘for all and for none’ approach. Continue reading CONGRESS: A PARTY USED, NOT OWNED

BJP, BANS AND THE TRIUPH OF THE BANAL

If we thought that after over 18 months of BJP rule our media would be flush with stories of ache din in India, we are in for many surprises. As expected and experienced often, gotten irritated and angered time and again, what we witness are the banalities of RSS and Hindutva politics. Instead of a ‘Shining India’ we are forced to live under bans after bans, state intrusion into our personal lives, even to the extent of controlling what we eat, watch and where we choose to live. Continue reading BJP, BANS AND THE TRIUPH OF THE BANAL

PATEL AGITATION: POLITICS OF ENVY AND A WARNING TO THE LOWER CASTES

‘If Haider petitions the court and the government for legitimate rights it is called minority appeasement, but when Hardik orchestrates violence he is lionised, romanticised and given huge media space that ends up both legitimising and oxygenating his movement, no matter how contrary it is to the Rule of Law,’ argues Shehzad Poonawalla in a column under the title “What if it was Haider Pathan and not Hardik Patel?” (published in rediff.com on 26th August 2015). She takes objection to the adulation this youth from Gujarat, Hardik Patel, received in the media, in political discourse and even the courts, ordering enquiries about police brutalities while not raising any objection to the violence and vandalism used by the Patel mob as a means.

Poonawala contrasts the history of Gujarati Patels with that of Muslims where one can see how Patel community in Gujarat has always been aligned with the ruling class and had a Patel chief minister for a quarter of the life of Gujarat as a state. Even in the current Gujarat assembly Patels are highly represented. Besides chief minister, Anandiben Patel, there are seven senior members in a ministry of 27, the BJP party chief in Gujarat is a Patel, five MPs and over 30 MLAs are from Patel community. Economically, being landowning community Patels are an affluent community, venturing further into trade. This is helped further by migration over the centuries. In the earlier decades Patels were supporters of Congress and were in positions of power, but recently the community predominantly supports BJP and its Hindutva agenda with its anti-Muslim progroms. In every manner, while being hard-working, enterprising, globally mobile and politically well organised, Patel community is exemplary in navigating successfully through socio-economic challenges within India and in a globalised economic world environment. (By this I do not imply that every single person of Patel community is affluent. Those that remained as small farmers would be certainly sharing the fate of any other farmer in the country).

Contrast this with Muslims. According to Poonawala the share of Muslims employed in secondary and tertiary sectors is lower than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and in the public sector or civil services the Muslim share is a mere 2.5 per cent despite being 14 per cent of Indian population. Among Muslims over the age of 20 there are only 4% graduates. Despite their bigger percentage in population in States such as Uttar Pradesh, there hardly has been a Muslim chief minister there, nor elsewhere in any state. In the current BJP government there is no representation for a population of over 200 crore Muslims. Despite all these disadvantages exacerbated further by Hindutva’s politically maneuvered communal riots and destruction of lives, living spaces and livelihoods of large groups of Muslims, their demands for any kind of reservation or economic support have been brutally ignored. A similar case has happened with the economically disadvantaged Dalit Christians. However, an upper caste aligned, politically strong and economically secure community of Patels receives media and political adulation for their demand for OBC status and reservation. Their violence finds sympathisers rather than anyone being arrested for vandalising public property such as public transport. A youth who poses himself with guns and threatens to use violence, if not in worlds, but through symbolism, is hailed as a rising (angry) star. Imagine a Muslim, Christian or North Eastern youngster posing himself with a gun? By now he would be behind bars under anti-terrorism act or one among the many colonial era laws used against people to subjugate them.

How to view this sudden outbreak of agitation by the Patels? Many people have tried to see this as anger over losing out against other communities that enjoy reservations. If that were the case this merely shows it to be nothing but a politics of envy because it is the envy against a person from among scheduled castes, scheduled tribes or OBC’s having a chance in education or public sector employment moving ahead of ‘us’ (some Patels who could not manage to live like our kith and kin from UK, USA or local business person), who should legitimately have such a privilege. Hence is the demand either to include Patels in the reservation list (which has no more chance because the State has reached its maximum 50% quota allowed by the Supreme Court) or scrap the caste based quota system altogether. The logic behind this argument is “if I can’t get it, let no one get it”. This demand exhibits a lack of sensitivity to our nation’s history where lower caste people have been subjected to discrimination and deprivation in every way for over 5000 years. When the Congress government, when in power in Gujarat, tried to secure such special support to these deprived and discriminated communities, Patel’s agitated against it and then jumped ship joining the Hindutva mobilisation of the BJP. BJP, with the help of its Hidutva organisations, diverted the caste mobilisation against the Muslims while at the same time creating a dream of Hindu identity while undercutting the ideological unity among lower castes and tribals, Muslims and Christians in Gujarat).

By following deftly the neoliberal economic agenda for over a decade Narendra Modi had managed to keep the illusion of Hindu unity by whipping up communal sentiments and progroms against minorities. His policy of neoliberalism has helped large corporate groups to benefit in a big way. But the very policies have undercut the development in agriculture and rural upliftment, the very policies of neglecting farmers and rural development adopted in the Centre now. In this sense one can say the current Patel agitation is an effect of neoliberal policies of Modi government in Gujarat coming to roost. The rural farmers having little support from the government, thrown directly into the ebbs and flows of capitalist market forces, and jobs of every kind paying lower and lower wages, have caused more and more people live under poverty. This economic pressure is further exacerbated by dreams and aspirations marketed daily in through the media images of affluence and mobility from among people of one’s own community, those who have migrated abroad or Indians in general who have made it, besides the ache din promised by Modi when he came to power in Delhi.

In reality, the neoliberal economic policies of shrinking the government, mechanising work, delegitimising labour unions and pushing down wages is wreaking havoc in India and elsewhere. If among the Patel’s this politics of envy is displaced on to the lower castes, in Europe and elsewhere this is displaced on to immigrants where Patels also are in big number. The Hindutva supporting Patels (majority of them) while they happily go along with a majoritarian and anti- reservation, anti-minority agenda in Gujarat and India, the same community decries (rightly) a similar treatment, (politics of envy by majority Whites), towards immigrants in Europe where Patels are also part of immigrant and minority community. This is the problem: our standards of ‘ethics’ are different in different contexts. What we wouldn’t mind depriving minorities in one context, we cry wolf as injustice in another context where we are minorities. A strange world and morals indeed. Whichever way one looks at this Patel agitation, this stinks of envy against those whom they think are unworthy, socially, economically and politically, to rival the Patels (or Marathas, Jhats or whoever traditionally held power). This appears to be a case of anxiety among powerful castes/communities whose hold on power is slowly slipping over to the ‘others’ (SC, STs, OBCs, Minorities) who due to the affirmative policies adopted by the State have benefitted from them. In some sense it is a warning to the lower castes and minorities to stay subjugated and never dare to raise their heads demanding a share in power. In today’s India Hardik Patel’s agitation will find little support, politically and socially.

NDA: Authoritarian Ego and the Failure to Negotiate

In a blog in the Times of India, on 11th August 2015, Gurcharan Das, the bestselling author and the former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, articulated the frustrations of Indians about Narendra Modi’s government’s management of the nation thus:

“During his campaign, he mentioned vikas 500 times for each time he mentioned Hindutva. For the aspiring young who elected him, vikas was a code word for opportunity in the competitive market. Modi promised to create an enabling environment that would allow people to do business without stifling red tape and notorious ‘inspector raj’. So far, he has failed to deliver on that promise.”

After 15 months in office and after several parliament sessions to his credit Modi government’s success rate in legislation is pathetic. Having promised that India will be a nation where investors will have great opportunities and the youth will have great chances employment, besides selling pie in the sky dreams that everyone will enjoy ache din, even by promising Rs 15 lakh in their bank accounts brought back from black money held abroad, nothing significant has been accomplished.

But what Indians witnessed in the meantime is a politics of authoritarianism, intrusion into their private lives, trying to stifle dissent by using selectively state apparatus against the NGOs, the media and businesses. After having failed in every manner to produce important legislation in the two successive but crucial legislative sessions, now Modi has asked his party MPs and foot-soldiers to agitate and take rallies against the Opposition MPs in their constituencies. So, after all, Modi is just imitating what Kejriwal did in his first term as Chief Minister of Delhi. Instead of managing the state Kejriwal had continued with his agitational politics. So does Modi. Instead of being in the legislature and facing the opposition face to face answering their questions Modi is back on his campaign mode where he is most comfortable and enjoys a sense of achievement. One should not wonder some more rhetoric about development, ache din and how the Opposition is to blame for failing to achieve the legislative aims will be heard from the Red Fort on Independence Day.

Why does NDA fail to produce legislation despite its brute majority in the Lok Sabha while UPA as a coalition could manage? It’s true that in the Rajya Sabha NDA does not enjoy a majority. But that will not be good enough an explanation. After all, NDA had played the same tactics time and again against the UPA and set standards for no compromise behaviour. Despite its abysmal record in dealing with corruption, that Congress and other opposition parties assume moral high ground to protest against corruption and ethical lapse is a matter that should not surprise anyone because being in the Opposition such hypocrisy is expected of them as did the BJP. But that the government cannot manage the opposition through a process of dialogue and symbolic give and take transactions speaks volumes about the authoritarian ‘ego’ the leaders and the government as a whole exhibit. There are even voices within the BJP that notice the failure by the government to manage the legislative process.

The lack of dialogue and an attitude of bulldozing the opposition without giving an inch to their demands is not a democratic way of functioning. It may be that Congress and the Opposition are weak, but in a democracy, and as long as the present structure continues, despite their small numbers, the Opposition will use its clout. If the government cannot conduct in a manner of give and take, integrating some suggestions from the opposition, offering some gestures of accommodation and cultivating an atmosphere of respect and generosity of spirit, certainly not much can be expected by way of legislation. Ideology over national development What lies behind the rigidity and the lack of give and take attitude of the NDA in legislative matters?

One would have to assume that the attitude is an extension of the authoritarian personality of the Prime Minister and the government as an extension of this attitude. It smacks of totalitarian behaviour as described by Orwell in his novel, 1984, where he notes the dominant trait of an authoritarian leader:

“The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit error. Mass leaders in power have one concern which overrules all utilitarian consideration……..”

The problem with Modi and the NDA (whose hidden ideological force is the RSS, an organisation with fascist and totalitarian world view) is that they think, being the sole promotors of Hindutva, they are the only true and legitimate group to rule the country and the rest are imposters. What they do to promote Hindutva as the national identity is the only way everyone should see India. From such a stance stems the attitude of disdain towards secular parties, progressive intellectuals, leftist unions, minority perspectives and practices, liberal social attitudes and of course dissent of every kind. The first signs of an attitude of authoritarianism and totalitarian ways of acting are already evident in multiple areas of life in India. As Orwell has noted, when it comes to protect the ego of the leader from being tainted by failure or being perceived as weak due to compromises made to accommodate the demands of the Opposition or the critics, Modi government is prepared to forgo national interest (utilitarian consideration). This exactly has what happened in the last to washed-out legislative sessions.

The government, though it has failed to pass key legislation, it is not short of exhibiting totalitarian behaviour and promote its Hindutva ideology over multiculturalism and plurality. Beginning with banning books such as that of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, and recently withdrawing a text book about Ambedkar from Gujarat Schools citing the reason that the book contains criticism about Hinduism as a caste ridden, unequal and unjust society, banning beef, failed attempt to ban porn, scapegoating NGO’s and social activists such as Priya Pillai, Teesta Setalvad and others, culminating its selective war against the media by sending notices to renowned TV channels for daring to air views from people who disagreed with Yakub Memon hanging. These are only a few instances of how this government exhibits some early signs of totalitarian behaviour intent on total control over the public and private sphere of citizens’ life.

It is easy to blame the opposition and shout slogans in an election mode. But the nation gave an overwhelming majority to BJP on its own expecting to see a corruption free and governance oriented government which Modi promised. What we have is a government that worries about protecting its leader’s and its own image more than function on a spirit of give and take, facilitating important legislation. This government is not even prepared to call corruption as corruption but wants to change its very character. Instead, those who dissent or are found to be dangerous are just eliminated as is happening in the Vyapam scam or pilloried through laws as is happening with Teesta and the TV channels. Now that the Hindutva mob is let loose on Opposition parties it looks like that we will witness some mob rule against the secular or those the Hindutva terms as sikulars. As time runs out for action, people grow impatient, media and the intellectuals grow critical against the Prime Minister, the Bhakts will awaken to protect the symbol of their hope, the authoritarian Modi. If our experience with Hindtuva mob is anything to go by the nation will witness more and more communal riots, disappearances and punitive state actions. This time the targets will be expanded beyond the Muslims and Christians to secular parties and communists. (Does it sound familiar? National Socialism did it when Hitler came to power in Germany). The only hope is that Modi and his RSS mentors come to their senses and begin to talk a language of accommodation and respect to the opposition parties so that crucial legislation is passed and the nation is on the path of development once again.

All identities are limited visions of reality