A Nightmare Materialises In India
Hindutva-capitalism takes power
By Praful Bidwai
The Lok Sabha election has produced what was easily the worst conceivable outcome by giving an outright majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party under a man who is widely believed to have been complicit in mass killings of Indian citizens belonging to one faith, and who even 12 years on has not been fully exonerated by the country’s legal system despite its compromised, semi-functional nature, and vulnerability to diabolical manipulation.
Make no mistake. Despite a limited (31 percent) national vote, Narendra Modi’s victory is the result of a Rightward shift in society, and the triumph of Hindutva combined with neoliberal capitalism.
It’s an ugly scar on the face of Indian democracy, and the combined outcome of many long-festering social pathologies, including Islamophobic religious-communal prejudice, belligerent nationalism, rising influence of corporate power, growing social intolerance, gullibility of people to paranoid propaganda, and intense craving among the middle class elite for authoritarian rule.
Contrary to claims, Mr Modi’s “presidentialised” election campaign, in which billions of business dollars and the corporate media played as crucial a part as “56-inch-chest” aggression, had nothing to do with “development” or “governance”. It was India’s most communalised campaign ever.
Mr Modi symbolises, personifies and radiates “alpha-male”, militarised Hindutva—even when he doesn’t openly indulge in hate-speech. This time, his canvassing was actually lubricated by blood: from an early stage in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, and later to Kokrajhar in Assam.
Mr Modi wickedly deployed toxic rhetoric about driving out Bangladeshi “infiltrators” (read, Muslims) while welcoming “refugees” (read, Hindus), and about the “Pink Revolution” (beef exports). He brazenly used religious symbols. Six lakh Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh men ran his military-style campaign and cynically used slogans like “love jehad” and “bahu bachao, beti bachao” (protect Hindu women from Muslim predators) to polarise opinion communally.
The polarisation helped the BJP exploit widespread discontent, often disgust, with the Congress, rooted in high prices, corruption, economic elitism (especially growth that pampers Big Business, but creates no jobs), and the Gandhi family’s hubris. It the laid the ground for venally shrewd caste calculations and the micro-level “booth management” strategy perfected by Modi henchman Amit Shah in Gujarat, in which 20-25 RSS men “cover” each polling station and lead the voters there.
Communal-caste-class polarisation paid off handsomely. The BJP performed spectacularly well in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka, won “saturation-level” seat-scores in its “home states” (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh), and secured unprecedentedly high vote-shares in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and even Kerala.
The BJP’s 71-of-80 seats victory in UP is the highest score by any party there since the 1984 election, which had delivered 83-of-85 seats to the Congress. The sheer size of the BJP’s UP vote (42.3 percent), and the nose-diving of the Congress’s vote (from 18.3 to 7.5 percent) meant that its main opponents would be decimated in a three-cornered contest.
The Bahujan Samaj Party couldn’t win a single seat despite bagging a 19.6-percent vote, and increasing its vote-share in 46 constituencies. The Samajwadi Party too shrank from 23 to five seats despite winning 22.2 percent, only one percentage-point lower than in 2009. There were clear signs of a weakening of its core Yadav-Muslim coalition because of Muslim disillusionment with the SP’s handling of Muzaffaranagar.
The BJP succeeded in winning over sections of Jats, lower OBCs and Most Backward Classes groups and non-Jatav Dalits by communalising them and promising them jobs which they desperately crave. Another factor that helped it decimate the well-organised BSP and SP is the relative consolidation of the votes of large numbers of Muslims, which normally get badly divided.
This again is attributable to the “Modi factor”: the fear and loathing he naturally provokes among Muslims. Yet, in a sour irony of history, this ended up helping Mr Modi: Muslims voted constituency-wise, rationally choosing the candidate best-placed to defeat him, but they thus scattered their votes mainly between the SP and BSP, weakening both.
The Lok Sabha now has its lowest-ever Muslim representation: just four percent of MPs, way below the Muslims’ 13.4 percent population share. For the first time, there isn’t a single Muslim MP from UP, India’s largest (and the world’s sixth most populous) state, where Muslims form almost a fifth of the 200-million-strong population. Also absent from the Lok Sabha is the BSP, a Dalit party—despite retaining its status as India’s third largest party, with 4.1 percent of the national vote.
Such severe exclusion speaks of highly skewed parliamentary representation—a sign of India’s flawed democracy. Under it, a 12 percentage-point national vote-difference between the BJP and Congress resulted in a grossly disproportionate 640-percentage-point gap in seats.
This strengthens the argument for the replacement of the British first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system that India blindly follows, by the more widely prevalent (and fairer) Proportional Representation (PR) system, which allots quotas to parties based on the total votes they poll, in addition to constituency-based candidates.
FPTP has unduly benefited the BJP, just as it did the Congress in the past. If PR were adopted for the present Lok Sabha, the BJP would fall to 169 seats, the Trinamool to 21 (from 34), and the Congress, BSP and SP would respectively rise to 105, 23 and 19 seats (from the present 44, 0 and 5).
At any rate, the election has not just put an RSS pracharak and a Hindutva fanatic in power, but established the ascendancy of the ideology of Hindu-supremacism, for which the Sangh has fought for nine decades using repugnant methods, including assassination, communal riots, vile forms of brainwashing and regimentation, and propaganda about imaginary threats to the “Hindu nation”.
Today, the RSS can hide behind “democracy”, just as Hitler did in 1933. But this is a degraded, communalised/racist distortion of democracy, without equal rights for all citizens, but charged with a bellicose ethno-religious identity. Hindutva militates against the Indian Constitution, which defines citizenship in universal terms, independently of such identities. No party other than the BJP and Shiv Sena shares this communal ideology.
The Congress and the Left have been mauled and reduced to their lowest-ever seat-tallies (respectively, 44 and 12). But no heads have rolled in these parties. They will be hard put to reverse the setbacks without drastic corrective measures. The Aam Aadmi Party, which made a dramatic debut in Delhi, won only four seats, all in Punjab. All its big leaders lost. It too faces a grave crisis.
Now that the BJP has achieved an absolute Lok Sabha majority, we can expect four things. First, the BJP will be under pressure to revive the core Hindutva agenda, including the Ram temple, Article 370 on Kashmir, and a Uniform Civil Code. The RSS’s MG Vaidya has explicitly demanded this.
Of the three issues, the temple is seemingly the least contentious. The Babri masjid was demolished, and a makeshift temple exists at Ayodhya. But if the Sangh Parivar tries to build a temple movement via a raucous agitation, by painting Muslims as villains, that will generate serious strife.
Article 370 will be internationally controversial, and risk reviving Kashmiri separatism in a more vigorous form, thus further militarising the Kashmir crisis. If a Uniform Civil Code is promoted, not as part of a universal gender justice agenda, but imposed as a parochial, selective demand on Muslims, it will violate minority rights and lead to bloodshed.
Second, the Sangh Parivar will soon begin its destructive “Long March” through India’s democratic institutions, which are not strong enough or have the integrity to defend themselves against that onslaught. It will do its best to subvert the judiciary and institutions in education, culture, and Information and Broadcasting, thus further threatening secularism and pluralism.
We should expect major changes in the schooling system, universities, other specialised higher learning institutions like the Indian Councils of Social Science and Historical Research, and the Sahitya, Lalit-Kala and Sangeet-Natak Akademis.
The media too will be manipulated. The Parivar understands the media’s crucial propaganda value and its vulnerability to pressure from giant corporations, which increasingly drive its agendas. The damage would be far worse than in 1977-79 or 1998-2004 when the Jana Sangh/BJP was in power.
Third, hardline militaristic approaches, which the BJP favours, will be adopted against the Maoist movement. The BJP’s ultra-neoliberal policies will promote rampant extraction of natural resources, especially forests, coal, minerals and rivers, which lie in India’s Central and Eastern tribal belt.
As these resources are handed over to predatory corporations, fresh popular resistance is likely to erupt, which the BJP government will tend to repress ferociously, by direct military/paramilitary means, and by reviving murderous militias like Salwa Judum. This will lead to untold violations of human rights and brutalisation of some of the poorest people in Indian society.
Finally, there will be very little immediate resistance to the Hindutva-capitalist onslaught from the Parliamentary parties, including much of the now-disoriented Left. That burden will fall on grassroots civil society movements and progressive activists, which stand for a democratic-secular India. They must prepare for a long, hard, brutal War of Position.