Reproduced below is the unpublished research article, “Hindutva Majoritarianism Distorting the Contours of Indian Democracy”, by James Regina C. Dabhi, Centre for Culture and Development, Xavier Technical Institute Campus, Sevasi Post, Vadodara, Gujarat:
***In the last two decades or so the Republic of India has changed, people have changed, India’s concept of secular democracy and practice has changed. What we are witnessing is that the Government with parliamentary majority is reconstructing democracy to suit its ideology and political dream of one nation, one religion. Majoritarianism is gradually gaining ground and distorting the contours of India democracy.
John Stuart Mill explained Majoritarianism as a democratic majority which forces its will on the minority. In such a Majoritarianism historical facts about secularism are often misrepresented to serve the political agenda.
Democracy: a theory
The core elements of democracy are people (citizens), authority (power to govern), how citizens are treated and power is used. M K Gandhi said, “I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chance as the strong.”
According to Marx, the superstructure of society which is the realm of ideology, grows out of the base, the realm of production, to reflect the interests of the ruling class and justify the status quo that keeps them in power. Gramsci argued further that cultural hegemony is where dominant ideology dominates and takes hold of people’s minds, the way they think in society. Therefore, to have a hold over social and educational institutions is vital as they teach ideas, beliefs, values, and even identities that reflect the interests of the ruling class, and produce compliant and obedient members of society that serve the interests of that class. Louis Althusser highlighted the role of art, popular culture and mass media in disseminating ideology. The institutions of media and popular culture contribute to the process of domination of the masses. These theories help us to understand the thinking and functioning of the BJP and Hindutva groups.
Process of distorting democracy
The Congress had its own part in distorting democracy; the Emergency and the Shah Bano Begum case are prominent examples. The present regime has gone far beyond and damaged Indian democracy to suit its Hindutva political agenda of ‘Hindu Rashtra’-‘one nation, one religion’.
There are very few newspapers and magazines today which dare to take on the establishment, considering that the current government is also behaving like the one in the Emergency (Philipose, 2020). Swati Chaturvedi’s ‘I am a troll’ gives an idea of the misuse of the media by the BJP social media cell. Free media seems to have been taken over by paid media more rigorously in the present regime. Violence against women and specially women of marginalised communities like Dalits and Tribals are common occurrences (Basu, 2015), (Human Rights Watch, 2016).
Organised acts and events to weaken Democracy and consolidate Majoritarianism
Advani’s rathyatra and the demolition of the Babri Mosque was the first blow to democracy. “What we lost forever and we did not even realize for many years to come, was a reality, a reality of harmony, love and co-existence. Even the Partition could not separate Eid and Holi celebrations in our town, but Babri demolition did it. And I hold one man accountable for this loss which my generation grewup with — Lal Krishna Advani” (Khan, 2018). The Supreme Court verdict on the Babri Mosque land issue has given a new impetus to ‘Majoritarianism’.
With the Gujarat violence of 2002, the Hindutva forces violated justice, equality, fraternity and secularism, the hallmarks of Indian democracy. The minorities have been banished to the spatial margins or the ghettos, and bludgeoned into acquiescence by a muscular ideology that has tamed both political and civil society” (Chandhoke N. , 2012).
The Shabari Kumbh Mela and Gharvapsi (returning home) organised by the VHP and Sangh in Dangs district of Gujarat, predominantly Adivasi populated area, were attacks on the freedom of religion and Christian presence in the Dangs in 1998. Following attacks in the name of love jihad, anti-reservation agitation, raising the issue of common civil code and Triple Talaq, lynching by cow vigilantes have blatantly exhibited abusive majoritarian power [see (Arora, 2008), (Mondal, 2015), (Abraham & Rao, 2017), (Khan, 2018), (Kamal, 2020), (Cairns, 2020)].
With the emergence of a Hindu nationalist Prime Minister of India in 2014, there have been serious incidents of discrimination and violence accompanied with rhetoric of nationalism and hate speeches against the Muslims and Christians (Human Rights Watch, 2016), (Asia Times, 2015), (Abraham & Rao, 2017). Modi and Shah have launched multi-pronged attacks on the Indian democracy accompanied by deceit and hiding data. These were noted even by then US President Obama and the US ambassador to India. Barack Obama warned of the dangers of religious intolerance and urged the government to uphold religious freedom and the US ambassador expressed concerns over the challenges faced by civil society organizations in the country and the “potentially chilling effects” of the “regulatory steps focused on NGOs” (Human Rights Watch, 2016).
Democratic protests challenging some of the government’s decisions pertaining secular democracy and constitutional values have been dealt with brutality.
The 2014 protest at Jadavpur University against alleged police attack on unarmed students demanding a fair inquiry into the alleged molestation of a student inside the campus. The stir among the students of Film and Television Institute of India, Pune in July of 2015 resisting the political appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman.The suicide of a Dalit scholar Rohith Vermula of Hyderabad University in 2016 and a nationwide outrage against the university administration over alleged failure to prevent his suicide. Attacks on Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the arrest of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and others by Delhi Police on charges of sedition are prominent examples.
Modi’s endorsement of the nakedly discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act shows that he remains committed to the core Hindutva dogma that this is essentially a Hindu country, and that Indian Muslims must forever be proving their loyalty to the Motherland or else risk persecution (Guha, “Why Modi has Failed India”, 2020).
The above events have shown the brutality of the police and unwillingness on the part of the government to engage in dialogue and listen. As Guha says, for effective leadership, one requires ‘feedback loop’. But Modi does not have feedback loop, he has champlusi loop” (Sherwani, 2020).
Undermining the electoral process through buying of politicians by the BJP is yet another ploy in exercising Majoritarianism. The BJP under the leadership of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have mastered the art in toppling the State governments by buying MLAs. Karnataka, Goa and MP are cases in point.
The Covid-19 pandemic, subsequent lockdown and the exodus of migrant labourers were tragic events for the BJP to gain political mileage. The creation and management of Prime Minister Cares Fund (PM Cares Fund) was a violation of democratic principles of accountability and transparency.
The way this government has dealt with the events and protests has not only caused violence, spread more hatred and divide among people but has eroded the edifice of our democracy and proclaimed Majoritarian rule.
This Majoritarianism has been used to arbitrarily appoint judges and chief justices of high courts (Shamshad, 2020). Democratic institutions such as the bureaucracy, legislative and judiciary are seen as suspects either in colluding, supporting or turning a blind eye to what is happening to Indian democracy. One even doubts the autonomy of the armed forces as some of the high ranking officers speak government language.
Indian democracy down but not out
The BJP has used the parliament for Majoritarianism to further its Hindutva agenda, but how far can they ride on the wave of lies, deceit, fake news and by manipulating or hiding data? No doubt some are very pessimistic and feel deeply frustrated after the Ayodhya judgment and ‘tragic event’ of the laying of the foundation of the temple (Mander, 2020). Some view this BJP era as the change of India from a secular republic to a Hindu nation, Bharat of Majoritarianism. Arundhati Roy calls 5th August 2020, ‘India’s day of shame’ (Roy, 2020).
We must let people know all is not lost, it is only 37% of the voters who have voted these forces to power. There are millions of Indians who do not believe in and support the regime of hate and divisiveness. There is hope that people will realise that India cannot flourish and bloom with just one colour, the saffron colour. Our national flag itself is tri-coloured. The pluralism of India, the diversity of its religions, languages, cultures, social communities cannot be ignored for too long. Majoritarianism for electoral victory based on religion is hollow and hopefully people will see through it.
Civil society organisations and individuals need to reach out to the people at the grassroots and create awareness among them that they are being compelled to work for the interests of the affluent at the cost of their own lives, wellbeing, education and basic needs. The shambled economy, unemployment, vanished livelihoods will question the divisive politics and government waste on ‘non-issues’ such as advertisements to boost the party image, prestige issues like the Statue of Unity , as well as projects and policies which are in favour of the rich and powerful at the cost of the ordinary citizens.
Tagore’s prayer is most relevant in present times than ever before – “Into that heaven of freedom my Father/Mother (my addition), let my country awake”.
(I am grateful to Ms. Rupalee Burke for editing the article).
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