By: Ravinder Kaur
Narendra Modi’s historic win created high expectations among a large section of the Indian population. A variety of people were persuaded to vote for him on various grounds. Many had become disgusted with the trail of scams left behind by UPA 2, others were disappointed with the lack of credible leadership in the Congress. And the AAP’s sudden surge in Delhi proved to be shortlived.
Modi arrived as prime minister after a whirlwind campaign promising “development for all”. Some who voted for him set aside their apprehensions of a hidden Hindutva agenda, hoping that the development plank would remain centrestage. Others pointed to the fact that Modi had broken with many RSS ideologues. Yet, worries persist over his style of going solo, brooking no interference on an agenda fashioned by himself. Such a style could go either way. It could lead to distance from rightwing ideologues, the “loony fringe”, or it could foster a dictatorial style of operation, where one man’s vision of what the new order should be like prevails all the time. That is always a dangerous road to tread.
In his speeches, Modi has pushed agendas that would warm the cockles of many liberal hearts. Focus on the girl child, toilets, sanitation, skills, a cleaner Ganga, good relations with neighbours — who could object to these laudable goals? The average Indian continues to vote Modi, hoping that he will succeeds in these tasks.
Despite the hope, a sense of worry persists. While not making a single misstep on social and secular issues, Modi has maintained a stoic silence on the dangerous pronouncements and actions of BJP ideologues, whether it is Yogi Adityanath or the valorisation of BJP politicians allegedly involved in the Muzaffarnagar riots or the pronouncements on “love jihad”. How does one read his silence? Is Modi, as prime minister, not in a position to pronounce on the misdemeanours of people from his party? Does his silence not reflect his acquiescence?
Setting aside the inflammatory pronouncements, let us look at some troubling trends in everyday life. It cannot be denied that the north saw a polarisation of Hindus and Muslims during the Lok Sabha elections. National elections do polarise. But now Muslims have grown more fearful, creating conditions for a party like the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) to craft a Muslim votebank that would be led by Muslims. Meanwhile, new constituencies that have come to comprise the “Hindu vote” are recently prosperous Dalits and OBCs. Prosperity has led to greater desire for social acceptance, and such groups have sought this acceptance within the Hindu fold. Newly Hinduised members of tribal communities represent a related phenomenon.
As relative economic prosperity grows, greater participation in religious rituals and pilgrimages by the middle classes projects a more visible Hindu majoritarian identity. As more Indians begin to eat non-vegetarian food, hygiene as well as objections to meat sharing kitchens and canteens with vegetarian food are used as excuses to eliminate it from many public institutions. Once again, the cow has become a flashpoint for communal conflict. And other faiths are marginalised by restrictions on their functions, imposed on the pretext of maintaining law and order.
The middle classes have always been known to be socially and politically conservative. As the Indian middle classes grow in size and prosperity, the desire to secure their newfound status results in insecurities that translate into greater social conservatism. Hence the wave of honour killings, accusations of “love jihad”, the increasing communalisation of love marriages and of democracy itself.
These trends are attended by a jingoistic nationalism. This tendency has been visible since the 1980s, but Modi’s win emboldens the Hindu moral brigade, with its vision of a muscular and Hinduised India. The increasing use of a very Sanskritised Hindi in public discourse and the increasing visibility of Hindu religious functions and symbols is likely to create a hegemonic discourse that will quietly refashion a diverse country into a bigoted Hindu nation. The Mars mission has become a modern trope for strong-arm nationalism. It is probably this brand of nationalism that prompted protests against Haider, which showed the Indian army in a poor light. The broadcast of Mohan Bhagwat’s speech on Doordarshan may be a sign of the times to come. We seem to be engulfed in an infantilising discourse with daily doses of moral advice — swadeshi, vegetarianism, the greatness of the cow, marriage within one’s caste. While Modi cleverly co-opts Gandhi and Nehru, isn’t it time we remembered Ambedkar?
The writer teaches at IIT Delhi
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