May 18, 2014

BJP, Modi and the Idea of India

Archana Prasad

AS the Lok Sabha election campaign has drawn to a close, it is time to reflect on the implications of the aggressive campaigning by various parties, and especially by the corporate media and big business backed BJP, for the society and polity of the country. MEDIA AND POLARISATION It was for the first time that an attempt was made by the rightwing intelligentsia to create a ‘Modi wave’ through the use of modern communications and technology. However, the price of this attempt is being seen in the kind of communal polarisation that is taking place within the society. Soon after Modi’s statement on the ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators,’ more than 30 Muslims were killed by the Bodos whose politics has been influenced by Hindu majoritarianism. When opposition parties attributed the trigger for the riots to Modi’s statements, the corporate media called it a ‘politicisation of the riots.’ Encouraged by this, Modi once again used the same argument to consolidate his perceived vote bank in Bengal. This process of polarisation may or may not always be successful, but it has already had its impact on the social fabric of the country. The situation is further complicated by the alliance between big business and right wing communalism which has absolved Modi of all the blame for the Gujarat riots with out bothering about justice for the victims. The attempts to expose this nexus should not stop after the elections as its tentacles will destroy all the social solidarities that have been built during the freedom struggle and subsequent democratic struggles. Hence it is time to ask: Is this the India we want? “NATION FIRST”: FASCISTIC, DICTATORIAL CONCEPTION The Modi led BJP campaign has argued for change and a new vision of the “Nation First.” On its website the party wrote that it has a “firm belief in the ideal that a truly rich and diverse nation like India is optimally united when its people give precedence to their identity as ‘Indians before everything else,’ (and this) is what led to the birth of the BJP.” But the moot point being raised by this principle is: Who is an “Indian”? In the BJP’s view the answer is clear. On the philosophy page of the same website, it writes that “Hindutva or cultural nationalism is the BJP’s conception of Nationhood.” The second principle being followed is ‘integral humanism,’ a term first used by Deen Dayal Upadhyay to refer to the spiritual awakening of the self and the spirit of the Nation. An individual is the embodiment of the Nation, while all individuals together comprise the soul of the nation. Hence nationalism itself is linked to spirituality and the embodiment of the Self or the Virat Purush (an alter ego). Such a conception is contemporaneous with and similar to the intellectual justification of fascism in the Italian Fascist Intellectuals Manifesto which stated that fascism was a ‘spiritual and moral movement’ where the individual was subsumed in the ‘fatherland.’ It was in keeping with this very philosophy that the BJP chose to focus on Modi, the muscular and powerful individual as the embodiment of both the party and its conception of Nation. Hence any intellectual support for Modi or the Gujarat model is in fact a support for the collapsing of the distinction between the Self and the Nation which in fact forms the ideological basis of a dictatorship. Such a dictator considers himself a divine representative of God and not a representative of the people. It was thus that Modi stated in Varanasi: “I have not come here on my own, neither has the party sent me here; it is Maa Ganga (Mother Ganges) who has called me here.” As is known, the metaphor of Maa Ganga is used to refer to Hindu spirituality and mobilise the sceptical ‘Hindu voter’ in Varanasi. By the same measure, Modi assumed that the ‘Uniform Civil Code’ would mean the same as the ‘Hindu code,’ and that was why he said that the ‘Hindu code’ need not apply to every one. It is significant that this conception of Nationhood is based neither on a modernist notion of the ‘nation’ nor on the idea of the nation as a collective which people build together and where people work together. Unlike the Hindutva conception of nation, the modern idea of a nation is a result of the freedom struggle and the subsequent democratic struggles. Since the Sangh Parivar and its organisations and BJP had not been socialised in these struggles, their ideological moorings to a democratic nationhood remain weak. Hence whenever Modi or the BJP speak of the Nation, it is only in terms of a justification of feudal institutions, archaic moral values and conservative social forces. Hence, not surprisingly, the BJP opposed amendments to article 377 of the constitution and also tacitly supported organisations that do moral policing. Further, since the BJP believes in a majoritarian and a culturalist perspective on Nationhood, it has also opposed article 370 that unites Kashmir with India. Given these stances, it is not surprising that a victory of the Modi led BJP would be a major setback for those who aim to fight for the rights of workers, women, minorities, dalits, adivasis and other marginalised social groups. “NATION FIRST” FOR CORPORATE CAPITAL One needs to ask: What is new in this conception of ‘Nationhood’? or, Is Modi just old wine in the newly branded bottle of a business model? Through the campaign, the BJP has tried to hide it age old Hindutva ideology under the garb of ‘development.’ But this chimera has been systematically exposed through a contest between the rightwing intelligentsia and the progressive, democratically minded intellectuals. The debate was to a large extent pegged on selling the so-called Gujarat model which has largely been a pro-big business model of development. But it also showed how an old divisive ideology could be repackaged through the support of big business and corporate media. Thus the Modi led BJP campaign tried to cash in on the growing cynicism and depoliticisation of many sections of society, especially the youth and the middle classes. It is therefore not surprising that the ‘development’ and ‘growth’ has aligned with conservative social values and institutions to form the bedrock of a rightwing resurgence in the country. This has also been supported by a neo-liberal state which has weakened the mechanisms of social reform and whose working has been epitomised in the Gujarat model of governance. As several debates and articles during this election campaign have shown, such a model is founded on the concentration of social and economic power in the hands of upper castes and big business houses. Business-wise, a recent report of the government of India has shown that Gujarat has the most corporate friendly model of land acquisition and, as some other reports show, the state has the worst record as far as workers’ rights are concerned. Thus the Modi and the BJP stand for both economic and social conservatism that can only push the nation backwards and destroy the social solidarities that have been the bedrock of its unity. What is therefore essential that, irrespective of the election results, the democratic forces take up post-poll a nationwide campaign to counter and negate the long term social and political impact of the rightwing election campaign.