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15 Mar 2017

Hindutva no proxy for nationalism: Experts

Sanjay K. Jha, TT, New Delhi, March 14: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's stunning feat of leading his party across the 300-mark in Uttar Pradesh has triggered speculation about the RSS-BJP taking hegemonic control over the country although political scientists have rejected this possibility.
Only a centrist force that respects India's pluralism, they say, can occupy that position.
While some academics and politicians believe Modi's phenomenal rise is a transient phenomenon, caused primarily by the failures of the so-called secular parties, as of now they don't have any concrete answer about the nature of the resistance that could emerge in the near future.
Most of them are, however, worried about Modi's scant regard for constitutionalism despite the people's overwhelming support.
"The Congress had its origin in the freedom struggle and Jawaharlal Nehru built the party on the values of equality and justice. People of all classes, castes and religions found space in the Congress," political scientist Manorajan Mohanty told The Telegraph. "But the BJP's rise has a different trajectory, its victories have come from a different kind of mobilisation."
Mohanty said Modi might win the 2019 general election too. "But even the recent victory in Uttar Pradesh is all about sops, tactics and communal mobilisation," the professor added.
"They also have unprecedented corporate backing. But they are creating a fragmented society. They are exploiting divisions in the society. Hence, different kinds of opposition will develop against their policies in different states. They don't have a representative character and they can't reflect national consensus unless they change their philosophy."
Manindra Nath Thakur of the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, echoed similar sentiments. "The BJP can become like the Congress only when it becomes a platform for everybody. The BJP is not an all-inclusive party. It does identity politics; is using even the nation as an identity. It is trying to expand its base but not by taking a centrist position. It is negotiating with smaller identities in different states to expand its base without realising that Hindutva philosophy can't be a substitute for Indian nationalism."
Asked what the counter-narrative to the majoritarian Hindutva consolidation could be, Thakur said: "That's a big challenge and there are no easy answers. But I have some posers. Can you fight identity politics without understanding identities? Secular parties will have to take into cognisance the existence of religion. There can't be a partisan approach in governance; governments have to deliver universal justice."
Thakur was probably hinting at the discourse about minority appeasement and other such biases. The BJP exploited the perception in Uttar Pradesh that people can't get justice at police stations against Yadavs and Muslims.
It is also true that Muslims have suffered discrimination in terror-related cases, but administrative biases somehow became the dominant aspect of public discourse.
"The kabristan-smashan (graveyard-cremation ground) discourse symbolised that discrimination," Thakur said. "Governments have to be strictly non-partisan."
Thakur then explained the anger against the Samajwadi Party. "Then there is the vital question of leadership. How can a party earn respect by having a dozen people of the same family controlling all the key positions? Instead of an oligarchy, there should be circulation of elites."
The BJP, Thakur added, has shown a "greater capacity" for absorbing rising stars and emerging forces in different states. "On the other hand, the Congress has ignored popular leaders."
Thakur said parties have to represent people, not vested interests. "The BJP has the RSS advantage. There are over 300 outfits and all kinds of people get accommodated. The Congress has nothing, not even media voice. What is the Congress leadership afraid of? Why doesn't it support popular leaders, create new leaders? French scholar Zygmunt Bauman talks of liquid fear - nobody knows where from the threat will come. In this atmosphere, people yearn for strong leaders."
The BJP not only has Modi but also a battery of strong leaders in states. They have also mastered the art of using technology for communication and have a powerful sway over the media.
Asked if this would ensure the BJP's hegemonic control over the country, political theorist and feminist thinker Savita Singh said: "They only have control over the procedures, not the country. The RSS philosophy is antithetical to Indian ethos and hence the control will never be possible."
She added: "The most perverse definition of democracy limits itself to how following procedures is democratic enough. But substantive values are involved in democracy. Those values are still the same old values of equality, liberty, justice. We see tremendous cynicism towards these values on the part of those who govern. Democracy is reduced to mere form, devoid of content. We have to debate various forms of dominations which subvert these values."
Singh stressed the need for a collective opposition to any attempt to undermine liberal democracy. "Every government, every party has violated these values and constitutional guarantees available to the citizens," she said.
"What has been happening now is more worrisome. What happened in Uttar Pradesh is not very encouraging. It is a roller coaster that suggests nothing else matters except one voice. Democratic outcomes should satisfy, not leave questions in the mind. If a victory traumatises a section of the citizens, the government should introspect."
Mohanty said the question was whether the massive mandate in Uttar Pradesh "means people expect the BJP to pursue an inclusive politics".
"What will Modi now deliver to the poor people? They need actual employment, not the illusion of a Jan Dhan account," the political scientist said. "Governments are supposed to work for the poor, for universalisation of health and education. And to provide protection and justice to every section of the society, beyond the slogan of sabka saath, sabka vikas (together with all, developmentfor all)."
The Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah have described the Uttar Pradesh outcome as a consolidation of poor and backward caste support for the party and have promised to change their lives.
If they do, their social engineering will acquire a meaning beyond the realm of electoral tactics.

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