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Mainstream, VOL LV No 35 August 19, 2017

Independence Day: May the Good Indian Show Us the Way

Sunday 20 August 2017, by Badri Raina

In 2016 this writer published a collection of commentaries on the ongoing state of the Republic titled, recklessly it may seem, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient.

The central speculation in that volume was that whereas it was unlikely now that Capitalism would inevitably breed its own slayer, another sort of inevitability could be asserted in the Indian context, namely, that, however circumstances might discourage, it could be argued that no government, be it from the Right or the Left, could any more hope to overthrow the Constitution of India in any formal manner.

Two conjoint occurrences led then to this assertion: one, Modi’s demonstrative obeisance at the threshold to the Houses of Parliament, and, two, the stunning defeats of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi and Bihar.

This was not some unanalysed act of faith. Even as I dwelt on the ways in which the Republic was sought to be “tweaked” both slyly and overtly by agencies of the government and social groups and organisations allied to the dominant Hindutva-driven party, it seemed dauntingly unlikely for any single political force in the country to homogenise the unparalleled diversity of India’s cultural and political life, and to bring a clutch of the media world and vast segments of the post-globalisation new middle class into a willing alignment with the Modi Government’s unstated purpose to erase bit by bit the fundamental principles and emphases of the narrative which informed India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule.

This shift of focus of course involved debasing the idea of secularism and, simul-taneously, making it felt to India’s religious minorities that they can live here in peace only on the sufferance of the majority Hindu community. Thus, while going hammer and tongs at winning electoral battles, the macro-historical goal, as seems much more obvious now, was to drive home the point that the majority that was of consequence in India was not necessarily a constitutionally mandated electoral majority but a cultural majority which the Sangh considers to be “essentially” a Hindu majority. This of course flows from the well-established contention of t he RSS that India’s Muslims and Christians are at bottom all Hindus, and thus India has always been and will always be a “Hindu Rashtra”. If the history of the Dalits and other low-castes at the hands of the dominant Brahminical castes offered difficulty to this argument, the Sangh has been canny enough to make super-structural moves to make them feel wanted, although their social oppressions and economic dispossessions remain in place as before.

It must be said that the aggressive “nationalist” euphoria unleashed by the Hindutva forces to the accompaniment of deft media spins have helped to draw wide sections of the dispossessed into a framework of perception where Muslims and the Congress party are now routinely come to be seen as inimical to the greatness which rightfully suffuses India from ancient to modern times, barring some eight centuries of foreign “Muslim” rule. That much of that time one “Muslim” ruler fought battles with another “Muslim” ruler in other parts in the territory of India, propelled on either side by Hindu satraps and sipah-salars is therefore a fact not to be admitted into historical analyses. This project also involves, concomitantly, the devaluation, denial, and denigration of every aspect of “Muslim” contribution to India’s composite cultural and social history.

The electoral victories of the Hindutva forces are crucial to this project; these are plied to propagate the idea that these forces have a mandate for the macro-historical transformations they seek to bring about. In this process, base arguments about the actual numbers and percentages that the BJP wins are trashed as being of no consequence, given a first-past-the-post system of democracy. Consider, for example, that in 2014 the BJP won a clear majority in the Lok Sabha on the lowest ever poll percentage since independence! The other infectious aspect of the dominant narrative now is the forging of a miasma of Indian “greatness” on the world scale, however hard objective economic and social facts may every-day contradict that claim. A sort of impenetrably toxic self-delusion is thus sought to be disseminated—an agenda which is increasingly assisted by a considerable section of the media, especially among the electronic channels. Credit must be given to this politics for succeeding in good measure to marginalise the plethora of resistance movements and people’s agitations which now dot the realm from end to end. The majority population of the Republic is thus dubbed “anti-national” and in league with all manner of “enemies” internal and external.

One is, therefore, less sanguine now that, lacking electoral victories, India’s organised political opposition is realistically poised to stem this systematic degradation of India’s Constitutional Democracy into Fascistic rule from the top and Fascistic mob assertion from the bottom. Informed by a common purpose in this the mutually reinforced schema to undermine pluralist symbols, icons, textbooks, habits of livelihood in the matter of dress, worship, nutrition, language-use and so forth, is menacingly central to obtaining a lasting change-over from a diverse polity to a coerced uniformity. The fact that dogmatic and reactionary sections of leadership among the Muslim community especially—often mirroring the patriarchal and feudalistic control mechanisms and conditionings of their Hindutva counterparts—does not help the cause of strengthening a more emancipated form of living that ought to accompany the infusions of newer technologies into the country’s economic life. The desired goal seems to be to produce wealth on the one hand by embracing any and all strategies of “development” and simultaneously to hold back the march of science and liberal education to medieval times. Such a congeries of overlaps then must suggest how Herculean a task confronts those genuinely rational and liberating sections of India’s cultural and political classes who wish to make the fruits of India’s productive life available as equally as possible and to arm the common citizenry with the power to argue out that concatenation of coercive backwardnesses that seek to keep them in thrall while the apropriaters of wealth produced by everyday hands join company with the most rollicking of global sets.

Is our situation, then, completely without hope? I think not. The more we understand the modus operandi of the forces now on the ascendant, the more the hoi polloi can be made to stand up to those who neither constitute a majority of the nation nor any afford to carry coercion to levels where these become their own nemesis. The present phase of the life of the Republic confronts us with a reality far more dangerously insidious than the Emergency which was not inspired by any far-reaching purpose to dethrone the Constitutional Republic in a lasting systemic sense. The processes now afloat both at the level of governmental agencies and of Rightwing social movements seem clearly aimed at bringing about far more lasting retrograde transformations than were apparent in those culpable nineteen months of the mid-seventies.

It also remains a question how far the consenting corporate world may go along with this neo-Fascist project. Much as they always prefer a centralised politics with undisputed authority keeping social unrest and questioning at more than arm’s length, it shames them in the world community to be told that they are part of a conspiracy to subvert democratic norms and practices, rule of law, and constitutional sanctity. However these may be fig-leaves to them, they are necessary fig-leaves. Most importantly, though, no centralised and quasi-totalitarian dispensation seems still likely to succeed, in the end as it were, to fool all of the people all of the time. Nor may India’s organised Opposition parties too long be complicit in their own permanent demise.

All in all, the Republic seems on a sticky wicket. Whoever shows more grit may carry the day. The next two years will tell us whether the idea of India is truly hard to beat and whether the Republic is truly resilient.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62