After smashing through all bastions in north and middle India — from Haryana, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Delhi in the north to Bengal in the east, all the way up to Assam in the northeast, Hindutva has a new sheen, hue and connotation. It is a relentless drum roll of persuasion which argues for Hindutva Plus, dynasty be damned.
Plugging and playing into the fears and aspirations on a rapidly evolving India, the politics of appeasement has given way to majoritarianism instead of greater inclusiveness. India circa 2019 stands on the cusp of a new age, discarding the age of identity politics.
A fork has come on the road where miasma and prevarications have been junked, it is a strategic shift where the GOP has been blown out of the water for the second time in a row. It is time to accept what was thought to be politically incorrect, for there is a fine line between calculation and candor. The short path between the two is strewn with deceit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unique populist development model predicated on welfare economics to connect with the poorest of the poor at the bottom of the pyramid is his other arrow in the quiver. Empowering people and reaching out to them with the fruits of economic reforms has been his version of Modinomics.
A catalogue of welfare schemes targeting the poor has obviously worked on the ground. This double attack is paying enormous dividends. From forward castes to SC/ST and backwards, the Modi equity and persona is larger than life almost Gargantuan and unstoppable.
By being the progenitor of the Hindu vote bank, Narendra Modi using subliminal messaging to give majoritarian forces a new identity has swept all-comers over the last five years in Indian electoral politics.
The new Hindu order works on the cult of appeasement and anti-minorityism. A consolidation of the Hindu vote cutting across caste fault lines has helped Modi win repeatedly in recent memory.
First when he bagged 73 out of 80 seats (including two Apna Dal victories) in the 2014 general hustings followed by a virtual rout of the opposition in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh state elections. In between there is Assam, Jammu division of Jammu and Kashmir and in totality a clear triumph for the Hindu Hriday Samrat Narendra Modi as the Hindu vote aggregated behind him.
Covert messaging appealing to the subconscious against appeasement and constant pandering of Muslims has led to the spectre of anti-minortiyism making Hindus vote en bloc thrice over in Uttar Pradesh. Pertinently, this phenomenon goes beyond the temple and Ayodhya, it is about Hindu asmita or chauvinism or even machismo which was compromised by pandering to minorities. It has struck a chord with Hindus, across all strata and states. Resulting in naked majoritarianism and even Islamophobia and Muslim bashing, an unfortunate spin off being mob lynchings and the cow assuming a larger-than-life position in our collective national consciousness.
Deep down, this grouse of appeasement has resulted in consolidation of the Hindu vote. Modi and BJP President Amit Shah know that the rise of majoritarianism in India is peaking and is still to reach a crescendo.
Increasingly, majoritarianism is equal to faux nationalism. This translates into majoritariaism nationalism as a derivative of ethno centrisim. While India, unlike its neighbours in South Asia, has been accommodative of religious and linguistic minorities all these years, the trendline is changing dramatically.
The almost imperceptible shift in India of the middle ground of public opinion in favour of Hindu ultra nationalism rather than Hindutva is clear as daylight. Hindutva has actualised into a Hindu identity shift. Hindutva may not necessarily mean Ram Temple and Ayodhya anymore, but a more aggressive mien displayed by Hindus who want to reclaim their identity and land. Aggrieved as they reckon they are after years of minority pacification. I condemn these lynchings, an offshoot of lumpenisation and mobocracy, but equally understand the need for Hindus to reclaim their identity.
The wave of majority identity politics across the world is a harsh reality.
Majoritarian impulses have sparked humiliation of religious minorities and lower castes in India, driving a cleave within the fabric of India. The faultlines have become so stark that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi tried practicing a similar type of soft Hindutva identity politics.
Nida Kirmani, a Associate Professor of Sociology in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and her views published in the Dawn sometime back provide an interesting prism: The seeds of this majoritarianism were not only present in the explicitly right-wing BJP but were also present in the rhetoric of the Congress party. And alongside the bonds of cooperation and friendship between religious communities were also strands of resentment and distrust, which flared up periodically. Modi did not create Hindu majoritarianism. He only stoked the embers that had been simmering in the Indian polity for several decades. However, India is not exceptional; majoritarianism is not an exclusively Hindu malaise. Like twins separated at birth, India and Pakistan both continue to carry the same toxic ingredients within our countries’ DNA.
Somewhere in these two-three lines remains buried the Modi DNA, that he is not the creator of Hindu majoritarianism, but has played on the underlying fears of the Hindu majority embedded deep in their psyche.
It is very subtle at one level, but the contagion of stimulating the threshold of this particular sensation has spread far and wide. It has kick-started a consciousness that the minority has been given too much and it is constantly taking from the majority. More than that, it will become the majority in India if this process of appeasement continues — is another strand to this theme. While this may not be true, the latent and dormant intuitive mind listens to the inner voice which plays on these very underlying fears.
Majoritarianism is a global phenomena, an offshoot of terrorist attacks and the rise of Islamists and Jihadists. Kenneth Roth, writing in the World Report succinctly articulates its dangerous rise: The appeal of the populists has grown with mounting public discontent over the status quo.
In the West, many people feel left behind by technological change, the global economy, and growing inequality. Horrific incidents of terrorism generate apprehension and fear. Some are uneasy with societies that have become more ethnically, religiously and racially diverse. There is an increasing sense that governments and the elite ignore public concerns. In this cauldron of discontent, certain politicians are flourishing and even gaining power by portraying rights as protecting only the terrorist suspect or the asylum seeker at the expense of the safety, economic welfare, and cultural preferences of the presumed majority.
They scapegoat refugees, immigrant communities, and minorities. Truth is a frequent casualty. Nativism, xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia are on the rise. The rising tide of populism in the name of a perceived majority has paralleled a new infatuation with strongman rule that was apparent particularly prominently during the US presidential election campaign. If all that matters are the declared interests of the majority, the thinking seems to go, why not embrace the autocrat who shows no qualms about asserting his “majoritarian” vision — self-serving as it may be — and subjugating those who disagree.
Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing for The Washington Post, said: Populism’s continuing appeal should remind long-standing, mainstream political parties worldwide that the factors behind the populist wave are, if not universal, found in many different countries now. Furious voters may turn to populist outsiders who would shock political systems but not destroy them – or who could well demolish them.
Either way, 2018 and 2019 will provide more reminders that populism is here to stay.
Mukul Kesavan points out, majoritarianism is not simply Islamophobia – in India or Myanmar or anywhere else — Majoritarian politics results from the patiently constructed self-image of an aggrieved, besieged majority that believes itself to be long-suffering and refuses to suffer in silence anymore.
The cultivation of this sense of injury is the necessary precondition for the lynchings, pogroms, and ethnic cleansing that invariably follow. When centrists like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were re-elected in Europe despite a strong anti-immigration rhetoric, the world breathed a sigh of relief, but with Merkel now under pressure from her own allies in the national coalition on the same prickly issue of migration, the far right is making a staunch comeback.
(To be Continued)
(Sandeep Bamzai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)