Autocratic Refusal to Listen
Criticizing the BJP Government recently, Sonia Gandhi alleged that the only response of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to CAA protesters were mere provocative statements. She condemned the use of “brute force.” She claimed that NPR was originally meant to be a benign exercise, which the Ruling Party has changed into the terror of NRC. She condemned their “autocratic refusal to listen,” consistent “attack on the centres of creative and independent thinking,” and blatant use of State Power to silence the voices of dissent.
Sonia accused them of a callous and undemocratic attitude, insensitive response to criticism and gross violation of “political morality.” She described their sole agenda as “divisive,” and warned them that their objective of polarization in view of short-term political dividends would ultimately leave “deep fissures in the society undermining national unity and social stability.” She was absolutely critical of the shutdown in Kashmir for over 5 months.
An “Authoritarian, Majoritarian,” “Sultanistic” Regime
Sonia Gandhi’s criticism was strong, no doubt. But an independent study by scholars of international repute comes to the same conclusions. Her words amounted to saying that Modi was running an ‘authoritarian regime.’ The findings in a recent book “Majoritarian State,” edited by Angana Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, Christophe Jaffrelot, (HarperCollins, Noida, 2019) do not differ. Over 30 scholars examine at length the style of functioning of Modi Government during the last several years and show at length how the Prime Minister’s Hindu nationalism has been changing democratic India into a ‘Majoritarian State.’
One would be hesitant even to quote some of the allegations, the readers may even shrink back in shock. But citizens cannot remain uninformed with regard to the way the world is thinking about the new developments in their nation. The book is an invitation to thought-provoking discussions. It ought to elicit a conscientious response.
The new book dubs Modi a “neo-sultan,” pressing on India an illiberal “ethnic democracy” (pg. 4). It describes his regime as being authoritarian, majoritarian, national-populist, and “sultanistic” …interfering in the appointment of judges and curtailing the media. Ultra-nationalists are being pushed to frontline positions, no matter their merit. Loyalists are rewarded. Ardent champions of Modi like Shah have the best chance to rule Asoka’s India, if not with ahimsa, with himsa.
‘National populism’ that caters solely to the interests of the majority community and marginalizes the minorities is bound to give rise to ‘conflict-democracies.” Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, says, if you are an Indian, you are a Hindu. No Options! See what happens in UP where a Hindu High Priest runs the regime. What is the level of security for minorities and the Dalits? ‘Low intensity’ riots are periodically roused, and the weaker communities are shot dead or arrested. They are already marked beforehand. Cases pile up against them under a carefully planned strategy. They fall victims to ‘encounter killings’ or the so called anti-terrorist drives. BJP chief of West Bengal, Dilip Ghosh, could insensitively boast that “shaitans” were shot down like dogs in BJP ruled states. He was speaking about action against CAA-protesters.
Sammy Smooha draws attention to another dimension of the emerging reality in India, that of the nation turning out to be like Israel, an “ethnic democracy.” Only members of the dominant ethnic group are considered normal citizens. Others are there on sufferance. These are considered a threat to the dominant group. As Israel imposes restriction on non-Jewish Israelis like Arabs and Palestinians, the BJP-RSS combine seeks to keep watch over the activities of the smaller and weaker ethnic groups and communities leaving little room for mobility (Ibid 5).
The Hindutva stalwarts admire Israel and take their cues from them as how to impose their will on minorities. Similarly, 56% of Indians approve of Trump’s authoritarian and interfering ways of handling world affairs. As Trump engages in trade wars and imposes sanction to further US interests, India has imposed a ban on Malaysian palm oil for criticizing her Kashmir venture. Is that the way to handle criticism from world opinion?
Promoting “Flagrant Social Dominance”
The authors of ‘Majoritarian State’ show how the Modi dispensation is visibly pro-corporate and pro-upper caste. It has made anti-minority rhetoric “normal,’ a fact taken for granted, allegations no one can contradict or challenge. With its cry of internal and external enemies based on “false claims and partisan facts,” it has consistently been promoting the “flagrant social dominance” of the Hindu elite (Ibid 1). For example, even Congress has grown silent about Kashmir. Mohd Yousuf Tarigami CPM leader asks why the Government is afraid to free political leaders in Kashmir if things are truly normal there. Take care, he says, “Anger is anger.” It is true, people are silent; but he expresses his serious fear, “I am worried about this silence.”
Intelligent and responsible citizens need to be worried. The 2017 Pew report showed that 55% of their Indian respondents supported a “strong leader” who would bypass parliament and courts, 53% supported even military rule, the highest rate in the world. Majority believed that technical experts should rule the country, not elected officials (Ibid 7). They seemed to favour personal rule and a military government to control crime, terrorism, ISIS and its affiliates, corruption, and unemployment. They approved of the use of force in Kashmir.
The dominant community is less and less willing to live with Muslim neighbours. This has led to the ghettoization of minority communities, polarisation, and violence. Social scientists attribute these new developments to the middle class conservative voters’ resentment against the assertiveness of the lower classes and minorities in general (Ibid 8). What has emerged in consequence is a “Hindu majoritarian polity” run by RSS-BJP combine (Ibid 1).
The “Anger of the Majority” Justified
The authors of ‘Majoritarian State’ point out that the figure of sturdy Ram is fast being replaced by that of Angry Hanuman. Hanuman is always placed before Dalits, tribals, and Bajrang Dal activists so that they may be inspired by the ‘servant god,’ imbibing the spirit of loyalty and submission to the Hindutva top brass, while remaining fiercely hard upon their opponents. Sangh Parivar sessions are protected by the Bajrang Dal, lumpenised “angry men,” especially those who are jobless and resentful. To this brigade are added upper caste young men and upwardly rising Hindu neo-elite passionately seeking self-esteem and recognition (Ibid 11). “Crowds—angry, mobilised, determined or disciplined—became an ever more powerful currency of political transaction in India. The bigger the crowd, the stronger the argument” (Ibid 29).
Shiv Sena was the first to develop “fury into a public virtue,” proper of the sons of the soil and of those in deprived conditions, as it was claimed. The scale of public destruction was the index of pent up anger and outrage…fully justifiable in the mind of the perpetrators. The victims were considered criminal, who, being outsiders and marginal, could do little to defend themselves (Ibid 33). Bal Thackeray called it ‘natural justice’ (Ibid 34). Hindu pride has the same respectability among Hindutva adherents. “Hindu Anger,” considered legitimate violent action, comes to be authorised and validated as natural reaction (Ibid 88).
Angry Men Lead the State
The other day Amit Shah swore in Jabalpur that he would push the CAA through against the will of the entire nation. It is clear, warriors head the entire leadership. If earlier, Sudarshan and Togadia roared from the margins, today Shah and Yogi issue orders from seats of power. From the 1980s, the RSS had begun to “outsource coercive action” to Bajrang Dal and others (Ibid 56). Just think of it! Sangh Parivar could discipline an entire society without the Government interfering (Ibid 57). This ingenious arrangement has permitted “non-state actors to implement militant cultural policing and other forms of vigilantism.” Already during Congress regime, Sangh Parivar had been busy “weaponising and militarising society” for violence (Ibid 12).
But now, under the BJP-RSS regime, they have come into their own. The Rule of Law has been turned into Rule by Force (Ibid 25). In fact, Yogi Adityanath is “the founder of actual militia” (Ibid 7). Anti-social elements have taken over. Some call it “vulgarisation of power.” It is clear how “state patronages are flaunted by violence entrepreneurs for ideological or economic ends.” Thus, Sangh Parivar has become India’s “deep state,” defending ‘violent majoritarianism’ (Ibid 64). They can now penetrate and dominate universities, and occupy the centre stage. Modi rules the economy, commerce, foreign affairs, and security (Ibid13), RSS determines the social, cultural, educational agenda of the nation (Ibid 14).
Democracy Alone Has a Future
Students complained lately, whilst the British colonialists would carefully listen to their subjects even when they were not willing to yield power, the BJP-RSS imperialists are absolutely determined not to lend an ear to their fellow-countrymen, even to those who put them power. It is not the art of Modi to enter into dialogue with the younger generation about their future, joblessness, or CAA. On the contrary, protesting artists in Assam have been punished with GST. Meantime unemployment has risen 45-year high. Growth rate is going to be the lowest in 72 years. Sales of cars to biscuits have fallen. Achhe din have ended. What awaits young people is a bleak future. The Government surely cannot build the economy with brute force.
Prabhat Patnaik, speaking at Jadavpur University, said, though Hitler was a ruthless Fascist, at least he gave jobs to German youth and strengthened German economy. In Modiji’s case, there seems to be no more job opportunity even in Lynching Squads and Cow shelters! Economy does not flourish in a polarised order, in which trust has been wiped out and collaboration is a spent force.
Even in these difficulty times, the victory of Tsai-Ing Wen’s Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan is indicative. Democracy asserts itself once again under the shadow of Chinese authoritarianism. What is right alone has a future. Indian democracy will assert itself once again after the shadow of BJP-RSS authoritarianism passes. Om Birla, Lok Sabha Speaker, invited the Parliamentarians to express themselves in a “dignified way.” Our plea is: allow citizens to do so.(Published on 27th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 05)