BJP’s Hindu Nationalism Is Aided By Neo-Liberalism
The common understanding of globalization, as the creation of a single, global borderless economy, is that it is antithetical to nationalism, symbolic of an inward looking ideology based on self-sufficiency and self-rule. While this theory certainly holds true in the West, in this post I seek to prove that the opposite is true in post-colonial India. The rise of the nationalist right in India has been furthered by liberalization of the Indian economy.
The Rise of Right
In order to understand the meteoric rise of the Hindu right in recent times, it is necessary to delve into the political and economic history of India, soon after 1947. The nationalist movement which began in the late 19th century was largely an anti-colonial movement, not representative of any particular religious group or community. What followed after Independence was a protectionist Congress regime with its agenda set on self-sufficiency and scepticism towards the West. This plan however, miserably tanked and discontent, owing to the License Raj, peaked during the Indira Gandhi regime.
Around this time, the BJP was created in 1980 out of the remnants of the Jana Sangh. The BJP rode on the wave of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, and the mounting failures of the Congress government. They went from winning merely 2 seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, to 120 in 1991, and formed the government in 1996 and 1998. The political success of Hindu nationalism in the 1990s was a reaction against the prevailing regime which appeased minority and lower caste claims, and signified multiculturalism.
There was however, a significant difference between how the Indian national movement looked at nationalism and how the BJP did. The former was an inclusive view that arose as a response to colonialism. That of the BJP was sub-nationalist, resting on an exclusionary conception of the nation; a view which permeates its political ideology even today. Their idea of the nation was of a sacred and pure land, of the punya bhoomi and pitru bhoomi, and anyone who believed differently was not part of the nation. It was the land where Hinduism originated and therefore the land of the Hindu majority alone. This is reflective even in the present rhetoric of the party of ghar wapsi, beef ban, rebuilding the Ram Mandir, renaming cities, and the Prime Minister’s call for ‘purification of Muslims’.
Illiberals of Liberalisation
The fact that the rise of the BJP began in the 1990s, the era of economic liberalization, privatization and globalization, is no mere coincidence. They often cited Muslims as a cause for keeping India backward. However, 13% Muslim minority could never have been a cause for keeping India backward considering most of them were not employed in the organised sector at all. They were confined in ghettoes and in the unorganized sector having trade relations only among each other.
As is characteristic of capitalism, large sums of wealth are concentrated in the hands of a few communities which rein over large industries. So, it is often easy to exclude a small minority from major sectors without having serious repercussions on the labour or consumer market. The increased flow of goods, capital and technology brought in by liberalization helped create a new middle class but did not result in upward economic mobility for the generationally disadvantaged minority communities.
The BJP government that came to power in 1998 was largely on the steam of the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992. The government itself exemplified the ethno-nationalist ethos through populist, passion rousing measures like the Pokhran blasts, move to delete Article 370 from the Constitution (which gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir),and demonization of China and Pakistan. Their main political strategy even in the 2014 election was to garner majority Hindu votes by polarizing them against Muslim by citing tropes of terrorism, backwardness, beef eating, and Pakistan fear-mongering. An artificial threat of Muslims was manufactured and Modi was artfully portrayed as the saviour of the Hindu cause who would ensure political, economic and social development.
A prime example is the famed ‘Gujarat model’, brainchild of the BJP, which involved heavy investment in infrastructure and business, and was meant to promote the interests of the middle class and rich. While there was a surge of the middle class in Gujarat, it pushed the Muslims and Dalits further from economic development, thus widening the wedge between upper caste Hindus and the rest. This explains perfectly why the most industrially advanced state with the highest rate of economic growth is also the most communally charged, and a hotbed for riots.
Exclusionary Socio-Political Rhetoric
The rhetoric of Hindu nationalists has claimed modern liberal capitalist values to be inherent to Hinduism. It embraces modern science, technology and industry as not inconsistent with Hindu values and in fact asserts that they are of ancient Hindu origin.
The economic policy of the BJP is also distinctively neo-liberal with a focus on trade, industrialisation, and world-class development. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ is a reflection of this ideology. Its goal is to turn India into a manufacturing hub for the world, while inviting investments from foreign nations. In that sense Indian nationalism is different from the West which is turning both nationalist in ideology and consequently more inward-looking in politics and economics.
Hindu nationalism of the BJP is therefore a curious case of an inward looking, exclusionary social philosophy and an outward looking neoliberal economic philosophy. In a post-colonial society it is nearly impossible to ensure development without opening up economic borders so the ideology of nationalism operates very differently from that in the developed West. The nationalism we see today is built on the conception of a Hindu nation with a neo-liberal outlook and the desire for ideological, cultural and economic superiority.
(The author is a student of National Law School of India University, Bangalore. This is a Reader’s Blog and the opinions expressed by the author are personal. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)