Forget About the 2014 Triumph, 2019 Looks Difficult for BJP
Since 2019 looks difficult for Modi, he may ditch Vikas for Hindutva out of political necessity.
What seemed like Modi’s India until recently, now looks a little disenchanted after BJP’s lacklustre performance in Gujarat, and the party’s humiliating defeat in the Rajasthan bypolls. It seems that the disillusioned and disappointed Indian voter is once again looking for a change.
Not long ago, some intellectuals, human rights groups, and journalists across the globe were lamenting the rise of the ultra-right and an orthodox Hindu nationalist government in India. The stray incidents of beef-related killings and “love jihad” gave them sleepless nights, compelling them to predict the onset of terrible times for the minorities, and the end of the Nehruvian consensus.
Today, however, it seems that the juggernaut of Hindutva is collapsing under its own wheels, and the Congress, the grand old party, is reviving.
India has the extraordinarily amazing potential to surprise. Most often, the predictions about India in the domestic and international intellectual world are belied. The question arises, “Why so?”
A Deep-Dive Into The Hindu Mind
Any socio-political analysis of India, done without a nuanced understanding of the meandering pathways of a Hindu mind, will always be incomplete and superficial. A subtle insight into a Hindu mind will help us better know the fundamental reasons why a country, with an 82 percent Hindu majority, can never become a perpetually Hindutva-governed, Hindu-majoritarian state spelling nightmares for the minorities under a Hindu nationalist party.
Nurtured on oriental and spiritual traditions like middle-path, Shunyavad (Buddhism and Vedanta), and the Syadvaad (the multiplicity of reality, Jain traditions), the subconscious mind of a typical Indian voter is naturally inclined towards a middle-path.
Consequently, the Indian electorate generally avoids the extremes and highly radical ends of the political spectrum i.e., the RSS and Communist parties. They tend to fall between the above-mentioned two extremes. Between the two extremes, there is the center-left i.e., Congress, and the center-right i.e., BJP. And, India’s default state has for long been the center-left i.e. Congress.
Light, Right, Center, and Everything In Between
Center-left in India symbolises socialist ideals, an overarching Gandhian value-system, and India’s religious and spiritual legacy of renunciation. In addition, over the years, the center-left has also come to symbolise a slothful attitude; a confused mindset overburdened, or rather weakened, with traditionalism and idealism, status-quoism, and intense mental weakness, and resistance to any event that disturbs socio-political, religious, and cultural comfort zones.
The center-right symbolises an undercurrent of Hindu nationalism in the backdrop of any social, cultural and political activity. It also symbolises a general commotion and change, but within the reasonable limits of the comfort zone of a Hindu mind.
Hence, when the sense of suffocation at the prevailing situation and the culture of status-quoism intensifies, accompanied by a bout of Hindu-nationalist assertion, the people crave for a change in the political regime. Such a change happened in 2014 when people voted Modi to power.
But it is interesting to note that the capacity of India’s electorate to bear with change and commotion is very restricted, and any misadventure presenting an existential threat to their socio-cultural comfort zone will never be accepted. And in a democratic setting like India, such a rejection is cakewalk.
Most analysts fail to observe the robust, instinctive, remarkable, and unique resilience of the Indian psyche. And, this is the reason their predictions about India often fall flat.
The recent defeats in Rajasthan and reverses in Gujarat can possibly be explained in terms of other factors, including major ones like anti-incumbency, but at some stage, the discomfort emanating from the essential nature of Indians discussed above, is also a major cause for the recent defeats.
Modi, through his radical measures such as demonetisation and GST, has attempted to give an existential threat to the above-mentioned comfort zone of Indians. And the middle-class is already feeling alarmed and scared for the future.
Coming to the BJP’s second main plank of Hindutva, it deserves a mention that today, Hindutva is identified with the gangs of uncouth, and lumpen young men donning saffron scarves, with a teeka, exuding and practicing violence practically unchecked.
In popular perception, such thugs engage in moral policing and kill innocent people over beef and love jihad. Across the country, incidents of communal tension bringing routine life to a halt have risen in number. Most often, they are sparked off by petty scuffles over slogans of “Vande Matram”, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” or mob violence over beef smuggling and love jihad.
Such street-level Taliban styled radicalisation of Hindus has not only tarnished the image of India, but also fueled Muslim radicalisation. In politics, now, the Muslims rally around their hate-mongering communal leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, unlike the previous situation when most of them rallied around supposedly-secular parties like Congress. Barring small fanatic fringe elements, the majority of Hindu supporters of the BJP are not comfortable with such Taliban-styled violence, terrorism, and regressive Hindu nationalism.
A Squandered Opportunity
The BJP had an opportunity to create a credible alternative right-wing narrative in a constructive manner. The sensible right-wing minds expected them to commence research projects in history, political science and sociology, anthropology, physical sciences, and international relations to project a new evidence-based narrative. After all, over the last 50 years, the right-wing ideologues have claimed, and rightfully so, that the Marxist historians have presented a biased history in an unholy nexus with the political regime.
But the BJP could not present any credible intellectual boost to Hindu nationalism through an intellectual course-correction in history and social sciences presenting an alternative view.
Over the last five years, it appears that the so-called Nehruvian ecosystem (term used by journalist Minhaz Merchant for the left-liberal cabal of politicians, intellectuals, and civil society activists) exhausted BJP’s energy in trivial issues like Kanhaiya Kumar and JNU agitation, intolerance, "award vapsi," and the suppression of dissent. And, the game was played very efficiently.
Today, it baffles our minds that an opposition of 44 MPs could actually make the government, led by political veterans like Modi, dysfunctional on petty issues.
BJP still has time and opportunity for introspection and course-correction. After all, the Modi government has some remarkable achievements in the field of economy, foreign policy, technology, and infrastructure to its credit.
Even now, there seems to be an absence of a credible leader who can replace Modi. The Congress lost the 2014 elections because of incompetence, corruption, and its staunchly anti-Hindu behavior. Until today, Hindus in India remember the days when Congress was talking about “saffron terrorism”.
Political gimmicks like Rahul Gandhi’s soft-Hindutva might not make much headway with the Hindu majority. The Modi government has so far had a clean image. An average middle-class voter trusts Modi as a man with a progressive vision and clean intentions who has the potential and the desire to give effective, business-friendly, and efficient governance. BJP might want to harness the said image and legacy in popular perception.
However, given the present disappointment over elections results and the history of the defeat of 2004 general elections, it is highly likely that BJP will go back to Hindutva.
Pragmatically speaking, it might actually be a political necessity. However, this time around, the party can try an inclusive, modern or rather post-modern, cultural, intellectual, spiritual, and constructive version of Hindutva, rather the one dwelling and relying on hatred, mob-passions, and high-voltage street drama.
(Abhinav Pandya is a Project Consultant with ILO, Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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