regular-article-logo Friday, 19 July 2024

Talons intact

The electoral setback for the BJP marks an important check on the accelerated process of “fascistization of the regime” as I had noted in my column for The Telegraph last month

Asim Ali Published 22.06.24, 07:28 AM
Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi Sourced by the Telegraph

The last fortnight has been marked by a widespread sentiment of relief at the failure of the Narendra Modi regime to come back with a full majority. The relief is understandable. The sentiment, which seems out of place, represents the exultation at the triumphant redemption of Indian democracy from the clutches of fascism. It includes the well-worn panegyrics directed at the resilient strength of Indian democracy and the morally discerning character of its citizenry who had rejected the politics of bigotry.

Before 2014, when critical commentators sounded the alarm of impending authoritarianism under a Modi-led government, their concerns were dismissed by taking recourse to similar arguments. We were told about the inherent strength of our longstanding democratic institutions and the moral uprightness of our citizens (who were inherently secular and tolerant of diversity). This rendered authoritarianism an impossibility in India compared to, say, our less evolved neighbouring countries.


If the last decade has shown us anything, it is that such self-congratulatory posturing bears little correspondence to reality. It is also telling that such celebratory rhetoric usually comes from elite quarters, not from the marginalised sectors of the population, which have voted heavily against the government and made the electoral outcome possible. These sectors (Dalits, minorities and the poor) harbour few illusions of the limited nature of the democratic change achieved through the ballot box, or the intrinsically repressive character of State institutions such as the police.

One of our foremost intellectuals, who both saw the impending fascistization of the regime and suffered under its apparatus of repression, Anand Teltumbde, offered a more sobering assessment. He cautioned commentators from “projecting their own feelings onto the people” by “claiming that the populace was fed up with the Hindu-Muslim rhetoric” and had “realised the hollowness of [Modi’]s claims”. He drew attention to the prime minister’s capability to “recoil back to his fascist persona with a vengeance” and for the regime’s predilection to intensify the persecution of “Muslims and Dalits” for having “concertedly voted against the BJP”. Teltumbde, who had been incarcerated for two years after being framed under the Kafkaesque monstrosity called the Bhima Koregaon case, also refused to rule out the possibility of “more incarcerations of dissenters (‘urban Naxals’) and more raids on and arrests of political opponents by the central agencies”.

Marcel Proust wrote, “Men, their natures not altering overnight, seek in every new order a continuance of the old.” If we substitute ruling classes for men in the above dictum, we might get a clearer view of how the preceding Congress regime midwifed the Modi era as well as the continuities between the preceding ten years and what one might expect in the coming future. From the early 1990s, the country saw the emergence of a new coalition of the ruling classes under a neoliberal political economy (big corporates and their allied managers from upper middle classes, mostly hailing from privileged castes, who helmed the top ranks in the economy, bureaucracy and mass media). They ushered in an overwhelming securitisation of the national discourse where social and political challenges were converted into security threats to the ever-sensitive nation-state. Such a discourse of securitisation enabled these elite cohorts to subvert questions of accountability, particularly over the huge inequalities attending the transformation of the political economy.

The Modi wave of 2014 was driven in no small part by the BJP’s ownership of this securitised discourse, particularly on Islamic extremism and Naxalism, which were by then viewed as the main threats in the popular imagination. In a 2015 Pew survey on national security threats, 86% of the respondents (mostly middle classes) named Pakistan, 82% included Naxalites and 74% identified the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

In 2010, Teltumbde had written a seminal book on the 2006 massacre in Khairlanji where four members of a Dalit family were paraded naked, raped, and murdered by a caste Hindu mob in a village in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Having grown up in another village of Vidarbha, to a family of Dalit landless labourers, and having ascended to executive positions within the government and academic institutions, Teltumbde’s arguments reflected not only a sensitive understanding of the everyday realities of hierarchical domination but also the changing forms it took to maintain its oppressive control. As he argued, atrocities like the one in Khairlanji were not merely an expression of ancient prejudices but were driven by “the structural imperatives of the neoliberal state that needs to curb public dissent against its intrinsically anti-people policies.”

The spectacles of violence unleashed by the Modi regime, both by Hindutva mobs and the coercive arms of the State, must be analysed, as Teltumbde had advocated, from a perspective of the “political economy” where caste and religious antagonisms are instrumentalised to maintain the sanctity of unequal structures of control helmed by the ruling classes.

Unless there is a frontal challenge to these unequal structures, the violence against the marginalised will continue as before. A week back, for instance, eleven Muslim homes were demolished in Mandla district, situated in the impoverished Mahakaushal region of Madhya Pradesh. The formation of a new BJP government in Odisha coincided with a communal riot in Balasore. Both Mandla and Balasore are cities with a heavy concentration of tribals, Dalits and backward castes that continue to have little share of substantive power. The commanding heights of political and economic power in Odisha are dominated by a thin upper crust of the Brahmin-Karan elite and in Madhya Pradesh by the Brahmin-Rajput-Baniya elite. Minorities in both states continue to provide the fodder for purifying violence. The Christians of Odisha, for example, would have grimly noted that the orchestrators of the 2008 Kandhamal violence (arguably the worst anti-Christian violence in post-Independence India) might now control significant levers of State power.

In conclusion, we might reproduce parts of the speech given by the national security adviser, Ajit Doval, (who will, of course, continue in his office) to newly-recruited IPS officers in Hyderabad: “Quintessence of democracy does not lie in the ballot box. It lies in the laws which are made by the people who are elected through these ballot boxes. You are the ones who are the enforcers of the law… Laws are only as good as they are executed and implemented and the service that people can get out of it.”

“People are most important. The new frontiers of war — what we call the fourth-generation warfare — is the civil society. War itself has ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving your political or military objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable.”

This speech by Doval sheds light on the recent sanction to prosecute the author, Arundhati Roy, and the Kashmir-based academic, Sheikh Showkat Hussain, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for remarks made at a seminar in New Delhi in 2010.

The electoral setback for the BJP marks an important check on the accelerated process of “fascistization of the regime” as I had noted in my column for The Telegraph last month. As I had argued, a failure to reach the majority mark might “damage Modi’s charismatic aura, check his imperial style of functioning, and fissure the elite coalitions.” Yet, we must be mindful that the new political opening only represents the possibility of a successful challenge to this fascist threat, not its automatic reversal, let alone its vanquishment.

Asim Ali is a political researcher and columnist

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