Saturday, July 13, 2013
What if Modi makes it to Race Course road
Mr. Modi has thrown his hat in the ring. His opponent, the Congress scion, nowhere to be seen, it is apparent that NaMo will be seen as a credible prime ministerial candidate. The BJP had to discard its geriatric mascot and get another in his image, another pretender to the title of Sardar Patel II. However, the Nitesh Kumar early rebuff has unmistakably brought home that NaMo’s ascendance to 7 Racecourse Road is not quite certain. The effect of this will be in an energised campaign by Modi, that can be expected to witness subterfuge and outright lies. The ends being taken by his lobby as justifying the means, low blows will be par for the course. Therefore, suffering through a Modi era must be prepared for, howsoever distasteful the prospects of such miscarriage of democracy. What can such an era entail?
Firstly, getting Modi into the chair would require some manouvering by the right wing combine. The propaganda machinery will be in full swing and will draw on the work of unsuspecting conservative-realist strategists. Modi will have access to corporate coffers and middle class talent, in the hope that his reign will unleash the long awaited second phase of economic reform seen as necessary to put India into the China league. However, to unite the majority as a vote bank, Modi will emulate his predecessor in reviving the Ayodhya campaign, perhaps with a promise to build the temple at the site of the demolished mosque. Modi will project himself as the ‘strong man’ who can rout the Maoists at the gates. A contrived linkage will be drawn between the Maoists and Muslim radicals, conveying the imminence of a threat where none exists. The unsubtle scape-goating of the minority for bomb blasts will come into high gear. Instance of Hubli, Dilshadnagar and Malleswaram will be oftener. The Pakistan front will see some rhetorical fireworks in order to try and project the minority as a fifth column. The draw-down of the US from Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban will be seen as a looming ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ threat to India.
Clearly, these gimmicks to get Modi to office will outlive his getting there. They will form the agenda of his regime. Not only will the business classes prosper but will do so at expense of the voting public. In order that the elite is not distanced from the masses and the latter do not devour the former through a left-ward lurch, elite-mass integration will take place by projecting the problems that will arise on the ‘Other’. The ‘Other’ in the form of the Muslim minority has been assiduously manufactured by the right wing over the past three decades. The public however will be fed the toxic cocktail of religion and nationalism, with the minority as an internal bogeyman that is externally abetted. Thus, Modi will inject insecurity into society in order to reap stability in a ‘rally round the flag’ strategy. Projecting himself as the messiah to deliver the much-put-upon majority from a thousand years of eclipse, he will seek to perpetuate his regime. His support infrastructure in the sangh parivar will use the opportunity for ideological expansion with the intent of celebrating the coming centenary of the RSS in style. In other words, Modi will not be a one-term wonder, but will spend his first term creating the conditions for the next since his ideological benefactors need that much time to reset India. This scenario and its prospects suggest that it is not merely an election that is ahead but an era.
There is no guarantee of this, after all the majority community is not imbecile. With five thousand years of civilisation behind it, assuming that they will be taken in by Modi’s campaign is to disrespect their good sense and culture. Besides India’s poor, who form India’s voting public, are not likely to be overwhelmed in numbers by the Chetan Bhagat reading middle classes so enamoured of NaMo. Modi’s supposed developmental miracle in Gujarat has an underside that will directly affect them: that the rate of poverty reduction has been below India’s average even if the growth rate has been higher. The former is what will swing the electoral verdict. Besides, his challenger, Mr. Gandhi, may yet have an ace up his sleeve, being cooked up and delivered by his think tank in Jawahar Bhawan. Congress has a way to woo masses, the latest being the idea of undercutting middlemen by delivering social security cheques variously named right into bank accounts of prospective voters. With right minded politicians as Nitesh Kumar willing to stand up to the communal tide, pessimism is unwarranted.
However, the paradox is that these challenges will prompt the saffron dirty tricks department to work overtime. They will attempt create conditions in which common sense is rudely pushed aside. The theme will be a Bush-like: ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’. Identity politics shamefacedly practiced can prove fatal to secular exercise of votes. Also, Modi’s is a considered move. He is not growing any younger. Waiting for longer will make him lose out to his younger opponent. He is clearly not playing to lose. Gujarat can no longer contain his ambition. He has to move. So Delhi it is. Being divisive and authoritarian, he can hardly be expected to forge coalitions a’la Vajpayee. He has therefore to fight to win. This means his campaign will be ruthless and designed to showcase him as a winner out to gain a place in the sun for the greater glory of Hinduism rather than a secular democratic India.
This suggests that while it may be premature to be pessimistic, it would be realistic to prepare for a Modi victory. Once in office, Modi will have the state machinery feeding from his hands; as he has had in Gujarat. As in the Emergency, state minions will compromise with governance, obeying RSS and VHP hatchet-men elevated to state power as ministers and legislators. The minority having been pushed to a corner will have to will itself to survive and outlast the dark times. How it does so will be a test not only of its moral strength but also that of the good sense of the majority community. To be sure, there will be challenges posed to the rulers. This will be from the secular-liberal spectrum, but is liable to be easily ignored and if required crushed. The more substantial backlash to corporate led growth will likely be from the Maoists, expanding their influence due to the fallout on the common man of economic policies serving sectional interest. Increased violence and the retribution may be witnessed. Given this environment and one in which the minority is directly victim, what must guide its response?
There is no doubt that whatever suggestions there may be in this column, there would be minority extremists mirroring majority extremists. Their dialogue of violence cannot but continue since being hotheads they are predisposed to such action. This may be inescapable in order to dampen the ardour of the majority extremists for any notion of a ‘final solution’. In any case, self-defence is a birthright. However, for the common people abjuring social violence will be necessary lest any association with violence lead to justifying the stereotype and retribution. Instead using the opportunities that are available for concentrating on bettering ones condition may be one way out. Forging regional, social and class unity will help with building bonds to sustain. Plumbing the wellsprings of religion and culture for resources for resilience may be required. False leaders will have to be run out of town. Collaborators will need to be educated and weaned away. Where incorrigible due to economic or power incentives they must be forced away from contaminating social spaces. Building social transparency and ties with neighbours of the majority community will act as propaganda by deed to dispel the false propaganda that will fill prime time. These ties built will over time help eject the regime and the reject its ideology. India will then emerge cleansed into democratic light.
This is a scenario that might not come to a pass. Awareness of it can energise the bulwark against the NaMo campaign beginning to unfold. It can have a sobering effect on otherwise intelligent and graceful people liable to be deluded into believing that they need a saviour through manufactured insecurity. In case the great Indian democratic project is usurped, then outlasting Hindutva may require prior creation of the reserves and imagination in a valiant democratic counter over the coming year.