The face of India's misbegotten modernity
India’s misbegotten ‘modernity’ has won another fascist round in Gujarat.
Unlike the mellow inclusivity of Nehruvian enlightenment that strenuously refused the bastardization of variegated cultural refinement and richness, that resisted a gluttonously rapacious leap for the mainchance, leaving the underdog to his/her own devices, that remained wisely wary of militarizing the nation’s psyche, the Modi-propagated version of modernity is a beastly mutant wrought through the unlovely embrace between facelessly uncaring technology and atavistic impulses of the ugliest kind—a creature unsurprisingly midwifed by India’s ‘reputed’ corporate fat cats.
For five unconscionable years Modi’s touted ‘good governance’ has remorselessly operated from a mound of gujarati human carrion; and now for another five the ripped, raped, hacked and humiliated may have little other life than that terrified peep occasionally through cracks in the door, cowering like trapped prey against the predator on the prowl—predators who remain secure in the knowledge that the high-priest of ‘good governance’ and ‘development’ hunts not for them but alongside them for the victims behind the ramshackle door.
And multiplying the terror manifold, the desperate knowledge that no organized opposition is ever likely to take up their defence, only a sprinkling of brave but marked civil society groups. A Congress party that readily took on board BJP dissidents who were complicit in the carnage of 2002, that assiduously avoided raising the issue of the mass massacre or the wretched conditions in which the survivors subsist this minute, that infact let it be known that the horrific guilt brought to light through a sting operation was a BJP conspiracy aimed at polarizing the vote cannot but have forfeited all trust.
Behind me as I write I hear a TV channel compere pose, in clipped English, the question to the panel—and by extension to the nation through an instant SMS poll—whether Modi is not now, after all, the true face of ‘modern India’.
There is of course no mention that this ‘modernity’ comprises a seated hatred for India’s muslims, a macho-militarist ‘nationalism’ and a willing subservience to neo-liberal imperialism—all nicely purified by an upper-caste Hindu evangelism that brooks no tolerance for those that dither or demur.
Remarkably, there is complete erasure of the far better claim that Mayawati,a Dalit, may be argued to have as a pointer to a new Indian future. It will be recalled that by any definition her electoral victory only some months ago in India’s largest state, demographically, Uttar Pradesh, wherein she bested both the Congress and the BJP to win a clear mandate was a monumental feat. But then, as I said, she is a woman and a Dalit, while Modi remains the child of a Brahminical India led by the RSS, no matter that himself he is only an OBC.
Furthermore, insofar as India’s dominant media and corporates look for a cultural homogenization of the realm, preferably along a religious axis since that axis best serves the purpose of drowning out class issues form the nasty public mind, Modi fits the bill. Mayawati on the other hand speaks now a Nehruvian idiom of inclusiveness, as she successfully brought into cohesion diverse castes and faiths in registering her historic victory on a wholly secular platform and a programme of even-handed economic development.
In the Modi order of things, it is the accident of birth that makes Indians either victims or victors. Thus Indian muslims—and Gujarati ones at that—may be perfectly innocent and law-abiding citizens, but they have the wrong names. Just speculate for one moment that Modi had been born into a muslim family; it is not inconceivable that he might have grown to be as fanatical a muslim as he now is as a Hindu. He might have gone to a madarasa instead of to an RSS shakha, and therefrom indeed become a dedicated fidayeen as well. All because he would have been born a muslim!
To this day Modi has not once expressed a syllable of regret for the carnage of 2002—a pogrom comparable to a Nazi operation. Ironically, Modi and the BJP do not hide their gaping admiration for the Zionist state, Israel. It is another matter that while the latter, sixty years after the holocaust, continues untiringly to hunt Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice, Modi, BJP and sections of the corporate media never tire of admonishing the rest of us how the best thing to do is to forget all about 2002 so that Gujarat’s march to vanguard destiny is not thwarted by unnecessarily divisive issues! And believe it or not, the secular Congress is no hurry to press a contrary point!
Fascist politics in Gujarat has been made possible by some discrete social features.
It has the highest percentage of upper-caste Hindus of any Indian state and, concomitantly, the lowest percentage of muslims.
Unlike the southern states or the cow-belt states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar since the 1960s, Gujarat has not experienced any social upheavals driven either by the middle castes or the Dalits.
Not surprisingly then, Gujarat has never generated a regional political party worth the name, only the Congress and the BJP. Such processes of secularization—using the term broadly as a politics of opposition to cultural or religious homogenization—as other states have experienced have left Gujarat largely untouched. Its powerful farming community, the Patels, thus did not become a vanguard of middle-caste resistance to Brahminical domination, unlike their caste compatriots in other states.
What working class culture Gujarat has had around the Ahmedabad mills and Surat conglomerates were over time to suffer two decimating onslaughts: one from the steady work over long years by organizations such as the VHP seeking to transform the class orientation of mill workers into a communal consciousness, with the aim of pitching worker against worker rather than workers against employers; and, two, since 1990, from the market-driven privatization thrust of neo-liberal economic ‘reforms’.
Taken all together, these factors broadly have left the field in Gujarat open to the machinations of social groups that have always dominated cultural and political life. Especially, since the emergence of Gujarat as a separate state carved out of Bombay, the admixture of a new-found political identity and the Gujarati’s traditional genius at money-spinning—according to one source, every second Gujarati in urban areas is a player in the stock market—have combined to yield an aggressively Hindu-militarist regional pride, something that Modi has astutely tapped into over the years.
Acknowledging the truism that all generalizations have ‘illicit’ aspects and often constitute ‘orientalising’ whole groups of people, it must equally be conceded that not all therein is ‘illicit’; nor is it the case that even those who most deride them—like the atomists or postmodernists—entirely avoid taking recourse to them. With that in mind, it strikes me that the two communities in India that have tended to be most enamoured ot the American way of life have been the enterprising segments among the Punjabis and the Gujaratis—the latter now constituting by far the largest falange of emigrants to that promised land. And yet it is interesting to record a fundamental difference of attitude and provenance in the Punjabi and Gujarati love of America.
What India’s Punjabis have studiously admired about America is its ‘work ethic’ and ‘dignity of labour.’
In the case of the forward-looking Gujarati who has rather an upper caste distaste for concepts like labour, preferring to get rich through high-financial skills rather than the sweat-shop route, the American and Gujarati love of lucre combine with a devoted religious Puritanism, one that tends to evaluate worth and ‘electablility’ in terms of prowess at acquisition. In both cases salvation remains a concern, but one that is inseparable from material success in this world; and in either case it is viewed strictly as a personal and individual agenda—something that makes the Gujarati entrepreneur the ‘natural ally’ of his counterpart in America and a committed privatiser to boot.
What has been happening in Gujarat thus requires to be looked at as a complex phenomenon. Unfortunately, in a situation where the choice between the two main parties—the Congress and the BJP—has been one between tweedledom and tweedledee, where no middle or low-caste social movements have been in the offing, and where the Left remains almost wholly absent, the task of building an alternate, secular politics is not easy. The millions of Gujaratis—tribals, low-castes, urban poor, minorities—have thus remained bereft of organization, leadership and avenues of struggle.
More encompassingly on an India-wide scale, all of India’s major political formations, not excluding the organized Left (after all, the hullabaloo in communist-ruled West Bengal began on the question of the Special Economic Zones) have, willingly or not, come to embrace the neo-liberal agenda. This has meant that the only social groups that remain in active resistance have tended to fall either among the largely innocuous NGOs—those ones, that is who have genuinely sought to resist—or among the armed segments of the outlawed Left. All that at a time when one after the other nation-states the world-over seem to go the other way, look where you will. Not a pretty picture.
Even so, let it also be noted that in the elections just concluded, some thirty three seats have been lost by the Congress by margins that were far less than votes polled by one or the other secular third-party or independent candidate! A circumstance, surely, for which the voter opposed to fascist consolidation cannot be blamed. (see chart attached, courtesy ANHAD).
And yet if ever it was imperative to halt the fascist juggernaut heralded by Modi’s electoral victory despite all odds, it is now.
Without question the Congress party that never fails to parrot its great secular-democratic legacy bears both the burden of the heaviest guilt and the burden also of rethinking both itself and the policies it has been pursuing. In an earlier essay I had the occasion to underscore the irony that whereas a supposedly ‘Islamic’ Turkey manages to bring millions out on the streets on the question of secularism, the Congress has not once give such a pan-Indian call, something it alone can do, since the Left remains locked into just two Indian states. After the Guajrat rout there are reports that blame games are rife within the Congress, as also a wringing of hands. One report from a Congress conclave held today has it that the party has understood the need to put up a cocerted fight on shoring up secularism. If so, the Congress has not a minute to lose.
In moving in that direction, let the Congress understand once and for all that a secularism that simply pays equal obeisance to all religions will never enable any decisive consolidations of secularism. Secularism must mean what it truly means—that the state, all its organs, all administrative structures, and all the edifices of law give no quarter to religious skull-duggery in public issues and public life. And that government functionaries at all levels, and government offices and other properties do not display religious symbols of any kind.
Is the Congress equipped to make that change? It is a question that most individual Congressmen and women need to ask themselves with rigorous honesty.
There is another conundrum that the Congress and the country needs to ponder—one that Kapil Sibal, an eminent lawyer and a minister in the UPA cabinet has pointed to after the defeat in Guajrat: namely, that ‘fascists’ can win ‘democratic’ elections. Do recall how Hitler came to power.
Does there need to be new Constitutional thinking with regard to this irony? Is it acceptable that social forces who have a long record of flouting what has been designated the ‘basic’ structure of the Constitution be nonetheless permitted to participate in democratic elections only so as they may have further opportunity to do dirt on the Constitution? Is it not about time that all organized social and political forces that think otherwise come together on this issue to effect amendments to the Constitution?
For a start, one such amendment could simply empower the Election Commission of India to disqualify any candidate who at any time during a campaign makes a religious appeal to the voter, or a whole segment of voters.
The law as at present constituted does not make such an appeal in and by itself violative of the Constitutional order, but forbids it only if the intent is to cause disharmony among religious communities.
Yet, insofar as such an appeal perse violates the basic structure of ‘secularism’ it would be in the fitness of the Constitutional scheme to disallow candidates from participation in the electoral process if such appeals are seen and heard to be made by them.
Fully aware as I am that what is proposed here will find resistance of one kind or another, let it be conceded for now that there atleast is a question that asks to be addressed. Surely all parties that swear allegiance to the Constitution as by law established have an obligation to sit together and find answers that are consistent with the letter and spirit of secular citizenship and democracy.
Modi’s victory in Gujarat raises many far-reaching questions. And those questions may not brook procrastination.
December 24, 2007
CONSTITUENCY BJP VOTE CONGRESS VOTE DIFFERENCE BSP IND
1 RAJPIPLA 37722 37091 631 2807
2 MANDAL 34843 34166 677 3818
3 KHAMBHALIA 40358 39560 798 4275
4 KANKREJ 37930 37090 840 28934
5 JAMNAGAR 33021 31941 1080 1098
6 KADI 65835 64508 1327 3848
7 GADHADA 50579 49152 1427 1478
8 SURAT CITY 39607 37908 1699 RJD-2584
9 ANAND 63745 61975 1770 12134
10 KALOL 27565 25255 1884 1427+1016
11 CHIKHLI 59471 57204 2267 2708
12 SIDHPUR 52610 50181 2429 2694
13 MANGROL 48256 45625 2631 3389 2782
14 BOTAD 69662 66474 3188 2134 3188
15 VIRAMGAM 47643 44327 3316 3286 3364
16 MANSA 44381 41011 3370 10478
17 GANDHINAGAR 81864 78116 3748 1766 5128
18 RAKHIAL 53993 50048 3945 1395 1428
19 DASADA 38174 34108 4066 3898 2408
20 SIHAR 50756 46638 4118 3501 2973
21 AMRELI 48767 44578 4189 3143+1397
22 VISAVADAR 38179 33950 4229 3399 2074
23 UPLETA 36602 31917 4685 1946 SP-4141
24 SOMNATH 61233 56004 5229 7099
25 BAYAD 40395 34711 5684 3107 3569
26 CHHOTA UDAIPUR 44422 38304 6118 8056
27 KALAWAD 39497 33225 6272 3449 3693
28 WADHAWAN 47466 40564 6902 23261
29 DANGS 56860 48977 7883 5010+4446
30 KUTIYANA 37130 27980 9150 3064 8060
31 VADGAM 50481 40776 9705 16372
32 ABDASA 39004 28985 10019 12397
33 CAMBAY 50163 40086 10077 3081 8684