Vinod Mubayi and Raza Mir
After the big win in UP and his appointment of Yogi Adityanath as UP Chief Minister, Modi has clearly decided that there is no need any more to sheath the iron fist of Hindutva inside the proverbial velvet glove of “inclusive development” i.e. “sabka saath, sabka vikas.” Rather, he has calculated that the need is to consolidate the vote bank of Hindutva by intensifying the communal agenda. The Yogi’s entire past is testimony to this strategy. His frequent foul-mouthed diatribes and threats of violence against religious minorities, mainly Muslims but also Christians, are known to all. Hence Modi’s embrace of him gives a clear signal not only to the Muslims but also to the “seculars” as well as the Yadavs of the Samajwadi Party and the Dalits who voted for Mayawati. The arson and panicked shutdown of slaughterhouses in the first week of the new regime offers a clear demonstration of the new reality. No doubt Modi and Yogi will keep on mouthing the development for all slogan whenever it suits them to do so. It is a costless exercise aimed at the many Indian “liberals” who continue to justify and valorize Modi as “vikas purush”.
With this victory, Modi appears to have arrived at the position Indira Gandhi held in the early 1970s when she was touted as the “empress of India.” The affinities are indeed striking: the dictatorial personality, the extreme centralization, the cult of personality, the reduction of provincial party leaders to mere lapdogs of the Leader, and the gestures of populism to sway the masses. Mrs. Gandhi gained a lot of mileage from her slogan “garibi hatao, while Modi’s “notebandi” or demonetization touted as an anti-black money and anti-corruption measure, which caused enormous problems for small business and the “aam aadmi”, does not seem to have hurt him at all at the UP polls. Nevertheless, despite the similarities the differences need to be acknowledged. While Mrs. Gandhi often blamed the “foreign hand” for India’s problems, she did not project the Hindu rashtra sense of ultra-nationalism that animates Modi and his following. And Mrs. Gandhi of course did not suffer from that visceral hatred of the religious minorities, especially Muslims, taunted in Modi-speak and BJP-speak as responsible for 1200 years of Hindu slavery, that is part of every RSS pracharak’s DNA.
So, what can be expected with this triumphal entry of BJP into the land that once epitomized India’s “Ganga-Jumni tehzeeb” (composite culture)? The early signs are not reassuring. A considerable part of BJP’s recent propaganda against Muslims in UP to consolidate the Hindu vote bank were the charges of “love jihad” (Muslim men luring Hindu girls into inter-religious marriages). Now the UP police are reported have formed anti-Romeo squads to harass young couples on the street, in parks, or other public places on vague charges of immoral behavior. The harassment and closure of slaughterhouses that afford considerable employment to Muslims as well as considerable foreign exchange from meat imports to the Middle East is another step. More such actions that marginalize UP’s 20% Muslim minority population can be expected.
In terms of the larger picture, India’s steady progress towards a Hindu rashtra will continue. The formal constitutional proprieties of a liberal, democratic state will likely continue to be observed in a formal sense, while being drained of their content. The constitution states that India is a sovereign, secular, socialist republic. Socialism was jettisoned in reality several decades ago and all major political parties subscribe to one version or another of neo-liberal economics; BJP’s devotion to it, exemplified by Modi, is to a more extreme version, represented by the Gujarat model, masked in the rhetoric of populism. Secularism, derided by Modi’s followers as “sickularism”, is in a virtual coma. As long as the opposition is divided and Modi continues to win elections, the passage to a Hindu rashtra will encounter few obstacles.
Meanwhile, on a global scale, the prospects for right-wing populism look promising. Ms. Marine Le Pen, the extreme-right candidate for the French presidency, current visiting Russia is reported by Agence France Presse to have said: “A new world has emerged in the past years. This is Vladimir Putin’s world, Donald Trump’s world in the United States, Mr (Narendra) Modi’s world in India,” she told reporters. “I am probably the one who shares with all these great nations a vision.”
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