Vinod Mubayi

In the run up to the recently concluded elections in UP, several commentators had opined about the possibility of the Samajwadi Party (SP) coalition defeating the BJP. The combination of extreme joblessness, price rise and the problems caused to farmers by stray cattle (awara pashu) due to the strict ban on cow slaughter would, it was felt, lead to a lack of support for the ruling party in the state. In addition, the farmers movement had dented the BJP’s support among the Jats in western UP, an area that had been the site of widespread communal violence earlier and had given rich returns to the BJP in previous elections. However, while the SP did increase its tally of seats in the UP Assembly, more than doubling its previous strength, the BJP, overall, won with a comfortable, albeit reduced, majority.

The BJP’s electioneering was based mainly on two factors: (1) demonizing minority Muslims and polarizing the majority against them, the basis of the 80:20 formula (Muslims represent about 19% of the electorate in UP) that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath relentlessly hammered on during the election campaign, and (2) a transactional approach of offering free rations and other goodies as an inducement to votes. The Us vs Them rhetoric was a staple of the election speeches of Modi and Yogi. The first factor had less effect in western UP in areas such as Muzaffarnagar district where the farmers movement was able to bring farmers and agricultural laborers from all religious communities, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, into a common struggle against the Modi regime’s farm laws and, by association, against the BJP candidates in those constituencies. Not surprisingly, the SP performed relatively well in this area. In urban areas and other parts of the state not impacted by the farmers struggle, however, the 3H – Hindu, Hindi, Hindutva – slogans practiced by the right-wing reinforced the suffocating majoritarianism of the RSS and BJP. In fact, one can admit that the RSS/BJP have managed to implant the majoritarian virus in the brains of a significant number (the 80%?) of the population in North India plus Gujarat, for long the laboratory of Hindutva, and Karnataka. The decades of propaganda and outreach by the RSS cadres in the Hindu/Hindi heartland is a testament to this fact, a phenomenon unmatched by any other political party and it pays dividends in electoral contests.

Transactional welfarism has also been perfected as an electoral tactic by the BJP. The free ration scheme that was introduced by the Modi government in the early days of the covid pandemic in April 2020 provided 5 kg of rice and lentils to every ration card holder. It is widely believed to have garnered benefits for the Yogi led BJP regime in the UP elections and the fact that the scheme has been extended qualifies it as a gift that keeps on giving election benefits to the BJP. Another welfare scheme is the opening of bank accounts for the poor in public sector banks that included the gimmick of zero deposit accounts for the extremely poor coupled with low limit credit cards. All these schemes are identified with Modi’s name to establish his image as a kind of uber-philanthropist in the eyes of the voters. In UP, reportedly, over 78 million such bank accounts were opened in a population of 150 million voters.

One issue that needs to be raised vis-a-vis Indian democracy and the BJP’s general ascent in the recent electoral contests is the role that money and leading capitalists play in the electoral process that confers legitimacy of rule on the winner. The Indian economy may be in bad shape but the richest 0.01% are doing great while the lower 50-60% of the population suffers from joblessness and price inflation and is being pushed down the economic ladder. The Modi regime is the most pro-corporate regime in independent India’s history (notwithstanding the irony of Congress/Manmohan Singh initiating the liberalization process in 1991). Also, the relation between the Modi government and the leading capitalists symbolized by Adani/Ambani is highly symbiotic. This duo has increased their wealth by unprecedented amounts in the last couple of years of the pandemic while a large number of the marginal population has slipped down into absolute poverty. The capitalist wealth is funneled back to the BJP handsomely via electoral bonds, PM CARES fund, and a host of other measures. It has been estimated that 95% of the money deposited in the anonymous electoral bonds scheme (a measure promoted by the BJP regime a few years ago and whose constitutional validity a pliant Supreme Court has neglected to rule on since April 2019!) goes to the BJP.  The enormous disparity in financial resources between the ruling BJP and all the opposition parties confers a large advantage in the electoral arena that BJP has adroitly utilized in different ways; from simply purchasing opposition politicians to cross the floor as they did to ex-Congress legislators in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka a few years ago to topple the elected Congress governments to fielding huge numbers of IT cells in social media that barrage every cell phone user with non-stop propaganda.

Majoritarianism fostered and aided by non-stop messages from the BJP leadership of the 80:20, “Abbajan”, hijab, etc., etc. variety create and enhance communal polarization and division as has been pointed out by many commentators. This happened in a major way a century ago in fascist Germany and Italy and is happening to some extent in other countries such as Hungary, Poland, Turkey, etc., as well as to a lesser extent in the US and western Europe too. This divisive propaganda allied to hate-filled hyper nationalist rhetoric has been paying rich electoral dividends to the BJP as evidenced by the results of the UP election. However, as has been pointed out by several observers, notably Dr. Stanton of Genocide Watch, who commented on the blood-curdling speeches advocating violence against minorities made by “Hindu religious leaders” in saffron robes at the so-called “Dharam Sansad” last December in Haridwar, communal polarization and hate can spill over into genocidal killing of minorities, not by the state apparatus as happened in Nazi Germany, but by enraged mobs as witnessed in the Hutu-Tutsi killings in Rwanda in the 1990s. Dr. Stanton, who observed the genocide in Rwanda, and is also familiar with India, having been associated with a law institute earlier, testified to the US Congress after the Haridwar “Dharam Sansad” that India was the second-most likely country to experience a genocide in the near future. Modi, however, along with the other BJP leadership remained silent on these murderous speeches and the speakers themselves instead of being jailed received mere slaps on the wrist for their transgressions.

Another feature of what the Modi regime is doing in India is subverting all the constitutionally established independent institutions of the state, such as the Election Commission of India, the investigative agencies like Central Bureau of Investigation, and the Enforcement Directorate, the Income Tax authorities etc. to become mere handmaidens of the ruling party. The most troubling aspect is the intimidation or subversion of the judiciary that seems to hew closely to what was undertaken in Nazi Germany. In a very revealing book, The Dual State, first published by Oxford University Press, New York in 1941, Ernest Fraenkel, a labor lawyer in 1930s Germany, who had to flee Germany due to his Jewish origins in 1938 a few weeks before Kristallnacht, explains that the Nazi state operated on two levels; what he calls the normative state that functioned according to existing constitutional-legal provisions and what he terms a prerogative state that infiltrated the judiciary and the institutions of the state which operated on the basis of the political needs of the ruling party. This permeated all the institutions of the German state after 1933. Modi’s regime appears to have imbibed much of this functioning on different administrative and judicial levels as shown by the harassment of opposition politicians by investigative agencies on flimsy pretexts, the jailing of political dissenters on vague charges of sedition or under the draconian provisions of the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), for years, with no hope of a trial even commencing in the foreseeable future as seen in the Bhima-Koregaon case. The silence of much of the judiciary on these travesties demonstrates who their real master is, certainly not the Constitution. As far as the Election Commission is concerned one commentator recently wrote: “During the election campaign of February and March 2022, we saw the repeated appeal to divisive hatred and the stigmatizing of Muslims and other minorities, with ‘star’ campaigners from the ruling party unashamedly breaking the law to seek votes in the name of religion. The Election Commission of India, which is statutorily bound to ensure that such practices do not corrode the integrity of elections, has not shown the required autonomy and independence from the political executive to act.” Not to mention the Election Commission’s neglect of the electoral bonds issue or the shenanigans reported with the Electronic Voting Machines or a host of other violations of electoral law by Modi or other BJP leaders.

While the BJP is cleverly channeling majoritarianism to erect an authoritarian regime aimed at converting India from a secular country to a Hindu Rashtra by destroying democratic institutions themselves, it has not yet succeeded in all of India due to the country’s inherent cultural, linguistic, social and political diversity. States in the East like West Bengal, or the South, like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have resisted and rejected the BJP as shown in elections last year. Jawhar Sircar, a Member of Parliament from West Bengal belonging to the Trinamool Congress Party, recently wrote in The Wire that if the BJP is to be defeated in elections, then opposition parties have to function in a 24X7 mode as the BJP does in maintaining contact with and providing benefits to the voters. It seems pertinent to quote a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz that gives a poetic voice to this sentiment:

Yeh fasal umeedon ki hamdam

Is baar bhi gharat jaye gi

Sab mehnat subahon shaamon ki

Ab ke bhi aqarat jaye gi

Kheti ke konon khudron men

Phir apne lahu ki khad bharo

Phir mitti seecho ashkon se

Phir agli rut ki fikr karo

Jab phir ek baar ujadna hai

Ek fasal paki to bhar paya

Tab tak to yehi kuchh karna hai

This harvest of hopes, my friend

Will be destroyed this time too

All the efforts of our days

Will fail this time too

Fertilize the nooks and crannies of the field

Once more with your blood

Water the earth with your tears again

And think of the next harvest

When we may get uprooted again

But until we succeed

We have to keep doing this

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