Dreaming of one-party rule in India?

May 26, 2017

“All politics is local”, said American politician Tip O’Neill. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party , nothing is local anymore. Writing for Aljazeera,...

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“All politics is local”, said American politician Tip O’Neill. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nothing is local anymore. Writing for Aljazeera, Prof Apoorvanand Jha of the University of Delhi explains how India is permanently in election mode these days and insurrectionary politics is keeping the nation in a perpetual state of agitation. “The BJP is trying to convert all elections, be they for rural, municipal or district administrative bodies, into national elections,” he argues.

The party achieves this by harping on emotive issues like nationalism, security and perpetual tensions with Pakistan even in local body polls, and conflating support for the BJP and Modi with support for the country.

With the explosion of social media and TV channels, local election campaigns have started reaching every nook and cranny of the country, becoming a part of debate at the national level.

Given India’s size, there is always an election going on somewhere. So with some help from the friendly media, the BJP keeps the pot boiling and the country permanently in election mode, notes the don who teaches Hindi literature but is known more for his prolific writings in English defending civil liberties and democratic causes.

This gives the governing party -- already enjoying brute majority in parliament and for the first time boasting governments in most parts of the country -- an excuse and opportunity to whip up political and religious passions by demonising ‘the enemy’ and portraying nearly 200-million strong Muslim minority as the fifth column of Pakistan.

As Prof Apporvanand argues, speaking and promoting hatred against minorities has always been accepted as a legitimate political strategy in India: “Today every election campaign assumes a national character. A statement made in Kerala stirs emotions in Bihar”.

Since local elections became a topic of national discourse, the BJP keeps the country in permanent election mode and uses this as an excuse to continue with its polarising rhetoric. The party has put its entire machinery in permanent combat mode, fielding all its central ministers, including the prime minister, to campaign for the party in local elections.

Besides, it has been preying on other parties, including the Congress, to expand its support base across the country and wipe out all opposition. No wonder there has been a deluge of departures from various parties for the BJP. The biggest loser has been the Congress, once the world’s largest political party with broad-based representation from all communities and social strata.

Today, with the grand old party imploding across India, the BJP has replaced it as the country’s largest political party. However, the BJP’s ambition is not just to replace the Congress as the natural party of power. Its goal is to grow at the expense of everyone else, making India a single-party autocracy like China and North Korea, in sync with the Hindutva Parivar’s agenda of forcing ‘one culture-one faith’ uniformity on everyone else.

Already, there are enough signs to suggest that India is fast turning into a one-party state. The all-pervasive personality cult portrays Modi as some kind of deity with superhuman powers, who cannot be questioned and judged by the norms and criteria of mere mortals.

The once vibrant, fiercely independent Indian media increasingly acts and behaves like that figure on old HMV records -- eager to please and speak what its masters would like to hear.

Even hasty, hare-brained schemes like the recent rupee demonetisation that caused unprecedented misery and chaos across the country -- depriving millions and millions of jobs and livelihoods and crushing small businesses -- are being portrayed as brilliant, visionary ideas.

Intolerance is the order of the day. Muslims, other minorities and Dalits live in constant fear and are being hunted and killed like animals over issues like Hindu sentiment or over nothing at all. Indeed, these killings and lynchings have become so commonplace that they no longer cause any ripples.

The forces of darkness are on the march and have become more powerful and uncontrollable by the day. The law is helpless before them and often joins them, penalising the victims -- even those who have lost their lives and aren’t around to defend themselves, like Mohammed Akhlaq of Dadri and Pehlu Khan of Haryana. Even Kafka and Orwell couldn’t have divined such a scenario. All this would be funny if the circumstances and outcome hadn’t been so tragic.

Meanwhile those in power pretend all is well in the new India as the government marks three years in power with mega, unprecedented celebrations, as if this is the first government in history to turn three.

But then the BJP and its Parivar have all the reasons to celebrate. The secular and democratic republic built over the past seven decades with enormous sacrifices and hard work has undergone a transformation that is both scary and sobering. After three years of the BJP, the country that we inherited looks unrecognisable. And given the state of Indian politics and the utter disarray and chaos in the opposition ranks, you can bet your life that they are here to stay for a long time to come.

Until the opposition, especially the Congress -- which boasts its national presence and claims to be the most representative of all parties -- gets its act together and goes back to people with a clear strategy and plan to expose the harm that is being inflicted on the body-politic and the very foundations of an inclusive, democratic India, there is really little hope.

The way the regime is going after prominent opposition faces who have had the courage to confront it or may pose a challenge in the future is yet another sign of its intolerant nature. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have been dragged to the court on ridiculous, trumped-up charges. All those old cases against Bihar strongman Lalu Yadav, who beat the BJP at its own game in the assembly polls in the fodder scam, have been quietly resurrected.

The CBI, which is now more than ever a handmaiden of the government, has also been targeting Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for confronting the BJP’s fascist policies. Another CBI target has been the soft-spoken Chidambaram. The former interior-finance minister of many terms has been speaking out against the rising intolerance in the country, the crackdown in Kashmir and Hindutva’s war on India’s pluralist ethos.

There is a method to the madness as the government launches an all-out war to neutralise opposition. If they do not unite even now, the opposition parties would be mauled and thrown by the wayside, one by one.

And it can no longer be a short marriage of convenience. If the BJP is to be defeated, secular parties must strike at the ideology of hate that inspires and sustains it. This requires a long-term strategy, commitment and hard work by all parties and sections.

The BJP is in power today because of the insidious groundwork done by its ideological parent -- the RSS -- over the past 91 years. Half-hearted attempts to counter its pernicious, all-pervasive influence will not work. It is dangerously entrenched and its tentacles reach deeply into the political-security establishment now. Only a sincere, sustained nation-wide movement can confront the organisation that was inspired by European fascists and racists and now boasts 57,000 shakhas or chapters across India. The time to unite for the sake of India is now. Because by the time Modi is done with India or India is done with Modi, it may be too late.

Email: aijaz.syedhotmail.com

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