Eminent political scientist Professor Suhas Palshikar, who was formerly affiliated with Pune University, has come up with a thought-provoking and rather disconcerting long essay in the Economic & Political Weekly. Titled ‘Towards Hegemony: BJP beyond Electoral Dominance’, the essay ought to be required reading not just for all students of Indian politics but for anyone interested in understanding Narendra Modi’s India and where it is headed.
Analysing the rise and rise of the BJP and the making of the cult called Narendra Modi, Palshikar explains how the party, which now rules at the centre and in 21 states of the country, has emerged as the single largest hegemonic player at the expense of everyone else. This growth and hegemony is unprecedented and unlike anything registered by the Congress or any other party anywhere in the world.
“In 2014, the BJP emerged as the dominant party not merely in numeric terms; it expanded its political presence to a large number of states, received support from a cross section of the society, placed the leadership factor at the centre of competitive politics and above all, set the tone for political debates. Since then, the BJP and Modi have made every effort to set aside the state-specific factors, make them less relevant and bring about an all-India imagination,” Palshikar writes.
“Besides the fact that the BJP was the first party to gain a clear majority since 1984, the 2014 outcome underscored its dominance in terms of the lethal defeat inflicted on the main competitor, the Congress party (19 percent vote and 44 seats). Thus, the distance between the BJP and all other parties constitutes the core of the dominance and its capacity to frame issues and project images at the all-India level distinguished it from the politics of the previous decade and a half.”
He argues that India has now not only been reduced to a two-party system but suggests that it is now virtually a “single dominant party system” with the Congress becoming increasingly marginalised and the BJP totally dominating the political landscape.
To all those who have been hoping that the nightmare of the past four years could soon end and Modi may after all prove a one-time prime minister if the Congress and other opposition parties joined forces, Palshikar suggests that it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Indeed, he paints a disturbing scenario for the future. Thanks to the single dominant party system that the BJP has ushered in and the kind of Hindutva nationalism Modi has been championing, Congress is unlikely to strike back in the near future. Besides, any coalition led by the Congress will remain weak and nominal as there won’t be a single node around which opposition to the BJP can take shape. One by one, state parties that stood their ground in 2014 are likely to fall. More importantly, Modi and his brand of politics will continue to be the central force within the BJP for winning elections, controlling the party and for acquiring popular acceptability.
While the BJP has yet to be re-elected under Modi in 2019, the party has been busy ushering in a new dimension of dominance. The new politics of Modi’s BJP is going to be a blend of new Hindutva and the political economy of a new variety. Modi is looking to reshape Hindutva discourse and the popular imagination about what Hindutva means and stands for.
Building on the RSS idea of nationalism – ie, Hindus as the true and only sons of the soil – Modi’s BJP has cleverly conflated Hindutva with nationalism. That is, those who support Hindutva or the BJP and Modi are nationalists and patriotic Indians. In other words, if you oppose Modi or the BJP, you are anti-national and anti-India. Modi’s Hindutva exhorts its followers to become Hindu politically and become “religious Hindu” by way of the public manifestation of religiosity.
“The conflation between nationalism and Hindutva has been the backbone of the new ideological dominance,” the academic writes. “That is why the BJP has been so happy with intellectuals trying to problematise the idea of nation. Such an ideological/intellectual stand places the BJP in a position of immense advantage and ensures that ‘anti-BJP’ would necessarily be equated with the anti-national. From there, it is not very difficult to implicitly suggest that being a nationalist is equivalent of being a Hindu and vice versa”.
In other words, Modi has put in place a foolproof mechanism in place to woo the Hindu majority and keep winning elections forever, regardless of the government’s performance or delivery on its promises.
All those lynchings of Muslims and terrorising them in the name of the holy cow on the side aren’t aberrations as pundits and apologists of Modi seem to suggest but very much part of the larger game plan of making the legend of Narendra Modi as the Hindu hridhay samrat (conqueror of Hindu hearts).
It serves to remind the sane majority that their “own” government is in power now. It is time to avenge those “historical wrongs” of the long Muslim rule and make Hindus feel good and proud. Indeed, even as Modi chants the mantra of ‘sabka sath, sabka vikas’ (inclusion of all, progress of all), the regime has normalised the attacks on Muslims on a daily basis.
Now the big question is: how does the secular opposition led by the Congress propose to tackle this unprecedented challenge to Indian democracy? For if this regime returns to power next year, everyone ought to be prepared to say ‘goodbye’ to the idea of India as we know it and welcome the Hindu Rashtra of saffron dreams.
However, the Congress and other secular parties cannot confront the BJP without effectively tackling it ideologically. Truth be told, the Congress is guilty of sleeping at the wheel in the 1980s and the 1990s even as the BJP grew in strength, year on year, using emotive issues like Ayodhya.
The Congress looked the other way even as the RSS and its various front organisations, including the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (which spearheaded the movement against Babri Masjid in Ayodhya) expanded their influence and presence across India. Under Indira Gandhi, the Congress hobnobbed with the RSS and even wooed it from time to time.
Under the UPA, the Congress failed to go after the then Gujarat chief minister despite the mountains of evidence against him for the 2002 pogrom, fearing “Hindu sentiments”. As a result, he moved to Delhi to haunt the Congress leadership forever.
Today, even though this government is increasingly unpopular – as the latest opinion poll surveys by India Today and others suggest – and people are reeling from rising inflation, unemployment and other economic woes, not to mention the acute distress of farmers, the BJP may still return to power in 2019 simply because there is no alternative. Congress and other stakeholders have not been able to cobble together a stable and better alternative. Yet.
Although the growing unity efforts between the Congress and various regional players are a good omen, we are still a long way off from having a credible alternative to the BJP in place. Concerted efforts by everyone concerned are needed to prepare for the do-or-die battle of 2019.
The BJP has an endless supply of funds and millions of ideologically-motivated cadres. Secular parties also need to put in their best to take on the challenge. They must do everything possible to save the Idea of India and the secular, democratic republic that was achieved following epic sacrifices. If they do not swim together, they will simply sink with the rest of the country.
The writer is an independent writer and former newspapereditor.