Dr Gautam Sen
The cut and thrust of daily events and the immediate dominate and shape public political perception and debate. But beneath the surface the dynamics of longer historical forces, though barely observable, unfold inexorably. In India, the controversies of Indian political life, currently identified with the ascent of Narendra Modi, are obscuring deeper issues that will determine its future. These are of acute historical significance and the outcomes that eventually result will likely define the future of India indefinitely. Narendra Modi’s political fate is in fact an unexpected symptom of this wider prospect, expectant in the belly of Indian history.
The aspirations of India’s Hindu majority can be disregarded as inimical to some virtuous larger goal pertaining to the welfare of minorities, but their history cannot be altogether expunged. The Hindus have for countless generations been a conquered people and their past travails are a hugely relevant factor in understanding the future they may wish to create for themselves. An aspect of their very tragedy has been a dismal endeavour by nominally Hindus scholars to dismiss their historic sufferings, the fate of conquered people everywhere, as irrelevant and their aspirations as dangerous and unwarranted.
The paradox is that Hindus have in fact demanded very little, either through their constituted State or as a faith community. Their State demands respect for the integrity of borders inherited in 1947 and the Hindu community has only sought the restitution of three of their most revered religious sites. To even raise this issue attracts condemnation as sectarian although hundreds of thousands temples were razed to the ground by invading iconoclasts. The most ironic is the defence of an inequitable status quo by Hindus who were themselves victims of the very iconoclasm that resulted in their own religious conversion. The additional demand for a common civil code and perhaps an end to Azan broadcasts via loudspeakers (though all similar broadcasts should be curbed) would be deemed reasonable in any civilised society, except India where utter perversity has become the hallmark of vote bank political life.
The importance of the electoral outcome of 2014 may turn out to be as significant as Plassey in 1757 and Indian independence in 1947. The former was celebrated with a profound expression gratitude to the Almighty by Ram Mohan Roy, India’s foremost public intellectual of the millennium, if judged by his extraordinary writings without parochial lenses. This would no doubt because for his denunciation in contemporary India, but he would be in the company of virtually India’s entire nineteenth century Hindu intelligentsia! One resists the temptation to compare him to Swami Vivekananda because the divine sage was probably no mere mortal, making any such counter position superfluous. And Indian independence itself in 1947 was partial in so many respects, in effect only the beginning of an agenda with a tragically truncated inheritance.
The baneful shadow of the traumatic independence of Partition, widespread slaughter and massive population upheavals committed India to an outwardly pragmatic, but ultimately self-defeating path that institutionalised the inherited status quo. There was palpable fear of imparting any self-conscious, socio-cultural commonality that would have built a united nation. Instead every type of regional, religious and linguistic fissure and fracture was allowed to fester and any sense of nationhood was itself deemed divisive. Caste issues became a handy weapon to identify nation building with oppression because it could be associated with the crime of Sanskritisation. The global polity India joined at independence was not without antagonistic interests, seeking to influence the course of India’s history and policies. They quickly inserted themselves into these extant Indian fissures to better control its destiny.
The ideology of secularism had begun its career as the safe mooring that would reassure India’s principal minority. It was regarded as the necessary antidote to the rationale for the bitter religious Partition and to demonstrate to the world that it had occurred without justification. This is what the new Indian State strove to affirm. To this was added educational and employment reservations for the most disadvantaged groups in India society. Both policies were underpinned by an elite national consensus and wider public support. But in time they grew to become hydra headed demons far removed from their original purposes. As Indian voters became politicised and assertive, fracturing electoral verdicts and a malicious and deracine, Leftist intelligentsia intervened, exercising influence far in excess to their paltry numbers, a poisonous atmosphere threatening India’s very nationhood came into being.
A thoroughly malformed Indian secularism, supported by barely literate and corrupt politicians, has become the banner of communal political mobilisation and partisan policies to sustain it. Educational and employment reservations have also largely become an electoral contrivance and only an imperfect instrument for ensuring fairness and upwardly mobility of the disadvantaged. Hostile foreign political agencies, often under the cover of religious freedom, have also seized on the resulting divisions within Indian society to create constituencies that could harbour potential extraterritorial loyalties. A hugely damaging political impasse has ensued in India, which prevents thoughtful and long-term policy since the effort to sustain political fortunes undermines them. The unhappy admixing of societal divisions and techniques of political mobilisation has also promoted widespread criminality in political life. West Bengal is an excellent example of the outcome since a high proportion of minority votes and a mere ten percent of criminalised party activist votes assure electoral victory.
Narendra Modi is challenging this entire edifice of narrow partisan interests that have acquired massive prominence in Indian political life. He is threatening the Indian polity with genuine secularism and espousal of the goals of development and decent governance that a growing minority have come to understand is the only path to national salvation. This is why the opposition to him from within his own fold is tragic beyond measure. Those who were originally products of resistance to the many seriously injurious developments in Indian political life, which turned well-meaning early mistakes into catastrophe, have themselves been absorbed by them. The politics of Narendra Modi represent an opportunity to break with the largely defeated past and his record in Gujarat gives hope that he will try and possibly succeed in significant measure. He will begin an earnest journey from retreat and degradation that began countless centuries ago.
The campaign against him from all quarters, including his own party, is based on a wretched tissue of fabrications. All its advocates, from Bihar and Orissa to the Centre, are terrified that the status quo that gives them political sustenance may expire. But three politicians stand accused of having been the standard bearers of an exhausted past that profoundly menaces India’s prospects. The first and foremost is now the President of India, who could have refused to offer succour to a bankrupt politics and a family with only the merit of quasi royal status and unable to comprehend the dangerous agendas of subversive courtiers. The Prime Minister himself, who has always known everything, has strained to do nothing to curb the shocking criminality swirling around him. It is this for which his failed government will be consigned to ignominy in history. Sadly, the most prominent member of the Opposition is destined to join this putrefying duo for his baffling efforts to prolong the national agony over which they have presided.