Govt constantly telling opposition 'not to do politics' over relevant issues is just diverting mass attention
This govt is always stressing on depoliticisation. First, it said Pulwama, Rafale deal etc. shouldn't be politicised. Now, forbidden topics include almost every issue demanding response from them
India’s ‘political’ discourse is in a tricky situation. There is so much cacophony that we don’t know where to start with and target what. With the change of government in 2014, many other things also underwent incremental change as is expected of any new occupant of power. Those lacking liberal faith in the nature of the state have never been much surprised about its lack of neutrality, transparency, accountability, impartiality etc.
What has been a matter of concern, however, is this government’s emphasis on the idea of “depoliticisation”. The top leaders, party spokespersons and party sympathisers have been heard of asking people to avoid doing politics on various things. The list of forbidden items is long: death of soldiers in dicey situations in Pulwama; asking for knowhow about surgical strikes; price of Rafale fighter jets etc. The concerns associated with security issues is totally understandable and hence people accepted the official script of not doing politics on such issues. But gradually, more items were added to this ‘no-go’ area viz. Corruption in examinations; death of children due to hospital negligence; rape and murder of Dalit girls and police intervention in its funeral in Hathras etc. This was the time when alarm started ringing.
By gradual insertion and normalization of this rather new theme of “depoliticization”, the official script situated itself on a higher moral plane where it could not be contended using available tools and vocabulary of politics. The goal post for the party in power was shifted from “responding to genuine political accusations and answerability” to “demonization and discrediting of the act of politics” itself.
This act of manipulation by the government confuses the opponents about whether they should explain to the audience that they are not doing politics or keep asking for political accountability from powers that be. In this slowly constructed discourse of “depoliticization”, the government is accompanied and supported by the mass electronic media. It is for anyone to see how the vocabulary of media has acquired a normative overtone with time. Its language is prescriptive, seeks legitimacy for the government and demonizes the opposition.
So how does the government push this discourse of “depoliticization”? By erasure of various sites and bases of politics. We have seen killing by stealth of universities, media, civil society etc. using laws as well as coercive apparatus. Having side-lined non-party political sites of contestation, it singles out and disarms the already weak party-political sites.
The next step is to conflate these “out of power political parties” with the perception of an ordinary, cynical and politically disenchanted Indian. This construction gives the government an ability to engage people in a misplaced goal of criticising “out of power political parties”. Next is to delegitimize hitherto existing bases and axes of politics viz. caste, gender, class, religion etc. using the master narrative of nationalism. What of development, one can ask. Well! development from its inception has been apolitical globally.
One cannot dare drag any person focusing on development in the political arena. This is akin to blasphemy in the era of modern state. By pretending to not identify divisions inside the body politic on no axes whatsoever, this government has made the act of politics meaningless and impossible. In a sense, the government has won the Gramscian “war of position” in establishing its hegemony on the minds of the great Indian middle class.
So where does the government situate itself in this whole discourse? Yes, your guess is correct: In the arena of development. It projects that it is pursuing a spiritual goal for the benefit of mankind rising above everyday bases of politics. It is making policies to undertake the apolitical goals of development with pre-set markers using apolitical tools like bureaucracy and technocracy. Everything becomes a matter of “techne” which warrants no moral consideration and political question. It just permits a “positive suggestion” for incremental improvisation. Since everyone is working at the best of their capacity, there is no space for criticism. Intent cannot be questioned. Silence is the only possibility in this choking discourse.
How does this discourse make questioning of intent an act of blasphemy? Well! This is special to India’s case. Indian psyche resonates with sacrifice, simplicity, religiosity. It frowns upon those questioning authority. This has to do with the sociological base of Indian politics. An ordinary Indian mind is confused to say the least and hypocrite to say the worst. It is still in awe of ideals like Ram who sacrificed everything and is also allured by toxication of power. Hence, it pardons and accepts the blatant hypocritical conduct of everyday political entrepreneurs and allows them to go ahead with instrumentalist use of religion.
What is the problem with this discourse of “depoliticization”? It is three-fold. First, politics is important. It decides who gets what, when and how in the society. In a democratic society, one needs to do politics to ensure that the ideal of justice is realised. Second, politics, in a rather perverse form, continues abated. The most immediate concern is communal form of populist politics. Third, development is deeply political articulation. Policy cannot be a replacement for politics, it will always be its attaché. Rendering things apolitical and concealing its own politics, the government is creating a situation of political marginalisation, and economically marginalised we had always been.
Those who still believe in Aristotelian, Arendtian and Habermasian ideas of the “political” have to undertake two tasks at the same time. First is to negate the idea of “depoliticization” and rescue it and then do the politics. For me, Gandhi’s understanding of politics can be the point of reference for them. Gandhi said “...That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics”.
(Views are personal)
(The author is pursuing PhD in Development Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi and is an IIT Bombay and University of Delhi alumni.)