The very idea of India that our founding fathers bequeathed us in the hope that future generations will carry it forward is almost defunct

Photo by Ramesh Pathania/MINT  
Photo by Ramesh Pathania/MINT

Zafar Agha

You love it or loath it, it is the RSS India now. Right from Rashtrapati’s office to the vice president, the prestigious post of prime minister of India, the speaker of the Lok Sabha and now chairman of Rajya Sabha, all the top political jobs in the country are manned by a RSS man. The victory of Venkaiya Naidu for the office of vice president has completed the cycle. The BJP is now the single largest party even in the Rajya Sabha where it was in a minority till the other day

The Sangh does not shy away placing its men in key official institutions to transform Indian education, culture, history and even sciences to shape them in saffron mould. Its men are rewriting history that glorifies ancient India beyond historical facts. Its appointees are censoring cinema so that only RSS version of popular entertainment reaches people. RSS men with no bureaucratic background are being now appointed into key official positons even in the secretary rank.

You find RSS footprints all over be it legislature, judiciary, executive and even media. You like it or don’t, India at its 70th Independence Day is thoroughly saffronised. The Right-wing Hindutva ideology dominates with little resistance from the liberal political groups.

There is a paradigm shift from India of 1947 days to India of 2017. The India of 1947 was committed to liberalism, pluralism, and it was an India rooted in its ancient civilizational values of tolerance but leaning towards modernity. The India of 2017 does not reflect any of those values. The Sangh ideology, which every important functionary of these times swears by, is an anti-thesis of liberalism, pluralism and tolerance.

We are living in most illiberal times when our school text books are being rewritten, history is being given a new orientation and culture is being dipped into saffron colours. Dominant politics has only one voice that echoes saffron tunes only. No one may publicly admit it yet but the bitter fact is we are fast turning into a Hindu state resembling Pakistan politics rather than our own.

The 2017 India is the India of lynchings; an India where corporate world calls the shot while Gandhi’s ‘’last man’’ suffers under the burden of demonetisation; it is an India where the concept of welfare state is sacrificed to the extent that public hospitals are being handed over to private players in the guise of ‘public-private-partnership’. It is an India where one nation, one party and one culture principle of Sangh prevails.

How come the very idea of India that our founding fathers bequeathed us in the hope that future generations will carry it forward is almost defunct? Simply because our politicians failed and failed miserably. Naturally, people lost faith in and drifted towards saffron politics. People did not embrace the saffron agenda; they only junked the discredited lot and put those in power who deceptively hoodwinked them with the promise of ‘’achchey din’’.

How did such a dramatic transformation come about within just three years of Modi rule? Politicians in power made blatant compromises with core Indian values of liberalism, secularism and pluralism. Babri masjid fell while the prime minister of the day called it a law and order problem.

Remember what the then Indian Prime Minister Narsimha Rao told Indian Parliament the day after Babri Mosque was razed to the ground by a communal crowd! ‘The magistrate never ordered security forces to fire and so they remain mute spectators to what happened in Ayodhya’, it was Rao explaining the gravest communal problem that India faced in 1992 after the partition.

It was a blatant case of a supposedly ‘secular’ Prime Minister from the Congress Party colluding with communal forces for his petty personal reasons. The result: secularism stood hollowed since that day with Advani getting the field wide open to taunt ‘secularists’ as ‘pseudo-secularists’.

December 6, 1992, the day Babri mosque was demolished, not just opened floodgates of communal politics in the country. But it also gave saffron forces the courage to market their politics of hate to common man. India moved from Ayodhya days of ‘darkness at noon’ to the days of justifying politics of ‘action-reaction’ theory culminating into mass murders on communal lines during 2002 Gujarat riots while the secular establishment remained the mute spectator.

India had the respite of an entire full decade after Gujarat riots when secular parties in a coalition together ruled India. But none had the courage of conviction to stand up against ever growing politics of hate that was peddled all through those days. There seemed a conspiracy of silence haunting secular parties, including the Left between 1990s-2014 when no mass action against communal forces was launched in any part of India except for statements or parliamentary interventions just for the sake of formality.

Even the concept of a welfare state was turned upside down where the poor man’s subsidy was loaned to corporate houses who turned it into huge NPAs leaving banks high and dry. Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s dream project of providing food security to the poor was scuttled by her own government during the UPA-2 rule while crony capitalism thrived in the country. Farmers committed suicide while governments looked the other way. Women were raped while political parties searched remedies in a piece of legislation instead of confronting it as a social evil.

The ideals were hollowed with silence for survival. Values were short changed for personal power. Soft communal politics was played by secular formations instead of standing up to the rising communal tide. One compromise here and the other compromise there left no idealism for the young post-independence Indian generation to look up to secular parties that had already sold their souls to power.

The decade of 1990s thrust upon us the worst ideological crisis that post-independence India faced. Mandal politics hit us like a bolt from the blue. It suddenly transformed the issue of social justice against caste discrimination into the primary issue. Frankly, no one had the clue to deal with the centuries old discrimination based on caste system. The promise of social justice written in our constitution since 1952 but never fulfilled suddenly hit the Indian political class.

Two trends emerged out of the Mandal crisis. The one was the rise of caste politics glorified by emerging north Indian regional players like Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mayawati. The regional players converted social justice issue into one-caste-agenda to consolidate Yadav or Jatav vote bank for their respective power politics.

Even the grand idea of social justice was hollowed with blatant caste politics played by the post-Mandal ‘heroes’ some of whom like Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan did not mind tying up with the BJP whom they had earlier labelled Manuwadi. Thus, another ideal was short shrift for personal power rather than for any other compulsion.

The other trend that emerged from Mandal politics was Hindutva, the idea of forming a Hindu vote bank to break caste divisions and dent social justice plank. It was a dangerous idea but had grand appeal for the besieged Hindu social order. It required an enemy, the “other’’, to break the caste barrier to covert Hindus into a single vote bank.

The Sangh parivar was lying in wait from pre-independence days to convert any such eventuality in its favour. So, it jumped into the Mandal crisis vacuum with full might. The threatened Hindu caste establishment rallied round and backed it with full power at its command. Remember LK Advani of rath yatra days! The entire social and political atmosphere was saffronised. The country rent with Babar ki santano masjid karo khali and bachcha bachcha Ram ka, nahi to kis kam ka slogans.

India of Nehru’s vision of Bhakara dam and IITs as modern temples was busy using its energy to build Ram temple at Ram’s birth site. India moved into ancient times with Ram temple controvercy. We were going back into time rather than moving forward.

Ram temple movement was the first organised and systematic attack on the idea of India that was already hollowed by its practioners. There was no resistance to it either from the Narsimha Rao’s Congress. Even the weakened Left looked bewildered and watched the rise ofHindutva forces from the wings without much resistance. The ground was left wide open for Hindutva to fill the vacuum.

The emerging social order under the RSS-BJP combine successfully turned politics into us (Hindu) versus them (Muslim) game now on. Secular parties, feeling threatened with the rise of Hindu vote bank for the first time, played footsie and lost their credibility completely. India gave to ideological paradigm shift without resistance

A new India of rightist leanings had begun to emerge by the early 1990s. Yet congress President Sonia Gandhi, with her deft move of weaving a coalition of secular parties to pool non-BJP vote under the UPA banner succeeded in 2004 to postpone the march of rightist forces. Sonia’s pro-poor schemes like MNREGA and some other state welfare measures manged to push the seemingly liberal UPA rule even in 2009.

But champions of free market within the UPA prevailed between 2009-14 and forced Sonia Gandhi’s hands not to implement her pet ‘’food security’’ scheme. Ultimately, when she forced the Manmohan Singh government to implement the dented food security scheme close to 2104 elections, it was too late and too little. Besides, the free market economy turned into crony capitalist economy leading to scams that fully dented the UPA credibility leaving an ideological vacuum for someone to fill it up.

Well. this kind of dramatic ideological shift to the Right was not unique to India alone. There was a major shift both in the global balance of power as well as in global social and economic dynamics since almost early 1990s. It was, ironically, the same period when Babri mosque-Ram temple controversy was at its peak.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993 virtually destroyed the idea of communism that had inspired generations from late 19th century till mid-1980s. One major ideological pole was gone with the down fall of the Soviet Union. Suddenly, the world, including India, was bereft of communism appeal. It was a great loss of an idea that had inspired millions from late 19th to almost all through the 20th century.

This vacuum was globally filled by new rhetoric of globalization coupled with the rise of new internet based technology. Market was the greatest idea by early 21st century moving huge investments into developing countries like India converting the country into third largest global economy in less than two decades from Manmohan Singh’s first budget in 1991 to his prime ministerial days till 2014.

Millions moved out of poverty and became aspirational in the age of information boom without any ideological grooming unlike the generation that had its grounding in the independence struggle idealism. The only ‘idea’ that this new apolitical generation had to cling onto was their own identity and nothing else. This gave rise to a new era of identity politics where Hindutva had natural appeal.

It is this generation that feels empowered being gau rakshak or kawadiyas. It is largely jobless and rudderless crowd that has overnight turned aspirational without any sense of direction. It has been uprooted from its villages and small towns and is in transition which has made it insecure. It needs direction and is unconsciously looking for a leader in the prevailing ideological vacuum.

It is in this vacuum that Narendra Modi as a leader stepped in 2014. He has rhetoric with oratorical skills on his side. He is the master in the art of invoking identity politics. He can weave peoples dream with promises like ‘every Indian will get Rs 15 lakhs in his bank account once the black money is brought back from foreign banks’; bullet trains will run soon; smart cities will turn India into another glitzy Dubai. Modi dazzled the young voter with the promise of delivering an India of aspirational dreams.

Narendra Modi sold dreams, howsoever unrealistic they might have been; he peddled crude identity politics as opposed to some soft western hollowed idea like secularism and mixedfree market with new technology to win elections. The rootless, apolitical and disillusioned crowd fell for him in the vacuum that already existed.

Modi is the hero of this new apolitical generation which has no faith in any post-industrial revolution ideals like liberalism, socialism or secularism. This generation is steeped into market economy and smart phone technology and only clings by his/her identity.

Identity politics of Hindutva is the new ideology of this post-globalisation generation of Indians for whom rest of the politicians have turned compromised and are hollow men without any ideological appeal.

Indian politics is not suffering from ideological vacuum alone. There is terrible dearth of personality appeal on the other side of the fence too. Semi-feudal societies like India need a charismatic personality to draw people to an idea and a party. Modi has charisma for his followers and is a skilled politician who cansuccessfully market even a terrible scheme like demonetisation and tax heave GST programme.

Modi has credibility while others don’t.

It is in this vacuum Hindutva is thriving. So. you get a Kovind for the office of the president one day and a Naidu as the vice president the other day, all from the RSS stable. It is something that no one gave a thought to at the dawn of Independence in 1947 when Jawaharlal Nehru at midnight had launched ‘tryst with destiny’ meant to transform India into a modern nation. Instead, we are now striving to go back into god knows where.

Right ward, ho. After all, it is the world of Trumps and Erdogans where Modi fits and his RSS ideology fits in well.

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