The political economy of deceit

Modi’s India is a faith-based economy where all the apparent democratic means –principles of liberty, free speech and equality –are bartered for an autonomous institutionalisation of vacuous moralism

Photo by Ashok Dutta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Ashok Dutta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Sayandeb Chowdhury

The eye-popping misogyny and vicious violence from the followers of the faith-based economic empire run by Gurmeet Singh at his Dera Sacha Sauda carries one strong lesson. It should draw our attention to the idea of what faith-divorced from logic, objectivity and accountability - can do to its believers and the kind of control it exercises on the totality of their lived experience. Gurmeet Singh was a master of the art of deceit, managing to separate from his blind followers every inch of dignity that nature bestows upon the human and the non-human alike.

There has been some soul-searching about how poverty and (mostly caste) inequality are pushing entire populations towards phoney promises and magic deliverance from their state of abject ignominy. There has also been productive debate about the complicity of the rightwing in helping these deras to become stealthy, parallel, rogue statehoods. But we need to also ask if something similar in nature is in operation in the Indian polity itself, where governance is being increasingly uncoupled from the network of accountabilities that a democracy, by definition, builds for itself.

Consider the case of demonetisation that overnight delegitimised 86 per cent of the country’s currency last November. Demonetisation was sold as a magic mushroom to choke the so-called parallel economy as well as to neutralize terrorism- both internal and external.

But it is now a proven, evidential fact that demonetisation has delivered little, except managing to severely damage the actual economy and putting to distress hundreds of small-time workers and wage-earners.

The black economy has been left untouched and militancy and insurgency are flourishing. Yet, as on the day of its melodramatic announcement as now, there have been given no comprehensible economic logic about demonetisation. Instead, people were asked to believe in miracles.

But this is not the only failure of BJP. In Maharashtra, Jharkhand, MP and Goa, the BJP has been mired in corruption; in the North-Eastern states, Bihar and increasingly Tamil Nadu in sleazy, back-door politicking; in states governed by BJP, in chest-thumping, law-breaking, brutal cow-vigilantism. In Kashmir, the BJP-PDP combine has lost the plot and probably the state.

In states yet to be ‘conquered’- Orissa, Karnataka, Kerala and Bengal- BJP’s office bearers have been regularly found provoking hate speech and triggering communal assaults.

Consider the random income-tax raids, the chilling Gorakhpur case, the Vyapam scam, the horrific train accidents, or the ban on triple talaaq. The list is endless. All BJP governments - either in municipalities, the states or at the centre - are incompetent and nepotistic, corrupt and treacherous.

Moreover, hefty issues like economy, employment, climate, healthcare and reduction of poverty have lost any currency in Indian public debate and policy. Every morning on newspapers and every night on television, the nation is kept busy about selective non-issues or issues best left to personal and lifestyle choices.

Moreover, the government is feverishly arming itself, deforesting its lands, opening up its resources to multinational greed, intimidating its neighbours, creating ruckus in public universities, blatantly planning a giant mechanism of surveillance or secretively monetising each and every of its services, pushing away the lower and poor classes into starvation and endangered survival.

Under BJP, India looks like a nation for the rich, by the bigots and of the nincompoops. And yet, the figures in national, state and local elections- the mathematics of voting- have shown no major recognisable distaste for BJP- no churn, no counterpoint, and little to no aberration. Why so? Why does the population continue to have faith in a government, which has been unfair, repressive, fraudulent and above all, fascist?

It is because the government and specially Mr Modi have become increasingly sharp and cunning in the moral rhetoric of deceit that he has mustered over the last few years. His office has taken over India’s broadcasting channels and dominates social media coverage. The deceit is peddled sometimes in brazen lies but more often in a moral language and sold in the cover of nationalist rhetoric. Morality is nothing but authority without accountability that pushes to deliver through faith and thrive in unreason.

The Gurmeet Singh case in an excellent sample of how a crude, incredulous, portentous and often spectacularly dramatic morality becomes sellable to a politically unlettered and gullible public who mistake histrionics for hope-inducing sermons, something Mr Modi thrives on. Demonetisation was peddled as a moral programme to cleanse the nation’s soul; Swachh Bharat was sold as a panacea for the nation’s ills. The same rhetoric, either through mass speeches or radio recordings is sold about Kashmir, rights of farmers, role of the army and all the myriad schemes (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, GST etc) which the government has failed to deliver miserably.

The BJP, with the help of an institutional takeover by its mother organization, the RSS, and its social media lumpenproletariat – is converting the political programme of democracy into a faith-based political economy; from a politics of accountability, debate and parliamentary reflection to one of evangelical messianism; from governance as a set of deliverables to governance as chest-thumping deceit.

In this programme, the BJP is aided by its minion of media barons and RSS's headlong drive towards implementing an unlettered, a-historical, masculinised Hindutva. If the government can control and convert matters of everyday governance into high-sounding moral semantic about nation and nationalism; unchain an aggressive tribalism with highfalutin posturing about India’s potential greatness, and unleash selective witch-hunt of unbelievers and debaters, then ‘ballot-papered’ democratic dividends are merely incidental.

Perhaps for the first time in India- the nation-state, the government and an alternative view of history are seen as reciprocal and synonymous - a powerful triad of belief that is beyond the scope and cliché of merely electoral politics. What we are effectively seeing is democracy being transformed into a doctrinal architecture, a moral apparatus that is beyond the will and scope of both mortal men and electoral machines.

The semantic of New India, unleashed by Mr Modi during the Independence Day speech is the latest rabbit from the dirty-tricks beaver hat of the BJP. A harvest of hope sown now and watered with corny gibberish for a bit over a year will see Modi sail through another term in 2019.

In short, BJP is not mixing religion and politics; it is converting politics into religion. Mr Modi’s India is a faith-based economy where all the apparent democratic means - principles of liberty, free speech and equality - are bartered for an autonomous institutionalization of vacuous moralism.

The educated middle should not feel sorry or contemptuous to the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda. After all, a third of this country continues to prostrate, incapacitated by believe, in front of a Prime Minister who, in guise of their deliverer and by virtue of power bestowed upon him by thefollowers, are forcing them to part with what is the most human in them.

The writer teaches at Ambedkar University Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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