After Gujarat

HARISH KHARE

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BOTH sides of the secular/communal divide were unanimous. The Gujarat elections in mid-December would redefine Indian politics. The outcome is now known, and the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party has registered an impressive electoral sweep, sending the Hindutva forces in a rapture while the secular voices find themselves totally numbed by the extent of the BJP’s victory. How does the Indian polity stand changed, if at all, after the Gujarat verdict? Does the Indian state stand re-enforced and re-energized? Do its institutions stand in danger of further losing their effectiveness because of the nature of the Gujarat verdict.

In the tragic and bloody events leading up the Gujarat poll, Liberal India found itself besieged from an aggressive Hindutva. As far as the votaries and practitioners of aggressive Hindutva were concerned, the Gujarat contest became a modern day equivalent of Mahabharata, a battle of almost epic proportions, pitting the Hindus and their civilizational values against a host of external forces – the international church, the Islamic world and its terrorist outfits – all out to deny Mother India its moment of security and glory. For them, Narendra Modi was the new icon, a He-man who spoke the idiom of masculine Hinduism; and, for them, those who opposed Narendra Modi were anti-Hindu, divisionists and closet sympathizers of the terrorists out to defile our temples.

The Hindutva forces stated their case with extraordinary vehemence and venom; Liberal India found itself forced on the backfoot. The Hindutva forces rejected the suggestion that the Indian state failed to perform its job in the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat. Instead, they asserted that whatever happened after Godhra could not have happened had ‘Godhra’ not happened. It was a just retribution meted out to the presumed or actual ‘perpetrators’ of the Godhra massacre. The underlying assumption was that ‘we’ know why it happened, we know ‘who’ did it and ‘those’ who did it needed to be fixed; and, the ideas, institutions and individuals who stand in the way would have to be got rid of.

It was an open and shut case. The BJP’s national leadership, from Atal Behari Vajpayee downward, acted during the Gujarat campaign as if they countenanced the state government’s complicity with the rioters. In fact a vote was sought – and given – as a gesture of consecrating Narendra Modi’s definition of Indian nationalism.

 

 

The new Hindutva stridency was not unfamiliar; what, however, was inexplicable was the failure of the secular voices and political parties to disengage the Gujarat voter from Modi’s captivating spell. The Congress offered a clear cut choice between development and dislocation/destruction (vikas versus vinash); but the voter did not buy the argument. The voter allowed himself to be persuaded of the Modi argument that what was needed over and above everything else was ‘security’; good governance, su-raaj, employment, jobs, and so on, would have to wait. Security first, security second and security last.

The constitutionally empowered institutional arrangements saw to it that the sieged Muslim minority was not denied its right to a franchise, but their massive participation in the rites of electoral democracy apparently did not help them. It may, perhaps, have rendered them more vulnerable than before. Ironically enough, the Hindus, at least its Hindutva champions, feel that Gujarat does not end in Gujarat. The message and experiment must be replicated elsewhere.

Beyond all this Hindutva passion and the communal poison lies the larger crisis of the Indian state and the kind of nationalism that has been manufactured to sustain that state order. The state-led nationalism that served India well for the first 50 years after independence seems to have run its course or, at least, is no longer sufficient to garner the requisite legitimacy and efficacy, especially in an uncertain world and an unfriendly geostrategic neighbourhood. As Rajni Kothari notes: ‘The new kind of majoritarianism vis-a-vis the minorities not only highlights the sense of humiliation felt by the minorities, but also by the members of the majority community. Critical to this current phase as signified by Gujarat is the fact that the majority itself feels isolated, exploited and humiliated today.’1 All this despite a government of 24-carat deshbhakts at the Centre for over four years.

This crisis of faith, as it were, has been in the making for years and is mostly of the Hindutva votaries’s own making. The crisis is centred around three overlapping layers of frustrations: (i) against globalization, (ii) against jehadi Islam, and (iii) with the Vajpayee-led BJP as the chosen instrument to ward off the challenge of globalization and jehadi Islam. The crisis has been getting cumulatively aggravated. The post-Godhra violence and then the Modi campaign of consecration by blood are to be seen as ways of coping with the political and psychological consequences of that crisis of faith.

 

 

One of the major elements in the BJP definition of Indian nationalism was an implicit preference for swadeshi and rejection of ‘globalization’. For the RSS, the opposition to ‘globalization’ was more than an economic argument; it was an exercise in generating a new national self-awareness. Beginning with a resolution in March 1992, the RSS Pratinidhi Sabha launched a ‘swadeshi campaign’ from which the BJP was never formally allowed to distance itself, even after coming to power at the Centre.

 

 

The purpose of the RSS campaign was to promote ‘swadeshi chetna’ against the seemingly inexorable march of ‘homogenizing’ globalization. Be it the multinational corporation, the foreign investor or the foreign banker – all were outsiders, polluting the purity of Mother India. Swadeshi was a nation-building philosophy: ‘The vision of motherland as divine being, conception of nationalism as spiritual force and the idea of patriotism as a creed found concreted expression in the form of swadeshi ideal.’2

The BJP accepted the philosophy behind the rejection of globalization and its policy-twin, liberalization. The last major economic resolution adopted by its national executive in July 1997, before the BJP formed a government at the Centre, had talked of ‘the false slogan of globalization, the fatal attraction of unrestrained consumerism, the aping of the West, the concern for the comfort of the few at the cost of the vast millions, the lurking dangers to our cultural values and the emerging threat to our sovereignty.’

The BJP was offering to overturn the then prevalent mix of economic policies and political impulses, a mix that the nationalist constituency believed had enfeebled the Indian state and its capacity to protect our abiding national interests. The nationalist constituency was invited to cast its lot with a parivar teeming with deshbhakts, with the promise that the deshbhakts would ipso facto resolve the looming crisis of Indian state- led nationalism. And then, when the Vajpayee era began, the sangh parivar and its super-patriots discovered that they were not at liberty to break the liberalization-globalization paradigm.

 

 

For a few years everybody pretended that the deshbhakti of a government of deshbhakts was in itself sufficient to guard Mother India against the foreigner and his unfriendly designs and intentions. But the fiction could not outrun the fact; hence, the current controversy over disinvestment. Early July this year, the RSS mouthpiece, Organizer, editorially warned against the mad rush of disinvestment: ‘The message is loud and clear – core sectors of the economy, with a social cause and sovereign concerns, need to be under state control. As we are entering the phase of privatization and opening up our economy to foreign investment, it is scary to think of more Enrons and WorldComs waiting to happen due to "systemic" failures in a distant land, over which we have no control. It is all the more essential for us to tighten our own rules and regulations and refrain from a mad rush.’

What for the last two years was deemed to be the loony obsession of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch has now become the concern of the mainstream in the sangh parivar; from the RSS chief to the deputy prime minister to ministers and minions, all are willing to voice their reservations about liberalization/globalization. Some of the opposition is political, some can be described as an economist’s dissent; but the larger impulse is of nationalist nervousness. The Vajpayee regime is increasingly being viewed as unwilling and unable to stand up to the foreigner and his rapacious demands. The nationalist’s faith is shaken.

 

 

If the foreign investor has mocked our pretensions of collective self-respect, the terrorist has been tucking at our nationalist manhood. Within months of giving the deshbhakts a ‘Kargil Vijay’ mandate, the nationalist constituency watched in horror the foreign minister of India escorting terrorists to Kandhar in the last week of December 1999. From that jolt to our national pride to the terrorist attack on 13 December 2001, the nationalists have experienced one frustration after another. The Indian state and its nationalist overseers ‘helped’ the nation cope with the situation by externalizing the threat; they promised to teach Pakistan a lesson, held out threats of retribution against Islamabad. After the December 13 attack on Parliament House, the country was promised a full-scale confrontation with Pakistan to ‘settle the issue’, once for all.

Our nationalist juices were flowing once again. The 2 June 2002 issue of Organiser announced: ‘Weighing options: Redraw LoC, liberate Sind, destroy nuclear capability.’ The following week, it was: ‘Inching towards a decisive war on terrorism.’ There was an unstated belief that the international community was, for once, prepared, especially after September 11, to let us sort out Pakistan. The refrain was: ‘We do not need America’s permission to defend our nation. What we need is courage to act.’ For weeks and months the nationalist constituency eagerly awaited the super-patriots to put their money where their mouth was.

Frustration piled upon frustration and a sense of collective let-down set in as the Advanis and the Vajpayees kept mimicking the idiom of ‘jehadi Islam’, exhibiting its murderous wares in New York, Bali, Moscow or Akshardham. Week after week the television brought into the living rooms images of commandos, terrorists, encounters; the more our deshbhakts talked of global dimensions of jehadi Islam, the greater were the frustrations over the Indian state’s inability to do something efficacious about this challenge to our nationalist manhood. And salt got rubbed into our wounded manhood when the Vajpayee regime had to give in to international pressure and agree to ‘relocate’ the Indian Army from forward positions on the border. The much promised ‘confrontation’ never took place.

 

 

Added to these frustrations over the Indian state’s inability to ward off perceived external threats and challenges on economic and security fronts, was a series of political setbacks to the BJP and its allies. There was no joy as state after state voted for non-BJP governments; in Uttar Pradesh, the party had to break political bread with Mayawati. Unable to do anything to the external sources of threat, the anger and ire turned on the domestic foes.

Even the elevation of Lal Krishna Advani to deputy prime minister did not add to the efficacy; neither the foreign investor nor the terrorist nor the internal critic seemed awed by L.K. Advani’s new designation. If anything, the decision-making arrangement got burdened with one more layer of hierarchy, thereby diluting whatever little coherence and purposefulness there was. The nationalist cup of frustration brimmed over with the Jammu and Kashmir assembly results: even the Jammu voter was not sufficiently impressed to favour the RSS-sponsored Jammu Rajya Manch and its agenda of regional/ religious separatism.3

The nationalist sense of impotence was total. It was in this disspirited context that Narendra Modi made his appearance as the alternative role model of leadership that would rescue the besieged Mother India from its enemies. Since Godhra, he has finessed a liturgy of hate and divisiveness that seems to have touched a chord in the nationalist heart. Media, Marxists, Macaulayites, Mandalites are enemies who must be shown their place; any institutional speedbreakers like the National Human Rights Commission or the Central Election Commission or the judiciary have to be undermined. And, then, use the coercive and legal authority of the state governments to show minorities their place.4

 

 

Narendra Modi has presented an antithesis of the Vajpayee model; by notching up an unambiguous electoral success for the BJP in Gujarat, he has tempted the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and other stakeholders in the nationalist constituency. On the face of it, it would be difficult to replicate the Gujarat experiment in other parts of the country; the National Democratic Alliance partners would have to assess and evaluate for themselves the replicability of Gujarat as a short-term solution to the crisis of failed expectations.

Narendra Modi has offered a way out of this paralysis and impotence by presenting a new interpretation of the Indian state-led nationalism by redrawing categories, ‘us’ versus ‘them’, the key operational ingredients in any values, ideas and expectations that are collectively known as nationalism. The Modi catechism is based on invoking fears of ‘insiders’ against ‘outsiders’, offering ‘insiders’ protection against the ‘outsiders’. The slogan was: BJP – our guardian. The aggressive Hindutva campaign of the BJP/VHP used code words and slogans to define the ‘them’ category: ‘Mian Musharraf’, ‘Italian Sonia’, terrorists, Muslims, and the Church – all on the same side of the divide, all having a convergent agenda, all out to deny Mother India its tryst with destiny.

 

 

Irrespective of Modi’s electoral success and the temptation to replicate the model elsewhere, it is not so obvious that the crisis of the ineffectivity of the Indian state would ipso facto stand resolved. The much-touted Commission for the Review of the Working of the Constitution was expected to reinvent the institutional arrangements of the Indian state; even that exercise failed to provide a radically different model of governance.

The Modi model of Indian nationalism does not have the capacity to enhance the capabilities of the instruments of the Indian state, either against the marauding international investor/banker or against the gun-toting terrorist. The Modi model can only aggravate the crisis of acceptability and eventually of legitimacy, because it seeks to cast the Muslims in an antagonistic role, as prisoners of clerics rather than equal citizens, owing and rendering equal allegiance to the Indian state. The new grammar of foreigner versus insider holds the Muslims responsible and accountable for every terrorist act, committed by this or that ‘module’, inspired and financed from Islamabad.

The Gujarat verdict has shown how easy it is becoming for Pakistan to calibrate and influence our internal affairs. Maybe some ISI strategist is having a good laugh after the Gujarat vote. The Modi formula is the easiest and surest way to ground the Indian state in a protracted and unwinnable war at home.

 

 

The crisis of Indian nationalism, arising out of what Rajni Kothari has called the perceived ‘humiliation’ of the Hindus, is now sought to be sorted out by renegotiating power equations to the permanent disadvantage of the minorities. This means turning our back on the successful arrangement whereby ‘the interests of the powerful in the society have been served without fully excluding the weaker groups.’5 This new passion for exclusion and subordination would only kick-in a long term legitimacy overload for the India state, depriving it of that collective synergy and purpose which is a sine qua non for any effective state order.

 

Footnotes:

1. Rajni Kothari, ‘Culture of Communalism in Gujarat’, Economic and Political Weekly, 30 November 2002.

2. For a brilliant but sympathetic dissection of the sangh parivar’s ambivalence towards globalization, see Dev Dutt, WTO: A New Challenge for Swadeshi Swaraj. Pragya Sansthan, New Delhi, August 2002.

3. Even before December 13/Akshardham, ‘ideologues’ like Arun Shourie were lamenting ‘political correctness’ that had ‘disabled the ruling groups’ in meeting the challenge of the terrorist who ‘sees himself as an instrument – of history in Marxism-Leninism, of the Will of Allah in Islam.’ Lecture at the Institute of Conflict Management, 21 August 2001.

4. The Modi mindset is not confined to Gujarat. For example. On November 22/23, 2002 the police gunned down Mohammed Azam and Mohammed Imran in Hyderabad. The police claimed that the two were Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives. There was violence after the funeral. This is how Professor S.V. Seshagiri Rao, vice-president of the Andhra BJP analyzed the implication of that incident: ‘The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (MIM) condemnation of violent acts by terrorists was more for record and certainly not borne out of conviction. When the body of the terrorist Azam who died in an encounter on 22 November was brought to his house, the MIM and Congress legislators rushed to the place and made provocative speeches. The funeral procession turned violent at Madannapet and attacked the police. A defiant mob offered namaz near the house of the slain terrorist. The speech delivered by Salahuddin Owaisi, supremo of MIM, in Mecca Masjid on 29 November 2002 clearly indicates that the MIM has now come out openly in support of jehadi terrorists. This means more trouble’ (BJP Today, 16-31 December 2002).

5. Atul Kohli, The Success of India’s Democracy, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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