InternationalVOLUME 14 ISSUE # 21

India’s counter-revolution

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and allies have won more than 350 seats in the 525-strong Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament. The landslide victory is being seen as a win for far-right Hindu nationalism and a threat to India’s secular democracy with more violence feared against Muslims and other minorities.

 

Many analysts in Pakistan believe Narendra Modi has won the election on the basis of his aggressive stance against Pakistan and they fear relations between the two countries will not improve after his re-election, as he will attempt to use the card in the next election too. According to The New York Times, “No matter that the bombs according to independent security advisers missed their targets or that Pakistan downed an Indian fighter jet the next day, jingoism engulfed India and Mr Modi’s approval ratings shot up. In the campaign’s final days, he brought up the airstrike again and again.”

Modi’s election win will embolden the reactionary elements at work in India, unleashing them even further, and lead to even more violence against Muslims, wrote Dibyesh Anand, a professor of politics at the University of Westminster, in the Independent. “The election results come with no silver lining. Jingoism and Islamophobia has propelled the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an even stronger showing than in 2014. With the opposition parties remaining weak, its clear majoritarian nationalism is the hegemonic political force in India.”

 

Majoritarian nationalism in its essence is the idea that since Hindus are the numerical majority, the political parties should privilege their identity and aspirations and do away with the secularism, that in their view, is nothing more than the appeasement of minorities. The fact that Muslims as a religious minority, around 14.2pc of the total population, have suffered persistently from economic, social and political marginalisation over decades will simply not be allowed to puncture the myth of minority appeasement. The fact is that the BJP and Modi have won not despite the divisive politics they espouse but precisely because of it,” he observed.

The election was successfully framed as a vote for or against Narendra Modi, as he cultivated an image of himself as a strong leader who would stand against secularist ideas of minority rights; speak for the nation imagined primarily as Hindu; crush resistance against Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir; and take on the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The BJP put up controversial candidates such as Hindu religious figures who called the killer of Mahatma Gandhi a “patriot”; called for the expulsion of all Muslims out of the country and some who are under trial for acts of terrorism against Muslims. Others have insisted there is no need for future elections because Narendra Modi – a member himself of India’s far-right Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – will implement a Hindu Raj.

 

International and Indian analysts fear that by the time of the next election, India’s key public institutions – its media, universities, and law courts – may have been subordinated to a government that regards opposition as an illegitimate obstacle to an overarching aim: creating an India entirely different from the secular dream of Nehru and Gandhi. Experts say Modi’s government has become a different enterprise altogether over the years. Crucial to that change has been the increasing power of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a volunteer ultranationalist organisation founded in 1925 that acted as a progenitor to the BJP. As New Delhi-based journalist Pragya Tiwari recently said, the BJP and RSS combination is a “counter revolution” that seeks to eliminate secularism, the non-communal basis of Indian politics since independence, and instead define India as an essentially Hindu state.

 

A poll from The Hindu newspaper suggested that some 51pc of Hindus in India had voted for the BJP, even communities such as the Dalits, who are one of India’s most socially isolated and economically excluded groups. At the same time, 80pc of Muslims who were surveyed declared that they disliked the party. Nur Laiq, a fellow at Oxford’s TORCH centre for the humanities, observes that Modi’s government will now be empowered to dominate yet more of the civil society institutions, including the courts, civil service and Reserve Bank of India, which have for years been the liberal current in the country’s democracy. These institutions may find their freedoms curtailed. As James Manor of the University of London puts it, in India, “universities will be silenced in two to three years.”

 

Modi and the BJP are accused of undermining various state institutions but the truth is the process had started long before they took power, observes the Aljazeera. Today, human life in India is cheap because the criminal justice system is broken and the rule of law is far from firm. For decades on end the liberal elite, who has had privileged access to justice, has thought little to push for necessary reforms that might have mended a broken system preying on its own people and inoculated the country against social division and upheaval. They have turned a blind eye to endemic delays in the delivery of justice and judicial manipulation. As a result, perpetrators of crimes of various scale have not only enjoyed impunity but have also been able to infiltrate the political system. Some 43pc of the newly-elected members to the lower house of Parliament face criminal charges, up from 34pc in 2014. They hail from all major political parties and have among their ranks prominent names like terror suspect Pragya Singh Thakur from the BJP and Dean Kuriakose from the Congress party, who stands accused in some 200 different criminal cases.

 

The criminal justice system is by no means the only institution to fail the masses. There has long been a deep disconnect between public institutions and the ordinary Indian; structural vulnerabilities have made the former susceptible to political pressure over time. The liberal elite has of late been raising the alarm on infringements on the central bank, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the constitutional court of the country and the election commission. The latter came under the spotlight when it was accused of favouring the BJP in the elections. Yet those who have followed Indian electoral politics closely would know that much-needed reforms that could have safeguarded its independence were ignored for years even before 2014.

 

But the commission’s lapses are not the only issue with the electoral process. There are a number of ways in which the level playing field can and was distorted by the ruling dispensation – disproportionate access to money tops the list. Campaign finance is the ageing elephant in the room and no political party has been inclined to bring about reforms that encourage transparency and regulation in this context. The elites have largely ignored the problem, as they themselves have benefitted from the status quo.

 

The role of the media as a watchdog of democracy in India has also been eroded. The BJP’s victory was a victory of consent manufactured through propaganda by pliable mainstream media and fake news. It was aided by journalistic complacency and failure to push for self-regulation and come up with technological and regulatory solutions to defeat lies.

Analysts fear the promotion of the Hindu far right, the subversion of democratic institutions and the subscription to undemocratic ideology will play an important role in the likely transformation of India towards an authoritarian ethnic democracy under Modi’s second tenure. Those, who will suffer the most in the process, will be the minorities and disadvantaged groups.

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