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The tide is turning

The Indian elections are an indicator of the fact that Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) hubris has been punctured, signalling a turning of the tide. The defeat and retreat of socialism worldwide in 1989-91 opened the door to a triumphalist neoliberal capitalist globalisation. In its wake, right wing populism has held sway until now. But its essential hollowness as far as the people are concerned and its tilt towards enriching the already wealthy and pushing the poor further into misery in the name of economic growth by now stands exposed and subject to ill winds. India under Modi since 2014 had been trumpeted as the hugely successful example of what unbridled capitalism could bring about. But behind the GDP growth figures and claims of being poised to become the third largest economy in the world (after the US and China), India’s ground realities have now asserted themselves.

Of course, it must be admitted that this turn of the seemingly unstoppable tide of capitalist growth and aggressive saffron campaigns to achieve a Hindu rashtra (country) may not have been possible without the continuation of India’s parliamentary democratic system, whose credibility stands further enhanced by the results of its people speaking out through their vote in these elections. It is the continuity of that democracy, with brief interruptions, that should be an object lesson for us in Pakistan. Instead, we still are left to admire India’s genuine, credible democracy while being subjected to authoritarian rule and rigged elections for most of our existence.

The commentariat in Pakistan has used up much space and many words on trying to delineate the trajectory of the Narendra Modi-led coalition government of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with the BJP at its heart and centre. The obstacles to its smooth running have been more or less unanimously laid out. At the risk of boring readers with repetition, let us merely summarise the main roadblocks to a hoped-for third triumphal term for Modi, only the second Prime Minister (PM) in independent India’s history to achieve the feat (the first was Jawaharlal Nehru). First, Modi is accustomed to ruling with absolute authority without the need for allies since 2001 when he was elected Gujarat Chief Minister, to 2014 when he ascended to the PM’s chair. That ‘luxury’ will no longer be available to him. After being sworn in on June 9, 2024, Modi announced his would be a 71-member cabinet (down from 81 in his previous exclusively BJP administration), including 11 of the 14 NDA allied parties’ nominees. How unwieldy and manageable this conglomerate will prove only time will tell. Modi has, because of his egotistical personalisation of his past two terms, irritated the BJP’s mother party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and given birth to resentments inside the BJP’s top ranks. These fissures could conceivably come back to haunt him before his day is done. Modi’s aggressive repressive drives against religious minorities, especially Muslims, and his threatened reversal of the reservations policy that ensures jobs for these minorities and Dalits (untouchables) proved another negative factor at the hustings.

Ironically, the traditional North-South divide between the ‘Hindi belt’ and the non-Hindi peninsula, respectively, operated in unexpected manner in this election. In UP, with 80 seats in parliament and boasting the recently Modi-inaugurated Hindu temple on the ruins of the Babri Masjid, the BJP came a cropper. Similar reversals appeared in Maharashtra, home to sister Hindu fundamentalist party Shiv Sena. It appears a case of Hundutva ‘overkill’ (accompanied by some actual killings of Muslims and other religious minorities such as Christians in the restive North-East). When Modi’s aggressive and abusive saffron drive seems to have stalled in the former strongholds in the Hindi belt, what does this portend for its future in India as a whole?

To add some historical context, in the fourth quarter of the 19th century, when British colonialism had consolidated its hold in post-1857 War of Independence India, the Muslim Mughal Empire was gone, leaving its landed elite suspended in a virtually powerless vacuum. On the other hand, the rise of a Hindu salariat imbued with English education, learning and culture, persuaded Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to launch his educational campaign for otherwise rudderless Muslims. In the midst of this conjuncture, V D Savarkar launched his concept of Hindutva, by which he meant not just the Hindu religion, but the entire spiritual, religious and cultural history and social construct of the Hindus (Aryans). From this set of ideas emerged a revanchist view of history that painted the Muslims as ‘outsiders’ (invaders) who had lorded over and oppressed Hindus for around 1,100 years. This revanchist history now sought a reversal of this past in favour of the majority Hindus as the independence struggle emerged. These ideas are the parents of today’s saffron brigade, which first emerged in the shape of the RSS, one of whose cadres assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 for being fair to Pakistan on the issue of the division of assets between the two newly independent states. Later the RSS intervened in parliamentary politics, and through various avatars, finally triumphed in the electoral fray in the shape of BJP.

Modi has now been hoisted on the petard of India’s tryst with the secular, inclusive state the founding fathers envisaged. Let alone aggressive, abusive saffron policies, Modi may have to tread carefully if he is not to bite the dust even before his five-year term ends. Try he will, Modi being Modi, but it will no longer be as easy as in the past. And we in Pakistan should refrain from holding our breath in anticipation of some opening or improvement in relations anytime soon. Too much water and bad blood has flowed down the rivers for this to prove easy. Modi is no Vajpayee, lacking the latter’s visionary attempt to settle matters with Pakistan, which unfortunately were sabotaged by Musharraf’s irresponsible adventure in Kargil in 1999. One of the abiding ironies of history though, is the fact that the same saboteur of peace Musharraf travelled to Agra in 2001 in an effort to seal peace between the two neighbours, who came within a hair’s breadth of a truly historic turn. God knows how long it will be before such a turn arrives again. In the meantime, both countries are stuck in their own paradigms, with nary a ray of hopeful light to be seen anywhere.

Rashed Rahman, "The tide is turning," Business recorder. 2024-06-11.
Keywords: Political science , Economic growth , Hindu rashtra , Saffron policies , Educational campaign , Globalisation , Elections , Narendra Modi , Mahatma Gandhi , Jawaharlal Nehru , India , Pakistan , BJP , NDA , 2024

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