Preface: Modi 2.
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear (Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, 1930).
Narendra Damodardas Modi, the man who began his political journey as a Pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has been re-elected Prime Minister of India. This is the first time that a right-wing Hindutva government has been able to return to power. The last right-wing Hindutva government (1998-2004) was voted out of office. Modi’s party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – and his bloc – the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – have garnered more seats and a higher vote share than they did in 2014. Amongst the parliamentarians of the BJP there will be not one Muslim, the largest religious minority in India (with a population of over 200 million people).
Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate, had said that India has taken a ‘Quantum jump in the wrong direction since 2014’. The very idea of India, Sen and others said, was at stake in this election. This was set aside, as almost one in two Indians who voted chose a party of the NDA. The enthusiasm, the vigour, the frenzy exhibited by the supporters of the BJP and the NDA is an indication that they are fascinated by the ‘New India’ of Modi, a new India with new icons that have little resemblance to the India that emerged out of the freedom movement.
The results of the Lok Sabha election of 2019 have shocked many, but the signs that pointed towards them had become clear. Modi and the BJP held tightly to the levers of power. Their commitment to the principles and values of the Indian Constitution is formal. They have no qualms about subverting the institutional checks and balances forged by the drafters of the Constitution. They are interested in recasting the Republic of India into a state that belongs to the majority religion, and to render invisible a numerically significant minority. They demonise the ‘internal enemy’, whether it be the religious minority or the political dissenter. They peddle a myth that India equals Hindu India – being no less than the vision of the RSS and its affiliates. Modi and the BJP have been able to create a broad constituency that cuts across the barriers of caste and region, promoted by state power and by the sprawling network of affiliated organisations of the Sangh Parivar. This constituency fuelled the re-election of Modi – more Modi than anything.
Is it enough to say that India is caught between its secular past and its communal future? This book, based on a look at the first five years of Modi’s reign, goes beyond that dichotomy. Even in the secular past there were trends of social hierarchy and religious intolerance that Modi was able to elaborate upon. The idea of the ‘external enemy’ and the ‘arch rival’, the easy way in which jingoism could be mobilised around the Pulawama terror attack, the surrender of the war-mongering embedded media – all this shows the depth of the rot.
When the dust settles people will analyse how the elections were influenced by the rapid spread of social media – especially WhatsApp groups – and by the amount of money spent on the election. All this is true. But the media and money were only successful because they were able to inflame right-wing sentiments that had been cultivated by the Sangh Parivar over the past several decades. Voices of moderation and inclusion were silenced. Issues of life and livelihood – including the distress of farmers, unemployment, inflation – had no traction.
It is a time of deep introspection for the opposition – from the regional parties to the Left, as well as the civil society organisations. All those who yearn for a plural and inclusive India have to think about why the conversations of life and livelihood did not dominate the election; why the thuggery of the Hindutva vigilantes seems inconsequential to vast numbers of ordinary, decent people; why an aggressive, masculine fundamentalism is so normalised in our society today.
In other words, why didn’t the issues that matter, seem to matter?
Was it money and the media or was there a higher barrier? To some extent the answer can be found in the fragmentation of the opposition, with insufficient alliances built in key parts of the country. But the question we have raised goes deeper than electoral arithmetic. It asks if Modi and the BJP have not only changed the electoral map, but also begun to corrode social norms.
In his first speech after the 2019 election, Modi said he would uphold the Constitution. The five years of his first tenure have demonstrated quite visiblythe great hiatus which has existed between what he claims and what he does. It would be height of innocence that the coming period will be any different. This book, based on a journey through Modi’s first five years as Prime Minister, is a warning for the next five.
Subhash Gatade is a left activist and author. He is the author of Charvakke Vaaris (Hindi, 2018), Ambedkarani Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Marathi, 2016), Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India (2011) and The Saffron Condition (2011). His writings for children include Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010).
LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2019
128 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″
Price INR 195.00 Book Club Price INR 137.00