‘Malevolent Republic – A Short History of the New India’ review: Why the India founded in 1947 is dead

Narendra Modi was prime minister of India for five years from 2014-2019 in his first term and his second term began this May; so, readers may ask why this book? The devil is in the details. Debut writer K.S. Komireddi traces the rise of Modi who he argues has reduced Indian democracy to ‘Mann Ki Baats’, road and stage-shows, instead of directly engaging the nation with political and people-friendly practices of dialogue and discourse.

Rising intolerance

It is not the case that Komireddi has glossed over perfidies of other political leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. If they were edifying in their governance and politics, Hindu nationalism would not have grown so rapidly since the 1980s, he writes.

Malevolent RepublicKomireddi’s India under Modi cannot be understood without reference to Gujarat under Modi. He was chief minister when communal riots killed more than 2,000 people. At the very minimum, his political career should have come to an end in that moment; instead, a dozen years after the riots in Gujarat, Modi was the contender for India’s highest political office, and he was being applauded as a competent leader. Failing to stop the riots was not a disqualification in Indian politics, it turned out to be a prelude to success.

Komireddi drives home the fact, as perceived by some, that Modi’s achievement was of an epoch-making magnitude. It heralded the birth of a “second republic”, meaning the India founded in 1947 by Congress was dead, and Modi who had drained his youth propagandising for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, would wield the largest democratic mandate in more than a generation to recast the republic in the mould of his indurated ideology.

Central to this ideology is “hegemonic [coercive] homogenisation” of the Indian people, through political manoeuvres, parliamentary legerdemain. This is partly evident from the emphasis on ‘one’ since 2014: One nation, One tax; One nation, One ID (Aadhaar); One nation, One language; One nation, One election and so on.

The demonetisation move which wiped out 86% of the currency in circulation was Modi’s sinister masterstroke. Though Manmohan Singh rubbished the decision as “organised loot, legalised plunder”, the likelihood of diverting huge amounts to BJP’s coffers for electoral use and financially draining other political parties — sort of a scorched earth policy — has yet to be probed.

In the midst of a majoritarian drive, it is relevant to recall what B.R. Ambedkar said in his speech after the Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949: “Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution; what we will have to say is that Man was vile.”

Before concluding, a note of caution by Komireddi: “India will leap to a point from which return will become extremely difficult if Modi remains in power at the head of a government with an absolute majority in Parliament… If he succeeds, Hindu nationalism will become the official animating ideology of the republic.” Modi succeeded and remains in power for the second term. The book is well-documented and highly readable. All discerning Indians and their well-wishers should read it, reflect on the issues raised in it, and if possible act on them.

Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India; K.S. Komireddi, Context/Westland Books, ₹599.

P. Radhakrishnan was a Professor of Sociology, Madras Institute of Development Studies.

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