Why Political Debate In India Needs To Move Beyond Secularism

Posted on July 13, 2016 in Society

By Saidalavi PC:

Maybe it is the blissful destiny of our generation to be living quite unconsciously in the middle of a revolution. If the term ‘revolution’ means the culmination of an idea in the imaginations of the people, the assumed realisation of a dream often proclaimed, and the straitening of the imaginaries into a single ideal, we are indeed living in the middle of a revolution. Though one does not seem to use the epithet ‘revolutionary’ to refer to the politics of the Right in any country, the usage in our context may illuminate the political imaginary of our times. It could also be true that the Right may be the most averse to the usage of the term to signify their politics.

Many leaders of the Hindutva brigade have exhorted that India is a Hindu rashtra. If an ideal ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is not born, for that would mean the extermination of a large quantum of the population in real terms, a rashtra is already born where the ideal overwhelms the material. Many instances could be drawn to corroborate this statement from contemporary politics.

A casual observer might notice that the political culture of the country is painstakingly being drawn by the opposition parties along the binaries such as communal/secularist, fascist/democratic, tolerant/intolerant, and so on. During the time of ‘Award Wapsi‘, it was often proclaimed that it is a statement for democracy against fascism, though the word felt a little unpalatable to some. The same sentiments were echoed when Muslim youths were beaten for not chanting praise for ‘Bharat Mata’ and also when a Muslim was beaten to death in Dadri for allegedly eating beef. And assembly elections are being fought in each and every corner of the country against the monster of communalism, fascism and what not.

It would seem that eventually things are crystal clear, more than ever, and the battle-lines are drawn, and it is just a matter of time that the pendulum swings the other way. The ruling dispensation seems less interested in engaging in these debates as if these are things not to be signified by harsher terms as the opposition does. If push comes to shove, they may brush them aside as aberrations or deviations from the normal, though hate seems to form the core of their politics.

While this high drama unfurls on one side, the country is being brutally sold out to corporate empires. A time has come when the government itself silently supports a corporate empire for a loan from a public sector bank. Though amid much criticism the move was shelved, think about the way the government is concerning itself with the corporates. It was just a few days back that a controversy arose over the cancellation of a fine of 200 crores imposed on the Adani Group. The report was refuted by the Ministry of Environment arguing that it was done with the intention of keeping options open to impose more stringent actions, if necessary. However, it may be the first step to undermine the whole procedure since, as a Business Standard report says, the officials in the Ministry have noted that Adani group may not be held responsible for all the environmental damage.

The government is fast signing off all the production activities from the public to private sector and privatising hitherto controlled sectors. From allowing private enterprise in defence, to allowing FDI in many sectors to the recent moves is to privatise the oil fields in Assam are examples of this move. But this is not showcased as just an inevitable step for the growth of the country, but glued to an ultra-nationalism which thrives on the strategic upliftment of the country’s global profile in terms of its economic and security requirements and the hubris of positioning itself as a force to reckon with in South Asia.

But the economic aspect of the country is nowhere in our political discussions. How many times were the streets of Delhi filled with raised fists against the policy decisions of the government? How many artists of various orientations returned their awards against the anti-poor policies of the government? How many lectures were conducted by the academia to teach the nation of its pathetic socio-economic conditions of the poor and the need to re-orient our politics? The debates we get to engross in these days are the ones on which the imaginary of Hindutva is founded and perpetuated. One could be reverieing to be doing a politics of secularism by trying to counter such debates. One is raging a battle in which the rules of the game are not just set, but the game itself is invented for the purpose. Seeing the current chaos, one may also be urged to think that if it were not for all the undesirable realities from communalism to intolerance to fascism, the differences between Hindutva and the opposition shall melt into air, and the two groups would merge in an applause for an Alice’s wonderland in the making.

For solace, one may point out the recurring failures the Hindutva brigade is tasting in state elections. But, is it because the people have taken to disliking Hindutva politics as all the opposition would have us believe? Or is it that people are feeling frustrated with their lives being not so dissimilar or far worse economically? Maybe they are feeling that ‘achhe din’ is like a mirage that one often witnesses on a sunny day. It seems that the opposition parties have the biggest role in straitjacketing the political alternatives to a confrontation with Hindutva. We are made to believe that confronting Hindutva on its own turf is the only solution as if this is the sole available option at a time when hard thinking should find alternatives.

I do feel that the only potent figure that could combat this politics is the category of the ‘poor’. How did this category become extinct from our political repertoire? The figure of the poor as a metaphor—because metaphors can mean many things from those earning 25 rupees to having the capacity to eat a healthy meal to those having jobs three days a week—as a haunting spectre is absolved now in the high drama of political debates. This figure has given enough headache to ‘poor’ politicians in the country for a long time, from the high developmentalist drama of the Nehruvian times to Indira Gandhi’s exorcism drives like ‘garibi hatao’ to the riddle of definitional accuracy in the UPA.

In short, the figure of the poor has remained at the centre of the activities of the Planning Commission in Independent India. The state governments also had an important role in directing the activities of the central government through the Commission. BJP was shrewd enough about one thing the moment they assumed power, that the figure of the poor should be buried six feet under once and for all. They were also insightful to realise that the root of the problem lay in the planning. The neta exhorted us to get rid of the Planning Commission so that nothing becomes agendaesque anymore. An alternative platform named NITI Ayog was constituted which would perform just like any other central government body. This transformation also determined the extinction of planning and formulating an agenda keeping the poor within the purview of decision-making.

Isn’t it high time that we brought back the spectral figure of our political imaginary back to the picture – the poor? If politics remains constricted to the ideology of Hindutva alone, we could be sure that the politics of the Hindutva is here to stay.

Featured image credit: Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.