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India: Social justice turned on its head - BJP’s successes in 2017 assembly elections in UP and Uttarkhand

by Apoorvanand, 13 March 2017

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अप्रासंगिक Aprasangik : अपूर्वानंद - 13 March 2017

“A Muslim veto institutionalised as an extra-secular mechanism has been demolished. The Sangh’s meta-narrative on nationalism and Hindutva has emerged as a hegemonic ideology,” is how an RSS intellectual celebrates the massive mandate given to the BJP by the people in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. To put in it plain words, Indian parliamentary politics has moved away from the concerns of its minorities. Parliamentary politics is now an instrument to marginalise the Muslims and other minorities.

Read this with the interpretation of the results as “a victory of the ideology of the BJP” and its meaning is clear .

“End of caste politics”, is how other BJP leaders explain this unprecedented vote-percentage that the party has managed this time. Some pundits see a new voter emerging in these elections, who is wary of instability and is tired of coalition politics and wants to see a decisive governance looking after his life. This view looks at the mandate as a continuation of the trend, over the last decade, in Uttar Pradesh which had put Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav in power with an unambiguous majority in the past.

In the recent polls what is evident, however is that the BJP has established it pan Indian hegemony in a decisive manner. Its determination to capture India is seen by many with admiration and some with fear. Four years ago, when it announced that its focus was on the north-east and east; Bihar, Bengal and Odissa included, it was not taken very seriously. But the long and consistent work by the RSS, its mother organisation, was to serve as the spring board for the BJP. Time was just ripe. The power it got it the centre gave it the leverage in these areas. Its expansion in Odissa is just an example of how you can come back in a place from where you were pushed out effectively only a few years ago.

The emergence of the BJP in Odissa, where the BJD had unceremoniously showed it the door needs to be understood in the light of what has happened in Uttar Pradesh. It has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh for the last fourteen years.

There were theoretical explanations available. It was believed that the politics of social justice would make it impossible for a political language of Hindutva to define politics. But the politics of social justice got reduced or remained limited to giving representation to some sections of the erstwhile marginalised social groups. It meant that all you had to do was to give them a sense of participation in the affairs of politics. If you could bring them around by only doing this what prevented BJP from attempting this formula? The last ten years have shown that the BJP has turned the politics of social justice on its head. Political scientists have kept calling it the party of upper caste Hindu male and it has in the meanwhile slowly co-opted the backwards and dalits in its Hindu fold.

This is also a moment for the ideologues to ponder over the rhetoric of Ambedakarism, which failed to see that it was not at all difficult for Dalits to accept a party, which is run along Manuwadi ideological lines. Is it difficult to see that the killing of Rohit Vemula or lynching of dalits by the protectors of cows could not stir the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh? What prevented democratic parties from talking about these issues and make them central in their campaign? The fear that they would be seen as practising a partisan political language? But the other side never refrained from speaking in this tongue?

It has been reported at length and for quite some time how the BJP worked on the non-Yadav castes to bring them along. It was done in many ways, by pulling caste groups like Kurmis and Rajbhars and Nishads and Mouryas and non-Jatav Dalits into its fold. Cultural modes were used effectively. The symbolic campaign in the name of Suheldev to dislodge Ghazi Miyan from popular imagination as the hero of both Hindus and Muslims is only an example.

While the leaders of the social justice plank got complacent with an assurance of continued support from their sub-caste group, they failed to anticipate the aspiration that it would generate in other sub-caste groups within the wider category of Dalits or Backwards. That it would ultimately generate resentment against the dominant ruling caste group, which in the case of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, were Yadavs among backwards and Jatavs in Dalits. To think that with these caste groups as the nuclei , other sub caste groups would keep hovering around them was lazy politics. Also as we can now see from the journey of the politics of social justice, it was devoid of democratic content. A politics which was only a language of negotiation with power could only lead to where it is now. Mayawati has been reduced to the status of a leader of Jatavs and Akhilesh Yadav does not have appeal beyond Yadavs. Their failure to fashion a universal language which could compete with Hindu universal is stark.

No human being likes to remain confined in the identity assigned to her or him. We are programmed to be transcendental beings. What was the promise of the slogan of social justice in this regard? It asked Yadavs to remain Yadavs, Jatavs to remain Jatavs forever. Contrary to this brand of politics, the RSS at least promised them an opening in the wider Hindu fold and more recently a pride in being part of a more universal national project. The ambitionless, narrow identity politics was thus defeated by a reverse identity politics , which just reprogrammed them, assured them of being part of a larger Hindu nationalist solidarity project.

It is also interesting that the only party which spoke in cultural language in the election campaign was the BJP. Neither the Congress-SP nor the BSP moved away an inch from their economic rhetoric. Their attempt to appeal to the economic insecurities did not cut ice with the people as they knew that in economic policies, both the camps hardy differ. So, the only thing to make a difference was culture. But the hesitation of the so-called secular parties in talking about their cultural platforms, meant that they had utter disdain for the people’s striving to find their definition of what a good life would be.

Analysts have started talking about this election results the way they did with the 2014 election results. They call it inclusive , a mandate beyond caste, etc. They are embarrassed with the campaign, which was openly and brazenly anti-Muslim, casteist and divisive. Ram Mandir, anti-Romeo squads, displacement of Hindus, appeasement of Muslims at the cost of dalits and backward castes were raised in the beginning of the campaign and remained there till the end and there was hardly a leader who did not use this language. So, to call it inclusive is a joke.

This is definitely a decisive victory of the ideology of the BJP. We ‘ll have to first accept it and then think about ways to deal with this new situation.

Scroll, March, 2017


The above article from अप्रासंगिक Aprasangik : अपूर्वानंद is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use