By Irfan Engineer
General Secretary of the BJP, Ram Madhav (2017) in his article in Indian Express (27th May 2017) titled “India’s Most Trusted” opined that under the Modi Sarkar, “[t]he country is less corrupt, less indisciplined, less violent and, importantly, less argumentative today than it used to be a few years ago.”
Madhav’s contention whether India is less corrupt and less violent could be contested. There was a 67% jump in complaints of corruption as reported by the CVC. A recent survey by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption global civil society organization, stated that India had the highest bribery rate among the 16 Asia Pacific countries surveyed. Nearly seven in 10 people who accessed public services in India had paid a bribe. In contrast, Japan had the lowest bribery rate, with 0.2% respondents paying a bribe. The survey suggested serious corruption risks when people try to access these basic services – 58% for access to public schools and 59% had to pay bribes for accessing healthcare.
That India is less violent is also open to serious challenge with cow vigilantism in Gujarat, UP, Jharkhand, MP, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Maharashtra among other states having jumped up considerably; minorities forcibly converted in Agra and Aligarh, lynching of members of Muslim community if anyone is in love with a Hindu woman and both desire to marry each other; BJP MP and his followers in Saharanpur attacking SSP’s residence; anti dalit riots in Saharanpur; communal riots in Vadavali in Gujarat, Bijnor and Kasganj in Western UP, riots during Ramnavmi processions in several places in Bihar and Asansol in West Bengal and many other places; incessant stone pelting and massive force being used on stone pelters in J & K; number of attack on churches on increase are just a few instances of increased violence and deteriorating law and order situation in the country. Also Union Ministers, Parliamentarians and senior leaders of BJP have demonized the minority community and outraged their religious feelings with impunity.
However, we can agree with Madhav that India is less undisciplined and less argumentative. The social media in a lighter vein labels these “disciplined, less argumentative Indians” as bhakts of the PM Mr. Narendra Modi. It is difficult to estimate numerical strength of bhakts of Modi and their growth but there can be little doubt that they have grown in leaps and bounds since the campaign during the Lok Sabha elections began in 2013. Bhakts are dedicated followers of the PM whose commitments have been obtained using sacred symbols and issues that touch their emotional quotient. Bhakts could be relied on for their dedicated support, no matter what decision their leader, PM Modi takes. They would not be expected to use their reason to evaluate or bother to understand good or bad implication of decisions taken. The leader is assured of support for every decision, no matter how harmful or adverse it may be to the interest of large majority of people, social harmony or political institutions.
Demonetization was one such measure which the Govt. survived on the strength of bhakts in spite of its adverse impact on the economy and immense hardships for the common people and no appreciable gains or advantages to the country. If people died for lack of money in their hands (though enough in their bank accounts) to buy life saving medicines; died standing in queues to withdraw rationed amounts; farmers suffered for lack of purchasing power to buy seeds or pesticides or fertilizers for their agricultural operations; small industries could not hire wage labourers and raw materials and had to slow down or even close their production, all these were but a small insignificant pain to be borne for the greater good their leader had promised. Madhav is perhaps alluding to this behaviour as instance of “less indisciplined”. No amount of rational discourse on greater disadvantages of demonetization could convince any bhakt. If their leader told them that demonetization would bring in black money, fight corruption, terrorism and fake currency in circulation, then demonetization would achieve all of it. When there was no evidence of any of the goals being achieved in any significant manner, the goal post of demonetization was changed to advantages of cashless transactions and even that was acceptable to bhakts.
Creation of Bhakts
Three crucial elements go into creation of bhakts – ideology, political programme and an icon, a charismatic leader. Ideology outlines ‘ideal’ way of life or ‘ideal’ community that is superior to others. Hindutva, political Islam, Zionism, Nazism, Christian evangelism, racism, etc. can be misused as ideologies. The ideology invests in construction of sacred symbols – religious, national, ethnic or racist symbols which signify their superiority over ‘others’. Ideology obfuscates reality for bhakts.
Political programme aims to assert superior rights and hegemony over others, aims to expel or eliminate demonized ‘others’ – non-believers, followers of other religions, races or ideologies. If elimination is not possible, then the objective would be to oppress them and relegate them to second class citizenship. Recently, bhakts were called upon to invade AMU campus with a programme to forcibly pull down portrait of M. A. Jinnah escorted by the UP Police. In Gurgaon age old practice of offering Friday namaz in open spaces was problematized threatening violence.
However, in order to achieve the political objectives, strong organization is necessary along with an unquestionable and above board charismatic leader. There are no such infallible leaders in reality. Image of a leader as ‘wholly selfless, super human, dedicated to the glory of ‘nation’ or community or race is meticulously constructed through anecdotes and spreading them far and wide using media. Sangh Parivar based on Hindutva ideology needed a charismatic leader and Prime Minister Modi politically surviving the 2002 Gujarat pogrom proved ideal for him to be constructed as the charismatic poster boy of Hindutva. Hindutva ideology demonized the Muslims and Christians in particular as enemies of the Hindu nation for nearly 90 years since its inception in 1925 and advocated for an authoritarian Hindu state, antithetical to libertarian democracy that treats all its citizens equally, acknowledges liberties of all citizens and provides for mechanisms for justice in case of violation of their rights by the state or non-state actors.
Bhakts are products of careful construction of charisma of Narendra Modi. Image of the leader is taller than life and capabilities are projected to be super human and almost Godly. Character of the individual has to be above board and ideal. Stories of “bal Narendra” fighting an alligator to retrieve the ball with which children were playing; rag to riches story – chaiwala to the CM of Gujarat; careful construction of “Gujarat Model”; a strong powerful leader who could ‘discipline’ the Muslims of Gujarat; a person who had sacrificed his family life for the ‘nation’ and has no self interest whatsoever; who works tirelessly for long hours; a person capable of taking quick, even if risky decisions; a person who works tirelessly for development and will lead India to be world super power.
The swelling ranks of middle class which was product of neo-liberal reforms ushered in the 1990s by Narsimha Rao-Manmohan duo needed new ideology to justify fast growing prosperity of a few amidst equally fast growing poverty that would normally put any human being to shame. The Nehruvian socialism that controlled consumption by regulating imports was no more an attractive ideology. The Nehruvian ideology (if we take the liberty of calling it an ideology) matched liberal social outlook with political commitment to orient capitalism to the needs of the lower classes through planned growth. Nehruvian ideology was pitted against remnants feudal values and dominance of feudal classes in the rural areas. The post independence middle class, though numerically less, still imbued with the idealism of freedom movement. Large section of post-Independence middle class was neither entirely feudal, nor liberal Nehruvian. They had not yet accepted the capitalist ideology of individualism pitting individuals and her interests above society. They valued liberties but sense of community prevailed. A section of the post independence middle class associated with social movements, including trade union movement, peasant movement as evident in the leadership of Naxalbari peasant uprising.
Post liberalization middle class
However, the post liberalization middle class with its growing numbers and prosperity desired comforts, luxuries, branded products and upward mobility cheering reforms even though the reforms did not address the issues of working class or the peasantry. This new middle class cheered the slogan of development and development even if it was jobless and futureless (harming the environment). Development meant creation of islands of prosperity with latest infrastructure, flyovers, entertainment centres etc. A section of the new middle class found Hindutva ideology more acceptable than the Nehruvian ideology of liberal socialism. The new regurgitated Hindutva of 1990s stood for growth and unfettered liberalization so long as Muslims and Christians could be demonized. Hindutva has the potential and power to counter social disruptions on account of political agitations of the marginalized rural and urban poor on account of growing inequality as it borrows from and masquerades as religion.
Creating bhakts is Hindutva’s answer to potential social disruptions on account of growing inequalities and marginalization, which Madhav prefers to call “less indisciplined” and “less argumentative. Hindutva’s way of pre-empting disruptions on account of growing inequalities is to make the socially and economically excluded and deprived sections take ‘pride’ in the sacred symbols – Lord Ram, patriotism, nationalism, Indian military and its actions against ‘enemy’ Pakistan and its fight with reprehensible Islamic terrorism and establishing superiority of Hinduism (read Brahmanism) and superior rights of Hindus in ‘their own country’. It also imbues feeling of pride in the excluded sections of the Hindu community (the dalits and other backward castes) that Hindutva is fighting depletion of their ranks on account of poaching of Hindu women by Muslim men and poaching of members of Hindu community by Church through conversions.
Hindutva divides the excluded sections of the society on basis of their religion and pits one against the other. They mobilised the Hindus (read adivasis) in Kandhamal to attack Christians (read dalits) during 2007 and 2008 anti-Christian violence and dalits and adivasis in communal riots to attack Muslims. The excluded and marginalized sections of Hindus – dalits, OBCs, adivasis, women, workers, peasants, are mobilized to support the cultural, political and economic hegemony of the elite – Mahatma Jotiba Phule called this class sethji and bhatji. The Sangh Parivar organizations tirelessly work to mobilize the dalits and other marginalized sections of the society – not for their welfare or their rights, but over temples, festivals and issues that instil false religious pride. They also use some dalit icons after ‘neutralizing’ their resistance to caste hegemony and so far as they can be misused and projected as anti-Muslim and anti-Congress. For example, Dr. Ambedkar, Suheldev, etc.
Hindutva, more particularly, its charismatic leader the Prime Minister mobilizes and calls upon the most deprived and marginalized sections to sacrifice for the ‘nation’, however small the sacrifice might be. Creating a semblance of sacrifice is another route to instil pride in and own up the idea of ‘nation’ as peddled by Hindutva. The image of the charismatic leader as the one making supreme sacrifices for the nation by working for long hours, undertaking incessant travels abroad and even sacrificing his family is created to inspire the bhakts to make small sacrifices of standing in queues post demonetization, cleaning their area, constructing and using toilets etc.
Religion is another tool which creates bhakts – by instilling pride as well as unquestioned obedience to God, the head of the nation and head of the family. The religious entrepreneurs also known as sadhus and babas tour every village and locality to preach virtue of obedience and religion. Women in many north Indian villages for example are attracted by ‘shiv charcha’. There is an increasing trend of kanwadias – undertaking long journeys – scores of kilometres for days – on foot with kanwars on their shoulder to worship their deity in a distant temple. Saibaba’s bhakts in Maharashtra have recently followed the example of kanwadiyas and walk from Mumbai to Shirdi on foot. There are numerous other examples of increasing pilgrimages and religiosity and attitude of submission along with it. There is higher growth in number of sadhus and babas than the GDP of the country with all of them attracting various sections of the society in every nook and corner of the country.
Inequalities are rapidly growing with the neo-liberal capitalism persuading the foreign capital by promising them cheaper land, cheap labour, infrastructure, liberal environmental regulations, tax concessions and with reduced state expenditure on welfare of dalits, adivasis, women and minorities are leading to large sections of powerless and deprived sections. On the other hand, the organizations and unions that would defend the economic interests of the workers and farmers have weakened. The left, liberal, democratic and secular sections of society have thus far ignored the potential of cultural issues to mobilize the excluded and marginalized sections of the society. Even though there is some realization, on this score, the left, liberal democratic and secular organizations would have to engage much more with cultural issues. There cannot be democracy without democratic culture. Religion cannot be simply written off. Potential of religion as a transformative force towards inclusive social democracy cannot be ignored anymore. These organizations will have to arouse the self respect and dignity in every individual citizen through solidarity struggles.