Riding the high tides of anti-incumbency against two terms of UPA’s governance and cultivating a sense of hope in the masses through lofty rhetoric, Narendra Damodardas Modi propelled the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power in 2014. Modi ran a pretty neat campaign — he inspired hope in the hearts of millions across the country with the promise of achhe din (translation: good days), took a hard stance against the rampant corruption in the government and vowed to resolve India’s black money issue. With his charming speeches loaded with political rhetoric along with his ‘tea-seller’ past made Modi the poster boy of the opposition looking to dethrone India’s Grand Old Party i.e. The Indian National Congress (INC).
Months of rigorous campaigning and 115 million dollars (spent on marketing) later, Modi got bumped up from a state chief ministerial job to that of the head ringmaster of the world’s largest democracy and the BJP saw a triumphant return to the central government after 10 miserly years of sitting in the opposition. Seeing the prosperity of the western state of Gujarat, that he had governed for over one decade as Chief Minister, everyone saw Modi’s election as Prime Minister as the start of a new era in India’s democracy. In a culturally diverse India where genres and subgenres of social categorization exist based on parameters ranging from caste to region to language to religion, almost everyone had jumped on the Modi bandwagon — thus providing the National Democratic Alliance (an alliance of the BJP and its allies) with an unprecedented 312 seats out of the 543 in the country’s national assembly. The opposition turned out to be nonexistent with the biggest opposition party (INC) gaining a mere 48 seats. The people had given their verdict and provided the BJP with an absolute majority and left the opposition inexistent and fragmented. Now, there was no room for disruptive politics and passing the blame since the BJP under Modi had total control of the country and Indians seemed to be marking their calendars for the arrival of the much awaited ‘achhe din’.
As the five years of the Modi Government come to a close and the country gets prepped for another general election cycle of 2019, there seems to be a stark disparity between the India of 2014 and the India of 2018; and I say so not in terms of financial statistics or growth surveys but rather in terms of the ideological premise of the Indian democracy and what it entails. These four and a half years of the Modi government have not only redefined the structural components of the Republic and its workings but also have actively altered the very fabric of India’s society and left tints that very well might stain for a century — and not in a good way.
Ever since its independence from the British in 1947, India’s politics has been defined as centrist and somewhat moderate. Some might argue that the former statement owes its basis to the fact that a single party pretty much held the reigns of the country for a whopping 54 years out of the 75 years that the country has been independent for. But even if we look at the workings of the Late Atal B. Vajpayee led BJP government that was in power from 1999-2004, we observe that it swung right but never left the traditional centrist-moderate base. It is to be noted that the BJP as a political party owes its existence to its parent organization i.e. the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS, founded in 1925, is an extremist right-winged Hindu nationalist umbrella organisation that currently boasts over six million members in the country. While a plethora of the BJP’s leaders (including Vajpayee and Modi) have had a history as volunteer members of the organisation, no previous BJP government and its leaders (including both at centre and state levels) have been as involved with the extremist organisation as the current Modi government has been so far. Thus, making a departure from the previous governments’ conventional centrist attitude to an extremely rightist one.
A government whose tenure started with breezy optimism and wishful thinking has had disastrous effects on the pluralistic composition of India. In an effort to cash in on Modi’s rising popularity, the BJP made him its nationwide mascot and progressively chipped away the party’s identity as an organization to feed to the Modi wave bit by bit — so much so that Modi’s political persona has now engulfed the BJP and the Prime Minister is equivalent to the party and consequently, to the government. By painting Modi as a super-national figure and over-inflating his existence and influence both within and outside the party structure, the BJP his eroding its regional powerhouses in order to replace them with a highly centralised line of command that is powered with the Modi windmill.
Leave the regional leaders, even the central cabinet ministers don’t get a minor fraction of the spotlight that Modi gets. Whether it be a state election or a national bypoll, Modi’s presence is guaranteed and has been the focal point of the party’s campaigning strategy since 2014 — from posters, billboards to ginormous political rallies. The party has even gone so far as to conflate the government to the state, in turn equating criticism of the Modi government to the criticism of India as a state — a tactic that has made it almost impossible for the journalists and the opposition to introduce any line of questioning to examine the government’s actions as putting up any sort of resistance definitively results in a labels such as “anti-national” being slapped across their faces.
Modi’s BJP has dedicated an immense amount of resources to the concoction of a mono-cultural Hindu state — something that is very synonymous to RSS’s long-running agenda. Modi happens to be the perfect man for this task considering his promise and personality crossed all social divides in the 2014 general election. The 2014 ‘Modi wave’ had united Hindus of all castes, regions and socioeconomic background — an achievement that was so far just been written to names like Gandhi and Nehru. But unlike Gandhi and Nehru, Modi’s efforts to unite the 1.2 Billion Hindus are characterised with the blatant vilification of minorities, militaristic nationalism and indulging in harmful propaganda practices.
If one stops to contemplate, the aforementioned doings are very reminiscent of those of Hitler in Germany before and during the Second World War. While the Modi government isn’t exactly gassing the Muslims and declaring wars, the ideological premise is harrowingly identical — the creation of a monocultural state that is characterized with militant nationalism which is turn in imbued by religious fervor. Historical narratives are being rewritten in order to align them with the party’s narrative. Everything from school textbooks to people’s Whatsapp inboxes is incessantly being filled with propaganda and misinformation, and it has proven to be pretty successful. Entire media houses have been bought and founded with the purpose of injecting politically favourable narratives in the public discourse. Dissenting journalists are bullied, harassed and even killed. Minority insignia is being scrubbed out of the nation: millions of dollars are being spent to change Mughal names of cities to Hindu ones. Cow vigilantes roam the streets of the country to protect cows from slaughter after the Modi government’s recent push for a nationwide beef ban. The ban reeked of unconstitutionality and favouritism as even though the cow is considered a ‘sacred’ animal by Hindus and thus isn’t consumed by them, Muslims, Christians and Dalits (formerly “untouchables” in the Hindu caste system) still consume beef. Furthermore, since beef is the cheapest meat available, it often proves to an attractive source of protein for India’s poor. Let’s not forget the fact that Muslims dominate India’s multibillion-dollar meat industry which is expected to take a hit from the ban. While it’s still legal to consume and sell beef in quite a few states, many beef traders and cow rearers have been lynched by mobs in the past two years across the country. This government has been finding loopholes to pass legislation and thereby permanently altering the parliamentary ethics in India. The government has been turning ordinary bills to money bills as a method to bypass the upper house of the parliament (where they currently don’t hold a majority). All this has been freely happening without any checks and balances as the BJP and its allies not only control the national parliament but also have reigns of 22 states out of 29 in the country.
Another infamous tool that the BJP has been using to unite Hindus since the 1990s is the Babri Mosque-Ram Mandir issue, which has been one of the key points in the party’s manifesto since its inception. But now since the matter lies in hands of the courts and there isn’t much left to be said in the three-decades-old subject, Modi’s BJP found an equally politically conducive issue to play around with — Pakistan. While the Indo-Pak relations issue isn’t new to the country’s political landscape, Modi had promised a strict military policy against India’s neighbour during his campaign. Although Mr Modi is known for his awkward physicality with international leaders, his stance on Pakistan has been quite jingoistic. On 29th September 2016, the government announced that the military forces had conducted “surgical strikes” against militant launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and inflicted “significant casualties”. Immediately after the raid, Indian politicians began boasting that Pakistan had been “taught a lesson,” and that cross-border terrorism would stop. While Pakistan rejected the reports that any such strike had happened, many political analysts and opposition leaders questioned if the action had been solely politically motivated. Ignoring the brouhaha, the government went on to celebrate the apparent success with extreme vigour and enthusiasm and the University Grants Commission (UGC) on asked colleges and universities to observe Septemeber 29 as “Surgical Strike Day” and encourage students to pledge their support for the armed forces. This year marked the second anniversary of the surgical strike and as the Modi government basked in the glory of it all and continued to cash it in for political capital, the special forces in Jammu & Kashmir are holding an assortment of new-old weapons, even assault rifles. Communication equipment remains grossly outdated and surveillance equipment is far below authorization. For all his combative tone and rousing militaristic ambitions, Mr Modi seems to have reduced India’s army to yet another tool meant to be used by the executive wing of the government to foster their political gains.
The BJP has successfully curated a mob for it to ride on and is now fearlessly deeming its will to transcend the law of the land. The BJP organised protests in Sabarimala, Kerala after a Supreme Court judgement allowed women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala Temple. The RSS along with BJP’s regional hooligans launched a massive protest in the city to restrict women from entering the temple in an effort to turn into the Ayodhya of south India. Women pilgrims and journalists were attacked and the Modi government even threatened to dissolve the Kerala State government if the state government tried to intervene. BJP general secretary K Surendran was even arrested for attacking a 52-year-old woman pilgrim who was trying to enter the temple. In another recent incident, a BJP candidate in the Rajasthan state elections claimed that the police will not interfere in child marriages if she were to come to power. Child marriage was outlawed in India by the British in 1929 and Rajasthan is a state where practices like Child marriage and female infanticide remain more widespread than one would expect. Two months back, the Union finance minister even went on to openly state in a press conference that the government ‘can’ pass legislation to overrule certain judgements of the Supreme Court. The country has never in its history seen such open defiance of the justice system by a government and its ministers. The Supreme Court’s integrity itself also came into question this year when the four seniormost justices of the court held an unprecedented press conference where they expressed concern over the Chief Justice’s actions and cited ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that have put “Democracy in Danger”. It was especially in the context of a petition seeking an investigation into the death of a judge who was presiding over a murder case that implicated the BJP’s National President.
As India goes to poll in the early months of 2019, a lot is at stake. Despite the fall in approval ratings of Mr Modi, he still has legions of followers and admirers and the opposition does face a tough fight ahead. Considering that the BJP government has been hugely successful in manipulating the government machinery to construct a majoritarian edifice, the opposition will need to carefully construe a counternarrative that appeals to the populace of the country. While there’s certainly anti-incumbency at play due to economic issues such as the poor implementation of schemes like demonetisation and the nascent Goods & Services Tax, the other side can’t let loose and cry foul in the coming elections.
As Modi’s India — where majoritarian monologues overpower the wails of millions — goes to vote next year, will the pluralistic essence of the country prevail? Or will India come one step closer to becoming an autocratic regime? Only time will tell.
Featured Image Via WeForNews