Thursday, June 6, 2019

An Indian Political Theorist on the Triumph of Narendra Modi’s Hindu Nationalism

Modi represents for the population, their conception of the ideal Indian leader.   From this a complete Indian national identity is steadily emerging along with the confrontation of the Islamic Meme which will solidify this Indian Ideal..

None of this is bad at all.  The alternative is the promotional of militant minority political ideals.  That would be blindingly stupid.  Such groups can be accommodated as i have suggested before with independent national city states in which all citizens retain the right to fully participate in the Indian economy while voting inside their city state as well.

One of the great political miracles of the last century has been the political emergence of India itself and yes, we must thank Ghandi in particular and British Imperial wisdom though most try to forget him and them now.  India today is in a position to reestablish the full Communion of the old British Empire itself as a Commun8ion of the willing and this should really give China pause.

Imagine an imperial trade preference system put in place that included the old British empire and the USA as well...

An Indian Political Theorist on the Triumph of Narendra Modi’s Hindu Nationalism

On Thursday, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) handily won another five-year term from voters across India, cementing Modi’s control of the country and making clear his formidable popularity. Not only did the Hindu-nationalist B.J.P. show surprising strength in parts of the country where it has historically been weaker but the crushing defeat of the Congress Party means that there is no real alternative to Modi’s rule. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi—the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prime Ministers and the current face of the Nehru family dynasty—even lost his seat in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Modi will now have five more years to pursue his agenda, with even less opposition.

That agenda ought to worry people. Modi came to power after serving for more than a decade as the chief minister of Gujarat. During his tenure, in 2002, more than a thousand people, the vast majority of them Muslim, were killed during several days of rioting. Modi, who at the very least looked the other way, has been accused of complicity in the massacre and for years was banned from travelling to the U.S. Since he became Prime Minister, in 2014, ethnic violence in India has increased significantly, and it has often been met with purposeful silence from Modi and his party, which is intent on creating an explicitly Hindu nation. During Modi’s 2014 campaign, many commentators were willing to overlook this side of his candidacy in hopes that he would bring economic growth and rid India of corruption and dynastic politics. Not only did Modi fail to deliver on those promises; he weathered the fallout from his own disastrous demonetization scheme, and he finds himself in office with an ever greater mandate.

To discuss what Modi’s victory means for India’s future, I spoke by phone with the writer Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the vice-chancellor of Ashoka University and the co-editor of “The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution.” During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the reasons for Modi’s huge win, the differences between him and other authoritarians, and what the future holds for India’s Muslims.

This feels like a very bleak day.

Yes, indeed, absolutely unprecedented. Not only do we not have any framework to understand what’s happened but, since India’s independence, actually, I don’t think there has been a mandate which concentrates power in one person to the extent that this mandate does. Not even Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. It is really quite extraordinary.

The columnist Mihir Sharma wrote, of today’s results, “We do not live in Modi’s India. We live in Indians’ India, and the reason so many Indians adore Modi is because he represents their preferred conception of the Indian state and the Indian nation. No other explanation for these results is as compelling.” Do you agree, and, if so, why?

I absolutely agree with that, for the following reasons. Let’s just take Mr. Modi’s own words in this election. Whether you agreed or disagreed, or believed or disbelieved Mr. Modi, the striking thing about the 2014 campaign was how much it concentrated on economic issues, how much it tried to spin a narrative of hope for India. What was striking about this campaign was that the two things which dominated it were nationalism and a nod-nod-wink-wink gesture toward majoritarianism—consistently. So his self-presentation was clearly much, much more visibly majoritarian.

Second, the Indian economy was not doing very well. Most analysts would argue it feels more like a four-to-five-per-cent growth rate than the seven to seven-point-five per cent that the government is projecting. Many of the indicators—including private investment, exports, rural demand—have all been falling consistently. And I think for someone to win this kind of mandate in a context where there is no rosy economic story to tell—I think the only interpretation can be that he got this mandate despite a less-than-rosy economy. So both his self-presentation and the surrounding circumstances—in old parlance, we would say the objective conditions—would not warrant such an extraordinary mandate.

I think the third feature that is very striking is, typically, from 1990 onward, when the B.J.P. started mobilizing around Hindutva [Hindu nationalism], the commonsense story was that Indian politics is a contest between two different forces. There are the forces that are trying to consolidate Hindutva into one larger Hindu identity. And then there are these sub-identities of caste and, in some cases, region that act as a bulwark against that consolidation. One hope was that a lot of caste-based parties or region-based parties will never let a consolidated Hindu majoritarianism emerge. I think one of the striking things about this result is how it completely throws that hope out with the bathwater. It is very clear that the salience of traditional ways of thinking about caste are declining, and it is allowing the B.J.P. to mobilize a fairly wide cross-section of Indians across different castes into a larger Hindu narrative.

Hindu majoritarianism traditionally appealed more to higher-caste Hindus than to lower-caste Hindus and non-Hindus. And you are saying that this might be beginning to change?

Yes, that is significantly beginning to change. And I think the political evidence of this is that the B.S.P. [the Bahujan Samaj Party, the third-largest party, which represents lower castes and ethnic minorities] in Uttar Pradesh, which is headed by Mayawati—a very, very formidable leader—had one of its worst performances. It’s not clear she will turn out most of the Dalit [the lowest caste] vote in U.P., let alone transfer it to her allies. That is the most visible political manifestation. I think the attempt to create Dalit social movements, which would traditionally have opposed Hindutva, are at their weakest. Hindutva is no longer simply an upper-class or élite phenomenon. It is spreading across social groups, and the incentive to oppose it, even if you don’t want to actively participate, certainly seems to be declining.

Modi is often talked about as a populist. Is there more of a history of populism in post-independence India than people realize, or is his way of campaigning pretty sui generis?

I think there are elements of continuity and elements of change. The elements of continuity are that mobilizing elements of nationalism and Hindutva have a long history in Indian politics, and that has been an undercurrent since partition. I think where he represents a radical departure, and I think this is part of the appeal he projected, is that he has been able to basically say that India’s power structure was constituted by Anglicized élites, and that secularism has become a cultural symbol for a contempt of Hinduism rather than a constitutional philosophy of toleration. That there was an élite that was very comfortable, for the most part, with what Modi and the B.J.P. call dynastic politics. That [other parties] are largely family fiefdoms whose intellectual legitimacy was sustained by élite intellectual culture. That what politics should aim for is also a cultural regeneration of Hindutva and an open assertion of cultural majoritarianism. In that sense, it is of a piece with populists elsewhere who try to combine cultural majoritarianism with anti-élitism.

How is Modi distinct from other demagogic figures whom we see rising? He seems both more broadly popular and more ideological, no?

I think both of these things are true. He is a genuinely popular figure, and I think the level of popular identification that he has managed to produce is, in a sense, truly astounding. We can do a lot of sophisticated sociological analysis, but ultimately this election is about two words: Narendra Modi.

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