Emerging Political Realities in India

Whether one swallow it or not, Mahant Yogi Adityanath (Ajay Singh Bisht) -Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP)- is a new democratic reality of India, at least for present. He is well known for his questionable politics and political hold in and around Gorakhpur district in the eastern UP. Hindu Yuva Vahini (Hindu Youth Group) acts as his private brigade and has, allegedly, fomented and participated in communal activities. Even Yogi’s anti-minority diatribe during public meetings are well known. He is facing charges for rioting, related to intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace, charges related to injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class, charges related to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony etc. All these were piled up during the non-Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) governments at the Union and state levels. Instead of taking action against Yogi, his politics had been carefully nurtured during the rule of those governments. It is also alleged that they did so to keep the minorities with them. In past, this politics of fear has mechanically worked to serve the respective political interests of various political stakeholders.

With Yogi, as CM and the massive mandate BJP has got (won 312 seats out of 384 it contested), a question arises: is he a future or a temporary present? He may not be the future of India, but his politics is. He has an ability to divide the people in the name of religion, and at the same time can unite different castes of the Hindu community by arousing religious feelings. One of the reasons why most of the psephologists went wrong in their pre-poll analyses that they gave little attention to this uniting effect of the divisive politics. This pattern has taken years to develop. Analysts kept on writing and engage themselves into brain storming sessions on Mandal versus Kamandal while, on the ground, the two entered into a ‘comfortable’ symbiosis by making certain power related adjustments. In that adjustment, Kamandal has given political leadership to OBC, Dalits, and Schedule Tribes, and in return these leaders help in spread of Hindutva in their area and among their influence groups.

In contemporary India, one may analyse in a different way, but a larger reality is that the members, many of them, of the dominant Other Backward Castes or Dalits identify themselves as a Hindu first then a member of a non-upper caste group. They too believe that they are ‘different’ from the members of minority groups and, like majority members of the so called upper caste, many of them still practice social discriminations against the Muslims. This is evident during communal riots. This is essentially a result of Brahminization of a large section of OBCs, Dalits, and tribal groups carried out by the Hindu revivalist groups since the colonial era. This Brahminization dictates the cultural traits, behavioural pattern, and also dietary habits. Therefore, moral policing and forceful closure of chicken and mutton shops in UP find support from a substantive number of people. Moral policing is mean to regulate women’s sexuality and movement, and an attempt to check inter-caste mix up. Ad  banning of sale of meat is a form of  economic  attack  on  profession , largely, related with the members of  minority religious group and to those who do not adhere to Brahminical values.

As individuals wear multiple identities, they keep on changing them according to time and space. In the UP elections of 2017 majority of Hindu voters gave preference to their religious identity over the other identities. Almost all political parties are aware about this tenuous relationship between caste and religion, therefore no one shows enthusiasm or vocal about implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report to improve status of a large number of Indian Muslims.

One may ask that if this is the situation then why it did not work in Bihar in 2016. Well, in case of Bihar, BJP lost the election which was almost in its plate. Second, Nitish Kumar as a Chief Minister has always been considered to be a safety valve through whom others can ire their vent out while the upper castes can safeguard their political interests. In late 1990s he was a part of BJP’s such experiment in Bihar. In past he led coalition governments with BJP as an ally. Many such factors joined together to help him to develop similar political equation with the voters.

The results of a series of elections since 2014 general elections, with a few exceptions, prove that the BJP through its sister organizations has successfully captured the available political space in India, and is a dominant force with little or almost no opposition in coming years. Any challenge to its present position is possible only through a rise of an alternative politics from the below.

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Change is on the way in India, but is this a good thing?

From Niharika Mandhana in the Wall Street Journal:

India’s voters chose a Hindu-nationalist, pro-business politician to be their next prime minister—tossing out the party that has led the country for most of the past 67 years in a historic political realignment.

Riding a wave of voter discontent with the incumbent [and hard Left-wing] Congress party and a sharply slowing economy, the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], led by Narendra Modi, was on track Friday evening to win 282 of the 545 seats in the lower house of Parliament[…]

If so, it would be the first time in three decades that a single party has won so decisively and captured an outright legislative majority, something that would give the BJP a strong position from which to push its governing agenda.

And what, exactly, is the Hindu nationalist and pro-business BJP’s governing agenda?

Mr. Modi hasn’t detailed his economic plan, but in a country with a strong legacy of state economic control, his slogans for small government, private enterprise and reduced bureaucracy have excited pro-market economists and given Mr. Modi a right-of-center image.

Still, Mr. Modi and his party’s economic agenda is far from clear. The BJP, for instance, is unlikely to roll back expensive food subsidies and opposed foreign investment in the retail industry […] But economists and analysts expect Mr. Modi will try to rein in India’s famed bureaucracy, and stimulate international trade and investment in other areas. On the campaign trail he has talked about rolling out a “red carpet” for business rather than “red tape.”

I think Prime Minister Modi will probably not be able to get through India’s massive  parliament as easily as his supporters hope. On foreign policy Mandhana reports:

On the world stage, Indians have also grown frustrated with a foreign policy that some saw as too soft on rival neighbors Pakistan and China. Mr. Modi is expected to build a more robust one based on trade, particularly with countries in South and Southeast Asia.

Analysts generally view Mr. Modi as more hawkish than his predecessors from Congress, a reputation some say gives Mr. Modi a better shot at making peace with Pakistan.

This, I think, is the most troubling aspect of Modi’s election victory. The BJP is, as the article states, a Hindu nationalist party (nevermind for the moment that Hinduism is a religion, not a nation) and its nuclear-armed neighbor (Pakistan) is basically a “Muslim nationalist” (again, bear with me in the horrible terminology) state.

If Modi lets the radicals in his party take the lead on foreign policy, and Mamnoon Hussain (a member of the center-right – for Pakistan – Pakistan Muslim League)  in Pakistan lets the radicals dictate foreign policy in Islamabad, the world could suddenly get a lot hotter in South Asia.

Still, I think Modi’s election is a good thing overall for India (and South Asia). The Left-wing Congress Party has been impoverishing India for half a century now, so even if the BJP is pro-business rather than pro-market I think prosperity will increase slightly and the potential for better foreign policy decisions is definitely there.

Addendum 5/17: Here is Geeta Anand and Gordon Fairclough with more on India (also in the Wall Street Journal).