Below are some thoughts I had on Yogendra Yadav’s analysis of the Grand Alliance victory in the 2015 Bihar Assembly electoins. This victory has become a historical artifact ever since Nitish Kumar defected from the Alliance into the BJP camp, eliciting much national outrage and fears of the BJP juggernaut.
Note that Mr. Yadav’s assertion that the Bihar defeat shows up BJP’s myth of invincibility hasn’t aged well, given its victory in the UP elections without having fielded a single Muslim candidate. However, he presciently foresaw the Grand Alliance victory as a fragile one based entirely on communal/caste-based electoral math and “vacuous anti-BJP-ism” which would collapse if not supported by a substantive politics of social justice and good governance. The outcome, then, was entirely expected.
I am afraid that those most interested in progressive values are those least equipped/most unwilling to actually defend them. If as Mr. Yadav says (in an otherwise incisive piece) that “It is left to writers and intellectuals to take on the most organised attack on the idea of a diverse India” then we must question why others aren’t so interested in defending such a supposedly universally beloved value. I am tired of the emotive pleas for the nation to return to some imagined Nehruvian paradise that we see in the Hindu so often – it shows a lack of forward thinking and a comfortable regression. What needs to be challenged is the entire narrative of a Hindutva-driven “Aspirational India” where anyone can succeed if they fall in line with the BJP – but in a way that doesn’t harken back to a past which today is remembered (in the popular imagination) largely for its broken promises and false dawns.
A majority of today’s voting population was born in the 80s with no direct experience of the Nehru era but having lived through the globalization and “next-superpower” phase. They also grew up at a time when the Congress lost its National Struggle credentials, when the BJP rose as a political force having shed its Independence-era notoriety, when mobilization along religious, ethnic, regional and caste lines became a common political strategy (even for the nominally secular Congress), when public corruption attained a hitherto unheard-of place in the public discourse, and when various anti-colonial/nationalist/socialist movements dissipated against the rise of neoliberalism and the power of international finance.
Somehow the BJP positioned itself favorably in relation to these developments and reaped the political harvest. The BJP’s rise cannot be understood without accounting for these broader trends that have shifted the contours of Indian political economy as we know it. Things are made worse by the way history is told and taught as a linear progression from Independence to today, with the Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi governments as intermediate stages in a process that is still unfolding. We aren’t presented with Nehru’s anti-colonialism and non-alignment as a genuine alternative to the present, but as a well-intentioned policy that was logically superseded by the present paradigm – “learning from the failures of the past”. It doesn’t help that leaders of the present can so skillfully manipulate leaders of the past – who had substantively different politics – to lend legitimacy to their policies.
The biggest aspect of BJP rule that I fear the most is the slow percolation of international finance into every crevice of our economy, life, and society. The gradual neoliberalization of India, the lionization of international investment, and the increased pride in India’s enhanced position in global geopolitics smacks of a slave’s delight at playing the master’s game. This paradigm will run into its own constraints – unemployment, unsustainable inequality and climate change being the primary – but by then it might be too late to productively change course.