Politics of ideological contestations

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A fundamental consensus, even an agreement, exists among modern philosophers and theoreticians of politics and society that the governance of modern, complex, globalized societies essentially requires an ideological legitimacy among the large strata of society where citizens accept that ‘governance is for their own good’ and institutions of governance are serving the larger interests of all major social groups living in the defined territorial boundaries of their state systems. It is not only electoral participatory democracies that operate on the basis of popular ideological legitimacy; even quasi-authoritarian or fascists exercise political power by mobilizing mass support by projecting their rule as for the ‘national good’. Further, while quasi-authoritarian or fascists can impose their will on the people by coercing them to accept that the rulers are promoting and protecting ‘the larger good of society’, modern democracies even provide spaces for the contestations of ideas where people and groups with different ideological and political perspectives can organize themselves to compete against one another and capture political power on the basis of electoral contests. Political parties in democracies compete on the basis of distinct ideologies and in established western democracies these ideological battles have broadly divided political parties as centre, conservative right and democratic socialists or left. However, such a neat distinction among the centre or right or left political ideological formations is difficult to clearly identify in a fast changing society like that of India.

It is essential to contextualize and periodize the Indian democratic political process of the last seventy years to clinically analyse and locate the nature of ideological shifts, even ruptures, by keeping in mind that a society experiencing a grand transition has yet to arrive at the stage of firm ideological consensus among competitors in politics. The first phase of post-independence democratic political process which has been popularly described as the Nehruvian phase of ideological consensus, continues to be a reference point even up to the second decade of the 21st century. This ideological consensus on the basis of which the country was ruled was built around the basic philosophical values of the republican Constitution of India and Jawaharlal Nehru concretized these ideological values and tried to build popular consensus on the basis of participatory electoral democracy, federalism, pluralism, secularism, economic planning for self-reliant development of a backward Third World developing country and a policy of peace and non-alignment in world affairs, keeping almost an equidistance from ‘two competing power blocs’ which dominated the world by ‘polarizing’ it.

It was not smooth sailing even when Nehru was at the helm of affairs from 1947 to 1964 and the votaries of Nehru’s value system, even up to the second decade of the present century, are under serious ideological attack by the opponents of so-called Nehruvian consensus and the basic values enshrined in the Constitution of republican India. Political and ideological opposition to Nehru from the left was organized and launched by communists and Lohia socialists who thought that Nehru’s project of a mixed economy and planned economic model of development was ‘devoid’ of socialist content, while the right wing attack was launched by the Swantantra Party which characterized Nehru’s model as statist and popularly described as ‘permit-license Raj’. Nevertheless, in the earlier years neither the non-Congress, non-Nehru Indian left nor right questioned the values of secularism, pluralism or the idea of India based on ‘unity in diversity and composite culture’, which was an integral part of Nehru’s politics of ideological consensus. It is only from the late 1960s that Nehru’s world view came under serious contestation by political-ideological forces broadly represented by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and its political mouthpiece, the Jan Sangh, later Bharatiya Janata Party. The RSS launched a frontal ideological attack on the idea of India and offered a fundamentally opposite idea of India which constituted one nation, one country, one dominant Hindu raj or state. This unitarian Hindu majority nation consisted of only those groups whose places of worship and gods and goddesses existed in India or Bharat Mata while those whose places of worship were outside India like the holy Mecca and Medina of the Muslims or Christian Church and Pope of Christians were not considered ‘natives’ of India. A concept of the ‘other’ was constructed and imagined by the RSS and its ideological cohorts and polarized society on a religious basis between native or indigenous Hindus versus Muslims and Christians.

The story of the growth of the forces of Hindutva and its organizations during the last seventy years need not be repeated, except that a once fringe political-ideological force came to occupy the centre stage of Indian politics, especially from the beginning of the 1990s when it launched a big movement for the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. The forces of Hindutva have not looked back since then and their ideological and political organizations have captured the ‘popular imagination’ of every strata of Hindu society. The Jan Sangh, which was dismissed as a party of the ‘banias and brahmans’ from the 1950s to 1970s, has over time spread its network to rural and urban Hindus of every caste and social status. Ideological and political battle lines have been sharply drawn between the so-called idea of secular India versus the believers and practitioners of India for the Hindus. India today is engaged in a great contest where the forces of Hindu Rashtra and Raj are moving forward with the sole goal of capturing the levers of Indian state power. If on the one hand, weak and fragmented defenders of the secular, plural idea of India are struggling to defend their political space, on the other, the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially beginning with the 16th Lok Sabha elections of 2014, is marching forward and under the protection and patronage of BJP governments at the Centre and states, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates have succeeded in spreading their network in every corner of Indian society. India is today confronting a new reality because the so-called Hindu influenced social consciousness is getting solidified and the identity of Hinduness has become a new reality which has captured the imagination of both the subaltern classes and the so-called elite. Hinduness has become a formidable reference point for the majority of Hindu society and our politics reflects this new reality where the Hindu party is winning electoral battles at both the Centre and in the major states of North, North West and North East India.

Religion in politics has come to play a decisive role in India and its impact is being felt on every institution of governance and civil society. It is hazardous to offer any deterministic kind of causal explanation for the retreat of secular, plural and democratic political ideology and the dramatic emergence of the forces of majority religion based socially exclusivist politics. Plural democracy which is essentially socially ‘accommodative’ is under siege and socially exclusivist Hindu majority is moving forward to seal its ideological hegemony to establish a Hindu state. What is the explanation for the emergence of ideological monolith based on religious sanction and approval of the Hindus? It is plausible to explain the emergence of a violent, militarist Islam in the Arab Muslim world because reckless interventionist policies followed by the western countries to ‘change the Arab dictators of the so-called new regimes’ created a feeling of resentment among the Arab Muslims against foreign intervention in their internal affairs. It may be suggested that western interventions, which led to the destabilization of established Arab regimes of Iraq, or Libya or Egypt, gave rise to an Islamist mobilization whose leaders and ideologues brought Islam to the centre stage of politics of opposition against western attempts to impose leaders of their own choice. The appeal to Islam by the local opponents of the West for mobilization was seen as the best option for the ‘locals’ and thus Islam versus the West became the dividing line of politics in the Arab Muslim world.

However, the Indian Hindu majority religion based political ideology is purely a ‘native’ product whose roots lie in Indian society. The Hindu symbols of the holy cow and its protection by the state is a response to local Hindu sentiments. The construction of a Ram temple which was allegedly destroyed by the Muslim invaders is a task that has to be performed to restore Hindu pride and give a message to Hindus that ‘their own state has arrived.’ Deeper explanations for the rise of Hindutva and majority-religion based politics can be attributed to the Indian social soil where the project of more than 300 years of ‘modernity’ could not weaken the foundations of a ‘tradition’ which is integrally linked with Hindu religion and a people who live their daily lives as Hindus. That Hinduism is plural, diverse and consists of many sects is a truism, but the reference point remains unambiguously Hindu religion.

The New India at seventy has witnessed a great transformation of the productive material structure of society and though a vast majority continues to live in rural India and is engaged in agriculture even though the ongoing process of industrialization and application of science and technology for productions of goods and services has made India enter a new phase of emerging industrial economy. However, the material transformation of society has not given birth to new levels of social consciousness and the traditional views, drawing primarily on ritual based religiosity still persist. Moreover, every attempt is being made to keep it alive especially by the Hindutva forces . The processes of modernization have not impacted the processes of our social value system even as the old religion based way of life is being manipulated by the Sangh Parivar. Such is the present dialectics of India.

C.P. Bhambhri