Sunday, September 19, 2021

Making sense of Indian democracy

Prof. Kondaram, chairman of Telangana Jana Samithi, had organized a webinar on Sunday on the occasion of the death anniversary of Prof. Jayashankar, the father of Telangana, in which Prof. Yogendra Yadav, chairman of Swaraj India, spoke about the present day political scenario in the country and the desirable roadmap for the future. Here is the full text of his speech:

The government has become brazen using its security forces and armed forces in whichever the way it wants. The manner in which the regime is using its power is absolutely unprecedented. Probably no government other than Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime had used this kind of power. No government has used this kind of mix of state power and street power of the goons and the vigilante. One might say it is coercion which can be faced. The government uses all the instruments of state power bypassing all the routine formalities. It uses all institutions in a most brazen way.  But there are two other factors that worry me.

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Don’t underestimate BJP’s resilience 

One is electoral power.  It might look weakened after West Bengal elections. Who expected ten years ago that BJP which had three MLAs in 2016 would jump substantially and become the second largest party in West Bengal in 2021? It retained Assam. It is close to becoming what the Congress used to be in its hey days in terms of hegemony and its presence throughout the country.  BJP is no longer limited to upper caste and upper class. It has substantial chunk of Dalit and Adivasi support. Let us not underestimate the BJP. It has ability to mobilize Dalits, Adviasis and OBCs across the country.

The second concern is cultural and ideological hegemony. BJP’s cultural acceptance and cultural and ideological dominance cannot be overlooked. What looked like centrist positions ten or fifteen years ago look like extreme radical positions today. It is like in the US if you espouse some one’s straight forward and liberal position you are called radical. The entire spectrum of public opinion has been shifted in favour of the BJP. Many ideas that BJP had introduced and many of the themes and ideas the RSS have managed to insert over the years have now become commonsense.

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Cultural, ideological dominance

Political regimes you can counter. Coercion you can take on. Cultural and ideological dominance is something that you cannot overturn overnight. It takes a long battle.  We should accept the fact that we are living in a huge hegemony that has both cultural and ideological basis. Almost 95 years of RSS work has paid dividends. The vocabulary of popular discourse has changed. We can speak to our relatives, college mates and friends and realize that their language has changed, their tone has changed. What is acceptable and what is unacceptable has changed. That is something we have to accept. That is the real transformation I am talking about.  These are the roots of the challenge.

First I spoke about the challenges we face and also what underlies the challenges. What is underlying is the entire history of India’s political economy and the manner of development in India. Underlying also is the peculiarly virtuous modernity of India which is shallow allowing itself to be kept at the mercy of Hindutva. Another factor of concern is the institutional weakness of Indian democracy.

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What is not to be done?

What is not to be done? The moment BJP loses an election, I start dreading that moment. People tend to think that after losing in West Bengal, the BJP would also lose UP and then the countdown would begin. Look at the blunders committed by the BJP. Look how badly they handled pandemic and how inefficiently they dealt with economy. People have become unhappy and their disillusionment has begun. We believe that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Modi regime and it is a good riddance.

I want to suggest that it is not the case. We would like it to be the case. But it is not the case. I would like to alert you, warn you against the fallacy we all subscribe to. First assumption is that the regime would collapse under the burden of its own misdeeds. No doubt that the misdeeds of this regime are humongous. We are not only looking at the most authoritarian regime in the country, we are also looking at the most incompetent government in the history of the country. Perhaps we would later on discover that this is the most corrupt government in the history of this country. But to assume that the government would fall under the burden of its misdeeds is wrong. It means we are underestimating the capacity of this government to spin in communication, its political energy and the diabolic nature of its politics. We should not underestimate what they can do to retain power. They are extremely incompetent in managing the economy, but they are not incompetent in winning elections and managing politics. When it comes to politics, they are dealing with fairly incompetent opposition. The idea that the regime would collapse on its own, to my mind, is not something that is likely to happen. I would not bet on this assumption although we would celebrate if it really happened.

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Opposition unity is not enough

The idea is all that we need now is opposition unity is also false. We have been entertaining hopes that the opposition parties would come together. The assumption that when Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh, Mayawati, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Navin Patnaik and Stalin come together, Mr. Modi would be overthrown. Yes and No. Opposition unity is necessary. But opposition unity alone is not sufficient. The opposition unity can become a source for a strong movement. The manner in which the opposition parties have behaved also should be considered. They are called opposition because they are non-BJP. Are they prepared to take on this regime?

Look at Telangana. Is the ruling party, the TRS, anti-BJP? Can we rely on the party to reclaim the republic, to reclaim democracy? Can we come to think of TRS as a party that can come forward to save democracy? One of the South Indian states that is worried about the rise of the BJP is Telangana. Telangana is a state where the BJP could try and do what it did in Assam or what it is trying to do in Odisha. We know that the BJP has no chances of success in Telangana. On the other hand BJP can control the opposition party with the CBI threat. I don’t have to name the states and parties. When opposition leaders come together and hold their hands in the air, people do not get excited. They get scared. People would think that all of them (the opposition leaders)are out to throw away this poor man (Modi). Indira Gandhi had taken advantage of this kind of scenario in 1971. The entire opposition had come together  to displace Indira Gandhi. She said only one liner: “Yeh kahate hain Indira hatao, my kahati hoon garibi hatao,” (They say dispense with Indira, I say dispense with poverty). She won. So, opposition unity is not enough. To my mind, a simple one dimensional anti-Modi stance also is not enough. Every morning I think of five negative aspects of Modi. People have begun to get disillusioned about Modi. But they are not prepared to listen to negative stories. They want positive stories. Simple minded anti-Modi talk would backfire. It will not work.

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What should be done?

Finally what should be done? There are short term challenges, medium term challenges and long term challenges. Short term challenges have to be fought as we all are doing now in our own places through institutions, judiciary, media and universities. Local battles to prevent the BJP and the RSS from spreading themselves have to continue. These are day-to-day battles we all have to fight and have been fighting. There is no substitute to it.

Small things will matter. But in the medium term is the real resource to take on the regime and to counter hegemonic politics. To my mind, two very important movements are going to be lead forces to counter hegemony. I can proudly say that I said it in 2017. I said that the farmers’ movement is going to be something that can save the democracy in this country. Not many friends believed when I wrote it. I am very happy to see that at least that part has come true. The farmers’ movement is a very large movement and it persisted for almost seven months and it has shown resilience. But the real point is the farmers’ movement has shown the path of uniting common people to counter politics of divisiveness. In north India, Congress and BJP had played Haryana versus Punjab game for the last twenty years on the question of water. It was very hard even to imagine that the farmers of Punjab and Haryana could come together. But the farmers’ movement has done it. Deep divisions of castes have been cemented. The Hindu-Muslim divide in Uttar Pradesh has been repaired in extraordinary way by the farmers’ movement.  If we look at social category of people whose objectives and interests are aligned with the interests of counter hegemony, the farmers have created that section of the society. It may look simple. They have struggled. It may look like a struggle for small economic aid by doing away with three farm laws which would deeply hurt the farmers’ economy and a struggle to get some benefits from Minimum Support Price (MSP) and so on.

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Farmers’ movement can save democracy

The real significance of the movement lies in the fact that it is one of the forces that could counter hegemony and to save democracy in the country. That this movement had forced the government on its back foot cannot be overlooked. The second movement which did not happen the way I thought it would or could but that is something which could not be ruled out for the next two years. It is the movement of the unemployed youth. I don’t need to release the statistics of unemployment in this country. People are much more knowledgeable on this issue than I am. India has never known this level of unemployment. I am not talking about the educated unemployed which had for the first time crossed 10 per cent. If you add to this our labour force which itself has been stuck in unemployment, It would be frightening problem. Some years ago there were people who used to work and others who did not. It was their choice. But now even if you wish to work there is no work. We have explosion in contractual employment. Objective conditions for mobilization of people on the question of unemployment are there. I cannot imagine a situation which is more ripened than today. Nationwide mobilization of unemployed youth could happen. I cannot say it would happen. But I deeply believe that there are two categories of people who can work like a bulwark of counter hegemony – it is the farmers and the unemployed. I pin all my hopes on these categories which can show path to the future of the country.

Elections are no answer

Finally, we come to the long term challenges. I have to quickly say something which I have been saying for some time. Having studied elections in this country for twenty years, I believe that elections cannot counter hegemony. Elections may reflect occasionally the results of counter hegemony politics. But elections are not where the real battle is. The real battle is in the streets.  By street fight I mean the struggle by movements. But how to take on this hegemony in the long term? If in the last seven years  we have the misfortune of Mr. Modi governing the country, it is not because we lost an election. We lost the cultural battle. The cultural battle was to save constitutional values. We had it in our freedom struggle. We could not take these values to our next generations. They are simply lost. The BJP and the RSS, which have no respect for the constitutional values, have won the cultural and ideological battles. You and I may hate the RSS. But we must grant them one thing. They worked very hard for more than ninety years. They worked in very hostile conditions. They worked in a situation where they were ridiculed. People like us who call ourselves secular, progressive and liberal have not put in that kind of efforts. And that to me is the principal arena in the long run. What happens in 2024 is important. Of course, we have to focus on the general elections. We should try and help this country to get rid of this regime. But that is not the end of the problem.

Ideological hegemony is the real problem

The real problem is ideological hegemony. The real answer is counter hegemonic cultural politics. That would have two or three nodes. One of them would be recovery of Indian nationalism. We have allowed the BJP and the RSS to become symbols of Indian nationalism in a shocking way. The manner in which we have allowed RSS, which had zero role in the struggle for Indian independence, to evoke words like ‘Rashtravaad,’ is shocking.  It only shows how complacent we have been and how much our deeds and our criminal culpability allowed such forces to come up. First is recovery of nationalism. The second, I know this would be controversial, would be the recovery of cultural and traditional heritage of this country. Because, we have so easily allowed them, the BJP and the RSS, to become the spokespersons of this country’s traditional cultural heritage. They have nothing to do with the traditional heritage of this country. They use the word Hindu. But they don’t represent even the Hindu culture of this country. That is because we the secular, liberal and modern have swapped our diet with the traditional, cultural heritage of this country. Now the cultural heritage of the country is not singular. We don’t have one single tradition. We have multi-cultural traditions in this country. We have to recover them.

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Need to speak and write in  people’s language

That happens only when we get into our languages since we are not able to connect with masses. It was not the case with the Indian national movement. All the leaders then read in English and wrote in Indian languages. That is unfortunately not true with 80 per cent of Indian secular, progressive and liberal intellectuals today. They read in English and write in English. No one reads them in this country. Then they worry why we have lost secularism. We don’t write in the language of the people. Our task is to pick up the multi-cultural traditions and to become the legitimate carriers of those traditions. The third point is the recovery of tradition of resistance. From the history of Dalits, Adivasis and feminists we have had such deep traditions in this country which can be used, invoked to create a hope for this country, hope for the last person. It can be used to fight the hegemony. When the BJP and the RSS people use the words like cultural traditions, I feel shocked. What do they know about the culture and tradition of the country? It is our failure that we have allowed them to claim it. Whether Mr. Modi is there or not, this long term cultural battle has to be fought. It Modi loses elections, the regime would be run by Yogi. One Modi or Yogi would always be there as long as they represent the cultural traditional legacy which we have to reclaim. We have to engage in this battle. The battle cannot be fought in English language. It has to be engaged in the language of the people. What we are doing today, we need to continue for the next fifteen to twenty years. We have to recover bit by bit the great cultural legacy of the country.

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Country needs a new political instrument

I will conclude by making a very small submission. We need an instrument of change.  Today, the country needs a new political instrument. An instrument of alternative politics. Congress party the way it stands today is simply unable to offer resistance to this hegemony. I don’t doubt the intentions of some leaders of the party but it cannot be an instrument of change. In moments of sheer exasperation, I feel can’t we ensure that it (the Congress) would not create problems for others. It would not offer counter hegemony and it would not allow others to do. This country badly needs a new political instrument. There is frustration in the country. There is a strong desire for change in the country. It may be in a small segment. The desire to unleash the frustration needs a new political instrument. It needs a new centre of politics. It would need a 21st century ideology that would encourage alternative politics. I have very often hoped that Dr. Kodandram and his TJS could become such king of centre for alternative politics  in Telangana. It is a long struggle. It is not easy to do it. But that is the kind of commitment we need in this country. I hope we would have nodes of alternative politics in the country and somehow all the nodes need to be brought together.

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(Courtesy: [email protected])

K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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