Special Report

An alternative vision can only take on PM Modi

An alternative vision can only take on PM Modi

Now that the dust has settled on the General Elections of 2019, and we have a new government, in fact not new, but the same BJP led NDA Government in power, with Narendra Modi at its helm, let us pause for a bit and think what this mandate means for the future of Indian democracy and its institutions.

The plethora of glib opinion pieces analysing the ‘thumping mandate’ given to Modi’s brand of politics is flying around in the last few days, especially India morphing into a ‘New India’. Before we start dissecting ‘New India’ that elects a terror accused, Pragya Singh Thakur, to the Parliament, it is important to understand what was the ‘old’ (sic) India.

When India became independent on 15th August 1947, amidst the horror of partition, and displacement of millions of refugees in Bengal and Punjab, the national leaders who participated in the freedom struggle spent almost three years drafting the contract between the newly independent State and its people, i.e., the Constitution of India that came into force on 26th January 1950.

What did that contract entail? That India would be a democratic, secular, socialist republic (albeit the terms ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were explicitly added in 1976, but the principles always existed in the Constitution) based on a written Constitution that guaranteed several fundamental rights to its people, including the right to equality, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, protection from arbitrary detention, right to life and personal liberty, and freedom of religion, amongst others.

Rule of law was the sine qua non of the independent nation, and all her institutions, whether the Parliament, Executive, Judiciary, or constitutional bodies of Election Commission, were to operate within the bounds of the Constitution. Electoral democracy was only an aspect of the democratic nation and not the whole of it, instead, the focus was on the deepening of democratic principles amongst the masses, and empowerment of the marginalised populations, through welfare policies and laws.

It is often argued that both democracy and secularism were alien concepts to the Indian masses, and were imposed on them, by the Constitution drafters. In fact, this was not at all true. Ambedkar was influenced by the Buddhist ideas of parliamentary democracy, as evident from the Bhikshu Sanghas that followed most procedures of parliamentary decision making.

Similarly, with regard to secularism, the Constituent Assembly members took secularism for granted and pledged that India would be a secular state, with no State religion, and no discrimination against any person on the basis of religion. The evolution of the Indian State included the evolution of its democratic institutions, including the Election Commission of India, Reserve Bank of India, enforcement machinery, universities, and other institutions.

Each was meant to act as a check on absolute power, advance freedom, and generate equality and scientific temper. Most importantly, the aim was to create a truly just and equal post-colonial society that eschewed caste atrocity, religious discrimination, and inequality. Of course, the emergency happened, where most of the fundamental rights were suspended, with a huge clampdown on opposition parties, and the civil society activists.

The last 69 years did not achieve all, but strives were made in all spheres to fulfill the aspirations of the people of India as well as the Constitution makers. Significantly, there was a consensus on what kind of majority the country wanted, i.e., the liberal secular democratic order was agreed upon and built incrementally over the decades. Communal harmony and co-existence were a cherished ideal, both in law and in practice.

But since the last 5 years, this liberal secular democratic order is under systematic attack by the current political regime, aided by the RSS. There have been more than a hundred cases of mob lynchings by cow vigilantes resulting in deaths of Muslim individuals, cases being filed against victims of mob lynchings and their families under cow slaughter laws, and

several cases of daily violence and harassment against Muslims all over the country, amongst others, thereby creating an entire atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Besides, there has been an exponential rise in Dalit atrocities, attempts to dilute the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Protection against Atrocities) Act, 1989, and introduce 10% quota for economically weak upper castes.

Besides, no institution is left undamaged, whether Judiciary in terms of judicial appointments and allocation of cases, financial institutions like RBI or Statistical Commission that generates the economic data, universities and scientific institutions, and even the Election Commission of India.

2019 witnesses one of the most divisive and communal election campaigns ever, with the EC taking action only against the opposition parties or the less important BJP MPs, but did not say a word against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had 11 complaints filed against him for violating the Model Code of Conduct (‘MCC’) or against Amit Shah, let alone taking action.

Both mainstream electronic and print media is completely biased in favour of the ruling establishment, with some exceptions, while the mantle of independent and fair reporting is carried by the online and non-corporate media enterprises. No sphere of public life has not been vitiated by the divisive and Hindutva agenda. Students have been arrested, universities vandalised, artists derided, violence against women and sexual minorities justified and encouraged, and the leitmotif of all, the bogey of nationalism has pervaded all spheres of public and private discourse.

And this mandate is proof of all that more. The country that we grew up in and was quite proud of no longer exists in most sense. Now the question is what can be done? Should we all just agree that India has now become a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, and not fight for the constitutional ideals? Should we just the cede the ever limited space in media, academic spaces, public opinion, and political discourses that argue that this “New India” is destructive, divisive and in the end, will only result in implosion? There is no need for external aggression now, in another 5 years, if the present situation continues, we would be continually under ‘siege’.

I think what is required is another satyagraha, i.e., a fight for the basic: for humanity, compassion, liberty, and fraternity. It’s a fight to preserve the Constitution if we can still do it. The elected majority does not make a nation. Ideas make a country, and we have to get the ‘ideas’ and ‘ideals’ back in our democracy. It’s no use fighting the Hindutva forces if we only want to advocate ‘soft Hindutva’.

A clear unequivocal alternative vision has to be created, which is a polar opposite to the Hindutva agenda. If it is an ideological war between two visions, then let the rules be clear. We have to make it clear that those of us who have enjoyed the fruits of a liberal democratic secular regime, in terms of scientific education and civil discourse, cannot now deny the same to the future generation. We have to start young, and with young (not just in age, but in being open minded).

The 2019 mandate is neither against political dynasties nor against caste politics. It is a product of an RSS project in the works for almost 90 years, with thousands at work chipping away the contours of our secular social fabric, with each riot at a time, each institution at a time, and each seat at a time, which found its fifth gear only from 2014 onwards. It’s the hour of glory for Hindutva fanatics to decisively change the course of the country in such a short span of time. Shock and Awe. Of course, ably supported by the EC, media, corporate resources, and an overall decline in the institutional checks and balances in the country.

However, if we look at the data, only 39% of voters have voted for the NDA parties, while the 61% have not (definitely up from 31% in 2014). Therein lies the story that all is not lost, there is fight still left in the majority of India’s population and let us not undermine that, irrespective of the will and health of the opposition parties. We can’t lose hope. ‘New’ India is not ‘India’.

Amritananda Chakravorty is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.



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