Saturday 14 September 2019

2019 general elections: The victory of an ideological vision

(This article was first published in Seminar journal) 

The Indian general elections of 2014 spelled a resounding shift in the power dynamics of the country with a decisive win for the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his vision and party’s mission for a New India over those five years. The BJP, with a confident leader and successful track record, went to the 2019 elections for continuity of this vision and mission. The election of 2019 was a battle of two ideas of India – one championed by Modi and the BJP, and the other by Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. Various facets of these two narratives and the reasons why voters had invested heavily in one while rejecting the other, makes an interesting lens to look through to understand India’s current political landscape.
In the run-up to the 2019 elections, two clear narratives had emerged. On one side was the Congress-led coalition of forces who opposed Modi on all counts, claiming that he was inimical to the democratic ethos of the country. On the other hand, the BJP supporters campaigned on the strength of Modi’s personal integrity that had remained untarnished, and that he had succeeded in pushing the growth agenda while constantly identifying with the masses.

Decoding the ‘Sewa’ Dimension of RSS

(This article was first published in Organiser)

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is more than just an ideology, it is a methodology,” said RSS Sarsanghachalak Shri Mohan Bhagwat while addressing a three-day lecture series at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi in 2018. With the BJP emerging as the biggest political party of the country and resolutely occupying power in states and the Centre, the RSS itself has come under considerable spotlight. It can be safely said that RSS today is no longer an alternative discourse, it is, in fact, the main discourse of the country. With millions of ‘swayamsevaks’ involved in voluntary work across the country and overseas, it has also become the subject of curiosity, conjecture and myth.

Going back to the early years of RSS, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru had labelled the RSS as a communal organisation as early as in 1946. Nehru later ruled the country for 17 years and left behind a legacy of Nehruvian ideology, which talked about secular nationalism, non-alignment and Socialism. This Nehruvian ideology brought greater acceptance to the idea that RSS was a communal organisation. As a result, the RSS came to be seen within an insulated secular-communal framework and no need was felt to go beyond that understanding. No critical approach was developed or empirical studies were conducted on the works of the RSS other than in the pre-fixed context of secular-communal dualities. Barring the work of rare academics like Walter Anderson and Pralay Kanungo, no serious attempts were made to develop an understanding of the work and approach of the RSS based on academic enquiry and data. The subject was always approached with narrow pre-arrived conclusions on the ideas of RSS and Hindu Rashtra. The outcome was that RSS was labelled as a radical ‘Hindu Right-Wing’ organisation with ‘Fascist’ objectives and all views were restricted to this narrow typecast setting.

Friday 9 August 2019

Far beyond politics: BJP's revoking Article 370 reconnects India to Kashmir, home of Shaivism and our ancient traditions

(This article first appeared in DailyO on the day Parliament cleared revoking of Article 370)

“India, that is Bharat, shall be the union of states,” says Article 1 of the Indian Constitution.
Yet, vested interests, historical blunders and political short-sightedness over a period led to a progressive hacking of the country’s synaptic connection with the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The popular narrative in the Valley which has so far dominated the discourse has been that it is Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that connects Kashmir with India — but the reality is that it has, over the years, alienated India from Kashmir and Kashmir from India.

Saturday 3 August 2019

8th Edition of Young Thinkers Meet at Bhubaneswar, Orissa

The annual meet organised by the prestigious India Foundation, was held in Orissa this time. I had the honour of taking part in a scintillating session on 'Unease of Liberals With Indian National Identity' with co-panelists Shubhrastha and Anand Ranganathan. Here are some snapshots:

Wake up Nayantara Sehgal, you are your own nightmare

This article first appeared on Ritam

On June 19, The Ideas Page of The Indian Express featured an article titled ‘Once upon a time, a nation’ in which noted novelist and author Nayantara Sehgal attempted to argue that the outcome of 2019 elections was based on ‘storytelling’ with no real basis. I disagree with her premise and here are the reasons why.
Sehgal claims that the nation of 130 crore people has bought a false story - again. The election result, she says, was no surprise to her and that was largely because of Yale professor Stanley Jason’s study of right-wing extremism and breakdown of democracies. Now, even as the mainstay of her argument is that a story was built ahead of the elections to fool people, what she presents in the following paragraphs is a spectacular formula story of her own.
Sehgal links the formula, as attributed to Stanley Jason, to contemporary India and draws the picture of a failing state. In Stanley’s formula the rise of right wing is hinged on a sense of fear, resentment, anger - be it in the form of mercenary majoritarianism or divisive nationalism. In this scenario, citizens are labelled, excluded and feared and a mood of hysteria is created. Even as Sehgal shows us this picture, she fails to notice that her own words and world view are also aimed at stoking fear and distrust – only hers is against a democratically elected government.

An engaging discussion with young medicos in Karnal

Shared my thoughts with members of National Medicos Organisation in Karnal, Haryana.
Here are some snapshots:

Modi is nothing if not a master of tough decisions

This article appeared on Ritam

The time period of 1942-47 found a curious mention by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech last week while interacting with newly elected MPs. Evoking the historic phase that galvanised the country against the colonial rulers, Modi said that a similar mobilisation is now needed to win the battle against poverty. Interestingly, this was the second consecutive speech since his stunning victory in which he repeatedly mentioned poverty elimination as a target.
India’s battle against poverty has seen several decades, elections, governments, leaders and social changes. The mandate of 2019, however, has changed India’s development linguistics. The mandate has rejected the offer of short-term benefits and spoken in favour of enduring solutions. The electorate has increasingly shown awareness of the fact that the problem needs a holistic approach targeting the 350 million Below Poverty Line (BPL) population and also encompassing the 400 million strong middle class.
It is a fact that the achievements of Modi’s first term have laid the ground for substantial gains in his second term. Check on pilferages and corruption, disbursement of benefits to more than 20 crore people and implementation of transparency in governance are only some of these measures. It was a result of these that the government was re-elected for a second time with a bigger mandate. It is safe to say that no one is more aware of the strength of this mandate than Narendra Modi himself who is likely to wage a multi-pronged onslaught for revolutionary outcomes.

Karnataka & Goa Congress defections: Political opportunism or did ideology never matter?

This write-up appeared in the Talk Point segment of The Print

My take: Congress workers are disenchanted today and looking to the other side, which is making the right moves

A political party represents a unity of ideas and a coming together of like-minded people. Leaders may join or leave a party any time, which is why the message that a party stands for is far more important that the leaders themselves.
Congress is facing a ‘Ship of Theseus’ crisis today because its leaders have become bigger than the party itself. The Congress leadership, organisation and its ideology in 2019 is in deep trouble because of this.

Thursday 27 June 2019

Modi is an informed choice in 2019

(This article first appeared in Kamal Sandesh)

If in 2014 Modi was a gamble, in 2019 he has been an informed choice; if vote for Modi then was an expression of anti-incumbency, this time it has been an assertion of right choice; if Modi’14 was magic and wave, then Modi‘19 is the voice of ‘New India’ loud and clear.
While the 2019 election seems to have built up on the aspirations of 2014, there is one crucial way in which it has been different. In this election we are no longer looking through the narrow prism of old vertical identities of caste, language and religion, among others. We have now seen the rise of new interest groups such as poor, women, youth, disabled and farmers. As the old watertight and discriminatory identities are now blurring, people are now relating more to the emerging interest groups that represent their concerns better. In 2019, Modi has effectively captured the imagination of these interest groups and has come to represent the voice of an India of new identities.

Should Rahul Gandhi get rid of Leftist aides or is it still not enough to revive Congress?

(This write-up appeared as a 'Quick Take' in The Print)

Rahul Gandhi should know when you raise issues of fringe groups, you are likely to end up becoming one

Any long-lasting political victory stands on the foundation of an ideological movement. The Congress party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi carried the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and many Gandhians were part of its politics in post-Independence era. But decades of political splits and dissensions denuded this foundation and by 2006, the advisory council led by Sonia Gandhi was already full of people who were Left-leaning.
In truth, Rahul Gandhi simply followed this pattern and it was not surprising that many of his advisers were old Communists and pushed ideas that suited them. For example, the national vice-president of any mainstream political party will not easily go to JNU to protest the arrest of a student leader charged with raising anti-India slogans. When you raise issues of fringe organisations, you are likely to end up becoming one and that is exactly what Rahul Gandhi’s Congress did in the last few years. At a time when the Lok Sabha elections were taking place in the backdrop of a major terror attack, promising abolition of AFSPA and sedition law becomes an ideological luxury that one cannot afford.
The Rahul Gandhi-led Congress, influenced by Left-leaning organisations, does not represent the value systems that it did half a century ago. While there may be structural and organisational shortcomings in Rahul Gandhi’s Congress, but the real work lies in reinventing its ideological foundation – the only thing that can ensure its survival.

Is Modi correct in saying media is biased against him in his pre-election interviews?

(This write-up appeared as a 'Quick Take' in The Print)

It is time journalists remove their tinted glasses and see Modi for the man and the PM he is

As chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi sustained a double-digit growth rate and started several innovative schemes, but was never credited in the media.
In the last five years too, Modi started several schemes that benefitted crores of people but an unbiased evaluation of these schemes was missing from the op-ed pages of the Delhi print media, especially the English media.
A section of the elite media sees him as an ‘outsider’ and approaches him with a sense of ‘otherness’. This segment does not see Modi as its representative. They are allowed to have their personal beliefs, but the problem is that it gets reflected in their professional output. Modi is an elected leader and even if journalists are unable to relate to Modi, they are duty-bound to cast their personal bias aside when making a journalistic call.
If Narendra Modi govt has built national highways at double the pace than the last government, if it has built crores of toilets, transferred more than Rs 5 lakh crore in more than 450 schemes through direct benefit transfer, or if it is talking about Dalit venture capitalist fund, then why these issues do not get as much mention as they deserve? If these schemes were implemented effectively, the benefit must have reached people from all sections of the society.
If the media were to be believed, Modi’s austerity is for shutterbugs, his interminable work hours a source of fun, and his nationalism just for show. Perhaps, this media should not be believed. Or, perhaps, it is time journalists removed their tinted glasses and see Modi for the man and the prime minister he is.

What can we expect from Narendra Modi in his second term?

(This write-up appeared as a 'Quick-Take' in The Print)

In his second term, Modi will make India more inclusive

If in 2014 Narendra Modi was a gamble, in 2019 he has been an informed choice. If the vote for Modi then was an expression of anti-incumbency, this time it has been an assertion of the right course. If Modi 1.0 was magic and wave, then Modi 2.0 is the voice of ‘New India’ loud and clear.
The Modi government was formed five years ago with the slogan of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas” and in 2019, “Sabka Vishwas” has been added to this equation. Over the span of his first term, Modi tried to reach every section of society through a range of schemes and programmes. These programmes directly benefitted over 20 crore people and it has been a result of this that the 2019 elections have defied the traditional vertical identities of caste, language and religion, among others.
We now have the rise of interest groups – women, farmers, disabled, poor – with which people associate more. Modi has emerged as the voice of these interest groups and during his second term, these groups will be heard more and more, as he moves to make a more inclusive India.
The task ahead for Modi is not easy, but he has never been the one to choose an easy goal. In Modi, India has found the leader who has the grit to take difficult decisions without electoral considerations. In the coming years, we can expect more action on the lines of ‘what must be done’ by the government instead of ‘what can be done’.

Sunday 23 June 2019

TMC & the land of holy terror

(This article first appeared in the DNA newspaper)

A roadshow of BJP national president Amit Shah was attacked in Kolkata.  Priyanka Sharma, an activist of BJP’s youth wing, is arrested in Kolkata for making a meme of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Journalists are heckled during election coverage in Asansol and the body of an opposition party activist is found hanging from a tree in Midnapore.
These are only some of the many incidents that signal that all is not well with democracy in the Mamata Banerjee-ruled West Bengal. The ‘Mamata model of politics’, it seems, has no room for opposition, media and free speech.