It’s hard to tell what any of the Indian parties stand for any more, as no longer do they clearly demarcate their political space and significance
It would be so much easier in India if we truly were a society divided into conservatives and liberals or fascists and free thinkers. We can be socially conservative and fiscally protectionist at the same time and see no contradiction. Our lefts and rights have become religious and cultural.
While this prime minister has pushed for development and not Hindutva since coming to power, it would be dangerous to forget that when Narendra Modi was CM of Gujarat, he never shied away from Hindutva. Pic/AFP
Even as we discuss the collapse of the Congress party and the rise of the BJP and the entrenched strength of regional set-ups, we would be hard-pressed to properly describe what they stand for any more. For instance, the reform of the Indian economy is shared between the Congress and the BJP and both seem to be on the same side sometimes. Half the reform bills the BJP is trying to pass were first drafted by the Congress!
So is the BJP the easiest to slot into a category? Certainly, it has its strong Hindutva credentials and the mess being made by the HRD and culture ministries to push forward Nagpur’s ideas of history and Indian-ness can be very distressing and downright dangerous in the lies told and believed.
But old-style Hindutva like breaking down a mosque to build a temple has got a little lost. Or perhaps it has metamorphosed into the sort of incidents we saw at Dadri where a man was lynched to death on suspicion of having eaten beef or the invention of a phenomenon called “love jihad” where Hindu women were being forced to fall in love with Muslim men as part of some diabolic Islamic plot. This version of Hindutva is different from the rioting that we saw in Gujarat in 2002, which was an all-out assault on Muslims to save Hindus. Instead, there are small incidents for maximum damage and impact. And as an added breaking point, the poor are presented as the enemy of development.
While this BJP prime minister has pushed for development and not Hindutva since coming to power — barring a few election speeches here and there — it would be dangerous to forget that when Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat he never shied away from Hindutva or from mocking and denigrating Muslims and Christians. It is also true that he has been relatively silent on the less civilised comments of his party and ministerial colleagues.
In Maharashtra, you have the piquant situation where the Shiv Sena sometimes appears to be the broad-minded liberal partner of this Hindutva coalition and the BJP is pushing an exclusive, narrow agenda. Perhaps though the Shiv Sena still resents that Modi stole the “Hindu Hriday Samrat” title for himself from the late Bal Thackeray?
It would be tempting then to pit the Congress as the liberal voice of India but that also would be far from the truth — though not as far as the BJP’s claim to any sort of inclusive open-mindedness. Just to drive home the point, a former chief minister of Goa, Ravi Naik of the Congress, has commented that Nigerians are not welcome in India. Racism as we know is not limited to any political party. It seems equal across the board. Remember AAP and Somnath Bharti?
Intolerance of criticism is not unique to the BJP either. The Congress has done its own share of banning and threatening writers and cartoonists. It has become very sensitive to criticism of the Nehru-Gandhi family in recent times, turning on its head Jawaharlal Nehru’s request to cartoonist Shankar to be as critical of him as possible. The same holds for all Indian political parties and their holy cows. But the Congress can no longer be all things to all people. More than a leader, it needs to find its political space and significance.
The Communists are an anachronism in today’s times as they are a misfit in a democracy. But they served a very important purpose of being the conscience of society, of standing up for the forgotten and the downtrodden. Sadly, even that role and their part in it has shrunk recently. They spent too many years ruling Bengal and not enough understanding how the world has changed.
Our regional parties are based largely on personality cults which ebb and flow. Ideology is not required at all here.
We are, in EM Forster’s memorable words, a muddle, the ultimate muddle, you might argue. Probably a sign of our civilisational greatness?
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona