When the polity swings right - ToI Blog

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by kseeker, May 18, 2014.

  1. kseeker

    kseeker Retired

    Jul 24, 2013
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    Narendra Modi has trounced the Congress roundly and demonstrated that voters today value the prospect of prosperity much more than identity and voice for their communities, offering which some parties had thrived in the past. The Congress strategy of voluble championing of minority rights even as Congress-led governments lock up Muslim youths on unproven or subsequently disproved terror charges, has served to alienate both the minorities and the majority. For the first time ever, the Congress share of the popular vote has slipped below the BJP’s — 19.3% vs 31%. The vote shares have flipped from 2009. Even in 1998, when the Congress had got just 118 seats against the BJP’s 182, its vote share of 28.3% had been five percentage points higher than the BJP’s.

    The tale goes beyond the Congress and the BJP, of course. By choosing to declare that they did not care about Modi’s close association with the Sangh Parivar and its Hindutva project, of which the Gujarat riots are just one instance, voters would appear to have given the polity a distinct rightward push. But it would be a mistake to over-read this. There are two distinct reasons for this.
    One, voters needed an alternative to the Congress for venting their pent-up anger against corruption, indecision, growth slowdown and inflation, all of them brazenly held out to the voters packaged in smug certainty that there was no alternative if you wished to stay secular.

    Two, about 65% of voters have voted against the BJP and its allies. And for the 100 million or so new voters added to the rolls this time around, the Gujarat riots happened when they were at the most 10 years old, some would have been as young as six. They know of the riots only through the election discourse, in which they also hear about the Congress’ culpability for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, not to speak of the atrocities committed against the local populace by security forces in Kashmir and the Northeast, with the impunity offered by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. For them, there was no real choice untainted by sectarian violence between the BJP and the Congress.

    Nobody pointed out to them that, as an ongoing project, Hindutva closes the democratic space from which a true alternative has to emerge more effectively than the occasional, opportunistic bouts of communalism on the Congress’ part.
    For the new voters, Narendra Modi came across as a person who looked, acted and sounded like a leader while Rahul Gandhi, coached by apolitical, rootless wunderkinds, came across as the caricature so popular as the butt of a million Rahul Gandhi jokes that whiz around in cyberspace.

    To not overestimate the polity’s rightward shift is not to underestimat it either. Even if nearly two-thirds the voters have voted against Modi, the levers of state power are now with him. He is bold in his imagination, aggressive in execution and thorough in planning — he has already launched his 2019 campaign, saying he needs 10 years to deliver on his promise. He owes a big debt to the RSS and the rest of the Parivar, all of whom worked tirelessly for his victory. When these creditors call in their debts, the polity will squirm.
    But, it is not the end of the idea of India as the world in microcosm, where diverse identities coexist in harmony, without being forced to merge into an amalgam. Yes, a dark shadow hovers over it but we have not yet put out the light in order to put out the light.
    Political forces that work to take Indian society closer to, rather than away from, the Constitution’s ideal of liberal democracy have to work honestly and tirelessly round the year, on all fronts, and not just in overtly political activity at election time. They have to work as political parties that truly represent the people’s concerns and seek to enforce their rights, instead of promising patronage during polls. They have to work in education, in skill-enhancement, in improving healthcare, in the entire range of cultural production that shapes the public discourse.

    In this, the media deserves special attention. Television, print and the new media will play an ever-increasing role in sharpening public interrogation of power. Equally, it can divert attention from such interrogation through breathless focus on sensation, glitz and trivia..
    Mastery over the media has been a strong building block of the Modi effect. And it would be a mistake to credit it just to money power. He planned it, he genuinely excited thousands of media volunteers ,who, in turn, inspired thousands more of volunteers on the ground to spread his word. Modi deserves flattery for what he had done with the media — flattery of the best kind.
    The forces of democracy have to go far beyond training spokespersons to create a public discourse that is critical, liberal and plural. That is a sorely needed guard against further rightward movement of the polity.

    When the polity swings right | Times of India Blogs

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