Shiv Visvanathan on new India under the BJP govt

There is also jingoism in the air. The most popular news anchor literally conducts a Kangaroo court which has become India’s favourite soap opera. One senses a catharsis as we consumes this cocktail of jingoism, vigilantism and witch-hunting.

Social scientists prefer hunches and intuitions to the banality of facts. Facts speak and often loudly. But the world, an academic might be interested in, can be full of signs which need interpretation, a world where anxieties precede theories and the certainty of surveys. A social scientist is in many ways a soothsayer wanting to anticipate the future to create scenarios, warnings of trends before they become too real.

Repression

There is an ambiguity about the idea of India one needs to tackle. The defeat of the Congress and the rise of the Modi regime is almost read as a celebration of the impact of a younger middle-class generation. It is as if an India stifled by years of “zombie Congress” burst open like a pressure cooker, exploring with a sense of liberation, sensing a new theatre where desire, religiosity, revivalism, could unfold without being suppressed by old codes and constructions. It was heralded as the coming of the age of “new era”. All this is true but beneath the sense of the new order, one can see the rise of old repressions of power.

The new majoritarianism might have emerged but it is nursing old repressions and old ambitions. Firstly, the dissent of the left has almost disappeared. Instead, what one also sees is the emergence of the right expressed in many forms from BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri asking dissenters to “go to Pakistan,” Shiv Sena MP stuffing chapatti into a fasting Muslim’s mouth, or a BJP member calling Sania Mirza, a “daughter-in-law of Pakistan.” There is a return to jingoism which is disturbing.

As there is no open condemnation, one assumes it is the order of the day. One sees it in media reports where apart from threats to dissenters one sees a sanitisation of personalities. Apart from the sanitisation of Modi, we saw the sanitisation of Amit Shah. A wider process is seen in social media domains where there is resentment about India’s earlier positions. One sees this in attitudes to Israel where “Hindu right” supporters emerges as a defender of Israel in Gaza. Our middle-class has decided terror needs to be punished but it has become indiscriminating about who the terrorist is. All of Palestine in Gaza gets tarred with the Hamas brush and one wonders whether this new assertiveness has any sense of the availability of fairness. Every day one reads reports of women and children as victims and yet “new” India seems indifferent.

The current wave of majoritarianism creates an impasse in politics. Victims emphasising how old regimes had ignored Kashmiri Pandits and minorities in neighbouring countries now ignore Muslims under fire. Does one form of erasure demand another? Since the left ignored A, the right feels balance can only be restored by erasing B?

As a result we add to the volume of injustice, compounding the violence in our society. The rage against history is such that new violence gets caught in all categories. Each group by deciding whose suffering can be recognised create huge pockets of pain to lapse into silence. Such mechanical reactions will no longer do. To the eloquence of new politics about certain issues, one can add the obscenity of old silence. Issues like Narmada or AAP’s attempt to revive itself are no longer be seen as newsworthy. What emerges is the power of media to define an issue. Suddenly NGOs are seen as trouble.

Jingoism
There is also jingoism in the air. The most popular news anchor literally conducts a Kangaroo court which has become India’s favourite soap opera. One senses a catharsis as we consumes this cocktail of jingoism, vigilantism and witch-hunting. It is TV McCarthyism of an intense kind. I think we should not be naive about what is going on. Dissent will be squashed and the party and media knows how to convert yesterday’s dissenters into stale news. An example is Gopal Subramanium. He was news for a day or two and then disappears as if he does not exist. Instead the attention shifts from the BJP’s treatment to an attack on the court itself. Katju’s stories come in handy to create new legitimacies, new forms of suppression.

Tolerance
Not only is the situation new but the new has no myths of tolerance. What sustained an older India was the fact that the folklore of syncretism and Bollywood myths of reconciliation created a climate of tolerance. Apart from an oddball movie like Filmistan which builds a unity of India and Pakistan around films, we do not see the operation of old myths, the revival of old bonds. The new India’s myth are aspirational, competitive, individualistic and one senses even Bollywood is a bit mystified by the loss of old myths.

What we have now is what I call a set of miniature McCarthyism’s. A repressed section of the majority treats the electoral victory as a way to settle scores. Its stereotypes project the norms of behaviour and minorities, dissenting groups, activists in civil society are worried to get in line. Ugly incidents begin to appear normal and a kind of bullying becomes a normal.

The politician decides what is patriotic and confuses patriotism and citizenship. But a BJP that focuses too much on the “culture of governance” which brushes aside these events, may face a different electorate next time.

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