Decades ago in the 1960s, Charlie Chaplin, the legendary star of the silent era produced a ‘talkie’ film called A Countess from Hong Kong. Life magazine, currently extinct, panned it commenting, “it was pickled in the formaldehyde of the 30s”. Listening to the language and rhetoric of the BJP politics and policy, I was reminded of this acerbic comment: if one were to view the party as a film script, one is tempted to pan it as being pickled in the social sciences of the 19th century.
The BJP is a votary of many 19th-century ideas ranging from the potted nationalism of Mazzini and Garibaldi, the Semiticised Hinduism, the Victorian order of positivist science, the 19th century faith in progress and technology. The BJP is a dynamic party in terms of the past and the present but it is empty about the future. In fact, apart from the idea of smart cities, its intellectual coffers have almost nothing to offer. What it survives on for ideas is a populist modernity which has no sense of the future.
The future is one constituency where the BJP has few enthusiasts.
Political parties, particularly the opposition, need to understand the possibilities of the future if they wish to out-think the BJP. The out-datedness of the BJP stems from the following ideas. It lacks a sense of ecology and even its sense of the sacredness of nature is provincialised to a few rivers. It does not see the interlinking of rivers as a sacrilege. It has hypothecated the coastline to corporations, sadly destroying the great commons.
Stuck as it is to the rigid idea of the nation-state, it has no imagination for South Asia. Beyond security and development, its vision is mediocre. It is techno-fundamentalist, and seeks to combine an ancient idea of religion with the fundamentalism of technology. It has no critique of technology, no sense of the future of agriculture as its handling of the recent protests showed, no sensitivity to unemployment, obsolescence or extinction. Its sense of democracy does not range beyond the electoral and the majoritarian. It is hostile to the university as a knowledge community.
I suggest setting up a series of the futures groups, innovative networks to rethink the future. In the long run, the opposition can come alive as the mobility-aspiring, Indian middle-class slowly confronts the nature of the new global enclosure.
The BJP is currently playing around with educational reports, meddling with the syllabus without sensing the holism and interconnectivity of knowledge, confusing science with technology, seriously damaging the autonomy of sciences, mistaking rankings for an index of quality. A team on the future of the university and the universities of the future is sorely needed. One is not advocating a mimicry of BJP think-tanks obsessed with internal security and tract-two diplomacy. I am asking the university to reassert itself before we are condemned to decades of mediocrity.
Secondly, it is wagering its future on the theories of violence and security without any sense of the ironies and inventiveness of violence. A year book of violence or even a Parliamentary report would blow its record on governance to smithereens.
As a majoritarian party, it lacks the pluralism to encompass the margins, the minority, the dissenting, the defeated, the informal and one has to see the future as a composite of these groups. These are future constituencies for the opposition, not only for a politics of resentment but for a politics which adds to the future of the democratic imagination. The opposition needs to understand that the BJP sees diversity as divisive and is seeking to police present and future around it. The opposition has to realise that diversity is the compost heap around which it can revive.
All the parties are hanging onto the past, to constituencies which have disappeared years ago. They are confusing strategy and tactics hoping to relive former victories.
The BJP, over the last 10 years, created a new constituency, a middle class, youth. It is time for a new imagination, a new kind of politics which goes beyond the current maths of psephology. The future beckons as a constituency. The question is whether Yechury, Rahul, Omar, Stalin, the new Dalit generation, the democratising Muslim prefer to remain period pieces (out of an Indian Tussauds) or consider an open-ended invitation to a new polity.