The events of the last four years have hugely damaged our democratic institutions. Left parties need to grab every opportunity to ensure that the BJP is kept off the seat of power.
A lot of debate has been generated after the Communist Party of (India) Marxist’s central committee voted in favour of not entering into an electoral alliance with the Congress party in the forthcoming general elections (2019). On the one hand, Aniket Alam’s article thinks that not entering into such an alliance would help the BJP, while on the other, T. Jayaraman states that the CPI(M) needs to visualise that short-term alliances will not help and a long-term goal of building a mass movement is what is needed.
In arguing that the Left parties’ primary role is to build enduring people’s movements, Jayaraman seems to have ignored the reality that these are not ordinary times. The politics of Hindutva, practiced by the RSS-BJP over the last four years, has severely undermined democratic spaces and further marginalised the underprivileged and the poor.
Jayaraman hinges his argument on a superficial and flawed understanding of Hindutva. The author argues that “the roots of its rise to the current state lay in substantial measure in the nature of Congress rule and in particular the UPA governments of 2004 to 2014”. This is truly a flawed notion.
Hindu nationalism, with its roots going back to the freedom movement, got a boost in the 1980s, when the Sangh’s agenda of constructing a Ram Temple at Ayodhya came to dominate politics. Hindutva did not suddenly manifest itself with the ascendance of the Narendra Modi government. The BJP is a small element in the larger scheme of Hindutva politics. Its ideological fountainhead – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – operates at multiple levels through its pracharaks, members in mass and fringe organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal.
The politics of cultural nationalism essentially has two components. One of them involves disseminating the Sangh’s ideology and moulding society and culture by ensuring the Sangh’s presence in educational institutions, the media and social movements. The second involves state patronage to RSS activities in different fields – a process that has accelerated over the last four years. The so-called ‘fringe’, which also happens to be an integral part of Hindu nationalist politics, has decidedly been emboldened since the 2014 general elections.
Following the BJP’s ascendance to power at the Centre, various elements loyal to the Sangh’s ideology have grown more and more assertive. Violence against minorities and Dalits has escalated. This is a critical moment when political parties opposed to the BJP ideology should leverage every opportunity that comes their way to keep the BJP out of the seat of power. This is crucial to reclaiming lost democratic spaces.
The Congress, surely, is not the ideal torchbearer of secularism, or of economic and social justice. But there is no denying that there are fundamental differences in the core values espoused by the BJP and Congress. The Congress allows for expansion of democratic spaces and popular struggles. Besides, the party is not a part of any ‘supra organisation’ like the RSS, whose goals are far removed from those enshrined in the Indian constitution. The BJP-RSS politics rakes up emotive issues which are not easy to combat, regardless of how irrational they are.
Jayaraman seems to endorse the Prakash Karat line, which perceives the BJP as just another electoral party with sharp authoritarian and communal tendencies. While the Congress is no angel, every victory notched up by the BJP paves the way for further penetration of Hindutva ideology into the country’s social and political fabric.
Jayaraman is right in stressing that mere electoral defeat of the BJP is not going to save the country from Hindu nationalist politics. Equally, however, there is a need to acknowledge that every BJP victory is reducing the possibility of survival of a tolerant and plural ethos whose roots are embedded in the freedom movement.
Let’s consider the present election scenario. The Bihar model of alliances has now come apart. But the last assembly polls showed that a large network of alliances against the BJP can defeat the massive propaganda and money power of the saffron party. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP could romp home because there was a split in opposition votes. Assam followed the same pattern.
No doubt, the Congress cannot be given supreme powers. But in case a coalition is put together, the Left can take the lead on issues related to economy, foreign affairs, rights of minorities and the marginalised. Recall that till the time the Left pulled out of the UPA, they were a positive influence on the government, facilitating the passage of progressive rights-based legislations, and also occupying the space of the opposition.
It is indeed time that we put aside such illusory concepts that the Congress is a secular party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. At the same time, it is imperative on our part to realise the extent to which the BJP has damaged India’s secular fabric. In believing the BJP to be like any other party, Jayaraman seems unable to comprehend the gravity of the danger to democracy. One needs to take serious note of the qualitative change in the nature and frequency of violence that has taken place since 2014, targeting religious minorities, Dalits and farmers.
Ram Puniyani is chairman, Centre of Study of Society and Secularism and has written several books including Communal Politics: Facts Versus Myths (Sage, 2003), Deconstructing Terrorist Violence (Sage 2015), Indian Nationalism versus Hindu Nationalism (Pharos 2014) and Caste and Communalism (Olive 2013).