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When some citizens, hand-to-mouth by any economic reckoning, are heard defending the unconscionable price rise that now bludgeons millions of households in the republic, one needs to know that Narendra Modi has forged his Trumpean constituency. Their sentiment on his behalf defies interrogation, analysis and fact.
Whether this constituency numbers all of the 37% voters who voted in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (read Modi) in 2019, remains a question.
This caveat is for the reason that the aforesaid 37% must have included many in Himachal Pradesh in that year who have recently – and comprehensively – defected to the wretchedly obdurate Indian National Congress in the by-polls just concluded there.
Yet, the existence of the Trumpean constituency must be recognised to be a dour fact of India’s contemporary political moment.
The meta-historical impetus behind the emergence of this constituency is nowhere better suggested than in Narendra Modi’s so-significant utterance as he entered the parliament for the first time in 2014.
He gave vent to the subliminal sentiment that “after 1,200 years, slave mentality” had ended.
Ergo, India had not been enslaved by the colonising British with the advent of the British East India Company – and later by the British crown directly – but indeed by the invading Muslims from the time of Ghori and Ghazni.
Thus, if Trump thrived on the propagation of how the East Coast Liberals had cheated blue-collar white Americans over centuries by pampering the Blacks and other minorities (never mind that this construction of American history post-independence may have been an unsubstantiated canard), Modi’s declaration enunciated a comparable sentiment – that Muslims, pampered by liberal secularists, had subjugated Hindus for well over a millennium.
Both formulations thereby constructed a view of the purported victimhood of the majority at the hands of an unduly, even heinously favoured, minority.
In India, this construction may seem to many as being particularly creative, since Hindus, constituting a majority, still comprise over 80% of the population.
The idea has been that the poverty, relegation and all forms of destitution suffered by majority Hindus have not been due to either regressive cultural practices or the overall inadequate resource base of Indian productive life, or the class-based economic management of those resources by successive governments, but owing to the existence of a usurping Muslim minority which, after all, is the descendent of a foreign breed – unlike ‘us’ Aryans who never arrived from outside but are indigenous to Bharat Varsha.
The fact, as demonstrated by the Sachar Committee Report, that Indian Muslims seem to have guzzled but very little of India’s riches is here of no account; nor the fact that secularist governments, accused forever of having pampered Muslims, may have, in actuality, brought about negligible advancement among Muslims, contrary to their impugned culpability in the matter.
One telling recognition on behalf of Muslims who did choose to go over to the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014 deserves pondering: many express the realisation that, while they may have prospered little under previous regimes, they were never made to feel alien or experience fear walking down the streets of the Hindi belt, even during the government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The larger design
The majority-victimhood perception has, as stipulated by many foresighted historians of culture, been in recent years sought to be extended to the ideological assertion that the victims have been those to whom India truly and exclusively belongs.
This assertion, as has often been noted, was first voiced by Savarkar in Hindutva: Who is a Hindu (1923).
He was to make it known that all those whose chief religious allegiance lies with structures of worship in lands outside their land of birth – Mecca and Jerusalem – cannot qualify to be legitimate inhabitants of Bharat Varsha.
In 1938, Golwalkar (We, Our Nationhood Defined) was to build on that thesis to say that unless Muslims learnt to revere Hindu gods and goddesses and honour the religious rituals and practices of the majority Hindus, their claims to equal citizenship would be in jeopardy.
The caption “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” thus came to capture the essence of the majority cultural paradigm of nationhood – much like the Anglo-Saxon White American assertion of the Ku Klux Klan, a dour Trumpean base.
Over the last seven years, this cultural re-make of the idea of India has progressed by leaps and bounds, thanks to the clout of assenting state machinery, aided by voluntary cultural warriors who, in turn, are blessed by the state.
The success of this project can now be gauged from the fact that many among the hoi polloi are not only willing to disregard the unprecedented price rise of articles of everyday consumption across the board (pulling down millions more into below subsistence levels of existence), but to defend it with zest.
Never in India’s post-Independence history has such a sleight-of-hand been known to have either occurred or found such cussed political articulation.
We must understand that this zest derives from the success of the brainwash that being Hindu-born is, in and of itself, a measure of great privilege and well-being – indeed a fact that overrides all objective indices of livelihood concern.
That drilled self-perception thus helps the acolyte to argue that the increased revenues that come from the indigent pocket are necessary for a benign state and government to finance ‘so many’ welfare schemes, including providing free vaccination to millions.
That vaccinations have been provided free to citizens in rich counties without such exorbitant raids on the poor pocket remains an unheard thing; or the fact that such vaccinations have been provided in Europe and America by enhancing taxes on those who either never pay or can afford to pay in large sums of money.
Those kinds of people in India, being allies of the government, remain cosily safe and nary a Trumpean supporter of the Modi government minds the fact.
If anything, such supporters feel obliged to the numero uno personally for the bonanzas (invisible on the ground among some 80% Indians). As the populace, we are told, used to feel towards some benevolent monarch, even if a Moghul.
Despite all that, however, a two-thirds majority – at the least – of Indians remain unconvinced and express themselves when the opportunity offers itself, as in recent by-polls to three parliamentary and 29 assembly seats. Of these, the ruling party lost two parliamentary and 22 assembly ones.
That does suggest that all is not lost. Especially when one notes that in the elections in Himachal Pradesh – home to the BJP party president and several other stalwarts like Anurag Thakur of the northeast Delhi riots fame – the opposition Congress swept the polls four to none. The campaign did not revolve around some cultural issues, but on the calamity brought about by price rise.
To vanquish such secular politics, the ruling party nonetheless continues to take recourse to the one plank it thinks may best lead it to the finish line in the forthcoming elections to five state assemblies, among them Uttar Pradesh.
This plank has just expressed itself in a “record-breaking” (so much of religious observance having become a matter of breaking records) exhibition of diya lights in Ayodhya, accompanied by such ‘statesman-like’ utterances that, where public funds used to be spent (by secular-liberal governments) on “kabaristans”, they are now spent on “temples”.
What could be a more telling revelation of how far the Indian state has come from constitutional injunctions, in pursuit of the aforesaid meta-historical objective.
It will, of course, remain to be seen whether or not this will have decisive traction at the hustings in months from now. We must also not ignore the fact that the ruling campaigns will be backed by unprecedented wads of money that the ruling party has been garnering from the un-named corporates via the mysteriously shrouded electoral bonds facility.
And who cares if these un-fathered moneys comprise unaccounted wealth; for all we know, since all efforts by citizen groups to have the electoral bonds scheme thrown open to public gaze and scrutiny remain strenuously stone-walled.
Then there is also the other fact – one that Chanakya had thoughtfully prescribed, namely the politics of bhed (division).
In that stratagem, the ruling party, for all we can see, may continue to be helped by the inability of secular opposition forces to transcend party interests in favour of a united battle against monochromatic authoritarianism.
For now, the Trumpean constituency, helped along by a so-understanding media, is hammer and tongs at secular liberals, in and out of organised politics.
Not many satraps seem anymore to even remember that the republic has a constitution which alone, in law, may legitimate governmental and political action.
It is sought to be made known every day how they (the ‘constitutional secularists’, that is) are the ones who have brought Hindus low, enmeshed the republic in backwardness, robbed the ‘Vishva Guru’ of its pride of place among the comity of nations, and rubbished the rich scions of the republic by shedding tears for the destitute who, after all, only suffer the consequences of their karma.
For now, the Indians who stand rock-like against these mythical projections are the dour farmers. But, how their tough-minded movement may or may not contribute to the prospects of electoral campaigns and results thereof still remains a question.
Meanwhile, the spectre of the living Trump calls the shots.
Badri Raina taught English at Delhi University.