ACHIN VANAIK | 17 APRIL, 2017

India's New Consensus 2: The Sangh's Next Moves


NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to voters as an incorruptible politician. His poor OBC background — a first for India’s prime minister — further boosts his popularity. Over time, this highly exaggerated self-projection might lead to a dramatic popular disillusionment, but if the short-term gains are important enough — as they are in Uttar Pradesh — the long-term benefits are also considerable.

For example, Modi believed that the demonetization gamble would win him huge public support. Despite the fact that it imposed substantial socioeconomic distress on a wide scale, the strategy has succeeded. PM Modi came across as a single-minded warrior against the rich and their ill-gotten wealth. The assembly election results in UP and elsewhere underline that Modi won the battle of perceptions. Those who suffered as a result of demonetization believed they were making a honorable sacrifice for the greater public good. Modi effectively welded class resentment to nationalist fervor.

This victory now makes many courses of action that once seemed distant more feasible. Most importantly, of course, Modi and the BJP are now the frontrunners for the next general elections, which are due in mid-2019. Assembly elections in Gujarat (currently held by the BJP) and Himachal Pradesh (held by the INC) will take place in November–December 2017. The BJP will pull out all stops to win these, particularly the Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat, where the main contender is once again the Congress. In November–December 2018, elections are due in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh (MP), and Chhattisgarh, all three ruled by BJP administrations. Modi may call for general elections around that time.

The central government has already put out floaters to assess support for synchronizing the central and state elections. The BJP no doubt feels this change would play to its advantage everywhere and set a precedent for future elections. Adopting synchronized elections, however, would reduce the political diversity that has marked the Indian polity since the late 1960s,which have made it much more difficult for a single party to dominate the whole country.

In July, an electoral college — consisting of MPs from both houses of parliament and MLAs from the state assemblies — will choose a new president. The BJP’s gains in the state assemblies almost certainly guarantee that they will get to pick the president.

In 2020, seats in India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, will be up for election, and its composition will depend on how well parties do in the next general elections. The BJP wants to ensure that it holds a two-thirds majority in both houses, which will put it in a position to carry out major constitutional amendments. Should this happen, it may move toward a system of governance more centered on the president.

The Sangh has its own policy ambitions, many of them religious in nature. In UP, it will likely build the Ram Mandir, which it wants to place on a site where a mosque was destroyed in 1992. The plan has been held in abeyance by the Supreme Court since then, but the BJP/RSS might start construction after making a deal with the puppet Muslim religious organization in the disputed area. Such a deal would give them legal justification.

The temple would concretize the Sangh’s claims that India is not only a Hindu nation but in fact a Hindu state in all but name. The surprise announcement that Yogi Adityanath — a godman turned politician (with criminal cases lodged against him) and hitherto seena s occupying the extreme ‘fringe’ among Hinutva fanatics — I the clearest signal that the temple issue will be upfront for the 2019 general elections.

The Sangh will also push for outlawing triple talaq within the Muslim community. All progressive sections of society, including many Muslim women, will support this plan.

Much trickier would be trying to establish a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), although the Sangh has long called for one. Any genuinely non-discriminatory UCC would have to address the patriarchal characteristics of existing Hindu inheritance and tax laws as well as marriage customs. This explains why, for all their tirades against Muslim law, the Sangh has never put forward a draft UCC for public discussion.

We can also expect mobilizations and proposals to ban the sale of beef and its transport nationwide. Yogi Adityanath has already announced the closure of “illegal” abattoirs in UP, which has encouraged physical assaults on Muslim-run businesses as well as sending a political message that Hindutva concerns on various fronts will be strongly advanced.

Existing efforts to carry out education reform will be enhanced at both the central level and in states ruled by the BJP. Already, the Sangh has revised curricula and hired new personnel in hopes of changing the terms of intellectual discourse. Since 2014, central universities have faced systematic assaults, including physical violence. Most recently, the students and faculty in Delhi University, the country’s largest, have seen an attack on freedom of speech and of association in the name of preventing supposedly antinational discourse and organization. Self-censorship and fear of physical reprisals have become widespread among dissenters, critics, and even neutral parties.

Labor reforms that give more power to employers to set wage and working conditions have already been introduced, and many more are on the way, further pushing the economy in a neoliberal direction.

The BJP will also become more aggressive in the Kashmir Valley, and they will likely escalate their attempt to finish off the Naxalites in Central India, irrespective of the collateral damage inflicted on local tribes. This is no campaign to win over hearts and minds.

The government will also accelerate the effort to make holding a Unique Identification Document necessary if not compulsory for all citizens. Given the absence of meaningful safeguards against invasion of privacy, this will start transforming India into a strong surveillance state. The Sangh has always wanted this outcome so that it can better monitor the behavior not only of its principal enemies — Muslims and the Left — but also of those it considers opponents of the Hindutva project.

Higher levels of the judiciary have shown some resistance to the Modi regime, but they will not remain immune to the shifting balances of forces in society at large.

(Tomorrow: Part 3 The Opposition)

(This article first appeared in Jacobin)

(Part one: here)

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