The sweep is certainly breathtaking. Way beyond what most surveys and exit polls predicted. To be sure, our commitment to the democratic spirit demands that we recognize the mandate for what it is – at least on the face of it. And on the face of it, it is a triumph of the Modi-led BJP. Behind it, of course, lies the organizational machinery of the RSS and its familial organizations.
However, it will be a mistake to think that the election was fought and won by any of these outfits. From 1998 onward, the BJP, backed by the same RSS parivar, has continuously registered a decline in vote share, irrespective of whether it was in power or out of it. From 25.6 percent in 1998, it declined to 22.2 percent in 2004 and further to 18.8 percent in 2009. The presence of younger people in RSS shakhas too has been significantly on the decline in this period and in particular, after 2004. In period of the run-up to the elections, the BJP was a ramshackle and directionless party – its top leaders like LK Advani and Jaswant Singh disgraced and then brought back; Atal Behari Vajpayee knocked out of action for quite some time by then and practically all state units riven with internal dissension. As a consequence, it was also a party therefore, with completely demoralized ranks.
How then did the change come about? As long as our eyes remain fixed on the supposedly ‘political’ domain, we are unlikely to be able to see what exactly has been going on. The fact of the matter is that Narendra Modi was neither BJP’s candidate of choice nor that of the RSS. This election was fought by the corporate sector directly, along with the Big Media – the surrogates of the corporate sector. The plan to set up Modi was put in place by these players. And in this process, the emergence of the Big Media as a full-fledged propaganda machine of Modi’s constitutes a significant moment. It is a moment that actually awaits a more detailed study of how exactly the game plan was put into operation but one thing can be said right away. What brought about this result was not just the machinery of the Sangh parivar but the mobilization of a whole range of opinion makers to serve what was to be a clearly Hindutva framed political formation. Most of these intellectuals and opinion-makers are economically right-wing (neoliberal fundamentalists) although not Hindu-communal, but while they do not seriously believe that Modi has shed his Hindutva skin, they are prepared to join the propagation of lies, lies and lies in the service of corporate capital, disguised as the ‘greater good of humanity’.
In any case, there is a little bit of Hindutva in the logic of the Indian state itself – and the UPA/ Congress record bears ample testimony to that. So, a little more is not really intolerable provided Modi is able to take the ‘tough decisions’ that the UPA 2 found itself unable to, in the face of mass struggles. These tough decisions relate, it hardly bears repeating, to the quick acquisition of land for industry and waiving of environmental clearances for corporate projects. The corporate sector got two environment ministers removed but to no effect. Now was the time to move.
The great victory that this combination scored at some point in the last couple of years lay in its drawing large sections of the most aggressive and vocal Hindu middle class into this idea of replicating the ‘Gujarat model’ on the national scale. Hindutva would be the frame that need no longer be spoken about. You simply needed to say ‘Gujarat model’ and the rest would be understood by the discerning listener. Neither the Leader nor his followers needed to say anything about Hindus and Muslims separately. The magic would work irrespective.
And yet, despite all this, it is by no means certain that the Modi phenomenon would have gathered the kind of political support that it did, had it not been for the corruption, loot and hubris of the Congress government. The Congress, ably supported by a large section of secular, leftist intellectuals, has made secularism into a joke. We are supposed to deposit ourselves, bound hand and foot, at the feet of the Congress, never oppose their loot of the public exchequer, stay silent at the plunder of the commons sanctioned by them, and simply sings bhajans to them for ‘protecting us from fascism’. It was this Congress-besotted attitude that led many of this secular-left intelligentsia to see an ‘RSS conspiracy’ in the anti-corruption movement right from its Anna Hazare phase. Any opposition to anything done by the Congress is tantamount to playing into RSS hands, according to this perverted logic. This cynical game of secularism is what has now come to an end. We will all have to pay a tremendous price for it, but if this defeat becomes an occasion for introspection and an examination of our established ways of doing secular politics, we might still be able to rise to the occasion to meet the challenge.
Unlike the period of NDA 1 (1998-2004), the situation today is radically different. The big change is that the long winter of deadening consensus on neoliberalism has been broken. Struggles against land acquisition have challenged many common sense assumptions about so-called ‘economic growth’. A new formation has arisen in the form of the Aam Aadmi Party that has broken the political deadlock and raised important questions about the commons and about issues such as gas, electricity and water pricing and privatization. The issue of ‘corruption’ has acquired clearer contours now and the stage is set for the larger battle in coming months and years. New battles will be now fought on the streets of cities and towns and in villages. The battle is against corporate plunder and will continue. The setback can at best be temporary. The future will still be ours.