The Limits of Efficient Suasion : Rina Ramdev

This is a guest post by RINA RAMDEV

The Prime Minister’s monogrammed suit and the HRD Minister’s fake degree in the early days of the BJP’s 2014 electoral win were embarrassments dotting the uneasy calm that prevailed over the new digital, development avatar of the nation; even as a sense of the slouching beast waiting to break through the controlled, contained quietism was always there in deferred menace. And thus, when majoritarian sentiment fuelled the ‘Ghar waapsi’ campaign and the ban on cow slaughter found a mainstreaming in minority witch hunting, there was an eerie expectedness to these turns. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s minatory address, carrying the subtext of a communal cleansing in sinister remand, visibilized itself in the horrific lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri. Mostly civil voices of protest raged against this as well as against the organised killings of questioning rationalists like Pansare and Kalburgi. Sections of the thinking polity mobilised signature campaigns, petitions and an entire event like the‘Award waapsi’ drew attention to this vitiated political climate.

Programmatic Action

These were largely liberal reactions from sections of civil society, rather than concerted programmatic actions. Importantly, in all of this, the organised Left and its frontal bodies were unable to take on any kind of vanguardist role. It was left to amorphous groups or nebulous platforms to ally and align against the BJP government. Earlier this month an event organised by student groups in JNU to debate the  hanging of Afzal Guru and other related issues invited sedition charges against a select few present and also the arrest of the student union President, Kanhaiya Kumar. A few others were forced to go underground.  Solidarity meetings and rallies to mark this have been shows of strength, with some Left party leaders also putting their weight behind the protesting University.

And yet the Left cannot afford to isolate the agitation at HCU or JNU as watershed putschist and complacently piggy back those gains. Large rallies, demonstrations can very easily lose the import of their staging when not followed by sustained and continued mobilisations. There is already outside of the visible surge around big universities, a stealthier, insidious deployment of that same ‘nationalism’, conveyed in abstractions now that are cunningly more visceral in their mass appeal. When quite simply, distinct binaries between the nation and its other – the antinational university, can whip up sentiment for an uncomplicated identificatory reach, then it’s dangerous to dismiss even the infinitesimal. Also, because on offer to the passive complicity of the mitlaufers, is an easy exonerative possibility that lies in an attaching to the imputations within that rhetoric, an integrative, immutable attachment to the nation as ‘mother’ in times of siege. For this, the Right’s storm-troopers infiltrate RWAs and family units with entreaties of belonging that dovetail the family with the nation, and within which associatives like sangh and parivar can quite easily acquire an emotive communitarian resonance. How the Right is effectively infusing a cadre spirit in the mohalla, as it does in the akhara, is part of a peace time strategy that is also craftily being nurtured for contingencies of an everyday tactical warfare.

The Logistics of Micro-Mobilization

This micro level civic mobilizing is already resulting in smaller demonstrations in street corners. And even as these might willfully escape media attention, they carry the potential of congealing in the popular imagination. In the last one month the sudden, unheralded appearance of a juloos sloganeering against deshdrohis sighted first outside the Akshardham temple and then in the by-lanes of Civil Lines and Malviya Nagar in Delhi; also the burning of a ‘JNU effigy’ at the otherwise quiet South Campus, DU along with the Saraswatipuja now officially hosted inside colleges to mark the festival, indicate an entrenching that is well calculated and worked out and not one that can be dismissed as sporadic or provisional. This steady build up should in many ways warn of what the Liberhan Commission had reported on the Babri Masjid demolition – namely, the commissioning, organising of clusters of young men who were later synchronised as karsevaks for the demolition. How this had been happening while everyday life carried on, had come as a surprise to many.

The foremost lesson on cadre based fascist forces is to develop and augment metrics for a genetic kinship, penetrate and harness the forces of pastoral power in smaller bases. Deleuze and Guattari call out fascism for its, “molecular or micropolitical power” and the Right in India has unfailingly always exploited that. Sudden surges like the ‘award waapsi’ or institutional unrest and the challenges they mount will run up against the proliferating registers that are being marshalled against the well meaning but largely defensive and sporadic forces. The BJP is already launching a three day Jan Swabhimaan Abhiyan (campaign for people’s self-pride) on February 25th to aggressively bolster its stand in Parliament on issues stemming from Universities. According to a party spokesman, “This exercise will be run against the ill attempts of some political powers to mislead the nation by projecting recent anti-national incidents in the very prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University as freedom of expression” (

Gathering the Flock

The seamless ideological weld between the RSS and its frontal organizations has created a network that efficiently orders the reach and communication essential for organising a sustained, long term battle of attrition. And as has been evident since the run up to the 2014 General Elections, the Right controls a significant number of news channels, even as the remaining others seem to openly offer tactical support when needed. Barring one odd news presenter, who valiantly takes on the Right’s onslaught, it is well nigh impossible to turn on news channels now for any kind of non propagandist coverage and debate.

Even as party websites are now as de rigueur as bulk messaging, whatsapp groups and other social media dissemination, the new phenomena of downloadable party apps are technological advances that can take infiltrative capacities deeper. So, for instance the RSS app developed by a karyakarta details its activities through links, with locations to the nearest shakha and its training videos in an easy to navigate interface. The managerial skills and experience that the Right never scoffs at, further prop up an efficiently run organization. The logistics of day to day ordering look at creating methodical, productive communities online while other foot soldiers channelize emotional logistics of care, nursing to create affective networks on the ground.

Arthur Rosenberg writing in the shadow of European fascism in the early 20th century had warned of the dangers in attributing an irrational, elemental power to its rise, one that only led to a panic and confusion, circumventing any concerted attacks against it. What is evident now is the Right’s ability to calculate its swing between tradition and capitalist modernity while instrumentalizing both projects for gains. Aijaz Ahmad in, “Right-Wing Politics and the Cultures of Cruelty” talks of the Right, more specifically, LK Advani’s arithmetical miscalculation, “He mistakes citizenship for a numerical calculation: more must have more rights, fewer can live with fewer rights. He seems not to understand that in a civilised society the reverse often has to be the case: a social majority can do with general and equal rights alone, whereas it is the social minority that lives with the real possibilities and fears of infringement and therefore needs some extra safeguards”.

Mobilizing and Dispersing

And yet this indictment of Ahmad, so typical of the Left, misses the wily negotiations that the right communitarian forces make with the Pareto principle. The Right’s central tenet for its base is a rebirth, away from Left and modernist decadence. Most Right wing ideologues have often played on this reactionary fear of the hoi-polloi.  But it was Vilfredo Pareto who would ominously connect economics with such certainties of paternal morality,”The smarter, abler, stronger, and shrewder take the lion’s share. The weak starve, lest society become degenerate”. It is no surprise then that Deendayal Upadhaya, to whom much of India’s current ruling class is indebted, proffers the idea of an ‘Integral Humanism’ and ‘Integrated Community’, wherein the community would be an effective productive unit.

This idea of elite efficiency energizes much of the collective behaviour in the areas that the Right has been able to communicate. One arm of such nationalism is the maintenance and expansion capacity of a productive polity. But by our times, Pareto’s insights have been taken to a far more advanced state. The global managerial forces that are in sync with the BJP government are actually nurturing a certain logistical life:“A life lived under the duress of the command to be efficient, to communicate one’s purposes transparently in relation to others, to be positioned where one is required, to use time economically, to be able to move when and where one is told to, and crucially, to be able to extol these capacities as the values for which one would, if necessary, kill and die for.” The crucial move lies in mobilising emotional logistics and affective registers to gradually build an entire infrastructural milieu at the micro-level.

Countering Just War

In order to wrest moral initiative, the Right has to constantly seek a heightened conflict and pretexts for a permanent just war. The defense of the nation is the most easily malleable excuse: nation as an association of primary loyalty to which all citizens must give their allegiance. That essentially means providing certain mimetic and suggestive codes to the small producers, professionals and dissident proletariat. It promises productivity and aggressive action against the naysayers.

This decisiveness is from where the Right extracts its moral incentives, overriding the pusillanimous. Decisiveness is the ethos through which the New Man regenerates himself and the polity in turn. So, the community must marshal an army which is prompt and at hand in order to execute decisive action. Sometimes mercenary forces could be mobilized but the moral imperatives of such forces still ought to be a combination of the work and sacrifice ethic.It is quite obvious that in order to achieve its objectives the communicative machinery of the RSS will reveal ruthlessly and conceal artfully—foremost to its base and then follow that up with action at the local level. The project is to create a band of worker warriors (the Gwalior and Chhattisgarh cases are the latest evidence to such a reality), a force at beck and call that can purge or purify, destroy or exile, whole swathes of anti-nationals.

The organized Left can ill-afford to forget its own, once vaunted and efficient cadre activities and its scientific and meticulous strategies.  Often those were mercilessly privy and conversant with the intimate spheres of a community. For instance, collection and dissemination of old and new slogans for the changed times seems to be an important necessity at this point of time.  If the Right makes community policing and vigilantism its long-term agenda, how is the Left going to counter that? How does one communicate with the mohallahwallahs on the issue of anti-nationalism when the mobilization is now happening around religious bodies, local clubs, kitty parties and schools?  Can the Left find a way to effect word-of-mouth communication in the metro and other public communication systems? How can face to face communication be dovetailed with electronic exchanges and social media? And most importantly, how can a clandestine machinery of manpower be developed in order to resist and fight everyday local conflicts, skirmishes and legal tussles?

The fundamental building block on which a fascist state builds its credentials is by deepening the idea that human beings and communities are not run by wisdom or judgment, but by habit. The habit of living and the habit of being are to be renewed again and again. Habit blunts impressions, allowing instantaneous decisions in the spheres of activities, as Claus von Clausewitz had inferred. Habit conditions our decisions and manages our logistical selves. Structures of habit must be mobilized at intimate and micro-levels and bludgeoned relentlessly in non-dramatic ways.This is what the Right has been doing meticulously. And at this point the nation has become the symbol and the transcendental signifier for such a habit. The Right has been able to stun the opposition with a relentless but calibrated onslaught.  Recovery and offence must alternate on the other side as well and the organized Left must get down to the very basics of political mobilization and build other counter symbolic and logistical registers. There is simply no shortcut.

Rina Ramdev is Associate Professor, Department of English. Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University. She is the co-editor of Sentiment, Politics, Censorship: The State of Hurt. New Delhi: Sage India, 2016.


Select Bibliography:

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 215.

Aijaz Ahmad, On Communalism and Globalisation: Offensives of the Far Right.Three Essays Collective: New Delhi, 2002.

Arthur Rosenberg, trans. Jairus Banaji “Fascism as a Mass Movement “ in Jairus Banaji, Fascism: Essays on Europe and India. Three Essays Collective: New Delhi, 2013.

Vilfredo Pareto, Mind and the Society, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1935.

Claus von Clausewitz, Howard, Michael, Paret, Peter, eds. On War [Vom Krieg]. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, (1984) [1832].

Deendayal Upadhyaya, Ekatma Manavvad: Tattva, Mimansa, Siddhant, Vivechan. New Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, 2014.

Julian Reid, The Biopolitics of the War on Terror: Life Struggles, Liberal Modernity and the Defence of Logistical Societies. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2009.

One thought on “The Limits of Efficient Suasion : Rina Ramdev”

  1. Excellent article – And to answer your question “…how is the Left going to counter that? How does one communicate with the mohallahwallahs on the issue of anti-nationalism when the mobilization is now happening around religious bodies, local clubs, kitty parties and schools? Can the Left find a way to effect word-of-mouth communication in the metro and other public communication systems? How can face to face communication be dovetailed with electronic exchanges and social media? ” – I would say…please write EXACTLY the same ideas in such a simple way that anyone could read them and understand them. I feel this is the most important thing right now. Most people do not relate to the somewhat dense academic tone of these pieces…the time has come to reach out to a vast, general readership.


We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s