National development, order and disorder – The tactical algorithm of the BJP today: R Srivatsan

Guest Post by R. SRIVATSAN

“Khamosh! Kutte!”  [Silence! Dog!]

(Unconfirmed rumors about the phone answer given by the most powerful man to Ehsan Jafri, when the latter called up the Gujarat administration for protection from the mobs during the Baroda riots in 2002.  Jafri was slaughtered and hacked limb from limb soon after the protection he sought was withdrawn, or rather never provided.)

algorithm:  noun, a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

While effort after effort was made to establish the culpability of Narendra Modi for the Gujarat riots, they all failed to produce any evidence that was acceptable in a court of law.   News records speculate that the administration, on direct orders, turned a blind eye to the rampage of the mobs.[1]

Much was made of his innocence, and after more than a decade of political exile, Modi has risen as the star of the BJP’s ruling formation since the last election.

India’s national development now is touted as set to occur at a blistering pace crossing 7% in the coming years.  This is the redoubtable Gujarat model where industrial development is paralleled by stagnant or retrogressive movement of all indicators of social development and well being.

Key to understanding the significance of this is the unpacking of the term ‘national development’ in the Modi mantra (the name being convenient shorthand for the BJP and the rising class which supports it).

What does ‘national development’ signify for the BJP and its supporters?  How should this ‘belief’ in the nation be read?

To understand this, it is important to look at the spate of responses of the right wing to recent events.

Let us start with the systematic attacks on NGOs which are seen by the Modi government as ‘anti-development’.  There is a list of NGOs that have been active in protests against the government, which are being targeted by state agencies in a way that checkmates all foreign funds. The protests have typically been against government projects for dams, nuclear power plants, mining or other forms of industrial development which have a harmful impact on the lives and health of people of the region.

Most recently (as of February 22nd) this state action has been supplemented by non-state coercion.[2]  In Chhattisgarh, Malini Subramanium the independent reporter covering the oppression of tribals in the region was threatened and hounded out of Jagdalpur.  The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (Jag-LAG) which was as of last composed of two women advocates was also evicted by landlords who were threatened by unknown goons.  Soni Sori, who has been consistently opposing state oppression on her community and has been doing so since her rape by police officials in 2012-13, has been victim of a chemical attack by unknown masked assailants.  The state now looks on, with no great efforts to bring the culprits to the book.  The state calls those who oppose development in Chhattisgarh ‘Maoists’, who are against the nation state and hence must be eliminated.  If on the one hand, the state is not able to eliminate who it calls the ‘Maoists’, on the other, it will also not protect them from the attack of others.  In other words, it will withdraw its protection to them as citizens and abandon them to their fate at the hands of their non-state adversaries.  Thus order is sought to be brought through disorder and non-state coercion.

The tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula in the University of Hyderabad is the nucleus of another instructive sequence of events.  The Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) in the University of Hyderabad, of which Rohith was an office bearer, had first protested against the ABVP’s attack against the Delhi University screening of ‘Muzaffarnagar Abhi Baqi Hai’, a film which documented how the BJP and the SP provoked people into killing sprees in a riot in which official reports figure nearly a hundred killed and many more injured.  The ASA also protested against capital punishment in general, and in the context of Yakub Memon’s hanging.  These events led to a physical fight with the ABVP, the hounding of the ASA students by the university administration, BJP ministers and the MHRD, and a prolonged expulsion which led to Vemula’s decision to die.  The ASA’s struggle has for long been against the concrete experience of what Gopal Guru has nailed with the term social death, faced by dalit students in the central university campuses.[3]  This social death is the manner in which the social, educational and political life of dalit students is systematically snuffed out by passive boycott and active punitive excesses.  Key to understanding the political significance in this event is the transposition of the crisis into the framework of a Maoist ploy, which effectively weakened the original charge of caste discrimination.  In addition, the complaint against the ASA was launched about their ‘anti-national’ stand against Yakub Memon’s hanging. The political crisis immediately became a crisis of order which needed disciplinary handling in defense of national integrity, rather than democratic process. It is important to note that the disordered fight of the ABVP against the ASA has been transformed into a disciplinary process of restoring order by which the administration has punished the dalit activists.

This has been succeeded by the complete adoption of the crisis of Vemula’s suicide by the broad left and the expansion of the movement on a nationwide scale.  The protest of the JNU students in Delhi against the ‘nationalism’ of the idea of ‘Bharat’, and the critical polemic against the nation has given rise to another event of political significance.  Civil societal professional associations (lawyers, doctors, etc.) and general opinion are all shocked by the secular blasphemy of the reckless students of JNU.  Calls have been given for the severest punishment of those ‘guilty’ of sedition and anti-nationalist rhetoric.  The RSS has called for a purge of all university campuses of Maoists and the left wing politics general.  Thus again, the secular politics of democracy is sought to be replaced by the order of discipline.  In this process, the university is being redefined from a broad republican space for the untrammeled exploration of the freedoms and responsibilities of citizenship, into a fully supervised disciplinary space for a narrow training that is completely antithetical to the spirit of a university.

The full turn of the wheel of course, occurs when the student leader Kanhayya was beaten till he ‘soiled his pants’ by three lawyers in the Patiala House courts.  The factor that unleashes the full force of ‘spontaneous fury’, coupled with the willful looking-the-other-way of the police is the charge of anti-nationalism.

While the first defense of the lawyers’ conduct (who thrashed Kanhayya) was sought through disclaiming responsibility, the spontaneous reaction of the advocates, and the lack of a plan, recent investigative reports by India Today show that the attacks have been meticulously planned, executed with the connivance of the police who looked the other way, and that the attackers are unrepentant, hoping to go to the same jail as the student leader so that they can thrash him further.[4]  What this latest turn of events will lead to is yet to be seen.

[In recent history, it must be remembered that the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was also attributed to the spontaneous emotions of the crowds.]

Thus starting with the Baroda riots in 2002, the BJP has sharpened its political instrument that consists of the following (almost mathematical) algorithm to transform a political issue:

If there is any opposition to either the BJP’s politics or its developmental policies, it is immediately dubbed as anti-national.  The moment it is dubbed as anti-national, it is also immediately anti-developmental.  Anything that is anti-national attracts the possibility of fully planned ‘spontaneous fury’ and public thrashing, coupled with the passive look-away policy of the police machinery.  Anything that is ‘anti-development’ attracts coercive discipline, court cases and penalties that are enthusiastically endorsed by the civil societal formations and supporters of the BJP.

So it seems as if the term national development, which I started out exploring is one that marks in its negative the boundaries of abandonment that constitute our national imagination today.  It is the political hold or grip that BJP and its social bases seek to acquire on any crisis or problem that they face.  If this grip is acquired, then it is possible to apply an algorithm of moves – a) public ‘spontaneous’ violence coupled with passive police non-interference; b) fierce state punitive action coupled with public support and enthusiasm for the state action.  Once this grip is achieved, the victim is then subject to the sovereign coupling of the power of positive state punishment and the completely negative abandonment by the state to attack by the masked, screened, supporters of the nation.

Is there a belief in this ‘national development’, or is it a cynical weapon used by the remorseless advocates of capitalist progress?  It is very difficult to understand this unless one factors in the historically layered structure of belief in this particular Indian context.  One of the difficulties of left politics has been its inaccessibility to the rising castes which constitute the new ruling classes in India.  There has always been a “tongue-tied-ness” and clumsy ignorance that has characterized the Sangh’s language and logic in the debate with what are called the ‘progressive’ forces.  The belief in national development is thus at this level an inarticulate, deeply felt cry that rails against the reasoned argument of ‘progress’, always losing the battle in the domain of the understanding.  On the other hand this belief is simultaneously a fulcrum that enables leveraging the debate from the stage of political discourse on to an arena of force that permits state and non-state coercion, thus shifting the ground more in the BJP’s favour. The intellectual impotence of the BJP and its social base coupled with the rising economic power of that social base are thus two of the diverse fuels that fire the currently dominant conviction that coercive measures are called for in the battle for hard-line ‘national development’. Others must be investigated and thought through.

The specific response to political debate through two components at either end of the political spectrum – punitive discipline to ensure order on the one end, and violence that marks chaos and disorder on the other, signal a specific stage of development where the entrants into capitalism and civil society have not yet acquired the crucial capability to debate political issues with any credibility or competence.  It marks the profound incapability of the Sangh Parivar and its support base to engage in a rational debate that is characteristic of capitalist political culture in the West.  Such a capacity for debate is the marker that a society has progressed beyond its irrational passions to understanding its interests.  While some may categorize this current stage as a kind fascism, there is no doubt that any path out from this abysmal political capability (in the lack of intelligent civil debate) will require the Sangh Parivar go beyond inchoate belief and opinion to develop a rational political competence that at least strives to be worthy of its national ambition.

This essay is an attempt to put down some observations in the current political circumstances.  I have tried to connect the obvious to a wider pattern responding to more complex networks of causation than simple intentional ones.  Karl Marx’s masterpiece, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, has been the inspiration behind this tentative attempt to understand the structure of today’s battles.

[R. Srivatsan is an independent scholar and political theorist]

[1] See, e.g., Telelka at http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main35.asp?filename=Ne031107gujrat_sec.asp. Accessed on 25th February 2016.

[2] See http://wssnet.org/. Accessed on 25th February 2016.

[3] See http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/a-tragic-exit-from-social-death/296480.  Accessed on 25th February 2016.

[4] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uez3tVHOTiA. Accessed on 25th February 2016.

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