Guest post by CP GEEVAN
The following is a response to the piece by Biju Mathew on Kafila, underlining the need for single-minded focus and keep the feet firmly on political realities
Given the exuberant optimism that Biju Mathew evokes in these dark days, many of us afflicted by malignant pessimism should not have many reasons to complain or pick holes in this view of looking back and foreseeing the way forward. On the face of it, this article does gladden one’s heart and spirit! However, imagining larger than life attributes to struggles and spells of resistance can be very misleading. In a way, with a rather benevolent interpretation, one cannot quarrel with Biju’s contention that nobody needs to wait for some political party to lead the resistances against the far-right takeover or start the process of breaking the ‘wave’. There is no hesitation in agreeing with the proposition that instead of waiting, which carries the risk of waiting indefinitely, it is imperative that each individual who is appalled at the turn of events must contribute urgently to building ‘innovative and locally responsive actions’. Well, inaction is certainly not an option. Act we must – in the face of the frightening likelihood of the saffron brigade unleashing a horrific civil war and engineering mass killings. There are no quarrels as to the primary intent of the article – that it is a call to shed excessive pessimism, end despondency, and take steps towards politically meaningful actions. Nevertheless, it will be a big mistake to imply that the process of banishing the gloom need not extend to the political rivals of the Hindutva nationalist parties.
Many struggles and protest actions – some very short-lived – have been excessively emphasised, making them larger than what they were at their best. Added to this inflated self-image, as it were, of the various encouraging developments, is what in effect amounts to worsening the pessimism about the role of political parties in the way forward. Notwithstanding the many grounds for scepticism about the capabilities of many political forces in combating the right-wing forces, adding to the pessimism can only serve to worsen credibility gap between the new autonomous initiatives and the mainstream political opposition forces. Those wanting to strengthen the resistance must eschew such an approach. It is more beneficial to fiercely criticise the traditional political forces than discount their relevance or make the trust deficit worse.
Focussing exclusively on what is explicitly stated cannot take the attention away from what is unstated, which is the near absence of any serious expectations from any of the political parties in the struggles to defeat the authoritarian forces. Conspicuous by its absence is the mention of any possible role of political parties in the struggle against Hindutva authoritarianism. While there may be another way to perceive the silences, the most obvious way is to take this as a loss of trust in the capacity of all political parties in such struggles. One will be happy to be corrected if this understanding is proven woefully wrong.
Acknowledging the necessity and potential of political parties is not tantamount to denying the imperative for individuals or groups to act on their own. Individuals and groups should necessarily act without waiting for any political party to lead them with or without a serious right-wing threat. However, it will be a gross overestimate to assume that those actions are by themselves sufficient to stop the brazen spread of terror and hatred across the country. An inflated sense of one’s capabilities and overestimating the strengths can be worse than the prevailing mood of excessive pessimism.
The numerous struggles – be it in HCU, JNU, Una (Gujarat), or Haryana – have been a redeeming feature in the dismal situation. Yet, it is difficult to characterise them as movements. It would have been great indeed had these struggles and protests spurred larger movements going far beyond their initial bounds. Sadly, that did not materialise partly because there has been lack of both political will and imagination to seize on such opportunities for building political or social movements. However, these struggles did go beyond their immediate peripheries in terms of issues, geographies and institutional settings to generate a new ‘consciousness’ or a mood of resistance as it were that boldly defies the fear psychosis the authoritarian onslaughts had sought to foist upon the secular-democratic citizens in general. They surely helped to shake off the passivity and paralysis by opening up new pathways of resistance. One of the reasons why they stopped short of transforming into wider and larger movements could be the exclusivist tendencies and internecine squabbles that inhibited the formation of wider linkages without pre-conditions demanding adherence to certain common ideological positions.
It is important to recognise that insistence on shared situational analysis, political prognosis or future alternatives will dampen the chances of igniting the chain reactions necessary for struggles to auto-aggregate sufficient critical mass necessary to unleash movements. The reason why one is tempted to question the overall slant of Biju’s analysis is precisely the fear that it prefers if not insist on a shared perspective among the participants in these struggles. Instead of calling for wider unity, in many ways the call seems to promote both explicitly and implicitly an approach in which participants will be self-selected based on how and where they are located on the multiple axes along which struggles will unfold such as working-class actions, people’s rights over resources, gender rights, and social justice.
Another area of concern is the new hypothesis about what is currently driving the Hindutva movement that rests on four postulates:
The 2014 Lok Sabha, 2015 Delhi and Bihar and 2017 UP elections together are indicative of an evolving structural logic in Indian politics
- There are perceptible signs of irresolvable contradictions emerging within the Sangh parivar that could break it
- Hindutva movement drew on the newer “burgeoning anti-corruption movement that swept through the country in 2011-12” in addition to the Hindu nationalism
- More and more people support an ‘absurd and unrealizable’ ideology
This constitutes a rather novel hypothesis that requires considerable substantiation and even some prima facie proof of concept, if you will. It will require a long discussion to explain why one is so unconvinced by the thesis. Instead, let me question it very briefly. It is not too clear what constitutes the conjectured “structural logic in Indian politics.” Leave aside the question what it means precisely. It is confusing to string together these four elections:
- 2014 Lok Sabha that catapulted NDA into power with a historically low vote share of about 31%
- 2015 Delhi state elections in which BJP was routed with AAP winning 67 out of 70 seats
- Bihar Vidan Sabha that saw the Mahagathbandhan sweep the polls with BJP managing to get barely 53 seats against a 34% vote share and
- UP VidhanSabha election in 2017 that brought BJP into power gaining 312 out of 403 seats against a 40% vote share compared to 42% in 2014.
Several detailed electoral analysis are available on these poll results. Every political party including the BJP has to grapple with many internal contests, multiple competing interest groups and several ‘contradictions’ as it were. There is very little in these divergent poll results to signify structural changes in the broad patterns in the distribution of votes. There are many interesting insights as to how the victories have been engineered. One of the CSDS-Lokniti studies on the UP poll published in newspapers shows that the BJP built a new Hindu social coalition by the clever reworking of the caste equations especially among the communities belonging to the OBC category. Nothing in the poll data shows loud signatures of irresolvable contradictions that threaten the integrity of the Sangh parivar.
Considering the third postulate – BJP leveraging the “burgeoning anti-corruption movement” in addition to the Hindu nationalist platform – there is no option but to contest the proposition of the existence of such a movement and its indefinite continuation as a quasi-permanent feature in the Indian politics. In fact, the anti-corruption protests in 2011-13 did not ‘sweep’ throughout the country. It did assume the form of a movement in certain parts of the country. The activism dissipated rapidly after the ascent to power of the NDA to the centre in 2014. The Hindu nationalist forces did support the anti-corruption activism in so far it was directed against the Congress-led governments. In all states where the NDA or its allies were in power, it did not support. It did leverage the anti-corruption sentiments to improve its image and garner additional votes in 2014 general elections. There is, however, no basis to argue that anti-corruption campaigns persist as a party-agnostic movement or to show that it is somehow a key determinant influencing the electoral outcomes in the polls after 2014.
The new hypothesis has no real basis to stand on when it comes to the fourth postulate– more and more people support the Hindu-nationalist platform. Unfortunately, the primary basis for the excessive pessimism that plagues the secular and democratic minded is the mistaken belief that somehow the far right forces are widening their social base. It is inexcusable to lend more credence to such a false premise. Of course, when parties with low vote share tend to get a large share of seats, people do tend to think that the support base of the winner has dramatically increased. This, however, does not have any empirical basis. On the contrary, albeit counterintuitively, the Hindu-nationalist vote share has not shown any increasing trend in these four major elections. Instead, the vote share has declined.
In Bihar, BJP’s vote share fell from 29.4% in 2014 to 24.4% in 2015 and in UP, it fell from 42% in 2014 to 40% in 2017! Of course, nearly 40% vote share is certainly not small. The large harvest of seats became possible due to the fragmented opposition. It is necessary not to fall prey to a) the false notion that Hindu nationalists are rapidly increasing their support base and b) the fear that the Hindu nationalists are unstoppable because the electoral majority are with them. Factually, both are invalid. Further, large sections of the Hindus are not voting for them.
To conclude, let me return to the point where we started this discussion – the need for inclusion of traditional political parties not withstanding all their flaws. In one of the social media discussions, there was a remark that the fascism was not defeated by any internal resistance, but in a terrible world war. However, it was not by any means a virtuous war. Those who defeated fascism had to cobble together an alliance of convenience as it were with the one goal of defeating the evil force. The fascist forces in the country must be fought without such a war. Fascism can attain power through the ballot. Knowing that, it is necessary to adopt a war-like approach in fighting these forces electorally. That calls for many kinds of alliances, partnerships, platforms, networks, skirmishes and large struggles. The prime driver is the urgent need to defeat the brazenly evil forces that are using the electoral victories and access to state machinery for spreading terror and hatred across the country. Ensuring the participation of political parties is necessary for the success in the larger fight against the authoritarian forces. The autonomous struggles – small and big – must continue with or without the support or participation of traditional political parties.
Rather than ignore or discount the significance of the traditional political parties in these struggles, we need to interrogate their flaws, expose the mistakes in political strategies, and engage in polemics with the leaderships so that they are always under pressure when they opt to keep away from the struggles against far-right authoritarian forces. The way forward has to foster inclusiveness without pre-conditions that tend to harp on shared perspectives. The struggles must keep a single-minded focus on defeating the evil authoritarian forces.Keeping the feet firmly on the political realities is a necessary pre-condition for progress.