The 15 th lecture in the Democracy Dialogues Series will be delivered by Prof Achin Vanaik on Sunday, 27 th February at 6 PM (IST)
He will be speaking on
‘Secularism, Communalism and Indian Politics Today‘
Writer and Social Activist, Former Professor of Political Science at Delhi University Prof Achin Vanaik is a fellow of the Transnational Institute
He is author of numerous books including The Furies of Indian Communalism ( 1997) , The Painful Transition : Bourgeois Democracy in India ( 1990) , Hindutva Rising – Secular Claims, Communal Realities (2017), “Nationalist Dangers, Secular Failings:A Compass for an Indian Left”
The presentation will start with a series of definitions of crucial concepts such as secular, secularization, secularism as well as distinguishing between religious fundamentalism, religious nationalism and communalism. This is important to get a handle on how the widespread Indian understanding of secularism as an ancient form of ‘tolerance’ is dangerously mistaken. Of course the rise of the political right and far-right is a global phenomenon in the last few decades giving rise to different forms of what can be called the ‘politics of cultural exclusivism’. So the first principle of explanation for this rise has also to be transnational. After this the question of the rise of the Sangh/BJP in the wider context of developments in India over time will be taken up. It is obvious that the Sangh/BJP is seeking to expand its existing power and influence i.e., to establish and expand its hegemony and this must be understood as well as what are the projects central to its efforts to establish a Hindu Rashtra or Nation. It should be obvious that its particular conception of how to secure a strong Indian nation/nationalism must be exposed and combated. The presentation will end with recognising that this is a long term struggle and how we must go about it.
In a brilliant column in the The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta (with whom I have much to disagree about reservations) calls the bluff of the “national” parties who want Indian voters to be wary of the ‘instability’ and impossibility of a third front coalition government. This argument, strangely posing itself in a nationalist tone, is unfortunately also bought by too many left-liberal intellectuals and activists who don’t want us to get out the non-choice of the BJP-Congress binary. Mehta writes:
Sometimes an ordered instability can be more productive than a comatose stability. It is said that a third front leadership is unlikely to have a national perspective. But the cringingly desperate way in which the leadership of the national parties have put their own survival above any principle makes you wonder what the charge of not having a national perspective is all about. The third front will make foreign policy hostage to regional interests. In a way, it already is. But the source of the problem is deeper. Even a supposedly national party like the BJP cannot get its act together on the enclaves agreement with Bangladesh. Why blame regional parties? The third front will be fiscally irresponsible. It is a risk, but no more than a risk with any political party. The Congress squandered the best of economic opportunities in a fiscally irresponsible way. It is something of an irony that the only Chidambaram budget described as a “dream budget” came under Deve Gowda. And many states have shown innovation in a kind of pro-business entrepreneurial capitalism and in social sector schemes. Many of the regional leaders who would make up the third front are autocrats. Indeed, many of them are. But that autocracy is more visible because the national parties can use the state structure in a very sophisticated way to further their ends. But they are articulate and engage with their constituents. In short, the constituents of the third front are as much India and Indian interests as anyone else. [Full article]
India needs a third imagination, and by constantly being told that it is not possible we are told not to imagine it. This is the argument of, as Mehta puts it, the ‘entrenched elites’, to save their privileges. The fear of the third front, of the ‘regional’, needs to be fought and defeated. We see this poverty of imagination thrown at us whether we’re talking of Nitish Kumar or Arvind Kejriwal or Mayawati by people who will do not think it necessary to subject the Congress and the BJP to similar scrutiny. This bias against the “regional” is remarkably shared amongst a lot of people across the ideological spectrum. Their bluff needs to be called.