How to counter Modi regime now that all has failed

Prasenjit Bose
Prasenjit BoseMar 14, 2017 | 13:24

How to counter Modi regime now that all has failed

The results of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have come as a shot in the arm of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government, half way into its tenure.

The Congress wrested Punjab, in a first victory it can claim as its own since the rout suffered in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and also become the single largest party (seat-wise) in Manipur and Goa.


But the BJP’s emphatic victory in India’s most populous state by trouncing the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance and the Bahujan Samaj Party has overshadowed everything else, given its longer-term implications in national politics.

Brand Modi has been firmly re-established after the hiccups in Delhi and Bihar. The entire opposition now looks diminished.

For those worried at the adverse consequences of the seemingly unstoppable Modi juggernaut, it is time for introspection, strategic rethink and urgent course corrections. Here are a few observations in that direction.

Countering Hindutva 2.0

There are at least three major aspects of the Modi plank which mark a change from the earlier avatar of Hindutva politics practised by the BJP in the 1980-1990s, which had culminated in the formation of the Vajpayee government in 1998.

First, the BJP has replaced the primacy of its "core" communal issues of building a Ram temple at Ayodha, imposing an uniform civil code and abrogating Article 370 with an overarching, macho, hyper-nationalism embodied in Modi’s persona.

'An alternative, progressive, pluralist and inclusive vision of nationalism needs to be asserted to counter Modi’s hyper-nationalism.'

The BJP’s communal mobilisation strategy is now more localised — if it's "gau rakhsha" somewhere, it's "shamshan" and "kabristan"  or "love jihad" in the next stop, and finally the all-weather Ram temple narrative which fits easily into any situation based on where the party is addressing its rallies.


The central objective is to create a majoritarian Hindu consolidation behind PM Modi as the "Hindu Hriday Samrat", on the basis of a multitude of localised communal polarisations without according centrality to any of them.

This implies that "defence of secularism", both as a central slogan to dent the Modi regime and as a binding force to unite the entire opposition against it, is inadequate.

An alternative, progressive, pluralist and inclusive vision of nationalism needs to be asserted to counter Modi’s hyper-nationalism. To negate all nationalisms as anti-democratic will be counter-productive and end up further conceding the national space to Modi.

It is the pseudo, divisive and anti-people character of hyper-nationalism that needs to be exposed.

Second, Modi’s development plank does not merely mimic the neoliberal reform-oriented rhetoric of the past. While the neoliberal agenda of privatisation/disinvestment and opening up of the economy to finance capital remains in place, Modi’s "vikas" mantra, particularly during the election season, lays emphasis on uplifting the poor through schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana, Fasal Bima, Ujjwala, Mudra etc. Besides, there is a sprinkling of economic nationalism through "Make in India", "Start-up India" and now "New India" etc.


Moreover, given the context of his ascent to power in 2014, Modi has made corruption and recovery of "black money" into a major issue, projecting himself as a crusader against the corrupt elite.

Significant sections of the poor have bought into this "vikas" narrative and consider Modi’s policies to be helpful in meeting their aspirations.

With all its problems from the point of view of economic and legal rationality, demonetisation has been perceived as a well-intentioned move to clean up the economy by many, including those whose livelihoods got severely disrupted.

This speaks volumes about the dented credibility of the entire opposition, particularly parties such as the Congress, SP and the BSP. In order to come out of its state of disarray, the opposition needs to win back the faith of the poor by making a programmatic departure from neoliberalism, espousing pro-people political-economic reforms and weeding out corrupt elements.

The third important aspect of the Modi plank is social engineering. While mostly consolidating the upper castes behind them, the BJP has also succeeded in co-opting significant sections of Dalits and backward classes within their fold.

In UP, the BJP could wean away non-Yadav OBCs from the the SP and non-Jatav SCs from the BSP to build a formidable Hindu consolidation.

Moreover, the BJP could win 312 seats (plus 13 seats won by allies Apna Dal (S) and SBSP) without fielding a single Muslim candidate in the 384 constituencies contested by the BJP (plus 19 seats allotted to allies).

While this reflects upon the majoritarian-communal bias of the BJP, the Hindu consolidation that it could manage is in part a result of the cynical vote-bank politics played with the Muslims by the secular parties like the SP, BSP and the Congress.

The Sachar Committee report had amply demonstrated how the Muslim minority remained behind all other socio-religious groups in education, employment and other socio-economic indicators, especially in states like UP, West Bengal, Bihar and Assam. Yet, there has been no attempt on the part of the secular parties to rethink their strategies vis-à-vis their engagement with the Muslims and their issues of social justice.

As a result, a competitive wooing of the conservative opinion-makers and the clergy has remained the only game in town, ironically leading to a continuous fragmentation of the Muslim votes and a proliferation of Muslim parties.  

In the learning curve of caste-community based social engineering, the BJP has already moved ahead of parties like the SP, BSP and Congress, and thereby checkmated them electorally.

This opens up a serious question on whether the social justice agenda of Dalits, Muslims and other oppressed sections of society can be carried forward more effectively in alliance with other progressive causes, rather than through exclusivist identitarianism, which is more likely to lead to co-option by the Brahmanical forces.

Global rise of the alt-right

The Modi phenomenon in India also needs to be seen as a part of a global trend towards the far-right, which for good reasons is being termed as the "alt-right" or "alternative-right" by perceptive analysts. Brexit in Britain, the Donald Trump wave in the US or the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France have all born out of the failure of economic recovery after the 2008-09 global recession.

While mass movements against austerity have thrown up progressive political alternatives in countries such as Greece and Spain, it is the far-right which has seized the initiative in the more influential countries of Western Europe and the US, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders notwithstanding.

This new wave of far-right or alt-right politics has heavily borrowed from the lexicon of ultra-conservative and fascist politics of the 20th century while marrying it with new ideas, articulations and propaganda techniques, in keeping with contemporary tastes and imperatives.

While the finance-capital driven neoliberal regime has become unsustainable, much of the non-right wing political spectrum worldwide, from the liberal centre to the mainstream left, remains entrenched in neoliberal dogma.

In this backdrop, the alt-right has chosen to attack the status quo with a potent mix of hate politics and class politics.

Trump, for instance, is mixing his anti-immigrant and Islamophobic agenda with the annulment of trade deals, which have genuinely hurt US industry and caused job losses for the American workers.

Modi’s economic nationalism is certainly not as categorical as Trump’s — given India’s position in the globalised economy where it has to accept more terms than it can set — but the mixing of populist schemes for the poor with references to "shamshan" and "kabristhan" in Modi’s rhetoric much resembles Trump’s alt-right strategy.

More importantly, both Trump and Modi stridently attack the corruption of the neoliberal elite, which sticks vis-à-vis political leaders like the Clintons in the US and the Congress as well as other mainstream parties in India.

The fact that their attack on corruption is utterly hypocritical; Trump’s obvious conflict of interest vis-à-vis his own business interests and Modi’s cronyism vis-à-vis the Gujarat-based conglomerates; has not sunk in till date.

The drift of the poorer classes towards the alt-right is because of their eroding faith in the centrist and centre-left parties, and their leadership.

The main point is that the alt-right, while pursuing divisive, hate-filled agendas, has simultaneously been able to garner the support of significant sections of the poor, by creating an impression that they are taking on the corrupt elite and the rich.

It is a fake class war, because the corporates and the financial elite — the fountainhead of all corruption — are left untouched and the quantum of resources actually redistributed to the poor is paltry. However, the enormous propaganda machinery of the alt-right; with lavish government-sponsored ad campaigns and its battery of dedicated trolls using the social media and instant messaging apps to browbeat liberal and progressive voices — even those in the mainstream media — into submission; are acting as optical amplifiers for the alt-right regimes.

The drift of the poorer classes towards the alt-right is because of their eroding faith in the centrist and centre-left parties, and their leadership. As for the mainstream old left, it has lost its way into a morass of political opportunism and ideological dogmatism, eroding its organisational strength and mass base.

Unless this trend is reversed, the alt-right cannot be effectively combated, let alone defeated. Left unchecked, the hate-filled agenda of the alt-right is only likely to aggravate social pain and conflict, leading to catastrophes of unbearable magnitude.

Building a popular alternative

In order to reestablish a connect with the poorer classes, who have drifted towards Modi for lack of better alternatives, three issues need to be seriously considered by the entire non-right opposition, including new formations like the AAP.

First, there has to be a clear ideological shift away from the neoliberal dogma of privatisation, deregulation and financial liberalisation, which enhances socio-economic inequality and exclusion, fails to create decent jobs and thereby leads to the proliferation of the informal economy and facilitates crony capitalism through a complete takeover of the state apparatus by the big capital and financial interests.

This can be achieved only through a thoroughgoing programmatic renewal and not some opportunistic tinkering at the margins, with populist schemes.

In other words, the non-right parties need to collectively reinvent a progressive, transformative and socialistic development strategy which guarantees universal basic rights for every citizen — for food, education and healthcare, minimum income and employment, housing, water, fuel and electricity etc., as opposed to the half-hearted populism of the Modi regime.

Issues concerning the farmers and workers, particularly those in the informal sector, need to be accorded priority.

The fear of losing the support of the corporate class or international finance capital needs to be resolutely overcome by the non-right forces. 

Second, a radical agenda of political-economic as well as legal-administrative reforms needs to be framed to combat corruption at all levels, enhance tax compliance and retrieve illicit wealth from both home and abroad.

Such an agenda has to start by disciplining the big corporates, who evade/avoid taxes at will and willingly default on loans worth millions taken from public sector banks.  

Third, the social justice agenda needs to be renewed with a focus on expanding the rights and freedoms of women and the inclusion of socially deprived sections in the private sector.

New demands need to be framed to meet the aspirations of the youth among the dalits, OBCs and minorities, going beyond quotas in public education and jobs.

Most importantly, the social justice agenda needs to be built in a way where bonds of solidarity between the various socially oppressed sections get strengthened and they do not get pitted against each other.

The opposition also needs to move out of routine parliamentarism and undertake proactive initiatives to build movements on the issues, which affect the lives of the poor. It is only through a renewal of popular movements on the streets that the opportunistic and corrupted political leaders who presently occupy leading positions in the non-right parties can be weeded out. Electoral alliances should be based on movemental coalitions built from below, rather than stitching them up out of expediency on the eve of the elections.

The forces pitted against the alt-right today, from the centrists to the left, are still wedded to freemarket dogmas of neoliberalism.

Unless they make an ideological break from that, it would be difficult for them to regain the trust of the poor, which has drifted towards the alt-right.

Revival of class politics and a programmatic renewal on socialistic lines can help revive the opposition in India against the Modi regime, while serious movemental initiatives on people's issues need to be undertaken outside the parliamentary arena.

If the opposition fails to build movements on the streets and continues to rely merely on electoral machinations, new forces will emerge to replace the old, in order to build effective resistance against the Modi regime.  

Last updated: March 15, 2017 | 11:47
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