The Afternoon After: Will we see violent, focused Hindutva following the BJP's victory? Or just politics as usual?

India has finally shrugged off the 'socialist', 'secular' tags of the Nehruvian generation. If the spirit of 2014's mandate was ever in doubt, the 2019 choice has cleared it. But what lies ahead now?

 |  7-minute read |   24-05-2019
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This is a new India that many in the media, political and social activism space will have to come to terms with.

Some will surrender to the exigencies of survival. They will simply accept the inevitability of power equations. Some will be defiant and continue their struggle as they have been doing for the last five years — right up to 23rd May 2019, which has delivered another five years to the BJP/NDA. They have to realize that the risks in doing so have increased manifold. The BJP President had already made it clear during the campaigning stage that if they came back to power, 'anti-nationals' will not be spared.

This New India has spelled out its priorities loud and clear. The concerns that many raised regarding accusations of deteriorating law and order, decline of institutions, the lack of transparency and accountability in government deals, allegedly fudged GDP numbers, distress of farmers, unemployment, are not the concerns of the voters who have returned this dispensation to the Centre. Or so, it would seem. 

New India didn’t vote for the Atishis and the Kanhaiyas — but the Sadhvi Pragyas and the Sakshi Maharaja; not for a Prakash Raj but for Nihal Chand, a rape accused. According to a senior journalist, Radha Rajadhakshya, “The cocktail of optics and hate has brought us where we are, with even educated, privileged people calling themselves 'proud Pragya voters'. Is there a further low to be breached after this?”

pr690_052419015343.jpgThe fact that Sadhvi Pragya, a terror accused, won, is mind-boggling. (Source: India Today)

Nevertheless, this is an overwhelming mandate for the status quo — as well as trust for Narendra Modi. After Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi is the third Prime Minister of the country who has been able to retain power for a second term with a full majority in the Lok Sabha. That is indeed an achievement.

Certain observations immediately come to mind, when one scans the social media space in the aftermath of these elections. A vast number of posts and comments are apparently directed towards those who were opposed to the BJP, engaged in gloating and “rubbing it in”. For them, this win is seen to be a validation, a justification of everything negative that has happened in India for the last five years, from cattle lynchings to the candidacy of terror accused out on bail. There have even been instances of people saying that those who have been speaking against the government will now have action taken against them.

Whether this is a fanciful notion or not remains to be seen — but certainly, the chances of the next BJP government pursuing a more strident and confident Hindutva agenda, encouraged by these numbers, is possible.

One might well ask, who is there to stop them?

The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2018 made a number of significant changes. The most troubling aspect of the Bill is the proposed constitution of the Arbitration Council of India (ACI) to act as regulator of arbitrators and arbitrations. In a country where the government is the biggest litigant, how can it act as a supervisor over the very arbitrators who are hearing cases against the government? The Bill, as proposed, introduces a blanket confidentiality requirement in arbitration — this defeats the very purpose of which the case that needs to be fought.

There are, of course, the usual howls of anguish and breast beating among the liberals, resigned to another five years of the BJP. These range from angry demands to review VVPAT machines to bemoaning that India is going back to the dark ages.

Here are a few interesting comments from Facebook:

“We as a country are full of hatred and poison and we only believe in bigotry and toxic politics. India has chosen hatred over progress. Indians have got what they deserve. Welcome to the Dark Ages.”

“The country we -- 60s-70s-80s kids -- grew up in doesn't exist. It never did. The secular democracy we lived in was a western import. The liberal, forward-thinking founding fathers took those ideas forward in the first few years of a new country. But they were imposed top down, they never took root in any meaningful way... We're a feudal country and our natural order is predicated to caste, community, gender, religion. Only one party figured that out decades ago and played assiduously to our basest selves.” –

cong690_052419015434.jpgCongress supporters and some liberals are having a meltdown, both on social media and in real life. (Source: India Today)

Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi has been especially energetic during these elections and shown a mature, less impulsive side to him that has taken many by surprise. His humongous efforts have not saved his traditional bastion of Amethi from being taken over by Smriti Irani, something she promised confidently to do.

One amusing point of interest about these elections has been the well-meaning advice that was been handed out to the Congress on social media. When the Congress campaigned on solid issues, they were admonished that this was the wrong approach as they did not understand the “pulse” of the people like the BJP does. They were advised by well-meaning people to be Machiavellian and beat the BJP at their own game — that of majoritarian appeasement rhetoric and ad hominem.

When they attempted that by calling Modi a 'thief' and coining the “Chowkidar chor hai” slogan, they were advised by another set of people that they shouldn’t play by the rules of the enemy on their turf, and instead of constantly attacking Modi, their campaign should be “issue based.”

What has been noticeably missing from the BJP campaigning — which made not the slightest difference to the number of votes it got — was an ideological agenda, unless one can call a strident militarism and a constant harking back to the past (Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi et al) an ideology. 

Further, to my mind, this party of disparate elements, crossovers from other parties and some dubious characters, is a far cry from the days of Vajpayee’s BJP, the “party with a difference”.  Neither have the other parties retained any distinctive characteristics beyond their party symbols and rhetoric.

atal690_052419015507.jpgBJP under him was a distinctive party. With all its disparate elements today, it hasn't retained its core. (Source: India Today)

Political parties today are like IPL teams — just as the words "Mumbai", "Chennai", "Rajasthan", etc., mean nothing as far as the composition of players or regional affiliations are concerned, political parties are made up of freebooters and mercenaries who have no guiding ideologies that could possibly work towards the creation of a credible brand reflecting content. 

The passionate support for these parties, and the bitter rivalries and acrimonious exchanges we have been witness to countrywide, are no different from your standard garden variety cricket and football fan behaviour. And in spite of the political corners they take, and defend like proxy party spokesmen, somewhere in their bones, voters understand this.

All that is left is a fierce tribalism for its own sake — mine vs yours, us vs them — in a world of no further recompense.

For those who are bewildered and clueless about how the BJP could have come back, and with such an overwhelming majority, perhaps this is the Occams Razor answer.

All things being equal, it is the BJP that was the more glamorous, that played well, that entertained more effectively, that impressed in its high-volume stridency, and packaged itself well. For an election that was based on optics and hardly any issues, why bother going beyond the shallow, the simple for answers?

Also Read: Bye-Bye Dynasty: The Modi tsunami and the end of an age of privileged entitlement

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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