India’s democratic fortunes have taken another decisive turn to the right with the results of recent state assembly elections. The ruling BJP made significant gains in four crucial states: Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur, and most significantly, Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Overwhelmingly the mandate is seen to have been for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, reports say, commands reverence somewhat akin to what Indira Gandhi enjoyed when in power. Prannoy Roy of NDTV declared that this was the “new India” and that “we are all part now of Modi’s nation
”. On one level, that statement is absurd. It signals how the liberal establishment itself has lost its grip on the very definition of democracy.
The nation does not belong to one man, but a people who have elected him, and importantly also, to those who did not. Democracy is not reducible to a formulation that the majority wins, but its highest ideals enshrine safeguarding its minorities. If anything, Modi’s India, since we must call it that, represents a profound crisis for secularism and the country’s constitutional values. The BJP’s choice of chief minister for UP – Yogi Adityanath
– represents another grotesque subversion of these principles.
Adityanath has made incendiary speeches inciting open violence towards Muslims, (“If they take one Hindu girl, we will take hundred of their Muslim girls”), enforcing a ban on cow slaughter, and declaring that the freedom of women need to be curbed lest they become unnatural. Since his assuming office, the UP (moral) police has already launched ‘anti-Romeo’ squads to seemingly curb harassment against women but more likely to shame and intimidate young couples.
The 2014 elevation of Narendra Modi to the highest seat of power had already signaled these shifts. Representing the rise of cultural-religious chauvinism backed by corporate power, and a general public willingness to disregard communal violence for the promise of ‘development’, the BJP mandate might well indicate the contours of a ‘new India’. But this is a process that has been patiently engineered through the decades.
The BJP, powered as it is by the radical Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been making its long march through the institutions, giving the lie to the claim that once parties (left or right) come to power they automatically shift to the liberal centre.
While they organise and mobilise violence socially, actively communalise the caste vote, discredit and clamp down on criticism in the university and the media, their rise to power has been through democratic and electoral means. As the scholar Aijaz Ahmad once put it: “Every country gets the fascism that it deserves.”
Puja Sen is a Kathmandu-based writer
Southerly Wind, Editorial
Saffron surge, Om Astha Rai
A U-turn, Om Astha Rai
After Adityanath, From the Nepali Press