Public intellectual, politician, psephologist, social worker – Yogendra Yadav wears many hats with ease. An interpreter of ideas, he represents a rare breed of thinkers in the country who can deconstruct complex developments around with logical precision and deliver them to the less knowledgeable with the practised efficiency of a veteran teacher. In this interview, we approach him not as a politician, the role that keeps him extremely busy these days, but as an intellectual who makes our understanding of the world easier. From the Trump Syndrome to elitism to Indian secularism – he explains it all for us.
Excerpts from the interview:
How would you explain the Trump Syndrome? By Trump Syndrome, we mean the expression of popular anger and outrage that is visible across continents through Arab Spring, Brexit and now the support for Donald Trump in the US. Is it simply the rebellion of the underclass, the disprivileged or is there more to it?
You had Brexit, in Sri Lanka, you had Rajapaksha and I think, to be honest, we should also add our own Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the list. I call it the underside of modernity. Our presupposition is modern developments bring in liberality, openness, but there has always been a dark underside to modernity, it has always fuelled anxieties – nativist anxiety, anxieties of loss of identity in a metropolis and anxieties of me, my community, my religion.
Negative reaction to modernity is built into modernity itself. Unless we take the benefit of modernity to the last person we will have the problem of anxieties. Trump is backed by the white unemployed and the poor; Brexit was supported by senior citizens on pension not having a great life, and Narendra Modi drew the support of the unemployed youth. There is a potential pool waiting to be exploited, like in Eastern Europe. Unless we convert the message of modern development for that last person we will continue to have a situation like this.
It’s rebellion of the underclass and the disprivileged but in a distorted form. It works to their disadvantage. What is a Donald Trump going to do for them? He is not pro-labour, pro-poor. He is out and out a capitalist. He represents the ugly face of American capitalism. He will channelise their anger and energy into negative issues, like immigrants, Hispanics, blacks etc. This is a negative outlet for anxiety.
How do you see it in India’s case? The mainstream narrative of secularism and liberalism is under threat from regressive forces of all kind.
I hold the liberal seculars of the country responsible for the situation. They have made no attempt to translate the message of the Indian Constitution for the last person out there. They somehow remained smug in the belief that since there’s a Constitution and there’s a Supreme Court that liberalism will take care of itself. How can it be that ideas like secularism and liberalism cannot be defended in our country? The Indian National Congress not being able to defend nationalism is like the African National Congress not being able to defend anti-apartheid. It is people who did not shed a drop of blood in the Indian freedom struggle have started taking control over the most cherished ideas of the country.
I won’t blame the BJP for it. They are selling a product. If it is rotten then it is for others to resist and reject. The latter have handed them the advantage on a platter. Why, for instance, Hindutva would be the sole preserve of the BJP? I challenge these BJP wallahs don’t understand Hinduism at all. It is our common civilisational heritage, rich in its content, diversity and depth. Our seculars have ensured that it goes to the hands of the most narrow-minded and ill-informed of people. How stupid can it get?
The Uniform Civil Code controversy is a case in point...
Yes, the secular establishment is walking into every trap that Narendra Modi is setting for them. He wanted parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party to be in a photo-op together on the issue, arraigned against the BJP’s position. He knew these parties would rush to the support of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board on the triple talaq issue. That is exactly what they did. Now the BJP has taken over the Uniform Civil Code debate. The common code is good for the country and it is there in the Constitution, why would you allow the BJP to run away with it?
Coming back to the Trump Syndrome do you think it is a revolt against entrenched, self-serving elitism?
Like I mentioned earlier, modernity, democracy and globalisation have unleashed many anxieties and reactions. Some of them are somewhat healthy, like the anti-globalisation movement, the people’s movements in South America. But many of the forces that have been unleashed are unhealthy. They easily take the form of cultural chauvinism. We see it in the strong anti-migrant sentiment in Eastern Europe. Germany is turning anti-migrant. Brexit had a strong element of it. The establishments have failed to address these anxieties. Elitism is true of India as much as it is of the US. Values of modernity, secularism etc have become the preserve of a tiny set of people. This set is exclusivist. The vast population out there don’t have any control over the narrative of these ideas.
Take the case of secularism in India. The secular establishment did not care for the feelings and language – literally the language since secularism has become the preserve of a set of English-speaking people in the country – of the vast masses. They ignored the religious metaphors the common people associate themselves with. Secularists in the post-independence years distanced themselves from people’s sentiments. The original proponents of the idea of secularism stayed true to it. Mahatma Gandhi, till the end, called himself Sanatani Hindu. Now there’s a huge gap between the elite and the masses. In fact, there was a strong subaltern content to the Ram Janmabhumi movement. There was a constituency waiting to be taken. Narendra Modi is feeding on the vacuum created by secular elitism.
There may be many negatives in the churn that is going on, but is it not how new social equilibrium evolves? Does not pressure from below ushers in more agreeable adjustments and corrections?
It is one possible consequence. But it may not be the only possibility. A new social equilibrium can be dangerous. You can see the change around yourself. In the last 20 years, the middle point in the country has shifted towards chauvinism. In the last five years the drawing room conversations revolve around matters; minorities, for instance, that would never be discussed earlier. The discussion in many middle-class homes is ill-informed, prejudiced and chauvinistic. If this indicates a shift then shift in social equilibrium can be dysfunctional. Societies get into phases like this, which sometimes last 10, even 20 years.