Hindutva in age of good governance: Modi, AAP and Muzaffarnagar

By Saroj Giri

What is 'Modi' the name of today? Recall Praveen Togadia's tweet that Hindutva followers should not be too opposed to Modi ordering the arrest of Bajrang Dal activists (they were arrested on August 20th, 2013, by Gujarat Police after they had vandalised an art exhibition in Ahmedabad which included art exhibits from Pakistani artists). The reason Togadia provides: 'let him add secular votes'.

Togadia's tweet points to a new strategy of Hindutva politics which believes it possible to secure secular votes without giving up communal, divisive politics. Secular votes are now compatible with communal polarisation including riots. But there is a caveat: you must keep communal polarisation low profile or low intensity and keep chanting the mantra of development and governance.

That is, in a riot situation, keep the number of actual killings low and instead compensate for that by increasing those displaced and uprooted from their land and homes - clearly the pattern in Muzaffarnagar riots (Sep 2013), where the thrust was on displacing Muslims (50,000), shattering their economic base and means of livelihood, rather than on killings per se ('only' 37 Muslims killed). This new kind of riots represent lessons learned from what 'went wrong' in Gujarat 2002, where the high number of Muslims killed (790) attracted enormous press and civil society attention around the world, and created a political albatross that dogs Modi to this day.

These are riots in the age of good governance, or good governance as the continuation of riots in new ways.

 Hindutva in age of good governance: Modi, AAP and Muzaffarnagar

Narendra Modi in this file photo. PTI

One indication of this is seen in the manner in which both 'secular' and 'communal' parties contest and fight over who can deliver on growth, development and good governance - the new 'hegemonic' agenda of politics. Defending the secular constitutional order seems secondary even for the secularists. In any case, this secularism is no longer what is being actively contested and fought over in politics.

The communal forces too are no longer attacking 'pseudo-secularism'. Here we notice a major structural shift in Indian politics. Modi is hardly heard lashing out at 'minority appeasement' or putting the Ram Mandir at the centre of his campaign for the 2014 elections. Instead it is all about good governance and growth. 'The BJP’s definition of good governance is an administration where even the weakest and the most vulnerable sections of society have an equal stake in charting the country’s growth'. Some say, Modi is increasingly talking like a management guru. In other words, you can be communal without being communal today!

However many, among them ardent secularists and leftists, welcome this new agenda of politics while opposing Modi/BJP. It is supposed to take us away from divisive issues and communal or vote bank politics and open the way towards a more enlightened, rational politics based on genuine issues of development and governance. A Muslim as much as a Dalit or an upper caste Hindu or a jhuggi dweller all want basic amenities like water, electricity, good schools - they all want good governance, don't they?

So if only we could stop Modi or the BJP from coming to power, this agenda is in itself very positive! It is by dint of this logic that scores of secularist or left-leaning activists and academics have joined AAP which promotes this agenda.

What is, however, overlooked is that the new agenda in no way undermines divisive or communal politics and in fact only realigns the latter in far more sinister ways. That is, communalism does not weaken under good governance but is rendered invisible, pushed to a subterranean existence outside the realm of active politics and public debate, outside political contestation - and hence in many ways gets strengthened leading to minority persecution and mass murder.

With everyone obsessed with good governance and growth, communalism festers, gathers strength away from the limelight. Indeed the Indian communal social order is much deeper than the constitutional values of secularism purportedly meant to fight it. As I argued elsewhere, this fight needs nothing less than a radical social transformation, rather than some flimsy constitutional secularism.

The riots in Muzaffarnagar not becoming an issue at all in the Delhi elections is a case in point here. These elections gave full voice to the agenda of development and good governance. Indeed, how can the good and clean governance of citizen-entrepreneurs have anything to do with sectarian violence and minority persecution! The much touted rejection of vote-bank politics and vested interests, or even the fight against corruption now feels an alibi and a refusal to not address the issue of minority persecution, indeed, of mass murder and rape which was unfolding not very far from Delhi - nay, not just refusal, but a total invisibilisation, pushing the riots outside the field of vision. Out of sight, out of mind.

What is happening is that riots are getting ghettoised. Earlier, minorities were ghettoised in the cesspool of socio-economic backwardness but their killings in riots as in say Gujarat 2002 would shock the nation and make for national debate. No more. With Muzaffarnagar, we know that now riots too can be ghettoised. When the country was in tumult over the rape of women, you had almost 200 women raped during the Muzaffarnagar riots. So little is heard about these 'Nirbhayas of Muzaffarnagar' even as the country is supposedly in the throes of a movement for swaraj, and some say, 'second freedom movement'!

Minority persecution is shoved into the arena of some kind of a naturalistic inevitability or merely a carryover from the practice of vote bank politics and corrupt vested interests. We good citizens, innocent of those horrible machinations, and fighting corruption day in and day out, and now all standing for good governance will obviously not have anything to do with it! Go ask somebody else about it!

Hence, the mantra of development and good governance has made it so much easier to cleanse your hands off the most heinous crimes of communal hatred and murder. It is not however everybody's luck to be seen as epitomising the new development agenda. Modi stands out in this. But Modi also epitomises riot engineering, to be now carried out without losing secular votes.

So while others like the Samajwadi Party too have overseen many riots under their rule, least of all in Muzaffarnagar, the prize goes to Modi for being the exemplar of this mix of riots and good governance today. Thus while he is transforming himself into a management guru, 'moderating his rhetoric', other leaders in the Parivar (Vinay Katiyar, Rajnath Singh) keep the traditional communal politics afloat on his behalf - a very sinister division of labour among the RSS-BJP leaders.

But it is not that this mix of riots and good governance cannot exist without Modi. With less perfection this can be carried out by the Congress or any other party. SP's Akhilesh Yadav for example did really nothing to stop the Muzaffarnagar riots and played the most sordid vote bank politics with Muslims.

If this is the case then what do we say to those progressive and secular Modi-haters who attack him for 2002 but do not want to critique the new agenda. Indeed this agenda is shared by those who are fighting Modi and the BJP, those fighting 'communalism', by the Aam Aadmi Party and to a large extent by the Congress, including many other regional political parties. It is the default mode of Indian politics today.

The Aam Aadmi Party is increasingly targeting Modi even as it is neck- deep in the good governance muck. And yet in terms of its articulation, effects and ramifications, the new agenda seems already set in its affinity with communal politics. Thus think of AAP's coyness when it comes to talking about communalism. Their insistence that they are not about vote banks so often seems to be a way to duck communal issues, including riots.

Indian politics' umbilical cord with communal politics and riots is magically rendered invisible by the cunning discourse of good governance, transparency and anti-corruption. Only a politics of radical social transformation can dislodge this bonhomie of good governance and communalism.

Updated Date: Mar 06, 2014 07:29:43 IST