The 23rd of May 2019 was indeed a surprise for most Indians. History may well remember this date as the turning point for India as a nation state and a society. While over 600 million had walked the last metre in the sweltering summer to vote in the 17th Lok Sabha (the Lower House of Parliament), almost a billion were glued to the 180 million odd television sets across the country on this day. As the day progressed, millions of Indians across the world checked their smartphones at minimal intervals in trepidation and wonder.
What started as positive trends for the right-wing BJP and its allies, literally turned into a tsunami by mid-day. Even the most ardent supporters of BJP were stunned at the scale and breadth of the victory. It seemed as if, a sea of lotuses (BJP’s election symbol) were hiding under the surface and suddenly decided to bloom over the 23rd forenoon. By evening, the Lotus was standing erect, its teflonated petals unsullied by all the muck sprayed at it by every political entity or protagonist. The resounding victory of the Modi led BJP was not that much a recognition of five years of great governance but an outcome of a masterclass in strategy and execution unleashed by the BJP (& RSS) leadership over the last decade. It was strategy execution that would be the envy of many a corporate honcho. Granular planning and communication mastery kept a majority of voters constantly in debate with themselves whether to vote for Modi or not, while a small minority hunched up their will, searching for excuses to yet go for the so-called grand old party, the Congress or its ilk (other opposition parties aplenty).
The General Elections 2019 has surely slung India around the corner. A corner that the mainstream politicians used for decades to scare the polity and guarded zealously under a camouflage named secularism. Come 23rd May, India finally bid goodbye to the legacy of divide and rule and hopes to reclaim its right to an identity that was denied for ages. I am not talking of any Hindu fundamentalism here, but the quintessential need for any citizen of a country to proudly and shamelessly identify himself or herself with their nation. No nation has made progress without its citizens feeling content and proud to identify with it.
Born as a sovereign country as late as the 15th of August 1947, India has been a product of an arranged but estranged marriage between the self-appointed representatives of an emotionally troubled minority and an intellectually satisfied majority. These representatives ran political parties, wrote history to epitomise their narrow narratives, attracted clones in academia, media and industry, extended largesse beyond imagination to those who agreed to become their megaphones and amassed land, black money and power beyond comprehension of those they claimed to represent. The poor, the illiterate, the marginalised, remained where they were, insulated by their ignorance and natural habits of feudalism they could never escape from.
Yes, we were a land of diversity. A diversity never imaginable in any country of the world.
Yes, we were divided by language, castes, cuisine and religion, but as a civilizational chunk of land, known as the Indian sub-continent, controlled by foreign powers for over half a millennium.
Till the late 1960s, those in government were busy making deals with the princes and princelings of the 600 plus kingdoms that inhabited this chunk of land, so that the few politicians, elected by a multitude of gullible, feudal innocents could hoard power and luxury. They replaced the foreign powers but made every effort under the guise of ‘secularism’ to keep the young country divided. They used the language of the former ruler and peddled beautiful terms like pluralism, socialism and of course democracy to continue in power. They addressed every subject of theirs by their caste, religion or language and never allowed them to think as citizens of a nation called India. The only thing that remained common to the citizens of this country has been those who ruled them.
BJP and its strategy, hence, has been to break this stranglehold of hypocrisy and they appear to have succeeded. Surely, they harkened the Hindus to unite as Hindus and that leads to nervousness or even insecurity for the minorities. They have used every trick in their armoury to garner votes from the majority while pledging themselves to the Constitution of India that enshrines equal rights to every citizen irrespective of their religion. The Opposition, the Congress and its paraphrased versions probably felt more threatened than the so-called minorities as they believe that another term of a Modi-led government would probably obliterate the very tenets of their existence. That is the reason the Opposition was merely opposed to the incumbent government and BJP and could never pause and think of building an alternate narrative or ideology.
The Reality around the bend…
By 2020/21, BJP is expected to gain a majority in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Parliament) with the seats falling vacant being filled up with their nominees from the States where they have gained majority in the respective Legislative Assemblies. The fear that this would enable BJP to bring in constitutional amendments and turn India into a Hindu theocracy stands rejected by the majority in these elections. The electorate was ostensibly driven by the hope generated by Modi’s development rhetoric and belief in the stated ideology of BJP and RSS that the nation comes first. That the onus of bearing the cross of pluralism, secularism and socialism need not be borne solely by the Hindu majority also appears to have been accepted by the relatively agnostic or indifferent young India. There are also those who truly believe in the powers of the Institutions of Democracy to thwart any extremist move by the ruling party. And finally like this author, there are quite a few who do see Hindu-ism as an ism or a philosophy rather than a religion that can turn into a theocratic hull.
Nationalism as a flavour is going to stay not only because there is an enemy lurking outside but more due to the aspirations of a young India biting its tether off at an average age of 28. The Indian electorate and its burgeoning young contingent is overtly motivated by ungratified ‘Self-Esteem’ needs rather than religious or caste identities. That is why a major part of BJP’s strategy was aimed at them through the development agenda while the nationalism and Hindu agglomeration prongs were used to corral the remaining part of the polity motivated yet by ‘Physiological & Safety’ needs.
But, the domain around the corner that India seems to have turned has a few difficult challenges, coming from the history of the land and people that formed India as a nation. Blaming history or rewriting it to suit any political narrative will not change the reality that India has been and remains, even today. Yes, small wheels of change did start turning, catalysed by urbanisation and inexpensive telecom and internet networks but the challenges, today’s India faces are so deep rooted that one would need an army of giant JCBs to make a difference. Alone BJP and its forces alone cannot manage the change.
The change required is to build an Identity that all citizens of India can be proud of and desire to belong to!
The founders of our nation were probably relieved at the way they could make the beginning. Gandhiji, must have heaved a sigh of relief as the riots petered out in most urban parts of the country while Nehru celebrated his coronation as the benevolent Chacha Nehru. What Sardar Patel achieved in integrating the princedoms across the country (barring Kashmir, managed by Nehru) was not as difficult as creating a common identity for all Indian citizens irrespective of their castes, religion or language.
We need to accept this long-avoided challenge, instead of stashing it under a carpet called secularism. Then and then only we can strive to find a staying solution!
Our founding fathers bequeathed us a great Constitution. But it does not confer an Identity for every citizen of a country divided by castes, religion and language. The Constitution merely gives us ‘…a set of rules regulating the powers of its government and the rights and duties of its citizens’. The onus of regulating the powers of the government lies with the Civil Society and the Judiciary while the task of protecting the Rights of citizens and ensuring that each of them perform their Duties rests with the Executive.
But, how does each poster of a citizen walking around with labels of caste, language or religion sticking all over its body get an Identity that makes him or her feel good as an Indian?
It appears that Modi led BJP is serious about finding a way forward (solution maybe too optimistic a word) to this long pending challenge. A taste of the granularity of this challenge that every politician or party shied away from over the last 72 years could be seen from the following two examples:
- Hindus first identify themselves with their different linguistic community and then with their Caste. The young urbanites may not feel so strongly about his or her caste, but their parents still do. One merely has to look at the drop-down choices on the matrimonial sites to accept the reality.
- How does one identify with pride of being an Indian if we primarily see ourselves as a Tamil, Bengali, Kannadiga, Oriya or a Punjabi Or when we publicly assert ourselves or feel diminutive being a Brahmin, Kayastha, Teli, an SC/ ST or a Swarnakar??
- Notwithstanding the few educated agnostics or the simply indifferent, a majority of Muslims wrestle with a dual identity of being a Bengali as well as a Sunni or being a Gujrati as well as a Bohra or a Khoja Or live for a lifetime dream of going for the Haj to Mecca, that the Government arranges for all believers.
- How does one identify with pride of being an Indian, when you are addressed by your linguistic and religious identity instead of being a fellow proud Indian??
I have no clue to the levels of reservation that exist and where, for the various caste labels, but I do not see legislation coming too soon to do away with the same. I do not see how any Government can find a legislative solution to the multiple identities many Indians have to wrestle with, since the labels are too old and related to where one is born rather than a choice made by an adult mind.
The only thing that can bind all Indians is India, not by its history but by virtue of its future. An India, doing well economically, diplomatically, in sports, in science, in art, music, movies, in international competition can be a magnet that all Indians can attach themselves to. An India that creates and distributes wealth as widely as possible can be one all Indians can be happy to contribute towards. Anything that does good for the national identity will unite its citizens for a purpose. Anything that makes us debate historical narratives or anecdotes will keep us divided. I find it utterly ludicrous that national television hosts debates on whether we should follow Gandhi or Savarkar. Both these gentlemen are hopefully resting in peace or torment but surely are not leading us Today for the Future.
How can we follow leaders or their likes from the smoky past?
We need to agree or disagree, lead or follow thought leaders of today and that too for the future we wish to see fructified in our lifetime or beyond. India has turned the corner. We cannot be sitting around the bend with a bent periscope peering into the past. There are serious but real challenges ahead as any onward journey is supposed to have. Let us march ahead and face those by accepting them.
There are only Two challenges. One, we need to live for and the Other that we need to live with.
What we need to live for is, Democracy. We must nurture this precious asset of civilised society. For that, we need to educate and make aware those who are ignorant, gullible and economically challenged. On the other hand, what we need to live with is Capitalism, the Frankenstein that at times, makes civilised society feel like a mirage. It is better we accept this reality too and develop a cultural vaccine to protect us from the virulence of capitalism.
India has turned the corner. No Indian should feel cornered anymore!