It needs to be said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi seldom fails to make the right noises.
What the decisive, compelling and devastating Narendra Modi victory in Uttar Pradesh has done is to pave the way for the inauguration of India’s second republic. This signifies a historic departure from the value systems and mores of public life that flourished since 1950.
More, it green-lights the entrenchment of a new code of conduct, written or unwritten, in the running of the state and simultaneously offers official encouragement for the spread of the imagined social values of the Hindu majority that parade under the shorthand of “Hindu culture”, an expression — given currency in recent decades — for which eminent Hindu religious scholars and experts are hard put to find cogent meaning.
In addition to this, there is a further angle that ties up with the promotion of “political Hinduism”. This involves the manipulation of the system, specially the police and the judiciary, to condone extremist political actions of the kind that have been flagged as “Hindu terrorism”, and scuttle trials in such cases, as we have seen the National Investigation Agency attempt to do in recent times.
Unlike the French case, when the country’s Constitution was radically altered to usher in the present fifth republic under Charles de Gaulle in 1958/59 in the crucible of Algerian decolonisation and weak parliamentary governments in metropolitan France, the second republic in India may just see a soft launch — no formal alterations to the basic structure (of being a democratic republic) for the time being, but a gradual ideological and political whittling down of the fundamental notions of an equal citizenship (and a reflection of this changed state of affairs in the daily life of the nation).
This is a sustainable model. Since the inauguration of the Modi regime in 2014, a series of extraordinary “saffron-oriented” small violent eruptions have occurred, most frequently taking the form of cow-nationalism and attacks on churches. These showed blatant disregard for the very notion of the rule of law and have occurred in all parts of the country, with the protagonists being generally associated with Hindutva outfits and victims being members of the minority communities or dalits. There is no record of serious consequences being visited on the perpetrators, giving the impression of a quiet sanction being accorded to such a project from the side of the executive.
It needs to be said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi seldom fails to make the right noises. From a public forum he has sharply criticised the “gau-rakshak” vigilante brigades, calling them patrons of “gorakh-dhandha” (irregular activity) and urged legal action against them.
However, it is striking that while the poor Muslim man Akhlaq was killed — in his Dadri home on Delhi’s outskirts — on the false charge of keeping cow’s meat in his kitchen, when a leader of the killer brigade died of the chikungunya illness shortly thereafter, the Hindutva outfits in the area held condolence meetings and received the public patronage of Union minister Mahesh Sharma.
Mr Modi continued to tolerate him in his council of ministers and expressed no displeasure. There is a clear feeling in saffron quarters by now that the PM’s admonitions on the social front are meant just for the record and are not meant to be taken seriously.
As the PM, Mr Modi enjoys enormous constitutional authority. Also, he is feared by BJP-RSS cadres across India and held in awe by them after the stupendous election wins he has delivered. If the PM wants, he can put an end to law-breaking in any form and send Hindutva vigilantes running for cover. But that is not his inclination, evidently.
In India, we are living in a historically-altered phase. This is not a matter of change of governments, a change of Prime Ministers, or the defeat of the Congress — the most coherent symbol of the “first republic” — and that party’s long-term decline as a political machine.
It needs to be understood that the BJP, the political front of the RSS whose credo is “Hindu Rashtra” and not “democratic India”, is a new type of party in our political system that has come to power in a dramatically impressive fashion — winning a massive majority in Parliament and in the country’s largest state, besides controlling half a dozen other state governments. This is a party which prides itself on projecting a religious ethos that is convenient only to the country’s Hindu majority, and that is the feature that distinguishes it from all other parties in the country.
In 1947, a post-colonial India emerged at the end of a long-drawn non-violent struggle in which all religious communities and caste and language groups of India were involved. To the RSS, this meant nothing. The Hindutva parent outfit had shunned the national movement. In its eyes, the governments that came after the defeat of the British Raj were not “Hindu” governments as they did not privilege the country’s Hindu majority. In its reckoning, the country’s first Hindu government has come into being for the first time under the leadership of Mr Modi. This makes the present conjuncture a special moment for the RSS and the BJP. For them, a new dawn has broken. A dream of a Hindu Pakistan is today possible.
So long as the BJP has a comfortable majority in Parliament and controls a large number of states, it does not need to show its hand and can carry on with the existing Constitution while making policy changes that enable the further rise of Hindutva as well as its entrenchment, e.g. through the educational system — just as they did in Pakistan under Gen. Zia-ul-Haq.
At the level of form, all would seem to be well even as the ideological and political erosion of the values of citizenship are made daily occurrences. Gandhiji’s portrait can continue to hang in the Prime Minister’s Office room though his spirit would have long left it.
The only foreseeable problem for the saffron camp is that the entire edifice rests on one man. India’s fundamental social structure and psychology has not changed, although there are rumblings at the margins, which made the rise of the BJP possible. As such, remove Mr Modi from the equation and the BJP looks just as hollow or vulnerable as any other party.
In light of this, is 2019 already in the bag? Probably. But elections are a game that rest on social forces coming together or staying apart. The transition to the second republic cannot be completed if BJP’s act comes unstuck in the next Lok Sabha election.