Working on the philosophy ‘either you are with us or against us’, the BJP-RSS have not left any middle ground.
What does the defeat of the BJP in the Lok Sabha byelections in India’s two most populous states — Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — tell us about 2019? The answer is fairly straightforward — that achche din may finally be over the horizon. Not the achche din that Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised in the run-up to the 2014 general elections but the real stuff where the country would be able to breathe once again. The continuing spectre of a nation on the edge, with fear being the overriding emotion and the big brother Orwellian state trampling upon and tearing down the walls of legitimate private spaces, may finally be over.
As someone who has consistently held over the past 46 months that our nation is skidding on a slippery slope, the results come as no surprise. The fact that they are springing from the two states that contribute 120 seats out of the 543 elected seats in the Lok Sabha make them doubly significant.
One straightforward explanation for the defeat of the BJP could be anti-incumbency. People do get weary of governments towards the slog overs of their term. However, in the instant case, the portents could be far more portentous. What has been playing itself out in the past four years has been a continuing and unremitting attempt by the NDA/BJP-RSS combine to rewrite the fundamental compact that underpins the edifice of the Indian state. For those holding the levers of office, it is 1947, the Partition and the battle for the founding vision of India all over again.
Despite a ghoulish religious Partition that left millions dead, wounded, homeless and traumatised, the founders of the Indian Republic strove to put in place a liberal contract whereby the State promised and constitutionally guaranteed to the people of India: Justice — social, economic, political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and opportunity; and to promote among them all fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. Grand in its sweep, all embracing in its vision and noble in its creed it held the field for over seven decades as the Republic of India went about the business of consolidating itself.
However, this liberal contract enshrined in the Indian Constitution was not acceptable to those forces who believed that a religious Partition meant that India should also become the conjoined twin of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan albeit with the word Islamic replaced by another denomination. When they got their moment in the sun in 2014 they thought it gave them the locus to refight and rejoin what they considered to be a recessed battle in their minds.
The violence in the name of the cow, oxymorons like love jihad, ghar wapsi and various other insidious instrumentalities were deployed and employed in an all-out attempt to shape a majoritarian narrative. The casualty inevitably became the independence of thought, freedom of articulation, liberty to worship free of fear and the growing lack of faith coupled with a sense of disbelief that this is not the country that we grew up in and this certainly is not the nation we would want our children to inherit.
This is where the current rulers of India have miscalculated. There is a difference between conservatism, revivalism and fundamentalism. The majority community in India maybe conservative in their religious beliefs, a section may even be revivalist too about their religion but an overwhelming majority are, by no stretch, fundamentalist in their disposition. They intrinsically believe in the philosophy of live and let live. If anyone tries to subvert the social fabric and that too in their name it makes them profoundly uncomfortable for that is not their innate DNA or even their belief system.
This is what gave them the strength and the resilience over centuries of persecution to imbibe and assimilate diverse extraneous impulses without transforming or even metamorphosing their basic ethos. This perseverance born in the crucible of tribulations and tempered with fire of unremitting trials ingrained in them the philosophy of tolerance and respect for the other. They never demonised the otherness of the other but rather accepted it as long as it did not impinge upon their faith, belief or the sovereignty of worship.
This was not a phenomenon that evolved overnight but has millennia of institutional experience as its repository. To the denominational majority in India this is not something acquired but rather reflexive. Whenever someone seeks to use their religious identity as a means of political mobilisation, there maybe a temporary upsurge, but in the end the all pervasive and omnipresent self-corrective instinct automatically kicks in to restore the status quo.
This is what constitutes the unique civilisational genius of India. The founders of the modern Indian Republic were intellectual giants who had read the tea leaves correctly and successfully welded a landmass of diverse faiths, multiple languages, dialects, varied culinary tastes and dynamic temperaments into what is commonly known as the idea of India.
That is why the battle of 2019 is not merely a fight for the overlordship of Lutyens’ Delhi. It is about the clashing visions of India. In the past four years the NDA/BJP has successfully, though tragically, polarised each and every institution in India. Working on the philosophy “either you are with us or against us”, they have not left any middle ground. The reality of India is that it can only be sustainably ruled from the middle. A lurch to the religious right or a summersault towards the atheist left puts the rulers out of lockstep with the mood of the nation.
There is an oft-repeated argument put forth by the apologists of the current regime. They claim that there is no alternative to them, the ubiquitous TINA factor. What they do not understand is that there is an uncanny telepathy that the people of this nation are blessed with. First they decide whom to boot out and then identify the alternative.