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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 48 New Delhi November 17, 2018

Dissolution of the Liberal-Democratic State

Sunday 18 November 2018, by Badri Raina

In a collection of commentaries on contemporary issues, titled Idea of India Hard to Beat; Republic Resilient (2016), this writer had stipulated that whereas it no longer seemed “inevitable” that capitalism would collapse with finality under the weight of its own contradictions, it did seem, in the Indian context, that inevitability now attaches to the Constitution of India after seven decades of the practice of parliamentary democracy. (

The zeitgeist that now confronts us obliges me to eat those rather precipitate words.

We may no longer wish away the grim reality that the political Rightwing in India which came to power through constitutional legitimation is now making bold to let out an agenda that makes mockery of that form of legitimation.

The Sangh can be seen to be engaged in two, conjoint, projects: one, to transform the pluralist nation into a monochromatic one in which, as Golwalker had required (We, or Our Nationhood Defined), all non-Hindus are being pressed to view themselves as Hindus (“Ram ke Vanshaj”), and to show a primary allegiance to Hindu forms of culture and religious practice; and, concomitantly, to displace the primacy of electoral majority by cultural-religious majority as the political foundation of the state.

These objectives have been dictating a dual form of praxis to the ruling dispensation: one, to continue to pay lip-service to the constitutional regime for continued legal legitimation, and, two, to patronise social fascios on the ground charged with the task of putting the terror of god into polities who remain loyal to pluralism. It should not be hard to recognise that this dual agenda is starkly sourced in the Europe of the 1930s.

At the governmental level, not surprisingly, this historical project has required a systematic ideological subversion of state institutions, and a relentless infusion of manpower among them equipped to operate that subversion, and to generate a mass mayhem as a supporting edifice to that subversion.

Even more profoundly, the Sangh’s deter-mined putsch against the liberal-democratic state calls upon it as a first far-reaching task to overthrow the educational edifice of liberal-democracy by junking its books, scholarships, institutional practices in schools, colleges, universities, dislodging pedagogic principles and the staff that have been operating those principles in classrooms, seminars, conferences, and peer-group outlets.

This overhaul and appropriation then prepares the human resource ground for the manning of other institutions of state which bolster government policies and control the lives of citizens, especially of those who remain recalcitrant.

Thus, what we have been seeing with respect to police thanas, the CBI, the IB, the CVC, the Election Commission, the RBI, the ED etc. falls into this pattern of transformation. The less said of Governorships here, of course, the better.

Yet, even the most pessimistic of political obsevers may not have envisaged that a day would come when the Supreme Court of India would receive the sort of defiance that is now underway, be it in the Sabarimala case or the imbroglio about the Ram Mandir issue.

The public defiance at Sabarimala indeed seems to draw a parallel with the recent acquittal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan of a young Christian woman from the charge of “blasphemy”. As we know, Islamists in that sibling country are everywhere up in arms against that Supreme Court verdict, and the unfortunate family is now obliged to seek asylum in America. Sabarimala likewise seems to define our own version of “blasphemy” wherein women of menstrual age are seen to engage in “blasphemy” by wishing to exercise their fundamental right to pray at the shrine as per our own Supreme Court verdict. In either case, the state appears to think it best to strike some form or other of a rapproachment with the protesters, hoping face-saving procedures may be arrived at.

At home, everyday, various scions of the Sangh make it boldly known that the Supreme Court, which is hearing merely contentions about a title suit to the particular site at Ayodhya, had either better give a verdict desired by the Sangh—and before the coming General Electiions to the Parliament—or else the “Hindu Naton” will take matters into their own hands. A repeat of the 1992 putsch has been openly threatened.

One would have thought that, as happens in Europe and America, the liberal polity at large would sense the moment and be seen on the streets on behalf of the liberal-democratic state, regardless of discrete political party affiliations. Indeed, it might be argued that the moment calls for the mounting of an Indian People’s Front. Such, however is the pusillanimity of the political spectrum with respect to the Ayodhya issue that there seems little hope of any such thing happening in answer to the attempted usurpation of the state as we have known it. As far as one can see, the Opposition tactics appears to be to dub the putsch as a diversion from livelihood issues and hope that the electorate at large will see the matter in such light. Vast sections of the immiserated populations, immiserated by governmental policies since the last general election, will indeed see through the mayhem but, if history is anything to go by, such tactics may teeter on the thin ice of complacence in parts of the Union fairly decisive to electoral outcomes, even as the Southern and Eastern parts of India remain unimpressed by an Aryan/Brahminical event.

It is of course open to Opposition parties who, after all, together represent some 69 percent of the last electoral verdict, to approach the custodian of the constitutional regime, namely, the President of India. Were this to happen, it would be highly instructive to find out how the Rashtrapati views the challenge that now confronts, for example, the Supreme Court where its decisions no longer seem binding either on sections of the polity or on state protagonists charged to oversee their implementation. We recall that post the failure, the willful failure, of the erstwhile Kalyan Singh Government in the Uttar Pradesh of 1992 to honour its sworn commitment to prevent harm to the then mosque at the disputed site, a clutch of State governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party were dismissed from office.

Conversely, to return to the main burden of this piece, were the present ruling establishment to return to power at the Centre, it may be a forgone conclusion that transformation now in progress at the levels of the nation and the state could proceed with unchallenged alacrity to their desired culmination.

The resilience of the Republic, of which I had written, may indeed now be under a strain that could prove terminal, and such an eventuality would be more the failure of the now dithering or cowed majority than the success of a resolute minority.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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