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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 34 New Delhi August 10, 2019

Countering BJP

Sunday 11 August 2019

by D.K. Giri

The ruling BJP won a massive victory, beyond expectation of the Opposition as well as the BJP. The latter did not expect such a bumper number of seats. A good many people, mainly in the non-NDA tent, are still pondering over the verdict. How could it go so wrong? With so many voices against Narendra Modi how could the BJP increase its own tally from 282 to 303? How did the fixed electoral arithmetic fail in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh? Did the EVM do the trick for the BJP?

Some of the above questions are not difficult to answer. One of them on the EVM is irrelevant although machines can be manipulated. Therefore, in order to permanently remove the misgivings on the EVM, one could switch back to the ballot as many other countries have done. But, that is not the issue at the moment. Without concrete evidence, raising the bogey of EVMs obfuscate the real reasons for the defeat of the Opposition. For now, the verdict cannot be called conclusively to be EVM-tampered. Also without building a falsifiable hypothesis, one cannot make a case against the EVM vis-a-vis the results.

Anyway, decoding the 2019 verdict is an exercise consigned to history. But, the continuing domination by the BJP/NDA of the political space despite grave misses and mistakes should worry the political analysts having sympathy and solidarity with progressive politics. As one among those let me proffer some strategic suggestions to the Opposition.

In postulating my propositions, I have to begin, briefly at the beginning, enumerating the causes of the defeat of the Opposition, because to an observant mind, the same factors are letting the BJP get away with its grievous blunders in social, economic and foreign policy, and overall governance.

Political analysts were wondering how to crack the post-verdict conundrum for the Opposition. But, it is not difficult really. The main reasons for the heavy defeat are two—a slipshod alliance-building and the absence of a coherent and convincing ideological platform. I had said in a piece before the elections, “Sisyphean Task for Congress” (Mainstream, May 11, 2019): “INC outside the gathbandhan may damage the non-NDA prospects in UP and the rest of India.”

At any rate, to discuss alliance-building now is irrelevant but the lack of alternative platform in terms of ideology and policies is what should bother us. To be sure, the current repressive regime could be pushed back on the defensive by the power of ideas as, otherwise, it is too powerful, money-wise and due to varied reasons, to be defeated. Remember Victor Hugo, “No military, however strong it may be, can defeat the power of an idea whose time has come.”

Before I touch upon the specific issues where the BJP is miserably faltering and failing, let me share a methodological point we are overlooking. The Left, known as Communists in India and far-Left social democrats abroad, are ceding political space to the populist-Right by disengaging and by being dismissive of them. It is self-defeating in a democracy. If their frames of thinking appeal to the people and win them elections, shall we not engage with them and reframe them to our advantage by offering the people a better option? George Lakoff provides an indispensable tool for progressives in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know your Values and Frame the Debate, with a lot of tips on how to reclaim the political debate. Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. In politics, our frames shape our policies and organisations that carry out such policies.

Now, let us apply this to some specific issues, Secularism has been the key concept on which social policies have been formulated. But the concept has been confusing and controversial and hence difficult to practice. For instance, it said the state should be religion-neutral, yet the government got involved in religious affairs; running the Tirupati temple or the Wakf Board etc. The BJP took advantage of this lacuna and manipulated it to their advantage, privileging majoritarianism in social interactions.

Notably, the concept of secularism delegitimised identity in public space which is unpragmatic. Identity, mainly religious and ethnic ones, will stay as long as human beings are around. So instead of ignoring it, why not we recognise it, make policies and imbibing practices for their harmonious accommodating. Why not we promote pluralism in lieu of secularism?

Talking of the economy, under the BJP our economy is really in poor shape. The BJP’s economic policy is neither capitalist nor socialist nor liberal. They tried to promote crony capitalism with a sprinkling of welfarism like gas, electricity and toilets for the poor. But neither are the poor benefiting with a crumbling disruptive economy, nor is there any growth. The unemployment figures (45-year high), and slowdown in growth say it all.

The foreign policy leaves a lot to desire. I have questioned the appointment of unelected people as Ministers. (“The Foreign Minister—Diplomatic Deftness vs. Political Acumen, August 2, Shillong Times) That is in a presidential system, not a democracy. Our Kashmir policy is in a mess. America has repeated its offer to mediate, an euphemism for bullying to solve it. The BJP’s hawkish policy towards Pakistan sans sound political and diplomatic initiatives is falling flat on our face.

What is the progressive platform, non-BJP frames on social, economic and foreign policies? Do we have any? Sadly no. Let the progressives led maybe by the only non-BJP national party, the Indian National Congress, come up with new frames, it does not matter if the Congress Party has a leadership issue at the moment, it will sort it out sooner than later. The deeper issue is reclaiming the ideological and policy space. In parenthesis, I reinforce my thesis that politics is far more an intellectual business than we think. But Indian politicians, now mainly the Opposition, seem to ignore it. Curiously, the Opposition has a huge wealth of intellect in its leaders, but they are subdued as electoral politics predominates. We fail to realise that even the electoral politics, certainly the parliamentary elections, are heavily influenced by ideas. Prime Minister Naredra Modi had the advantage as “power legitimises wisdom” is another aphorism and experience. So the Opposition has to up the intellectual ante and demolish the myths created day in and day out by the present government.

Dr D.K. Giri is the Director, Schumacher Centre, Delhi, which seeks primarily to contribute to revitalisation of rural India by training and the application of appropriate technology. Having done his MA and M. Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, he obtained his Ph.D from the University of Hull, England, where he was associated with the Centre for Developing Area Studies, and the Centre for European Union Studies. Dr Giri has done another Ph.D on the ’British Labour Party’, from the JNU, New Delhi. Having a brilliant academic record—first class distinctions and merit scholarships throughout his career—Dr Giri has taught in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and has been guest lecturer in the universities in India and abroad.

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