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Identity Politics and Political Thought:

After the hectic electoral campaigning in 2014 the polity has become so polarized that even intellectuals have taken sides rather than thought about what is happening in politics. Why has political identity rather than thought become so important today?
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Home > Contents > Article: Romit Raj
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Claiming Independent India: Reflections on Ideological Conflict
Romit Raj
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National politics in India has seen large scale changes over the past four years 1. These changes, which might have been anticipated in the latter part of the UPA’s second term, represent in many ways the most significant shift in Indian politics since liberalization in the early 90s. However, instead of seeing liberalization and the recent ‘nationalist phase’ as phase shifts, it may be more interesting to see them as key milestones of the same arc - the arc of modern Indian politics which begins with Gandhi assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1920s. A long term perspective of several decades has the advantage of revealing patterns that a short-term one does not and Gandhi’s entry into the political space in the sub-continent is the beginning of a cycle, it would seem. There have been a large number of important moments in modern Indian politics but {Gandhi’s leadership of the Congress – Independence – Economic liberalization – Hindu nationalism} forms a self-contained narrative arc, although this needs elaboration. Connected to this arc is the perception that Indians have of their government and by association - the political parties in the country. This essay will try to follow this arc from Gandhi taking over the reins of the Indian National Congress, if only to understand the context in which the present set of changes can be seen and speculate on the direction this continuing process is likely to take. The arguments do not rely on specialized knowledge but only on what is widely known.

The Congress and Independent India
When MK Gandhi assumed leadership of the Congress, he transformed the organization by implementing a series of policies that moved the Congress away from a largely city based political movement towards country wide appeal. By reducing the membership fee, by establishing state units across the country, by trying to get rid of caste, ethnicity and religion as distinguishing characteristics of members, Gandhi sought to reduce elitist influences within party and prepare the democratic base on which a mass movement could be built. In many ways these changes were instrumental in the freedom struggle and Gandhi’s leadership of the Congress sparked a new era in India’s narrative arc 2. We may also propose that Gandhi’s influence over the movement was so great that this continued immediately after independence when a new nation had to be constructed on democratic lines.

In the early days of Independent India, the government was struggling with a few key impediments to national integration. Chief among them were 3:
  1. The question of integrating linguistic communities into the nation
  2. Dealing with the discriminatory system of caste
  3. The integration of tribal communities
  4. Regionalism and regional inequality

These challenges will be recognized as some of the key fault lines in Indian politics and are even today - integration challenges for the state. These challenges also bear a significant resemblance to what Benedict Anderson described as forces of early nationalism that needed to be replaced (because they were either completely absent or on the wane) by more modern integrating narratives which would be shared with the masses through the mediums of ubiquitous media, national civic administration and bureaucracy, the national army among others 4. For Anderson, only these more secular institutions could sustain a shared narrative of a nation as the older institutions of - religion, language, dynasties were becoming irrelevant in a post industrial revolution Europe and North America. In India, Jawaharlal Nehru and his administration had come to similar conclusions albeit for different reasons. India was to be a state which would embrace its heterogeneous nature when it came to language, religion and ethnicity with the homogenizing forces coming from more secular efforts of the government 5.

However, in India it would seem that secular national forces were not so much required to replace the waning traditional forces. In India, these forces were not so weak; instead secular efforts by the government were needed to overcome these older forces which, in the view of the Congress leadership, threatened the integrity of India. It is important to remember that this view was opposed by many within the Congress party and still many others in the opposition 6. The RSS and the erstwhile Jana Sangh for example had a very different idea of how nation building should proceed in India. For the RSS the idea of India was deeply linked to Hindu religious beliefs and it was the indelible legacy of the country to become a Hindu Rashtra.  Within the Congress, at the leadership level, this difference in view manifested itself as the rivalry between Nehru and SardarVallabhbhai Patel 7. While Nehru insisted on government control on the economy and secular nation building process led from the top, Patel was more open to capitalist notions of free economy and was less opposed to fringe Hindu nationalism. Nehru’s reign as the prime minister, (Sardar Patel passed away in 1950) which brought unprecedented stability 8 to the country and the Congress party also crystallized his ideas of modern India as the mainstream consensus. The Congress’ vision, which was flexible enough to accommodate fringe views, sought overall to cast the notion of a positive government that would anchor the essentially political process of development of Indian society. The Indian nation therefore, which was still host to strong pre-industrial nationalist forces (such as Hindutva) nonetheless accepted by broad consensus a more modern notion of a secular nation through Jawaharlal Nehru’s efforts. Above all this was an attitude of inclusion - an idea of India that could absorb diversities and yet retain its unique sovereign character with Congress as the gatekeeper of the idea of India. 

It is often argued - and frequently by Congressmen themselves 9 - that at least till the death of Rajiv Gandhi (and likely beyond that and perhaps even today) the primary stabilizing factor within the Congress party has been the Gandhi family. This is even as the Congress party itself, simply by being in central government for so much of modern Indian history, is considered a stabilizing political force in independent India. It is not too far of a leap to therefore argue that the Gandhi family has been the most visible stabilizing force in independent India. Many congressmen would, at least on TV, also subscribe to such a view. Although this view is too narrow and to look at the Gandhi dynasty as the only entity stabilizing such vast and diverse lands as India is untenable, the association of the family with independence has been so assiduously made in all kinds of texts and public utterances that it has become a fixture in the public imagination, which cannot be easily erased.

What has kept India a stable democracy is an issue beyond the scope of this essay. However, a related question is under scrutiny - what allowed the Congress to maintain such a central presence in the narrative of post-independence India?  To examine this stabilizing force - that no doubt subsumes the symbolic value of the Gandhi family -  one can once again look to Benedict Anderson - who argues that modern nations are forged by shared narratives between people who will never know a large majority of their countrymen - an imagined community 10. I would argue that this shared narrative - that till recently kept the Congress at the center of political activity in the country - is the narrative of the freedom struggle. The primary legitimizing force for the Congress party comes from the central role it played in the independence struggle and this link between the Congress and the freedom struggle finds physical continuity in the Gandhi family 11. The sense of political continuity since Gandhi assumed leadership of Congress in 1920s - through liberalization in the early 1990s - till the latter parts of the UPA 2 made the Congress and its leadership synonymous with nation-building in the national consciousness. No matter how much anti-incumbency the Congress faced, it could always retreat to the comforting shelter of the independence struggle and its remembered/constructed history. Individuals within the Congress may waiver and let the county down but to distrust the Congress party as an institution was to distrust the independence struggle itself 12! This reverence that people of India have had till recently held for Congress’ role in India’s independence is now apparently on the wane. The Congress cannot claim the nation on the behalf of the independence struggle anymore.

How did this change come about? Ofcourse one of the key factors is time itself. As 1947 drifts further and further into the past - more and more Indians will seek to identify themselves with India-as-a-stable-nation - the independence struggle a memory to be celebrated on 15th August every year but not binding citizens into obligatory loyalty towards any organization which fought for independence. It is significant that Narendra  Modi, after the 2014 elections, in his first speech in parliament pointed out that most people who vote in this country now had been born in independent India and yet this independent India had never been claimed as a given; people were constantly led through the narrative of the freedom struggle, as if they were required to relive it. This seems to have changed now but before we get to present times, it will be worthwhile to look at India’s liberalization in early 90s, an event which may have precipitated the changes that led to Modi’s election.

The Congress’ role in the independence movement had legitimized its transition to government in Independent India. The Congress party understood this and went about systematically solidifying and consolidating its position in the country. Rajni Kothari, writing in 1964, identified that even after independence the Congress party had not ceased to be a movement 13. The movement that had spearheaded India’s independence struggle was now focusing its attention on nation building. The Congress’ efforts at nation building continued beyond 1965 through much of the 20th century and during this time the Congress was able to inextricably link itself with the story of India. The Indian economy was a critical instrument of control. After independence the government of India invested heavily in the economy through public sector enterprises. Additionally any sort of private enterprise was heavily regulated. This allowed Congress to wield unparalleled economic power in the country and made political competition at the national level unrealistic 14. The nationalization of banks in India (both in 1969 and again in 1980) under Indira Gandhi is testament to the control that governments in India (more often than not Congress governments) had over economic institutions and hence over the nation. By controlling commerce in India the Congress was able to effectively drive its secular political philosophy across the country. This philosophy portrayed Congress as a stabilizing and inevitable presence at the center of Indian politics. This shared narrative of the country was challenged and eventually severely weakened by what happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1990, PV Narasimha Rao's government found itself with no choice but to reverse the trend of strong government controls on Indian commerce 15. It is worthwhile to remember that the terms of liberalization (that so many have since then lauded as the cornerstone to India’s ascendance as an economic power in the past 20 years) were forced upon India as a part of the IMF bailout 16. Liberalization, which sought to make the economy more market friendly, expanded the role of private and foreign investment. The government, which had once so tightly controlled commerce in the country, was forced to see itself, at least in the long term, not so much as driver of the economy but only as a regulator of private investment and commerce. The entrepreneurial forces that were released by liberalization could not be contained by the Congress. These forces did not necessarily prescribe to its secular political philosophy. (It is significant here that the business class which was the biggest gainer of liberalization actively supported Hindutva.) Many of them did not imagine a permanent central role for the Congress in Indian politics and culture while others actively worked against the congress 17.  In many ways, liberalization started the collapse of the narrative of the Congress party as the sole stabilizing force in the country legitimized by its role in India’s freedom struggle. That PV Narasimha Rao is not often invoked by the Congress testifies to his role as ‘great liberalizer’ not quite fitting into the Congress narrative.

The collapse of the Congress-driven narrative of India was complete in the 2014 elections. The recent election victories that the BJP has enjoyed in the North-East have driven the point home. 70 years after independence Indians are willing to shed the identity of a nation that had fought and achieved freedom and consciously seek a new identity less reverential to the first generation. The BJP has in-effect become the first political ideology to claim an India which is already independent and not one trying to relive the struggle for independence 18.

BJP’s India - Dharma and the Nation
Now that the BJP has been in power for close to 4 years, the question arises - what strategy has the BJP followed and continues to follow towards building a new shared narrative for independent India (presumably with BJP in a central stabilizing role). It is often claimed in Indian media that the BJP aims to use Hindutva to frame this narrative. Surprisingly Hindutva is also considered by many as a polarizing force in Indian society, actively causing friction and fragmentation between communities. This begs the questions - how can Hindutva be a strategy for national integration as well as an instrument to divide the people at the same time?

There are many articles published in Indian media that claim the eventual insidiousplan of the Modi government is to transform India into a Hindu Rashtra 19. These plans must be insidious or covert because the government has chosen to showcase only its more secular reform oriented agenda. The government of India focuses on such issues as toilets, deregulation, Aadhar, anti-corruption measures such as demonetization, a uniform tax code and recently medical coverage. These are governance, not ideological issues. In-fact the government of India and BJP’s central leadership has largely shied away from too heavily leaning on any ideological issues, at least in public. The BJP, however, is closely linked with the RSS and the RSS has over the years produced enough viewpoints for one to distil its idea of the Hindu Rashtra. This is not to say that there is never any friction between the RSS and the government. The government and the RSS share quite different objectives and the government of India’s objectives can only abstractly be linked to that of an organization like RSS. We will see this in more detail with the idea of Dharma in nation building. The BJP, however, has built its electoral machinery on the back of the RSS infrastructure and the RSS has influence right at the top of the BJP’s leadership (with both NarendraModi and Amit Shah emerging from within the RSS structure). It therefore becomes instructive to understand the RSS’ views on creating the narrative for an independent India.

It is important to understand, firstly, that the RSS does not have a uniform idea of India that has remained unchanged for decades. The RSS’s own website hosts a mission section which was authored as recently as 2012 20. This piece, which lays out the mission as well as the strategy of the RSS and its affiliated bodies, shares some themes with the ‘Integral Humanism’ of  Deendayal Upadhyaya, which the BJP (and the RSS) cites as the core founding philosophy of the BJP 21 (it is important to remember that Deendayal Upadhyaya was an RSS man himself). However, the two views of India as a nation – that of the RSS today and what Upadhyaya propounded as a part of his Integral Humanism philosophy –  do not share a similar tone, with RSS’s mission statement taking a more reactive and aggressive approach. For now it is enough to say that, firstly the more radical and divisive strategies and outlook of the RSS do not seem directed towards national integration and secondly, some of the more aspirational aspects of the RSS’ mission are hard to reconcile with the political realities in India. Take for example the following section from the RSS’s mission statement:

Though started as an institution, the aim of the Sangh is to expand so extensively that each and every individual and traditional social institution like family, caste, profession, educational and religious institutions etc., are all to be ultimately engulfed into its system. The goal before the Sangh is to have an organized Hindu society in which all its constituents and institutions function in harmony and co-ordination, just as in the body organs.  

In the Congress plenary of 2018, Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Congress party accused the RSS to seeking to subsume all institutions of India (the courts, the police and the legislative assembly) under itself 22. One will be forgiven if one assumes that the BJP would hardly be happy with such a scenario, i.e.: having an authoritarian regime that is accountable to no one but the RSS.  The Sangh’s vision, like the element quoted above, may contain ideas that are not only politically unviable for the BJP but at times could even do harm to its electoral ambitions.  A particular point which might do damage would be the comparison between society and the human body which carries echoes of the metaphor used in the Manu Smriti to describe the Varna system – the Brahmin from the mouth, the Kshatriya from the shoulders, and so on.

For our purposes here it is the writings of Deendayal Upadhyaya that offer a seemingly more palatable view of national integration and national narratives as imagined by the BJP and the Sangh. The Prime Minister often refers to Upadhyaya in his speeches and one of the flagship youth employment schemes of the government is named after Upadhyaya (Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana). It would therefore seem that Upadhyaya’s thoughts are taken much more seriously by the key figures in the BJP government.

Deendayal Upadhyaya in a series of 4 lectures delivered in Bombay in 1965 expounded on his philosophy of Integral Humanism 23. The scope of these lectures and that of Upadhyaya’s philosophy are vast but we are largely interested in his ideas of national integration, nationalism and nation building in India. According to Upadhyaya a nation is an organic entity that is neither constructed by nor comprised of its people but something beyond that and with a life and a soul of its own. He insists on separating the idea of the nation and the state and points out that if the nation is conflated with the state then the fall of the state will lead to disappearance of the nation. Evidently this is not the case in India where, according to Upadhyaya, the idea of India, the nation, has lived on while states have come and gone. In his lectures Upadhyaya refers to two concepts that are of importance to us here. One is the idea of the India’s soul or ideals - what he refers to as Chitiand the other is the idea of Dharma. For our purposes here these two concepts can be analyzed together. For Upadhyaya, Dharmais law that helps manifest and maintain Chiti of a Nation. Unfortunately in his lecture Upadhyaya does not clearly define how the Chittiof a nation is created and agreed upon by its population and the concept itself is akin to an imponderable puzzle.

If there is any standard for determining the merits and demerits of particular action, it is this Chiti; from nature whatever is in accordance with 'Chiti', is approved and added on to culture. These things are to be cultivated. Whatever is against 'Chiti,' is discarded as perversion, undesirable, is to be avoided.

Later in his lectures Upadhyaya describes Dharma as the sole principle on which states should operate. For example in the case of a power struggle between the Parliament and the Supreme Court, Upadhyaya clarifies that it is neither the legislative or the judiciary that is supreme but Dharma, which both the Parliament and the Supreme Court should serve. Under Indian laws it is the constitution that is supreme and meant to contain the mechanisms that allow the three branches of government to keep a check on each other. The constitution itself is a living document that has seen multiple amendments through the years. In fact what Upadhyaya calls Dharma, in Indian politics can be roughly considered to a sort of consensus on the idea of India that is represented by the constitution since the notion is too nebulous to be understood otherwise.

Upadhyaya however in his lecture tries to make a clear separation between the constitution and Dharma and talks about the need to amend the constitution if it is deviating from Dharma. This leads one to believe that Dharma is not a set of discernible laws or approved behavior but the consensus itself on which laws should be based (therefore the constitution might mistakenly deviate from it). One wonders what then becomes of the Chiti which according to Upadhyaya is the sole judge of what is Dharma in a time and a place. Perhaps for Upadhyaya laws that can be written down must be derivatives of other unwritten laws. But if one senses where he is going, are not such notions too ‘raw’ in their nature to truly guide governance and the socio-economic realities of modern nations? 

In fact Deendayal Upadhyaya’s thoughts on Dharma raise several questions. What constitutes Dharma? As Upadhyaya explains with the example of Vibhishana from the Ramayana; at times what constitutes Dharma is not obvious. Vibhishana betrayed his brother and king by aligning with Rama but his act does not constitute Adharma. Sometimes what appears on the surface to be Adharma may infact be Dharma. It should be mentioned that Upadhyaya, later in his lecture, clearly states that what constitutes Dharma is not simply the will of the majority. Here he mentions that Dharma is in fact ‘truth’ and that no majority can falsify the truth. This is doubly problematic for us as truth and untruth are only strictly defined in natural sciences; cultural traditions do not usually have the propensity of establishing absolute truths and there is a dangerous ambiguity in them which could lead to difficulties in framing laws. For example - respect of one’s parents has always been considered Dharmic behavior in India. However, if one’s parents are somehow harming the nation or engaging in some kind of criminal activity then it is not Adharmic to act against their interests. Additionally what is shared between citizens of a country are not only the sense of truth or untruth but other ideas and concepts that do not fit neatly in the binary states of true or false. 

Secondly what is the social mechanism of building consensus around Dharma or a set of laws? The great Mauryanemperor, Ashoka sought to inspire (and coerce) his subjects to live Dharmic lives. Ashoka’s Dharma (or Dhamma as it was known in Prakrit) was a broad concept, perhaps as broad as Upadhyaya’s Dharma. Ashoka too saw Dharma as a social ethic - a set of natural laws. He defined these laws in a broad way so that they be universally accepted. As RomilaThaparexplains 24 :

He sought a group of unifying principles, influenced by the intellectual and religious currently of the time. Ashoka mutated Dhamma to his needs and explained it through a personal definition. The principles of Dhamma were such that they would have been acceptable to people belonging to any religious sect. Dhamma was not defined in terms of caste duties and regulations and was left vague in details, referring itself to the requirements of social ethics. Of the basic principles, Ashoka emphasized tolerance. This, according to him, extended to tolerance towards people and towards their beliefs and ideas.

To his credit Ashoka understood that he could not be dogmatic in his approach. One of the key aspects of his Dhamma was non-violence but he also realized that sometimes violence may become a necessary policy of state, for example with respect to the agitation of the forest dwellers. Similarly while Ashoka criticized what he thought of as superstitious ceremonies performed by lower order of priests who depended on these ceremonies, he was not opposed to divine spectacles as long as they attracted audiences to create an interest in Dharma 25.

Further to his credit Ashoka was committed to spreading his message of Dharma. He understood that while his proposed laws and protocols of conduct were universal in nature they still needed to be spread far and wide in his empire so his subjects could hear his articulations of how they should live their lives. Few historical artifacts in India’s history have physically connected the geography of nation the way that Ashoka’s rock and pillar edicts have. So influential have these structures been that even today Ashoka’s four lions and his wheel are ubiquitous in the country (of-course Ashoka’s imagery was rediscovered after being lost for a long time). These rock and pillar edicts were placed across the Mauryanempire in places where people would gather. According to historians, considering that literacy would not have been widespread, the emperor would organize for these inscriptions to be read aloud to subjects of the empire. Further more, Ashoka instituted a new form of imperial bureaucracy, the Dhamma Mahamattas- Dharma officers who would ensure that the populace of the empire was living Dharmic lives, thereby ensuring their “welfare” 26.

What is the corresponding set of laws for India today? What constitutes Dharma and how might Dharma be defined in an inclusive way so that these laws will be universally acceptable across the country? And what mechanisms exist to instill Dharma into the hearts and minds of the Indian citizenry in a way that brings them together? What is evident is that Ashoka defined his Dhamma in accordance to the political realities of his time - his laws (consideration towards slaves and servants, respect for teachers, obedience to mother and father, generosity towards friends, acquaintances and relatives, regard for and donations to brahmans and shramanas, a concern for all living beings and an abstention from taking life) may find some resonance today but are clearly insufficient and in many cases inappropriate for today. As an instance, ‘consideration for slaves’ pertains to a situation in which slavery is lawful.  An integrating philosophy of the nation cannot be so simplistic today when there is no absolute monarch and the idea of Dharma perhaps cannot serve as a national narrative that engenders and sustains the imagined community that is the modern nation.

Upadhyaya’s views on forging a Hindu Rashtra may have left too many things to the imagination.  However it is important to remember that while ideologues may not have fully thought out their political notions, it does not necessarily mean that those who want to implement these ideas will not try to do so anyhow.  Ashoka as absolute monarch had the luxury of being the sole arbiter, which means that he could determine laws when the notions underlying them were ill-defined but a modern nation has to go through a due process before deciding on the fairness of laws.  

Narrative of Independent India in the 21st Century
The Congress party through its years of dominance was ineffect the party of the consensus. While it dominated elections after elections, it was hardly being challenged by a viable rival to replace its government at the center (the story was similar in most states) 27. This however, did not mean that there was no resistance to the viewpoints of the Congress leadership. Being the party of consensus, it was required of the Congress to incorporate into its world view, political and cultural ideas that were first of all emerging from the fringes of the Congress party itself and secondly those emerging from the opposition forces. For the Congress, this ability to absorb and change was a crucial factor in retaining power across the country for so long 28. It remains to be seen if the BJP, especially the party of NarendraModi and Amit Shah is capable of such flexibility. Compromise is clearly important for modern democratic politics. The federal structure of the country often pits states against the center and other states; in such situations a compromise is often the only solution. Foreign relations with friendly and hostile nations too require a spirit of compromise. As politically powerful castes in the country demand reservations, compromise is often the only way to avoid bloodshed. Eventually governing within India’s democratic federal structure may require too many compromises to allow for an inflexible political ideology. The BJP which is governing, one assumes, recognizes this even if its backroom ideologues do not.

For all the aggressive pronouncements from some leaders of the BJP, RSS and other affiliated entities, the government itself cannot be accused of focusing on a Hindutva agenda. This is not to say that the government does not need to be more critical of polarizing elements within the BJP and take concrete steps to clamp down on these elements. Neither is it implied that ground realities should be overlooked while focusing solely on policy. That Indians can be lynched on trains on suspicions of carrying beef in their lunchboxes should be a concern for the government. But for our purposes here it should suffice to say that public lynchings are not a strategy for integration. Similarly an insistence on a Hindu India, where a Hindu is defined in narrow terms is unlikely to bring about national integration. In fact many of those lowest placed as Hindus may even resent the religion they belong to. The BJP has traditionally been the party of upper-caste urban voters and its insistence on upper caste Hinduism will not be acceptable to Dalits across the country. Many of them eat beef which is the cheapest form of meat but that is hardly being taken cognizance of by ‘Hindu’ organizations. Furthermore, according to latest census data, over 240 million people in India are not Hindus 29 - how then can national integration be brought about without getting the buy in of such a vast number. If the BJP Government understands this (and there is no reason to think it does not) then it is unable to effectively counter the elements within its fold who either are unable or unwilling to accept the task of forging an integrating narrative. Perhaps, it can be said that at the center, currently, the biggest threats to the BJP government come from within the party and SanghParivar. On the one hand are the demands or realpolitik and integration with global mores while on the other are ideological imperatives driven by philosophical notions not fully thought out.

It will not be a stretch to think that this government, which has spent most of its legislative energy on economic and development issues, has bet on all round development and large scale upward mobility (the government had pledged to create new cities in India 30) as the chief integrating policy of the nation. Closely married to this is the vision of an Indian leader (NarendraModi) striding tall on the international stage raising Indian prestige and influence across the world. Not since Jawaharlal Nehru himself has any Indian leader made such a visible impact on the world stage as Modi. Bipan Chandra argued that Nehru’s stature as a leader of the non-aligned movement was a an important factor in driving national Integration in India as it made Indians believe that they, as a nation, stood for something 31 and Modi’s strategy may work similarly. At the same time the government also seems to have a more pragmatic approach towards balancing ideology and realpolitik. For example while it is true that India is obliged (and has a history of) accepting refugees from neighboring nations, it is also important to understand what impact these refugees are likely to have on local populations. Should a democratic government force an ideology of welcoming refugees on people who do not have the means to accommodate them or who are already fearful? This inevitably leads to more radical political viewpoints gaining footholds in the political mainstream. These political forces are usually keen to amplify resentment against immigrants, further solidifying a hardline approach among the populace. This is quite evident from the current political environment in large parts of Europe and America. 

A combination of a transparent governance based approach with a revamped image of India globally combined with practical foreign policy seems to be a fair brief description of this government’s vision of 21st century India. This vision, which does not quite have the emotional resonance of a newly born independent nation, is being augmented with more emotional but at the same time polarizing narratives from within the BJP. There are cases every other day of BJP members (some even cabinet ministers) openly attacking minority communities in tweets or speeches. This is accompanied on ground by violence and lynchings which are widely reported and discussed. Eventually, this has to be an ineffective and divided model for building a coherent narrative for modern India. Universally acceptable modern policies (transparent governance, practical foreign policy etc.) cannot be reconciled with a narrow-minded emotional narrative of Hindu Rashtra which is not even consistent since Hindutva’s greatest ideologues were themselves not clear about what key notions like Dharma meant.  In-fact when combined with an ill-conceived emotional narrative, the universally acceptable policies driven by realpolitik lose their impact.

The government may try to occupy spaces that were previously operating in governance and political vacuum and this is a worthwhile exercise for any government. However, if this occupation is accompanied by polarizing and paranoid administration on the ground level then no progress has been made. For example, while improving the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh should be priority of the BJP state government there, encounter killings can hardly be presented as evidence of good policing. A recent article in The Wire 32 raises suspicions of Muslims being targeted in encounters and the police focusing on small time criminals without due process and this cannot go along with ‘governance’.  These suspicions will undermine and may eventually render useless (at least for the BJP) any efforts to reduce crime in the state. 

Modi’s thrust seems to be to keep potential rivals out of power while he (along with his core team of advisors) focuses on administration. These rivals have consequently begun to take refuge in ideology, which the administration is not keen to reflect in its policies. As an example, it seems, for Modi’s rivals in the BJP, raising the temple issue in Ayodhya is an illustration for how the Hindu agenda can be driven by a more muscular approach from elements in the government at election time. Similarly, the cow vigilante issue has also made clear that differences that exist between the administration and the more fringe (yet highly empowered through their role in electioneering and evangelization) elements of the party. A state of division currently exists between the BJP and this government that will only get larger as Modi stresses on his reform and development agenda, while leveraging a campaign machinery (which owes its success in large parts to RSS’ mass appeal) that mouths an ideology which is far from fully thought out in terms of its applicability to the Indian polity. 

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MichelguglielmoTorri,‘The Modi Wave’: Behind the Results of the 2014 General Elections in India’ , The International Spectator, Italian Journal of International Affairs, Volume 50, 2015 - Issue 2, June 2015, Pages 56-74.

This is generally acknowledged. For instance see
Accessed on 26th March 2018
Accessed on 26th March 2018

From: Consolidation of India as a Nation , Bipin Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, ‘India since independence’, The Penguin Group, 1999, 93, 94, 102, 109, 120.
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism , Verso 1983, 23, 37-46.

Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi, Pan Books 2007, 165.

Ibid, 100-103.

Ibid, 100-103.

Rajni Kothari, ‘The Congress System in India’, Asian Survey, 1964, 1170-1171.

Mani Shankar Aiyar writing for NDTV – Why Congress feels no need to sack the Gandhis Accessed on: 26th March 2018

Benedict Anderson, ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism’ , Verso 1983, 6-7.

Rajni Kothari, ‘The Congress System in India’, Asian Survey, 1964, 1166-1168.




RamachandraGuha, ‘India After Gandhi’, , 476-477.

The BJP’s popularity among the urban traders and small business families is well known. The opening up of the Indian economy allowed these businessmen to seek political affiliations outside of the Congress.

ShashiTharoor’s recent book appears as a last ditch attempt to remind Indians of their colonial past, invoking the efforts of the Congress party in India’s freedom struggle. See ShashiTharoor, An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, Aleph Book Company, 2016.

For example this article in the Wire -
Accessed on 26th March 2018

From RSS’ official website
Accessed on 26th March 2018


From BJP’s official website
Accessed on 26th March 2018

RomilaThapar, ‘The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300, Penguin Books 2003, 200-203.

Ibid, 200-203.

Ibid, 200-203.

Rajni Kothari, ‘The Congress System in India’, 1167-1168.

Ibid, 1167-1168.

Accessed on 26th March 2018

Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, India after independence (1947-2000), Penguin, 1999, 147-148.


Romit Raj works for a research firm in Bangalore. He has been a student of sociology and history. He is deeply interested in Indian politics and culture and is seeking to add to the understanding about these subjects in modern India through speculation.

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