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In two years the Narendra Modi regime has emasculated democracy into a demagogic and threatening majoritarianism

by Shiv Visvanathan, 16 May 2016

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The Economic Times - 15 May 2016

by Shiv Visvanathan

Two years is a long time in politics and sometimes longer in the life of a country. Two years of a political regime cannot be merely domesticated into a report card or banalised into a set of development indicators. To understand a period where little happens but a lot develops requires a different kind of storytelling.

At one level, the Narendra Modi regime is fast becoming a non-event at levels of overt policy. Yet, at a different level of culture, ecology, health and education, it has created ruptures that may take years to remedy. One sees this particularly in education where the BJP has played out its old wish list and created a cultural world that is like a Rorschach of its prejudices. There is a grammar to this juggling of educational categories that we must understand.

First, deep within the Modi regime , whether it is by the RSS, BJP or the Bajrang Dal, there is an attempt to articulate a hyper-nationalist regime with a programme. The BJP sees itself as simultaneously traditional and modern. It articulates a position we can dub as techno-fundamentalist. It wants the latest in technology, whether in terms of weapons or energy, to evolve within a value frame of a "traditional culture". Its dream, as critics have put it, is to combine the best of Silicon Valley as a technological hub with Nalanda as a cultural tradition. In fact, it projects this postmodern combination on to a double, the NRI who is more patriotic and more of an Indian than any resident Indian.

New Vocabulary of Patriotism
Second, it seeks to reform or reformulate India by creating its vision of the country around the fourfold nexus of cosmos, constitution, syllabus and community. It takes Hindu syncretic philosophy and narrows it to a Hindutva ideology. In this process, it has emasculated democracy into a demagogic and threatening majoritarianism. After shrinking a worldview, it has redefined the politics of the Constitution by creating a new official vocabulary of patriotism. Today it has made dissent, especially in ecology or history, an act of sedition. By adopting the old colonial model of sedition, it has made citizenship a brittle affair. As a result the dissenter, the marginal, the radical and an array of minorities are no longer treated as genuine citizens. They have to first run the gauntlets of suspicion before they are even regarded as superficially legitimate. By creating a uniform development agenda, the BJP has threatened the plurality of Indian culture.

In demanding a sense of everydayness, the Modi regime has decided to tinker with the syllabus. By altering the syllabus, the Modi regime has created new fictions around history. Its attempt to revive ancient science has ignored the creativity of traditional and local knowledge in agriculture, medicine, architecture. It also leads to idiotic claims where major scholarship in science and epistemology has been ignored. One wishes the BJP would re-read the work of the Gandhian historian Dharampal on Indian science in the eighteenth century.

The Mediocre Regime
In fact, the Modi regime has been engaged not so much in syllabus reform but in the emasculation of cosmopolitan scholarship in history and science. Modi’s comments on science often equate it to technology, turning a culture of play into an instrumental idea of paisa vasool accounting. The damage it has done to science by facilely equating it with technology has to be still unravelled. Modi’s epidemic of syllabus reform is more a form of policing ideas and behaviour and of controlling the university, one of the most recalcitrant and pluralistic parts of civil society. Its taming of environmental groups is on grounds of security and official development, and of university, through its definitions of sedition and its officialism of syllabus reform.

I wanted to state all this abstractly before looking at and listing all the scandals of a regime which talks of intellectual life and yet will not confront admission examination corruption which would make Dawood look modest. The role of the Bajrang Dal in violence and bully-boy operations across India must be emphasised and highlighted. If the RSS plays ideology, the Bajrang Dal and other associate groups unfold the brutality that accompanies the RSS ideologies of culture. Whether it is Rohit Vemula, JNU, the beef scandal, the murder of innocent Muslims or the the harassment of students holding hands on Manipal beach by self-styled cultural policeman, all these are symptoms of a deeper invasion and contamination of culture. The deeper disruption of culture, of the civilisational ideas of a pluralistic India, gets lost in the topical reports of the media.

What one is witnessing is more than cultural McCarthyism. To the witch-hunt, we are adding a cultural uprooting, inquisition-style. To the overt brutality of violence, one has to add the deeper violence of cultural disruption.

All that Modi’s cultural reform — through Make in India, syllabus reform and university downsizing — does is to hide the fact that it has little that is intellectual to offer. By stirring the cultural pot, the Modi regime has hidden its own mediocrity, temporarily. No government in recent times has had such an impoverished intellectual apparatus. In two years, the Modi regime has proved just how mediocre it is.

(The writer is professor at Jindal Law School)


The above article from The Economic Times is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.