India’s right-wing rulers are riding the proverbial tiger, and they know it in their bones. Losing control of the reins would unleash dreadful prospects for them, potentially harsher than the commission of inquiry that Indira Gandhi faced for her emergency excesses followed by a day in jail and eviction from parliament.
The government appears to have exhausted its quota of tricks to keep people distracted, and now they have taken to the streets. The RSS is not only severely allergic to Indian democracy, but represents an entrenched war of attrition against enlightened and syncretic Hinduism of Indian reformers since Ram Mohan Roy, Tagore, Gokhale and Ranade, of Periyar and Tukaram, of Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi. Its members rejoiced in the murder of Gandhi and Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and it encourages scurrilous propaganda against India’s Nehruvian heritage of liberal ideals. Sikhs, Muslims, Dalit Buddhists and Christians have been in its cross hairs, an article of faith in a nefariously upper-caste worldview.
Facing the formidable combination of state and street power is an even more powerful array of forces though they seem not to be aware of their prowess. Opponents of the Modi regime happen to be politically varied — as varied as India is. But they are handicapped also by a legacy of mutual suspicion.
Let us consider real examples of the powerful forces arraigned against the Modi-Shah duo. The leading dramatis personae include students of a range of leftist hue, different kinds of Ambedkarites, a muscular clutch of Sikhs and vocal Christians, a variety of Muslim groups, including Jamaat-i-Islami, mostly led by women, and other minorities as well as a generous number of upper-caste Hindus.
In the political realm the opposition has the Congress, ruling Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Communist Party of India (CPI), named as separate for a particular reason. They are in power in Kerala. Opposition groups also include the Aam Aadmi Party, ruling Delhi, the Trinamool Congress, ruling West Bengal, the DMK, a powerful Tamil force, the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party, ruling Maharashtra in alliance with Congress as junior partner, Lalu Yadav is still a pre-eminent force of peasants in Bihar. Akhilesh Yadav and Ajit Singh represent strong peasant groups and Mayawati spearheads the Dalit opposition in Uttar Pradesh.
Add to the mix the rallying voices from Gujarat of Hardik Patel’s potent Patidar Movement, and Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti from Kashmir, albeit they are in jail. Many of these leaders represent caste and regional groups that form the spine of the armed forces, the police and a substantial chunk of bureaucracy. Given a nudge they also have enormous street power. It is the peasants — be they Sikhs or Marathas or any other — that have always shored up India’s monsoon-fed economy and its security too, not the business clubs that conspire to elect rulers with money power.
So what ails the opposition with its enormous power matrix? It’s the habit of lusting for power, primarily. But then that is all one has to coalesce into a credible opposition, no small deal by any reckoning. The AAP supported the dissolution of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Critics say it keeps a low profile on the campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which is probably not true. We have heard Christian and Muslim leaders talking of the AAP as betraying their interests. Assume that is so. Should the people help the BJP defeat AAP and come to power in Delhi? If so, what about the rest?
Mamata Banerjee is leading the most frontal fight against the communal citizenship law, but she was once a member of the Vajpayee-led ruling alliance as the left insists on reminding. She also had a meeting with Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Kolkata. The late CPI journalist Zia ul Hasan had a thing or two to say about E.M.S. Namboodiripad’s excessive interest against Rajiv Gandhi’s ill-advised reversal of the Supreme Court’s ruling that protected a Muslim widow.
E.M.S., Hasan wrote, was fishing for Hindu votes in Kerala, as was recently evident when a Ganapati procession organised by Kerala’s communist youths, with the back of the vehicle carrying the idol, projecting a picture of Che Guevara! The CPI can be accused of supporting Indira Gandhi’s emergency. The Congress was in power in 1992-93 in Maharashtra when the Shiv Sena in tandem with the police staged the anti-Muslim violence in Mumbai. Should we discard the Congress and Shiv Sena as a potent force against the Modi-Shah government? It is a suicidal thought. The DMK was suspected in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Hardik was a supporter of Modi, and Kejriwal funds Hindu pilgrims. Anybody can target anybody in the opposition. But that is all one has in the arsenal for the fight that needs to be won. A victory should lead to an imminent reconciliation of secularist forces to rebuild the ruptured country and its frayed democracy.
By arrangement with Dawn...