Modi, the secular right-wing and communalism

May 15, 2014

by Saroj Giri

Whatever the election results, the secular right-wing and a growth-friendly communalism will do the bidding for Hindutva. Moderate and extreme Modi are not either/or – they can coexist.

Let us, firstly, get over this debate about whether Modi will be moderate or extreme.

Obviously, a moderate Modi is a possibility, a banal, obvious possibility. Big capitalist interests and ‘ordinary people’ do not want a riot every other day. Riots will be controlled or modulated in the interests of business as usual.

This does not mean Hindu communalism itself will be tempered. It might very well change its modality and reappear in a growth-friendly fashion. This tempered version, or the moderate Modi, might be more sinister, hydra-headed, than the extreme! What else is Modi the name of?

So as it stands, opposing communal violence or the extremist-sectarian Modi is easier than unpacking a tempered communalism or the moderate Modi. The Economist would reject Modi the extreme sectarian, but it will not unpack the moderate Modi who is welcomed as positive. Anti-Modi leftists on the other hand think it is blasphemous to even admit that a moderate Modi is possible – as though harping on the extreme, unreformed Modi is the most radical position. They look at communalism, bereft of its social and economic determinations.

Or take the right honourable Amartya Sen who is at the forefront of rejecting the extreme sectarianism of Modi but has no real critique of the moderate ‘growth-friendly’ Modi. Instead, Modi occasions a yearning for a “strong and flourishing right wing party that is secular, not communal.” Sen pines for a “clear-headed pro-market pro-business party that does not depend on religious politics,” reminding him of the short-lived ‘classical liberal’ Swatantra Party .

Or take corporate honcho Deepak Parekh and billionaire conscience-keeper Narayana Murthy who had both criticised Modi for the 2002 Gujarat progrom. That does not stop them from now being big fans of Modi’s economics today. What allows this rejection of Modi the extreme sectarian to then reconcile to the moderate Modi? It is not just apologists sucking up to Modi but it is the new modality of right-wing thinking: the contours of something like a neoliberal communalism.

The broad orientation of this thinking becomes clear in Shekhar Gupta who gleefully expects Modi to bring about a final end to India’s so-called socialist legacy and establish a real capitalist system .

The rejection of the extremist Modi then turns out to be a vote for a normal capitalism and rejection of anything left wing or ‘socialist’. Communalism will be tempered, but this only means ‘normal’ Hindu majoritarian dominance will continue as gloriously as ever, under perhaps the watchful eyes of a shadow state led by shady characters like Amit Shah. Hence, a tempered communalism is what right-wing secularism will give us, a low equilibrium growth-friendly communalism and a full blown capitalism. This does not rule out an occasional big communal massacre followed by a long spell of this low equilibrium combination. Moderate and extreme Modi are not either/or – they can coexist.

The secular, right-wing pro-business element of the ‘moderate Modi’ means that the development agenda is not just a facade behind which lurks an evil Hindutva, as many anti-Modi radicals claim. Hindutva is not something separate from the development agenda, safely hiding behind. Hindutva is not the only evil here. The development agenda itself must be understood in its own terms and in terms of its social determinations and not just as a facade to a more sinister game of Hindutva behind the curtains.

Indeed the tons of money poured by big moneyed interests does not just create a ‘Modi wave’ but has social impact. It has mobilised, activated and strengthened hierarchies and oppressive relations across the entire social space. It seems to have mobilised lumpenised lower elements into a wider connect with big capitalist interests, funding an entire reactionary phalanx across the social body. It is plainly an intensification of the class struggle. It goes to the very heart of the social question.

Identifying communalism in terms of its social determinations allows us to go beyond understanding Modi’s ‘soft fascism’ as only suppression of freedom of speech or even just minority persecution and open up its social determinations.

So, for example, not just Hindutva, even good governance might be articulated in extreme sectarian terms. As I tried to show elsewhere, we must start deciphering something like ‘Hindutva in the age of good governance’, as in the case of the Muzaffarnagar riots. ‘Good governance’, the secular right-wing development mantra today, can hardly be disarticulated from a tempered communalism, if not Hindutva itself.

Hindu majoritarianism does not in any case need an explicitly murderous policy towards minorities. Opposing reservations, opposing ‘minority appeasement’ and the Hindu upper caste majority playing the victim and calling for ‘meritocratic’ competition – all of this ‘normal’, non-extremist stances already nurture a certain communalism (and casteism) with occasional openly violent eruptions. This in itself is nothing new in India. What is new is that now opposition to sectarian extremism opens the way for the secular right-wing: a growth-friendly sectarianism.

It is in this context that Modi might emerge as the strong man about whom the world is supposed is wondering, ‘who is he like?’: Putin, Lee Kuan Yew, Ahmedijinad, Ariel Sharon, Xi Jinping, Thatcher, Shinzo Abe or Reagan. Perhaps more like Sharon with the difference that Modi was more directly connected to the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat than Sharon to the Sabra and Shatila massacre. And also like Thatcher, in his commitment to neoliberal economics and destroying working class power.


8 Responses to “Modi, the secular right-wing and communalism”

  1. R P Says:
    May 16th, 2014 at 10:01

    An insightful article. It cleary exposes the manner in which communalism is articulated in the overall neoliberal model of development. Of course the caste angle could have been further explored in the article.

  2. Jagadish G Chandra Says:
    May 16th, 2014 at 22:45

    I congratulate the author for an informed insight into the ‘what after the benumbing victory and surge of right-wing Hindu forces. Just to add, the big business interests which have more than welcomed the arrival of brand Modi, will surely expect his administration to go beyond the distance paved by Congress and Manmohan dispensation. There is no doubt as the author indicated that both the aggressive neo-lberal agenda and communalisation of Indian polity have gone hand in hand complementing each other. It is not out of place to mention both the years the 1991 & 1992 have proved to be cooperating twins. Thus far Manmohanomics was useful and now Modi brand will adore the window panes of corporate capitalism. Yes, I agree a stint of moderate Modi’sm is possible, but what one has to be worried about is the fact that how further entrenched it would be in the course, when the working class/people opposition begins to mount which is inevitable at some point time.

  3. Smriti Suman Says:
    May 17th, 2014 at 02:39

    Dear Saroj,
    I completely agree with all your analysis that Good Governance based right wing moderate politics and hidden majoritarian and communal agenda like opposing reservation, opposing minority appeasement has helped Modi to win, but at the same very let’s accept the fact that Modi win because we let him win. We who claimed that we are on the left of the centre position we did not do anything accept condemning Modi. Let’s accept the fact that any real politik can not possible without entering into it practically. but we as a leftist always enjoyed to sit in the left, to gossip, to drink, to write,to do addabaji everything than the genuine politics. So I think this election result is a kind of slap on our face… we the so called leftist, both you and I and many of ussss

  4. Renny Thomas Says:
    May 17th, 2014 at 03:39

    well written article. Thanks Saroj

  5. Buta Singh Says:
    May 17th, 2014 at 03:58

    Very thanks Saroj. you have brilliantly exposed the real danger of modi’s rise to power.

  6. Jothi SJ Says:
    May 17th, 2014 at 08:56

    Interesting and well written piece..thanks Saroj Giri!

  7. Narasimhan Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 19:56

    It is a very well argued and cogent presentation of facts and its’ logical . The middle class intelligentia must read and draw appropriate conclusions about the nature of the Indian State which is most likely turn more authoritarian in the coming days. I provide a link to an article based in an US based website about ills of privatisation.

  8. meher engineer Says:
    August 18th, 2014 at 01:00

    Who is Modi like in world politics? Saroj Giri can add de Gaulle (see the Indian Express, August 16, 2014, by Pratap Bhanu Mehta) to the list mentioned in the last para of his article.

    The comparison between Modi and Sharon rests on comparing the Sabra and Shatila massacres to what happened after Godhra in Gujarat, in 2002.

    Regarding the first two massacres, ‘In 1983 the Kahan Commission, established by the Israeli Government, found that as Minister of Defense during the 1982 Lebanon War Sharon bore “personal responsibility” “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge” in the massacre by Lebanese militias of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila”.[3] The Kahan Commission recommended Sharon’s removal as Defense Minister, and Sharon did resign after initially refusing to do so.’ ( see Wikipedia).

    The farcical investigation into what started at Godhra and spread to many parts of Gujarat in 2002 is best read about in Manoj Mitta’s book “The Fiction of The Fact-finding: Modi and Godhra.” Modi’s only public comments have been the one about his getting a “clean chit” and the one about “puppy dogs”.

    Two facts, one that the Kahan Commission’s findings did not Sharon from participating in Israel’s politics, all the way to becoming Israel’s Prime Minister in 2005, and two that “clean chit” Modi is now India’s PM, allow us to move away from two people to two country’s, and think about how democracy is being practiced in two very different country’s – the ex colony that is today’s India and the world’s last colonial power, that is today’s Israel.

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