A moment of clarity

May 16, 2014

by Saroj Giri

In what sense is Modi’s victory the opposite of Obama’s victory? The latter was one where the political system produced someone who it was hoped might challenge the dominant socio-economic order and its injustices. The political domain was supposed to produce a dissonance. With Modi, the political system produces someone who will reinforce these injustices and uphold the dominant order. The political domain reinforces a continuum with the (unjust) socio-economic order.

Indeed, I was struck by a friend who wrote the following, once it was clear Modi is becoming Prime Minister.

‘We, those of pious Brahminical families, all grew up around Modis. The rabid uncles, the violent macho boys in school, the militant aunts, the gau mata worshipers, the yuppies who sat next to us in a restaurant or a movie cinema, the ‘we are a secular and tolerant nation’ type liberals. Add to this, big capital, including both crony and non-crony capitalists, from Adani to Narayan Murthy. Let’s be honest. This cannot be a shock. This can only be a reminder.’

The Modi victory is not a shock since it only reminds and brings to the fore the dominant system in all its social, lived and economic determinations. Why? Since with the Modi victory this dominant social system and these determinations are no longer in the background: they are in power now, hegemonising the political domain. It is as though, to use Ambedkar’s terms, public morality now directly asserts itself in the political domain, hegemonises it. Public morality now colonises constitutional morality. Amit Shah sits in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Take the BJP election ad ‘Kissey chunenge, Gau Raksha ya Gay Raksha‘ (What will you choose: cow protection or gay protection?). Here gay rights are no longer about gay people and their rights or about a democratic society and its ethos, but about society being internally weakened, about a larger conspiracy against which we must all rise up to defend our core values (defined as ‘gau raksha’)! Voters here become sentinels of the ‘core values’ of the nation and civilisation. Voting for the BJP is far more than fighting the Congress and is part of defending the core values of society. It is not just anti-incumbency, as we will see.

Indeed the dominant social order, fighting gay rights with cow protection, has voted with their feet and directly claimed the political domain and the government as theirs. This electoral mandate stands for their direct and positive interests and it is not just anti-incumbency or some anti-Congress wave. BJP’s victory has been impressive even in states where Congress is not a significant force. For example, in UP where SP and BSP are a force and in Bihar where it is Nitish Kumar who is a significant force.

It is then not just negative voting. It is not just another election outcome and has deeper ramifications. The unprecedentedly high voting (66.4%) suggests an enthusiasm among the voters for what they think to be something new and positive, the dream sold by Modi and his 5000 crore rupees campaign.

The regional parties (say, AIADMK which has won many seats) also seem so bought into the idea of Modi’s development agenda that they will most likely play along with him at least for some time. Dalits too have voted in large numbers for Modi even as BSP fared badly in UP. Lower classes who voted for AAP had already declared in Dec 2013 that they want Kejriwal for CM and Modi for PM. Upper middle classes through their anti-corruption movement had earlier hailed Modi as a model – Anna Hazare had praised Modi.

The democratic outcome is therefore overdetermined by the socially dominant forces and their hegemonic lower class mobilisation. When Modi already thought of himself as PM we knew this overdetermination – that what would be a contingent outcome of elections was seen as pre-decided. Elections were only about the people giving blessings to the Messiah ordained by God.

This makes the Modi victory a total victory – the prevailing socio-economic domination is now truly reflected in the political hegemony. It is a deep victory. The fractious order is here resolved into the One – everything has come together into one seamless network of power, a kind of a continuum of social-political-economic domination. A continuum of neoliberalism and communalism. We can call it growth-friendly communalism.

The dominant classes, castes and gender now engage in a democratic contingency which now provides permanence, permanence to their power! Contingency is tamed. And here the big corporate and big media in supporting Modi did not do anything shocking. They only reminded us of the above continuum!

But there is a double reminding at work here. Reminding us of the social determinations that then claim the political domain but also a second reminding: that the political domain, the liberal democratic electoral process itself is inherently skewed towards the dominant interests, towards big capital, towards gau raksha rather than gay raksha. The Modi victory is therefore a moment of clarity.

It means that now we can clearly see that the topsoil of a political constitutional regime is not just not enough to counter public morality. That is kind of obvious. We know this from Ambedkar. Beyond this, the topsoil itself must be criticised. You cannot make any real transformation or change through the vote – no matter who wins. It is still relevant to talk about Bhagat Singh’s insight that India needs a social and economic revolution and not just a secular outcome in the next elections!

As we can see, the vote is good enough for the right wing or fascists to come and capture power or to eliminate the social and political gap. The vote works for the right, not for the left. This, if you like, was a key insight of the Naxalbari movement and that is why they called for boycotting elections. Thanks to this, perhaps the Maoist movement is the single large left movement in the country today. Given its extra-parliamentary nature, it is like the reserve army of left revolutionaries, beyond the contingency of electoral defeat or victory, beyond the long arm of a Modi!

Hence we cannot simply fight to get a Congress or the left or seculars back in government. Let us also not harangue with the big media and big corporates and complain about their pro-Modi stance. Let us accept that the present democratic order is inherently skewed against any possibility real social transformation – or else one only indulges in an untruth. Let us reject both Modi and Nehru and revise ‘the idea of India’ from a left-wing perspective instead of defending this status quo.

One cannot fight one untruth with another. The process of truth must begin. Time to begin from the beginning again, as Lenin would say. Particularly now that we are living in this moment of clarity.

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