Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ritwik Agrawal: Don’t be surprised at Yogi Adityanath’s elevation

The elevation of Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most politically crucial state has unnerved political observers. Several journalists and political commentators, including eminent ones, appear to be shocked that the BJP leadership, which nowadays is a euphemism for the high command of PM Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, has brazenly appointed a known rabble-rouser like Adityanath to such a sensitive post. Their shock suggests that at least implicitly, they’ve bought into Modi’s “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” (participation and development of all communities) propaganda. This is naiveté at best, and I for one am happy that the appointment of Adityanath might serve as a wake-up call to these commentators.

Make no mistake, pretty much the *only* reason why the BJP  has not implemented the full scale of its neoliberal + Hindutva agenda is because it has not been able to. Both during the previous BJP-led regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and during the current regime of Narendra Modi, progressive elements have retained control of crucial instruments of power, such as the Rajya Sabha, Supreme Court and critical state governments, therefore thwarting the BJP’s attempts to change the political economy of the country in a decisively right wing manner. There are numerous examples, but to take only a recent one – the excellent work by the united opposition to thwart the amendments to the land acquisition act, which were aimed at taking over farm land across the country and giving it at throwaway prices to crony capitalists both in the country and those based abroad. BJP’s inability to ever command a majority in the Rajya Sabha has meant that it has not been able to implement large parts of its cultural, educational and economic agenda.

This explains the keen-ness of the Modi-Shah combine to install, by hook or by crook, BJP governments in every state, including where it is not even the single largest party in the legislature, such as in Goa and Manipur. They are following a differentiated strategy to win as many states as possible, which involves poaching opposition leaders who will deliver a component of the electorate, which combined with BJP’s “catchment” hindutva vote (100% consolidated behind Modi and Adityanath sort of figures), will almost always deliver victory in a first past the post electoral system. To gain power in states, BJP is even willing to let go of ministerial posts (Manipur, Goa) because the larger ideological goal is clearly perceived by Modi-Shah.

This sense of purpose doesn’t come only from a desire to maximally extend their patronage network (although that is part of it) but from an ideological desire at total domination with a view to rewrite the political economic structure of the country. This needs to be clearly understood by all who are troubled with recent political events. Any action can only proceed from a clear understanding of the situation.

The BJP’s string of electoral successes since 2013 (state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh), dampened only by the heavy defeats in Bihar and Delhi and to some extent in Bengal, mean that for the first time ever, the Sangh Parivar is close to exerting control over both houses of parliament, including a full majority in the Lok Sabha and a virtually sure-shot victory in the Presidential polls, due this year once Pranab Mukherji retires. The peril this poses to democracy and progressive values in India can hardly be overstated. India has entered the darkest phase in its continued survival as a broadly democratic and plural nation striving to march into modernity.

To re-emphasize, these values won’t survive if we, the citizens, blithely believe that pressure from the media or intellectuals (especially those based abroad) will prevent the Modi government from making wholesale changes to the economic and political structure of the country. Far more organized, tactically conscious and purposive resistance is the need of the hour, starting with opposition unity in the House and for future elections. But this unity needs to extend much beyond just electoral politics, involving a common minimum program outlining economic, educational and cultural policy, and smart marketing which will counter and defeat the sophisticated and all pervasive propaganda of the Sangh Parivar, particularly on social media like Whatsapp. None of this is exceedingly difficult once progressive elements decide to come together, and there are some pointers to be had from countries like France, where parties ranging from the communists to the socialists to the centrists have repeatedly come together on common platforms to keep the fascists from power.

The elevation of Adityanath has some troubling portents. And this is apart from his record at instigating communal hatred and rioting, and his long criminal record, which have received attention in the media once his name was announced as CM-designate. More troublingly by my lights, it signals BJP’s continued tactical nous under Modi and Shah. For the BJP, Adityanath is an excellent choice for the following reasons:

1. He’s a young and charismatic mass leader.

2. He’s from an “upper” caste but serves as the head of a body which has numerous “lower” caste devotees, and that combined with his Hindutva and ascetic image, makes his appeal cut across caste divides in UP’s fractured polity.

3. BJP’s crushing victory in UP automatically means that the Ram Mandir crowd would be emboldened, and by making Adityanath CM, the party has ensured that he would have to act with a certain minimal responsibility, which was not guaranteed with him out of power.

4. He’s known to have been be at odds with the RSS and BJP leadership in the past, due to his individualistic streak. The fact that Modi and Shah are willing to empower such individuals shows a certain ideological commitment as well as organizational strength and confidence.

5. Adityanath belongs to the Hindu Mahasabha tradition, which has been partly at odds with the RSS/BJP tradition in the politics of the Hindu Right. His elevation signals a growing confluence of these streams, and the RSS’ ability to co-opt various strands of the Hindu Right (including such apparently benign ones as demonstrated by Indian ‘techies’ based abroad) within its broader fold.

6. Notwithstanding (4) and (5), the move to make Adityanath CM provides Modi and Shah an escape hatch if the party doesn’t do as well in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in UP, if the opposition does unite and the electoral arithmetic doesn’t favour the BJP. The appointment of a quiet figure like telecom minister Manoj Sinha would’ve kept the responsibility of delivering UP in 2019 solely upon Modi, but now Adityanath will have to shoulder part of the burden (and the blame, should things not go well).