Prof. Sen, Modi has also won the battle of ideas.
The contending idea/s may make a comeback sooner or later, but the reality, as of today, is that the Hindutva brand of politics is the victor.
Though the recent emphatic victories of Modi-led BJP in various elections since 2014 are very much part of the global rise of the far-right, we must not reduce Modi’s winning spree to a mere onward march of right-wing populism or to an effective campaign machinery and strategy or, worse, to an outcome of a weak opposition. I have talked about the populism, etc., elesewhere in my response to Aatish Taseer’s article on Modi in the Time magazine.
Since we have a plethora of analyses and commentaries of all hues out there, there is no need to elaborate on it further. But I would like to comment upon the opinion of Amartya Sen published in the New York Times.
According to Prof Sen, "[T]hat is victory in terms of power but not in the battle of ideas." It is not only a lethargic understanding of the situation, but also a naive one. I am sorry to say this, for I have great respect for him and his scholarship. His general remarks related to electioneering, pumping of huge money, misuse of the state-owned media and the surge of nationalism in the past months are well taken. His regret regarding the Opposition not paying the required attention to the ‘battle of ideas’, his emphasis on the rectification of the same and his call for a greater engagement are also very important.
But Prof. Sen himself has missed a chance to initiate an engagement.
We must remind ourselves that the idea of Hindutva championed by Savarkar and the RSS has been a consistent presence in the battle since the early decennia of the last century. The contending idea/s may make a comeback sooner or later, but the reality, as of today, is that the Hindutva brand of politics is the victor. One should also note that its influence is larger than its electoral victories and vote shares.
In this context, I would recommend the synoptic commentary of Prof. Purushottam Agrawal published in the Outlook.
He underlines, and I quote a full paragraph, "[T]he single most important factor of BJP’s stunning victory is the projection of a national vision, a shared dream of proud, assertive India, and its success in presenting (with eager help from the worthies in TV newsrooms) the opposition, in particular the Congress, as indifferent, if not hostile to proud Indian nationalism. Let us not forget that an emotional connect with the past and a concern for future plays a crucial role in all societies. This patriotic sentiment can be articulated either in a regressive, bigoted hyper-nationalism or in democratic, inclusive nationalism. Academic debates on various aspects of nationalism may go on, but in everyday politics, the power of nationalism can hardly be denied.’
Whenever one discusses the BJP’s electoral performances, one has to refer to the Modi-Shah duo. It has been a pattern for sometime. But, in the recently concluded elections, a third presence has joined the limelight -- Pragya Thakur. This noun does not merely represent an individual. It is a predilection. Her dovetailing by the BJP is a clear sign of the party’s bumptious arrival. Prof Sen and Prof Agrawal have discussed her.
Referring to her statement on Gandhi’s assassin and the response of the BJP, Prof Sen says, "[T]his embarrassed even the BJP, which made her formally apologize." Prof. Agrawal writes, "[H]er endorsement of Godse as a 'patriot forever' had apparently upset PM Modi so much that he is not going to ever forgive her in his heart. The right noises and right actions were there from top to bottom; and then there were these full-throated endorsements of the man hanged for killing Gandhi."
Let us mark the difference in the two understandings of the Pragya Thakur episode. Prof Sen perceives the situation as the BJP wanted, but Prof Agarawal uses ‘apparently.’ His observation becomes clearer in the next sentence he puts in to begin the next paragraph. He underlines, and rightly so, "[T]his is chemistry of coded communication which works so effectively within the Sangh Parivar due to a shared vision."
Since the RSS-BJP combine represents a vision and drives an idea, we must concede that the saffron has triumphed. Prof. Agrawal is right when he says, referring to 2014, "[I]t was not a mere regime change, it was the culmination of 'five generations’ sustained work' and beginning of using the state apparatus to consolidate the alternative idea of India. It was no more business as usual.’
Conceding this does not mean that the other idea -- an inclusive India based on the constitutional values and progressiveness -- is redundant or not relevant or we should shun it. In fact, we have to re-invent and re-energise those very ideas.
(Prakash K Ray is a Delhi-based journalist)