[Resisting Modi through mass struggles] As Narendra Modi
chooses his team of advisers and top bureaucrats, some commentators are
appealing to him to follow proper appointment procedures, adopt the dharma of
inclusion, and “reach out” to the 69 percent of the electorate who didn’t vote
for the Bharatiya Janata Party – and especially assure Muslims that they should
feel safe under him despite the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.
are unpardonably naïve in asking Modi to do the opposite of what he stands for.
If Modi wanted to send a message of conciliation to Muslims, he would have long
ago mourned and expressed sincere regret for the 2002 killings. He hasn’t done
so, and defiantly says there’s nothing to apologise for: “If I’m guilty, I
should be punished, but I won’t say sorry.”
While canvassing, he wore
every type of headgear, including a Sikh turban and an Arunachali hat with horns
and petals, but pointedly, and repeatedly, refused to don a skullcap!
Modi government’s moral apathy towards Muslims was even more eloquently conveyed
by the sole Muslim in the cabinet, minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah,
through her first public speech declaring that India’s Muslims are too numerous
to be a minority; that term best applies to Parsis – India’s wealthiest and most
This makes nonsense of the idea of protecting the
rights of underprivileged religious-minority groups against majoritarianism, the
ministry’s liberal-democratic rationale.
Modi has shown no respect for
settled democratic conventions in making appointments. Thus, instead of choosing
someone with scholarly gravitas, interest in academic pursuits, or a deep
understanding of the challenges education faces in India, he allotted the
weighty cabinet-rank human resource development portfolio to former actress
Smriti Irani who has shown no interest in or aptitude for education, and who
filed contradictory affidavits about her educational qualifications, which may
be a criminal offence.
Worse, Modi used the ordinance route to override
the Telecom Regulatory Authority Act, which bars the TRAI chairman from ever
holding government office. This public-interest bar – enacted, ironically, by a
BJP-led government in 2000 – is meant to prevent favouritism and promote
impartiality, and should have been respected.
Modi was in a rush to
appoint former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra as his principal secretary. He
refused to wait for parliament to convene and amend the act. The ordinance
violates the Supreme Court judgement in a 1987 case, which says the ordinance
power “is to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and cannot be allowed to
be perverted to serve political ends”.
Misra’s is clearly a political
appointment. He is no ordinary bureaucrat. He was until recently on the
executive council of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a well-funded
Right-wing think-tank located in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi’s diplomatic
VIF (www.vifindia.org) is an offshoot of the
Vivekananda Kendra, started in 1972 by Eknath Ranade, former RSS general
secretary. VIF played a crucial, if silent, role in Baba Ramdev and Anna
Hazare’s anti-corruption protests beginning 2011. It runs several security- and
foreign policy-related and “historical and civilisational studies”
VIF’s website carries hysterical pro-Hindutva and
ultra-nationalist articles. One article describes US scholar Wendy Doniger as
someone who delights in “denigrating Hinduism. Most of her own and her students’
dissertations/books … have often been described as pure pornography…” Doniger’s
book on Hinduism was recently pulped – setting a nasty precedent of successful
intimidation by the RSS-sponsored Shiksha Bachao Andolan, since carried
VIF’s director is former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval, now
appointed the National Security Adviser. As I discovered during a television
debate a few years ago, Doval belongs to a school of policing that believes “in
shooting first and asking questions later – that’s the only way to deal with
terrorists”, real or imagined.
Doval rationalises fake ‘encounter
killings’ and advocates a militarist approach towards Maoists – regardless of
legality and human rights consequences. He calls for a hard line against India’s
neighbours, including friendly Bangladesh, who he believes, are bent on
subverting India’s security.
Many VIF leading lights discount the
potential for peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan. India, they
demand, should stop being overly “generous” towards its neighbours in economic
cooperation, trade, visas, even water-sharing.
VIF, with other pro-Sangh
Parivar outfits such as Deendayal Research Institute, Niti Central, Public
Policy Research Centre, Friends of the BJP, Centre for Policy Studies and
Rashtriya Seva Bharati, will provide policy inputs to Modi.
influence, we are likely to witness a well-orchestrated campaign to shift
India’s foreign, security, economic, social and cultural policies rightwards, in
keeping with Modi’s own orientation, but with disastrous
It’s hard to see how the feeble and demoralised
parliamentary opposition can resist this onslaught. Many regional outfits like
the Samajwadi Party buy into the BJP’s paranoid ultra-nationalist premises and
Where does that leave the recent elections’ greatest
losers – the Congress, the Left, the BSP and the Aam Aadmi Party? The first two
have suffered their worst-ever defeats, winning respectively 44 and 12 Lok Sabha
seats (including two Left-backed independents from Kerala). The AAP, which
showed great promise in December, has come a cropper, winning only four seats,
all in Punjab.
These parties face an existential crisis. The Congress
still deludes itself that the Gandhi family will somehow rescue it. The family
refuses to own up to its leadership failure. Yet, no one demands that the party
frees itself from this millstone and start afresh.
Unless the Congress
rebuilds its base among the Dalits, Adivasis, lower OBCs and the urban poor, by
agitating for their livelihood rights, it’s likely to go into steep, possibly
terminal, decline – especially if it loses the coming assembly elections in
Maharashtra and Haryana, as seems likely.
The Left’s base has been
eroding everywhere, especially in its former bastion West Bengal, where it won
the same number of seats (two) as the BJP. Its leadership should have responded
to this with alacrity; several heads should have rolled, and the Left should
have returned to vigorous mass activity instead of doing “politics from the top”
based on unstable, sterile electoral alliances.
Unless the Left urgently
corrects course, updates its programmatic perspectives, and develops a
mass-based mobilisation strategy by taking up issues like healthcare, food
security, employment, education and defence of people’s livelihoods threatened
by predatory industrial, mining and water and power projects, it too will be
The solution lies in radical, painfully critical introspection,
abandoning the democratic centralism organisational doctrine which prevents
healthy debate, and joining grassroots struggles. This is a tall order, but the
Left has no soft options.
As for the AAP, it must reinvent itself not as
a political party, but as a political movement which offers new forms of
participatory activity not narrowly focused on corruption or “crony capitalism”.
The AAP must practise what it preaches – transparency, political honesty and
inner-party consultation. It’s the lack of these that aggravated the AAP’s
crisis, leading to Shazia Ilmi’s and Yogendra Yadav’s resignations, and to
Arvind Kejriwal’s discrediting as an egoistic, unreliable leader.
must not shy away from ideology. It must link ‘crony capitalism’ to
communal-neoliberal authoritarianism. The BJP embodies all these and is the main
enemy. Rather than concentrate excessively on the coming Delhi Assembly
elections, the AAP must join a broad-based national campaign against neoliberal
Hindutva-capitalism. That’s the way forward.
The writer, a former
newspaper editor, is a researcher and rights activist based in