Since the time Narendra Modi won a landslide majority in the 16th Lok Sabha election and formed a government in May 2014, the common wailing of the parliamentary opposition was that secularism, as defined by the Indian Constitution, is under threat. Neither Narendra Modi nor the RSS-led Hindutva fascist camp disappointed the opponents and their core supporters. Communal violence was unleashed all these years and now, as we near the Lok Sabha election in 2019 and the Modi government’s development agenda already cast into the oblivion, it’s now mere religious overtone, hate speeches, vitriol and the leitmotif Ram temple issue that can polarise the Sangh’s hardcore vote bank. The BJP is indeed doing the same.
The problem is at the end of the opposition, especially the Congress Party. The grand old party loves to project itself as the flagbearer of Indian secularism, while in reality, it’s now simply toeing the Hindutva line of Narendra Modi to consolidate its fast-eroding upper-caste voter base and also to wean away a large-section of Narendra Modi’s non-core vote bank, by wooing them with a new religious undertone.
During the recently concluded assembly poll campaigning for five states, especially in the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the sudden volte-face of the Congress was found remarkably in stark contrary to its usually stated standpoint. The Congress’ capitulation on Hindutva, its new-found love for the ‘mother cow’ and its diligence in appeasing the Hindus raise the big question of Indian politics before each of those self-styled secular liberals who have been vocal supporter of the Congress-led united opposition as the only solution to the Hindutva fascist Modi menace- who is the secular alternative?
Who is Your Secular Choice for 2019 Lok Sabha Election?
Largely, people on social media, who have been vocal against the BJP and the Hindutva bandwagon, would say that a Congress-led coalition of the anti-BJP parties can be the best choice for the country in the post-Modi scenario. There’s a widespread expectation that the Congress will fare well in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, while Chhattisgarh will go to the BJP as the mining corporations still have their bets on the saffron camp for their land, forest and water requirements.
In case the Congress sweeps Chhattisgarh, then it will be a disaster for the BJP as the party prepares itself for the big event of 2019, when Narendra Modi will seek a re-election on the basis of Hindutva polarisation and the anti-establishment rantings he’s infamous for, where he, like Indira Gandhi, holds the opposition and ‘foreign powers’ responsible for the non-performance of his own government.
If the Congress manages to win in these three states, followed by Mizoram and Telangana, and the BJD retains its control on Odisha later, then will it be good for the liberal democrats to say that ‘secularism will be established in the country’, the Brahminical bigotry, for which the RSS and the BJP are notorious, will be uprooted and the people will be remoulded with Constitutional morality, secular and democratic ethos? Can the Congress, in the scenario of its victory in these elections and the 2019 general election, promise a total dismantling of the Hindutva structure that the Modi regime has established? It would have been better if the answers were in affirmative; however, that’s not how the case is.
The tragedy of Indian parliamentary politics is that here the opponents are not really ideological opponents, but merely opponents for the sake of it. Parliamentary politics in India is about helping one or the other section of the ruling classes, i.e. the big feudal landlords, the big comprador and bureaucratic capitalists and foreign monopoly and finance corporations to loot and plunder the resources and the labour of the country in return of crumbs thrown by them at the parties in power and opposition.
It’s the share of the booty of this plunder that draws careerists into politics either individually or they get their wand passed on through the dynastic channel. The Congress and the BJP may appear as bitter enemies, however, in reality, they aren’t enemies but mere opponents, driven by a similar agenda but representing different big business houses, foreign and domestic.
The contradiction between the interest of different corporate houses manifests in the contradiction between these two giant parties with whom most small parties and regional outfits align themselves. Parliamentary politics itself is the system of peacefully resolving the antagonistic contradictions between the interests of different sections of the capitalists and rich feudal landowners. Secularism here is as much a means to a nefarious end of serving big capital as is Hindutva fascism.
Since the beginning of the assembly poll campaigning for BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Congress distanced itself from speaking anything that may allow the BJP to criticise it as a ‘pro-Muslim’ party. Willfully gulping the Hindutva pill, which it publicly detests in New Delhi with some riders, the Congress tried to prove in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan that it’s more concerned about Hindutva and the holy cow than the BJP and wouldn’t take any reverse turn from the already set policies but make them more or less streamlined.
For the Congress, it’s important to project itself as a Hindu party because it’s confident that the Muslim vote bank of the party will not switch allegiance due to unavailability of any strong alternative. The Congress is sure that a major Dalit and OBC vote will be cast in its favour due to the oppression these communities face in the BJP-ruled states.
However, despite these vote banks, for the Congress, it’s important to seek the majority upper-caste Hindu votes, as they matter a lot in deciding the electoral arithmetic and the BJP has outsmarted the Congress through a carefully drafted polarisation strategy that has paid rich dividends to the party.
Secular liberals cast their hope and aspiration on the Congress, expecting it to undo the major damages caused by the boisterous Hindutva cavalcade that the RSS has been driving in these BJP-ruled states. They expect that the Congress will eventually curb the menace of cow vigilantism, the terrorism of the Gau Rakshaks, infamous for lynching the Muslim cattle transporters and traders. They expect the Congress to bring down the amplified Hindutva rhetoric on the cow, love jihad or Ram temple agitation by winning these elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha election. They expect the country to reach a realm of liberal democracy with secular values after 2019, even when the Hindutva-incensed mobsters are ruling the streets with absolute impunity and communalism is thriving through excessive toxic propaganda.
In reality, the Congress is not going to do anything that the liberal democrats and the parliamentary left expect from it. The Congress won’t reverse the Hindutva juggernaut, it will rather run it with a secular veil.
No Congress leader would be able to decriminalise beef consumption, cow slaughter and selling of meat in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh because that will cause a severe damage to their vote bank among the upper-caste conservative Hindus. They will not take any severe action to crack down on the Gau Rakshak terrorists or the militant-training camps of the Bajrang Dal sprung throughout Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
They wouldn’t allow the marriage between Hindu women and Muslim men or vice versa fearing a backlash from their vote bank and the gradual strength gaining by the BJP. Rather, the Congress will ensure that it will keep the existing anti-people and communal policies regarding marriage and love affairs intact to safeguard the conservative Hindu support.
The Congress won’t undo the changes that the BJP and the RSS have done to the history curriculum to show the Rajput rulers in bright shades and to vilify the Mughal rulers. Even if the Congress and its so-called ‘secular’ partners manage to sweep the Lok Sabha election of 2019 and the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2022, they won’t be able to reverse the policies that the Modi and the Yogi Adityanath government adopted, including the renaming of Muslim-sounding cities and stations.
Can the Congress rename Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction back to Mughalsarai Junction? Or can it rename Ayodhya district to Faizabad or Prayagraj district to Allahabad, provided that it’s in power both in New Delhi and Lucknow? Can it take any action against the hooliganism of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the Gau Rakshaks in Uttar Pradesh and the ruffian police force that’s on a rampage to kill innocents after framing them?
Never would the Congress dare to call the spade a spade and it will never, therefore, take any concrete step to fight against Brahminical hegemony in the ranks of the government and the society. The vote bank and influence of the upper-caste Hindu elites, feudal landlords and the comprador capitalists will never allow the Congress to strike down the reactionary laws that the BJP governments have adopted in these three states.
Forget about stopping the war on the tribal people of Chhattisgarh on behalf of big mining corporations (which actually the Congress-led UPA II government started in 2009), a formation of a Congress government in the state will mean the pursuance of the BJP’s policy of unashamed corporate appeasement with full vigour, leaving no stone unturned to help the big mining giants to occupy the land, forests and rivers of the tribal people.
A Congress-ruled fair and equal India is definitely a phantasm for many liberal democrats, who despite wearing secularism on their sleeves, carry their elitist Brahminical prejudice deep inside the skin. The Congress-ruled post-Modi India, if it ever happens, will be nothing but an equivalent of the BJP rule except for the RSS men dictating the policies.
True Secular Alternative
Who can be your true secular alternative?
If we talk about secularism then we have to understand that it doesn’t mean that the government or the state will value each religion equally and celebrate them, as it has been understood in India so far. Secularism means the separation of the church and the state, it means that neither the government will celebrate nor oppose any particular religion and separate itself from the theatrics of religious practices while discharging its duty. Individuals can definitely follow their religion without any fear of persecution or hurdle unless their practice causes severe damage to others, however, the state can’t practice any or all religions as an entity.
The true secularism in India can’t be delivered from the top-down, as the Constitution tried to do. It needs to be developed from bottom-up, from the grassroots; it can only happen when the people at the bottom of the pyramid- the landless peasants, the poor peasants, who mostly belong to the oppressed Dalit, OBC or Muslim community, are aroused with a democratic and secular fervour, and they are led to uprooting the wellspring of the communal bigotry and caste discrimination- feudal production relations.
A society that’s semi-colonial and semi-feudal in character, can’t become a secular, democratic and progressive society through cosmetic measures. Democracy, secularism and pluralistic values can only thrive when its antagonist- feudalism is overthrown. To defeat feudalism and the superstructure of caste and communal bigotry that’s standing on its foundation, it’s imperative that the people direct their struggle against the feudal forces, the promoters of casteism, bigotry and autocracy.
This can only be done when a political party, which is strongly anti-feudal, anti-colonial and anti-fascist in character, triggers the momentum at the grassroots by uniting, organising and leading the people towards the goal of defeating Hindutva fascism, Brahminical hegemony and feudalism, the root cause of the first two.
Once feudalism is defeated and uprooted from the countryside, it can very well weaken the comprador capitalist system and its patron, the foreign monopoly and finance capital. It’s collectively based on the support of these forces that the Hindutva fascists manage to rule India with absolute hegemony, knowing well that the base of their rule remains immune from change. One strike of a democratic struggle at the roots of feudalism and reactionary Brahminical hegemony will bring down this whole empire.
A secular, democratic and progressive society won’t be built by the Congress by winning elections, as the base will remain unchanged and so will be the class equation. It’s only by overturning the societal order, it’s only by smashing the status quo on class and caste, that the poor and the marginalised people can win their right to live equally and in a fearless environment.
For secularism, democracy and progress, one need not have to look at New Delhi but at the very villages, the cells of the body called India, where one significant change in power equation will shake the empire in the capital city. Any other road to the realm of freedom, democracy and secularism simply doesn’t exist.