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The shifting ideology of the Indian polity: Modi’s transformation

By Ashima Makhija

In his landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn distinguished between changes that are superficial and cosmetic, and the status quo and changes that are the paradigm. The latter are revolutionary and radical. By changing the dominant ideology of the Indian polity, Prime Minister Modi’s reforms have undoubtedly brought a fundamental paradigm shift in the Indian political scene.  

The BJP’s contemporary political articulations and policy formulation cannot be understood if not viewed as a paradigm shift driven by powerful ideological forces. Regardless of the limitations and nuances of this new political perspective, the PM has undoubtedly brought in a vision that is starkly distinct from previous Non-Congress parties and even the former NDA government under Vajpayee. From right-wing populism, cow vigilance, and the Hindutva brand, to a new and restricted meaning of nationalism and a society driven by the interests of the majority, Modi has altered the foundation and face of the Indian political system.

Have the Nehruvian ideals withered?

Modi’s political brand has met acceptance, criticism and intense interrogation. The Indian society and political system are still somewhat embedded in the Nehruvian ideals of inclusion, secularism and liberalism. The opponents of the Congress in the past had similar ideological orientations. Even the earlier BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee operated broadly from a Nehruvian paradigm; whenever questioned, the defence put up by the then NDA leadership was that it was merely building on the Nehruvian model. For the most part, it was. If during the Vajpayee years it was ‘business as usual’, wherein the BJP was still busy aligning its policies within the Nehruvian model, the tendency to ‘fit in’ is now a thing of the past. There is today an unapologetic shift from the Nehruvian paradigm to a Hindutva paradigm.

The effects of the paradigm shift

This shift to the Hindutva paradigm is revolutionizing the social dynamics, foreign policy and internal politics of the nation. So far, the Indian society had been dominated by intelligentsia with leftist and secular leanings. The contemporary political analysts, who comment on the authority and underlying morality of the state, are part of this Nehruvian intelligentsia and have now been undermined by the proponents of Hindutva, who have rightist leanings and do not believe in ‘minority appeasement’.

Domestic conflict resolution is a stage of aggressive nation-building practices. In place of the accommodative and plural society that was central to the ideals of Nehru, the Hindutva paradigm is in favour of political disharmony, military tactics to curb civilian protests and aggressive rhetoric that often instigates communities against each other. For instance, this Hindutva paradigm incited religious hatred that led to thousands of attacks on Muslims and lower-caste Hindus for disrespecting cows. Another aspect is the growing participation of people in political matters. Due to these radical changes in the political and ideological orientation of the Indian state, people are either vigorously joining the Modi campaign or are harbouring wary opinions of how these changes could be detrimental to our society.

Tracing the similarities with global right-wing

The right-wing secured a dramatic victory in India in 2014, long before Trump, got elected as the President of the United States. There are some similarities between the two leaders and even the other right-wing populists that show how India is blending with the global right-wing trends.

An interesting commonality between all the right-wingers is that they rise as virtuous heroes against forces of evil in a quest for the redemption of the people. These evils range from the ill-effects of harbouring migrants, stateless people, persecuted communities and Muslims (in general), economic slowdown and administrative and political stagnation. From France, Holland, Germany and Italy to the USA, the right-wingers give primacy to the ‘traditional citizens’ and offer to reform their country by protecting these citizens from the ills of globalization, global interdependence and migration. In India, this has taken shape through the BJP-RSS venture to protect the ‘Hindu way of life’.

Despite the executive failure of demonetization, Modi swept the assembly elections in 2017 because of his ability to tap into the deep desire of Indians to be taken seriously on the international stage; to make them feel proud of their identity. With his stress on foreign policy issues, the proposed outward-looking role for India and initiatives like Make in India, he sells Indians the dream of a hyper-powerful India, that dominates the world stage and ‘leads the way’. He makes Indians believe that he can make India great again. He sold that vision before Trump even thought of running for President. Thus, the Hindutva paradigm, much-like the right-wing paradigms across the globe, operates by selling a distorted perception of national identity to the citizenry of a nation.

The transition period

Currently, the Indian society and polity are in a phase of transition. Proponents of liberal-secular ideals are on the defence and on the decline. They are calling out for us to remember the institutions and ideas on which this nation and its politics have so far been structured. But the Hindutva paradigm is gaining momentum. By targeting the weak links in the Nehruvian model, like inadequate concessions to the majority Hindu community, and by marketing a new national identity, the Hindutva model is finding acceptance and admiration in many pockets of the country. These changes have generated widespread vigilance and activity of the public as well as the liberal media.

What remains to be seen is whether the Indian masses will remember the core values that have been enriched in the nationalist freedom struggle, the Constitution and the history of modern-era politics or if they will openly embrace the Modi brand of politics, thereby rejecting several values like accommodation, inclusion and secularism, that were integral to the Nehruvian model. It is ultimately the citizens’ attitude and adoption of either paradigm that perhaps can make India great again.


Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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