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Hilal English

Modi’s Guarantee and Hindutva Incorporated

May 2024

Modi's recipe: Stirring up Hindutva with a dash of crony capitalism, a sprinkle of suppression, and a side of societal fears. But will the simmering discontent spoil his political feast?



Our failure to comprehend Modi's appeal to the Indian state and elites over the past decades stems from an inability to draw a crucial distinction between violence in aid of fanaticism characterized by fringe political ideologies and violence and fanaticism in service of business enterprise. The latter, often associated with Modi's much-hyped Gujarat model, is critical in understanding why Modi is the longest-serving hard-right premier of India.
Let us now try to operationalize this thesis. The demolition of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya in 1992, which was followed by large-scale communal violence, was in service of fanaticism and mainstreaming of a fringe political ideology. The religious riots that erupted in Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was still an unelected Chief Minister of the state, were essentially the introduction of a "pro-business governance model". How so? Nearly ten percent of Gujarat's population is Muslim. For a state with a complicated history of foreign intrusions (The East India Company established its first factory and presidency at Surat, a city in the state) and Islamophobia (Somnath Temple attacked by Mahmud of Ghazni is situated there), xenophobia and othering of minorities like Muslims are low hanging fruits. The successive Congress-led governments were often accused of Muslim appeasement by the hard right and the local business communities. The shock and awe engendered by the Gujarat violence killed two birds with a stone. The open appeasement of the majoritarian revivalists and xenophobes ensured that Modi got elected again and again as the Chief Minister of the state. It also took care of Ahmedabad (the state capital)'s Muslim minority problem, as nearly half of the city's Muslim population displaced by the riots were bundled up in a ghetto called Juhapura located in the northwest of the city. The avid fans of human bloodsport can take solace in the fact that the ghetto is next to a sewage treatment plant and industrial waste dumping ground where the fallout of toxicity has had a persistent adverse effect on the health of the residents. 


With the rising influence of Modi's India, this caste-focused censorship has also spread across the world.


Free of the Muslim influence, ownership or “infestation”, as the far-right pundits would call it, Gujarat and Ahmedabad businesses had found their lebensraum, the room to grow. The Modi government dismantled regulatory frameworks, and its carefully crafted social engineering and “business friendly” policies helped the business community grow like wildfire. To help understand the difference between business-friendly and market-friendly policies, Christophe Jaffrelot, Atul Kohli, and Kanta Murali have this explanation to offer in their book "Business and Politics in India": While market-friendly economies minimize interventions from the state, in a business-friendly economy, politicians (and "their" bureaucracies) intervene in favor of the companies they seek to favor, their cronies—hence the notion of crony capitalism.
Labor laws, local and caste-based reservations, micro, small and medium-scale industrial incentives and environmental protections stood no chance against a feared government hellbent on appeasing big business. No wonder then that two of the wealthiest men in the region and the world, Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani, come from this state. 


As long as the country's marginal Muslims are viewed as a clear and present danger, Hindu consolidation can take place. In other words, don't look at the country's rich for your woes. It is fate. Look at your poor, dispossessed Muslim or minority neighbor because he may steal a few morsels from the meal that could be yours or marry the girl that could be yours.


To a reader, the above governance/business model may appear macabre and cruel. Still, not only does this deliver dividend to the rich, but to their advantage, this makes the growth of inequality irreversible in India. It must also be stated that cruelty is baked into the entrenched system of casteism in the country where the upper three castes, Brahmins (approximately 3-4 percent of the population), Banyas (approximately 4-5 percent) and Kshatriyas (approximately 3-4 percent) get away with doing unspeakable things to the underprivileged majority castes due to the systemic elite capture. 
And therein lies the biggest fear of the elite. If the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and Other Backward Castes start demanding their due share, the entire rent-seeking system may collapse, taking a good chunk of the government machinery with it. That is why any talk of a caste census is rejected with extreme prejudice through the modes of social control. This is why, and not due to his flip-flops alone, Nitish Kumar's career was sealed once he conducted the caste census in Bihar. That is why Indian media pundits tried to make a laughing stock of Rahul Gandhi. In fact, with the rising influence of Modi's India, this caste-focused censorship has also spread across the world. Here are two examples—Google's two key phrases: measuring caste in India and Pew research. You will find a hyperlink leading to the document. Now click on it. You will be greeted by the text "content not found". You may think they might have moved the page. Go to the website's search engine and look up the first key phrase. You will not find any trace of it. Another test: Look up Seattle's recently introduced anti-caste law. Now, look for the protests and reactions against the law. You will be surprised how many people dub it as an anti-Hindu law. But wait. Can anti-discrimination laws be against any faith? Well, apparently so.


While in Modi's India, big businesses have flourished at the cost of the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector, jobs for the disaffected youth have failed to materialize. This, coupled with the cost of living crisis, has embittered the youth, and the opposition seems to have found an opening to exploit.


That is why Hindutva (Hinduness) is such a useful project. As long as the country’s backward castes and classes adhere to the elite’s brand of Hinduism and feel a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, they are likely to overlook their own misfortunes in the name of karma and dharma and settle for the trickle that reaches them in the shape of ration schemes and marginal reservations. That is also where the enterprise of othering Muslims and minorities comes in handy. As long as the country's marginal Muslims are viewed as a clear and present danger, Hindu consolidation can take place. In other words, don't look at the country's rich for your woes. It is fate. Look at your poor, dispossessed Muslim or minority neighbor because he may steal a few morsels from the meal that could be yours or marry the girl that could be yours. Sadly, this cheap trick works every time it is used owing to the conditioning of centuries, if not millennia. 
When Narendra Modi took his Gujarat model national, he tweaked how his party functions. It was the past practice of all Indian parties, including his, to give a few token assembly seats and cabinet positions to Muslims and Christians. This would take care of the facade of secularism, which has proven wafer thin now. Modi put an end to niceties like this. The message was clear. We will give you some rights as long as you behave, but forget about representation. Modi’s crony capitalist allies would soon purchase all major news networks so that the industrial scale othering of Muslims and other minorities and the Hindu consolidation at an industrial scale could begin. This seems to have produced the desired results for the past ten years. People were learning that through “love jihad”, Romeo gangs, cow eating, baby breeding, and other loose habits, the Muslim incubus was soon to destroy their lives and livelihood. It always helps if you throw Pakistan in the mix because then all other Muslims can be asked to get lost in that hated land. In his memoir, "A Promised Land", former U.S. President Obama writes: “Violence, both public and private, remained an all-too-pervasive part of Indian life. Expressing hostility towards Pakistan was still the quickest route to national unity.”
We saw an example of both these factors in the 2014 and the 2019 elections. In 2014, the anti-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar had already made the public mind more receptive to change in favor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A carefully crafted anti-corruption campaign characterized by Anna Hazare’s Andolan and focused on transgresses more imagined than real, like the 2G and Coal-gate scandals, added further strength to the winds of change. In 2019, the Pulwama-Balakot episode and clashes with Pakistan were enough to propel his party to an even greater majority in the parliament. Now that his crony capitalist friends have gone global, so has the art of bending light to magnify the image of Narendra Modi. This time, he seems to have opted for a minimalist route. If you like all of the above and want more, vote for me. Hence, the BJP’s manifesto this time is called ‘Modi ki guarantee’. 


It is common knowledge that the far right wants to do away with the constitution to get rid of the quotas and reservations for the lower castes. This has added fuel to the fire of discontent, and reportedly, backward castes and tribes have registered higher turnout in the first round.


In a country with an ever-growing population, sociopolitical engineering is bound to have limits. No matter how cleverly designed a digital sandbox might be in which they are asked to play, like Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, the country's teeming youths are bound to ask for more. India's entertainment industry, led by its cinema, promoted love, romance and living happily ever after with your soulmate as the purpose of life used to take care of this matter. Once you have started a family, it is too late, and you will make a million compromises with the system. But as the Modi magic grew to a fever pitch, the desire for Hindu consolidation and spreading Hindutva as a political ideology also co-opted the entertainment industry. The result was further disillusionment among the young as another opiate started to dull their pain. While in Modi's India, big businesses have flourished at the cost of the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector, jobs for the disaffected youth have failed to materialize. This, coupled with the cost of living crisis, has embittered the youth, and the opposition seems to have found an opening to exploit. In the first phase of the 2024 general election that took place when these lines were being written, voter enthusiasm was lacking in the BJP-dominated constituencies. 


Ten years of uninterrupted Modi rule was already a big ask for a country fraught with factionalism. But five more years where Modi either extends his rule indefinitely or appoints his close confidante Amit Shah as his successor may prove too much for the other party influencers. 


Another fear that seems to have awoken at least some sections of the society is about the country’s constitution. The constitution was written by a committee headed by Babasaheb Ambedkar, a Dalit leader of national stature and jurist who served as independent India's first law and justice minister. The document not only sought to provide constitutional safeguards for India's backward castes but is rightly seen with great pride by these communities as one of their own wrote it. In this election, perhaps to boost the morale of his cadres, to distract from the rumours about an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) opinion poll that predicted the party getting only 180 seats, much below the 272 majority number, or for a hitherto undisclosed sinister purpose, Modi initiated the slogan "ab ki bar, char sau paar" (this time cross the 400 mark). Shortly after this, the party's firebrand mid-rank officials started saying that 400 seats were needed to change the constitution. It is common knowledge that the far right wants to do away with the constitution to get rid of the quotas and reservations for the lower castes. This has added fuel to the fire of discontent, and reportedly, backward castes and tribes have registered higher turnout in the first round.
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, it creates jealousies, too. Ten years of uninterrupted Modi rule was already a big ask for a country fraught with factionalism. But five more years where Modi either extends his rule indefinitely or appoints his close confidante Amit Shah as his successor may prove too much for the other party influencers. 
While the Gujarat riots might have earned Modi brand recognition across the country, it was the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence in Uttar Pradesh (UP) that paved his way to power at the center. The party's next star performer, Yogi Adityanath, who has perfected a cruder if the more advanced version of Modi's saffron crony capitalism called "bulldozer raj", comes from this state and may not be at peace with the idea of Amit Shah's ascension to the throne. Likewise, the BJP's ideological mentor, RSS, also seems wary of playing second fiddle to Modi. So, chances are that they may want to see Modi swept away by the anti-incumbency avalanche, spend a term out of power and then return to claim the throne without Modi or Amit Shah. 
This can only mean that Modi will soon revert to the polarising politics. As these lines are being written in his speeches, he has already started referring to Muslims as outsiders and invaders. But these statements without violence might not be enough. The question is whether Yogi and the RSS would be willing to play along with such violent designs. It seems unlikely. Perhaps his billionaire friends may be able to fund such campaigns. But after the recent disclosures related to the corruption involved in the electoral bonds, they are also wary of public scrutiny. 
When nothing else works, a confrontation with Pakistan can always prove a helpful distraction. But the problem is it might already be too late for that as the public focus has already been locked on to local issues like unemployment, poverty, inflation and constitutional safeguards. Also, given that former Army Chief General V.K. Singh (retired) has been denied a ticket to run again in the election and speculations about the axing of the national security advisor, Ajit Doval, are rife, one can only assume that Modi no longer enjoys the same camaraderie with the Indian deep state. The law of diminishing returns might already be setting in as we speak. But that is still to be proven. For now, Modi's loyal mediamen and political pundits seem to be shouting atop their voices, perhaps fearing that if they stop talking, people’s brains may start functioning.


The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist.  
Twitter: @FarrukhKPitafi
E-mail: [email protected]

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