State of Affairs
Our central Government’s rise to power often reads like a story of the underdog. From the beginning, as it evolved out of an alternative nationalist organization – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, their slow growth through the 1980s, and ultimately their landslide win in the 2014 polls. While the ‘Modi wave’ may not be as strong as when it started, BJP success in trying to gain absolute control of both houses of the Parliament is unprecedented.
A majority in the Rajya Sabha- the upper house of the Parliament- is crucial for the BJP, until now the lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha has been an effective roadblock in their plans. Perhaps that is the best justification for why recently, the politics of polarisation has been championed by both sides of the aisle.
In a comprehensive study of communal riots, Yale University researchers assert that ‘riots produce ethnic polarisation that benefits ethnoreligious parties at the expense of the Congress’. In fact, the BJS (parent of BJP) saw a 0.8 percentage point increase in their vote share following a riot in the year prior to an election.
This growing trend in denouncing all those who disagree has become a frequent model of campaigning, the most recent of which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims in his Palanpur speech, that Manmohan Singh, the un-named vice president and Mani Shankar Aiyar were conspiring with Pakistani officials to influence an election in India and a retired Pakistani army officer was simultaneously interfering in the process.
It takes a while to process, but the Prime Minister has just accused a former Prime Minister, a former Vice President and a former Minister of Parliament of sedition. Ordinarily, claims like these made by a person holding the highest Office in the country would be taken seriously, but as a nation, we are so used to hyperbole laced rhetoric, that we only take it with a pinch of salt.
While Prime Minister Modi may not be the first (and certainly isn’t the last) to make sweeping claims during the campaigning trail, his fault is amplified by the office he holds. And though the meeting was secretive, from the details that have emerged it was a quiet routine meeting. The only thing the Prime Minister succeeded in by turning it into a far-fetched conspiracy, is redefining the political Opposition as the enemy.
The central government’s political hegemony doesn’t just lie in fuelling the flames, they also easily dictate the agenda of its challengers. Whether it was turning the Presidential and Vice-Presidential polls into an ideological battle, or how easily all major players in the political arena have been running around in circles in the BJP established nationalistic discourse. Capitalising on class and communal divides to win votes has worked in their favour quite frequently since 2014.
But it has also failed them, if the Assembly elections in Bihar were any indication. And it may fail them again, but this time, in their stronghold of Gujarat. The only way to counter communal politics is by forcing the issue of social agenda onto the agenda, and then you get to witness the BJP falter. After all the only time the BJP’s rhetoric failed over the past three years was during the Bihar elections.
While India has a history of backing vote bank politics, trying to denounce all opposition, and dissent will never be a tactic that works. In a perfect world, both sides of the aisle create a dialogue together in a combined effort to ensure that every sect is adequately represented. But when the party in power is decidedly ‘nationalist’ and the largest opposition party is still scrambling to organize themselves in a coherent manner, it is the people they represent that suffer.
As we move from coalition politics to single party politics, the need for an Opposition is even more accentuated. The democratic process accounts for an Opposition because it is a reminder that a democracy cannot be used as an instrument for power. And by seeing the prime minister dismiss it so easily, it reveals a massive problem with how political discourse is viewed. It is no longer about trying to accommodate the most people and bringing cultures together in harmony, it is now about fighting for only those who will vote for you.
As for everyone else? They might as well be traitors.