In the wake of BJP’s landslide victory, there are shockwaves being felt across the country and outside among those who remain steadfastly opposed to the Sangh Parivar’s fascist vision of a Hindu rashtra and cling on to the constitutional illusion of a secular India.
The knee-jerk response has been that of blaming it all on the EVMs. After Mayavati and Lalu Prasad others are joining in as well and erudite scholars are searching and sharing articles that focus on the vulnerability of the EVMs and how they may be hacked and how the victory could well have been a product of a massive technological fraud. Now, political leaders often find it difficult to stomach losses and they are therefore prone to explanations verging on the absurd. But what makes secular intellectuals run for the same caves? I remember left leaders in Bengal scurrying in the same direction after the debacle of 2011. But such explanations are rather improbable because EVM machines are manually checked in the booth by the Presiding Officer in the presence of all polling agents by conducting a mock poll just before the actual polling begins and upon the discovery of any anomaly, the machine in question is immediately changed. The possibility of rigging an election through technological manipulation of the EVM is therefore a rather far-fetched conspiracy theory which can only be uttered by those who are in desperate denial of the reality. Had it been so easy, we would neither have a functioning multi-party democracy nor hung-assemblies. Perhaps this also stems from our hubristic inability to accept that the majority of the voters did not share our beliefs. That is why we either try to reject their agency by hatching stories of a conspiracy or claim like Akhilesh Yadav that the poor do not always know what they really want. When a former CM begins to distrust the same people who had once voted him to the power one begins to get a sense of the distance between those who have lost and the voters. So it is better if we get ourselves out of the ostrich manoeuvre and look at things more objectively.
If seen in the light of the results of the Parliamentary elections of 2014, the results in UP are not really a surprise. BJP had won 71 of 80 seats from UP with 42.6% of the total votes. Even the votes of Samajwadi Party and Congress combined could not come anywhere near the BJP vote share. So why this shock? In West Bengal, the trend of the electoral results in the Loksabha election of 2009 had spelt the doom of the Left Front government which became a reality 2 years later in 2011. Why did people think that the same logic would not apply in case of Uttar Pradesh? Was this simply a case of wishful thinking or did some people get swayed by the novelty of a SP-Congress alliance which failed almost as miserably as the equally egregious Left-Front-Congress alliance in West Bengal? This in fact is one of the problems with elite liberals around the world: we live in our cocooned world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Netflix and suppose that the rest of the society would follow our footsteps and sink into despair when reality comes crashing down on us. This is all the more true in case of Indian elections which often hinge on cunning caste and community based electoral arithmetic combined with strong organisational mobilisation of voters to the polling booth. This is not a dust-proof, air-conditioned world of logical debates and informed discussions.
But the pitfalls of secular elites on social-networking sites are far less important than what these results portend for the country as a whole. UP has often been called the heart of India. Although the tourism department of Madhya Pradesh disagrees. Be that as it may, as the largest state in India, UP does decide, to a certain extent, the political future of India which right now, seems to be smeared in saffron. Theoretically speaking, we are witnessing the gradual re-assertion of a hegemonic bloc which is trying to utilise the ideology of Hindutva and the alluring rhetoric of development to create an inclusive alliance of different social groups who are no longer satisfied by the tokenism and empty rhetoric of identity politics of one kind or another. As the Sachar committee report had shown, Muslims in various Indian states, even states where BJP or its allies were not in power, were terribly excluded from developmental projects. Perhaps it is that disillusionment that turns them to the BJP despite its avowedly communal Hindu-nationalist identity. Perhaps that is also why backward communities other than Yadavs (traditional SP base) and Dalits other than Jatavs (traditional BSP base) also voted for the BJP. And when one organisational behemoth, with potent auxiliary units like RSS, VHP, Durga Vahini, Bajrang Dal, comes up against a divided opposition scarred by relentless infighting, the result is more than obvious.
But there still remains the question of ethics. Where is the voters’ sense of justice when the instigators of the Muzaffarpur riots are provided with electoral victories? What happens to the security of the family members of Mohammad Ikhlaq of Dadri (a seat that BJP has also won) who had been lynched to death on suspicion of eating beef, even though that was his constitutional right and even though he did not actually have beef at his home anyway? Where is the ethics of returning to power the same political force which was responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent massacres? Perhaps 20 years is too much for public memory and perhaps people have either found reasons for trust or that they just don’t care. Perhaps anti-incumbency rides roughshod over all other considerations. Perhaps. At least this much is certain: one should not hope that electoral results should reflect ethical judgments. The art of the possible necessarily excludes the realm of oughtness. But even this is not a surprise: the people of Gujarat had overwhelmingly voted in favour of BJP even after the inhuman massacres of 2002.
In his discussion of the ‘Southern Question’ Gramsci had argued that “The proletariat can become the leading and the dominant class to the extent that it succeeds in creating a system of alliances which allows it to mobilise the majority of the population against capitalism and the bourgeois state” (Selections from Political Writings 1921-26, 443). In India, we desperately lack a vanguard that can ensure such leadership of the proletariat with necessary alliances. Instead the proletariat remains fractured along the lines of religion, caste and communities, allowing the vacuum to be occupied by the united hegemonic bloc led by the Sangh Parivar which papers over its fascist violence and asphyxiation of dissent with illusions of moral strength, integrity, discipline, charity, masculinist machismo and nationalist pride which a sacrificial Indian people enthusiastically accepts. Unless the rest of India can create possibilities of resistant solidarities, the coming days will seem darker and bleaker for secular Indians who might even find their faith in democracy, shaken. What is required therefore is the attempt to effect moral-intellectual transformation at the grassroots which can neither happen in English nor within air-conditioned television studios. Does secular India have such leaders who are willing to do the literal groundwork? I wonder.