From ‘Development’
to ‘Authoritarian Conservatism’

Recall the rise of the right and the massive setback of liberal politics in the recent past. Ironically India did forget that it was about to chose not only the voice of the corporate but also a chief minister who presided over the genocide in Gujarat. Unfortunately he was misread by large chunk of Indian voters as the messiah of development. He and the BJP president were neither accused of un-constitutional activities nor being barred or interrogated. He was elected and assumed office as the prime minister of India. Suddenly people and the media forgot all charges of engineering communal riots because it was needed to be forgotten as desired by the ruling class of our country. He appeared to be the pied piper, the protagonist of emerging India, epitome of strength and masculinity and all these were urgently required to unleash decisive power of Indian and foreign corporates.

The word development seems to have seductive power; no one can dispute the need of development. It is something like ‘religion’ an acknowledgement of collective indisputable truth, an implicit assertion of growth fundamentalism that this hegemonic discourse induces. People voted in favour of this ‘secularized Modi’.  It appeared that the Hindu right might change its stance. As if it is the new BJP becoming faithful to the cause of modern India carving out a space for right wing politics that is supposed to be distancing itself from the archaic notions of its RSS masters.

The middle class who happened to be the biggest beneficiaries of public sector jobs and government subsidies during the post-independence period are now the biggest votaries of privatization. A substantial chunk of the new middle class is now the beneficiaries of market led growth. The government and the nation hardly seem to be relevant in their discourse of progress. The young affluent segment of this class is getting the opportunity of upward mobility more than ever before. Their fate today is far more tied up with the global economy. Hence territorial nationalism, a nationalism that characterizes the rise of India, the becoming of a nation by way of fighting imperialism has increasingly lost its steam. Modi wave was not built upon nationalism either. Religious fanaticism and majoritarian authoritarianism was given the backseat. Modi was projected as the harbinger of corporate led development, the unfettering of Indian capital by the ‘chaiwala’ who can realize the dream of the unheard and capable of sailing across the rough weathers of global crisis through courage and decisiveness.

But why is the old majoritarian ‘nationalism’ being invoked once again? The discourse of ‘development’ is being replaced by nationalism of a particular kind. It is primarily because of the failed promise of the development project. The imagination of India that ensures gains to all is hardly tenable. The promise of jobs to the unemployed seems to be nothing but an unrealized fantasy. Industry and agriculture shows negative growth, dismal picture in the export front, boasting of ‘make in India’ didn’t lead to flooding of corporate investment. It is ailing India and there is perhaps no signalling of a turnaround, a myth that PM Modi wants to sell in his frequent foreign visits.

On the contrary disillusionment is manifested in electoral dissent surfacing in many of the recent local and state level polls. The ruler has to contain anger and disappointment. And that requires a different kind of mass mobilization; a mass mobilization that is orchestrated in way of redefining nationalism. It is nationalism of a different breed that organizes national identities not against foreign perpetrators and oppressors but against a part of its own citizens. There has been a significant escalation of attack on Muslims and Dalits in the recent past. It has to contain and expunge liberal and left in this process of defining cultural nationalism. Who is a nationalist? According to the BJP-RSS anyone who does not comply with their ideology of majoritarian Hindu-rashtra should be labelled as anti-national.

So JNU was a natural target and the 9th February incident was a ploy to intrude into the campus by the RSS. Unfortunately the pliant vice-chancellor of the university did not have the courage to disagree with this ploy. This unwarranted police intervention eventually turned one of the best universities of our country into a fortress. Doctored videos and documents were aggressively propagated by the television channels and suddenly it appeared as if supporting this foolish act of charging students for sedition is the litmus test of proving oneself to be the real nationalist. Patriotism and the love for the country and the concern for the sovereignty of its people has to be streamlined through the ideology of power.

The barbarian act of demolishing Babri Masjid in 1992 and the bloodbath that followed was an engineered political response to weak liberalism and affirmative action through the recommendations of the Mandal Commission that triggered the resurgence of the right. And now it is all about demolishing JNU. Mind that this is happening when the right wing forces are in power. It serves the dual purpose of asserting cultural revivalism on the one hand and silencing the left and progressive voice that opposes neoliberalism on the other. Kanhayia Kumar, Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattachrya are voices of dissent in varying degrees and hence they are to be proven as anti-nationals.

The first phase was to pose JNU as the hotbed of anti-national activities. This did not stand through for long because the evidence that was propagated in the process was largely concocted.  The opinion building through mainstream media eventually didn’t gather much water. Later on the goal post was shifted. It is about huge subsidies that are awarded to the students and the kind of liberal values that this university nurtures. So the argument simply is if the government pays for your education you should not enjoy a voice of dissent. Some of the IITians and IIM students are passionate nationalist these days. They suddenly came out in the social media pouring support for the police action in JNU. They are also highly subsidized only difference being their utilitarian notion of success that use to be parables of acquiring green card or of grabbing multi-national corporate jobs inside or outside the country. According to their view if you think otherwise, if you dare to dream differently other than pursuing individualist careerism you should be labelled as a dreaded anti-nationalist. Secondly it is once again invoking the primordial image of docile subservient Indian womanhood or conformist studenthood as the desired state of bramhacharya that one has to uphold. So the age old ruling class view of delinking the space of education from the space of politics of dissent once again appears on the table.The recent incidents in FTII, IIT Madras, University of Hyderabad, Jadavpur University, particularly the ‘institutional murder’ of Rohith Vemula are glaring examples of a desperate attempt on the part of the Hindu right in curbing the voice of dissent.

JNU as if has become a forbidden space. Students and activists were hounded in hostels, ex-students are scared in the neighbourhood, the university administration could not protect its students, could not even assert its autonomy to hold independent inquiry and the students were picked up by the police at midnight. The plight of nationalism!

Arthur Rosenburg (Fascism as a Mass Movement, 1939) while analysing the rise of fascism in Europe did not stop at saying that it is the political expression of finance capital, rather followed the emergence of fascism as a mass movement. How the elements of ‘authoritarian conservatism’ engulfs the lost space of liberalism? It proclaims a new breed of nationalism that is often ‘ultra-patriotic, racist and violently opposed to the left’. Rosenburg analyses how the right wing forces win majority support by using elements that are deeply rooted in mass psyche. These elements remain dormant but can be ignited at opportune moments. So who is a true Indian? It is only those who protect our territory at the borders and hence tanks are supposedly the holy symbols of patriotism. One who loves his country and its people but questions nationalism as it is often identified with power has to be labelled as anti-Indian; one who does not conform to the upper caste imagery of the nation is not a true Indian. A true Indian has to be anti-Pakistan even though he might be pro-US. One cannot question the hanging of Afzal Guru and Yakub Menon even though many of the legal experts who were not ‘pro-Pakistan’ did debate on the judgment. Questing the legal and political process of identifying and hanging does not make one identical to a terrorist just as questioning the hanging of a rapist does not make one a supporter of rape accused.

But the academic space is now under RSS siege. If you are a minority or if you uphold the rights of minority and freedom of expression if you question and resist the age old deprivation of caste and Brahminism and if you learn the language of dissent and radical thought and last but not the least if you smoke and drink, you are labelled as anti-nationalist. In modern fascism Rosenburg writes ‘storm troopers work with the connivance of the state’. The rage of the ‘patriotic masses’ against the minorities, liberals and the left has to be manufactured. The BJP-RSS combine marches on the educational institutions of our country. And remember the majority support comes from the middle and lower classes.People at large, the ordinary people who do not even get any share from the profiteering class often falls prey to the ‘symbol of faith’. A sense of deprivation and frustration are easily channelized by right wing forces in the path of retrogression and social cultural conservatism.

It is time to stand up to defend the cause of the people of our country, to defend their secular and democratic values, protect plurality against monoculturalism and uphold the sovereignty of our people. We believe that freedom of expression should be unconditional and that no one in this country requires certificates from BJP-RSS to prove their nationalist credentials. This right wing aggression is once again a response to the weak liberal discourse of intolerance. We believe intolerance is ingrained in our society and history; intolerance on the basis of caste, religion, class, gender and sexuality had been all pervasive through the ages. And it has to be fought upfront. Let this worst of times once again rekindle the spirit of hope.

Long live JNU! Justice for Rohith Vemula! Long live public funded universities as spaces of debate, critical thinking, dissent and resistance!