The Gujarat model, nationally
The 2019 outcome is proof that the Gujarat model is scalable at a national level, as long as it has a charismatic champion
“Minorities have been made to live in fear by those who believe in vote-bank politics,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told newly elected MPs of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), among whom members belonging to his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) command a clear majority in the 17th Lok Sabha. “We have to end this deception and take everyone along.”
During the election campaign, however, on April 6, Mr. Modi had said about Congress president Rahul Gandhi contesting from Kerala’s Wayanad constituency: “The Congress dynast… selected a seat where the majority is in minority.” He was referring to the demographic projection of Hindus constituting less than half the electorate in Wayanad.
Between the two statements lie clues about Mr. Modi’s winning strategy. Winners in multiparty contests in a ‘first past the post’ system often emerge with a plurality of votes, leaving several minorities that could add up to a majority on the opposing side. Electoral strategies tend to focus on assembling a plurality of voters on one’s side and preventing the consolidation of opposing voters. Groups based on static identities such as caste, gender and language are individual components that are usually aggregated to form social coalitions, while class, a more porous identity, has increasingly become an impossible instrument of mobilisation. Fresh realignments of the electorate are always possible until you define majority and minority in terms of a static meta-identity of religion, which precludes further negotiations.
The construction of that meta-identity and potentially a permanent majority is the singular achievement of Hindutva 2.0, Mr. Modi’s innovation to Hindu cultural nationalism. The pre-eminence of religion as the defining matrix to identify the minority and the majority is illustrated in the statements above. In secular politics, religious minorities were treated as monoliths, while Hindu identity was subordinate to its various components that were individually minorities. Manmohan Singh, India’s first non-Hindu Prime Minister, led a coalition of religious, caste, linguistic and cultural minorities represented through a multitude of parties, from 2004 to 2014. He repeatedly demonstrated that he had the confidence of a majority of the members of the Lok Sabha. But the legitimacy of his authority was constantly questioned, notably by the Hindu nationalists, in an attempt to harvest the notion, which probably existed independently, of a minority-majority rule that harms national interest. The fact that the other prominent faces of that coalition were Sonia Gandhi, a Christian, and Ahmad Patel, a Muslim, fuelled this campaign.
In 1980, the Congress had built a mighty social coalition in Gujarat labelled KHAM — acronym for Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims — that commanded 56% of the votes. The KHAM formula eliminated from positions of power three powerful groups — Brahmins, Vaniyas and Patidars. The Congress remained unassailable until 1990, but the relentless Sangh Parivar campaign unravelled this coalition and replaced it with a Hindu identity. Turning KHA against M was the critical tool in this transformation — these caste groups were amalgamated into a hierarchical unity of the Hindus. Mr. Modi layered it with Gujarati pride and dismantled the Patidar dominance in the BJP. The violence against Muslims climaxed in 2002 and what followed was complete exclusion of the community from the mixture of electoral plurality. The 2019 Lok Sabha outcome is proof that the Gujarat model — where the BJP got 62% of the vote in the State — is portable and scalable at a national level, as long as it has a charismatic champion.
Mapping the successes
The BJP won 37.4% of the vote and 55% seats nationally this summer. How and where these votes are garnered and how it impacts various social groups will have implications for India’s survival and progress as a pluralist democracy. Of the total 84 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs), the BJP won 54; and of the 47 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (STs), the BJP won 32. It is only partly explained by the BJP’s outreach — the sweep of reserved seats by the party is largely due to the endorsement of the party’s SC/ST candidates by ‘higher castes’. In contrast, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, an autonomous Dalit party, fared miserably in the SC seats even in Uttar Pradesh. It is clear that other castes are the determining factor in Dalit representation, a concern that weighed in B.R. Ambedkar’s mind when he demanded separate electorates for Dalits. While the SC/ST representation of 15% and 7.5%, respectively, is fixed, so-called upper castes are increasing their parliamentary representation in BJP strongholds at the expense of the Other Backward Classes (OBC).
An analysis of caste representation in the Hindi heartland by Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers showed that a decade-old trend of the return of the ‘upper castes’ over-representation and the erosion of OBC representation was reinforced in 2019. The highest representation for the OBCs and Muslims in this region in the period since 1989 was in 2004, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance came to power. Besides the geographical core, there is also a pan-Indian social core of ‘upper castes’ that drives the growth of the BJP. Hindutva, which is increasingly indistinguishable from Indian nationalism, could grow well in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where sub-nationalism has limited appeal, but Gujarat is an example of sustaining a strong local culture as a subset of the larger pan-Indian religious identity. The success of the BJP in Karnataka, and its inroads in West Bengal and even Kerala are clear indications of the ability of the party to subsume minority cultures.
Issue of delimitation
If another principle of representative democracy, ‘one person, one vote’, is applied mindlessly, the representative weight of the present geographical core of the BJP could increase at the cost of regional peripheries. There is currently a constitutional freeze on a national delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies (that is, reassignment of constituencies among States and Union Territories in proportion to their population) till 2026. Since the linguistic minorities have been more successful in stabilising their populations, they stand to lose when representation in Parliament is redistributed across State borders. It is evident that post-delimitation, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala will have far fewer MPs as a percentage of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. The seats that these linguistic minorities lose will shift to the Hindi-speaking States, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and U.P. All these States overwhelmingly voted for the BJP in 2014 and 2019. The consequences of such a change have still not been adequately addressed.
The renewed debate on language education in the country only complicates the situation further. Overall, the irony is that by application of the principles of democracy, the representative nature of the democracy is being undermined.
Other than electoral politics where numbers matter, most segments of the Indian polity, such as the judiciary, media, academia and bureaucracy, have always been inadequately representative in nature. The rise of OBC politics since the 1990s increased their representation in bureaucracy and politics, held back the march of Hindutva and also tamed the most unrepresentative of all modern institutions, the market, in the following decades by forcing increased social spending. The social churn in India since the 1990s must therefore be understood not from a Mandal-Mandir binary perspective, but as a triangular dynamic that includes the market as well. Markets do not run by the principle of ‘one person one vote’, but by voting rights proportional to one’s ownership of capital. This market principle has leached substantially into western democracies such as the U.S., where corporations are now counted as ‘people’ and allowed to spend unlimited money to influence elections. Electoral bonds in India are a step in this direction.
Factoring in the market
A permanent majority unburdened by constant negotiations and the need for representation could subordinate democracy to the market, rather than the other way around — that is, the Gujarat model. Hindutva politics understands the market in national, not global, terms and that could cause tensions between the two, however. But that is a whole different dynamic.
Courtesy: Th Hindu