The prime minister has set liberal dovecotes aflutter with his anointing of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. They seem to be strangely upset that no sooner did the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win a staggering victory in the Uttar Pradesh elections on the strength of the development card, it went ahead and discarded it for the Hindutva one. Were they under the impression that Modi was a liberal?
Immediately after the consecration of Adityanath, the prime minister tweeted, “I have immense confidence that this new team will leave no stone unturned in making UP Uttam Pradesh. There will be record development.” He is absolutely right in one respect—why do we assume a contradiction between development and Hindutva?
Various theories have been put forward to explain away the choice of the Yogi as Uttar Pradesh chief minister. One of them says the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) put its foot down. Another claims the Yogi could have made things hot for Modi if his ambitions weren’t appeased—laughable when the Uttar Pradesh electorate has just delivered a historic victory for Modi. A third explanation is that Modi’s agenda has all along been Hindutva, rather than development—this one flies in the face of well-documented facts about Modi’s economic reforms.
But there is no contradiction between development and Hindutva, even militant Hindutva of the Yogi Adityanath variety.
The ideology of the entire Sangh family is that India has been subjugated for the last 1,200 years and Modi’s ascent to power signals the end of that dark period.
Modi has often referred to the “1200 years of slavery” and to our “slave mentality” in his speeches. His government’s project is to end that mentality and revive the long-lost glory of Hindu civilization.
At the same time, as perceptive scholars have noted, Hindutva is not a revival of conservative Hinduism, but a thoroughly modern political project aimed at building a powerful nation. True, religious and cultural nationalism is at the heart of this project. But you cannot build a strong nation without having a strong economy.
Hence the paramount need for development. Simply put, the economic development of the nation is a necessary condition for the political, social, military and cultural revival of Hindu civilization.
Hindutva and capitalist development march hand in hand, till recently in khaki shorts. This is Modi’s “New India”.
The demonetisation programme saw both these elements in action. On the one hand, it was hailed as a moral crusade against black money, an attempt to purify the Indian economy.
On the other, it was an attempt to expand the frontiers of the formal economy and curtail that of the informal economy of petty producers. In short, the ideology calls for, on the one hand, transforming the Indian economy into a modern capitalist one; on the other, the rebirth of the nation by purging it of corrupting influences, through a thoroughgoing programme of cultural nationalism.
For, as V.D. Savarkar said, “It has been well said by Christ that man does not live by bread alone. As it is spiritually true, it is also true in the racial, cultural, national and several other aspects that go to constitute the human nature. Therefore, the attempt to interpret all human history and human activities in economical terms alone is altogether onesided.”
After the great victory in the UP elections, the ruling party feels strong enough to remove the fig leaf and reveal what it stands for unabashedly. The so-called fringe was always part of the mainstream.
The results of the UP elections also represent another breakthrough for the BJP—it has been able to successfully consolidate the Hindu vote. Modi has shown that his appeal lies beyond caste considerations.
While this breakthrough is of immense importance for elections, it is also a vindication of the ideology that wants to view Hindu society as a united whole, not riven by age-old caste divisions. For how can one build a powerful civilization and a capitalist economy if castes are continually at loggerheads? This too is part of the project of making a modern India. To be sure, this is not the path taken by the developed nations of the West, with their secular and individualistic traditions. But there are many varieties of capitalism today. We seem to have chosen capitalism with Hindutva characteristics.
There are many other uses for nationalist rhetoric. Successful late developers such as Germany, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China and even Singapore have grown rapidly under dictatorial or autocratic regimes.
India is attempting the transition under democracy, which has an unfortunate tendency to slow down the process of accumulation, because of pressures of redistribution. Nationalist and cultural rhetoric can be a good way of diverting the attention of the masses from economic issues and of papering over the glaring contradictions in a society riven by deep fissures, where the fruits of development are shared so inequitably. After all, it calls for a lot of strenuous barefaced mendacity to talk of inclusive growth in a society where 58% of the wealth belongs to the richest 1% of the population.
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Far safer to rail against anti-nationals. That is one very practical reason why leaders ranging from Putin to Erdogan to Xi Jinping have all relied on fanning jingoistic sentiments. They also realize, as George Orwell said, “human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.”
The world over, the masses, fed up with the hypocrisy of the liberal establishment and the lack of good jobs, are marching to a heady nationalist drumbeat orchestrated by strong leaders. India is no exception.
Manas Chakravarty looks at trends and issues in the financial markets.
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