[Marxism] The Politics of Distraction in India

Suresh borhyaenid at yahoo.com
Mon Apr 26 15:17:24 MDT 2004

Here’s a wonderfully deflating editorial on the
current general elections in India. The ruling BJP,
the party of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, is a
political juggernaut, and has sported its questionable
rhetorical merchandise in lieu of a genuine
ideological campaign. The utterly shameless “India
Shining” propaganda offensive was designed on the one
hand to soften the BJP’s image towards something less
hard-line and exclusive and at the same time, and
crucially, to trumpet GDP growth and the burgeoning
information technology industry and all its attendant
side-effects upon the nationalistically inclined. When
this vacuously saccharine public relations effort is
contrasted with the right-wing orientation and
trajectory of a government pushing privatization and
austerity, the kindly 79 year old Prime Minister can
remind one of the charmingly senescent Ronald Reagan. 

Yet, as the writer of this piece demonstrates,
although at a formal level Indian democracy is
flourishing, in reality there is less debate and
popular choice now than back in the decades of the
one-and-a-half party system dominated by the
center-left Congress Party. Which isn’t to say that
Sonia Gandhi and company represent any genuine
alternative for Indian workers - quite the contrary.
Indeed, the post ’91 economic “reforms” were first
instituted by the party of Nehru, in particular under
the premiership of Narasimha Rao.

“…Expert studies indicate that the "feel good"
propaganda offensive launched by the BJP is not devoid
of a substantive social basis. There is in other
words, a genuine "feel good" strata in the Indian
polity today. The top 20 per cent of the urban
population for instance, has increased its consumption
expenditure by 30 per cent, over roughly the period of
the NDA rule. The top 20 per cent of the rural
population also pushed their way ahead in the social
scale, expanding their consumption expenditure by the
order of 10 per cent in this period. For the rest of
the rural population, this period shows up an absolute
squeeze on consumption. The "feel good" strata, in
other words, are being held aloft by the sacrifices
and the penury of at least half the population of the
country. The perceived sense of disparity may have
been momentarily assuaged by the rebound from the
disastrous drought of 2002. But as the generous months
of the kharif harvest have given way to the dry and
dreary days of summer, "feel good" has evaporated as a
popular sentiment. 

The "feel good strata" nevertheless have
disproportionate electoral influence and can set the
tone and the agenda of campaign politics. That was the
final bet of the BJP. But the calculus is looking
increasingly tenuous. This has compelled recourse to
the cult of the personality. The Prime Minister has
been variously built up as a statesman who has put
India on the world map, as a renunciate who will
sacrifice all worldly power were he not compelled by
the realities of India to put personal preferences
aside, as a liberal who can speak with credibility to
the best of world scholarship, and at the same time, a
sectarian who can pander to the most extreme sense of
social exclusivity. 

Perhaps the BJP's greatest advantage today is that it
faces an opponent that is determined to play by the
same rules. In terms of a positive strategy, the
Congress has little to offer, except to rely on the
incumbency disadvantage and its own status as the sole
nationally recognised alternative. Its election
manifesto on all substantive issues offers either a
pale reflection of the BJP's policy stances or a
stronger affirmation of potentially the more divisive
economic principles. As a party, the Congress has a
greater susceptibility to the cult of the personality,
having imbibed the dynastic principle over the two
decades and more of its existence. Its response to the
Vajpayee cult has been twofold. On the one hand, it
has chosen to question certain presuppositions of the
NDA propaganda - though not with the kind of vigour to
suggest that it intends to reverse the many inequities
of NDA rule. The Congress' greater emphasis has been
on projecting its own personality-oriented claims to
the loyalty of the Indian voters.”


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