M.L. Sondhi

The Asian Age, July 25, 2002

At the all-India level, the future of the world’s biggest democracy depends extensively on radical improvements in policy-thinking and action in the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  In the Congress Party extra constitutional authorities have managed to exercise an inordinate amount of influence over party functionaries who have proved time and again to be docile and subservient.

A rather similar pattern is now becoming evident in the BJP.  The political insanity of Narendra Modi and his prototypes can only be overcome by moral consciousness on the part of mature political leaders who can stand up and resist demagogic mobilization.

Unfortunately most political commentators and political scientists in India have failed to understand the true dimensions of “political decay” and “political insanity” on account of their addiction to “leftist moralism” which has completely failed to yield an emancipatory perspective, and has only aggravated the political paralysis of social thinkers.  It is more useful to discover the perspective of conservative thinkers like Carl Schmitt which can help expose the problematic character of Narendra Modi who has moved Gujarat to disorder and violence, and deprived the Indian Prime Minister and Indian Parliament of their legitimacy.  In The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Schmitt pinpoints two factors – one, secrecy in decision-making and two, domination of interests over political discussion, as the chief elements leading to the decay of parliamentarism.  The basis of modern politics is public decisions and public debate which exclude political manipulations of crises. 

The real tragedy of Modi for the BJP is that he has retarded the philosophic and cultural evolution of the party by evoking the spectre of the fragmentation of India’s democratic model and by removing Gujaratis from the wider global cooperation for which they are highly qualified.  The central leadership of the BJP has only induced disappointment by its half-hearted response to the crisis.  Its complacency in keeping a despised chief minister in power is ruinous and contradicts the idealistic and universalistic rhetoric of India’s Prime Minister.

The BJP (continuous from the BJS or Bharatiya Jana Sangha) had a lineage from Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya which provided enough political space to soften the extremism of communal politics.  Emotionally and conceptually both of them represented a radical break with long standing traditions and dogmas of Hindu communal politics.  They sought objective opportunities for political choice between alternate electoral strategies.  They are still remembered for providing sober and realistic political visions, for opening options and opportunities leading to deepening the relationship of the BJP (then BJS) within the Indian political system in its pluralistic creativity.

To illustrate issues of political regimes and standards of governance, we can take as a case study the profound lack of affinity between chief ministers Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of Rajasthan and Narendra Modi of Gujarat.  A great deal of thought and human and material effort was invested by Shekhawat to develop coherent conceptions of the relations between state and society, and to respect the legitimate interests of the minorities.  He personally monitored the activities of all the ministers and officials who tended to be over-assertive, counseling moderation and restraint.  Shekhawat was easily able to curb any parivar zealot whose enthusiasm led him to trespass into areas which would generate fear and mistrust among minorities.  In short Shekhawat as a BJP chief minister became a shining example of pluralism and tolerance, and helped to legitimize the evolutionary potential of the BJP for providing statecraft with high democratic potential.

Modi started his tenure of political activity in Gujarat by rejecting the autonomy of civil society and destroying intra-party democracy.  Beginning with the episode of the public humiliation of the senior BJP leader Atma Ram Patel, Modi’s actions have been disastrous for the quality of politics and governance in Gujarat.

Modi’s political agenda has been totally antithetical to that of Shekhawat in its rejection of the Mookerjee-Upadhyaya political structure.  The cognitive shift inherent in Modi’s traumatisation of Gujarati society is the direct opposite of the transparency and openness needed in electoral politics.  He has not gone through the schooling of democratic politics, being the only chief minister who has never been an MLA.  His modus operandi  remains the same as that which he had used to manipulate himself into a power position by creating conditions which made the life of chief minister Keshubhai Patel impossible.  He slowly and insidiously worked through personal attacks and inspired leaks in the media to stifle open, honest and balanced political discussions, and mobilized the muscle element of fraternal outfits to create violence and unrest.  To enhance his leverage on more vital issues even after becoming chief minister, Modi failed to behave with the restraint and grace befitting the status of high office.  The cessation of bloodshed was not the focus of his efforts when the recent events in Gujarat spun out of control; he remained tied to a myopic preoccupation with his own demagogic political style which incites terror and violence.  Till he is ousted from power, Modi will ensure that Gujarat remains engulfed in a civil Armageddon of his own making.

If the BJP is to take pride in its founder Mookerjee’s democratic principles, it will have to fight and remove the deleterious effects of the Modi phenomenon.  The fact is that without full respect for transparency and democratic accountability, the BJP risks losing out on its strategic design for India’s political, cultural and spiritual impact on the world.  The Gujarat syndrome will only invite foreign dangers and produce domestic upheaval.  It has presented Hinduism with a hideous face, in itself a caricature of its best ideals and incompatible with the circumstances of the new millennium.  The bullying conduct of Modi is a far cry from the integral humanism of Upadhayaya or the preoccupation with moral and ethical issues found in Mookerjee’s speeches in Parliament, such as the one in which he opposed preventive detention as undermining the basis of a liberal democratic order.  The BJP needs to reflect carefully on the importance of state-building as a national ideology, and to rule out the kind of violence and aggression embedded in the “Talibanisation” of society which Modi is attempting in Gujarat.

To ensure its own future and that of Gujarat, the BJP should aim at achieving eight main objectives:

          Honour constitutional obligations.
Establish democratic control and accountability over the VHP.
Stabilise political norms for intra-party democracy and dissent.
Contain damage to Hindu Muslim relations.
Preserve BJP’s political credibility by controlling the robber barons.
Interact with multiple social and cultural structures.
Develop a new version of nationalism.
Acquire a capacity to govern.

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