Cricketers are highly skilled people. Doesn’t make them eligible to be discerning about the nuances of politics and policy. From a young age they lose touch with education in an effort to hone skills and spend most of their lives on the ground.When they get selected at the age of 18-23 usually at the highest level; from then to 40 they live in a bubble of luxury and glamour in the highest echelons of society.
They enjoy prestige as representatives of the nation in a Cricket obsessed country. Of course, they would like everything to be looked at from the point of view of Nation and Nationalism because that sustains their identity, privilege and relevance! As a result they buy into toxic jingoism. I’d be surprised if some Cricketer takes up issues of the marginalised! It is foolish to expect this!
No doubt they are highly skilled but sample this: Kohli thinks Demonetization is the best move in the history of Politics. Obviously he does ‘t know Mahad Satyagraha or the devastation caused in the informal sector by demonetization. He spent Lakhs on International Wifi to watch an episode of Comedy Nights with Kapil to bide his time on an Airport; and can afford to joke about it! Ravindra Jadeja said he always dreamt of marrying within his caste! Imagine his idea about the society. He wouldn’t know what happened in Khairlanji or Godhra or that it was due to sticking to caste identities. Sehwag thinks trolling a 20 year old peace activist is cool because he gets popularity on social media and increases avenues for future employment. These people always bow down to authority because these people are dependent on power for making money – especially post-retirement – which is obviously what they want to do and there’s nothing wrong in that.
Leave aside speaking on morally difficult and complicated issues like women’s rights or war and peace; they don’t even have the gumption of criticising the Indian team and the BCCI and speaking their minds in the commentary box! Harsha Bhogle was kicked out because he rightly once said that Bangladesh deserved to win a contest against India and didn’t and was critical of the BCCI! That happens in Sport! These cricketers if they have to keep their jobs; can’t criticize selection or comment on the corruption of the BCCI. Outside India, Moeen Ali was barred for wearing an arm band in solidarity with Palestine and he fell in line. If you expect them to have the right opinion on politics; you are wrong. These people have been reduced to highly paid entertainers.
No doubt their skill gives a lot of joy to billions of fans like me and that’s fine. If you love the game you can appreciate their prowess. But they do not have opinions very different from what their elite masters and friends feed them. Of course, some of them might have an understanding; but by and large, what Sehwag did was expected.
Just because they come on TV for 365 days doesn’t mean they should be taken seriously on important matters. But because in this era, celebrity status translates into acumen somehow – Donald Trump being a shining example – these people are taken seriously. It is also indicative of Right Wing hegemony which scorns upon intellectual rigour and pursuits in the garb of democracy. Their logic is, my stupidity is equal to your informed and well thought out position; or moral blandness like my hate is equal to your arguments for inclusion. That’s a huge malaise of our times. And so we must respectfully disagree with them. If and when power equation changes; these people will change sides. So enjoy their Cricket and support them on the field. Don’t take them seriously on other issues. Or think of it like this: Would you have taken an outstanding banker’s opinion in your local branch on Gurmehar as seriously? I think not.
In 2014, the PM Narendra Modi, came to power promising the electorate to check corruption, putting an end to the policy paralysis and ensuring “development” by putting the economy back on track. Mr. Modi fashioned himself as the “vikas purush” who was all about development and “good governance” which would ensure growth. While on the economic front, things have been sluggish, to say the least; the promise to tackle black money and corruption was much awaited.
On November 8th, PM Modi took the drastic decision to demonetize “high denomination” currency at a short notice of a few hours. This move led to the withdrawal of 85% of the currency in circulation in one go; leading to an induced decline in purchasing power which would have an overall adverse effect on the economy for two quarters. It is not as if demonetization hasn’t been adopted by governments before, with little success, it must be added. However, such a move, with enormous logistical consequences, at such short notice, is unprecedented.
Does Demonetization Qualify as Good Governance?
The UN definition of good governance lists out the following features of the term: participation, transparency, rule of law, responsiveness, consensus oriented, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. Demonetization fails on all these counts.
The decision has caused immense hardship to the ordinary folk by bringing economic activity to a grinding halt. Government has estimated 50 days for a return to normalcy, although other estimates indicate that a longer period would be required. On last count, 50+ demonetization related deaths have been reported. The decision has impacted small businesses and the informal sector – which accounts for 80% of the employment and 45% of the GDP – the most; with reports of daily wage labourers being forced to skip meals due to non-payment of wages and lack of work. Add to that the increasing law and order problems across the country, recalibrating new ATMs etc. has led to a logistical nightmare for billions of common people; leading the Supreme Court to observe that the hara-kiri caused by the move could lead to a riot-like situation, if not set right at the earliest.
While it is true that any macro change causes some inconvenience as it shakes up the systemic inertia; there is a consensus evolving among the economists across the ideological spectrum from the Left to Right that the costs of demonetization far outweigh its benefits. Then was this a prudent decision; or did political considerations trump economic and governance considerations?
From Good Governance to “Governance through Surgical Strikes”
While paying lip service to the slogan of good governance, Mr. Modi, prefers to govern by surgical strikes; which it seems are meant more for public consumption and less for long term structural transformation. Public deliberation, one of the hallmarks of Indian democracy, has been replaced by absolute personalization of decision-making; so much so that many ministries and institutions seem redundant in this regime. The announcement of demonetization which could have been made by the RBI Governor was made by the Prime Minister himself, emphasizing its personalized and political nature. The decision was veiled in secrecy and even cabinet members, reportedly, had little idea about such an important decision. Moreover, this secrecy was presented as a positive to the media, which readily lapped it up.
For Mr. Modi, fighting corruption and black money, it seems, is not a matter of establishing strong and transparent institutions to guard against these ills. He prefers to fight it by publicized and personalised surgical strikes even though they may have little systemic impact in the long run.
Such an approach is not restricted to the economy but runs through the entire Modi regime. Whether it was PM Modi’s abrupt meeting with Mr. Nawaz Sharif ending Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation post 26/11 to the unprecedentedly publicized surgical strikes post the Uri attacks to this abrupt move to demonetize currency; there seems to be no consistent rationale or long term vision guiding these actions or statements, except reinforcing the personal authority and projection of strength on the part Mr. Modi. What is worse is that the bug seems to have caught on to the other cabinet ministers with Defence Minister Parrikar giving callous remarks on India’s “no first use” doctrine regarding nuclear weapons; when apparently this government has made securing a seat at the Nuclear Suppliers Group a priority!
The principle of collective decision making and integrity of institutions and public deliberation under a democratic setup – which act as checks and balances in the system – has been supplanted by faith in the wisdom of Mr. Modi and his coterie; and the public must fall in line or risk being labeled unpatriotic or now corrupt.
Demonetization – The Vicarious Revolution of the Elite
How can Good Governance and centralization of authority go together? The answer might lie in the social base of those who share this idiom of politics. Aijaz Ahmad in one of his essays on Hindutva, poses the question, “Can fascism be built within a liberal democratic framework?” The provisional answer to that, unfortunately it seems, is yes. What we are witnessing is the rise of hegemonic right across the world; which does not disavow democracy but uses it to undermine and erode those very structures – from Trump to Erdogan to Modi.
In India, the ideological base of such an assertion is found in the elite, urban, Hindu middle and upwardly mobile classes while not being restricted to them. If one were to unpack the ideological content of the term – Good governance – one would find its resonance with the urban elite’s version of squalor free politics inherent in the idea. The world of the urban, Hindu elite whose precarious upward mobility has been secured by prosperity built on the back of a post liberalization boom in the technical and service sector and who are products of a highly technocratic and uncritical system of pedagogy want to ensure and safeguard the boom in their consumption and affluence at all costs.
This increasingly politically assertive, homogenized cultural mass has little patience for democratic articulations of cultural difference – religious or based on caste – or demands of redistributive justice by the poor. That is why a redistributive program like the MGNREGA or AAP’s subsidies on water and electricity would be called out for its inefficiency, corruption, bad governance or simply appeasement of the poor; but the “surgical strike” on black money – which has cost 50+ lives and makes no economic sense at all – is the best move in the history of politics or loan waivers of billionaires an incentive for growth.
While Mayawati and Lalu – the leaders of the excluded – would be denigrated and slighted; the unrooted and unrepresentative politicians like Subramaniam Swamy or Arun Jaitley would find backers among these folks for they speak their language. Moreover, they will find ready echo chambers in the mainstream English media with studio demagogues like Arnab Goswami reinforcing their worldview from studios in metros claiming to be the voice of the nation.
This elite bloc or mass stripped off all particularities except the identity of consumer or tax payer then uses “Nationalism” to draw ideological sustenance and coherence for its project of accumulation and dominance. Its ideological symbols are no longer oppressed caste leaders or social reformers/workers or those who fought British colonialism like in the past; but the Army, the corporate honcho, the self-made cricketer or the actor – all free of particular identities. Their “other” or enemy won’t be the exploitative businessmen or dominant castes who perpetrate atrocities but poor students termed parasites for getting “subsidized” education on “their” taxes and still not falling in line; or human rights, environmental activists or anti-land grab activists for hindering the prospects of growth of the “nation”.
In the era inaugurated by the financial crisis and the resultant global recession leading to a sluggish economy; this elite bloc/mass requires a strong and decisive leader who ensures accumulation, therefore, is openly pro-big business and uses the language of Nationalism – where minorities are projected as the constant other – to sweep claims of poverty, inequality, difference and oppression under the carpet. One who can firmly deal with this “democratic squalor”; a politician who does not invoke the language of redistribution, recognition or right but of duty and a vaguely defined national interest; the apotheosis of that is of course – Mr. Narendra Modi. The identification of this bloc with their leader and their leader with the nation and its interest is total and indisputable.
For long the Indian, Hindu elite have toyed with the idea of dictatorship setting India straight during idle conversations. It is among this bloc that we can locate the support for Mr. Modi’s style of governance through surgical strikes and policies like demonetization. The tendencies towards authoritarianism and unprecedented centralization of power are passed off as decisive leadership and initiative in this narrative.
Manufacturing Consent in the Post-Truth World
So what happened to Modi’s signature slogan of good governance?
In a world where interpersonal connection is the highest in human history ironically we are living in times when social polarization is so massive that making sense of the world is becoming increasingly difficult. That is why pollsters across the world are having a hard time gauging the public mood; from the decimation of Congress in 2014 to AAP’s Delhi landslide to Mahagathbandhan’s Bihar sweep to Trump’s upset – the media did not have a whiff of what was going on.
The polarization of opinion on Demonetization is similar. The Indian Elites are just not ready to believe that this “surgical strike” is causing immense strife to the working people who are completely absent from the mainstream narrative anyhow. For them this monumental governance disaster is a minor inconvenience to be borne with a grin for the greater good.
In the post-truth world, controlling the narrative is often considered more important than producing demonstrable results. Mr. Modi is a master narrator and the elites haven’t been that affected by the cash crunch. Those affected by demonetization don’t have a voice in the mainstream media. Hence, deaths and chaos due to demonetization has been called a “minor inconvenience” and not be painted as a “breakdown of governance” but the odd-even scheme or worker strikes are painted as such.
The absence of public deliberation and a lack of consistent rationale guiding such massive policy decisions of the government, and their endorsement by the elite, are disconcerting signs for any democratic culture. While the Left tries to debate whether the present conjuncture is authoritarian or fascist; an admixture of both is unfolding in front of our eyes but with the backing of a vocal hegemonic public within a liberal framework. Maybe these terms – fascist or authoritarian – will derive closure only in retrospect; but in the present, the opposition seems woefully ineffective in countering the Leader.
The criticism of the CPI(M) for celebrating Janmashtami raises an interesting question. In a country like India; is it feasible, and more importantly possible, to follow the classical Marxist dictum of complete separation of religion from politics?
The biggest mass leader of modern India, Gandhi, said that “Those who argue for separation of religion from politics do not understand what religion is.” And his most powerful progressive critic, Babasaheb Ambedkar who viciously fought the Hindu social order and its dehumanising and oppressive practices finally converted from Hinduism to a reinterpreted Buddhism – a religion – as a means of emancipation.
In annihilation of caste, he said, he wanted a religion based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. But he did want a “religion”. Why is it that he did not call upon Dalits to embrace Atheism?
In my opinion, it is because he believed that humans are moral beings and need a moral anchor and community to lead meaningful lives which atheism would not provide for the majority of the people. It cannot be imposed on the majority of the people anyway. History teaches us this much. The great humanist revolution of 1917 in USSR led to the official proclamation of atheism and closing down of churches. Today almost a century later, the Orthodox Church is flourishing and the Communist Party is gone. This huge leap towards embracing godlessness as a normal human condition cannot be state imposed.
In fact, Black Churches in the segregated south of USA have played an important role in their struggle towards humanism by overturning segregation and apartheid. Similarly, in Latin America “liberation theology” played a very big role in providing the “ethical basis” for the movement for “human dignity” – the final goal of the socialist project – which engulfed the continent. Hugo Chavez, the biggest leader of the Left in recent times was a practising Christian and even staunchly socialist Cuba has opted for secularism over atheism.
While it is beyond doubt that organised religion is the source of obscurantism, misogyny, bigotry and domination; it continues to play an immensely important role in ordinary people’s lives and state imposed atheism hasn’t borne any results in erstwhile socialist countries like USSR where, for example, conservatism and homophobia are commonsense today. Moreover, in countries where religion has not been swept under the carpet, there exists a progressive critique of religion; which have provided moral resources for progressive movements like USA and India.
The Peculiarity of the Indian Case:
The Indian case is much more difficult in this regard. In India, the Hindu social order has arranged society in unequal power relations between castes; which under the modern, democratic state have become competing communities, albeit still unequally powerful. In fact, over the last 150 years, Hinduism has been subjected to intense public political critique under the gradual process of modern state formation; as a result two things have happened: Hinduism has become a highly contested category and secondly, a nebulous Hinduism has become much more semitized. It can be said that it was only in the post – colonial India that religion and politics were sought to be detached; while in the pre-independence period it was one of the constant poles of public critique and therefore, reform.
One of the accepted critiques of the Left has been its inability to address the oppression faced by Dalits under Hinduism. This in effect, is a criticism of the position of separating religion from politics; of foregrounding exploitation of labour at the base and religion as a superstructural manifestation. In India, in the past century, there have been profound political changes from communitarian contestation within the Hindu social order as much as from the contradiction between capital and labour.
However, being a religion of graded inequality, choosing which rituals to observe and which to critique become difficult choices. In JNU, for example, where publicly acknowledging Hindu affiliation is very rare for Left activists, the entire Left celebrates the Hindu festival of Holi without being judged. So would celebrating Buddhist rituals be alright for a Communist, given that it is in line with the Dalit vision? Is it that only festivals popular among the upper castes would be objected to? While Dalit ideologues call upon people for complete rejection of the Hindu order, a significant number of Dalits continue being Hindus. So while it is a contested category it is not a discarded category, at least in the consciousness of the people. There has, in fact, been a trend of increasing Hinduization in the northern and western belts of the country where the erstwhile individuals from oppressed castes and tribes are reclaiming the Hindu identity.
This popularization of the Hindu identity has been the result of half a century of revivalist politics of the Hindu Right. Hinduism has been left uncontested; by the Congress, for preserving the status quo and by the Left because apparently good communists have to strictly separate politics from religion. So they shall only raise redistributive demands and not recongnitional demands. This understanding meant that they tailed Dalit and Bahujan Parties and lost out on mobilizing the biggest part of the organic proletariat in the post independence period. As a result of Hinduism remaining uncontested – except by the Dalit Movement – for the last half a century; the Brahminical forces have had an open field for shaping this order and consolidating power.
The issue becomes more complicated when under the onslaught of Hindutva on the minorities, the Left forces rightly uphold secularism, but in effect, end up arguing for upholding their religious rights and thereby its inherent anti-humanist orthodoxies. When in state power, this is perceived by adherents of Hinduism, as a selective assault on their ways of worship and religion. This is justified by the argument that reform cannot be imposed from the outside but must proceed from a critique from within. In the absence of such an internal critique, the case becomes, and is portrayed anyway by the Hindu Right, as one of the secular parties using the State to target and tinker with the Hindu social order while leaving the minority religions and their orthodoxies untouched. For example, Article 14 of the constitution makes untouchability a crime; similarly there are SC/ST atrocity acts. These are cases of the State intervening and outlawing a religious tenet or using socio-religious categories to frame laws. However, certain practices like Triple Talaaq among Muslims remain untouched owing to the lack of internal critique.
Of course, it is no one’s case that there should be no intervention in to religious orthodoxy. However, this imbalance becomes fodder for Hindu Right to play victim. Moreover, it is because Hinduism has essentially been a politically contested category; shaped by the political discourse and in effect shaping the political discourse, that this position of separation of religion from politics is untenable in India. On the contrary, by this abstention from acknowledging Political Hinduism and negotiating with it, the Left has ceded historically one of the most important fields of politics in India.
However, the tricky question is what position should the Communist Party take on Hinduism and religion, in general in a profoundly religious country? A democratic, progressive position would entail, firstly, that this position of separating religion from politics is untenable and counterproductive. Sweeping religions under the carpet does not serve the purpose of advancing the humanist cause. Religion needs to be acknowledged and negotiated and critiqued in the public sphere. Hinduism has had a history of being publicly critiqued which forced it to reform. Secondly, religious and social categories cannot be wished away. But they gain or lose their content through constant political critique; they wither away, if you will. For example, being a Brahmin man in an urban space is not the same as it was, in the 17th century. This is how the meaning and power of social categories changes over time. The Left must fight for establishing the legitimacy of the individual’s ruthless critique of religion rather than imposing atheism on the people or their members.
If Communist Politics is conceived as a fight for hegemony; a process rather than a moment in the march towards a humane society, the political category of Hinduism needs to be made a site of contestation, deliberation and public critique again; to mould it towards principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, which might mean renunciation of Hinduism and embrace of Buddhism as well.
The Left must fight for agnosticism rather than atheism. A Communist Party mass organization or members can celebrate festivals as long as they remain engaged in a process of collective critique and deliberation of their religion. Religion will remain an existentially important part of the lives of even Communist activists and masses at large. These calls for the strict separation of religion and politics and outright condemnation of Left members who undertake religious rituals are superficial and counterproductive.