Today’s ‘modern’ language of electoral politics: “BJP has won by fraud in electronic voting machines.” “Mayawati & Kejriwal, made for each other”
(Grammar, as we know, ‘is the way in which meanings are encoded into the structure of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences, right up to the structure of whole texts.’ The grammar of Indian politics is the language in which political discussions take place. The language in which politics is discussed today is the result of a long historical process.)
In ‘The Government and Politics of India’ (1964), a widely read book by the students of political science in mid-1960s, British professor of political science W. H. Morris-Jones (MJ), has stated that the Indian politics was conducted in three main languages (synonymous with ‘idioms’, ‘manners’, ‘styles’, ‘fashions’): ‘modern’, ‘traditional’ and ‘saintly’, reflecting the modern political institutions and traditional Indian social structure. As he put it, the ‘modern’ language was used in the Indian Constitution, courts, parliamentary debates, higher administration, policies and interests, programs and plans, etc. As attention shifts to the traditional society, politics is discussed in terms of religious communities, innumerable castes and sub-castes in every part of the country.
The ‘saintly’ language was used by Vinoba Bhave who walked through the length and breadth of the country asking people to make self-sacrifice (landlords were asked to donate 1/6 of their holdings for the landless) and ‘polity without power’.
Since 1964 the political landscape of the country has changed significantly. The ‘saintly’ language is rarely heard. Numerically, today there are more people who would like to shun ‘traditional’ language in their social behavior. Politicians too use ‘modern’ language but during elections they use modern language – promise of modernisation and economic development – only to convince voters that the opponents did hardly anything for economic development. The main emotional appeal is to communities, castes and sub-castes. Interestingly the appeal in ‘traditional’ language has been given a modern nomenclature, ‘social engineering’, euphemism for combination of religious communities, castes and sub-castes, to secure sufficient number under the ‘the-first-past-the-post’ electoral system.
The type of ‘social engineering’ varies from party to party and from election to election. The most dynamic is the Mayawati brand. She started with appeal to her own caste and other Dalits and abused upper castes; then she realised that she needed support of upper castes including Brahmins and in the recently concluded Uttar Pradesh election she shamelessly asked for Muslim votes. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav have always preferred united front of own caste and Muslims. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, otherwise considered a symbol of modernisation and economic progress, does not hesitate to use traditional language to attack his opponents and make emotional appeal to people.
To be fair to all those modern politicians combining ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ languages and asking for votes in the name of castes and communities, it must be admitted that at least four blunders committed by Gandhi and/or Nehru strengthened ‘traditional’ language at the cost of modernity.
The first blunder was Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat movement, an offshoot of his political strategy as well as his belief that religion and politics should work in tandem. At a time when the revolutionary Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had waged a war against Khalifa and Islamic State and had embarked on a programme to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular Turkey, Gandhi, probably to get Muslim support for his political agenda (‘Satyagraha’ of 1921), supported the Khilafat movement in India for the restoration of the Ottoman Caliphate. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, at that time a secular face in Indian politics, strongly warned Gandhi against the dangers of such a policy. Gandhi did not succeed in forging Hindu Muslim unity to prevent partition but, in my opinion, gave a shot in arm to those Indian Muslims who consider religion above nationalism. Today, the entire world is facing threat from Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State and his claim to be the new Caliph.
The second blunder was serious and deliberate brake on the development of healthy conventions in political parties. An important characteristic of an established political party is that its leader emerges from below and elected by the members of the party, not imposed from. This is how leaders of Labour and Conservative parties are elected in England. A political party is not like a corporate organisation which is controlled and managed by those who have invested their money and entrepreneur skill. Unfortunately, when Gandhi became the strongest leader of the country, he wanted only his favourite as Congress President. Subhas Chandra Bose had to resign Congress presidentship because he was not Gandhi’s favourite.
In 1946, just on the eve of the formation of the Interim Government, when it was decided that the next Congress president would be head of that interim government and naturally the first Prime Minister of India, Gandhi imposed Nehru as Congress President. There were three candidates in the field to succeed the outgoing Congress President Maulana Azad: Nehru, Patel and Kripalani. Of the 18 provincial Congress committees, 15 supported Patel, 2 (two) supported Nehru and only one favoured Kripalani. As soon as the recommendations were announced to the Congress working committee, Kripalani withdrew from the contest. Gandhi scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave to Patel. Immediately after reading that Patel destroyed the paper and announced his withdrawal. Nehru emerged victorious though he resigned from the Congress presidentship a few months later.
The third blunder was committed by Nehru soon after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Without any proof, he banned the RSS alleging that the organisation was responsible for the crime. He unnecessarily gave fillip to non-political RSS to form the Jan Sangh, often described as a ‘right-wing’ political party. Investigations proved that the RSS as organization had no role in the assassination and the ban was lifted but mischievously Rahul Gandhi continues to blame RSS and the ‘school of thought’ associated with it for Gandhi’s assassination. All the so-called intellectuals and parties opposed to Jan Sangh (now BJP) miss no opportunity to create a fear psychosis among the minorities which has vitiated social and political atmosphere in the country and discourages harmonious relationship between Hindus and Muslims.
The fourth blunder was monumental neglect of education. The Constitution had provided for caste-based reservation in government jobs as a purely temporary measure, just for 10 years. The time available was very short and if the Nehru government really wanted to observe and implement the spirit of the Constitution, it should have taken very effective measures to provide better educational opportunities to the socially and financially backward castes and Muslims. He did nothing. His failure and the failure of successive Congress governments along with other blunders led to the emergence of hosts of sectarian leaders. Today we have large number of purely religion and caste-based political parties.
If Gandhi made Nehru his political successor, Nehru groomed his daughter Indira Gandhi – in 1959, with Nehru’s blessings, she was made Congress President – who in turn groomed her son Sanjay Gandhi and after Sanjay’s death, Rajiv Gandhi whose mantle ultimately fell on Sonia Gandhi and now is being carried by Rahul Gandhi under the mother’s ‘able’ guidance. The process of establishing personal control over the party that started with (Mahatma) Gandhi flourished under Indira Gandhi and culminated under Sonia Gandhi. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has completely taken over Congress party. Many new dynastic parties have emerged in different parts of the country. Today we have political dynasties in the garb of political parties and monarchical system in the garb of parliamentary democracy.
Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, all followed a common approach to capture Congress. Though unchallenged by any other political party, Nehru was always worried about challenge from within. Like his mentor Gandhi, he too wanted Congress presidents of his choice. In 1951, he forced Sardar Patel’s nominee Purushotham Das Tandon to resign from the Congress presidentship and himself became President, combining organisational work with government, a tradition followed by Indira Gandhi and her successors in the family (indirectly by Sonia Gandhi for 10 years). In 1963, under the so-called Kamaraj Plan (actually Nehru Plan) six Central ministers and six state chief ministers were made to resign in the name of strengthening the organisation but really to strengthen Nehru’s hold. A few years later, his daughter split the Congress party to get rid of all those who could challenge her leadership.
The process of weeding out opponents to the family continued and culminated under Sonia Gandhi. All those who found that they cannot go up in the party hierarchy and could afford to survive without blessing of the dynasty, parted company. Today, the Congress consists only of those who do not see their future outside. Despite the debacle after debacle in elections, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi remain the only hope though after the latest debacles in the assembly elections we are hearing mummers doubting Rahul’s leadership capabilities.
If in 1953 as Congress president Nehru had said: “The Congress is the country and the country is the Congress”, about 22 years later, on June 24, 1975 (on the eve of the declaration of ‘Emergency’), the then Congress President Dev Kant Barooah, had infamously declared that “India is Indira, and Indira is India”.
The People of India who have traditionally preferred kingship had no problem with Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi. They cheered Indira Gandhi when in January 1966 she defeated Morarji Desai to become Prime Minister. After her assassination, has nominee serving as President of India had no qualms in appointing her son Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister even though he was neither a member of the Parliament nor had been elected leader of the parliamentary party. Again, the Indian people welcomed Nehru’s grandson. In the next general election, Rajiv Gandhi got unprecedented mandate. It is another matter that he completely frittered it away.
Whatever Indira Gandhi’s hidden agenda, in public she always talked in ‘modern’ language, about socialism, secularism and removal of poverty. The credit for talking too much in ‘traditional’ language, often quite inflammatory and objectionable, goes to the caste and religious leaders. But the ‘crown’ for the use of most derogatory language goes to Sonia Gandhi who in 2007 Gujarat assembly election thought she would sway the voters by calling Chief Minister Narendra Modi ‘Merchant of Death’ for riots in 2002. It did not matter to her that the Modi government of Gujarat had got about 27,000 persons (including 19,200 Hindus) arrested; as per official records 332 Hindus and 111 Muslims, found guilty of riots, were convicted.
With every succeeding election, language of electoral politics has been deteriorating. In an attempt to check the deterioration, on January 2 this year, the Supreme Court ordered that elections being a secular activity of the state and practising religion being an individual’s private activity, seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, race, community or language by a candidate, or his agent or anyone with his consent would be a corrupt practice rendering the person liable to disqualification.
The order had hardly any impact because, more specifically, the Supreme Court forbade only candidates and their agents making appeals to voters not to vote for the opponent because he (opponent) is from another community and forbade religious leaders, with the consent of a candidate, making appeal to their communities to vote for him. Obviously, when Mayawati appealed to the Muslims to vote only for the BSP candidates or when religious leaders made a general appeal to support a particular party, there was no violation of the court order. During the course of elections, on February 25, the Election Commission wrote to various political parties not to make “inflammatory statements with underlying object of mixing religion with electoral campaign”. Again, it had no impact.
After the election results, the BJP claimed that (except in Punjab) it was victory of agenda of development over appeals in the name of caste and religion. In Punjab, the Congress claimed victory of the issue of development over the Akali Dal style of politics.
No doubt, Prime Minister Modi has succeeded in convincing large number of Indians that he stands for economic development, ‘sabaka sath, sabaka vikas’ (Friendship with all, development of all) and people have shown faith in him.
However, the million-dollar question is: can we really say that the election results could be interpreted as victory of ‘modern’ language over ‘traditional’ language in electoral politics? As an observer of Indian politics and behaviour of our politicians, I am not optimistic, at least not in short and medium terms. The politicians who have their roots in caste or religious politics, who have established their fiefdom on the basis of caste or religion, cannot betray their roots. Those like Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi who believe that their political career depends on Modi bashing are unlikely to change their style. Those who in affidavit filed in the Supreme Court gave women being less intelligent as one of the justifications of the practice of triple-talaq cannot be expected to change their mindset easily. If one group asks for vote in ‘traditional’ language, the other groups are bound to pay in the same coin.
Of course, losers like Kejriwal and Mayawati have discovered a modern age explanation of their defeat: “BJP has won by fraud in electronic voting machines.” Talking seriously, I can understand Mayawati giving such a stupid explanation but how can an IIT product Arvind Kejriwal also give the same explanation? Has he really studied engineering? I feel like asking him to produce convincing proof.
‘Modern’ language can dominate electoral politics in our country only when the level of education of our politicians is very high which is unlikely in foreseeable future. Theoretically, it is possible to restrain the use of ‘traditional’ language by drastically changing the laws to totally forbid reference to caste and religion in politics but that is too much to expect.
By Devendra Narain at indiaopines blog
The article was originally published here