From Uttar Pradesh to Uttam Pradesh


With the sweeping win by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and anointing of Adityanath as the Chief Minister, there is a perception that there is an end of ideological slugfest in India; with right wing nationalists, having the last laugh. While many left ideologues perceive that fascism has taken firm roots in India, liberal voices like Zoya Hasan feel peeved about invocation of Shmashanaghat and Kabarsthan in electoral propaganda.

Such a binary appeal to divide the Hindus from the Muslims could not have been more morbid and insensitive; and is a far cry from the secular ethos that our Constitution so proudly professes in its Preamble. However a very interesting observation has been made by Ruchir Sharma, who has the pulse of global investment trends , who believes that the victory in Uttar Pradesh is a confirmation of state power to orchestrate pro poor rhetoric by resuscitating the socialist DNA of Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

But the deeper concerns are blatant invocation of Hindu ideology and the general acquiescence of our press to parrot pro Modi propaganda. It is, therefore, with interest one revisits Samuel Huntington’s controversial best seller “Clash of Civilization” (1992) which has completed its silver jubilee, this year. Huntington was replying to the widely acclaimed book, published, same year, “End of History”, by Francis Fukuyama where he had argued that with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 & disintegration of USSR in 1988, liberal democracy would be the final form of humane government. While Huntington generally agreed that clash of ideology has ended, he believed that the world has reverted to a cultural conflict as a normal state of affairs. “This is not to advocate desirability of conflicts between civilizations but to set forth a descriptive hypothesis as to what the future may be like”, wrote Huntington. Many critics panned this book as “manufacturing clash” as a pernicious idea to justify Islam bashing and create a West Vs the rest schism. Huntington considered India as a swing civilization, where Muslim bashing would the preferred method to assert Hindu supremacy.

Percy Anderson, drawing reference to this clash of ideology in the context of India wrote how “the hand of AFPSA has fallen, where the reach of Hinduism has stopped”. Ironically the hand of Hinduism has now firmly established its grip in Manipur, close on the heels of its resounding win in Assam over the Congress. The greatest paradox, however, has been that Irom Sharmila, who fasted for 16 years for revoking AFPSA and was hailed as a national icon, got 90 votes in the Assembly election! The electoral outcomes can confound even the most cynical. The north east, with its massive Christian population and minority appeasement by the Congress in the past through the Assam accord has been a happy hunting ground for the Congress. Such complacency is being now being turned upside down with a deadly cocktail of Hindutva and promise of development for the poor and the unemployed by the BJP.

This drives us to another ominous trend in India, where most of the press seems to have cast aside their objectivity and have been actively promoting the Modi agenda. In this exercise, the big corporate interest plays a dominant part to become the cheer leaders of this media monotone. Noam Chomsky in a remarkable book “Manufacturing Consent” (1988) had observed that the US media has become “effective and powerful institution that carry out a system supportive of propaganda by relying on market forces”. He had outlined four editorially disturbing filters that are used to pander to the financial interests of the owners of the press and rely on advertisements as major revenue collection to cater to their political projects and economic desires of the advertisers. Besides, large governments massively subsidize mass media to promote government programs. Chomsky notes how after the end of the cold war, the “anti communism agenda” has been replaced by “anti terrorism”.

History of the media “manufacturing consent” seems to have repeated itself in India, post Modi’s tectonic rise to power in 2014. Chomsky’s reference to anti terrorism as media favorite in USA  has in the India context become the “anti national” template. Mr. Modi’s Uttar Pradesh campaign is a master stroke that espouses the new national logic of development under the guise of communalism. Uttar Pradesh, a state with 200 million population has per capita income half of All India average. And the promise is that it will become the Uttam Pradesh of India!

The grim realities of India are the shenanigans that shroud the rhetoric. A case in point is the promise of Digital India when 90% of Indians in the rural segment does not have    internet connectivity, and 70% deprived of assured electricity. Besides, 75% of rural India earns less than Rs.5000/- a month. The Right to Education does not provide basic infrastructure in the schools, with educational outcomes very dismal and 30% drop outs. Similar is the predicament in the health sector, where quality health care at affordable cost is not available to 80% of the Indians. Yet our allocation to education and health remain historically pegged at 4.5% of the GDP, as against 10% in all emerging market economies like China, South Korea which have become global manufacturing hubs.

Francis Fukuyama revisited his idealistic construct of liberal democracy as the endpoint of humanity’s cultural evolution in 2014. While he was convinced that liberal democracy has still no real competition from more authoritarian systems of government, he was anguished by the Arab Spring in Egypt and the Orange revolution in Ukraine. Fukuyama observed that the biggest challenge in democratically elected governments is not ideology but their failure to provide security to the vulnerable, inability to ensure shared growth amongst the largest number and failure to provide basic public services like quality primary education, affordable good health care and access to minimal hygiene. He was also concerned about the governance failure in India. While, on the face of it, Fukuyama seems to have struck the right chord about India’s manifold malaise, a recent survey reveals how the youth are increasingly in favor of autocratic regimes rather than a democratic discourse, which cares for inclusive growth and puts a premium on secular ethos. The popularity of a Putin ruthlessly repressing the Chechnya rebels who are Muslims, or a Trump trying to build a wall against the Mexicans or Mr. Modi openly invoking a cemetery as a counterpoint to burning ghat to garner votes are clearly symptomatic of a hardcore autocratic attitudes. Ideology, unlike Fukuyama‘s optimism, can be the leitmotif of a democratically elected government as evidenced in the Uttar Pradesh election. When Fukuyama’s book was slipped in to Margaret Thatcher’s doors, she had observed: “Never be too sure about the progress of history”.

The celebration of right wing ideologues as the end of ideological debates in India could be premature. The promise of Uttam Pradesh should not rest on tarnishing India’s multicultural fabric.

The views are personal

The author teaches Constitutional law

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