Reengineering India’s consciousness – The Hindu

India’s democracy has been successfully hacked and progressive forces need hard course-correction in any fightback

India’s democracy has been successfully hacked and progressive forces need hard course-correction in any fightback

India is fast reaching a critical point of no return. The center of the nation’s political culture has shifted so far rightward that the consensus on where India should be heading (even if parties differed on how we should get there) has collapsed. Hate and violence are so pervasive that what was unimaginable yesterday is inevitable tomorrow. Without a doubt, India’s democracy has been successfully hacked, and the national political culture that was collaboratively forged in India’s Constituent Assembly is being insidiously re-wired.

A case of steady progress

Yet, it would be a misnomer to posit that this started only during 2014. Always on the fringes and working without state power, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and later the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were forced to focus on non-electoral politics. However, two crucial breakthroughs enabled them to dramatically escalate the scope of their work. The Janata Party government enabled the RSS to position ideological sympathizers in the bureaucracy as well as the media and film industries. This project accelerated during the first tenure of the National Democratic Alliance government, and was leveraged devastatingly between 2010 and 2014. Key stakeholders, both within and outside the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, worked in concert to reshape India’s consciousness. Just to cite three inter-connected examples, the India Against Corruption movement (which was purportedly propped up by the RSS-BJP) destabilized the UPA and legitimized anti-establishment norms. This was accentuated by senior bureaucrats (many of whom joined the BJP eventually) crippling key levers of state power from 2011. In conjunction, the BJP stalled Parliament repeatedly, to propagate the myth of “policy paralysis”. Collectively, these blamed all of India’s woes on the ‘elite establishment’ (the Khan-market/Lutyens gang) and the political culture it upheld, namely India’s Constitution.

Sanction by the people

None of this would have been possible without the people’s sanction. But that sanction did not emerge organically. In its multi-pronged war on India’s political culture, the Sangh Parivar first re-engineered public discourse. For example, it has been pointed out that the Sangh has weaponised social media effectively. While progressive forces are still focused on Twitter (which boasts of 23.6 million users in India), the Sangh focused its energies on YouTube (265 million monthly active users in India), Facebook (329 million users in India) and WhatsApp (459 million users) in India). It is telling that one in every three Indians on social media consumes political content daily, much of it from the Sangh. Similarly, the RSS-BJP have also weaponised popular culture successfully. A spate of films ( The Accidental Prime Minister, Uri: The Surgical Strike, PM Narendra Modi, The Tashkent Files, The Kashmir Files, 1946, Calcutta Killingsetc.), media channels, books and think-tanks have been deployed to reinforce the Sangh’s ideological, political and cultural messages.

The Sangh has also tried to reshape our consciousness by controlling the education system (by altering curricula, appointing its cadre as faculty), by leveraging the influence of community leaders in exchange for political assignments, by misusing the grass-roots network of religious institutions, and working on the Indian diaspora aggressively through shadowy organizations that work in tandem with Indian embassies. It is critical that progressives understand that the Sangh is not merely winning elections. In reality, elections are just the most visible arena on which the Sangh is battling India’s constitutional edifice. Considerable effort has gone into reprogramming the hearts and minds of our fellow Indians, which is why elections are won before they are even announced. This has been so successful that it has even afflicted the political class. Increasingly, leaders across party lines pander to communal, casteist, patriarchal and other regressive sentiments. This socio-psychological shift is so definitive that even those who are clairvoyant in their opposition to regressive values ​​flirt with the notion that the BJP can be outmaneuvered from the right. Yet, others have made peace with the idea that the BJP can be defeated only after 2029 (by when its current leadership could have ceded to a new generation).

This ideological confusion and defeatism does not bode well for India, and not just because the BJP is relentless in its attack on the constitutional idea of ​​India. Like during the freedom struggle, we progressives face the full might of the Indian state today. Every day, we are faced with a fresh litany of villainies.

Progressives outmaneuvered

But it is unfair to credit the Sangh for everything. We have to acknowledge that the most progressive forces today are analog players in a digital world. Yes, progressives are reeling with organizational infirmities and a lack of resources. But they are outmaneuvered because they strive to counter the BJP with dogmatic tactics such as petitions/open letters, symbolic protests/ dharnas, and stolid press conferences/press releases/tweets. Even if these tactics could cut through BJP’s chokehold over the media, they do nothing to alter the status quo. Activists continue to be targeted, governments continue to be destabilised, and agencies continue to harass. Equally worryingly, this creative inertia does not inspire or enthuse the silent majority. Instead, it cements the impression that there is no alternative. Today, it is widely perceived that progressives’ parties lack vision, and have forgotten both rajniti (statecraft) and lock (pro-people politics). Furthermore, even though considerable effort and resources are expended on these tactics, they remain limited to sanitized comfort zones.

The key to recovery

Progressive forces need a hard course-correction. The biggest challenge for us is to think about how we can re-program India’s consciousness. This cannot be achieved merely by winning elections, or through symbolic stratagems. These will not stem the continued rightward shift. We need to regain a dominant political and psychological position, for which we have to creatively use the Constitution to first re-engineer both India’s software (culture, values ​​and attitudes) and then hardware (economy, institutions and systems).

Even though progressive parties do not have the instruments of the state at their disposal (except in a few States), they have other arrows in their quivers. They need to urgently experiment with disruptive political strategies such as padayatras, mass-outreach campaigns to community and sectoral influencers, grass-roots campaigns linked to mass crowd-funding on issues of national importance, and mohalla/panchayat-level sabhas. These need to be complemented with an inspiring alternative vision, and targeted messaging driven by data analytics. But most of all, they need to forge principled alliances with stakeholders who can either drive value-based messages through the media and through popular culture (films/serials, books, comics, plays, folklore, etc.) or tangibly marshal support.

This systematic work needs to be done methodically, away from the media glare and cannot be limited to transactional exigencies. Progressive parties need to acknowledge that such society-scale transformations cannot be effected by electoral machines alone (which is what political parties have been reduced to). They need concerted action by organizations that exclusively focus on re-engineering India — politically, socially, economically and culturally.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war”. That is why, like the Congress movement once did (and the RSS reproduced to calamitous effect), progressives will have to form sustainable relationships with the people — from the panchayat to Parliament. Only then can we effect an Indian version of vergangenheitsaufarbeitung (‘working off the past’, that Germany undertook post Nazism). But for this endeavor to be successful, all progressive forces need to collaborate and invest in escalating this ideological war we find ourselves in. Only then can we overwhelm regressive forces, and reclaim India’s soul.

Pushparaj Deshpande is the Director of the Samruddha Bharat Foundation, a multi-party platform that furthers India’s constitutional promise. He is also Series Editor of the ‘Rethinking India’ series

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