A question of moral legitimacy?

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By Nazarul Islam, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, New York. TIO:  To put an attire of legitimacy is the first aim of every new government, in power. Are we not witnessing the epoch-making changes to reflect how democracy is working in India? It is often lamented as the new rise of cultural nationalism, majoritarianism, and communalism. Earlier, historians had differed on how nationalism relates to communalism. Some had felt nationalism itself was the product of colonialism and thereby the source of narrow identities.
Therefore, one could not productively make a distinction between communalism and ‘Ethno-nationalism’. Others argued that nationalism was different from communalism: the first was about the ‘making of a nation’ and inclusive, while the second was divisive and caste-Hindu in its character.
Today, for all effective purposes, this distinction has collapsed with the emergence and consolidation of majoritarianism. However, the framing of the recent changes and electoral outcomes cannot be fully captured through these categories as they now refer to a new sociological reality.
The unprecedented rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (BJP-RSS) combine since the 1990s and the simultaneous and gradual decline of the Congress cannot be understood merely as the rise of communalism or majoritarianism; even as it carries these tendencies, it has become a viable project and a part of popular politics because of deeper changes in questions of identity, emotions, and representation.
Therefore, a relevant question to ask now is: whether the majoritarian-Hindutva politics is also essentially about cultural subalterns who include both traditionally dominant castes as well as the subordinate castes, and classes.? Would it not be right to argue that the upsurge of Hindu nationalism has paved the way for the mainstreaming of a ‘way of life’ and modes of thinking that lay at the margins of liberal democracy?
Added to the complexity of the current moment in Indian politics, it is precisely this overlap between marginalized cultural groups that are asserting their identity but through conservative social ideology. The BJP-RSS combine, especially after the neoliberal reforms, has succeeded in combining aggressive pragmatism with regressive idealism. It is simultaneously inclusive and polarised; it provides mobility yet reinstates traditional hierarchies.
Unless we unpack the irony of how contradictory processes are getting combined into a seamless process, a mere moral critique of the process would be inadequate, if not irrelevant. Unpacking is a possible way to avoid the elitism of the liberal-secular critique of the current upsurge of cultural nationalism. The secular-liberal critique, in fact, further justifies the cultural nationalist project, enabling it to take on more majoritarian proportions.
However, in one sense, the political project of the Right has subverted the binary distinction B.R. Ambedkar made between revolution and counter-revolution. He had observed that in Indian history, Buddhism was a revolution that privileged the Shudras and provided them with dignity and equality, while a counter-revolution was forged by Brahminism and Vedic Hindu rituals to subjugate and marginalize the Shudras.
Today, What we are really witnessing is a counter-revolution that has the promise of being a revolution. It has managed to bring under-privileged castes and social groups to challenge the hegemony of caste Hindus/liberal elites over liberal, democratic institutions.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. The resurgence of India’s Hindu identity is not merely about communalism or majoritarianism but also about identities that had little hope of moving up the ladder within the limits of constitutionalism.
I believe that BJP-RSS in this sense represents the cultural subalterns that had cut across caste and class hierarchies. They are bringing with them social groups that suffered from routine inferiority and lack of mobility. The moral legitimacy of Hindutva lies in this silent change or subversion they are bringing about.
But it needs to be added that this change cannot but be illiberal and is not necessarily anti-democratic as it might hold the promise of representing the majority. This change therefore cannot be captured in traditional or conventional caste and class categories; it goes beyond and cuts across the categories creating new divisions and social constituencies.
While communalism offers a sense of inclusion, majoritarianism offers a sense of mobility and the muscularity necessary to wedge open opportunities that otherwise looked closed; nationalism then offers a necessary moral antidote to exclusion and violence that are ingrained in the processes of communalism and majoritarianism.
Nationalism in the country is therefore not merely about an exalted sense of the nation, it also plays a significant and a deeper role of providing moral-emotional succor to the narrow-violent sensibility that is understood to be indispensable to set right ‘historical injury’/communalism (against Muslims) and achieve mobility/majoritarianism (against the traditional elites).
Violence (found in mob lynching), mediocrity (in seeking quick mobility —
for instance, as found in the recent recruitments to universities), and even crime and criminality (for instance, alleged accusations against Pragya Thakur) can compromise the moral legitimacy of the project.
The moral legitimacy of any political project is to be found in notions of justice and universality, and nationalism works as a conduit that precisely fills this space. Nationalism allows the self-belief that Hindutva is not about narrow interests, or not just about ‘Hindus’ but about restoring the glory of a ‘lost civilization’. It includes everyone who resides in ‘Bharat’.
This higher purpose offsets guilt and inconvenient pressures of conscience. Nationalism serves the purpose of providing ‘mobility with dignity’.
Unless one makes sense of the ‘positive’ and affirming aspect of right-wing politics, one cannot get a full sense of the surge in cultural nationalist politics.
Is Hindutva in India fulfilling a purely religious role when by its silence or friendly relationships— it lends legitimacy to dictatorial and oppressive governance?
Compiled By Humra Kidwai,  Curated By Maham Abbasi

Nazarul Islam

The author is a former Educator, based in Chicago (USA).

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