The 2014 mandate was about a desire for development without Westernisation. An urge for prosperity without compromising on identity.
Three years have passed since the results of the 16th Lok Sabha elections started pouring in – on 16 May 2014. As time elapsed, it became clear that the 2014 verdict would go down in history as one of those pivotal points when history itself takes a turn. Much ink has been spent in dissecting the verdict and the voting pattern. The commentaries have ranged from scaremongering about the alleged Hindu majoritarianism to celebrating the post-caste, post-religion utopia where people vote only on the development plank. Indeed, the verdict that was delivered in 2014 represented a desire for a clear break from the political culture of post-Independence India.
And this did not happen out of the blue.
As the Congress system was collapsing in the eighties, the socio-political landscape of India was also undergoing a deep churning. This churning had several facets including the assertion by the subaltern castes, the youth bulge, renewed Hindu assertion around the Ram Janambhoomi Andolan, opening up of the economy, etc.
This churning only strengthened in the first decade of the twenty-first century. What is important for our analysis though is how these various strains merged with each other to give birth to the massive mandate of 2014. It is to ask the same question as to what did the mandate of 2014 represent? What is it that knowingly or unknowingly, stirs the heart of India today?
The answer can be summed up in just two words: Hindu modernity.
Let’s stop denying the undeniable. The vote for BJP was an overwhelmingly Hindu vote. Yes, other communities did vote too, including a section of the Muslims, but it was the Hindu vote, which made possible the accession of the Narendra Modi-led BJP to Delhi. The Hindu votes here do not just mean the votes of the people who are Hindu because in a Hindu majority country any party which wins must have successfully secured the maximum votes of the Hindus. Hindu votes mean the voters who voted as Hindus on the Hindutva plank. It was this voter base which rose above caste and regional identities and voted for the BJP as Hindus for vikas. It was a Hindutva plus development mandate. This voter base comprised the ‘new class of Hindu castes’, mainly the middle and neo-middle class youth of various castes who increasingly see themselves as Hindu first.
This is not to say that the age-old bonds of castes ceased to matter or that contemporary youth are not susceptible to the socio-political pull of their respective castes. It means rather that there is a qualitative shift towards Hindu identity due to a convergence of the lifestyle and living standards brought upon by cohabitation in a new marketplace amid the realities of representative caste politics. And as this generation grows and expands, it finds itself caught between the old and the new - the old India with its fragmented caste society and never ending hostility, poverty and social backwardness and the new world promised by the neo-liberal developmental model with the attendant Western modernity. It may have been a simple choice, which several societies have traversed mostly to their ruin, i.e. a clear break from the past and an embrace of the new. But since this is India, where the past is not dead but a living entity, it was never going to be a simple choice.
What is also to be noted is that the period since the eighties saw a trend of revival of Hinduism. A faint whisper at first, audible only to the most discerning ones, it became more and more perceptible as time passed. And it is not just political assertion under the Hindutva banner we are talking about but an old school religious revival. Several people may disagree, but the last two decades have seen not just the increasing popularity of fashionable spirituality movements rooted in Hinduism but also a strong grass-root level revival of ritualistic Hinduism across all the Hindu castes.
Major festivals have become grander, minor festivals have become major and local festivals are becoming pan-India fuelled by migrations, curiosity and a sense of ‘it’s a Hindu thing!’. The older generation of Hindus, which abhorred the ‘meaningless rituals’ and puja, and instead harped upon the Sufi songs to meet its spiritual needs albeit in a secular fashion, is shrinking. No longer do rhetorical works like Khattar Kaka elicit attention of the readers. Its place has been taken over by the numerous translations and retelling of the Hindu epics and the fantasy novels rooted in the Hindu myths and legends. There is a thirst for rediscovering the roots and history, which can be seen in the torrent of new books, websites and blogs churned out by this generation. Today, there is an unabashed pride in ‘being Hindu’ and relating to Hindu history and culture.
These two factors, i.e. the desire to modernise and the desire to keep the roots alive have interacted in curious ways in this generation. For some it has been a path towards rage against anything and everything seen to be Marxist-Missionary distortions or, ‘breaking India’ forces. The worst of this lot can be seen among those living in the multi-storey apartments in metropolitan cities and justifying the goondaism and lawlessness of the thuggish cow-vigilante groups. But for most, it has been a synthesis. A desire, an aspiration for modernity rooted in Hindu ethos and framework. It is this aspiration of a Hindu modernity which was expressed in the 2014 mandate, even if most voters may not have thought of it in this manner.
They may have been responding to different impulses—from the promise of development, to Hindutva, to the allure of the incorruptible, strong leadership. But the sum total of their collective wishes cannot be better summed up than the desire for Hindu modernity.
What must be noted here is that while there is a desire to become an advanced industrial nation there is an unmistakable resistance to being Westernised. This is a herculean task since in the world today there is no successful alternative to Western modernity apart from that of Japan. And the appeal, or indeed knowledge of Japanese modernity has been limited outside of its immediate neighbourhood. Therefore, for the rest of the world, modernity is synonymous with the West. Even the mighty Hans have not been able to create Chinese modernity yet despite articulating a clearer vision of it than India has of its own.
It is debatable whether the BJP government or Prime Minister Modi has picked up these signals. But several initiatives by the Prime Minister do point in that direction, like focusing on the girl child, empowerment of women and Dalits, apart from the laying of a solid infrastructural groundwork for industrialisation and urbanisation.
But modernity is much more than mere possession of material products like the latest mobile phones. It’s about a deep cultural and social transformation towards a more egalitarian, democratic, just and rule-based society. It is not true that modernity will follow only if we can create the suitable conditions for it by rapid economic transformation. It’s a project in itself and on this account much still remains elusive. For example, the government’s lingering ambivalence, despite the statement of intent, towards the repeated incidents of caste violence shows the failure to pick up on a process already underway. This represents a misstep in the process to re-forge caste relations in society in a more egalitarian mould.
One only hopes that the recent flare-up at Saharapur will draw the attention of the government towards the fact that there is something more needed on the ground than vikas.