Thursday, February 2, 2023
HomeOpinionIf you want to defend India’s republic, don't just focus on Modi-baiting

If you want to defend India’s republic, don’t just focus on Modi-baiting

We, who wish to reclaim the republic, must begin the new year by realising the power of positive politics.

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Really? You think the BJP can be defeated in 2024? I have given up.” This was one of our elder statesmen, one of the saner voices in our public life.

“Every day I think I should look for an opportunity abroad. We have nothing left here.” This was one of the young activists, someone I have come to love and admire.

I hear such grim voices every day, from those who stand for a liberal, democratic India, true to its Constitution. These voices take many forms: “There is no alternative”. Or “They have money, muscle, media, everything.” Another version is: “It’s happening everywhere in the world. Just look at Trump, Putin, Erdogan …”.  But it all feeds into a deep despair that has settled, not just in our public life, but also in our collective subconscious. We celebrate farmers’ victory and wonder if it will last long. We are ecstatic about West Bengal results, only to wait nervously for Uttar Pradesh’s. We hang on to the words of someone like Satya Pal Malik.  We are tormented.

This is the real triumph of Narendra Modi politics. It drowns its adversaries in a spiral of negativity, resulting in a vicious cycle: Negative communication invites popular rejection, which reinforces a sense of hopelessness, that further widens the gulf with the people. It defeats the rivals before the start of the match.

We, who wish to reclaim the republic, must begin the new year by realising the power of positive politics.

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Forward-looking politics

Positive politics is not some pop-psychology jargon. It is not about using a rose-tinted glass to look at morbid truths. It is not about turning our eyes off from the daily dismantling of our republic. It is not about entertaining foolishly fond hopes of sudden disappearance of the challenge to the idea of India. It does not entail walking blindfold into an impossible battle.

Positive politics is about forward-looking, pro-active and constructive political action rooted in our heritage, driven by self-confidence and striving for solidarities.

Positive politics, by definition, overcomes negativity. We must not appear as professional naysayers and habitual Modi-baiters. Politics of opposition must not be reduced merely to an opposition to their politics, to criticism, blame-game and indignation. The government’s handling of Covid has been a disaster; the opposition must present an alternative blueprint of public health. Above all, critics of the Modi government must give up a knee-jerk anti-Modism that goes on to strengthen the myth of Modi’s omnipotence.

Positive politics is about building real, plausible hope in a not-so-distant future. You cannot build that by constantly looking into the rear-view mirror.  You cannot waste time on nostalgia for Nehruvian past or defence of Indira Gandhi’s rule. You cannot be entangled in debates on whether Mughals were refugees or not. Our politics must look ahead and invite people to craft a narrative of India’s future, a future that each one of them can park their aspirations in. False and divisive history cannot be refuted merely by fact-checking; it can be defeated by aspirations of a shared future.

Positive politics must be pro-active, not just reactive. Be it Kashmir or Kashi, Narendra Modi knows how to set the agenda to which his opponents must respond. We must learn to step aside from the traps that await the opposition: Kashi, Mathura, Uniform Civil Code. Let us remember that as and when we have wrested the initiative from the government – think of Shaheen Bagh or the farmers’ morchas – we have succeeded. Looking ahead, the most obvious candidate for such an initiative is a nation-wide movement for employment and livelihood.

Also read: India’s politicians are playing with the fire of sectarian hatred

Move closer to culture and tradition

Positive politics must have an organic and healthy relationship with our own society and culture. The present assault on the idea of India in the name of Hindu religion and tradition demands that we have closer engagement with our traditions and our diverse cultural and religious heritage. If we turn our back to it, lest we fall prey to “right-wing” politics, our politics loses any nourishment. That is exactly the deracinated self that Hindutva supporters would like us to have. The only way to counter it effectively is to draw upon our deep cultural resources. We must turn to our languages, read our classical and modern texts and rediscover our cultural icons. Swami Vivekanand’s birthday, 12 January, could be a starting point for cultural and intellectual recovery.

Positive politics must be self-confident. And there are good reasons for our confidence. Generally speaking, authoritarian governments crumble sooner or later. Specifically, the project of defeating the BJP in 2024 is not as difficult as it looks. As Prashant Kishor reminds us, the BJP manages to look more powerful than it is. Its presence on the coastal belt from Bengal to Kerala is still underwhelming. Even during the peak of its success, it did not secure the votes of a majority of the Hindus. Its parliamentary majority hinges upon sweeping the Hindi heartland states. In the electoral as well as the agitational battleground, the current dispensation has not been able to knock out those challengers – be it Mamata Banerjee or Samyukt Kisan Morcha – who gave it a good, determined fight. Notwithstanding all the state patronage at its command, the cultural resources of BJP-RSS are distinctly inferior to those who defend the Constitution. The BJP controls mainstream media, but the legacy of our civilisation and our national movement is still with us.

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Don’t look for ideological purity

Finally, positive politics is about building solidarities. The rulers seek to fragment us. We oblige them in our moments of weakness or frustration, when we target our friends for not being loyal enough. In this respect, the defenders of the republic must learn from the farmers’ movement that succeeded in building and sustaining an impossible-looking coalition. The simple lesson is that a successful resistance must bring together all shades of those who stand by constitutional values, from die-hard atheists to staunch believers, from marketwallas to market-sceptics. A search for ideological purity is a recipe for political disaster. The point of positive politics is to assure all of us that we are not alone. Not any more.


Yogendra Yadav is among the founder of Jai Kisan Andolan and Swaraj India. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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