BJP party supporters at a rally (Representational image)
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In all the ongoing intellectual debate on the idea of New India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is a new uncritical celebration of the ‘people’ as the ultimate authority, and as rational agents. This ‘idea of the people’ — now represented in the politics around Ayodhya bhoomi pujan and Sabarimala — is one which both politicians and public intellectuals must bow to unquestioningly.

The idea of the ‘people’ is critical to any makeover that the idea of India gets.

Modi often likes to project himself as the unmediated implementer of the will of ‘sawa sau crore Bharat-wasi’. Or when he was the chief minister, he called himself the “hanuman for 6 crore Gujaratis” in 2012 and often referred to the Gujarati asmita (pride). He mounts his politics on this imagined will, wound, pride and prejudices of the people. But there has been little political and intellectual scrutiny of how Indian politics has used ‘the people’ trope over time.

Our public debates rest on a romantic view of the people. After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s stunning 2019 Lok Sabha election victory, liberals began accepting their limitations to evolve a people’s language and some intellectuals bemoaned how they may have lost the tools to understand the people. The unspoken idea is that the politicians and intellectuals do not dare question the people. It is from here that majoritarian politics emerges. Modi’s political project of New India actually survives on this imagination of the people as real, authentic and, above all, responsive citizens.

But this political portrayal of the people as unquestionable rational agents not only goes against the political traditions evolved out of the national movement but also contradicts our constitutional values.


Also read: Modi redefined secularism with Ram Mandir as Hindu voters were fed up of Sonia-Left version


The Indian story of ‘the people’

The will of the people as a governing principle is a recent phenomenon. Major streams of the Indian national movement tried to create a balance between social reforms and an ideal imagination of an egalitarian political order. M.K. Gandhi’s constructive programmes, B.R. Ambedkar’s criticisms of the caste system and Bhagat Singh’s emphasis on class division of Indian society were deeply rooted in the tradition of social reforms of the 19th century. There was a consensus that political action would remain meaningless if society was not reformed.

The Indian Constitution was the logical outcome of this belief. It recognises the people as the real sovereign and ensures that their individual and collective rights are adequately protected. However, it does not fully endorse the will of the people and, for that matter, the majority rule. Instead, it sets out certain principles for the political class to evolve what Ambedkar called constitutional morality.

The Nehruvian state introduced a series of radical social reforms in the 1950s through legal constitutional means. The people, in this framework, were to be educated and reformed by the State to make them fully democratic and adequately modern. Indira Gandhi reinterpreted the Directive Principles of State Policy to legitimise her authoritarian rule. She even justified the Emergency (1975-77) in the name of people’s welfare.

The economic liberalisation in the 1990s, however, was a turning point. The idea of the people as an extremely rational collective began to take shape only in the 1990s around the time of economic reforms and the explosion of popular private entertainment. Two years after economic reforms, the Babri Masjid was demolished as a demonstration of avenging collective Hindu wounds.

As the economy privatised and expanded, the State redefined itself as a political regulatory entity. It was established that society and economy are autonomous self-governing spheres and the primary function of the State is to reconcile competing interests through redistributive policies. This led to a new political narrative of inclusion. A series of policy initiatives were taken to address the specific needs of different marginalised groups — Dalits, OBCs, women, Muslims, and adivasi—without evolving any comprehensive vision for social transformation.

Hindutva politics challenged this political correctness in two ways. They invoked Hindu victimhood to attract the middle-class upper-caste groups; and at the same time, they came out with the idea of authentic and responsive people — who give priority to the nation and do not believe in any other identity. The New India of Narendra Modi actually rests on this hyper-nationalist version of the people.


Also read: Secularism gave up language of religion. Ayodhya bhoomi pujan is a result of that


The people — voter/citizen/aam aadmi

There are at least three features of the people in contemporary India. In a more direct political sense, the people are defined as voters and consumers who must be wooed.

Modi’s New India is about participative democracy and responsive, proactive citizenry, one that can be enlisted in a Kennedy-style call to use toilets, build temples and statues, pay taxes, and queue up to get rid of dirty cash. For Modi, ‘New India is the era of Responsive people and responsive government’. Even as Modi appropriates the people’s will unto himself while platitudinising that the voter is always right, he/she has to accept the authority of the government to facilitate the working of the political system.

Arvind Kejriwal and the Congress’ ‘aam aadmi’ (common man) is the third feature of the people. The aam aadmi is defined as a morally sincere, gullible, vulnerable and politically weak entity. We are told that despite having a right to vote, the aam aadmi does not have adequate resources to deal with the corrupt system. He/she, therefore, is expected to abide by the ethos of nationalism to create what Arvind Kejriwal used to call swaraj. This person is also a morally committed nationalist and a responsive citizen who can be called upon to give up car travel in winter to reduce air pollution or to not pay the illegal water and electricity bills.


Also read: Not vikas, Modi’s 2019 election was built on politics of vishwas


Political use of ‘the people’  

These popular portrayals of the people contribute directly to political arguments now. The reluctant responses of the political elites on the Sabarimala issue and their over-enthusiasm for bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya underline the fact that political parties do not want to go against what they view as the will of the majority.

A liberal politician like Shashi Tharoor justified standing with community beliefs and the temple in the Sabarimala row by saying he was representing his public. This line of argument also empowers the Hindutva forces to justify anti-Muslim violence as the natural reaction of the people/Hindus. In fact, a strong impression has been created that the sentiments, views and beliefs of Hindus must be respected because they are the majority or the authentic people.

The idea of the people, when elevated as rational, homogeneous entity, is highly dangerous — it hides the inherent class-caste-gender contradictions and empowers the political class to justify electoral majoritarianism.

We must learn from Ambedkar: democratic politics won’t work if we do not question the foundational structures of our society.

And now, as public intellectuals urge us to re-imagine our engagement with the people and restore what they consider the broken link, it can be a slippery slope towards imagining the people as the all-knowing and unquestionable monolith majority.

The author is Associate Professor, CSDS, New Delhi. Views are personal.

This article is part of the series ‘India Modified’. Read all the articles here.

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35 Comments Share Your Views

35 COMMENTS

  1. The free market of ideas is open and thriving. The people are free and authoritarian leftists are shaking in their jackboots. Lovely.

  2. I do not know about the nation or such larger issues. Iam a second generation of Malayali in Mumbai and traditionally most of us have been Congress voters. My father in his college days was a Communist.
    Today as I speak to my community members, itnis clear that they have veered away from Congress.
    To a middle class political patronage does no benefit. Malayalees in Mumbai are one such middle class. Yet why dumped the Congress.

    I feel that this party never acknowledged the existence of such a large well to do linguistic minority
    The other reason could be of its appeasement.
    Also, the Gulf nations have 23 lakh Keralites, never did Congress visit them
    To the Christians Jerusalem is sacred and Congress kept away from them.
    Congress was always playing minority politics and made us all feel that politics means minority appeasement.
    To an ex communist Dynasty is anathema.
    Hence there are many reasons for our small migrant community to switch sides.

    It’s not just Modi Modi as the author says, just like Muslims many minority communities exist in India even smaller then Muslim community, but our voices were not heard.
    And Malayalees have no complain about Haj subsidy or monetary appeasement as we are fairly well to do. But Congress ignored many like us who are in other states.
    Local mon Congress parties and leaders putnup posters of Onam wishes and organize feasts and sponsor Onam celebrations for our community, something never imagined earlier.
    That means they acknowledge that we also exist and not just the Muslims.

  3. There is no new India , but a stone age India is emerging very strongly on caste system mostly Hinduism , since last 70 years the Hindu of this country felt being baised against by the Political Parties , on top list being the Congress wooing the Muslims for their votes and providing all liberties as compered to muslims , this resentment of Hindus was recognised by RSS and they have been taking advantage of it for recruitment in their cadeirs , but it was PM Mr Modi and Mr Amit Shah who brought it out to the full extent , the dislike and hate of the Hindus against Muslims for enjoying most of the privileges which was denied to them , thus winning with majority in 2014 and 2019 elections , they have managed to turn the poor and lower middle class unemployed youngsters into packs of wild animals preying on their hatred of Muslims , to turn on anyone who opposes PM Mr Modi , and calling them anti national or traitor , with all Independent and autonomous institutions under PM Mr Modi’ s belt including Supreme Court , there is no one to stop this pack of wild animals from committing atrocities against anyone , alongwith these pack of wild animals , PM Mr Modi and Mr Amit Shah have also created a huge group of IT technicians cell and a blind followers group , who just believe every word said by PM Mr Modi , the majority of these don’t believe that India is facing worst economic situation , worst unemployment , worst financial policies , worst manufacturing issues , worst PSU’s Bank defaulter situation , worst health policies , worst quality progress , massive political corruption , now facing war situation with China due to worst diplomatic policies , resulting loss of 20 soldiers lives and Chinese troops encroaching upon Indian territory , the pair of PM Mr Modi and Mr Amit Shah have in just 6 years managed to destroy everything decent that India stood for , the Congress’ s Corruption looks normal compared to the BJP’s villianess.

  4. India and Indian majority people are tired and sick of this bullshit secularism, librandus and left anti Hindu and anti Indian intellectuals and distorted history of india’s freedom struggles, that India achieved it’s independence through the non violent agitations of M. K. Gandhi and Congress party alongside with the anti Hindu interest and corruption of Congress government from the very first government of post independent India, makes every Indian revolt against the Congress party and so called Left librandus and social activists led policies and completely rejecting their views and consigned them to the place, where they deserve the best, in dustbin.

    • Agree! A useless article, without any data or fact of the matter.
      A typical Muslim sectarian view in a democratic country, where no one is bothering them. No mention of science & technology. No mention of the fact that Hindus are the most secular and rational way of life than their sectarian regressive terrorist loving societies.
      And we are called racist!

  5. This guy is contradicting himself everywhere in this pathetic rant, and the irony of talking about “victimhood” of hindus when muslims regularly go on riots because their precious feelings got hurt. Ah well, maybe these rants are the burnols these kind of people apply to get some sleep at night.

  6. Just the usual tone and tenor of a sad victim who is a selective believer in democracy and has a skewed understanding if the idea of India. India existed for millenia far older yet this guy constructs his own little bubbly idea of India.

  7. So now people are not educated enough to decide the fate of the country and they are to be blamed. Wow! Just wow! Never seen this level of biasness

  8. Self labelled liberals i.e. librandus are in reality fascist. They are intolerant of opposing views and want to impose their idea of India on the people. They were successful before the social media and the mobile phone came into the hands of common people. Quickly the people knew that they were cheated and looted by librandu crooks masked as liberals. How these fascists get the label of liberal and intellectual. These fascists give the label of liberal and intellectual to each other. They quote references from each other. They give awards to each other. They look down any body out of their club. People now know this and these fascist looks naked in social media.

  9. Is there no Muslim writer/ intellectual who writes decent English, who is as questioning of Muslims as he is of Hindus?

  10. So same higher morality principle can be applied in Kashmir and then taking it forward to countries like Afganistan etc. This will expose the author but there is still an simple answer to apparently convulsed question. In a continous democracy it is not an issue. Cause what can be done by one majority then it can be undone by another. Universal suffrage, rights to exploited, minorities did not happen because of an political revolution or change of heart but during the course of democracy. This is in direct conflict with thinking process of once a mosque always a mosque and no wonder except one or two hobbling cases there is no continous democracy in whole of Islamic world.

  11. Oh Nice!This is not a debate of Hindu Nationalism vs Secularism.
    Its about flawed assumption that people are rational beings I bet BJP knows this too.But in an age of Hyper nationalism they say they derive their power from people and everything they do is the will of people.

  12. This is the kind of article I don’t read beyond its title or subtitle. Relish this:
    “Modi’s new India is a new idea of the people. And politicians and intellectuals must bow to it unquestioningly.”
    In New India SC gives astonishing judgements, CBI chases innocents and overlooks criminals, voice of just protest is scuffled by unending jail terms, Democratic values are crushed, fake history is taught to children. .. And so on.
    Clearly the author of this article is paid, if not in cash then by back-patting, by the BJP machinery to INSINUATE such thinking.
    Modi is creating this new India, and all should bow to it unquestioningly? Really, you disgusting “Sarkari Musalman”?!

    • Wait till this article will be picked by international media to report about India. This is real tragedy.
      So criticism is always welcome but these insinuations will become “issues with India”.
      To be honest it is an anti-national article by anti-national. You must remember here you will get such stuff.
      A few days there was a cartoon, which equate Indian soldiers with Terrorists while Kashmir being in between. This is hardly a joke.

      Make no mistake when it comes this portal has appetite for anti-India narrative.

    • If you had read the article beyond the title and sub title, you would have realised that it was written in sarcasm.

      • Such suggestions, “bowing unquestioningly” etc, should not be made even as a joke or in sarcasm. This is a “careerist’s” article. You call it sarcasm, I call it sliminess. Take my word, Mr Hilal Ahmad will soon get a promotion from Associate Professor to Professor.

      • Boss, I don’t need to read the article when the author’s real INTENT is so obvious. Such people want to be on the “right side” of the BJP, and YET be able to pretend that they can think in an honest upright manner. They are playing up the BJP agenda – – “bow unquestioningly”, if you haven’t already, it is hopeless to stand against their wishes, even if they are DRACONIAN wishes. Shekhar Gupta falls in the same bracket as Hilal Ahmed. He wants us to accept (one of his recent article) that the “fort Modi is impregnable”, so you guys better resign or “bow out”, in Hilal’s words. In Hindi proverb, “yeh dono ek hi thaili ke chatte-batte hain”. I never read Shekhar’s articles either.

        The truth of the matter is, that MODI HIMSELF HAS THROWN IN THE TOWEL. Deep in his heart he knows that not only he has failed, but producing any productive results is beyond his capacity. Why do I say that? Well, notice the NEW VISUAL AWATAR Modi wants his makeup team to give him. With thick drooping moustache, long and white tapering beard, he wants TO BE MISTAKEN AS A RISHI-MUNI OF OLDEN TIMES. He wants to be seen as ABOVE the mundane worldly matters – – like running a poor country in an efficient and compassionate manner.

        The tragedy is that the people who have the capacity, and should display the COURAGE to say that they can see through, have COMPLETELY CAVED IN. Like Hilal and Shekhar, the people who have fine minds and fully deserve to be called “intellectuals”. And you want me to read their long, long spiel which T. S. Eliot would call, “tedious arguments of insidious intent”?

  13. The writer is essentially trying to say what Chaplin had said decades ago “Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form the headless monster, a great, brutish idiot that goes where prodded..

  14. No advice is given to own community

    1) Stop RIOTING based on rumours

    2) HANUMANJI TEMPLE along with 20 HINDUS HOMES were demolished in pakistan. No discussion on what would happen when HINDUS are in minority.

    3) No discussion on Gajwa e hind.

    4) NO discussion on WETHER dalits are SAFE if rioters attack based on rumours.

    5) NO discussion on proselytizers.

    6) NO discussion on the fact THAT HINDUS ARE NOT INTERESTED IN CONVERSIONS.

    7) As HINDUS are not interested in proselytizing hence no need to shout “khatre may “.

    8) NO discussion on WETHER it is okay to believe that ” IDOL worshippers will burn in hell.

    Therefore no discussion on self improvement. ONLY SHOUT ” I AM THE VICTIM “

  15. When the democracy has spoken you mourn the choice of the people? Democracy isn’t to be hailed only when it takes the path that you like, democracy should be hailed and respected even when its not what suits your wishes. Each side has a say and thats why its democracy. You point of view is nothing but sad. Hopefully you will be a good sport and understand what democracy is all about.

  16. I come here often to see k2tuas bemoaning and whining the Hindu awakening. Truly cures my depression. And this is just the start. Hindu Rastra 2028 babyyy, k2tuas btfoed

  17. Modi has not done any more damage to the idea of people, what is there since independence. The problem with people like you is that now the Hindus, who were being treated as fools by the Congress / leftists, have started to assert their identity. And for this, why to blame Modi? Congress ruled India, as only muslims are the only citizens in India, rest are slaves. Most of the education ministers of Congress were Muslims, and irony is that, these Muslim education ministers failed to make their community educated.
    Now if Modi looks supreme, it is due to the fact that most of the other political parties are family fiefdoms, Congress being biggest. They don’t allow the talent in these parties to grow, and only the chamchas are listened.

    • For all the Gyan that you lay out here, also try to add some of the achievements of Modi which have led to improvement on the ground for the Indian citizen. You can for example share if your city is now a smart city, or if you don’t know anyone who has been hit by the severe unemployment crisis, or that demonitization was brilliant (a topic which modi has completely stopped talking about) and so on. The point being that your leader can’t deliver zilch to raise the standard of the country.

  18. Why Muslims demand Sharia when Muslims in majority and wipe out Non Muslims , but Muslims want secularism and liberalism when they are in minority, remeber Pakistan is created by Indian Muslims who voted 97 percent in favour of creation of pakistan in 1946 elections but stayed in india , thanks to Gandhi and Nehru and congress.Muslims and Leftists cannot decide the futuer of India, India is secular becuase Hindus are in majority, the day Muslim population increses it will become another pakistan.

  19. The writer say everything except the patronage provided by political bparties to Muslims fundamentalism and no liberal questions it.

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