After tactically using caste arithmetic, the party has also consciously tried to undermine social justice as casteism and secularism as appeasement.
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results are not a one-time anomaly. They are repeat of the 2014 Lok Sabha results. In fact, the Bharatiya Janata Party has improved on its performance in 2014. Because the party seems set to stay in Indian politics for a long innings, it is important to reflect on what its politics means and what it is doing or going to do once in power in such an overwhelming manner.
While the BJP has cynically employed the use of religious identity, it has also consciously sought to downplay identity politics or social justice on the basis of caste or community in the last decade, particularly in the last few years. This is clear from the way the party brought a non-Jat politician to lead Haryana and encouraged a counter-mobilisation against the Jat hegemony. It also appointed a non-tribal chief minister Jharkhand and has persisted with one in Chhatisgarh. The party does not even seem to mind a Gujarati hegemony.
Where the party excels at is to package and present itself as rising above caste and community, decrying social justice as casteism, and secularism as appeasement, as Vandita Mishra points out in the Indian Express, after having carefully and “astutely picking a large number of its candidates from the large scatter of non-Yadav OBC [Other Backward Classes] castes, for instance, to add them to its traditional upper caste Brahmin-Thakur mix”, even while making a pronounced bid for backward caste support.
In fact, the success of the party’s political vision is evident from the fact that what appeared earlier as impossible seems to be the new normal now. For example, in a state like Jharkhand, the party brought in fundamental change by amending the land tenancy laws so as to serve the corporate capital and yet there was hardly any effective resistance to the move.
Most of the BJP’s important leaders also happen to be well-honed cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The party seems to have made an effort to ensure that such candidates are given crucial postings, with a view to a more disciplined and ideologically committed leadership for the governments – at the Centre and in the states.
In other words, the BJP has sought to downplay one of the traditional basis of politics – that of social identities – because it hampers growth and expansion of capital.
The 2014 Lok Sabha results and now the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results have shown how the BJP has created an anti-local, anti-caste, anti-region political ambience by ensuring that a combination of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah become acceptable to people across regions.
The Manifesto of the party for Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections began by saying:
“The Party has begun the implementation of aims of social and economic justice through good governance (sushashan) under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi”.
Beyond this point the Manifesto talked in an idiom of class and professions, laying down how the party’s perspective on and vision of development has to reach the youth, poor, business community, women and others.
The party simply does not use the concept of social justice the way other political formations do.
It is in this sense that one can see how the BJP seeks to build a political agenda beyond the social identities. It tries to reach out to all of them through some economic argument or the other.
The party seems to know and understand that gradually it has to be a politics of class, which will allow it to expand because its historical legacy of being a brahmanical political force alienated it for quite some time from the Muslims and Dalits.
In the last three years or so, the party has amply shown how well religion and other social and cultural affiliations can only be used to ensure a very clearly defined rule of corporate capital. However, these affiliations along with that of nation, and other such are only instruments for mobilisation, if at all.
The violence in campuses could be seen as an example of how the party uses the instrument of lumpenism to ensure that voices of dissent can be suppressed by use of collective force.
Social justice is not a term often invoked by the Indian State after 2014. And yet the BJP cannot completely do away with the decades-long practices of positive discrimination in policy making because the move might invite strong counter mobilisation against it. Which is what explains the party’s conscious decision of going slow on its earlier discourse and policy programmes based on social identities. But the so-called slips of tongue on quotas and reservation and demonisation of Dalit activists is a clear indication of what many of the party’s leaders think on these questions.
In days to come, the BJP would rather focus on policy areas that would more proactively bring Dalits and tribals within the fold of the market. The policy decisions of the BJP are aimed at breaking the consensus on the need of taking affirmative action to remove social inequalities among groups.
The BJP seeks to transform everybody into an individual, concerned only about their own self, while ironically seeking votes from them or expressing outrage in the name of Hinduism. The collective, as noted above, continues to be invoked when needed but only as a mere source of mobilisation to move towards a fragmented/individuated situation.
This thinking, while destroying their social and cultural allegiances, would transform each citizen into somebody who would cease to be concerned about the marginalised, oppressed or discriminated groups and communities. This would also lead to weakening of any opposition to whatever the state would do – from handing over the economy to corporate capital to making education institutions into skilling centres among other things.
The BJP campaigns in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections mocked the gains that the Other Backward Classes and Dalit political mobilisations have made in these states. The party has routinely sought to underplay that there was any significant historic element of caste based discrimination. In Haryana, for instance, the party has come down heavily on unionisation of workers in the industrial belts of the state.
It has thus sought to delegitimise all movements that claim to represent social or economic justice. Which is why there is hardly any large scale resistance even when, for instance, the Haryana government unabashedly celebrates its foundation year using the symbol of a conch with a chariot embedded in it among other things. The party has thus got away by introducing overtly religious motifs in a secular country. Nor is there any public anger when workers are
The BJP represents a new moment in Indian politics. It understands and knows how to manipulate the social and cultural milieu much better than any other force towards making India fully compatible to the workings of corporate capital and seeking to break down the consensus on community and caste-based concepts of social justice.
If the political forces fail to understand this they would find it difficult to counter the BJP’s winning streak, even in 2019.