Vijay and Bijoy: Pyaasa, Thirsty for Change
by Faheem Haider for AlalODulal.org
You can imagine a latter-day poet, Vijay, crooning melancholy, thirsty, about the state of India, much as you’ll find a poet, Bijoy, singing to crowds, large and small, about the state of Bangladesh.
Vijay is singing about India under Congress, you see, and how corruption, nepotism and straight-up lack of decency have wrecked India. The Nehru family has run politics up a pole and he thinks there’s no coming back save to burn the pole down and elect someone else instead, someone who has the people’s touch. Bijoy is singing about much the same, but he knows there’s no real change between Begum and Begum. His one hope is that the youth in Bangladesh might own the map to their own future.
Vijay’s Disrepair-India Today:
India, now deep in the world’s most energized exercise of the democratic franchise, is abuzz about Narendra Modi. A man from humble means and now powerful, hypnotically so to some, a man who cannot speak English fluently, yet deigns to want to run India, Modi looks set to become India’s next Prime Minister come May 9th. Modi, the sitting Chief Minister of Gujarat, and the leader of the Right-Wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also the man many think was responsible for allowing, and abetting under his watch, the worst turn in India’s recent history of blood-lusting sectarian violence the 2002 street to street, door to door riots in Gujarat in which at least 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed at the hands of violent Hindu mobs. (India is known for its mob-violence: consider 1947, but the 2002 turnout in Gujarat were seeded with the germs of Rwanda.)
Modi is associated with the Nationalist Fascist outfit the Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh (RSS) whose out and out goal is Hindutva, an exclusivist, exclusionary Hindu Nation within and without the borders of the Indian state. The coming Sub-Continental Hindu State, it would seem, would swallow up Bangladesh. Modi’s goals were, for a time, the same, especially while coming up the ranks of the RSS. However, while the RSS long-standing, self-designated remit was to change the culture of India–politics was left in the hands of the BJP, the political arm and offshoot of the RSS–Modi’s pick by the Rightist BJP to be the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 signaled that the RSS was ready to play in the open field of party politics. And so, if you wanted to, you could put the 2002 riots straight on the RSS docket. You’d think that Vijay would sing something about that, no? His song wouldn’t be a fair take if it only went about taking on corruption but that’s precisely his song.
Politics in India is and always has been pegged to the notion that the future is its own currency. And that currency, like all currencies, trades on the back of a promise, rooted in this case in fantasy: full employment along with full-on political participation, all serviced by the muscular engine of revving economic growth. The promise sounds compelling, but the fantasy part? India’s economic growth up until now has been deeply divisive: its favors have been charged only to those who happen to be a wealthy-city-bound minority. India’s fortunes have been top down, majority to minority in power, class, chaste and, yes, religion. There are still startling gaps between castes and, more unsurprisingly, the income gap between minority Muslims and Hindu looks more like a bottom-less chasm, particularly in cities: Muslims earn 30% less in wages than their Hindu counterparts.
The BJP under Modi and its coalition is hoping to take back power from the corruption laden Congress Party on the promise to the majority youth in India that there is a better tomorrow around the corner but only through a Rightist BJP government. That promise is polling so well that the BJP is trying to take out Muslim votes from under Congress.
Meanwhile, sectarian violence remains an on-going problem in India. Indeed, there is evidence that the perpetrators of sectarian violence are precisely those youth who have been targeted for the promise of a better tomorrow, who feel they’ve been left behind thanks to India’s recent relatively lazing economic growth, idling at 5% per annum, half that of peak growth over the previous decade, and as a minority few have seen their fortunes skyrocket unfettered by India’s collective rudderless run under Congress.
According to recent polls, young voters think Modi can remodel India into Gujarat-at-Large. This, they think is a good thing. But, given Modi’s long-standing vehement opposition not only to Muslims in India but to the political, economic and social franchise employed by all Muslims in India, and his intransigent view that the Muslim move into India was only and can only be a history of domination and occupation, modus vivendi, Hindu and Muslim lies outside Hindutva, you see, Modi’s turn at re-making India may bode badly for most Muslims and, indeed, for most Indians. This, even if real politik runs along in expected ways. In fact, many analysts think that though the BNJ under Modi’s leadership will defeat the Congress Party, a share of voters’ views on Modi’s past and his public pronouncements will force the BJP to enter into alliances that might well moderate the hard right views already on offer. The problem isn’t so much the BJP, though; the problem is that, for the moment, the BJP is Narenda Modi and his party is tagged to win because of his history, his views and the promises of the India he’ll re-make. What’s more: the Economist, no fan of the young and the Left refused to endorse Modi’s bid for leadership. Better to have corruption in the fields, than blood on the streets.
The song Vijay is singing, the one that knocks on Congress, is silent on all that. Really, Vijay’s song is nonsense: it’s all warbling, cronies, without a meaningful narrative about what the world now, India, is really like. India’s problems aren’t about corruption. They’re about inclusion and how to cut the distance between the haves and the have-nots. Vijay, like Modi, has not sung one word about that.
Bijoy in Bangladesh
Bijoy knows that politics in Bangladesh turns on the past-imperfect contest between truth and reconciliation. The players in that contest, the two oppositional parties the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and their allies wear jerseys emblazoned with their own bespoke mix of nationalism, estranged socialism and a particularly sulking religious secularism. Their most recent and deadly match at the maidan ended in favor of the Awami League (AL), for this round at least, when the AL won a landslide victory in an uncontested national election. Bijoy knows that the youth of Bangladesh will one day reclaim their own country.
The Awami League’s victory at the polls was supposed to codify Begum Sheikh Hasina’s claim to a long-standing (consolidated?) democratic mandate. But the claim remains, at best, problematic: this, because the BNP opposition boycotted the election and thus the AL failed to win for itself the full moral standing of a free and fair democratic mandate. Any numbers of international stakeholders have kindly asked for fresh elections. The AL has knocked away those requests as unnecessary international interventions, no doubt on the grounds there are no kinds of intervention. Talk in analyst circles, however, suggests this meat-less mandate may well get the shakedown if, as is expected, the BJP leader, Narendra Modi, wins the ultimate round of the on-going national elections in India.
Their argument is premised on the view that the AL had a friend in the Congress Party. But it was at best a passive-aggressive friend that carried along that friendship on terms more beneficial to the more powerful of the two friends, India. Now, if Congress returns to power, the AL will have the passive-aggressive status quo ante and we can at least think that we can count on more of the same. If, however, the BJP defeats Congress and returns to power, we know that it will do so with a larger majority than Congress had at its last go at politics. And that means politics will swing more toward the ideal views of the BJP and the RSS, and that Hindutva will be a more open, more widely discussed ideology. However, the real likelihood that the BJP might have to enter into coalition with more regional parties means that it may not be able to fully control that Fascist agenda. Moreover, the mandates of real politik suggest that India and Bangladesh will continue their bilateral trade and exchanges at more or less the same levels, though, sure, there might well be some trade and policy tussles. No, expect no real national level political impact if the BJP comes to power.
However, the problem with a BJP win for the AL, Muslims and nearly all Bangladeshis is that Narenda Modi will maintain his outsized shadow over all of India’s politics. And within that shadow hides the views of a fascist who thinks most of India’s problems stems from the root of the fact that there are Muslims in India. Where’s Vijay on this? He’s yet to sing one word about a positive move Indians might make; so far, his account is that of a cynical, betrayed poet. And he’d rather knock himself out in the dark than light a candle.
Vijay’s Inarticulate Rebel Yell
Both India and Bangladesh are home to a youthful population. A large share of the youth in India was born after the assassination of the Congress-Scion Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991. That Babuji Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin was a member of the RSS no longer matters, it seems. In this context, India has a candidate for Prime Minister who though absolved of wrongdoing by the Indian Supreme Court, has never spoken publicly about his role, either commissive or ommisive, in the 2002 pogroms in Gujarat. Nor, has he apologized in any way for failing to stop the murderous riots. India’s youth seem not to care. Bangladeshis would do well to note Modi’s history. For, in his fierce resolve to look away from history, Modi has run up against the ballast of the Bangladeshi people’s politics.
Bangladesh has been roiled well by a surge of youth-participation in politics since early spring of 2013. The Shahbagh Movement has fostered precisely the kinds of associations that helped push back the Rightist impulse in Bangladesh both in 1971 and in 2014. So, you’d think the Rightist BNP might well pay allegiance to the Rightist BJP and seek advice on how to play its own winning- round of youth-targeting politics. Except that the BNP is associated with various Islamist outfits, the kind that members of the BJP, and no doubt Modi himself, may find odious. For their own part the Islamists in the BNP have good reason to stay away from the Modi-run BJP. A classically Muslim outfit with ties to the Islamist Jamaat, won’t find an easy friend in Modi. His views have been and remain, virulently anti-Muslim and it’s a good bet that those views, private, personal, whatever, won’t be moderated by the schemes of real-politik, even if real politik were targeted to win the day. Hence, the BNP would fare well to keep off the BJP’s welcome not least for fear that it might stoke the wrath of the Bangladeshi youth, now charged with the ire of young Islamists.
What of the BJP’s moves to seem non-ideological, to seem, indeed, beyond ideology? That may well be the only grounds on which the BJP and the BNP meet: that the Right-set parties might discuss the mutual advantages of defeating each other’s enemies. But that can only mean they intend to reshape and cut down to size the youth of both India and Bangladesh. Is the Shahbagh youth willing to countenance that?
Bijoy’s Song and Vijay’s Naaz
Shahbagh’s mostly progressive youth remember well the lessons of their grandfathers. 40 years or so isn’t a long time for the past to be rewritten, though the Rightists are trying their best to make their edits on history. This is the meat of Bijoy’s song. Still, it’s not too much to think that Bangladeshis might soon have in Delhi their own personal nationalist succubus, much as Western-leaning Ukrainians have Vladimir Putin. The course left now for the Left youth in Bangladesh (and in India) is to push along their own account of history, in which language, religion and human rights fought not against themselves, but for their own Bengali accounts of liberty, equality fraternity. That Bijoy might sing his song on that account makes this moment that much sweeter.
But Vijay’s still singing. He won’t be silenced. He shouldn’t be silenced, though his song demands to know “Jinhe Naaz Hain Hind Par Woh Kahaan Hain”, where are those who are proud of India? Well, yes, where are they?