THE very first day of the year 2019 brought a welcome gust of fresh winds to blow away the stale, stagnant air of Brahmanical and obscurantist patriarchy. Lakhs of women stood on the streets of Kerala forming a 620 kilometer long Women’s Wall all across the state: symbolising their determination to stand as a wall against forces seeking to roll back the equality and dignity won by women and oppressed castes in Kerala and India.
The Women’s Wall - organised by the Left parties as well as by 176 other socio-political organisations - was a robust assertion of women in favour of constitutional morality and the values of progressive social change. Followed by the entry of two women into the temple’s sanctum sanctorum for the first time since the court order banning women’s entry in 1991, the Women’s Wall is a resounding rebuff to the BJP President Amit Shah who had been threatening to topple the Kerala Government if they implemented the Supreme Court order and allowed women to enter the temple.
On the same day, PM Modi gave yet another “interview” to an admiring journalist of the ANI. The obviously scripted interview, sans any follow-up questions, was a poor attempt to compensate for Modi’s fear of facing a single Press Conference where he would have to answer unscripted questions about his regime’s many broken promises and outright lies.
But even in this carefully scripted show, Modi fumbled for answers. His attempt to explain away his party’s double standards on Sabarimala and Instant Triple Talaq only confirmed and underlined those double standards, weakly defending Sabarimala’s ban on women’s entry as ‘tradition’ while claiming that abolishing Instant Triple Talaq is a matter of ‘gender equality’!
On the Demonetisation disaster too, Modi could only offer stale rhetoric about demonetisation combating black money and corruption - rhetoric that has been comprehensively proven false even by the RBI’s own admission.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the ‘interview’ was Modi’s reply to a question about whether the recent Congress victories in Assembly elections in North Indian states undermined his slogan of a ‘Congress-free India’. Modi offered a carefully prepared answer: saying that he never really meant that the Congress party should be eliminated - rather he was only targeting ‘Congress culture’ of politics, epitomised by nepotism and corruption, which found some place in most parties. Even the Congress itself, he said, should be freed of ‘Congress culture.’
In this answer, Modi clearly walked back his ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ arrogance and shifted the goalpost on it. But what is more significant is the failure of the interviewer to quiz him on his answer. Modi’s own closest aides (such as Amit Shah) and his own Prime Minister’s Office are emerging as some of the worst instances yet of nepotism and corruption. That being the case, why should a political culture of nepotism and corruption be identified uniquely with the Congress? He led the election campaigns in the recent Assembly posts railing against the Congress leadership and culture from Nehru downwards - and yet people clearly remained unconvinced.
But above all, Modi’s answer sought to conceal and distort a more basic truth: that the Sangh’s and BJP’s trademark culture of communal, Manuvadi, patriarchal and majoritarian Hindutva has poisoned the wider political culture in India.
While the BJP is the foremost political representative of the Sangh’s culture of bigotry and communal Manuvadi violence, other parties including the Congress have time and again genuflected to this culture and displayed elements of it. The many communal pogroms over which the Congress party and its governments have presided; the enactment of ‘Cow Protection’ laws by Congress Governments which are now weaponised against Muslims by the BJP; and the way the Congress today strives to prove its ‘Hindu-ness’ and Brahmin-ness’ (thus tacitly accepting the BJP’s claim that it takes a caste Hindu party to rule India) - are all instances of how Sanghi culture has become ruling class ‘common sense’.
Just as 2018 was ending, there was an ominous warning about this dangerous normalisation of fascist majoritarianism. As the Instant Triple Talaq Bill (which selectively criminalises Muslim men for desertion of wives - an offence that only offers civil not criminal remedies to wives in non-Muslim communities) was being passed in Parliament, BJP MPs raised the slogan ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ (Victory to Mother India). This slogan (which invokes images of India as a Hindu Goddess) has a history of being used as a ‘litmus test’ of Muslim patriotism and Indianness by the Sangh and BJP mobs. By raising it during the passing of the ITT Bill, the BJP was saying in a barely disguised way - ‘Victory of Hindutva Fascists Over Muslims.’ What was even more disturbing was the manner in which several prominent ‘secular liberal’ voices, many of whom are known to be close to the Congress party, chastised a Muslim woman journalist for calling out the sloganeering by BJP MPs as communal and blamed her for strengthening the BJP’s attempts to profile Muslims as “anti-national”. A refusal to recognise how the BJP seeks to disguise its communal fascism as patriotism in order to humiliate the minority Muslims can only strengthen communal fascism.
In the States where the Congress has unseated the BJP in the recent Assembly elections too, the question remains of whether or not the Congress will actually overturn the anti-people and communal policies of the BJP. The new Congress Governments have announced loan waivers of up to Rs 2 lakhs for farmers - but have not waived all farm debts. Moreover they have yet to act on the main demand of the farmers’ movement, which was to guarantee procurement at a Minimum Support Price of 50% above all costs. The Rajasthan Government has overturned the undemocratic educational criteria for panchayat candidates that the BJP had introduced, and that is welcome. The Chhattisgarh Government has announced that lands acquired by the Government which are as yet unused will be returned to the people in Bastar. Will the Congress Government of Chhattisgarh overturn the militarisation in Chhattisgarh and allow the return of human rights activists and journalists who had been evicted from Bastar? Will the Congress Government of MP ensure justice in the Vyapam and the SIMI fake encounter cases? Will the Congress Government of Rajasthan ensure justice for Pehlu Khan, Afrazul, Comrade Zafar and other victims of Sanghi terror, withdraw the cases filed against Dalits protesting the dilution of the Atrocity Act, and punish those who unleashed violence against Dalits on that occasion? Will the new governments of all three states promptly overturn saffronised syllabi and anti-worker labour laws? Will they put an immediate end to the draconian and violent policies of public shaming in the name of Swachh Bharat?
The foremost political challenge of 2019 and of our times is not just to oust the fascist BJP and Sangh Parivar from power - but also to resist the Sanghi culture of communal Manuvad which nestles in and is normalised by other forces as well. Let us all work towards realising the promise of hope that 2019 holds - for an India that can triumph over hateful and divisive fascist politics and build a politics that consistently fights for democratic and progressive values.