It is necessary to confront the beating of the drums of celebration which marked the 20 years of the public life of Narendra Modi. Admittedly, when the media becomes an inane chorus, dissent is not easy. There is a feeling of hopelessness. At such times, I remember the saying of my former philosophy professors: read the silences of the regime.
You have to start by confronting the presence of Modi himself. The Modi we face today is not the “fascist” psychologist Ashis Nandy met during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. This Modi is a new incarnation, a post-truth creation, which is partly a fiction. He is a simulacrum of imagined skills. He goes beyond the Orwellian condition in his imaginary exercises.
Modi’s so-called majoritarianism can be read beyond claims of stability. It is a soft totalitarianism, which has created a flat ground of majoritarianism and mediocrity. By insisting on the patriotism of uniformity, the regime systematically erases dissent and the possibilities of difference, calling them anti-national. As a result, minorities, marginalized and dissident groups are forced to confront the crippling civility of majoritarianism.
It is true that Modi innovated, but the real creativity of the regime lies in the innovation and the legitimization of new forms of violence. What was considered a pathology during the Sikh riots of 1984 became the norm for the next decades. Today, riots are now part of politics, a way to access and consolidate power. Riots should be seen as a way to rewrite history. Related to this is the purpose that the author feels that he redeems and rectifies the story. But violence is also symbolic. The suppression of dissent is brutal. The creation of the fictional âUrban Naxalâ allows the regime to harass a Stan Swamy or a Sudha Bharadwaj. One such tactic began with targeting environmental dissidents as unpatriotic for criticizing the development. The futility of the idea of ââdeveloping the Center acquires a halo through its use of force. Minorities are not the only ones at risk. The Covid era has reinforced this perspective through the sheer inhumanity inflicted on the informal economy. The informal worker is now a disposable object, a raw material for the construction industry. A regime that ruins well-being makes no sense of workers’ rights. In fact, citizenship has been the regime’s biggest victim as an informal worker, farmer, minority, scholar, dissident – everyone becomes less than equal in this Modiesque animal farm we call India. The image of India as a hard state is now complete. This imagery is bolstered by Modi’s claim that India should become the world’s greatest military power. We feel an unreal machismo animating the claims of the regime.
Violence to the body and to the body politic is accompanied by a post-Orwellian language. The word, normal, is a favorite term. Muslims subjected to brutality were urged to normalize as quickly as possible. Modi made it by clinging to the idea of ââa post-normal society, which erases memory and indicates that pathologies are here to stay. The intricacies of the regime appear when an ambitious society sees dissent, marginality, obsolescence as stigmata of defeat.
Between raw violence and the pathologies of language lies the pure mediocrity of ideas. We see this in a foreign policy where India has little to offer beyond imitating Israel. He has forgotten the Rohingya and is indifferent to the Afghan crisis. The language of ethics and suffering is lacking in his analysis, while morality is reduced to a silly idea of ââsecuritarism. Whether facing China or playing the puppet in the United States of America, India has forged a new obsequious nationalism, a stance devoid of ideas, where emphasis hides cowardice.
The third rudeness is the sheer inability to allow for the creation of institutions. We undermine the court by trying to create a political community with the judges. More insidiously, the regime has shifted the university from a realm of ideas to a tutoring college where ideas are instrumental. The decline of the university will hurt India’s future even as Modi treats knowledge like a mall, collecting small trophies.
Science and the media are the two big victims of this regime. Today we cannot tell the difference between a document, an advertisement and a report. Science as a way of life and thought loses its playfulness when instrumentality takes over. A regime that spits out certainty has no sense of doubt. By emasculating civilization, he created a monster nation-state. Basically, the Modi regime has no sense of the future. All he wants is to stay in power. The idea of ââIndia is reduced to few certainties. India is a clichÃ© idea.
What does a citizen do in such a situation? Pretending to be indifferent won’t do the trick. I remember an elite bureaucrat telling me, âMy children are both non-resident Indians; Modi means little to me. Citizenship reduced to the spectator, or a life built on privacy, is inadequate as public spaces are emptied and civil society politics are rendered almost non-existent. We must invent a new semiotics of contestation around new ideas, new forms of refusal. Civil society must embrace the idea of ââthe Anthropocene where swaraj challenges a confused and sullied society swadeshi. Civil society must refuse to make Afghanistan or the Rohingyas a spectacle. Small shapes must represent a different story, the silence of argumentative media must be broken for the regime to encounter layers of doubt and skepticism. Democracy needs to be reinvented because the regime imposes a particular variant of authoritarian electoralism and claims its legitimacy.
It is not electoralism but the add one policy of the 1960s, a revival of the civic domain, which we need. The return of the argumentative Indian would be the first sigh of political life. Let’s start with the following steps: recognition of the informal economy and a response to the peasant crisis; a renewal of the university; a different way of creating cities with subordinate imaginations; and, finally, to introduce nature into the Constitution as a person, and not as a public works service. There needs to be an exorcism of the current electoral self in which numbers substitute for norms. An inventive civil society and a pluralistic vision of civilization could be the beginning of a more playful satyagraphic era, questioning the futility of the nation-state.
Shiv Visvanathan is an academic associated with Compost Heap, a network pursuing alternative imaginations