India Sees a New Political Lingo

India Sees a New Political Lingo

India Sees a New Political Lingo

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury

April 2022. Two years to go for the next general elections in India. The nation is face to face with a different political lingo at this point of time. 

So far, the political eco-system has largely put up the following narratives.

One, the Indian dominant politics has been that of dynastic rule, entitled Lutyens Delhi elitism, an appeasement of the minorities and that of caste-based reservations. What India needs, therefore, is upholding meritocracy, end to minority appeasement, rise of the state patronage of majority-focused optics like mandirs & statues, global status as a powerful nation, military solution in Kashmir, uniform civil code, and a reinterpretation of Indian history which has been distorted by the Western and the leftist historians. This has been the broad stand of the ruling BJP. This dominant narrative commanded 36% or around 24 crores of polled votes in 2019 General Elections.

Two, India is a land of varied communities and castes, cultures and religions, and hence multi-lingual multi-religious ethos should be the mainstay of Indian politics, alongside upholding the rights of Dalits, minorities, women, and people in the borders. Dynasty does not matter so long as some one can win elections. Socialist secular democratic ethos must be protected. A group of political elders led by a family at the top can and shall guide the national politics. This has been the broad stand of the main opposition party which was the ruling one in the past since independence, Indian National Congress. This main opposition commands around 20% or 13 crores of votes going by 2019 General Elections, and is now limited to two state governments only, those of Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. 

Third, India is a union of states and interests of the states should be protected first to preserve the union. Power in the states here in effect is the base of the major regional parties, almost all of whom are individually family led local oligarchs, with a certain cluster of castes or communities backing them. Good examples are TRS, YSR, RJD, Samajwadi Party, BSP, Shiv Sena, NCP, DMK, AIADMK, BJD, etc. They detest the centralizing tendencies of BJP, or the perceived natural right to lead them as seen in Congress. They are the various regional parties, which often used force to stay in power at the provincial level. This third political force is represented by many parties across the nation, and the rule a few states as well.

Fourth, there has been another strand, which is distinctly left-oriented, with various shades of communism as their lingua franca. This group has been looking at politics from the proletarian perspective, calling for various revolutions in varying proportions, working in certain pockets, and at times also being in power in bits and pieces. All these left forces are quite limited in reach today, and have one state to rule, Kerala. The last General Elections have been the worst for this strand of politics with just 6 seats in the Lok Sabha now. 

What we now see, and it is still an early stage, is the rise of a pragmatic and almost an ideology-neutral politics. This strand of politics intriguingly does not use the most repeated words of Indian politics: secularism, socialism, Hindu-Muslim politics, majoritarianism, Dalits, reservations, feminism, fascism, ideology, et al. They apparently shun all political jargons that we know world over. They almost come to the level of shunning any ideological frame or structure in their approach. They are transactional in nature asking for votes against welfare measures or promises. 

The mainstay of their politics is that the welfare of the common man is supreme. It may be about giving them affordable or free government education, stopping price-rise in private education or power supply, giving them affordable or free government healthcare, ensuring free water supply and power up to a certain threshold, ensuing transparent digital interface with the government, and home delivery of most government services. It shuns corruption, calls for Robin Hood type adventurism of taking from the rich to give to the poor, and believes in packaging and amplifying every bit of welfare it does for the common man, often showcasing it a lot better than the ground reality. 

This is the Aam Admi Party style of governance, which started from the half-state of Delhi, rendered quarter by the changes in the law that governs Delhi, and has now extended to Punjab after its recent sweeping victory in the state. Still, in the best of situations, AAP does not command more than 2.5 crores of votes (considering its best performance in each state anytime ever in the last ten years of its existence). That will not translate into even 5% of the last polled votes of India. 

The uniqueness of this last strand of Indian politics is that it can be seen or made to be seen anywhere in the country. Its slogans like “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, support to abrogation of special statehood of Jammu & Kashmir through repealing of article 370 of the Indian constitution, repeated talks of national security, promises of religious pilgrimage of the senior citizens, avoiding governance level involvement in mitigating the Delhi riots (ostensibly due to its lack of control on Police in the state), and many more, show that its position is almost identical with that of the BJP. 

But, then, its bitter opposition to BJP in Delhi and now in its campaign in other states like Gujarat, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and its balancing act between business lobbies and common citizenry, etc, bring it closer to the political positioning of Congress, and it can only rise in these states at the cost of Congress. 

And again, its talk of the interests of and amenities for the poor, more money in their hands, free transport for women, unemployment dole to the youth, slogans like Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live the Revolution), etc, make it a left party look-alike. 

This new political lingo, or the lack of a specific narrative in it, is now baffling the protagonists of all the four established narratives noted earlier. 

Congress dislikes it and now actively opposing it as AAP has replaced it in Delhi first, and now in Punjab, and is in its way attempting to dislodge it at least as the major opposition party in a few other states. 

Regional parties do not identify themselves with AAP as they fear that it will sometime catch up with them in their own states, and they do not approve of an upstart from outside traditional political eco-system, jumping unto the bandwagon and commanding two states. They fear that AAP’s no single province nor community approach may encroach upon their territory too. 

Left disapproves AAP for its lack of any coherent ideology, and usurping their pro-people lingo without distancing itself from nationalist positioning a la BJP. 

SO where does these leave AAP?

It stands to go silent on what BJP is strong on and focuses only on education, health, government services, water, power, or stopping corruption. Since BJP rules the nation along with most of the states, it finds itself at the receiving end of AAP-model of governance trying to expose what AAP calls “BJP’s lack of governance on ground”. 

AAP goes silent on issues of secularism and socialism and yet talks of transferring amenities and financial succour to the poor. That puts Congress also in discomfort. Further, no opposition truly wants to be seen with AAP, though in recent times two South Indian Chief Ministers of regional parties have met the Delhi Chief Minister and AAP Supremo Arvind Kejriwal. 

There is surely a freshness in their approach and political lingo, and their superior use of social media, which only BJP can better. With the total focus on governance and anti-corruption narratives, and total studied silence on community and caste conversations, AAP has put all traditional political forces on the backfoot. It has come to look much larger than its actual size. Many citizens and hibernating past politicians seem to be enthused with AAP rising, and joining too. 

Whether this new strand of redefined political narrative will succeed to call the roost in a nation so steeply divided communally, is yet to be seen. The caste and community based electoral politics and calculations, slowly getting haywire, neither the layman nor the Pundit is sure how the next round of elections will look like (that is, those in Gujarat and Himachal, then Rajasthan and Haryana to begin with, before the big bang national general elections come in).

The author is the strategic adviser to two universities, a Professor and an author. 


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