Explained: Mandal is down, Mandir-plus a blue chip
Mandal’s wheels turn slower and slower. One of the key lessons from the BJP’s victories in four states, and particularly in the crucial battleground of Uttar Pradesh, is this: of the two ambitious political projects that were launched almost simultaneously in the politically turbulent 1990s , Mandal and Mandir, while the second is well on its way to achieving its goal of forging a national community that transcends caste, class and regional divides, the first has fragmented, its egalitarian charge increasingly dissipated .
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The Mandal policy had helped parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to carve out spaces and flourish. More broadly, he had held a greater promise in a society of rampant inequality. “Social justice” was to be far more radical and transformative than simply alternating ruling castes, or even replacing the rule of upper castes with that of backward castes, or a particular backward caste.
The idea and politics of social justice aimed to forge broader empathy and solidarities based on the constitutional promise of equality. That Mandal’s politics are now seen, even in large swaths of his turf, UP as a casteist and divisive is proof not only of the BJP’s narrative dominance, but of the many critical failures of UP’s own standard-bearers. Mandala.
They allowed the platform to be reduced to family rule, caste arithmetic and social engineering formulas. Self-defeatingly, they used the same caste majority arguments that the Hindutva used to much more powerful effect using religion. They failed to link Mandal to a governance program.
The Mandir project, on the other hand, added layers to itself and expanded deeper, into more Hindutva. In the process, managing to divert attention from its own intrinsic and essential divisions – the relegation of the minority and their exclusion from structures of power and representation. And the forced adaptation of a diminished idea of Muslim citizenship – in which they are not seen as rights-holders but only as equal beneficiaries of government programs.
In a set of many synchronized parts, Hindu assertiveness is the other side of Hindu insecurity, Hindutva is committed to nationalism and national security, and a “labharthi” politics that exploits advances in governance and of technology to convert citizens into beneficiaries, adds to the mix.
The end result, like the BJP’s great success in UP despite rampant berozgari (unemployment), raging mehengai (rising prices) and unprecedented pandemic-induced distress, was this: Hindutva can rise from the ground on the back of the “desh”. (nation)” and “dharma (religion)” if a scheme misses the mark, a policy goes awry and the reality on the ground becomes inconvenient and messy.
On the other side, his adversaries remain grounded, jostling to come together in pieces. They lack the transcendence of the larger idea or at all.
Mandal and Mandir are political projects with a past. But the breakthrough success of the new Aam Aadmi party in Punjab, which has become the face of yearning for an alternative in a state of growing crises and frozen cynicisms, asserted that the impetus for change will find a way, once it will have acquired a critical force.
The AAP’s journey has been spectacular – its success has come in a terribly short period of time. In his very first outing in the Punjab Assembly election in 2017, he transformed a bipolar regime into a tripartite one. In his second election now, he came to power – despite being ungrounded, making virtually no inroads in the rural architecture of power compared to his entrenched rivals in a predominantly rural state and borrowed many of its candidates from other older parties.
The AAP’s success, for now, is in the air, and its challenge will be to build upside down – it gained power first, and must build an organization that will take it to the ground later.
Finally, Congress. In 2014 it ruled nine states, now it is down to just two – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The continued shrinking of the Congress will reshape the political competition at the national level – it is now the BJP against regional forces, like those led by Mamata Banerjee, MP Stalin. And Arvind Kejriwal.
If a democracy is defined as a system that can throw an enigma and create surprise, the uncontrolled decline of Congress, the second conquest of the UP by the BJP and the pairing of the Yogi phenomenon with Modi – a first for a party that has so far reveled in painting Modi as bigger than the rest – may just have made the job of democracy before 2024 harder.
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