Category Archives: India

On the Conjuncture II

The prevailing liberal consensus has failed. By this I mean the ideas, visions, plans for the future held by the leading liberal politicians and intellectuals in many countries – my writing so far has only focused on India, the UK, and the US – have come to nothing. Within their own terms, within the presuppositions that they are committed to; they have no idea what more they can do to win elections. Winning elections to govern more sympathetically than conservative parties has been their main claim to legitimacy against left critiques.

The quickly diminishing leading liberal party in India, the Indian National Congress, is committed to dynasty rule that has automatically, and rightly, ruled out its credibility amongst most of the electorate. Ed Miliband’s Labour tried to square the circle of offering economic competence, technocratic verbiage (‘predistribution’ matches ‘trumped up trickle down’ for rhetorical futility), and anti-immigrant sentiment to find that more or less the same package was more slickly, and believably, sold by the Tories. Clinton’s slick, data-driven campaign lost handily to a man who can’t finish a sentence. Why?

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On the Conjuncture I

This is a lot. The gravity of the situation hits me in waves. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I had assumed the Obama coalition from 2012 would hold up, given that Obama had made a couple of speeches endorsing Clinton. Michelle had made a really strong one too. I had thought it would be the margin of Obama’s win over Romney, that the bad old familiar order would continue. I didn’t bother to look into the polls or the specific states in the Midwest more closely, Clinton was experienced enough and the Democratic GOTV machine strong enough to carry it home.

Seeing the results come in on 11 pm on Tuesday, I felt a sinking familiar to me from past election nights. I was now numb to the painful realization that the familiar, comfortable liberal world of the late 90s and early 2000s was ultimately over. This certainty has been exploded many times in my life now. I felt like when I did in Edinburgh in May 2014, preparing to move to Chicago in a couple of weeks but broken apart by the Modi BJP’s resounding win: a clear single-party majority for the most authoritarian candidate in India since Indira Gandhi. It reminded me of what I felt seeing David Cameron win a single-party majority in May 2015. Like Clinton this year, Ed Miliband of the Labour Party ran an unfocussed, uninspired campaign – dogged by a press more intent on bringing him down a peg than challenge Tory dogmas on deficit-spending. It reminded me of the Brexit referendum in June this year; another muddle-headed campaign for an admittedly unpleasant and imperfect status quo surprisingly lost to a clear, direct message – fuck ‘em.

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On the Significance of Delhi

1. The reason Delhi elections are important to Modi & BJP is that it threatens to destroy the biggest myth Modi trades on: he’s invincible.

— Puram (@puram_politics) February 4, 2015

It has now been eight months since the NDA – or to be honest, Narendra Damodardas Modi as his suits tell us – took power after the general elections in India. It was a most authoritative parliamentary performance, though with the share of the vote they won, it appears that they were mostly successful in campaigning rigourously where the Congress atrophied rapidly – in the Hindu heartland among other former Congress strongholds. In terms of the public debate, Modi won absolutely hands down.

The venal cable and print media made much of Modi’s poor record in protecting Muslims in his state from a pogrom, though mainly through innuendo and without a direct discussion of the facts. At the same time, all we heard was wide-eyed, gushing coverage of the “Modi wave” and how he presents a decisiveness, authority and charisma that no one else really has. The master soap opera director Arnab Goswami played this at once mystifying and clarifying role in his famous interview with Modi before the election. Previously – and subsequently – known by his trademark bombast and an almost heroic inability to allow his interlocutors to get a word in, he was struck dumb in Modi’s presence, and spoke with a respect usually reserved for one’s priest during an important ceremony. Arnab, as we affectionately call him, was writing for us a popular and riveting story: “Here’s this seemingly awful, but powerful and charismatic man. We are at once drawn to him but also repulsed by him. Will we really vote for him? He speaks very well, right? Isn’t he so decisive?” For Arnab and the “bazaaru” Indian media (“for sale”, or “in the market”, a term lovingly given by Modi himself in response to their coverage of the BJP’s defeat in these state elections), Modi was the bad boy that the public craved but didn’t want to introduce to its parents, i.e. the US State Department.

The verdict was clear. We all knew that the BJP, the RSS, and the Hindu Mahasabha have been involved in the darkest episodes in India’s history, from the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, to riots in Bombay in the 1990s, and Gujarat in 2004. We knew this very well, but the Congress proved so abysmal in government, we would happily pick anyone else. Even more encouraging, this anyone else promised development, pride, self-sufficiency – all in homespun Hindi rhetoric and the gravitas of a mafioso. Business interests in western and northern India saw which way the wind was blowing, and expected from him what he had offered in Gujarat as Chief Minister – sufficient deregulation and privatisation for the establishment of new oligopolies and monopolies. Riots and pogroms aren’t bad for business, as long as they are limited to lower-caste peripheries of major cities or the rural hinterlands. We were thus promised economic growth and we knew well enough to expect the growth of violence and hatred. We lived with the certainty that the hatred of the RSS hasn’t really affected us until now so why will it in the future? “Yaar unko humse kya lena dena? (“dude, what would they have to do with us?”).
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