Demagogues & Dynasties

Politics has no conscience, although Gandhi upturned, th­r­o­ugh the idea of Satyagraha, the moral turpitude of Ma­chiavellian politics, or Aristotle’s logic of the hierarchy of slaves, women and citizens. Is there a moral ground for politics? Ahimsa created a whole new vocabulary of how non-violence could be the way in which dissent could transform the treachery of crime in politics.

If we are facing a situation, rather like Medievalism in Europe or India, where conquering and servitude went together, we could well understand why prime minister Narendra Modi is so quick to rouse the rabble through rhetoric. The poor would believe that having increased their chances to survival, by bowing to him, he would now concentrate on their rights to education, and prioritise job searches for the displaced country folk in smart cities.

Rhetoric creates magic palaces. Without water or rivers flowing, we are told, there will be electricity to light up or to electronically discharge our functions at the work place. Since solar and nuclear energies are to be tapped, no one sees any discord in the argument. Cancer statistics are on the rise, but enough students, old people and displaced fishermen and farmers will be found to work at nuclear sites, as Shiv Visvanathan wrote in 1984.

Consequently, since the costs of living are abstract, a pakoda and a cup of tea are sufficient, or a wage of Rs 200 a day, to keep the workforce alive in the streets. Working classes are enthused by the euphoria of street-side bhajan mandalis (prayer groups) with their langar, (free sacralised food) so they may agree to vote for the BJP again. Their children die early, their wives are malnutritioned, their old people are out of work at 45, and without pensions, beg at the street corners. It is this proletariat, which is socialised to kill children in Madrasas, believing that Muslims, by their religion are enemies of the State. Lynching goes unnoticed, because it is so frequent, and the middle class no longer takes out candle lit marches.

The deaths of children by war and hunger are more vivid in media, when it occurs in Palestine or in Yem­en. Atrocities are seen to be revenge tactics against Muslims, which have been orch­e­strated by members of the RSS. Children play with severed heads as if they were footballs, when they are hungry and turned mad by the politics of their allegiances to their parents’ loyalties. Juvenile murders have increased in middle class contexts as well, and it could be rivalry or malice, videogames, or boredom. By drumming up the war with Pakistan, the RSS believes they can turn all Indians against the Muslims in India. Intellectuals are reviled because they describe events as they are.

Fred Turner writes in “Co­unter Culture to Cyber Culture” (2006, 2008) that when there is a turning in, in terms of knowledge systems, or world views, members of exoteric groups can engage at a level of terminological complexity that excludes ot­h­ers. With “legitimacy exc­h­a­nge” a form of exclusive interaction takes place betw­e­en two or several knowledge communities, which th­en ke­e­ps out everybody el­se, bec­ause of the technic­al­i­t­ies involved. On the other hand Turner says, it involves gr­e­a­t­er inter-disciplinarity as in th­ese complex exchanges, “bi­ologists, physicists, mathematicians, cyberneticians, sociologists” are called in. Th­is ivory tower of knowled­ge encompasses, then what C Wright Mills called as the handholding between university intellectuals, scienti­sts, war and defence specialists, or “laboratory” in relation with politicians and entrepreneurs. No one is let in, except the chos­en few. They become the hi­gh priests of modernism, as Daniel Bell called it, or as in our case, the global post modern.

Our question remains, was there corruption or not in the Rafael deal, and why are Indians no longer capable of manufacturing own airplanes or chewing gum?

The middle class closes in­to itself, in what Turner calls “containment.” (Turner 2008, 30). They have been bought off with access to formerly luxury goods, and our busy enjoying these, or pro­curing them. Not surprisingly, many of them would have stocks and shares in the Ambani or Tata or Adani profit making machineries. Being implicated in the surplus that comes with them, they too become party to the policies announced by these companies. They cannot cr­it­icise, because whether it is old-age benefits, medical insurance, organic fruits and vegetables from the malls, shopping for jewellery or ca­rs, they are tightly interlo­c­k­ed as buyers. The poor in any case, are for the middle class in India, a fall out of some karmic link to past deeds.

University intellectuals wa­nt free or accessible education for the poor, so that they can be rid of what Karl Marx called “false consci­o­u­sness.” This term means believing in the lies of capitalism, which includes its hegemonic or controlling force. The capitalist wants the worker to believe that only his life is valuable, and the wage covers just what is required to return to work ev­er­yday. It does not involve responsibility for the worker embedded in his family, or in his migrant status in a city, vulnerable to the conditions of work and life.

Rahul Gandhi, by pressing his ear to Modi’s heart in Parliament, has picked up the cadences of his tone and velocity, imitates his rhetoric, but since he is yet to engage with the fear that Indians have with dynastic politics, he still has to build up his own charisma. Rahul’s sp­e­e­chwriter has improved his delivery skill, but till the man writes his own speeches, he won’t be able to woo the public with the accuracy of his homework or his figures.
(The writer is an Indian sociologist, social anthropologist and a fiction writer)

Columnist: 
Susan Visvanathan