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The State as Charade: Political Mobilisation in Today's India

Published in Socialist Register
Volume: 33

Despite its failure to form the government, the BJP continues to be an important force in India's political-ideological terrain, and whether it can eventually establish itself as the ruling party at the centre remains the most important question for Indian politics today. Indeed, in many circles there is a belief that the Hindu Right has appealed to an 'authentic' and long-suppressed Hindu religiosity that characterises the Indian masses, and for that reason, it will from now on claim its permanent - and indeed, legitimate - space in Indian politics. Marxists and liberals, on the other hand, disagree with the view that there exists such a repressed Hindu psyche; instead, they see the BJP's success as arising out of the same fascist tactics that characterise the rise of fundamentalisms elsewhere in the world today, namely, the portrayal of a common enemy - in this case, the Muslims. Despite the quite substantial differences between them, both these arguments see the element of religiosity as being central to the strategy of the Hindu Right, and in that sense, perceive it as constituting a sharp break with India's 'secular' political tradition. I wish to argue instead that an analysis of the strategy of the Hindu Right must go beneath its apparent appeal to religiosity to uncover a tried and tested mobilisation strategy that has a long tradition in India. This strategy consists of two equally important components: (a) an appeal to the experience of social, political and economic oppression of the Indian people, and (b) a proposal for redressing that oppression that pre-empts any serious change in the existing relations of property. In other words, the success of the religious Right - or any political strategy for that matter - derives as much out of its appeal to the masses as its appeal to the elites, and more precisely, out of its ability to develop a narrative that precludes the necessity for a conflict between the two.

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