Subaltern & Modi Phenomena

Subaltern Hindutva rooted in Savarkarism

27 Mar 2024   |   8 min Read
കെ പി സേതുനാഥ്

Shiva Sundar, a Bengaluru-based independent journalist and social activist, has been highlighting the attempts by the Brahmin-Savarnna ideology in coopting the subaltern. In an exclusive interview to The Malabar Journal Shiva Sundar explains the various facets of the Brahmic hegemon in taking over the subaltern in the realm of electoral politics.

1: You are amongst persons first to mention about the Subaltern Hindutva (SH) in connection with the rise of BJP. You have specifically mentioned SH playing out in the Vijayapura and another local election in Karnataka. Could you please elaborate on this idea of SH. Do you think that the Modi phenomena is having a resonance with the SH?

The concept of SH was very much prevalent by the time I used it to explain the development in my state of Karnataka. The concept of Subaltern Hindutva might also sound like oxymoron since they are two opposite values. But we are leaving in the era of contradictions and hybridisation. I understand the SH as the political and ideological co-option of the subaltern into hegemonic Brahminical order without disturbing its hierarchy. This new strategy has become inevitable due to the compulsion of electoral democracy and also in the wake of political assertion of the subaltern. In fact, this concept has its root in the Savarkarite Hindutva which offers inclusivity to all that is considered ethnically native stock, of course under the broad hierarchy of Brahminical Hindutva and on a strong anti- Muslim, anti-Christian Plank. In the absence of a radical Ambedkarite or Socialist movement, the self-assertions of the subaltern does not elevate from pragmatic to political ideological level. Hence the naturalised exclusion in the other domains is not leading into political discontent, at least for the time being. Though Golwalkar was averse to even such accommodation, Balasaheb Deoras, the third Sarsanghachalak of the RSS made it a political strategy which provided immense political dividend. In the two examples you cited, the BJP accommodated the most excluded sects of SC nomads and OBCs by providing tickets for municipal elections. While the other parties- “secular”- have never even cared to approach them

2: The adherents of subaltern consciousness may find SH as a contradiction in terms. Because subaltern consciousness was the opposite of what is known or perceived as Hindutva since its inception. Hindutva is perceived as the ideology of Brahmin-Savanna hegemony. Given this historical legacy, how to explain SH. What are the material circumstances that facilitated the Hindutva-SH convergence or intersection?

I have answered this partly above. The betrayal of the perceived gods- the hegemonic Congress and the failure and decline of the left on the one hand and the crisis of life and livelihood which is aggravated by the neoliberal policies on the other along with Brahminisation and Sanskritization of the middle class among the SCs and the OBCs – all provided fertile ground for the Hindutva in its modified version to approach and win over Subalterns.

3: Electoral outcomes are often perceived as manifestation or expression of deeper changes or transformations taking place in a society in a given historical context. It may not be as obvious as a victory or defeat in a particular election. Do you think SH represents such a change or transformation in the Indian polity?

In 1984 the Congress party was polled around 50% votes and obtained 414 seats. The highest in the post independent history. Then the BJP could get only 2 seats with only 7% of votes. By 2019 BJPs vote share has risen to 36% and congress declined to 19%. If you take Hindi belt there are at least five large states where BJP vote share was between 50-65%. Even in the state assembly elections it has been garnering a vote share of around 35- 45% The Savarna upper caste would be at the most 10-15% among this electorate.
Rest are Dalits, Adivasis and Shudras . In the recently concluded elections in MP, Rajasthan, and Chattisgad its vote share has been more than 40%. It was due to its increased vote share by 5-10 % among the OBCs and the SCs and The Adivasis.

4: Narendra Modi is a leader who is consciously projecting himself as a subaltern. Apart from the symbolic value, do you think that he is catering to an emerging aspirational generation belonging to Tier-II and Tier-III cities across India. Also, in rural areas. It is also pertinent to point out that a good chunk of this aspirational generation doesn’t belong to the traditional Brahmin-Savanna castes. What is your view on this?

Obviously. The subaltern has its animosity with the traditional either elite-secular or communal. They offended their self-esteem by their English, Brahminical and metro culture. The economic structures perpetuated this hegemony and humiliation. Modi catered to this hurt sentiments without changing the structures or delivering any tangible mobility. Still by symbolical gestures and some labharthi programs, and offering a illusionary citizenship in the Ramarajya and by reinforcing the sentiments of victimhood, the Moditva has been successful, so far.

5: There is a feeling that the Congress way of managing the State has become obsolete and that necessitated a new configuration of politics for the ruling elite leading to the rise of Hindutva and the Modi phenomena. For instance, many scholars have pointed out that the Congress hegemony in the first three decades after 1947 facilitated by a combination of big capital at the metropolises, top level bureaucracy and regional chieftains reached a saturation level by the 1980s that called for a new legitimacy and Hindutva emerged as the choice.

I don’t think Modi is antagonistic with the old elites. In fact, he is instrumental in the growth of these sections at the cost of the region and the people. Like Rama in Ramayana, Moditva is all about reordering by repositioning regional chieftains. The PMO is all powerful with basically Gujarati top bureaucrats. The EWS reservation, lateral entry etc are all few examples of how old order is rechristened in a new context.

6: Coming to the 2024 elections: Do you think that SH factor may help the BJP and Narendra Modi to yet another electoral victory?

I don’t find any credible arguments to say no this possibility. In my recent article to the South First I have tried to explain the four possible scenarios after 2024 elections all of which are equally dangerous to the future of the Republic of India.

7: It is well known that during the Karnataka assembly elections a large number of civil society organisations and activists played a major role in ensuring the defeat of the BJP in the hustings. What are the prospects of such a mobilisation during the LS polls at the state and national level?

In my articles written to the News Minute and The Wire immediately after assembly elections , I have analysed the results of Karnataka assembly elections where I have tried to emphasis on the fact that the BJP, though suffered electoral loss, was able to retain its vote share intact, in spite of its misrule.
-In spite of its wrong handling of senior Lingayat leaders there was hardly a 2% loss of Lingayat votes. One of the senior Lingayat leader who left BJP and joined Congress just before elections has gone back. BJP had even made inroads into the Okkaliga belt where it was traditionally weak. Where ever it tried with communal agenda, it has improved its vote share. There was a 5% vote shift towards Congress but it was contractual basically due to Congress guarantees and the meticulous and offensive electoral strategy.

-The civil society was active in the campaign against BJP. It was a positive development. Especially the role of community-based organisation of Muslims and Christians was effective in mobilising the community vote for the congress. Apart from these community organisations, though the initiative of other civil society organisations was a positive development its impact was peripheral, for simple reason that none of them has grass root level organisational base, unlike the Sangh Parivar.

-Even for the Lok Sabha elections the same initiative is gearing up. But this time around the sheen of the Congress government has gone down in spite of the Guarantees. Many of its policies and programs have caused disappointment among the Muslims and the Dalits which was inevitable in a Congress governance which is also soft Hindutva and a neoliberal party.

- But the overwhelming sentiment among the minorities and majority of the Dalits is still, to somehow defeat BJP.

-But the civil society organisations have become adjuncts and unconditional votaries of the Congress and thereby have ceded the space of credible opposition to the BJP. This according to me is great blunder politically and tactically.

-In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections out of 28 seats BJP got 25 seats, one JDS and one Independent. Now JDS and BJP are fighting together. Even before the Modi phenomenon, Karnataka has been conceding more seats and votes to BJP in a Lok Sabha elections right from 2004. In a national election, the BJP always had advantage. Congress might get around ten seats, with difficulty.

-Civil society organisation might face difficult questions this time when they approach people because of the perceived failure of the Congress party, though Guarantees might help to tide over.

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