‘Isn’t the Hindu Rashtra already here?’

Interview with Rakesh Sharma, independent film-maker.

Published : Mar 27, 2019 12:30 IST

Rakesh Sharma.

Rakesh Sharma.

Rakesh Sharma , an independent film-maker, is a student of history and a keen observer of right-wing politics. Soon after the Gujarat pogrom in 2002, Sharma made Final Solutions , a bold and honest documentation on the massacre of hundreds of Muslims and the agenda behind the brutal communal riots in Gujarat. The film was banned at first, but was eventually screened for the public in 2004. Sharma speaks about the current political landscape, the polarisation of the electorate and the lack of options available in the Lok Sabha election. The saffron brigade has caused extensive damage in the past five years, he says, and believes that “they are now a juggernaut hard to stop”.

How would you assess the performance of the Narendra Modi government?

That Narendra Modi has presided over a government which has played havoc with the Indian economy should come as no surprise to anyone, except those who bought into the mythical “Gujarat model” of development or promises of vikas and acche din . As Chief Minister, Modi turned Gujarat from a surplus State into a deficit State during his 13-year reign. The stark reality behind all those glitzy Vibrant Gujarat summits, the Garvi Gujarat campaigns and other headline-grabbing policy stunts is best exemplified by the much-tom-tommed Tata Nano project, now officially a failure despite all the subsidies, land and infrastructure largesse.

Now the veneer is peeling off. Major automobile companies such as Maruti and Hero Honda recently slashed production by 25 per cent or more. Last year, there were similar reports about white goods manufacturers, their cutbacks and lay-offs. The whimsical, secretive and ill-planned demonetisation by Prime Minister Modi has been seen as “shooting at the tyres of a racing car”, derailing the Indian economy itself.

Unemployment is at a record 45-year high, even as we add higher numbers to our workforce every year. As against the promise of two crore new jobs annually, the Modi government has managed to lose one crore jobs every year, according to the NSSO [National Sample Survey Office] report that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the NITI Aayog minions tried desperately to bury. It is the “aspirational India” youths who backed Modi wholeheartedly—and he has failed them spectacularly, offering them pakoda-nomics instead.

This government promised a thriving economy. Facts show otherwise. There is agrarian and rural distress, the markets have performed poorly, and diplomacy is at an all-time low. How is the BJP still a front runner?

The art that Modi began to refine as Gujarat Chief Minister is now visible in its raging glory—headline grabbing and “management” in the age of 24x7 media. Barring a few honourable exceptions, most television channels and newspapers are literally working as the BJP’s B-team, dependent as they are on government advertising or prime ministerial presence in their annual money-churning summits. Or they are owned and funded by corporate friends of the BJP and party members themselves.

When some issue does become too difficult to be ignored even by pliant darbari [courtier] journalists, the narrative shifts and the inconvenient headlines fade. The Modi-Shah duo have a parallel network of their own, allowing them to bypass the media if necessary and to push partisan messaging, distorted history and fake news. This network has infamous WhatsApp channels organised in the form of small groups with a target to enlist at least five mobile phone owners for every 100 residents in any village.

In spite of their spin, most major policies have been a failure or highly flawed. What are their likely electoral strategy components this time?

The Modi-Shah duo know they cannot possibly ask for votes with Acche dinaa gaye hain [good days are here] as their main election slogan. Or jo kaha, so kiya [we delivered all our promises]. The Congress’ frontal attack on the Rafale deal and The Hindu ’s exposes, nailing the government’s lies through official file notings and notes, have robbed the BJP of any chance to claim a corruption-free government. There is just no way to spin it—an Ambani company with zero experience and dubious promoter record of NPAs [non-performing assets] replaces HAL [Hindustan Aeronautics Limited] and picks up a lucrative deal just 10 days after coming into existence. This is the most brazen illustration of crony corruption that can be, when viewed alongside the rise of Adani’s fortunes since his association with the then Chief Minister and now Prime Minister, Modi.

Mandir-Masjid did not seem to play out well; any polarisation that led to large-scale communal riots would have been counterproductive—drumming up war hysteria and nationalism was literally their last option—and thus, the gharmein ghus ke marenge [we will hit you right inside your own home] campaign, with theatrical speeches delivered against the backdrop of the Pulwama victims. To me, it is uncannily reminiscent of the 2002 Gujarat campaign, with photographs of dead karsevaks in the backdrop, or pictures of a grim and resolute Chief Minister Modi coming out of the charred S-6 coach.

The BJP’s focus has been on east and north-eastern India in order to make up for some of the losses above by picking up 30-40 seats here. No wonder West Bengal has been a key battleground, where the BJP senses an opening in the opposition space and can position itself as a visible, vocal and aggressive opposition.

The most vital component of their 2019 electoral strategy, I believe, is data mining. For the last couple of years, various departments of the Modi government have been used to collect a variety of data, which apparently have been collated and analysed for election management. For example, to target first-time voters, elaborate data have been collected on NCC [National Cadets Corp] cadets, as also those receiving any scholarships or prizes from any of the BJP governments. All Central Ministries have been asked for databases of all beneficiaries of every government scheme. Party workers have been deputed to visit the homes of beneficiaries and enlist their support, even asking them to influence friends, family and neighbours to vote for the BJP. And, of course, they are now a part of the BJP WhatsApp network, receiving 8-10 messages daily.

The BJP’s attempts to browbeat the media, prevailing on media owners to purge inconvenient journalists, are well-documented. Partymen and corporate cronies routinely file Rs.5,000-crore defamation suits. Now the intimidation is even more brazen, such as the threat to prosecute N. Ram, The Hindu and others under the Official Secrets Act.

The judiciary is facing rather challenging times, as highlighted by an unprecedented press conference by seniormost Supreme Court justices appealing at the court of the public. Yet, the matters that perturbed them the most, such as the Judge Loya mystery death case, continue to remain buried. BJP leaders openly speak of “fixing” verdicts and “managing” Supreme Court or High Court judges, like in the Operation Kamala tapes.

How do you think this has affected Modi’s image?

Most Modi bhakts hardly care for constitutional proprieties or political morality. Many analysts fail to realise that Modi has already become the highest ranking deity in the Hindutva pantheon. He is bigger than [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee, [V.D.] Savarkar and [M.S.] Golwalkar together, higher than Shivaji or Maharana Pratap, because for the cadre, he finally delivered “Hindu raj after over 1,000 years of slavery”.

BJP’s muscular nationalism and its open anti-minorityism seems to hold immense appeal for the educated and urban middle class, especially professionals. We find ourselves in an era where the loony fringe is becoming mainstream, and bigotry has found acceptance in our offices, living rooms and television studios.

Since 2014, regular incidents of assaults, attacks or cadre-led police action have served the purpose of keeping the communal cauldron simmering.

Modi’s core constituency of committed bhakts has only expanded, his cadres more energised and motivated, for they see the second term as their firm chance to establish the Hindu Rashtra.

But will he deliver the Hindu Rashtra? How?

Isn’t the Hindu Rashtra already here? Do you realise that for the first time in independent India, the highest constitutional functionaries—the President, the Vice President and the Prime Minister—are all RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] pracharaks or members? As are several Cabinet Ministers and Chief Ministers, some of them previously unheard of, like M.L. Khattar in Haryana or Pramod Sawant in Goa. The portrait of the man indicted by the Kapur Commission in the Gandhi assassination case now hangs in Parliament, close to the Mahatma himself.

Will a BJP defeat prevent Hindu Rashtra?

That project will continue, albeit at a slower pace. The Sangh Parivar has its people across various institutions, big and small. Any coalition government formed by today’s opposition parties will find it difficult to take on the right-wing juggernaut.

The Sangh Parivar works with a long-term perspective and strategy. Apparently, in 1977, during the post-Emergency Janata Party regime, several young right-wing cadres were recruited into universities, civil services and non-IPS [Indian Police Service] police posts. Many of these have risen to become Registrars and Vice Chancellors, now presiding over what the Sangh considers to be battleground universities, certainly not by coincidence. Similarly, careful attention has to be paid to recruitments in BJP-run States, especially for schoolteachers, lecturers, local police forces and provincial bureaucracy over the last 15-20 years. During this period, serious attention has also been paid to the lower judiciary recruitments and elevation of right-wing advocates and sympathetic or nationalist magistrates and judges into the higher judiciary. In due course, through seniority alone, several will find themselves in the Supreme Court.

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