by Preeti Sampat, Assistant Professor, Ambedkar University Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the Hindu-right Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to a winning majority in the 2014 general elections in India, and once again in 2019. In 2014, 33 percent of the national vote-share enabled a 'strong' BJP-led coalition government in the center.1 In 2019 this was further improved to 37.4 percent. Both elections have marked a turning point in India’s multi-party political system after three decades of 'weak' coalition governments. The last such national majority was enjoyed by the Congress Party with a ‘sympathy wave’ for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi after the assassination of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. A ‘Modi-wave’ swept the BJP to power in 2014, and again in 2019.
Modi’s election campaigns are nothing short of spectacular, financially supported by powerful Indian business houses. Many domestic capitalists publicly endorsed Modi as an ideal Prime Ministerial candidate as early as 2009. Indian capital consistently received favorable treatment in Gujarat state, where Modi was Chief Minister for nearly 14 years before his 2014 elevation to Prime Ministership. Indian capitalists praised him for facilitating a business-friendly environment with easy access to land, resources and other concessions in the state. Their endorsements of Modi also followed from their souring relationship with the Congress Party-led coalition government in power until 2014, especially in its second term from 2009 to 2014.2 Corruption, coalition politics and a fundamentally divided policy and political dispensation under the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government then in power for 10 years, created the political opening for the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2014, and the peculiar convergence of capitalism and Hindu nationalism it has since configured.
Endorsement by big capital was crucial for Modi’s make-over from a deeply controversial leader implicated in overseeing a pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Over 2000 Muslims were killed under his watch that year, resulting in international condemnation and pressure from the global human rights community. Modi was consistently refused visas to travel to the United States and Europe; the ‘travel ban’ against him was relaxed only after he became the Prime Minister of India after 12 years, in 2014. Indian tycoons like the Ambani brothers, Ratan Tata and Gautam Adani were special invitees for Modi's swearing-in in 2014.
‘Development for all’ was Modi's mantra in 2014, augmented to 'Solidarity for all, Development for all, Trust of all' by 2019. His public relations teams have carefully curated a Presidential-style election campaign highlighting his personality and oratorical skills over and above his Party in both elections. In 2014, private jets to attend election rallies and motor vans projecting holograms of his speeches in small towns and villages across the country sponsored by his wealthy supporters carried his message widely. The cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Patriots Organization) have also thrown themselves into election campaigns nationally. Invoking Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, (the cultural nationalist ideology propagated by V. D. Savarkar and his Hindu right followers since the early twentieth Century), they have garnered a broad range of Hindu sympathies.
In characteristic flourish, slogans like 'Make in India,' ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance,’ ‘Start Up India,’ 'Smart Cities' and several other catchy phrases have peppered Modi's policy rhetoric for the Indian economy. Deals with global and domestic capital on infrastructure projects are signed with fanfare, as strong arm economic policy decisions such as the dismantling of the Planning Commission; the demonetisation of currency notes; and the arbitrary introduction of a Goods and Services tax regime are presented as a government unafraid to take action. As chilling violence against Muslims is executed with numbing regularity in an alarming growth of violent Hindu nationalism, state institutions responsible for upholding rule of law are steadily undermined. 'Rationalists' and other vocal critics of Hindutva are murdered.3 Critical regional and national voices in the press are continually heckled, harassed and sought to be suppressed. Hindu-right online troll armies style themselves as Modi-bhakts (devotees) on social media, intimidating and threatening critical voices with rape, murder and other brutal violence, narrowing freedom of expression and speech with impunity. More alarmingly, Hindutva vigilante groups carry these threats out on the streets, with little legal redress for their victims, or punishment for their crimes.
This paper explores the current historical conjuncture of the rise of Hindutva in India; its relations with global and domestic capital (and their crises); and the emergence and implications of 'jobless growth' in the Indian economy for the Hindu nationalist project. How has Hindu nationalism seized the current conjuncture of capitalist development in India with the aid of global and domestic capital? What lessons do the attempts to institute a strong Hindu nation-state, by targeting minorities—Muslims in particular; war jingoism with Pakistan and China; and the suppression of political dissent offer for studies of contemporary authoritarianism? How may the allied forces of global and domestic capital and Hindutva in India come to impasse?
India is witnessing an attempt to transition from a weak liberal Congress Party leadership to a strong Hindu nationalist state. Systematic dismantling of the liberal secular democratic political order and institutions of the post independence period, is accompanied with a simultaneous emphasis on capitalist development, albeit in an unpredictably contingent trajectory. Recent analyses of political developments and policy in India tend to treat political economy and Hindu nationalism as disconnected domains.4 In this paper I am interested in analysing the cultural nationalism of Hindutva in relation with the economic policies of what is being termed 'Modi-nomics.' Policy emphases on capitalist growth follow an older liberal trajectory of economic liberalisation from the 1980s in India, and Hindutva forces rely on big capital for support.5 This historical cultural and political economic conjuncture requires further interrogation and analysis.
The first section of the paper traces a brief history of Hindutva as an ideology and a political movement. The second section discusses the 'economy as spectacle' under Modi-nomics; I am particularly interested in examining the work that spectacular infrastructural investments do (or not) for Hindutva under Modi. The third follows up with the phenomenon of 'jobless growth' and other dissatisfactions brewing across the country, and conclude with the possibilities of impasse, or hegemony, in the consolidation of the Hindu rashtra (nation-state) in India.
A brief genealogy of Hindutva
“…the foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights” (Golwalkar 1939 as quoted in Bal 2017).
Hindutva was a term coined in the early 1920s by V. D. Savarkar, a brahmin from Maharashtra state who expounded the notion of a Hindu Rashtra (nation-state) premised on a common Hindu identity. Savarkar himself was an atheist and argued that Hindu religion was only one aspect of the Hindu nation-state; a shared race, culture, language and territory forming other crucial elements. 'Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan' referenced a common religion (or culture), language and territory drew from a Hindu revivalist reaction to the Khilafat movement and a deep-rooted hostility to Islam. Muslims were considered a threat to Hindus because of their allegiance to Mecca and Istanbul, because of their better organisation as a community, and greater aggression. Muslims and other religious minorities (notably Christians as Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains were were seen as closely linked to Hinduism) were thus outsiders, who must pay allegiance to Hindutva (see Jaffrelot 2017). 6
K. B. Hedgevar, another brahmin from Maharashtra although with origins in Andhra Pradesh state, subsequently founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Corps) in 1925 and created local shakhas (branches) across towns and villages to propagate Hindutva and reform Hindu society from below. The RSS soon became the most powerful Hindu nationalist movement with as many as 600,000 volunteers at the time of India's independence in 1947. In the meanwhile Savarkar went on to found the Hindu Mahasabha as a political party in the late 1930s. But it was only after independence when the RSS was banned after the asassination of M. K. Gandhi (by a former RSS member), that the RSS, then led by M. S. Golwalkar, decided to join negotiations with the Hindu Mahasabha, then led by S. P. Mookerjee. The Bhartiya Jana Sangh (predecessor to BJP) was thus formed in 1951, just before the first national elections in independent India (ibid.).
In the post-Emergency elections of 1977, the Jana Sangh allied with the socialists, merging into the Janata Party to defeat Indira Gandhi. However, the alliance soon broke because of the refusal of the Jana Sangh to break ties with the RSS, and Indira Gandhi sailed back to power in the national elections held in 1980. The BJP was formed the same year, with a more moderate approach of 'soft Hindutva.' Through the 1980s as the BJP's national presence grew, the VHP and the RSS supported a more militant Hindutva however, mobilising for a Ram temple at Ayodhya.7 The militancy of the Ram janmabhoomi (birthplace) movement yielded further political dividends to the BJP and by 1999, it led the coalition government under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the first time, and held its tenure for five years until 2004, albeit under a moderate Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee. The NDA failed to return to power in 2009; the moderate Hindutva line under Prime Minister Vajpayee was held responsible for the defeat of the NDA (Jaffrelot 2017).
Under Golwalkar’s leadership, the RSS established a number of organisations to work with diverse social groups, such as the student wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidya Parishad (Indian Student's Association); the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian Worker's Union); the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (Center for Tribal Welfare); and the religious wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). These organisations together formed the 'Sangh Parivar' (RSS family) and proliferated over the years; the VHP for instance created youth wing, Bajrang Dal, and a women's wing, Durga Vahini.
The cultural work of the RSS has continued apace. Sangh Parivar organisations train young members for combat; and male members wear khaki trousers (recently changed from knee-length shorts), white shirts with black caps and lathis (long batons) in all official conclaves and demonstrations. VHP members have been implicated in instigating the violence against Muslim and adivasi (indigenous) Christian minorities in Gujarat and Odisha respectively, that resulted in thousands dead in both states. The Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt alive in Odisha in 1999 with a BJP-led government in power at the central and state level. More recently, the ABVP has overseen the vitiated atmosphere in the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi where duly elected student leaders were arrested on charges of 'sedition' for attending an event on Kashmir. The ongoing killings of ordinary Muslims on suspicion of possession of beef8 and of cattle transporters by cow vigilantes mirror the trend of terrorizing religious minorities, notwithstanding the fact that large populations of so-called Hindus consume beef as an integral part of their diet.
The Hindu-right has historically alternated violent religious majoritarianism and nationalist jingoism with Pakistan to foment Hindutva. Under Prime Minister Vajpayee nuclear tests were carried out to send out a nationalist message internationally, and a series of “cease-fire violations” along the Indo-Pak border allegedly by Pakistan escalated into diplomatic belligerence between the two countries. Since Modi's ascent to power, these strategies continue.
Corbridge and Harriss (2000) argue that Hindu nationalism’s rise (or popularity) in the twenty-first Century constitutes an ‘elite reaction’ to the democratization of the political forces in India as subaltern classes threaten entrenched social and political orders. The rise of the dalit and bahujan9 parties in recent decades, especially in politically significant northern states is particularly noteworthy in this regard. Recent unrest from dalit and bahujan formations protesting caste atrocities in U.P. and in Gujarat are indicative of ongoing caste strife. However, the BJP has mobilised a range of actors from across the social spectrum brokering an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party previously.
Prime Minister Modi was a dedicated activist of the RSS before he was moved to the BJP by the Sangh in the early 1980s. RSS activists hold key BJP and government positions, and are openly represented as political stake-holders in all national debates by the news media. The current turn to the Hindu right in India is decidedly populist,10 riding on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charismatic, authoritarian, and, pace Schmitt (1985), decisionist personality. But it must be emphasized that Hindu nationalism in India is a product of a dedicated historical cultural nationalist movement, rather than a more contingent authoritarian populism sustained by the popularity of a charismatic leader alone. To put it plainly, authoritarian populism under Modi is fundamentally tethered to a historically emergent protofascist movement committed to creating a profoundly exclusionary Hindu Rashtra. If fascism is: i) fundamentally illiberal and antidemocratic; ii) supports dictatorship and a mythical idea of the leader; iii) promotes social-nationalist capitalism and iv) promotes a radical idea of the enemy (cf. Finchelstein 2017); the Hindutva forces in India point to a potent mix of these elements working towards their avowed goal of the creation of a Hindu nation, by steadily hollowing out rule of law and democratic institutions (albeit without explicitly espousing these latter aims), and in this sense are protofascist.11
Towards the latter half of its second term from 2009-2014, the Congress-led UPA government was widely represented as corrupt, inefficient and in a state of 'policy paralysis.' Land acquisition controversies over industrial and infrastructure projects and policies such as Special Economic Zones (SEZs), were significant sources of distress for big business. What irked most however, were a series of corruption scams implicating some of the big domestic capitalists in a series of litigations. A number of major corruption scandals implicating then ruling Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government and high-profile Indian capitalists struck national headlines by 2010 and caused much resentment among the business classes (see Varadarajan 2014).
In 2009, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a ‘charge-sheet’ over serious irregularities in an official spectrum allocation auction by the central government. The Comptroller and Accountant General (CAG) of India reported a loss of USD 27 billion to the exchequer in these allocations. The Supreme Court of India ruled in 2012 that the allocations were unconstitutional and cancelled all 122 spectrum licenses to corporates (DNA 2012). In 2010, another massive controversy broke out when a corporate lobbyist was investigated for influencing deals and a number of big corporate houses including Ratan Tata and associates were implicated in the 'Radiagate' scandal (Varadarajan 2014). Next followed the arrest of tycoon Suresh Kalmadi in 2011 over allegations of corruption in construction projects in the national capital region of Delhi during international Commonwealth Games in 2010 (Kumar 2011). A scam with respect to coal mining allocations was next unearthed by the CAG in 2012, with an estimated windfall gain for the companies worth USD 28 billion (Economic Times 2012).
A retroactive tax net for Vodafone and the application of a new Minimum Alternate Tax over SEZs and other similarly privileged industrial clusters raised the pitch against the UPA. Land acquisition related reversals of projects on account of local popular resistance to land-grabs added to the sense of 'paralysis.' The new land acquisition law in 2013 that replaced the colonial law of 1894 was seen as particularly difficult to consolidate land for large investment projects as it required establishing consent from a majority of landowners and social impact assessments of projects. With land and real estate emerging as extremely lucrative investments in India’s growing ‘rentier economy’ (see Sampat 2018), the difficulties of obtaining consent from land owners and social impact assessments of projects were seen as cumbersome by domestic capital. Dissatisfaction was reported volubly in the business press leading up to the national general elections in 2014.
In this backdrop, Modi’s promise of 'ease of doing business' beckoned. As his record in Gujarat demonstrated, environment, labour and land regulations were repeatedly diluted to accommodate business interests. Contestations were dealt with authoritarian repression (except when political expediency forced his hand; see below), and Hindu-right forces were strengthened within the state administration, judiciary and police (see Jaffrelot 2012) to quell dissent.
The Economy as Spectacle
Recent controversies around ‘demonetization,' the Goods and Services Tax or the earlier attempts at amending land acquisition regulations12 and the dismantling of the Planning Commission of India are indicative of Modi’s decisionism (cf. Schmitt 1985). Policy decisions and consequently power are increasingly centered with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Decisions are made by the PMO in consultation with the RSS, and often announced dramatically, without prior public intimation or wider consultation.
In November 2016, in an unprecedented move of massive proportions, the government 'demonetised' Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes in circulation in the country, amounting to 86 percent of the currency notes then in circulation in the country. The aim was to bring the large flows of illegal or so-called black money in circulation into the formal economy through the banks, and to promote digital monetary transactions. Neither of these claims have borne out. With 86 percent of the currency no longer valid, people had to exchange these currency notes in banks within a stipulated period of a few months. As a result, cash flows of the large majority of people dependent on the 'unorganised' or 'informal' sectors of the economy, nearly 80 percent of the working population including small traders, took a big hit. This had an immediate fallout on the demand for goods and services, putting people out of work for lack of adequate cash, and resulting in a large-scale recession that the sector is still negotiating (see Nigam and Balaji 2017; PTI 2017a; Kohli 2018).
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) 2017 was announced in a special midnight session of the Parliament on June 30 2017 by the Finance Minister, and served another blow to the informal economy. Ostensibly introduced to create a 'rational' one tax regime across the country (previously taxes varied across commodities and states), it has been criticized for slotting various commodities arbitrarily into four different tax slabs in addition to the exempt and additional cess categories. Petroleum and other energy products have been left out of its ambit altogether, in order to allow for the government to tinker with their taxes so as to regulate budget deficits (The Wire 2017). This complex system has been further confounded by frequent changes in the tax slabs of goods and services.13 Reports after one year of implementation suggest dampened exports and manufacturing, and the informal economy reeling from the twin impact of demonetisation and GST impact leading to a crisis on the supply side. There seems little rise in tax revenue as well, with the direct tax- GDP ratio at 5.9 percent in 2017-18, lower than 6.9 percent in 2007-08 (Mehra 2018).
Spectacular investment promises in infrastructure have been another recurrent feature of Modi-nomics. Every advanced capitalist country’s leader coming to the country signs some ‘iconic’ business deal with the government, most recently one signed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to introduce a bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad city in Gujarat, an international partnership rhetorically claimed as countering the global economic heft of China. Despite grand announcements and inauguration of these projects in the presence of the two Prime Ministers, actual investment flows and implementation are shaped by electoral political expediency in a region, rather than a consistent economic liberalization agenda. The project envisages land acquisition of 850 hectares, affecting 192 villages in Gujarat and 120 villages in Maharashtra states, even as resistance gathers strength the two states (see Newsclick 2018; PTI 2018; Gupta 2018).
Similarly, infrastructure projects along the much touted Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) are in a state of limbo, either because resistance to land acquisition is strong, or there is a paucity of investors. The Dholera Smart City project along the DMIC is one such project where ongoing resistance from 22 villages has stalled the project for nearly a decade, with local residents also challenging the state government in the Gujarat High Court (see Sampat 2016; 2018).14 The contingency of resistance leads to an ad hoc and politically expedient infrastructure investment strategy. In Gujarat where millions of dollars worth of investments have been reportedly signed in the decade and half of Modi's Chief Ministership, few have materialized on the ground.
As the global economy seems to slowly show greater growth rates, there is little evidence of commensurable investments into the Indian formal economy, the more recent global optimisim is largely skipping India, as even Indian big capital prefers investments abroad (see Mundle 2017). The politics of expediency and contingent economic policy is creating dissatisfactions among varied social forces. The economic agenda under Hindutva is politically contingent, and curates spectacle through high-profile decisionism.
And yet, while Modi's popularity is defiitely hollowing out, with recent state assembly elections swinging in favour of the Congress (if somewhat precariously), the BJP has managed to retain majority in significant state assembly elections, such as U.P. and Gujarat in 2017. Some argue that the political spin given to these spectacular decisions by the Modi government, of making sacrifices for higher gain, and of leveling the pain for rich and poor alike by making everyone stand in line to exchange the demonetised currency for instance, has paid off. Banerjee and Kala (2017) suggest that the traders in U.P. for instance, read these decisions as a signal of Modi's intentions, making them feel better about the country's prospects. Or that there was a politics of resentment against the rich at work, making the poorer feel better that people with large amounts of cash (the 'corrupt') suffered losses. There is no reason to believe that the corrupt indeed suffered heavy losses, and this perception can be attributed to BJP's effective perception management.
Benjamin (1985) is instructive here. Drawing on the theory of perception (aesthetics), he points out:
“Fascism attempts to organize the newly proletarianized masses while leaving intact the property relations which they strive to abolish. It sees its salvation in granting expression to the masses—but on no account granting them rights. The masses have a right to changed property relations; fascism seeks to give them expression in keeping these relations unchanged. The logical outcome of fascism is an aestheticizing of political life. ...[Humankind's] self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism” (pp.41-42).
It is sobering to consider that the 'aestheticizing of politics' with demonetisation, GST, and spectacular investment promises may presage a self-alienation of profound proportions in India.
Jobless Growth and other Dissatisfactions
While recent figures show greater economic activity in manufacturing and exports, the recovery is too little to draw conclusions (The Wire 2018). Small farmers continue to commit suicides in states across the country and agrarian distress remains acute with support prices being less than sustainable for what is produced. Agitations by famers are on a rise. Unemployment is at an all time high, investment sentiment is very low and the two unilateral decisions of demonetisation and the introduction of the GST have brought large parts of the economy to a standstill. Large parts of the Indian economy are showing alarming signs of crisis and dissatisfactions are growing.
The Gujarat state assembly elections in December 2017 were illustrative. The BJP won a total of 99 assembly seats in the state, with the Congress winning 77 (14 more from the previous state elections), from a total of 182 seats in the state assembly (seats in the state assemblies of India vary according to the state's population). However, out of 140 total rural assembly seats BJP's won 61, while the Congress secured 71. The BJP won with a majority of barely seven percent votes more than the Congress (see PTI 2017b). Dalit votes also went against the BJP as a result of widespread protests against recent instances of caste violence in the state under BJP's watch, but the dalit population of the state is 6.7 percent so could not have exerted a significant influence on the result (see Sethi 2017). In December 2018 three key states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgadh went to the Congress Party, buoying the center-liberal opposition Party's hope for at least a weaker NDA government in 2019.
However, the Hindu-right has historically alternated violent religious majoritarianism (Muslims are about 13 percent of the Indian population) and nationalist jingoism with Pakistan to foment Hindu supremacism. Frequent attacks on Pakistan's territory since 2014, the most recent in February 2019, following a suicide attack killing 40 Indian soldiers in Pulwama in the Kashmir valley, have had powerful results. While the state assembly elections in 2018 had indicated widespread discontent, the strike on Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack turned the narrative to the 'strong' leadership of Modi before the general elections in April-May 2019.
In the mix of looming crises and structural economic conditions, Hindu nationalism offers a tactical maneuver to counter deep frustrations welling up in farmers’ protests, Dalit uprisings and shows of solidarity from diverse citizens’ groups for freedom of press, expression and association. Modi has historically dealt with contestations with authoritarianism and repression, and has strengthened Hindu-right forces within state apparatuses to quell dissent (see Jaffrelot 2012 for an analysis of the “saffronization” of state apparatuses in Gujarat). However, the BJP will find itself constrained to distract from the unfolding economic crisis with war jingoism and communal hatred against religious minorities over the longer term. While opposition parties put together tenuous coalitions and fail to counter the Hindu right's tactical manouevers, the most promising coalitions have emerged from new dalit uprisings and a younger political left (see Chaudhary 2019; PTI 2019). It is difficult to guage if any substantive political alternative can emerge from these solidarity coalitions and how long it may take to challenge the Hindutva project. Indeed Kanhaiya Kumar, a Communist Party of India candidate representing these solidarity coalitions lost by a large margin in the 2019 general elections. But the political churning in the wake of a powerful Hindu-right points to nascent reimagining of progressive politics. Regardless, that an explicit turn to political violence targeting especially religious minorities and dissenters is the new political norm in India under the Modi-RSS combine, and will remain a significant form of resolution for the balance of political forces for some time, is clear. Modi-nomics in the meanwhile, performs a dual function; on the one had it serves to aestheticize politics, and on the other it acts as an empty signifier for Hindutva.15
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National level general elections are held every five years in India and elect a national government to the center (federal), whereas state elections are held on separate schedules. This is in keeping with the federal nature of India’s Constitution. Since the Modi government came to power in 2014 however, there has been discussion on a controversial proposal to have simultaneous central and state government elections. Critics argue that this is not only unfeasible given the large and diverse Indian population, but it undermines the federal nature of the Constitution and would allow the ruling majority party to capture votes and power at the Centre and in the states by persuading the electorate to vote for the same party (Pai 2016).↩
The Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government had defeated the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in the 2004 general elections and was reelected for a second term in the 2009 general elections. A series of corruption scandals implicating several Indian corporate houses erupted in the second term of the UPA, leading to a lot of resentment among the business classes (see Varadarajan 2014).↩
The Indian rationalist movement draws its roots from the early 19th Century from the works of Jotiba Phule, followed by Periyar Ramasamy and Gora into the 20th Century. Members of the more recent Indian Rationalist Association Narendra Dabholkar and M. M. Kalburgi, as well as Communist Party of India leader Govind Pansare and journalist Gauri Lankesh have been assassinated in a series of high profile murders by unidentified gunmen, allegedly for their vocal challenges to the rise of Hindu nationalism (Johnson et. al. 2015; Firstpost 2017).↩
For historically detailed analyses linking dominant shifts in India’s political economy with the growth of Hindutva see Corbridge and Harris (2000).↩
See Robotham in this volume for the cultural civilizational project of neoliberalism and the failure of its promises. Here, I bring the critique of liberalism (see also Mahmud in this volume) in relation with the cultural nationalist project of Hindutva.↩
Skaria (2016) argues that Hindutva is a secularity that rejects secularism. It draws on immanent causes without invoking divine power, and it does not have transcendental goals for its citizens and hence is secular. But citizenship, or belonging, is strictly defined in relation with belonging to land, culture, language and race, and hence rejects secularism, that renders such belonging private, and irrelevant for public life.↩
Ayodhya is a small town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, believed to be the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. The Hindutva forces maintain that the Mughal emperor Babar demolished a temply at the holy site of Ram's birthplace and erected the Babri Mosque in its place. The Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace) movement sought to demolish the mosque and erect a Ram temple at the same spot. In December 1992, after months of mobilisation that saw violence against minortities across the country, the mosque was demolished by a massive Hindu mob of over 150,000 Hindu 'volunteers,' instigated by prominent Hindu-right leaders. The matter is currently being adjudicated by the Supreme Court of India (Rajagopal 2017).↩
The slaughter of cows and the consumption of beef are banned in India except in a few states as the cow is considered a holy animal under Hinduism.↩
Under the Hindu caste system, dalit communities fell outside the hierarchy of the four main caste groups (brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra) and were considered 'untouchable.' Dalit implies oppressed or broken and refers to a political identity. Bahujan refers to the broader alliance of dalit and so-called lower castes.↩
Finchelstein (2017) distinguishes populism and fascism but argues that they are genealogically connected and belong to the same history. He argues that a new populist modernity was born with the defeat of fascism and offered a 'third way' between liberalism and communism. While postwar populism comprises a diverse set of authoritarian experiments in democracy; unlike fascism, populism's supporters want authoritarianism to be a democratic choice. Populism speaks in the name of a single people expressed in the leader, and democracy under populism is defined in terms of the desires of the populist leader(s).↩
Discussing the rise of the Hindu right historically, leading up to and in the aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition and shortly before the BJP's emergence as the ruling party in the 1999 general elections, Raychaudhuri (1999) argued for a recognition of their absolutist and fascist project, but did not distinguish between protofascism and fascism conceptually. Pace Mahmud (this volume), who asks if fascism can be named before it is, protofascism offers a plausible conceptual category for the current authoritarian conjuncture in India.↩
Within months of coming into power, the NDA government attempted to dilute consent and social impact assessment provisions of the 2013 land acquisition law, initially through an Ordinance and subsequently through an Amendment to the law tabled in the Indian Parliament. The consent and social impact assessment provisions of the 2013 land acquisition law were a major grouse against the UPA government and fuelled accusations of policy paralysis as they were seen as cumbersome measures making large-scale land acquisition difficult for private infrastructure investments. The proposed amendments were in keeping with the promises made by Modi to big capital, for the ‘ease of doing business.’ As they faced nationwide agitations that brought together peasants, big farmers, social activists, environmentalists, journalists, lawyers, academics, other concerned actors, political parties and trade unions, the amendment bill was eventually withdrawn (Sampat 2018).↩
Mehra (2018) points out that the GST has been used as a populist scheme for political gains, for instance, the GST on Gujarati savouries was reduced prior to the assembly elections in the state. Similarly, government employees have been given a pay hike under the 7th Pay Commission, in another populist move; and the decontrol of petrol and diesel prices was stalled at the time of Karnataka state elections (bid.); all of these indicating the populism of Modi-nomics and departures from classic liberal priorities.↩
An illustrative case of political expedience in infrastructure policy is the erstwhile Mandal Becharaji Special Investment Region close to Dholera where similar agitation resulted in the removal of the land of 36 out of 44 villages from the project by then Chief Minister Modi in 2014, presumably as a result of the politically sensitive of the national election year.↩
Laclau (2007) elaborates that an empty signifier can only emerge if there is a structural impossibility in signification and this impossibility signifies itself as an interruption of the structure of the sign. As Laclau reminds us, the presence of empty signifiers is the very condition of hegemony.↩