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BJP seems to have pervaded every nook and corner: Ashwani Kumar

Professor Ashwani Kumar.  

Elucidating the paradigm shift in Indian politics, Professor Ashwani Kumar, noted political scientist with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), says while the rise of the BJP has not changed the basic one-party dominance system — as by the Congress earlier — there are structural differences in the two systems of political domination.

Till now Rajni Kothari’s “Congress system” was considered the most apt description of the Indian party system. With the BJP in the ascendant, what is your view?

When Rajni Kothari looked at the “Congress system”, other parties were, as he famously called them, existing on the margins. The Opposition also looked like a mirror copy of the dominant party. Somehow that is not exactly what is happening now. But what I found is a moderate, modified version of Kothari’s “Congress system”. So instead of the BJP system, we [still] have a one-party dominant system. There are structural differences in the two systems of political domination.

What are these structural differences?

One part of the structural difference is the large-scale ideological transformation. I have travelled recently to many parts of the country and I could see that the BJP-RSS ideology has taken deeper roots than imagined, and we have to concede that fact. Over time, as is elucidated in Tariq Thachil [Elite parties, Poor voters: How social services win votes in India], the RSS and BJP have worked more as a social organisation than a political one, to perform social services in areas where the state has failed. Thus , for the first time the BJP has reached everywhere.

Kothari’s Congress, although a system dominating party, its actual reach was still limited. On the contrary, the BJP seems to have pervaded every nook and corner. From the Left of Centre or what was called a “Congress-Nationalist” party, it has transformed into Hindu nationalism. The popular support for the abrogation of [Article] 370, and Ram Temple is part of that ideological transformation.

The BJP’s organisation is more widespread than the Congress’s in the past. If you recall Myron Weiner’s work in the 1970s , his conclusion was that the Congress party offices were vibrant, they were aggregating interest, looking after voters interests. Soon after they disintegrated, especially during Indira Gandhi’s time when the so-called “deinstitutionalisation” began, and party became centralist and authoritarian and were also pitted against rising regional forces.

There are still regional forces at play...

True, and so within this one-party dominant system, you have a large structural force of federalism. Parties like DMK in Tamil Nadu would continue to remain relevant, even the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

This federalisation of Indian political system is irreversible.

Therefore, the BJP is also going ahead with the system of alliances, which is not in keeping with the early thinking of RSS of Hedgewar and Golwalkar.

They never liked the idea of alliances; the aim was to have a hegemony of the RSS-BJP as representative of India. Therefore, Modi is leading a new BJP, which is conscious of the reality of federalisation.

What explains the lack political traction to the economic slowdown?

When Rajni Kothari wrote and published his book [Politics in India], he told us that part of the problem with his book was that he hadn’t engaged with the idea of the middle class. At that time, the middle class in the 1970s was only 50 million, whereas now it is 450 million and punches above its weight in terms of influence over the rest.

The problem with the Congress is that they created the middle class with economic liberalisation, but disowned them politically. With this pervading middle class, there is a rise in what Americans call “sociotropic voting” or community voting on Article 370, Ram temple etc, rather than “pocket book” voting on bread and butter issues.

Campaigns like Swachh Bharat, big foreign policy events etc. are also important means of appropriating the middle class. The Congress is fighting on issues that are not resonating with this middle class.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 11:25:21 AM |

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