Comment

Heed Ambedkar’s message

His warnings on authoritarianism are salient in the general elections

The general elections to the 17th Lok Sabha are very critical for our secular, democratic Republic, its future, and its constitutional ethos. In that sense, it is another tryst with our country’s destiny. The five years of the BJP-led NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been of misrule and misgovernance. The Constitution so meticulously drafted by B.R. Ambedkar and other visionary leaders and the institutions and values protected by the Constitution are under sustained attack. For more than six decades, the judiciary, the Election Commission of India, the Planning Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, etc. were the institutional pillars of our Republic. These institutions are being, or have been, destabilised by right-wing communal forces who have captured the state apparatus. The values inscribed in the Constitution, such as secularism, socialism, fraternity and democracy, are under severe strain now. Ironically, on April 14, Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary was observed as usual, as if nothing has happened to tamper his legacy. The reality is that our Republic is in existential crisis. The challenge before the people is how to retrieve it from this crisis.

The reluctance of the ruling BJP and its leaders to take up the real issues concerning the people during the election campaign is evident. Poverty and the lack of jobs and livelihood opportunities for people are not agitating the ruling leadership. During canvassing, the Prime Minister repeatedly invokes nationalism and national security, but does not address the basic social and economic issues, thereby in effect making them irrelevant for these elections. What Mr. Modi is doing in the name of nationalism brings to mind Dr. Ambedkar’s anguish that nationalism could become a basic plank for those who care nothing for the welfare of the people and use it to create fertile conditions for the upsurge of fascism and dictatorship.

Using nationalism

Indeed, the communal forces are now using nationalism to completely divert attention from the basic issues of people while ensuring ascendance of fascist and communal formations. Dr. Ambedkar made a sharp observation that the ruling class in India always raised the cry of nationalism being in danger whenever the exploited classes asked for justice, fair and equal treatment and affirmative action for their representation in the legislature, executive and public service. This is best reflected in what Mr. Modi is doing. He is behaving in the same manner to dismiss the basic problems of people in the name of nationalism and national security. By saying that Pakistan and terrorists would be happy to see him ousted by the Opposition, the Prime Minister is trying to divert the attention of people from their livelihood issues. It is unfortunate that no one less than the Prime Minister is building a fake narrative and indulging in a false campaign to sideline people’s problems. In a way, he and his party are trying to create a fear psychosis and intimidate the people to garner votes. How can nationalism be seen only in military terms and not in terms of empowerment of people and enhancement of their capabilities? By invoking Pakistan and terror attacks all the time in his election campaign, the Prime Minister is showing his desperation to build a false narrative.

Dr. Ambedkar stressed on public reasoning to mobilise people and make them aware of their problems. His mantra ‘Educate, Organise and Agitate’ sought the deepening of public reasoning by employing constitutional methods. Instead of deepening public reasoning, the Prime Minister is subverting the culture of dialogue and debate by calling those who critically engage with him and question his policies as ‘urban Naxals’ and ‘anti-nationals’. The BJP leaders’ false narratives based on lies and half-truths show their utter lack of ability to apply reason and logic to take forward public issues and causes.

In their book How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identified four key indicators of authoritarian behaviour which cause the death of democracies. While one such indicator is advocacy of intolerance and encouragement of violence by leaders, others are delegitimising opponents as unpatriotic and resorting to demagogy and authoritarianism. The Prime Minister repeatedly says that Opposition leaders are acting against the nation and national security by asking questions. In doing so, he is displaying the typical characteristics of an authoritarian leader out to deliver a fatal blow to democracy.

This election must be fought on real and basic issues, centred around poverty eradication, access to quality and affordable education, healthcare, housing, livelihood and human security. It must be fought on the welfare of children, empowerment of women, Dalits, tribals, minorities, and all sections of workers, farmers and rural labourers, and on sustainable development. All such issues remain at the core of nationalism and national security in the true meaning of these words. In raising such issues, we become authentic nationalists and any attempt to sidetrack them would mean derailment of national security.

A historic election

This election is, therefore, a historic election for the Republic. People have the historic task to vote decisively for India to remain a secular, democratic Republic. The alternative should be a pro-people and secular, democratic government with a strong commitment to the Constitution and constitutional morality, for building and regenerating India based on liberty, equality and fraternity, ensuring justice (social, economic and political) to all citizens.

D. Raja is national secretary of the Communist Party of India, and a member of Parliament

 

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 1:20:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/heed-ambedkars-message/article26946457.ece

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