Structures Beneath The Surface

Promises and Counter Promises

Neshat Quaiser

In the 2024 Indian parliamentary elections Indian National Congress Party’s narrative accusing BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) for its intended plans to change the Indian Constitution acquired centrality. Thus, the 2024 parliamentary elections critically came to be defined by an ideological battle between the Congress and BJP with two distinctly parallel narratives. Congress’ narrative was centrally marked by its claim to defend and protect the secular Indian constitution not only to maintain religious harmony and composite culture and to safeguard democracy but also, and more importantly, to protect and expand the present limits of reservations for people who have suffered caste discrimination for centuries, along with the protection of other constitutional values. BJP and its ideological parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), on the other hand, have historically argued that the Indian Constitution does not reflect Indian civilisational ethos which is exemplified by the Manusmriti (which also reinforces the caste system), thus, it should be changed. Thus, change of constitution for BJP is necessary to effect its old agenda of Hindutva majoritarian Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation). As a result, BJP ultimately relied in these elections on the homogenising and hegemonising Hindutva ideology instilling fear of Muslims among Hindus and to accuse Congress for its policy of ‘Muslim appeasement’. Thus, to Congress, BJP’s plans to change the constitution crucially means not only to attack on the Indian constitutional secular ethos and multi-religious composite culture but also to do away with the reservations and quotas guaranteed by the constitution for the people who have for long suffered caste discrimination.

In addition, the Congress frontally fore-grounded two other issues: the urgency of conducting Caste Census to know exact caste-wise population so that according to the numerical strength, the oppressed and exploited castes could get their legitimate share in the national resources, thus, centuries-old caste-based discrimination and humiliation could ultimately be eliminated; and the issue of massive unemployment and its plans for guaranteed jobs when it comes to power. Both these issues, particularly the issue of unemployment, caught the imagination of unemployed youths and OBC and Dalit populations with far reaching socio-political implications. Some of its alliance partners too raised the same issues.

Other hotly debated complementary issues woven woven within the central antagonistic arguments on the Indian Constitution. Some of these include: Prime Minister’s false promises of depositing Rs.15 lakh in every Indian’s bank account, providing two crores jobs per year, and doubling the farmers income; high rate of unemployment, backbreaking price-rise; Hindutva, Muslim bashing and falsifying Muslim population, beef; false accusations against Congress such as its plans to give away Hindu property to Muslims; reservation to Muslim, electoral bonds scam; Agniveer scheme; beneficiaries; Nehru, Congress’ failures in seventy years, Pulwama attack on the army convoy and surgical strike against Pakistan, Ram Mandir and article 370 etc. Significantly, key questions of Ram Mandir and article 370 did not emerge as polarising factors as was expected.

The issue of beneficiaries of the various governmental schemes too came to play a significant role in 2024 elections. BJP particularly highlighted its scheme of distributing free five kilogram food grain to 80 crore people; however officially claimed quality and quantity had often been questioned. Moreover, reports from various states suggest that the people have begun to see the political manipulations beneath the surface of BJPs free ration scheme. Most importantly the Supreme Leader – PM – presented the free ration scheme as his personal favour to people not as the constitutional obligation of the state which was part of Congress-led UPA government’s Right to Food Act. Congress’ counter schemes are presented in its rather radical 2024 manifesto.

However, 2024 elections witnessed the emergence of a third political camp constituted by those citizen-voters who have now begun to see the real structures beneath the apparent. These citizen-voters are propelled “by the contingencies of life and its counter-intuitive comprehension” defying normative expectations of political parties.

Printed written words constituting a stable political text of a political party means accountability to people who consider it as their redeemer; and the political party’s continued adherence to its written words must manifest in a stable pattern of practice to gain sanctity for its words in the eyes of people. Commonsensically, the written words in indelible ink are considered very valuable, reliable and sanctified by common people and they believe that if some people or certain organisations have committed to certain ideological positions in writing then one can catch hold of them if they do not honour their own written words. For common people it can signify dishonouring the body of innocence – i.e. the innocence of believing other fellow human beings in good faith is dishonoured, as if they have been betrayed.

A critical dimension in these elections seemed to be unearthing the Congress Party’s constitutional raison-detre and the sanctity of its written words hidden beneath its surface practices for various factors. Congress’ past political positions with regard to global economic and political power structures and many of its domestic economic and social policies and practices including communal riots have constantly come under heavy criticism. However, present unearthing is linked to certain definite signs that a new Congress under Rahul Gandhi with MallikarjunKharge is emerging with radical socio-economic agenda upholding secular constitutional values, and more importantly, its constant and direct ideological attack on Hindutva ideology and practices particularly by Rahul Gandhi; although this endeavour might face resistance from within by the Congressmen with casteist, feudal and couched communal predispositions. However, this realisation about the significance of the Congress’ written words, having far reaching theoretical and practical implications, seems to have slowly begun to inhabit the minds of people including Muslims particularly in the context of the rampant rise of crony capitalism and the naked Hindutva communal practices.

[This is an abridged version of an article originally published in the Mainstream Weekly]

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Vol 56, No. 52, Jun 23 - 29, 2024