The promoters and owners of the INC, its supporters, those who are naturally inclined towards the Congress have entered the mode of metaphysical faith rather than of reasoned reflection. They are wont to believe that their routing at the polls is not a result of their irrelevance but the natural process of the rise and the ebb of tides, when, as the water drains off, they will be revealed as eternal as the hills and be redeemed as India’s sacred geography. Why? Only because the good, the Congress in this case always wins over the BJP, the evil of the story. This is a faith-based discourse, medieval, irrational, and non-secular to the core. It only shows that the liberal discourse is at its journey’s end.
The problem is not about the Congress, the problem is the failure of a liberal politics to carry us any further than what it already did. In India, we may say that it lasted for less than a century, if we consider Gandhian politics to be its beginning, when liberal ideas seem to be fully formed. The reasons for its rise and the causes for its death today remain fairly the same and both lie in the final promise of modernity, which is the emancipation of individual agency.
Individualism has a long history; long because without science and technology, it cannot have a secure material base, producing wanderers, travellers, monks and nuns and ascetics before it became artists, professionals, entrepreneurs, and political leaders. We may say that the desire of the individual to be free has always lurked as a prehistorically constituted species DNA, waiting for the right environment to manifest. Whether it is a Newton or Moses, whether it is Charlamagne or Einstein, and Michael Jackson or Michelangelo, individuals live off the surplus of the society. In crass Marxist terms, the individual may well be a parasite, living off the surplus of the society for no society that does not produce a surplus can produce individuals. Thus, societies egalitarian societies fall short of producing the genius. In feudal times, the talented individual was supported by the royal courts, in monastical orders, monasteries held them. Therefore, the rise of capitalism based on science and technology that can go on reproducing its surplus also supports democracies based on universal franchises.
The rise of Gandhian politics is due to the rise of capitalism in India; the model of the Freedom Struggle was a promise of individual emancipation. This continued into the Constitution of India and hence it is life. The individual’s emancipation out of her class, caste, religion and creed, language, and region, were to be eliminated into one homogenous image, the Indian citizen. A large bureaucracy was installed to check this individual from slipping back to her social particularities. The IITs, IIMs, competitive examinations were part of this monastery, that created opportunities but also monitored should she slip back into her original categories. The promise of unity in diversity was truly respected, provided the diverse elements melted into a unity. Or there was a hierarchy of terms, unity was super built on diversity. This was wonderful for equality but where it lacked was to produce the genius through letting her access the surplus. In every institution one was guided by elaborate rules, only to control entitlements and not to facilitate through surplus. Thus, while we created able bureaucrats and technocrats, judges, teachers, and a management cadre, what we could not produce were scientists and thinkers. Scientists who drained their brains to countries abroad did far better, the writers and film makers worked wholly on private finance and the artistic awards were always “politically influenced” and “manipulated”. Iron caged bureaucracies guarded and protected mediocrity, the genius was suspected and smothered. Gate keeping the order of the day to keep the talented out. Shibram Chakarabarty in his two-volume autobiography exposes this clearly and one has only to watch the films of Raj Kapoor to understand the menace that mediocres can bring about in the society to maintain equality and unity.
Still the Congress politics would not have suffered if the system that upheld it, besides the concentration of power, also had the monopoly of economic powers. But wedded to mediocrity, our school examination system, the curriculum of colleges, the format of the competitive examinations could only select the intellectually mediocre who needed to excel in rote learning. Institutions fell because staffed with the mediocre, they pegged down the genius. Public sectors stagnated because there was not enough talent to progress technologically, education became irrelevant, judiciary became clerical, politicians lacked imagination. No wonder then the engine of economic growth slowed down, depending more on the circulation of money, separation of the physical and the financial sectors, growing speculative finance and stagnant industrial production and eventually the falling value of the INR. Unity, equality, and mediocrity of the politics of the Congress did this to us. Lies about history and raising the nation as a religion were the two horns of ideology, not of the BJP of today, but of the Congress in its heydays.
Once the economy dipped, the agent of that economy, the state had to withdraw. Public sectors were sold to private individuals, liberalism was the only way out. Congress was the chief architect of the grand privatization of the economy; once started it was a juggernaut, proceeding on inertia. Hence the Congress faced the same fate as that of the Mughal Empire post Aurangzeb, when due to the latter’s policies of incessant warfare, warlords became rich from the money that was drained out from the imperial treasury. In this case, private industrialists, swindlers, and capricious individuals became richer who started to secure their influence and power as individuals. The BJP was born with the support of this new rich. So far so good. But what about the massive populace that has joined the BJP of today?
The reasons for people joining Modi are like the people rallying behind Gandhi, personal growth, and emancipation. Gandhi fought the British because they were in power; BJP fights the Congress because it is in power. Hence Sonia Gandhi’s call to another Freedom Movement backfires. The BJP is the Freedom Struggle. The Indians fought the British as the oppressed, excluded and the inferior fights the superior. The BJP fights with those who feel the same way about the Congress. No wonder then wherever you go in the government or in deliveries of public services, you see such deterioration in efficiency, quality, and finesse. Because the “new Indians” are fighting the encumbered and entrenched “British”. Culturally this is expressed as anti-Valentine, anti-Christmas, ant jeans, demolition of Lutyens Delhi, privatization of railways and airlines and so on.
The dominance of private capital over the public sector is the single most reason, inter alia for the polarization of the society. Unemployment worries only the Congress because it is its tag line; the recent CMIE study shows that unemployment does not worry the people at all because most are not even looking for jobs. Since enterprises providing mass scale employment are no longer around, jobs are mostly part time, multi skilled, multifarious, tentative, combination of salaries, professional fees, and self-earned commissions. Such jobs need networking on the one hand and family and community support on the other. The hijab of the Muslim girl, the tika on the Hindu boy are nothing but a sinking back into their own communities, finding approval and hence support from their kith and kin to be able to network and earn. No one looks out for the MNREGA anymore as sustenance, it is better to head a Hindu outfit for networking for jobs and deals. No one is looking for that small time private sector job when one can network among Muslim brotherhood to supply aggregates in construction. And this new source of economic power has itself become the new bureaucracy, in the Foucault style, which no longer needs to exercise power from a vantage point but is spread throughout the society in capillary action, each one trying to control the other.