Nothing in India is local any more. India is permanently in election mode and insurrectionary politics is keeping the nation in a perpetual state of agitation. At least this is what the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has decided.
If we look at the way the elections for local bodies such as the municipal councils or district bodies are being fought by the party, it becomes clear that it is trying to convert all elections, be they for rural, municipal or district administrative bodies, into national elections. The party does this in three ways:
The end of local politics
First, they make sure their candidates only discuss national issues, such as security, corruption and nationalism, in their campaigns for local elections.
The BJP’s municipal election victory in Delhi was a great example for the successful implementation of this strategy. Before last month’s election, the BJP had been running municipal corporations of Delhi for more than 10 years. Everybody agreed that their performance was abysmal and people were terribly upset with them. But the BJP not only overcame this anti-incumbency sentiment, it scored an astounding victory, decimating its opponents from the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress Party badly.
Veteran election analyst Yogendra Yadav, who is the leader of the Swaraj India Party, said that the electorate did not even care that the municipal bodies in Delhi were headed by the BJP for a decade before the election. He explained that the BJP won the election by carpet bombing nationalist messages and leaving little thinking space in the minds of the electorate.
The social media effect
Secondly, with the explosion of social media and a significant increase in the number of TV channels in India, local election campaigns and election results started to reach every nook and cranny of the country and become a matter of national discussion. For example, local election results in Maharashtra were used to bolster the prospects of the BJP in the state election of Uttar Pradesh. People witnessed the BJP’s victory in Maharashtra as they were lining up outside polling booths in Uttar Pradesh.
India is very large and there always is an election taking place somewhere in the country. So, with some help from the complicit media, the BJP is capable of permanently keeping the country in election mode.
In the past we have seen parties getting into campaign mode a few months before the elections. But the BJP has put its party machinery in permanent combat mode.
This gives the BJP leaders a rationale to indulge in sectarian, polarising election campaigns all the time. Speaking against minorities or spreading hatred against them is seen in India as a legitimate mobilising strategy in national elections. But today every election campaign assumes a national character. A statement made in Kerala stirs emotions in Bihar. People keep hoping that once in power, the duties of governance would make the ruling party responsible and inclusive. But since local elections became national discussion topics, the BJP is keeping the country in a permanent election mode and using this as an excuse to continue with its polarising discourse.
In the past we have seen parties getting into campaign mode a few months before the elections. But the BJP has put its party machinery in permanent combat mode. The BJP puts all its central ministers and minsters from other states into work during local elections. Daily visits from central ministers, apparently in connection with one or the other government scheme, becomes a pretext for the media to give all its prime space to the BJP before any local election. Thus the mindscape of the people is constantly filled with BJP propaganda.
A complete takeover
Thirdly, the BJP has decided to open its doors to major and minor leaders from all political parties. Political analysts often see this as the dilution of the party’s ideological agenda and the BJP is mocked for looking more and more like the Congress Party by admitting all and sundry. Far from it. Each political leader brings with her a support base of people, contacts, money and other resources. In other words, each leader who decides to join the party is a gain for the BJP. It is impossible for any of these leaders to even influence the ideological plank of the BJP as it is umbilically tied to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right cultural organisation committed to turning India into a Hindu nation.
The BJP and the RSS are on a mission to hollow out all other political parties. We see regional parties weakening and the Congress Party struggling to keep its flock together.
At the moment, a BJP government is in power and the party is also in control of as many as 14 states in India. The BJP is also filling all state institutions, such as universities and research bodies, with people who have a background in the RSS. After the BJP came to power, even government functionaries have been made to attend RSS programmes to help the organisation widen and deepen its reach in the society.
The BJP now insists on having a say in the selection of the heads of state-supported autonomous institutions. Several private schools are claiming that the Central Board of School Examination wants to have a decisive say in the selection of their principals. These schools fear that people professing the Hindu nationalist ideology would fill these posts.
The RSS is also closely monitoring appointments of faculty members in universities and seeks to fill these post with people close to the far-right organisation. Numerous educational institutions and think-tanks founded by the RSS are now getting state support and funding. Research projects with nationalist ideological underpinnings are being favoured over other research programmes. Even prestigious universities such as the University of Delhi are inviting ideologues and propagandists of the RSS as regular speakers.
In short, India is witnessing a complete takeover of its political, social, intellectual and cultural space by the BJP and the RSS. The complicit media is aiding this process. Victimisation of independent journalists and gradual takeover of media organisations by corporations that are close to the BJP is leaving little breathing space for India’s contesting voices.
India is fast becoming a one-party state. Once the takeover is complete, it will be worse than the Stalinist grip on the Soviet Russia, as the RSS is a multilayered body, quite different and more vicious than the homogenous Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Even after the BJP is ousted from the government, it is going to be an impossible task to untangle its nationalist knots.
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at the University of Delhi. Writes literary and cultural criticism.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.