Book Discussion on Politics, Ethics, and Emotions in New India
An enlightening and insightful book discussion on Politics, Ethics, and Emotions in New India written by Dr Ajay Gudavarthy was organized by the Center for Human Dignity and Development, IMPRI as a part of the IMPRI #WebPolicy talk series on 9th May 2023. The session was chaired by Ms Chinki Sinha, author and editor at Outlook India. The book discussion was presided by the distinguished panelists, Dr Ajay Gudavarthy, author of the book and an Associate Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU; Mr Tushar Gandhi, president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation; Dr Hilal Ahmed, Associate professor, Center for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi; Mr Shubham Sharma, PhD scholar, University of Connecticut.
The program commenced with remarks from the chair, Ms Chinki Sinha. She explains the importance of the book for shaping discourse in media organizations and stresses its importance for journalists in the post-truth world.
Politics to Appeal Masses
She throws light on different topics explicitly expressed in the book such as tackling narrow nationalism with love, about Modi and how he manipulates emotions to appeal to the masses, the Dalit Bahujan identity, and triple talaq, to mention a few. Talking further about emotions, she mentions how emotions are changing discourses and can often lead us astray such as the whole politics of nostalgia in the case of, say, Ayodhya, that invoke something so mythical inside of us which gives a chance to the political parties to latch onto these emotions and fears that are latent inside of us and how the BJP has mastered this.
She explains the democratic upsurges where the Congress first tried to do neo-liberalism and social inclusion to the taking over by the BJP to a socially conservative kind of politics along with umbrella politics of Hindutva, changing the way emotions are used in politics. She also touches upon other topics discussed in the book like urban naxals, mob pinching, majoritarianism, and the ideology of sabka saath sabka vikas, a classic example of politics of hope and how it has eventually transformed into politics of rage. However, she questions whether it is legitimate anger or hatred when it comes to retributive justice.
She briefly discusses certain aspects of the book like the question of whether India will finally become a Hindu Rashtra or not, how to fight Hindutva politics, modernity, and rights, a fear psychosis instilled in many people, or, for that matter even her own relatives, that Muslims will take over the country with just being 14% of the population. She also expresses how the term secular; the very basis of our country is viewed in a bad light today. She mentions how the previous century was an era of revolution and this is an era of emotions.
In her opinion, the book provides food for thought for the media people when they look at election campaigns and manifestos and it touches upon topics that are very interesting in the wake of elections next year. She concludes by reiterating the need not to dismiss emotions in order to be able to challenge and dissect the current situation.
The next speaker, Mr. Tushar Gandhi begins by expressing his fascination with the book’s title. He elaborates that the qualities that the title alludes to seem to be imaginary in New India, with no room for ethics along with blatant manipulation of emotions. He talks about how in the intellectual pursuit of these phenomena, we have overlooked the progressive manipulation of our society that has been carried out since the inception of the country, however, accelerated in the past few decades.
Further, he speaks about how hate has been the undercurrent of public discourse since the time of independence and how emotions have indeed become treacherous post the Modi period because of the clever manipulation of emotions by Modi and his cohorts for their own political gains. During the covid-19 pandemic, the thali bajao cacophony, as he terms it, was a huge success for Modi because people believed in it but it certainly turned a blind eye to the condition of the migrant workers. He criticizes the progression towards marginalizing and demonizing the opposition and calls for the need to counter such campaigns.
He expresses that we have passed the majoritarianism democracy and descended into “mobocracy” where mobs decide what is right and wrong. He concludes by condemning hate politics using religion as its tool, a practice highly prevalent in India today. He stresses the need to allow collective democracy back into our practices to extract the hate that has been instilled in our society. He puts forth that this change can be brought about only if ethics truly become important to us, something where the book can have a pivotal role to play.
The next speaker, Mr. Shubham Sharma expresses that there is no political economy that differentiates the Hindutva project from the Bourgeois project. He talks about the micro-politics of fate undertaken by the BJP which makes it formidable even after the increasing number of cases of communal riots in its leadership.
He mentions that the reason why the RSS has thrived for a century lies in the hate politics that has very micro sociological rules. He talks about the need to pick up historical texts reflecting on the compassion between the two communities, of which there is absolutely no dearth in the country.
Further, he raises a concern that there is no political party ready to give us a solid program that provides a certain answer to the ever-pondered question seen in newspaper headlines, if not Modi then who? He reminds us about the halo that has been artificially constructed around Modi over the past two decades which allows a treatment of sympathy towards him as opposed to other leaders. He also mentioned how the opposition needs to take a strong position, for instance by calling in Modi for a US-style presidential debate, and makes us question why the congress had to repeal the proposal for the ban on PFI and Bajrang Dal once it was out in public before the elections.
He concludes by saying that the book fills the academic gap between politics and emotions and is an essential read for academicians as well as political parties.
The next speaker, Dr. Hilal Ahmed started by stressing the need to understand analytical ways to respond to the crisis which we are observing today. He lauds the distinction made by the author between ethics and morality in the book and how this distinction is apt to understand the RSS today.
He also praises the way the author takes empirical reality to engage with the theoretical formulation. The third thing he deems remarkable in the writing style is the aspect of intellectual politics, i.e., talking about politics while keeping oneself in the realm of intellect. Further, he explains that the book should not be reduced to a critique of BJP or Hindutva, rather it should be read as a critique of the existing political class. He points out two limitations of the text, first, the need to explain the structural difference between New and old India, and second the need for the criticism of political class to be sharpened since the entire political class has always followed the dominant narrative.
Lastly, the discussion was carried forward by the author, Dr Ajay Gudavarthy. In his opinion, Hindutva, being viewed singularly as Anti-Muslim is a red herring and while Hindutva politics signifies compassion for some, it signifies hatred for others. He throws light on our unawareness of many elementary questions about the Hindutva project like how the government perceives it, as religion or a political ideology and how are people perceiving the Hindutva politics. He mentions how people have a sense of what is happening and it is not that they are being manipulated but still prefer to go ahead which indeed forms the bigger challenge.
He reiterates the normalization of violence and raises a very important question why do only offensive emotions are attracting people and why do emotions like compassion and friendship fail to do so?
He also expresses concern about the seeds of separatism that are sown not only among religions but also among different sects of Muslims and castes in Hinduism. Further, he cites an example of how BJP candidates promise good beef in Kerala and Shillong while people are being lynched for the same in UP.
He summarizes by saying that the book is an attempt to see where that consent is coming from and takes a lateral entry rather than simply zeroing it immediately on communalism and polarization for the public’s common sense to work differently.
This was followed by a group discussion among all panellists and a Q&A round with the participants.
Acknowledgement: Nikita Bhardwaj, a researcher at IMPRI.