Has political faith replaced political wisdom in India?

Anyone trying to understand Modi's return must put people at the centre of the analysis.

By Nitin Sinha (Top Post)

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Published: Sat 15 Jun 2019, 8:50 PM

Last updated: Sat 15 Jun 2019, 11:02 PM

An old friend of mine said to me on Facebook, "Let's celebrate!" We are close friends, but poles apart in terms of our politics. Our friendship, nonetheless, thrives - both in terms of mutual care as well as when the time comes for dissent and disagreement. I told him I will watch from a distance while he celebrates.
This personal anecdote can easily be rubbished as unnecessary. The aggregate of such anecdotes does not transform into macro-level dialogue or actionable points of political engagement. But there is at least one value in sharing it. This value is in recognising how politics has now dissolved into our everyday. Two things have happened simultaneously: A 'New India' has come to the fore, at the rubbles of the simmering discontent with the 'old India'. At the same time, a new language, grammar and set of reference points have emerged which channelise the older discontent, but lay new ground rules for 'doing' politics.
To an extent, it can be emphatically said that everyday political views and the new structural change in doing politics have dissolved into each other. This is best understood by the simple 'fact' that it was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was fighting the elections on 542 seats, and it was him who won on 300-plus seats.
The local has dissolved into the central. Candidates have become meaningless. The leader, the techniques of mobilisation, and the mass - these are the only constituents of new politics.
If politics has restructured our everyday lives through 24×7 channels and group message forwards, then we need to understand and question the nature of this new everyday. It is clear that 'political faith' has replaced 'political wisdom'. I am not being dismissive in saying that people have lost wisdom; in fact, I am saying that the dissolution of the 'voter' into the 'leader' (wearing Modi masks is the best visual and psychological example of this) has turned faith itself into a form of wisdom.
The justification of this merger comes from the ways faith in one man is rationalised, ranging from development to nationalism, from toilets to Pakistan, from cylinders to surgical strikes. Suffering has acquired a new meaning - visible from how people's sacrifices legitimised demonetisation as a necessary move.
Those who are critical of this merger - people like this author - must find a way to disentangle them again. But those who support the merger of the man and the mass must also question themselves: Are they willing to go to such an extent that they lose their socio-political selfhood and identity? Do they want to cease to exist as an independent entity? Do they forever want to breathe from under the mask? Are they happy to let their faith become the fulcrum of logic and reason?
Narratives sustain themselves on tropes and images. These imageries, in turn, are created and circulated by controlling a massive media machinery, paid news, the meme industry, mysterious broadcasting platforms and 'direct' communication through scripted interviews. Building this narrative relies on the excessive use of money.
Those who talk of narratives alone must answer if they want the opposition to become the mirror image of the ruling dispensation. The opposition, of course, should create their own narrative, a different one. The question is, through what process? And given that the role of the media, money and marketing in narrative making, do we really need such narratives for good politics?
Good politics is an outcome of sustained processes and deliberate attempts at institution-building. Processes based on legal frameworks of progressive, inclusive and egalitarian values, for instance, promise to bring fundamental social and economic change. Institutions secure the endurance of such processes.
Narratives mask the ability to interrogate processes. The creation of political faith represented in statements such as 'who is the alternative' is based on the power of the narrative created around the invincibility or inevitability of one person. People forget to question the control of institutions and subversion of processes. A simple example would suffice: to what degree has the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has changed the fate of manual scavengers and sweepers across the country? How many schools were set up for the children of these stigmatised workers, so that they can break free from this life?
But at the end, the faith in one leader trumps falsehoods peddled by that same leader.
Lies are accepted as lies, but their implications are neglected. What is the relevance, then, of calling something fake, when fake itself has become the new real?
Conversation is the key not to change anyone's view, but to sow the seeds of questioning. Simple questions, continuous probing and direct conversation will create a new narrative, which won't drown the system of good institutional politics. If politics is now dissolved into the everyday machinery of faith and wisdom, then such conversations have to become a part of our everyday, too. -Thewire.in
Nitin Sinha is a senior research fellow
at ZMO, Berlin

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