By Hector Kenneth Kumar
The circle of life turns another chapter as we come to the end of what officially marks the first post-pandemic year.
2022 held much promise, as we emerged out of a 2-year blackhole characterised by strangely named viruses and lockdowns that virtually crippled economies, but did 2022 really live up to the promise?
In India 2022 was rather an unremarkable year with no real place holder that could call this year apart from any other. The one continuum that refuses to change in this country is the whole rigmarole of elections, we seem to be in the midst of one almost every six months. So much so that even during the pandemic, India kept on with its electoral dance.
The results set the template for the busy electoral season in 2023 leading upto the big fight in 2024 where Narendra Modi will be looking to win an unprecedented third term in power. The way things are going today the momentum for Modi looks very much in step. The biggest reason for this is that Modi has wiped out the single biggest narrative of caste-based politics to unite the biggest demographic in the country-the Hindus into one single virtually unstoppable voting bloc.
The underlying thread in India is very much saffron in colour, although many may call it brute Conservative majoritarianism and the opposition may dub it politics of hate and division, the fact is that today’s India is unilaterally thinking saffron. Unlike its parent company the RSS the BJP plays its cards more subtly. Like the saying goes “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose”, so it is with the new BJP.
Their prose is subtle and smooth and with an absolute majority in parliament carries the stamp of office with it. This year, the government has effectively talked up the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) bill that seeks a common civil code for all citizens irrespective of religion. The bill introduced as a private members bill in the upper house carries the terse backing of the government especially since the UCC remains the only unfinished item on the big ticket promises of the BJP before it came to power.
The UCC will render bodies like the Muslim personnel law board toothless and laws of Sharia applicable in certain cases to Muslims will also cease to exist. To test the waters at least two Indian states governed by the BJP are contemplating laws to bring about a uniform Civil code. One state that has often been held up as an example is Goa, the state that has had a quasi-Civil code in place in the form of the Portuguese Civil Code. A fine print reading of the code however shows several lacunae in the law given that it is inherently biased to people of Catholic faith and certain Hindus, whom the Portuguese rulers wanted to appease.
The formation of a Universal UCC should come about through lengthy effective parliamentary and legal debate, but given how many laws have been rammed through by sheer majority, there is no guarantee of this. Critics argue that this goes hand in hand with the saffron party’s ultimate goal of making the Muslims a side-lined oppressed minority with no stakes in governance of the nation. In the recently concluded election to two states just one Muslim MLA was elected to the assembly, a sign that perhaps this saffron clout is slowly achieving its goal on the ground.
With the rapid spread of information on social media and WhatsApp this narrative gets doubly amplified in the hearts and minds of the people. To that end another subject that has dominated newsreels is the contentious parts of Indian history or rather the interpretation of Indian history. For those of us, who went to school in the 70s and 80s, Indian history was the version that was authored by the likes of Romila Thapar and such.
Although one can recall reading up on the great Indian kings, a special place in our minds was always reserved for the Mughals from Babar to Bahadur Shah Zafar. It is perhaps true that some stories from our rich historical tapestry may have been left out and the story of our freedom struggle told solely from one lens.
The motive today is to drive home what is being dubbed ‘Our true history’. To change the so-called ‘English Public School’ historical perspective much emphasis has been given to the reviving of old heroes as new found icons. The giant bust of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in his Army uniformed salute is one such reminder that perhaps India of yore chose its heroes wrongly and time now to open the pantheon to more deserving ones.
Gone are the days where we can just acquiesce to the stories drilled out by just one side, instead we must now accept that our education was perhaps bereft of this aspect and agree to learn better. A shining example of this came from Assam, where Ahom General Lachit Borphukan got his due place in the lexicon as the state pulled out all the stops to celebrate his birth anniversary.
As we move into top gear, 2023 is going to be characterised by two threads. The first being that at least 6-7 states in India will be going to the polls to elect a new assembly and the second is that at the end of the year India will be hosting the G-20 summit marking its place in the global leadership stakes.
Expect the first one to be no different from all its predecessors with name calling, communal wrangling and realpolitik dominating the election milieu. What direction the voter takes in many ways will set the narrative for the general election for 2024. The Congress party that seems lost between a leader who in his 52nd year is still searching for elusive connection with the voting public and a party chief who in his 80th year is expected to galvanise a party torn to shreds in election after election.
The BJP with Narendra Modi at the helm looks like it will direct the narrative and if that narrative is saffron then so be it. With Narendra Modi set to play host to worlds elite the BJP and its massive mechanism can be expected to roll over all opposition in a full court press for a third term for Prime Minister Modi after his expected success at the G-20.
Year 2023 and 2024 will define the Indian epoch for many years to come, and will firmly paint India in a singular colour that defines all its diversity – Saffron.
Hector Kenneth Kumar, a Chevening Scholar – 2001, is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. Twitter: @hk_365
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