Hailed as a vital effort that deconstructs the nature of contemporary politics in India at a critical juncture, former Vice President Hamid Ansari launched the edited volume ‘The Rise of Saffron Power’ in New Delhi.
This book is an editorial effort by Mujibur Rehman, Assistant Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, who described the collection of essays as an effort to delve into the impact of the landmark 2014 elections and consequent political forces/events that shaped Indian politics. According to Rehman, there were three major ideological streams in the Indian body politic since the early 20th century. The followers of the first one believed that as Indian society is a diverse and plural one and would be home to people of all religions, castes, creeds and colours.
The second force directly challenged the first by striving to create a separate homeland for Muslims, as it was believed that socio-religious lines needed to be pragmatically recognized. It was believed by adherents of this force that these differences were total and politically irreconcilable.
The third force of Hindu nationalism saw the Indian subcontinent historically as a land of Hindus, which needed to be reclaimed at the momentous occasion of defining India as a newly decolonized modern nation-state. At the outset of independence in August 1947, incongruously as it may seem -given the Hindu majority demography of India - the first two political forces emerged victorious, while the third force remained marginalized.
It is Rehman’s argument that the decades of marginalization has allowed this force to regroup, recalibrate and rebrand itself, to result in the visibly stupendous and unexpected triumph of the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Rehman observes the hegemonic position that the BJP has seemed to secure for itself, and admits that he is skeptical of claims by oppositional parties that the BJP will be resoundingly defeated in the coming 2019 parliamentary elections. However he takes note of an understated current of decline, particularly as increasing electoral competition is leading to BJP candidates being beaten in individual constituency elections in BJP ruled states.
Rehman believes the BJP’s hold on Indian politics cannot continue forever. He invited the audience to wonder what a post-Modi BJP would look like. In his estimation, after Modi, there would be more space for internal ideological discussion and perhaps it would lead to fragmentation of the BJP into smaller political parties upholding varying degrees and strands of ‘Hindutva-ness’.
Former Vice President Hamid Ansari endorsed the book as a must-read for all those interested in a comprehensive and coherent analysis of Indian politics since 2014. ‘Saffron power’, as identified in the book, was not just an election campaign platform but a wholesale ideology that every voting Indian should critically look into.
Ansari said saffron ideology sought the denigration of Indian constitutional values of diversity and inclusion for an alternate paradigm of exclusion and homogenization. The current wave was perhaps empowered by the failure of the previous political establishments to uphold these principles in some measure. He posited that ‘the demonization of segments of the population’ would lead to unexpected outcomes. Already one can see the euphoria fading as ‘angry farmers, restive students, unemployed youth’ and listless traders hold failed and undelivered campaign promises against the current leadership.
The event was held at the India International Centre October 3, 2018.