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Lakshadweep is a conglomerate of some 36 islands, 220 nautical miles west of Kochi in Kerala. A hitherto idyllic Muslim-majority Union Territory, it has been administered since Independence by career bureaucrats without incident.
All that is set to change.
This time around, a full-time politician from the House of Saffron is now in charge there, tasked with a predictable political agenda.
And, he has set to work in earnest, making new rules, all informed with a single-minded purpose to impose a “nationalist” imprimatur on the inhabitants: a beef ban, (and a contemplated measure to open liquor trade), disqualification of aspirants to panchayat posts who have more than two children, an anti-Goonda Act, and a new development authority with powers to acquire land.
In passing, according to police records, Lakshadweep has “the lowest crime rate in the country” and we might well wonder what the anti-Goonda Act is intended to accomplish.
Furthermore, it is proposed to discontinue marine traffic to Lakshadweep from Kerala and replace this with shipping from Mangalore in the BJP-ruled state of Karnataka.
The Kerala connect, both commercial and cultural, of the island is seen as a source of potential sectarian mischief, with no evidence thus far for such a scare in the record of the areas in question. The current Member of Parliament from the Union Territory is from the Nationalist Congress Party.
Sensing the meaning in totality of these viceregal moves, the Congress and the Left, besides the inhabitants of the territory, have demanded the recall of the current administrator in the best interests of preserving peace and the culture of the island population, and preventing arbitrary colonisation of the land and its people by forces out to make a quick buck.
Making up for the loss of hegemony on the mainland
The exponential loss of hegemony of the ruling BJP among those citizens who voted with great hope for Narendra Modi first in 2014 and then again in 2019, both in north Indian states and at the Centre, is resonantly suggested by a sharp response Rajiv Ranjan of the News 24 channel got from a farmer on his people-contact programme (May 25, 6 pm):
“We had voted with great hope for the Modi-led BJP, but nothing they say can be trusted; be sure, in coming elections in Uttar Pradesh, they will say there were no corpses floating in the Ganga.”
A fruit vendor this writer frequents lamented how being a Hindu has done little for his livelihood over the last seven years. “All we get is harassment from the local daroga (policeman) who does not think twice before tossing over our cart if we speak up or do not oblige.”
More generally, the shockingly callous mismanagement of the pandemic which has left the poor (and not just the poor) with no recourse to healthcare, with lives lost dime a dozen for want of oxygen, medicines, hospital beds, and vaccination showed its electoral effects in West Bengal and the panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh. Losses which are set to be replicated rather than remedied despite those “high-level” confabulations among the ruling big shots, as slogans, word spins, invocations to patriotism, a fresh litany of promises, and familiar scapegoating of the opposition parties – all come a cropper in the personal experience of the pandemic.
Always possessive about the “image” of the motherland (inter alia, the prime minister) in the world, the exposures of untruths about COVID-19 data, and of gung-ho self-congratulation early on for having banished the virus with no thought of how to prepare for more in contrast to far better management even by the minnows among nations have severely dented the capacity of the right-wing propaganda machine to retrieve the loss of faith among people at large.
All that while the fat cats continue to make killings on the stock market, with the Adanis achieving further high position among the richest of the world, while ventilators bought under the aegis of the PM CARES fund (opaque and forbidden to public scrutiny) fail to perform, uncaring of lethal consequences to patients who need them. Once again, a high court feels obliged to ask questions.
Do not ask if a Bofors-like inquiry might be instituted into the purchase of the said ventilators. After all, the party-with-a-difference is in power, not the shady Congress.
In this context, an averment by the knowledgeable K.C. Tyagi carries further momentous significance. Stating that the Indian farming community has a decisive say in the electoral fortunes of some 342 parliamentary seats, Tyagi, wishing for the NDA to return to power in 2024, pointed out how important it is for the government to strike a modus vivendi with the protesting farmers if that objective is to be met.
But the farmers, for now, do not seem to be in any frame of mind to make a U-turn from their experience of the market-friendly right-wing, and from their studied understanding of the far-reaching deleterious import of the farm laws enacted by the Modi government, even if by a contested voice vote while a division was demanded on the concerned Bill in the Rajya Sabha where the government’s usual supporters among the opposition also spoke against the measure.
Options for the right-wing
This developing national scenario must leave the right-wing severely cramped for political options. Having failed on governance and livelihood issues, it is to be doubted that a familiar recourse to emotive brick-and-mortar agendas like the Central Vista fantasy, etc., will yet again befuddle the popular mind into identifying such schemes with the welfare of the people at large.
Nor may the frequent and high-handed use of state agencies, be it in Uttar Pradesh or elsewhere, produce desirable results at the polling booths in the days to come. As for the Grand Ram Temple, it is hardly likely to be up and running by 2022 when elections are due to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, although it will be interesting to see how this may play in 2024 were it to be completed by then.
Also, repeating a Balakot might now be just too transparent a ploy for the electorate to be fooled yet again. First time gung-ho, the second time a farce, you might say.
That leaves the Sangh with but one time-tested praxis, namely, the politics of polarising identities, although the six-month-long farmers’ stir has shown that those who succumbed to that ploy in 2013 in Muzaffarnagar have come to close ranks not just tactically but in a sentient and far-reaching sort of confluence. The rabble-rousing demagogue may not have it as easy the next time around.
What is being attempted in Lakshadweep may then be seen in this larger context — as a pot now put on the burner for a politically conducive yield next year in the all-important state of Uttar Pradesh. It is to be much doubted that what the honourable administrator there is doing is without a nod from Nagpur.
Yet, the right-wing must now, at least in private, count without much support from state agencies or from the judicial system, given that recent months have suggested a new resolve among these institutions to restore lost credibility to themselves.
Nor may a hitherto captive segment of the media be as slavishly obliging as it has been; the horrific collapse of governance during the pandemic has left them little room to continue to drum-beat the powers-that-be.
Equally, it may not be as easy as before to engineer either defections or divisions from and among opposition political forces who seem to sense that the time for turning back the potential loss of republican democracy is now. And the fate of those who turned coat in West Bengal must carry its own lessons as well.
The other option of course is the honourable one: to play fair by India’s constitutional secularism and let its systemic arrangements breathe free. That, of course, would involve a remake of the right-wing itself, and a jettisoning of the Hindutva agenda. Given the history of the right-wing since 1925 (indeed from 1923 when Savarkar wrote Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?), this option must be consigned to the realm of the unthinkable.
Whether or not the government of the day does indeed recall the Lakshadweep Administrator will speak to these speculations in a telling way.
That Lakshadweep is sought to be made a new laboratory for the practice of Hindutva should be clear enough, and secular-democratic forces who seek to push back the communal juggernaut must look more closely at Lakshadweep than a small little Union territory might ordinarily warrant.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.