March 3, 2017 12:02:58 am
The victory of the BJP in the municipal elections in Maharashtra is not just a vote against the NCP and Congress. It is also a rejection of the “provincial progressivism” of the social organisations nurtured by these parties. Factors like the charisma of the BJP campaign, the projection of the state government’s accomplishments and the ever-operative Modi effect, have definitely had a role in turning the tide of votes towards the BJP. At another level, the social significance of the BJP’s victory is that people of Maharashtra have voted against the provincial and imported theory of progressivism and liberalism that originated in the West. This homogenising progressivism — used for political tokenism and as a tool for abusing the innocuous traditional and family values of the people of Maharashtra — has cost the Congress-NCP their political presence.
Western theories perceive progressivism as a process of avant-garde reasoning through a resistance to the institutionalised Semitic, monolithic society. Polity and politics are to be separated from the clutches of religious systems. This notion of democracy does not recognise the inherently liberal and inclusive culture of the people of India and in Maharashtra’s case, as a guiding principle of the state. The western idea of secularism demands an absolute ideological autonomy from spiritual and religious values because the Semitic philosophy is essentially expansionist. Hence, western intellectuals approach progressive politics as a critique of any subservience of the state to cultural traditions and resist reciprocal relations between them.
In India, our sensibilities and consciousness are distinct from the West. This distinction needs to be recognised and reflected in our polity. The so-called progressive brigade, on the contrary, adopted a derisive language against the culture of the people rooted in tradition. The Congress and NCP undertook a short-cut to create a “rational society” through an imposed aloofness towards popular beliefs and culture. This terminology — of rationalism, vivekvaad, secularism, freedom of speech, Hindu terrorism, anti-superstition — became the weapons of (mass) culture destruction.
The cultural politics of progressive activists, bound by NGOs indulging in festival-shaming, tradition-bashing, ritual-punching, faith-deriding and debunking popular culture, has always been supported by the Congress and NCP in the name of the “progressive” values. This culturally leftist activism was found by these parties to be a handy instrument of countering the pro-tradition, pro-nationalism image of the BJP. This insurgence was neither apolitical nor a genuine activism of the “reformist” type. These “naysayers” and “why” brigades had all the political ammunition save one: They did not use conscience. Their anti-tradition activism was directed against even those traditions which the people at large found indisputable. The liaison between Congress-NCP and this “progressivist” activism has not gone down well with the masses.
Another feature of this distorted progressivism is the ill-informed approach to the study and of the teachings of Chhatrapati Shahu, Jyotiba Phule and B.R. Ambedkar. The Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar phrase was made into an emblem of this alienating and provincial progressivism. The distorted appropriation of these thinkers established “caste versus caste” politics as the only tool for social awakening. This model of hate-mongering conveniently ignores the integrating aspects of the life, deeds, writings and teachings of the great social reformers. Shahu, Phule and Ambedkar did fight against inequalities but their writings did not disintegrate society and polarise individuals and communities into caste units and organisations. Rather, they offered ingenious solutions for nation-building through liberty, equality and fraternity. Theirs was a truly Indian progressivism, much broader and inclusive than the provincial progressivism of the dissenting gangs that revolutionise everything and change nothing.
The provinciality of their progressivism has cost political parties their political presence and brought into question the relevance of their divisive cultural activism. It is not about elections at a lower level or a higher level, it is about the relevance of ideas. The people of Maharashtra have voiced their rejection of the naysayers.
The writer is assistant professor, department of English, Fergusson College, Pune
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