Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gujarat and Gramsci

 Gujarat is back to life, after the carnage and the carnival, looking ahead to an anxious and fearful tomorrow. Lessons have been taught and learned but confessions do not go beyond the tautology of Hindutva and adoration of Narendra Modi or political jargons like "polari­sation". What the secularists and the so-called secular national media failed to realise are the realities beyond Hindutva and secularism. It seems that they have not yet made a philosophi­cal inquiry into what worked against them despite the entire curse on fun­damentalism. Thus "hegemony" rather than Hindutva becomes more relevant in the post-poll discussion on Gujarat, and Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci turns out to be a sig­nificant person than Modi. Again, it may be a theoretical or an ideological framework, but offers a better expla­nation to the debacle.
For  Gramsci, "hegemony" is not mere dominance by force. Rather, it is the set of ideas by which dominant groups in a society secure the consent of subordinate groups to their rule. He believed that a governing class must succeed in persuading their governed to accept the moral, political and cul­tural values suggested by those in power. For that, it is necessary to cap­ture the minds of the population, as well as the institutions, and do it with ideas that will be presented as "com­mon sense". The implementation will be through intellectuals and figures of inf1uence gained to the cause by van­ity, convenience or ambition, or intel­lectual operatives that work with the people, together with the constant use of the media. In Gramsci's words, "the mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, permanent persuader' and not just a simple ora­tor". Gramsci perceived that in a West­ern society, the bond between the ruler and the ruled was cemented through the classical institutions-the family, the church, the school, the civil society and its organisations-in other words, the building blocks of the State. Hindutva is not any different. Fun­damentalism is not any different, nor is communalism. They have been working slowly and steadily with the "common sense" and the "classical institutions", and have been exploring ways to "cement the bond". A com­mon sense that works with the com­mon man, that identifies with his be­liefs, traditions, mannerisms, mores, etiquettes, his ways of living, and above all his spiritual- requirements with an ideology. Thus, it becomes quite easy to link a traditional festival, a social gathering, a popular custom and even a popular culture with Hindutva, and anything which goes against is viewed as injustice to reli­gion and subsequently the ideology. Even intolerance and hatred towards other beliefs, religions and even com­munities, has been added to go along with the dictum of 'common sense.' For all this, they have the support of the dominant group (read class or caste) who act as the "intellectuals and figures of influence in society.
Hindutva goes even further through the practices of communalisation of governance. To quote Upendra Baxi, this is evident in the relatively non-violent ways of sub­ordinating minority rights as testified by pre-Godhra and the organised majority vendetta against minorities in the post-Godhra politics, which was also legitimised by the State. Hindutva did not and does not remain static; it changes with time, technology, media and the market. It has been commodified to explore the possibilities of television and the invasion of satellite channels, such as the pre-publicity given to the movement’s chief symbols through the national broadcast of Ramayana. Hindutva has also attempted to form a “public opinion and support within the nexus of market reforms and expansion of communication, rather than a religious reaction.” Thus as Arvind Rajagopal argues, it has been a case where the media re-shaped the context in which politics is conceived, enacted and understood. That is how the hegemony works, or Hindu nationalism goes to office.
Gramsci argues that the only way to break the hegemony is to build up a “counter hegemony” to that of the ruling class. It is necessary to change the minds, to change the popular consensus and to change the way institutions work. Or to make the people question the rights of their leaders to rule in the accepted way,by bringing in a whole new system of values, beliefs and morality – a system that would become accepted by all in a way that would appear to be the normal thing to do. This is where the secularists and the secular national media failed, to build a counter hegemony. Secularism is itself a wonderful idea of counter hegemony to resist fundamentalism, and it was that Gandhi experimented with. Gandhi’s was a refined idea that can even be termed “spiritual secularism”. By assassinating Gandhi the fundamentalists had prevailed over the earlier attempts to build this counter hegemony.
Attempts to rebuild it rests entirely with a devoted and functional media. As Sunil Saxena of noted in a recent article, the media needs to exercise comments that raise communal temperatures, and not to give legitimacy to them by playing them up, and then react provocatively to them in editorials and analysis pieces. Rights of minorities, repression and fundamentalism should come not only at the same time of crises, but should be a permanent persuader, to formulate opinion among the people even among the upper class, to create a whole new system of values, beliefs and morality, based on religious tolerance and mutual self-respect. That is why the entire Hindutva-baiting by the national media helped the hegemony in consolidating their stance in Gujarat.

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