The dominant response of the urban college-goers on social media to the BJP’s victory in the 2019 elections has been to cry foul at the electorate that voted for the party. It is not just incorrect but also lazy.
Disclaimer: I did not vote for the BJP. I have had heated discussions with BJP supporters trying to prove to them why I don’t concur with their views and why, in my opinion, the Modi-led government did not do a job good enough in its first term to deserve a re-election. I used to be a supporter initially but things changed.
Regardless, the typical response of the urban college-going students – who would mostly identify themselves as perhaps being more on the liberal and the non-right side – to the election results on social media was almost a uniform rebuke of anyone who voted for the BJP, accompanied by cries of fascism and predictions suggesting virtually the end of democracy.
Among the many social media posts, some called shame on the voters for electing this government back. Others showed images of Mohammed Naeem moments before being violently lynched to death, of Mohammed Akhlaq, Gauri Lankesh and others and were shared as Instagram stories with captions urging voters to remember them before they voted. It is true that the multiple lynchings and killings of dissenting voices by groups sharing ideologies similar to the ruling party or those affiliated to some of its members, and the silence of the dispensation over such acts can be reason enough for someone to not vote back a government – this was one of my reasons, at least.
However, to say that these can be the only metrics of judging whether the government should be voted for or not is quite dogmatic. To say that those who voted for the BJP did not vote for ‘development’ but ‘hatred and bigotry’, even if the voters themselves say that the former was the determinant, does not just imply that only one kind of electoral preference – one that is anti-BJP – should exist but also denies the agency to the voters to make their electoral decisions themselves by condemning those choices. It’s also highly patronising and arrogant to tell someone that you couldn’t have voted because of X reason because I’m telling you that you voted for Y. Who are we with our high-handed privilege to tell people what is right for them?
There can be tons of reasons as to why people might have voted for Mr Modi’s party. As writer Mahmood Farooqui argued in an article published on The Wire, “Many voted for him (Modi) despite acknowledging his policy failures. Some voted for him because he could defend the country, some because he had made the country proud internationally, some because he worked very hard and they saw him as honest, and some because there was nobody else on the horizon. Many people voted for a leader who they genuinely believed was doing good for the country and would continue to do good. They voted for a leader who they believed deserved another chance.”
Or as NDTV‘s Aunindyo Chakravarty wrote in his blog, “The Modi government might have failed in the…various type of ‘measures’ through which modern nations gauge their government’s performance – GDP, industrial output, profit growth, employment, and similar ‘data’ that states produce. It has, however, been extremely successful in creating ‘touch-points’ between the government and the poor.
“Swachh Bharat, PMAY (Awas Yojana), Ujjwala, Jan Dhan, Ayushman Bharat, Mudra, PM Kisan, are all such touch-points, that aid the operation of ‘governmentality’.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean some people didn’t vote for the BJP precisely because of the bigotry and divisiveness, as shown by journalist Supriya Sharma’s piece on Scroll.in. Yet, I would argue that a greater portion of people voted because of many other reasons – governmental schemes, choosing stability over a weak and fragmented opposition, popularity of Mr Modi and other such considerations. After a single term, the anti-incumbency factor isn’t that high either and people might often be willing to give the government another chance.
Hence, the “fascist, communal, bigot” arguments are quite incorrect. But they’re more than that – they’re also lazy.
Apart from the clichés of how it is very easy to sit in our air conditioned rooms and condemn people’s preferences, there are also the dangers of ideology. Living in a box is easy but also dangerous for it blinds people in their ideological echo chambers. The left using labels of “fascist”, “hyper-nationalist”, “communal” for right-wingers is basically the same as the right attaching derogatory connotations to “liberal”, “secular” or “communist” or using labels of “anti-national”.
Both are different ways of using the same tactic of attaching labels to opponents while ignoring nuance all along the way. This thumbnail point of view never allows for nuanced understanding or debate because most people, irrespective of their ideological leanings, don’t accept the fact that they might be wrong. This lazy argument of limiting the other’s perspective to a couple of fancy words remains meaningless to some and incomprehensible jargon to others. Ultimately, the root of the issue isn’t tackled and evils of communalism and bigotry are allowed to get away. In any case, when has Insta-activism ever solved a problem?
I’m not trying to do armchair political analysis and fall into the irony of critiquing armchair activists at the same time, which is why I’ve quoted from people much more experienced in this domain. Instead, I’ve tried to have a non-thumbnail, non-lazy argument with people like me who I think are missing the point.
Image credits – The Hindu