Excitotoxins and MSG. (Or, the Modi Style of Governance)
Prime Minister Elect of the world’s largest democracy arrives at the airport in New Delhi
Image Ravi Kanojia, Indian Express May 18, 2014
Circulating on Facebook for two days, and still unreported in mainstream media, is the story of overjoyed BJP workers attacking two mosques in Dakshina Kannada Lok Sabha constituency. Inebriated saffron activists, raising Hara-Hara Modi slogans, attacked two Masjids in separate places of the district on May 16th, after the poll results were announced.
The BJP activists also tried to harm the Imam of Muhiyuddin Juma Masjid, but he managed to escape from the hands of the miscreants.
Meanwhile, another group of miscreants, believed to be BJP activists, reportedly pelted stones at a Masjid in Suralpady near Kaikamba under the limits of Bajpe police station.
Today’s Hindu reports that a Muslim chicken stall owner was beaten up by a gang at Hoode village.
Mr. Ais told The Hindu that he was cooking food, for nearly 400 students at a nearby school, when seven persons came on four motorcycles asked for him with his daughter Ayesha at around 4.30 p.m. They later pushed her and came to him and asked if he was present when a victory procession [of the Bharatiya Janata Party] was taken out on May 16, to which he replied in the negative. They then beat him up.
But none of this muck sticks to the Teflon visage of Modi, ever. These are mere goons, Modi should rein them in, in the interests of his own fair name. Eminent political scientists and op-ed writing intellectuals will all distance themselves with distaste from such lumpen behaviour, urging Mr Modi – Modiji, Narendrabhai – to show that he does not support such violence by misguided working class thugs.
But this thuggishness is intrinsically and essentially a part of the Modi Style of Governance. Get used to it.
The Modi Style of Governance. Oh, MSG?
MSG is also of course, the acronym for Monosodium Glutamate, a food additive commonly found in flavour enhancers like ajinomoto, considered to be dangerous and therefore widely limited or banned outright globally.
What is it about MSG that is dangerous?
[T]he effects of MSG are cumulative. Just because you don’t react to MSG now, doesn’t mean you won’t later. Sensitivity to MSG builds up in our bodies until we reach our “threshold of sensitivity.”
That’s because MSG overstimulates our nervous system — exciting our nerves and causing an inflammatory response.
Watching the collective orgasmic responses of the media to Narendra Modi’s victory, the inflammatory response is clearly evident. (Was I experiencing an out of body experience in sheer despair or did Arnab Goswami really organize a standing ovation in his studio to the ‘Tsunamo’ as results were being declared? And when you adoringly name your idol after a devastatingly destructive force that leaves mass annihilation in its wake, what exactly are you expecting from him?)
Meanwhile, long ago, MSG, it was thought, could repair human cells, since glutamate is a naturally existing amino acid. So in 1957, a team of researchers decided to see if glutamate could help repair a diseased retina. The researchers fed rats MSG and were shocked by their results. Rather than repairing the disease, the MSG destroyed the retinal cells that allow vision.
So – MSG, proposed as a cure, could kill. Hm.
A decade later, the neuroscientist Dr. John Olney found that MSG not only destroyed retinal vision cells, but also parts of the brain. This brain damage was done as neurons became over excited, virtually exciting themselves to death. He called this “excitotoxicity,” and that has led subsequent researchers to describe MSG as an “excitotoxin.”
As these other MSG excitotoxins circulate through our body politic, it becomes more and more difficult to think straight.
For Modi’s urbane, sophisticated supporters like Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Modi has scripted the “most gloriously spectacular political triumphs in the history of independent India”, and the BJP has now
“become a genuinely national party and transformed India’s political landscape, perhaps forever.”
This last may well be true, as we “virtually excite ourselves to death.”
Whom does the BJP represent? The First Past The Post Syndrome
The common sense of the dominant upper classes has shifted rightward so radically. The very Pratap Bhanu Mehta who in 2002 referred to the “maniacal ranting of Narendra Modi”, and in 2005, described the Gujarat violence of 2002 as a “state-supported pogrom against minorities” (1), now writes with complete sanguinity that the BJP “has been able to create a broad-based support, across social classes, across rural and urban areas, across different castes.” Even for form’s sake Mehta cannot pretend that different religious identities are included in that broad based support – the BJP appears to have consolidated the Hindu vote, and that’s good enough for Mehta.
(Shankar Raghuraman points out the “minor problem” in calling BJP a national party, despite the quantum and spread of its vote share – the fact that its rise has happened with a near total exclusion of minorities.)
But while the BJP has consolidated Hindu votes behind it, it has not got even a simple majority of votes of Hindus in general. As has been pointed out many times by now, the BJP has won with 31 percent of the votes cast, that is, less than one third of the votes cast, not even of the total electorate. There is no doubt that the First Past The Post system heavily distorts the actual preferences of voters. As Siddharth Varadarajan points out, the FPTP system ensured that the 12 point difference in vote share between Congress (19.3%) and BJP (31%) translates into a 600 point difference in seats (BJP 282, Congress 44).
It is time to revive the debate on whether the FPTP represents even somewhat accurately, an electorate’s preferences. On Shuddhabrata’s post here on Kafila, a debate is going on in the comments section, on the FPTP, but I think that debate has to be restructured completely. Critiques of the FPTP can be found as long ago as 1975 in the Tarkunde Committee report, and in the 1998 Law Commission Report. In election studies this is a factor that is addressed routinely, with scholars making the important argument that radical agendas and smaller parties stand little chance under FPTP. The former Chief Election Commissioner T. S. Krishnamurthy, on completing his stint in 2005, called for a national debate on replacing the first-past-the-post system since people with barely 20% of the vote become representatives when 80% have voted against them. B R Ambedkar himself had come to the realization that “parliamentary democracy under the first-past-the-post system would not enable minorities in India to achieve genuine political representation”. There has been considerable debate for decades on the FPTP, and periodically other electoral systems, such as Proportional Representation (PR), have been considered seriously in public debate. If the system has not changed, it’s partly because of the stakes that the major political parties, especially the Congress, have in retaining the system, and partly because PR has several problems, not least of which is the control it leaves in the hands of party bosses.
What kinds of transformations of democratic institutions and practices would ensure genuine responsiveness to interests of different sections of people at different points in time? A serious debate on radical alternatives is necessary. But to conceptualise PR in the context only of currently existing parties that would get seats in proportion to their votes, is not sufficient. We would have to think of a re-visioned PR system that would have room (and continue to make room) for newer kinds of political configurations – the anti-big dam movements, anti-nuclear energy movements, sexuality rights movements, to name but a few.
A public debate on the potential and limitations of proportional representation is certainly worthwhile, although that too would only be a beginning. We would also need to keep in mind the fact that in a globalised world, as Canadian feminist Maude Barlowe puts it, “Power has shifted elsewhere. It has been sucked away by an elite group of global capitalists who dictate to national governments…” Almost every political party in Canada has affirmative action programmes to ensure women candidates. But like Barlowe, many feminists in Canada feel that when they finally got there – “the cupboard was bare” – the national government is under the control of global capital.
Similarly, a recent study by professors at Northwestern and Princeton Universities in the USA, found that the USA is more an oligarchy than a democracy.
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
In other words, policies supported by economic elites and business interest groups were far more likely to become law than those they opposed, while the preferences of the middle class made essentially no difference to a bill’s fate.
In India, the control by corporate capital over these elections in particular, has been well established by now. An Economic and Political Weekly editorial calls it the “biggest corporate heist in history“ (2).
So if we are to reconsider FPTP as an electoral mechanism, we need to be open to radically rethinking the idea of how democracy is to be achieved. Democracy is not an actually existing phenomenon, it is a possibility that is continually to be developed. Democracy is a horizon – you never reach it, but its presence on the horizon orients you.
In the meanwhile it is worthwhile reiterating that the BJP has not been endorsed by even a simple majority of Hindus in this country.
The New Third front – NOTA?
The biggest indicator that a rethink on FPTP is long overdue is the NOTA factor. Fully 18,053 brave folk got out of their homes in – yes – Vadodara, on voting day to press the button for NOTA – None of the Above. Statistically negligible – but politically, how significant. In that constituency, tightly wrapped up and controlled by the BJP and state machinery, the safe seat of choice for Modi – eighteen thousand people said NO to every single candidate, including Narendrabhai Modiji Himself. In all of India, 59.7 lakh people pressed NOTA, and in Gujarat alone, 4.4 lakh NOTA votes were cast. In fact in Gujarat, NOTA was the third most preferred option, leaving AAP in fourth place. In Chottaudepur constituency adjacent to Vadodara which includes villages where farmers are fighting against contamination of ground water, and also includes villages protesting the Garudeshwar weir dam, the NOTA votes were 28,815. Tribal dominated areas used it the most. In Dahod, reserved for ST, 3.6 percent of votes cast were NOTA, that is, 32,268 people voted NOTA! (3)
Minorities, women, homos in their proper place
The excitotoxin meanwhile, continues its path of destruction. Apart from religious minorities, other anti/non-Indians are next on the agenda. Arjun Ram Meghwal, a BJP MP from Bikaner, has said that he will present a private member bill in Lok Sabha to criminalize homosexuality. The bill, titled Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2012, had been introduced by Mr. Meghawal last year, but was not discussed by the Lok Sabha. He hopes the new House will be more amenable, and why not. The BJP was the only party to strongly oppose decriminalization of homosexuality at the time of the Supreme Court judgement.
After these elections, BJP has also promised to promote Indian tradition in Bollywood, and we know how strongly they and their parivar defend Indian tradition as regards women and how they dress. And if it can be a combination of controlling both minorities and women, what could be better. In August 2012:
The Vivekananda Vidyavardhaka Sangha group of institutions (VVS Puttur, Dakshin Kannada) issued instructions to its students and staff to wear tilaks, earrings and bangles while attending classes. The diktat issued by the management extends to minority students and college staff. While wearing the tilak and bangles is encouraged by the management under the garb of promoting ‘Indian’ values, any display of hijab (headscarf ) or burqa is banned in the 41 institutions (from preschool to engineering) run by VVS, on the grounds that it is not part of its prescribed ‘uniform’.
Uma Bharati claimed that Muslims would be very safe under BJP rule, and sure, why will they not be. The riot-manufacturing industry itself is in power, and it is in its own interest to maintain law and order on the surface, because who wants to risk investment amidst mayhem. But the MSG has a special style of minority management, which has been perfected in Gujarat. Ghettoization, daily intimidation, routine humiliation – shut the eff up and we may not kill you. Actual violence may only be necessary on a small scale and infrequently, just to show who’s boss.
The Gujarat Model. Oohh…
But what about development? Ah, that Development into which heaven of the Sensex, oh Tsunamo, let my country awake.
The Gujarat Model of Development is driven by corporate interests, is callous with regard to sustainability and ecological consequences, is unhindered by any ethical concern in land grab from peasants for corporates and exponentially enhances inequality. All of this information is available, among other places, on Kafila. See:
Gujarat and the Illusion of Development (A review a volume of essays edited by Atul Sood Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat)
So – how different from the UPA 2 regime? Not very different at all, in fact. And that is the reason Congress is OUT, decimated, finished. Because it decided to ignore all democratic pressures and go full steam ahead to fulfil the corporate agenda. But still, there was a small difference – UPA 2 was still fettered by elements that took democracy seriously, and listened to social movements. This democratic constraint was what India Inc. called Policy Paralysis.
Fortunately for those high on excitotoxins, there are no democratic constraints at all any more. Ram Madhav of the RSS which is the life blood of the BJP, stated quite unambiguously:
India needs a strong economy that caters to the last man by invoking the mantra of development and growth. It should strengthen the hands of the poor by facilitating more employment. It shouldn’t turn them into perpetual beggars, surviving at the mercy of the government-offered doles.
Yes, of course, anybody would prefer the dignity of starving to death over “government-offered doles”. NREGA is clearly on the way out, as is the National Food Security Act, and no doubt the Right to Information Act.
Hail to the Chief (Presidential Anthem of the United States)
In a blog post on at the end of polling, “Narendra Modi” said :
Lets place people over politics, hope over despair, healing over hurting, inclusion over exclusion and development over divisiveness. It is natural for the spirit of bipartisanship to get temporarily lost in the midst of an election campaign but now is the time to resurrect it.
Why have I put the PM-Elect’s name in quotation marks? Because I’m certain the blog is maintained by loving minions, and this post in particular, I will wager my pseudo-secular soul, was written by a US-based minion. Bipartisanship? In India? This is what bipartisan means:
representing, characterized by, or including members from two parties or factions
That’s in the US, my friend. For example, Reagan is said to have had a “bipartisan spirit”, reaching across the aisle to Democrats. In India it would have to be multipartisan, for there are not just two parties. And there never has been a “spirit of multipartisanship” in Indian politics, where there are still real differences between parties, unlike the US, where the Republicans and the Democrats pretty much mirror each other.
So big deal. The minion plagiarized tired cliches from American politics to represent the voice of the “first Prime Minister of India born after Independence”. I agree – this is the least of our worries.
The direction in which we seem to be going, though, that is worrying – towards that proud oligarchy that our freedom fighters gave their lives for.
What about AAP?
“It’s not done badly for a new party” – these are not the anodyne words I expected to write about Aam Aadmi Party. Of course not. Like thousands of supporters of this new movement-that was-not-quite-a-party, I had hoped against hope that an ethical, principled politics would triumph over the politics-as-usual of money and muscle power, and the ancient rot of corruption. Perhaps it stretched itself too thin. Perhaps mistakes were made, and introspection is necessary. But I still believe AAP can provide a genuinely ethical space in Indian politics that prioritizes democracy above all else.
But I do know what was not a mistake – the decision to sacrifice a sure seat in Delhi by fielding Kejriwal in Banaras against Modi. That decision showed courage and integrity, that decision showed that AAP sees itself primarily as providing an actual alternative to the behind-the-back camaraderie of the two principal players in the field – the BJP and the Congress. It is this steadfast integrity that AAP should nurture, and let the cleansing begin, as those who flocked to it seeing an easy route to power, fall away.
After I spent two days with AAP in its Banaras campaign, I had realized that
For AAP, this is not a battle that will end with the elections. Even the booth managers are meant to be the AAP representatives in their localities after the elections, to play an important role in the swaraj through mohalla sabhas that will emerge, regardless of victory or defeat in the election.
I still have hope.
Democracy? Jaaye bhaad mein
AAP prioritizes democracy, a value-less commodity in the new regime. It is attacked by its Left critics for not having an ideology, but I have begun to see democracy as its ideology. Kejriwal, asked once why the party was opposed to FDI in retail, said simply, “log nahin chaahte”. The people dont want it. AAP’s position is not against FDI as such, or against nuclear energy or big dams. It seems to be against any policy or decision that holds in contempt what the people concerned feel about it, the people who are actually affected by a decision, not an abstract category such as “Hindus” or “The People”.
Not a bad place to start at all.
Meanwhile, Modi’s fervid little followers urge him to forget about democracy now that he has been voted to power. Swapan Dasgupta is very clear about this. He begs Modi not to “shed his combativeness”, to remember that this is “not a mandate for consensus but for audacity.”
A democratic mandate for combativeness against whom? Not for consensus but for audacity – to do what? Clearly whatever it is, is not going to be liked by many.
But oh well – we tried democracy. Time for a change? Got those excitotoxins flowing? Cheers!
(1) Raghu Karnad unearthed these earlier writings of PBM and put them out on Facebook.
(2) “Anger, Aspiration, Apprehension” EPW Vol – XLIX No. 21, May 24, 2014
(3) Thanks to Trupti Shah for a very useful discussion on this in FeministsIndia e-list. and here are some newspaper reports on NOTA in this election: