'Narrative of assertive India stems from deep inferiority complex': Anwesh Satpathy, student.

He says over the years, Indian society is increasingly becoming less self-reflective


Interview/ Anwesh Satpathy, student

Anwesh Satpathy, 20, is a third-year student of political science at O.P. Jindal University in Delhi, and a keen observer of current political trends. In this interview, he reflects on how India has changed in the past decade. Excerpts:

Q/ What are the central issues of the 2024 general elections?

A/ The central issues will be the Ram Temple, the BJP’s social coalition and the success of social welfare schemes. These are the basis on which the BJP aims to return to power, which seems inevitable now. The opposition, unfortunately, has not been able to create a narrative or present an alternative vision. They also seem to be quite unsure about where they stand. For the most part, the opposition has only been reacting to the narratives set by the ruling party.

Ideally, the primary issue of the election should be unemployment, education and social cleavages based on communal lines. The BJP promised to allocate 6 per cent of the GDP to education, but it has remained stagnant at a little over 2 per cent ever since. The state of higher education is becoming increasingly dismal. The best thing that the youth can do, given that these issues affect them most, is to talk about them. Our popular political discourse is centred around charismatic individuals and abstract narratives more than it is on actual issues. By talking about these issues, the youth can create a space for conversations that the state could no longer ignore.

Q/ Are the elections essentially a quasi-presidential referendum on Prime Minister Modi?

A/ Since the last decade, Indian elections have turned essentially presidential for multiple reasons. For starters, there is no doubting the charisma that Prime Minister Modi exudes. The lack of unity among the opposition as well as the failure to provide an appealing alternative vision, not to mention a leader who rivals Modi, has also played a major role in turning the election presidential.

Q/ A problem that the Indian society is not willing to confront is...

A/ I think that over the years, Indian society is increasingly becoming less self-reflective. V.S. Naipaul was somewhat right in characterising India as a wounded civilisation. It is true that, for the longest time, we have simply ignored the cultural disconnect and oral memory that separates a significant proportion of the population from the elite. The BJP has tapped into this. It has given the people a narrative of an assertive India. However, that assertion does not always stem from a genuine pride, but from a deep inferiority complex. It is one thing to say that India is a great civilisation and yet another to claim that the whole world is conspiring against your nation.

Q/ Has Indian democracy become more inclusive or more stable in any way in the last 10 years?

A/ It has certainly become more stable politically. The coalition years were characterised by a certain uncertainty, politically as well as ideologically. The inefficiency of the government and corruption were the primary issues. Thus, the ideological battle was minimised and barely visible, at least, in public discourse.

Today, on the other hand, the government is unapologetic about its ideology and the media does not have any qualms being blatantly partisan. This has made it easier for the people to identify where they stand politically and ideologically. These rigid lines were not as obvious during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) years and Vajpayee years.

The question of inclusivity is a complex one. On one hand, it is hard to dispute that the BJP’s social coalition has expanded beyond its usual urban upper-caste voter base. Political scientist Nalin Mehta painstakingly explains this phenomenon in his brilliant book The New BJP.

But there is no question that the country is increasingly becoming less and less inclusive for the minorities, particularly Muslims. The ruling party does not even attempt any more to ensure the representation of Muslims in the legislature.

Q/ What has been the most consequential historical event in India in the last decade?

A/ There have been so many, but the revocation of Article 370 and the Ram Temple inauguration at Ayodhya are by far the most significant. The BJP, in its previous incarnation as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, has had Article 370 in its manifesto since almost 70 years ago. Not even its opponents imagined that the BJP would be able to pull off such a radical step, but it has. And the Supreme Court has solidified it through the recent judgement.

Similarly, the building of the Ram Temple was the culmination of decades of political mobilisation. Though it came about through the court, I don’t think the court would have given the verdict that it did, if not for the political climate. So, certainly a part of the credit goes to the BJP and the RSS for successfully convincing a significant proportion of the population of their cause. The mere building of the temple would not have been as historic if it had not been accompanied by the narrative of a new, unapologetic Hindu republic.

Q/ In this election, do you intend to vote or not?

A/ I plan not to vote because I don’t like the options I have. Even if I do vote, it will be NOTA. My vote will be mainly to exercise my franchise, without feeling enthused about my options.

Q/ One achievement of the current regime that you appreciate?

A/ I think the Swachh Bharat Mission has been quite successful. Digital India has worked quite well. Social welfare schemes have certainly been more efficient.

Q/ On what issue do you disagree most strongly with the current government?

A/ Hindu nationalism.

Q/ What frustrates you about other young people of your generation?

A/ Ideological obsession. I find young people today to be much more certain and convinced of their beliefs. This certainty is usually not derived from any close investigation or investment in the issue, rather from snippets of reels or YouTube clips. Ideology becomes intertwined with their personality, which is extremely dangerous. The world will be a much better place if we value doubt as a virtue. We would all be in a better place if we question everything―our institutions, our politicians, religion. The point is not to find answers, but to inquire. To know more today than you did yesterday. That is only possible through engagement with people who disagree with you because maybe they have looked at the same issues in ways you cannot even perceive.