Shiv Visvanathan is one of India's leading sociologists. He currently teaches at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology.
Narendra Modi's fast is the most misunderstood event of the year. This essay would like to argue that the fast has little connection with the closure of the riots but is an attempt to inaugurate a new era in politics. There is an old saying that when the vulture is tired of old food, it goes on a fast. A fast here is not a statement of contrition, it is an interlude to a new era. Modi is not signalling turnover or a turn around. He is virtually claiming that he is ready for a new kind of politics.
His fast has to be read twice, first, as a ritual of renouncing food, second as a signal of a new transition. The second has to be developed first because we often get caught in the idiosyncrasies of the person rather than the changing nature of the social systems.
Modi is inventing a new kind of tyranny. He has become the interlocking nexus between Party, State and the corporations. He is creating a new regime which is far more abstract and far more frightening. Modi showed that we can live with genocide and treat it as a temporary hiccup on the way to development. We have to look beyond the riots to Modi Phase II.
This is the new history of urbanization where land is awarded cheaply to the corporations. It began with Tatas who were literally seduced to entering Gujrarat. Corporations are becoming economically powerful whether as Tata or Adani. Second we are adding to it a state which is becoming insanely powerful in the name of development. Thirdly the party in Gujarat votes by acclamation. It is a populist tyranny where a monarch like figure, lets call him Modi, becomes the common site between these three interlocking forces.
At first appearance this sounds and looks efficient. We have an antiseptic, abstract word for it. It is called Governance. It plays down the state to create an interlocking web of power of state, party and corporation. The political economy of this is becoming clearer. If this is the base, such a structure has to create the culture of a middle class which is ready for such power, a middle class which has to see its own self interests, its mobility, its morality as running in tandem with this new power system.
What Gujarat has created at the cultural level is the religious - educational-entertainment complex to match the political bureaucratic corporate complex. What marks Gujarat is the power of the religious sects. They are the new fourth estate and they have followers which rival any politician. They also have the sense of the pragmatic, the organizational skill which matches any corporation.
The nature of stereotypes is such that people do not associate the Gujarati society with education but today education is big business and politicians like Chiman Bhai Patel controlled about 50 colleges. Gujarat is home to some of the biggest intellectual corridors. Gandhinagar is not just the capital but is home to NIFT, NID, IIT, DAIICT, PDPU and the new central university. It is an investement in a professional system by an elite which sees education as power, knowledge as investment but is equally clear that humanities and social science are entropic forces. The third part of this complex is entertainment as food, as parties, as tourism, as film.
This second frame creates a mix of tradition and modernity where a certain kind of religious idiom helps legitimize power. The Rath yatra, the term Yatra (pilgrimage) the Upvas and Arakshan (as fast) create an idiom for cultural politics. Politics has to speak the idom and Modi is master of it. Here is a master fascist switching gears between two languages.
The first is the language of an Governance. But that is an idiom that is too modern. The idiom of the fast gives it an indigeneity. You fast traditionally when you wish to purify your self, when you want to signal a rite of passage. The media's pun of "fast forwarding" is truer that it thinks.
Here is a shrewd man using traditional idioms shrewdly to signal phase II of his politics. It is not Delhi that is the target. It is Delhization of India., the heralding of new state which will demand from democracy inventions it has not yet dreamed of. The Modi fast is a signal for a new era. Its semaphore is not for minorities and marginals. This has only a superficial connection with riots. Modi is least bothered about them. His fast is signalling to power structures beyond them. Our idiocy lies in associating this discourse with Gandhi, Tagore and other ethical forces. To be deaf to what he says would be criminal and stupid.
(Shiv Visvanathan is a Social Science Nomad)