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Time, modernity and the BJP

Sociologists have often commented that outsiders have a more clear-sighted view of everydayness than us. Recently, I was ranting against the communalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when a European friend of mine, a philosopher, observed that the categories of left and right were grossly overdrawn in India. They emphasised a world of deep dualisms, or even a richness of traditional thought, that does not exist in India. India, he said, cannot claim a Gramsci or a Rosa Luxemburg. Worse, our rightist parties have no sense of the creative traditions of conservatism. An Indian Edmund Burke is unthinkable. Beyond its corrosive communalism, the BJP has no idea of the right as a systematic ideology. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s idea of capitalism is adequate. Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were more creative nationalists than Veer Savarkar or K.B. Hedgewar.

My friend noted that Indian parties were more vehicles for modernity, and it is as exponents of modernity that they make sense. One has to explore how these parties use time, history, linearity as modernising forces. It is as vehicles of modernity that parties come to power.

Surrogate moderniser

When the Congress lost its modernising impetus, the BJP became the surrogate moderniser. It is in terms of its claims to modernity that the BJP has to be assessed. The BJP’s attitude to time has always intrigued me. So far, it has been dealt with eclectically. If the left saw economics as a classic force, history was always the collective impetus for the BJP. Its obsession with history confuses myth and the rationality of logos. At one level, it contemporarises the ancients by creating equivalences to current achievements in ancient times. The examples range from test-tube babies and plastic surgery to biotechnology. India is seen as one fluid continuity from the Vedic Age to now. While ancient history is rendered current, it rewrites the history of the last 500 years, unable to accept defeat. It desperately wants Maharana Pratap to win the Battle of Haldighati, and it insists Ram was a historical figure. It is perpetually encouraging people to rectify history at every stage, where even murder becomes an act of rectification, for instance of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in 2015 or Afrazul Khan in Rajsamand in 2017.

Often the BJP’s use of time is more strategic and complex. It fetishes 2019, which it sees as the end of Congress history and the beginning of Ram Rajya. Everything focusses on 2019, and BJP president Amit Shah is the time-keeper, the impresario of 2019 as the beginning of a Congress Mukt Bharat. This is not just an electoral strategy. The BJP genuinely believes that a millennial moment it has prophesied is coming.

Attitude to time

Oddly, for all its fetishisation of 2019, the BJP is one party that has no systemic idea of the future. It might borrow a few glib ideas such as smart cities, yet it has no sense of the future as a set of strategies. The fetishisation of 2019 has to be understood in this context — 2019 is its end of history thesis. It has no sense of the future except of the NRI who combines modern consumerism with ancient history. The future is 2019 repeated.

The attitude to time is best caught in the complete absence of ecological thinking. It is content with linear time and progress. It dissolves the Planning Commission not because it was a Congress idea but because it was a futurist notion. The party is addicted to the ideas of nation state, progress and development pickled in the formaldehyde of the 19th century. Its patriotism is a deep devotion to repeating these ideas in the present. No other regime is as idolatrous of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to ‘Make in India’ is an invitation to the likes of them to make India’s future because India as a regime is clueless about it — we are being out-thought and out-fought in every forum.

The BJP likes nationalism because it unifies time and history into a reign of uniformity. No party dreads plurality, diversity and difference as much as the BJP does. The Opposition has to re-read the BJP in this context. It should worry not only about a unified opposition or a unitary opposition but also decentralise the challenge to the regime. When the south appeals to a different language, the BJP has no answer. It has no idea of the vernacular. A decentralised strategy of multiple futures will be the first step in defeating the BJP because, as Mr. Shah knows, it is only when time is in official uniform that India marches to a single drum. The Opposition will lose if it imitates the BJP because its motley costume ball of ideas is no formal answer to Mr. Modi. But a set of plural strategies will confuse the BJP because it has no sense of dialects. In fact, the minute India responds either civilisationally or in the vernacular, the BJP is lost. It has no answer to the Bhakti movement, to Nanak or Rahim. The BJP’s idea of clock-time has no sense of what Raimon Panikkar called kairological time, i.e. time with cultural meaning. Once you multiply the notion of time, the inevitability of the BJP in linear time breaks down, and the RSS can no longer argue that it is a party whose time has come.

The BJP’s commitment to development, nation-state, big science are all attempts to subjugate time as history. No other party has less idea of alternative imaginations and alternative histories. The BJP’s notion of time is like a Tussaud’s exhibit where it wants to reduce politics to a five-year time-frame with Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe, Donald Trump as perpetual players where Mr. Modi returns in celebratory triumph after visiting them. Once India operates with a restrictive scenario of time, its rivals know it is predictable. In fact, desperate to be seen as well-behaved and investment-friendly, official India now presents itself as a simple extrapolation.

One has to now read the RSS as an organisation constructed in mechanical time. The shakha could be a creation of Frederick Winslow Taylor, founder of scientific management, as it is anchored on replication and repetitivity. It is frightening. Because it lives in time-linearity, the BJP is hostile to difference and diversity. The Congress, as Rajni Kothari showed, was built through accommodating difference, while the BJP suppresses any kind of difference as a sign of inefficiency. No other party is devoted to censorship of art, ideology, science as the BJP. By suppressing time as diversity, the BJP can control disorder.

Sadly, the two thought systems it has conscripted are spirituality and management, and both act as time-keepers to the nation. Both provide techniques of control. There is nothing spiritual about the BJP’s idea of yoga. It is instrumental, functional and more oriented to efficiency. It enforces a tutorial college sense of modernity without any sense of metaphysics or debate.

Beyond dualism

To reduce the Congress-BJP battle to the standard dualisms of left and right will not do. One has to focus on modernity, and the BJP’s sense of modernity is lethal and unaware as it has no critique of science or economics. It swallows Western categories unquestioningly. When the Indian middle class realises that what we call majoritarian democracy is a collection of inane modernities, the BJP will find it difficult to come back. Herein lies the challenge of 2019.


1) Ranting

Meaning: Speak or shout at length in an angry, impassioned way.

Example: “She was still ranting on about the unfairness of it all”

Synonyms: Fulminate, Pontificate

2) Overdrawn

Meaning: Exaggerate in describing or depicting (someone or something).

Example: “Some of the characters were overdrawn”

3) Emphasised

Meaning: Give special importance or value to (something) in speaking or writing.

Example: “They emphasize the need for daily, one-to-one contact between parent and child”

Synonyms: Highlight, Spotlight

Antonyms: Understate, Play down

4) Conservatism

Meaning: Commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation.

Example: “Proponents of theological conservatism”

5) Ideology

Meaning: A system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.

Example: “The ideology of republicanism”

Synonyms: Doctrine, Creed

6) Exponents

Meaning: A person who supports an idea or theory and tries to persuade people of its truth or benefits.

Example: “An early exponent of the teachings of Thomas Aquinas”

Synonyms: Advocate, Supporter

Antonyms: Critic, Opponent

7) Impetus

Meaning: Something that makes a process or activity happen or happen more quickly.

Example: “The ending of the Cold War gave new impetus to idealism”

Synonyms: Motivation, Stimulus

8) Surrogate

Meaning: A substitute, especially a person deputizing for another in a specific role or office.

Example: “Wives of MPs are looked on as surrogates for their husbands while the latter are at Westminster”

Synonyms: Substitute, Proxy

9) Intrigued

Meaning: Arouse the curiosity or interest of; fascinate.

Example: “I was intrigued by your question”

Synonyms: Interest, Fascinate

Antonyms: Bore

10) Dealt

Meaning: Take measures concerning (someone or something), especially with the intention of putting something right.

Example: “The government had been unable to deal with the economic crisis”

Synonyms: Handle, Manage

11) Myth

Meaning: An exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.

Example: “The book is a scholarly study of the Churchill myth”

Synonyms: Misconception, Fallacy

12) Rendered

Meaning: Provide or give (a service, help, etc.).

Example: “Money serves as a reward for services rendered”

Synonyms: Give, Provide

13) Desperately

Meaning: Used to emphasize the extreme degree of something.

Example: “He desperately needed a drink”

Synonyms: Seriously, Gravely

Antonyms: Slightly

14) Perpetually

Meaning: In a way that never ends or changes; constantly.

Example: “Perpetually hungry teenage boys”

15) Fetishes

Meaning: An activity or object that you are so interested in that you spend an unreasonable amount of time thinking about it or doing it.

Example: “She makes a fetish of organization – it’s quite obsessive”

16) Impresario

Meaning: A person who arranges different types of public entertainment, such as theatre, musical, and dance events.

Example: “London’s leading theatrical impresario”

17) Millennial

Meaning: Denoting people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.

Example: “Most social networking groups are dominated by the millennial generation”

18) Prophesied

Meaning: Say that (a specified thing) will happen in the future.

Example: “Jacques was prophesying a bumper harvest”

Synonyms: Predict, Foretell

19) Glib

Meaning: (Of words or a speaker) fluent but insincere and shallow.

Example: “The glib phrases soon roll off the tongue”

Synonyms: Slick, Pat

Antonyms: Sincere, Inarticulate

20) Thesis

Meaning: A statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.

Example: “His central thesis is that psychological life is not part of the material world”

Synonyms: Theory, Contention

21) Notion

Meaning: A conception of or belief about something.

Example: “Children have different notions about the roles of their parents”

Synonyms: Idea, Belief

22) Pickled

Meaning: Preserved in vinegar or brine.

Example: “Pickled onions”

23) Idolatrous

Meaning: Relating to or practising idolatry; idol-worshipping.

Example: “Idolatrous religions”

Synonyms: Pagan, Idol-worshipping

Antonyms: Vilifying

24) Reign

Meaning: The period during which someone or something is predominant or pre-eminent.

Example: “She was hoping for a long reign as world champion”

Synonyms: Incumbency, Tenancy

25) Dreads

Meaning: Anticipate with great apprehension or fear.

Example: “Jane was dreading the party”

Synonyms: Fear, Be afraid of

Antonyms: Look forward to

26) Plurality

Meaning: The number by which plurality exceeds the number of votes cast for the candidate placed second.

27) Regime

Meaning: A government, especially an authoritarian one.

Example: “Ideological opponents of the regime”

Synonyms: Government, Rule

28) Vernacular

Meaning: The language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people of a country or region.

Example: “He wrote in the vernacular to reach a larger audience”

Synonyms: Cant, Slang

Antonyms: Formal language, Latin

29) Motley

Meaning: Incongruously varied in appearance or character; disparate.

Example: “A motley crew of discontents and zealots”

Synonyms: Miscellaneous, Disparate

Antonyms: Homogeneous, Uniform

30) Dialects

Meaning: A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.

Example: “The Lancashire dialect seemed like a foreign language”

Synonyms: Regional language, Local language

31) Inevitability

Meaning: The quality of being certain to happen.

Example: “There was an air of inevitability about the outcome”

32) Subjugate

Meaning: Bring under domination or control, especially by conquest.

Example: “The invaders had soon subjugated most of the population”

Synonyms: Conquer, Vanquish

Antonyms: Liberate

33) Triumph

Meaning: A great victory or achievement.

Example: “A garden built to celebrate Napoleon’s many triumphs”

Synonyms: Victory, Win

Antonyms: Defeat

34) Predictable

Meaning: Able to be predicted.

Example: “The market is volatile and never predictable”

Synonyms: Foreseeable

35) Extrapolation

Meaning: The action of estimating or concluding something by assuming that existing trends will continue or a current method will remain applicable.

Example: “Sizes were estimated by extrapolation”

36) Anchored

Meaning: Secure firmly in position.

Example: “The tail is used as a hook with which the fish anchors itself to coral”

Synonyms: Secure, Fasten

37) Frightening

Meaning: Make (someone) afraid or anxious.

Example: “The savagery of his thoughts frightened him”

Synonyms: Scare, Startle

Antonyms: Reassure, Comfort

38) Dualisms

Meaning: The division of something conceptually into two opposed or contrasted aspects, or the state of being so divided.

Example: “A dualism between man and nature”

39) Lethal

Meaning: Very harmful or destructive.

Example: “The Krakatoa eruption was the most lethal on record”

Synonyms: Fatal, Deadly

Antonyms: Harmless, Safe

40) Swallows

Meaning: Believe unquestioningly (a lie or unlikely assertion).

Example: “She had swallowed his story hook, line, and sinker”

Synonyms: Believe, Repress


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