In his article titled “Why I am hoping Narendra Modi will be elected Prime Minister for a second term”, columnist Girish Shahane starts by making a distinction between the Bharatiya Janata Party’s divisive social policies (which he claims he is abhorred by) and its economic decisions. This formulation fails to recognise the connections between social, political and economic forms. For instance, the Human Rights Watch World Report 2018 explicitly links this regime’s economic policies to its gross violations of human rights. Economic policies, we know, are often used to brutalise people and divide them further.

Shahane seems to be repeating the consensus that is being widely produced by the Right: that there is no alternative to Narendra Modi. But dividing the democratic political process of a diverse country like India between the BJP – or more specifically Modi – and “his opponents” is merely a reflection of the Hindutva rhetoric of homogeneities. The possible coalition that the article derides as weak is perhaps our only chance at hearing the voices of the disenfranchised. A weak coalition means a stronger democracy and more voices that can call the shots, a move from man ki baat to jan ki baat.

As the article surveys economic misery around the world, it claims that the people of Turkey have punished President Recep Erdogan in recent elections for the economic pain they have been put through. This is a misunderstanding of Erdogan’s 16-year stint in power. It’s clear that Turkish voters have actually chosen democracy over autocracy. The vote, even in the face of media bias, the arrests of dissidents and even allegations of booth rigging, is a concrete weapon in the hands of the people.

The article then invokes the curious “nine-year” phenomenon. Wars, genocides, ultra-nationalist movements, corruption scandals and anti-corruption movements are referenced in a single sway because they fall under the formula of nine calendar years. This flat categorisation of crises fails to recognise the locations and intensities of turbulence in India. For instance, it isn’t clear what links Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement of 2010-’11 with the 2002 Gujarat genocide, even though both are referenced in the article. This formulaic cyclical time of nine calendar years, in which the article claims things get worse, is presented as collateral for a better future.

What is also intriguing is the article’s use of the Marxist term “lumpen proletariat”. Its uncritical use to the current situation of job cuts and religious vigilantism is problematic. Marx and Engels presented the lumpen proletariat as a category of the industrial underclass. In contrast to the French Revolution, where the mob was a major presence, the organised industrial class was imagined to be at the helm of the Russian Revolution. Marx and Engels labeled the class of the workers that was devoid of this revolutionary consciousness, the lumpen.

However, many instances of violence against minorities since Modi’s election involve land-owning influential men, backed by even more powerful men. The anger against minorities – evident in instances of cow vigilantism, vandalism of churches, caste violence in Una and other places – is the wrath of the powerful. It is the anger of the upper-caste Hindu man that enlists those who are less powerful than him. To use the term lumpen proletariat to describe this vampirism is limited.

The article’s rationale for hoping that Modi will get a second term in spite of admitting that he has performed badly on all counts including jobs, social policies and economic strategy, recalls the twisted doctrine of retribution in the Middle Ages. The article basically argues that Modi will have to pay for causing pain to the people by more pain and suffering befalling the people. This intensified suffering of people is the final collateral the author is willing to give.

Over the last five years, many have raised their voices against the regime: the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad Central University, The Films and Television Institue of India, Banaras Hindu University, Aligarh University, the tanners of Kanpur and Unnao, the farmers of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh. These collaterals are not the author’s to offer.

While the author may not see himself as part of the collateral he is willing to offer, myopia and amnesia have been historically used by fascist regimes that thrive on crisis capital. Have we been able to produce an adequate apology yet for those who have been the casualty of consensuses?

Pallavi Paul is an artist and film maker based in New Delhi. She is also a PhD candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Arts and Aesthetics.

Girish Shahane responds

Most of what Pallavi Paul writes in response to my article is inaccurate. She mentions a Human Rights Watch report but I found nothing in it that tallies with what she has written. In any case, the obvious fact that there are overlaps between social and economic policy is no bar to treating the two separately in specific instances.

Paul interprets the recent electoral setback faced by Turkey’s President Erdogan as a sign of a struggle against autocracy rather than a protest against recession. This fails to explain why Turks have favoured Erdogan consistently for a decade and a half, even voting in favour of constitutional changes that gave him near-dictatorial powers. She contests my definition of lumpenproletariat while offering much the same understanding of it. If my use of the term is “uncritical”, what is one to make of a sentence like, “In contrast to the French Revolution, where the mob was a major presence, the organised industrial class was imagined to be at the helm of the Russian Revolution”?

Imagined by whom? Presumably not by Marx and Engels who were dead for decades by then, and believed the revolution would first occur in highly industrialised nations. Furthermore, what is the relationship of that “imagined” version to fact?

But all that is a sideshow. The major problem with Paul’s rebuttal is that it fundamentally misunderstands my argument. That might be a failure of my own articulation, of course. She writes, “The article basically argues that Modi will have to pay for causing pain to the people by more pain and suffering befalling the people. This intensified suffering of people is the final collateral the author is willing to give.” I’m not sure what she means by “collateral” and how I am capable of providing that collateral of suffering, but she mis-states my point of view entirely in that sentence.

My column based itself on the conviction that a major economic crisis is going to hit India sometime in the next two years due to policies already executed by the Modi government and the increasingly co-ordinated nature of global economic cycles. Like global warming, which might not be reversible beyond a certain tipping point although its worst effects lie in the future, the crisis is a bomb that cannot now be defused. I have no rigorous proof of this contention, and any reader who does not accept it is bound to contest what follows.

However, if that contention is accepted, it is clear that whoever happens to be in power when the crisis hits will be blamed for it. Parties that had played no part in triggering the 2008 meltdown nevertheless suffered gravely for being at the helm when it happened. It could be Modi at the helm, in which case his entire programme is likely to be discredited, including his divisive social agenda. Or it could be a non-BJP formation, in which case the Hindutvavadis are likely to return stronger than ever through a mid-term poll.

It is not a case of there being no alternative to Modi. There are many better alternatives to his horrible regime, but none competent enough to tackle the magnitude of the coming crisis. Which is why the way to minimise the duration of the BJP’s dominance of Indian politics might be for Modi to win the coming election.

This is all hypothetical, of course, and might well be proved false in the future. Most doom-laden predictions relating to India have failed to materialise. The nation could continue to grow at the pace it has, with the current jobs crisis and agrarian distress being ameliorated rather than turning critical. It would be worthwhile, however, to comprehend the argument being made before contesting it.