Why Does ‘Positive Politics’ Need to Set Boundaries for Itself?

Vishakh Rathi*

Vishakh Rathi has expressed his misgivings concerning Yogendra Yadav’s recent expositions (links in the article below) about charting a more pro-active agenda for the ‘positive politics’ that is not restricted to Modi-baiting. Yadav has also called for side-stepping some issues that he calls as ‘traps’ intended to pull everyone into a negative spiral. He has suggested that we should not allow divisive forces to set the agenda and react to it but look at issues that concern the people at large. Yadav also calls for  ‘closer engagement with our traditions and our diverse cultural and religious heritage’. Rathi, in his understanding of the Yadav’s article, finds the idea problematic and asks, “Why shouldn’t the agenda of positive politics co-exist with the project of tackling hate?” We, at raagdelhi.com, are deeply committed to conversations at all levels and in the spirit of providing space to meaningful and constructive dialogues, we are publishing Rathi’s article. We would also be very happy to take it forward and publish any alternative viewpoint which is in realm of the values enshrined in our Constitution. To know more about our policy in this regard, you can visit this page. Now please see, Vishakh Rathi’s article below.

Is it possible, or rather desirable, to side-step divisive issues like Kashi, Mathura and the larger Hindu-Muslim question to shift the narrative towards a forward looking agenda? Yogendra Yadav in two recent pieces seems to be arguing for such a shift in the public discourse.

The ideas presented by him look attractive. Who after all, would be opposed to a meaningful focus on problems that plague the country today – unemployment, rural distress, growing inequality, ecological crisis etc.?

But is it possible to ignore the divisive issues which the current dispensation seems determined to keep on the front burner? Will a parking of the opposition to hate politics, actually facilitate a shift towards ‘positive politics’? Or will this strategic shift only embolden the troll armies even more?

Yogendra Yadav in his piece  defines what ‘positive politics’ is not, lest someone mistake it for some ‘pop-psychology jargon’ about how we must stay positive, or turn our eyes away from looking at ‘morbid truths’.

He argues that the “real triumph of Narendra Modi politics [is that] it drowns its adversaries in a spiral of negativity…which reinforces a sense of hopelessness, that further widens the gulf with the people.” (emphasis added)

((This inadvertent construct which removes ‘the people’, from ‘its adversaries’ itself in fact points to the limits of language, while making a point against ‘Narendra Modi politics’.))

But that is a minor quibble.

Yogendra Yadav also says that the ‘opposition must not be reduced merely to an opposition to their politics (emphasis added). This too appears problematic if looked in isolation, but he is setting it in a context where those appearing as ‘habitual Modi-baiters …strengthen the myth of Modi’s omnipotence’.

Modi-baiters must indeed refrain from making a song and dance about every issue concerning him. A case in point being the recent so-called teleprompter snafu, that wasn’t. This is easier said than done in the social-media driven world that drives people to react instantly, rather than reflectively. This too, is a minor quibble.

However, Yogendra Yadav calls for ignoring issues, that go beyond the ones that generate memes

“…be it Kashmir or Kashi, Narendra Modi knows how to set the agenda to which his opponents must respond. We must learn to step aside from the traps that await the opposition: Kashi, Mathura, Uniform Civil Code.”

This suggestion of side-stepping ‘traps’is problematic for both practical and moral reasons. To be sure, Yogendra Yadav repeats his call for a deeper engagement with our culture and traditions so that the right wing project of hijacking them completely does not succeed.

The present assault on the idea of India in the name of Hindu religion and tradition demands that we have closer engagement with our traditions and our diverse cultural and religious heritage. If we turn our back to it, lest we fall prey to “right-wing” politics, our politics loses any nourishment. That is exactly the deracinated self that Hindutva supporters would like us to have.

So, the ideas he presents are well intentioned, but if they were to be adopted will they be effective? Are they practical?

Consider what he writes in another recent piece, while repeating the suggestion to side-step contentious issues:

“…the troll army invites us into Hindu-Muslim issues every day, so as to keep the pot boiling no matter what our response’, and ‘…the strategic challenge here is to shift the battle to arenas that would force the trolls into a defensive battle.”

The example of the farmers’ agitation in putting the Modi Government on the defensive has been cited widely as an example of what a resolute movement can achieve. Shaheen Bagh too is seen, at least as a partial victory, as the Citizenship Amendment Act’s rules have still not been framed, and it stays in limbo. Yogendra Yadav also cites these two movements as having succeeded in having ‘wrested the initiative from the government’.

However, the first point to consider is that to what extent have they succeeded?

The Government has not honoured its commitment (made in writing) to take back the cases filed against the farmers or to constitute a committee to look into the demand for a legal guarantee on Minimum Support Prices, the infrastructure to bypass the Mandi system is quietly being put in place as pointed out here, and even the budget seems to reflect that the Modi government is not serious about keeping its promise of doubling farmers’ incomes, leave alone tackling the crisis in agriculture as a whole.

The danger that the three farm laws will make a comeback is still alive, of which, farm leaders themselves are aware.

Also, the farmers’ agitation remained focused on the repealing of the three farm laws, it also captured public imagination. However, even at the height of its ‘popularity’ it did not succeed in diverting attention from the right-wing’s agenda. It also did not put the troll army on the defensive, which on the contrary, responded by attacking the agitating farmers with choicest slurs.

CAA, of course, is not yet off the agenda,. Nevertheless, Shaheen Bagh did take on the insidious Hindu Rashtra agenda directly, it succeeded, even if partially. (See this article by Yadav).

So the question is not just why certain ‘traps’ should be side-stepped, but also which ones.

The second question that arises from what Yogendra Yadav suggests is both a moral and a practical one.

It may be ‘possible’ for Hindus to side-step issues like Kashi and Mathura, but how can Muslims and other minorities who are at the receiving end of hate politics, afford to ignore them? It is ‘fuel’ from issues like these that the right wing uses not just to challenge cherished constitutional principles, but also to drive real-world (daily) attacks that threaten the very existence of minorities.

Yogendra Yadav would agree that it is morally incumbent on the majority to not stay silent and to stand with those who are being targeted. So then, how does one not engage with these issues – both at the practical level, as well as the moral?

Thirdly, the question that needs to be asked is this: are ‘defenders of the Republic’ completely bereft of ideas and tools to tackle hate politics head-on, that they are being forced to consider side-stepping them? If, to succeed, positive politics needs to side-step the ‘traps’ borne out of majoritarian tendencies, then isn’t it a silent admission that at this moment in history the defeat of the idea of an inclusive India is no longer impending, but has already arrived?

Surely there should be concerted efforts to free the Republic from the clutches of majoritarian politics, instead of advocating that these questions be side-stepped. Is it no longer possible for positive politics to co-exist with the project of tackling hate?

The principles laid out in India’s Constitution need to be defended actively and vigorously against assaults, whether they come in the form of a direct attack on Rights, or are cleverly couched attacks on secularism.

When the troll army has repeatedly shown that it can sink to ever-lower depths, shouldn’t voices from the other side continue to challenge them? If gutter-level language is not challenged, won’t it continue to poison public discourse? When communal politics is rearing its head with mighty forces backing it, isn’t it naïve to expect that ignoring it will lead it to slumber?

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*Vishakh Rathi is a media professional with over two decades of experience. He was formerly associated with news (Headlines Today, CNN-IBN) as well as non-news channels (Star TV) besides various reputed production houses. Presently, freelancing as a communication consultant for some NGOs, he has also been doing story development assignments for web-series based on factual events. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author and do not reflect the views of raagdelhi.com which does not assume any responsibility for the same.

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