Modi, Rajini, churches: Why south India finds BJP more acceptable now | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Modi, Rajini, churches: Why south India finds BJP more acceptable now

The new aspirational, mobile, global south Indian is more ready for the BJP and Narenda Modi than for epic battles of ideology and electoral politics

opinion Updated: Jul 01, 2017 15:55 IST
There is something surreal about the possibility of a Rajinikanth joining hands with a Modi. It is like a confluence of two badly scripted films.
There is something surreal about the possibility of a Rajinikanth joining hands with a Modi. It is like a confluence of two badly scripted films.

Sometimes, one has to see political narratives not in terms of instrumental tactics, or technocratic probes but in terms of folklore and stereotypes. They capture the nature of truth in a way that a secular narrative cannot. One senses this as one looks at the BJP’s ambitions to conquer the south.

In an electoral sense, the BJP is an outsider to south India. It is stereotypically a Hindu-Hindi party. It today claims to be a national party ready to spread the saffron wave deep south. At one level, it feels like an alien invasion. Fundamental to this strategy is the years of networking built by the RSS. The BJP is only the tip of the iceberg completing an electoral victory after the RSS has entered the south. The geographies of the imagination do not convey the idea of an election but more an act of infiltration.

For years, the south was a fortress which the BJP could not enter. Part of the reason for this is that the BJP spoke an idiom of nation-state and identity politics the south did not share. The BJP reflected a narrative the south was contemptuous of. It reflected the waves of social movements, which had fought for social justice, while the BJP remained a casteist party. Second, the BJP equated Hindi with India, an equation which the south, particularly Chennai, would not accept. One remembers Annadurai talking of a seceding south being listened to by a tolerant Congress. It is a prospect a BJP would not tolerate. It is the emptying out of political movements and the return of pragmatic politics that has made the south ready for BJP.

I remember as a child I went home for vacation to the south. As I crossed the Andhra Pradesh border, I almost felt I was seceding every summer. The south, I felt, was a different country where we behaved differently. Apart from Bollywood, as a child, I did not feel Hindi India had much to offer. Frankly, I felt as Indian as anyone, it is only the BJP dialect I felt was parochial. The decline of a cosmopolitan south concerned with justice has made it vulnerable to the BJP.

In fact, when one thinks of politics in Kerala, one thought of the Church, the CPI(M), and the Congress. There was a vitality to the debates on land and even the Church had a sense of the organic, native, and indigenous the BJP could never have. Today Marxist ideology is dead, the Church is conservative, the Congress dead-wood. It is as if a whole cast of characters and a wonderful set of scripts brilliantly enacted by the Congress and CPI(M) have been erased. The result is the entry of the BJP as a ‘B’ grade alternative to the great cameo acts of the past. In a way, what one sees here is the decline of acts of political justice. The new aspirational, mobile, global south Indian is more ready for the BJP and Narenda Modi than for epic battles of ideology and electoral politics.

The BJP knows its footprints are still new. It has to adapt local styles and heroes and the irony is that film which once kept it out is becoming the vehicle for its belated entry. In the earlier era, that film scripted a theory of politics that made the BJP irrelevant. But one must remember it was in an era where the film star and the politician was one person, like the DMK script writers, like Rama Rao, or Raj Kumar. Film and politics were warp and weft of one imagination. Today the ideological power of the film is over. What it however left behind was the fan club, cadre of fans who were as powerful as the CPI(M) cadre or the RSS shakha. In a pragmatic way, the BJP has decided to co-opt the stars with fan clubs, giving them a fan base which eventually becomes a party base.

There is something surreal about the possibility of a Rajinikanth joining hands with a Modi. It is like a confluence of two badly scripted films. It is like politics as a symbolic fiction and film as a symbolic politics combining to create a new utopia, a hybridity to fill up the emptiness of southern politics. It is as if a pan-Indian second-hand state is being created, which makes pragmatic sense to both sides. A Rajinikanth keeps southern populist honour intact as RSS cadre merge with is fans in surreal delight. Rajinikanth could have been a counter to the Modi wave, giving a respite to southern politics. Unfortunately, an alliance of convenience might make him the Trojan horse of Indian politics. For an old-fashioned politico like me, it is the ultimate nightmare. Politics is the happy transition actors in the twilight of stardom are looking for and the BJP has a pragmatic sense of this.

The BJP is a master of factional politics in Andhra Pradesh. Fundamentally, it acts as if every party is a regional extension to its nationalist presence. It becomes both a complement and an opposition to each party quietly capturing the oppositional space, which is a temptation to many out of power politicians.

Its real politics is its politics of patience. And pragmatism. The arrival of the BJP will create a new pragmatic politics without the old colour and character of the south. It will be an irony of democracy, which political pundits will take years to recover from.

Shiv Visvanathan is social science nomad

The views expressed are personal