What the BJP government is doing to liberal democracy, I mean what I say

One of the starkest contrasts between the United Progressive Alliance government that ruled India from 2004 to 2014 and the National Democratic Alliance administration that succeeded it, has become very clear eight years after the beginning of its existence. This is linked to the different attitudes of the two towards the idea of ​​“empowerment” of the ordinary citizen. For the UPA, people should be empowered through the granting of rights enshrined in legislation – the right to information, the right to education, the right to food security and even the right to work (in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). ). The rights-based framework allowed ordinary citizens to ask the state to meet their basic needs. The NDA, however, approached empowerment by conferring benefits rather than rights – toilets, gas cylinders, housing, electricity, rations, cash transfers, etc. This has transformed the citizens into what the ruling party Bharatiya Janata calls “labharthis», or beneficiaries, of the State.

At first glance, this may seem odd, coming from a government that first came to power decrying the “alms”, “benefits” and “welfarism” of its predecessor. The UPA, according to Mr Modi’s campaign in 2014, had viewed the nation with a “poverty” mindset; his goal was to lift ordinary people out of poverty and welfare to fend for themselves. If economic realities have now forced him to change his mind, he still asks the question in the language of empowerment. “The poor must be empowered,” Mr Modi said, “to fight poverty in their own strength.” The Prime Minister and his government are therefore providing social benefits for this purpose, replacing the “entitlements” that accompanied the UPA’s rights-based approach with a version of “empowerment” that sees social benefits as tools enabling individual self-sufficiency. What the government’s former chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramaniam, describes as “subsidized public procurement of private goods” is a form of “atma-nirbhartawhich the government says helps lift every citizen out of poverty.

Public goods are public funding for health, education, highways, etc. private goods are those enjoyed by the private citizen in his own home. A gas bottle is a private good, but it is now provided to the individual citizen by public money. It is a kind of “new welfarism” that the BJP/NDA under Modi is happy to claim. As Amit Shah explained, the government has “enhanced the lives” of citizens so that they are “empowered” to make the most of it.

A corollary of this approach, however, is the revised implicit contract between the “labharti” and the sovereign who granted him these advantages. The recipient received his benefits not because he has a “right” or a “right” but because the government, in its generosity, gave him its charity, for which he is supposed to be grateful. (It is no coincidence that the BJP keeps lists of those who received government allowances, provides them to election activists and systematically reminds recipients of their need to be grateful when elections come around.) Prominent political scientist Rajeev Bhargava argued that this has created another type of Indian citizen, the “passive subject”, who has no rights but “to live[s] by the grace of the sovereign and obtain[s] protection and other advantages by being faithful to him. As Yamini Aiyar of the Center for Policy Research explains, “welfare is not provided out of political duty, but rather as an act of benevolence tied to electoral return.” In other words, I, the leader, have provided you, the subject, with a gas canister and a toilet; it is your duty to thank you for this by expressing your thanks at the ballot box when it is your turn to vote for me. The targeted benefits received by individual voters, rather than the general benefits shared by the public as a whole, make it easier to mobilize voters so that the BJP can, in effect, convert taxpayers’ money into votes.

The centralized distribution of benefits is directly aimed at creating and perpetuating an image of a “benevolent leader”

It is, in fact, a breathtaking transformation of the basic assumptions of democratic governance that has occurred in our country. The voter has become a subject, the passive recipient of government largesse for which he is to be grateful, rather than someone who feels entitled to demand benefits as of right. As Dr. Bhargava observes, “Just when the passive subject was beginning to be seen as a relic of the past, it made a drastic comeback. And…it severely undermined our democracy and made citizenship virtually superfluous. Aiyar points out that by stripping welfare of the language of “rights,” the government has actually created a new technique of political mobilization that galvanizes votes in exchange for simply doing one’s job. credit to the Prime Minister and his government are directly aimed at creating and perpetuating an image of a “benevolent leader”, who has served the BJP well time and time again, election after election.The moral legitimacy conferred by granting such benefits reinforces the position of the ruling party. When Mr. Modi changed his famous slogan “sab ka saath sab ka vikas » add “sab ka vishwas”, he subtly reminded voters to believe in him – to have faith, or “see, in his munificence.

Indian citizens have thus been reduced to the status of political subjects. As Dr. Bhargava explains, “They live by the grace of the ruler and gain protection and other benefits by being faithful to him…. [P]political subjects identify the state with the sovereign, just like himself. To belong to the state means to become the subjects of a ruler. Unlike a democratic body of equal citizens, the relationship between the subject and the ruler is then resolutely hierarchical. Although the condition of the subject is a mixture of subordination and servitude, he accepts it gratefully because of the protection offered by the sovereign. He interprets the sovereign’s wishes as orders and has no appetite for rebellion…. When a subject receives a negligible small portion of the state treasury, he believes it to be charity flowing directly from the personal largesse of the ruler. Intimidated by him, the subject can only be deferential towards the sovereign. Disobedience would amount to shameful betrayal…. Laabarthis, who are no longer holders of rights, are the complete opposite of active citizens, always demanding and aware of their rights. In the elections held recently, the Prime Minister rightly approached them in the hope that they would vote for him… He instinctively knew that those who had eaten his ‘namak‘ (the salt) cannot betray it.

Journalists and political leaders intrigued by the BJP’s continued electoral successes, despite the long history of opposition to power in our democracy, need look no further for an explanation. The active citizen has become a passive subject; the rights holder has become the recipient of benefits. No wonder our liberal democracy is now seen around the world as an electoral autocracy.

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