Dissecting Hegemony… Looking for Emancipative Options

In a post truth society, we can find that lies mask as truth and ignorance passes of as knowledge. We in India have moved faster into post truth arena like the ducks that swiftly learn to swim in water. We seem to fail to distinguish falsehood from truth. The ruling dispensation self certifies itself as being tremendously successful in everything that it did. All that it declares is nothing short of a hyperbole yet we do not seem to detect it. We seem to have lost our critical acumen that would enable us to discern pompous talk from real performance. Even when the ground reality does not match with the tall speech of BJP led by the PM, we seem to almost blindly think that the Government is still doing well. We can see agricultural distress, safety issues of women and children, jobless growth, towering NPAs, failed demonetization, hassles of GST, fringe takeover of law and order, caged media, destruction of democratic institutions, politicization of the judiciary yet something stops us from recognizing the failure of the ruling dispensation. In such a scenario, Michel Foucault’s work might assist us to understand our plight.         

Michel Foucault thinks power and knowledge together. He teaches that each society has regimes of truth that produces its general politics of knowledge and power. The regimes of truth do not function on the basis of correspondence theory of truth but is founded on the logicality of coherence theory of truth. This then sets the political economy of truth and fuels the discursive battles/ debates for truth.  The coherence mechanisms of the regimes of truth generates  ways of distinguishing true from false statements and determining who can be charged with saying what is true. It seems that we are under a regime of truth that has mixed nationalism, culture and religion. As result of this, truth or falsehood becomes an issue of identity. This is why truth becomes coherence, one that fits with one’s identity. In an identity driven discourse truth becomes power of self assertion.  Maybe, it is because of this, we have to admit almost cynically that most of us come under the hegemony of BJP even though it has failed to deliver on the ground.    

Foucauldian scholars admit that truth is power and do not find it important to separate one from the other. What they wish is to detach the power of truth from forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural within which it operates at any given time. To achieve this we have to understand the notion of hegemony. Hegemony is notion developed by Italian Marxist thinker.  Hegemony is lived systems of meanings and values that make the domination of the ruling class natural, normal and acceptable. It is these systems of meanings and values that produces lived domination and subordination and its internalization. Truth is enmeshed in hegemonic discourses. Discourses that mingle religious symbols, heroes and villains of the majority community in our country have hegemony over those stand for abstract values like secularism, individual freedom and independence. We may trace power-knowledge-pleasure regimes of truth that create triumphant sense of being on a forward march at work in our country.  This lets religion and culture laden discourses acquire the status of truth and power.  This is why Foucault advises us to detach power of truth from hegemonic discourses. It is this hegemonic discourses that produce domination. Such dissection of truth and power from the hegemonic discourses will be emancipative.  

This opens us to the way power operates at the level of ongoing subjugation. Foucault is interested in relations of truth and power when put at the service of constitution of hegemony.  Foucault sees that power relations are produced and maintained through dividing practices. Dividing the normal from the abnormal sustains the hegemony of the discourse and also flows from it.  Examining the formation of hegemony, he develops counter hegemonic strategy.  Foucault dealt with dividing practices like isolation of the lepers, confinement of the criminals, the separation of the mad, hospitalisation of the sick and stigmatization of the sexually deviant in Europe. It is not difficult to trace how the reigning discourses in our country generate and legitimate dividing practices.  We can understand how these practices divide us as the nationalist and anti-nationalist, Hindus and Muslims (minorities), Upper castes and Dalits, Man and Women(children), BJP and the Congress  etc.   Essentially dividing practices are modes of manipulation that combines a cultural narcissism with the practice of exclusion.  The dividing practices give identity to both who divide and those that are divided. The lethal combination is thought to bring about progress and prosperity of nation to which only one religion and one community is deemed to belong without blemish. 

We seem to have homogenized and hindued India (India of Hindutva) and erased its plurality from our imagination. We need a return to our expanded and expansive imagination of our civilization that makes room to heterogeneous and plural India. This means we need to introduce inclusive and all embracing practices to counter dividing practices that sustain the reigning power. These inclusive practices may become an antidote to the dividing practices that seem to work at the level where human turns themselves into subjects subjected to the narrow exclusionary vision of BJP-RSS-VHP combine.  This self subjection has long and complex genealogy in our country and is marked by traumas of colonization and that of partition. Becoming aware of these wounds is the first step towards Healing. What we need for now is to counter the dividing practices with inclusive practices and discourses so that a counter-hegemonic strategy is developed to contest our subjection to divisive discourses. This then will become form of knowledge that would bring about new alignment of power. The power that mask as juridical and ontological has to be viewed as political and historical. This way of looking at power can assist us to resist reigning power formations and make way for new regimes of truth and power that can be emancipative. 

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao