Populism and its Haunting Fantasies

The mobilization of religion for political ends is not new. The politicization of religion to generate political capital has been an age-old strategy. It seems that it is becoming a winning strategy in our country where Hindutva populism is growing by leaps and bounds. Scholars teach that Populism is born as a result of the crisis of representation. But there is a paradox. The more the democracy is representative less it is participatory. Yet because people do feel a sense of representation deficit, they are willing to accept less participation and hand over all powers even to a single person.

It seems that the crisis of representation felt by the majority community has fuelled the wheels of Hindutva politics in our country. This is why perhaps the crisis in representation is resolved by accepting PM Modi as the sole leader who is believed to represent the interest of all Hindus. It seems that most people in India think that Modi directly embodies the will of the people. He is thought to be an embodiment of plenitude. All other inter-mediators or the MPs are chosen because of Modi.

The populist impulses to immediacy maybe also become visible in the violent vigilante spectacle that haunts our society today. These violent spectacles seem to have become significant sights of enjoyment as they offer a feeling of unmediated efficacy of a sense of justice delivered on the spot. These violent spectacles seem to offer a redemptive dimension of politics, asserting the Hinduness of the people. This means it is thought that these violet public spectacles as well as the stage-managed addresses of Modi directly and immediately bring about the presenting of Hinduness of the majority community.

Indeed, these spectacles may be viewed as enfleshing of the collective flesh of the Hindus and as a result can and have slipped into several ugly forms on our streets. Thus, populism becomes an eruption or bleeding through of the sensuous substance of the social into our political life.
Every political order requires the formation of flesh. It is in moments of rupture or populist upsurge that these formations of the flesh become most visible. This is the time when we might notice the manner in which some significant beliefs like the sacredness of the cow being available from the collective archive of Hinduism become easy tools for the formation of the flesh to become visible in our society.

Hence, somehow on the flesh of the dead bodies like all populist movements across the globe, the majority community become one flesh in our society. This formation of flesh thinks that nobody other than the Hindus can be co-substantial with the flesh of the nation. Certainly, this quest for immediacy and redemption is kind of backsliding away from the true tenets of Hinduism. Maybe what is haunting our politics is not just a demon of division but a demon of totalitarian singularity. Our society seems to be paddling an impossible fantasy. The crisis of representation has caused this fantasy. We are crying for a faithful transparent and immediate representation.

Representation is always haunted by opacity. It can never be direct and immediate. Hence, the populism that claims to offer immediate access to the substance of our society is also a mediated reality and its promise of immediacy is fantasy and at best is a seduction. But things are more complicated because there is the other of the Hindu community in this populist upsurge. By setting the other apart, the majority community de-alienate itself. The denial of space for its other may have become a site of intense enjoyment for the majority community because it brings about an incarnation of it into the flesh of the nation through an excarnation of its other. Besides, it gives a sense of victory over the earlier formation of flesh under Congress that is thought to have not represented the majority community adequately and a new formation of flesh is taking shape.

Unfortunately, the new formation of flesh that is occurring on the wings of populism in our country has put its body into pieces. But it does not seem to concern us. This is because the body of the nation broken through the rituals that take the form of public spectacles which also include our election have become events that feed our libido intensely. We did not just cast our vote but we voted our caste in past. Today we vote for our religion and enjoy doing it. This is in the political that is more than itself. Thus, enjoyment or libido has to be factored in while understanding the Hindutva politics of the day.

Maybe an enlightenment that drives our ethical responsibilities to the other can break our chains today because Hindutva politics is only transforming the majority community into good self-castrating Hindus. This enlightenment will not just save India and open space for all Indians to be co-substantial but also will save Hinduism from Hindutva. This would save the great Hindu tradition from being totalized by populist Hindutva. This approach will heal our society and restore the integral incarnation of all into its body and shun away the excarnation of some Indians championed by the reigning Hindutva populism. We do not seem to have solutions for our problems in populism that is reining around us. It seems to be a cover to hand over the resources of our country to a small power elite.

We cannot correct the crises of representation by right-wing populism. What we really need is reforms in a democracy that moves towards participatory democracy with the right to recall our representatives as well as the right to reject the candidates in the fray for an election. The return to the ballot box is another important tool that we have to bring flesh to our participation in democracy. The populism that hands over all powers to one deemed higher than us becomes a castration of democracy. Hence, it is time we understand our power and be the true demos of democracy.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao