Narendra Modi has been the Prime Minister of India for the last four years. His entry in the Prime Ministers office was expected to single-handedly change the way India will project itself to the world. The thought process was, “Modiji aayenge aur sab kuch badal jaayega”. All we need is that a BJP leader becomes the Prime Minister and everything will fall in order as the narrative will swing in our favour. But has that happened? A few days ago I was having a very detailed conversation about this subject with a few of my fellow colleagues in the Non-Left. The aim was to have an honest assessment of where do we stand in terms of the narrative war.
Before we get into a detailed assessment it is very important that we define what I mean by the word narrative. Narratives are of two types according to me, there is a macro narrative and within them there are micro-narratives. Macro-narrative is the overall operating system that is used in a society. This operating system incorporates within itself the entire terms and conditions of the discourse. What language is going to be used, what are the idioms/terms that we use while we express ourselves to each other when we converse on a day to day basis.
Micro-narratives are the subset of the larger macro-narrative. They are the battles within the larger war. They are issue-based tussles that are conducted on a daily basis in different sections of our society.
So how are we faring in this narrative war? Within this larger narrative war, there is still some glimmer of hope. Let us first look at some of the micro-narrative victories. Over the last few years, the Hindu movement has had some positive results within the realm of the micro-narrative. A great example of that would be the India Pride Project. This is a perfect example of battle within the larger war. IPP ticks all the boxes that would qualify as a narrative win. At the political level, the IPP has been supported by people across the political spectrum. While the BJP and Prime Minister Modi have personally received idols that have been returned from various countries, Shashi Tharoor of the Congress and the AIADMK have also been asking questions in the parliament about the status of our heritage crimes and heritage restitution we can firmly say that the IPP’s work is a micro-narrative victory.
One more example of a larger narrative war is what Indic Collective has managed to do with the Jagganath Temple and Sabrimala Temple case where he has managed to even get a chunk of the other side to find merit in his arguments. The Nationalism sentiment, for example, has been accepted widely, while the narrative of the ‘me too urban Naxal’ has lost credibility even in all its grandiose. The victory of the larger narrative war was reflected beautifully in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Majority Hindus of the country believe that the Hindu community deserves a Ram Temple built in Ayodhya, even if they don’t believe in the spirituality or religiosity of the temple itself. Even atheists like me today believe that the Ram Temple must be built.
An example of a micro-narrative victory would be the debate on cow protection. It can be firmly stated that on this subject that the Indian political spectrum has slowly but surely shifted to the position of the Non-Left. Have any doubts? Well, when you have a senior Congress leader like Kamal Nath tweeting “We will build gaushalas in every panchayat. This is not rhetoric but a promise,” you can safely conclude that the terms of the discourse as far as cow protection is concerned are being set by the Indian Non-Left. If this was not enough as per this news report the Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy who is a leader of the Congress party in the state of Karnataka has been quoted saying ” None of us has the right to kill animals, which are the creation of god. All of us worship cows and it should not be slaughtered. Personally, I object to the killing of any animals. Let BJP leaders put pressure on the Central government to ban all slaughterhouses and ban the export of beef. A large number of beef export units are functioning in Uttar Pradesh. Let them ban those units”
But this is where the “good news” ends. We can go on searching the internet and all we find is multiple micro-narrative victories achieved due to the good work of some hard-working individuals here and there. While we should be celebrating this there is still a lot of work to be done. If we were to do an honest assessment of the Indian socio-political landscape as of today when it comes to the macro-narrative the Indian Non-Left is a minor player in the game. The entire Non-Left movement is by and large a reaction to the mainstream establishment. The Non-Left has very little to offer in terms of a stand-alone ideology.
For any movement to have a long-lasting effect it needs to showcase what it stands for. When someone constantly keeps reacting to the points raised by the other side it stops achieving anything significant beyond a certain point. The Non-Left says they don’t like the Congress’ Brand of Secularism. They say they don’t like Constitutional Patriotism that is espoused by the Left. They don’t like the appeasement policies of the different political outfits in India. Fair enough, but what do they like? If they are clear about these things, have they ever gone about explaining it to the average Indian citizen? By constantly pointing out the faults of the Left we might have disenchanted a few people and made them steer away from the Left temporarily. But are they with the Non-Left? Also, while they have been steered away from the left politically, what language are they still using to reject the left? Is this language different, or it is an old wine in a new bottle?
It is high time that the Non-Left starts setting its own agenda. For that, we will have to use precise terms to express our point of view. We will have to define those terms in detail. We will have to identify the doers, the thinkers, bring them on a platform where they can share their achievements and reach out to the masses. Instead of reacting to the labels given by the Left, the Non-Left should start presenting its own point of view to the larger audience using its own terms. A great example of that would be the #UrbanNaxal. The term is not a mere reaction. It is a well thought out analysis of a threatening ideology that is spreading like cancer across urban India. A thriving narrative is set when there is a well-defined and well-espoused ideology to back it. The left ecosystem has a plethora of literature that they can fall back on. And the production of that literature is not a one-time process. It is a constant reproduction of material that keeps on updating itself as per the changing socio-political climate of the country. That literature is then consumed by the masses that eventually go and occupy positions of power and eminence across the Indian establishment. Can the Non-left claim have such a vast literature? Can we start by creating a list of activists, authors, lawyers, scientists, philosophers, media personalities who belong to the Non-Left?
Macro-Narrative is the language of the establishment. It is the template that is downloaded into your brain and updated on a regular basis. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify what I mean by the word establishment. I would be using the definition provided by Rahul Roushan where he says ” Establishment is the bunch that systematically controls your thoughts through media and academics + controls your speech and actions through the judiciary, not the government that’s there for 5 years.”
So if we were to use this definition and do a detailed analysis of the overall macro-narrative system it will be very clear that the operating system that we work on today at the societal level is firmly set by the Indian Left. The macro-narrative is firmly under the control of the left and there is no real opposition to it at a political or an intellectual level. Senator Ted Cruz had once said, ” In both law and politics, I think the essential battle is the meta-battle of framing the narrative.” It is time we take that seriously and do something about it.