Several socio-political themes are emerging in the wake of Narendra Modi’s thumping triumph. Perhaps the most frequently expressed theme is whether there will be space or possibility for dissent under his dispensation. I find the concern poorly constructed.
It is not as if I am unmindful of the often brutal intolerance displayed by Modi’s supporters. I object to the notion that dissent needs to be given space or be afforded possibility or requires permission. It is in the very nature of dissent to create its own space or possibility without being permitted. If it is permitted, how is it dissent? The whole idea of political dissent is to go against the established wisdom irrespective of its consequence. Those who have a dissenting view of Modi and what he often represents—and I count myself among them—should have the strength to express it without worrying about whether there is space for it in the popular discourse. Dissent is its own permission.
It was inevitable that Modi’s victory would create considerable disquiet among the nearly 70 percent of Indians who did not vote for him and buy into his vision of India. But it is not for the first time in India that political parties of a certain ideological bent have come to power on relatively small percentage of favorable votes translating into relatively high parliamentary seats. In fact, that has been the bane of the first past the post system and one has to live with it. I briefly wrote about it the other day when I pointed out the flaws and peculiarities of this system. Since the atmosphere against dissent as perceived by many is a result of this system let me repeat a paragraph from my May 12 post. “In terms of possible outcome scenarios, the most popular among a certain segment of the Indian population, especially those Indians unleashing relentless social media cacophony, seems to be that Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win 300 plus seats. Even with that number, one particularly relevant point to examine would be the party’s share of valid votes. In 2009, the BJP’s share was 18.84 percent, which is a disturbingly small number of actual people voting for it. It would be truly extraordinary if the BJP is able to double that number this time riding on the much ballyhooed Narendra Modi wave. Even if the party does pull off that feat, we still need to see this in a larger perspective.”
That scenario did indeed come to pass. This point is relevant here because even without the numbers to support their attitude Modi’s supporters have generally tended to be at best dismissive and worst brutalizing of any kind of dissent. Now that they have got such a spectacular mandate, it is very likely that they would regard dissent as nothing short of treachery or even treason. You see the elements of that in the outbursts of some of Modi’s extreme supporters who suggest that his detractors should shift to Pakistan.
Coming back to my original point, dissent comes fraught with its inherent dangers. No established order facilitates or felicitates dissent. More often than not in a democracy like India’s those at the helm of the established order learn to live with and negotiate with dissent. It may not be a popular thing to say here but in many ways what Modi and his supporters have done for years is also a form of dissent against the wisdom of the secular/liberal establishment. We may not like their version of dissent but it is dissent nevertheless. And in any case, that is the whole point of dissent—it is disliked by the established order. In an ironic twist, the dissenters have become the organized order.
I suppose what I am saying is that there is no point whining about whether under the Modi political dispensation, there would be room for dissent. One can be reasonably certain that there would not be. That is where real dissent takes birth.