In Indian politics Congress party constructed their political product on core ideological foundation of secularism. Based on the evidence of success that this political product ensures, many new political ventures like RJD and SP also sought to create their own versions based on the same formula. The 2017 elections in UP and earlier 2014 national elections exhibited waning pull of this product. This has taken many political managers by surprise. The product decline is common in marketing and it does not surprise them. But the shock and chagrin on top leader of grand old party shows as if they didn’t expect it. As if it theirs’s was a product with timelessness bestowed upon it by assumed captive territory along with people possessed by Gandhi name and nostalgic connection of freedom struggle.
Why has the political product defined by secularism been so compelling and for so long? Words make sense in reference to what they are not. A word is a linguistic sign and it is interpreted by application of conventions by which a concept is evoked. Things make sense only in relation to something else usually in the form of binary oppositions. In a way things or words make sense by implicitly referring to what they are not. For instance, there is nothing like ‘good’ without ‘bad’ and ‘fair’ without ‘dark’. All signs make sense by generation of their opposites. Then the question arises why ‘secularism’ has been such a potent weapon in the arsenal of Congress and other new startup parties. What did it evoke that a group of people rallied behind these parties notwithstanding their other agenda.
Let us dig into secularists’ language in the meaning space. The word secular means ‘not having any connection with religion’ or ‘not involving religion’. These words convey meaning by what they actually don’t stand for. The use of secularist narrative works by evocation of the opposite. It necessarily implies that other party is sectarian and religious which need not be or it can much more. It positions, the religiousness in pivot of other party’s narrative. But then how does it work to make the apparatus to operate in favor?
The stress on secularism and its repeated utterances does not allow the discourse to melt in background in the psyche of a particular community. It subtly creates binaries of dominant & dominated, Hindu & Muslim, harmony & discord, big number & small number, natives & invaders, majority & minority. It unleashes a multi-dimensional divisive force to herd members of minority community by tapping into their inherent primal fears of survival. This method perfected by Congress was used brilliantly by RJD and SP their respective geographical segments.
But things don’t stand still. The Congress end of the spectrum stuck to its tested formula but BJP evolved with arrival of Modi on the scene. He pushed the saffron discourse into background and brought all-inclusive agenda in the center. On the other hand, even the dumbest of person can’t be fooled all the time. Modi did what is called reverse of segmentation or market aggregation positioning its political product with an appeal cutting across all selected people of all segments. By don’t letting the Congress play on the fears and building an alternative narrative, BJP made its completion irrelevant. If BJP is a growth oriented nationalistic party, it is not an opposite of secularism. The talk of secularism rings hollow because what this product is being compared with.