The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

By Thomas Blom Hansen | Go to book overview

4
Democracy, Populism, and Governance in
India in the 1980s

IT IS TEMPTING to view the “saffron wave” from the late 1980s onward as a logical outcome of decades of disciplined, well-planned organizational and ideological expansion of the Sangh parivar (see, for example, Basu et al. 1993, 6). This interpretation tends, however, to reproduce the RSS's narrative of its own history as an unbroken, consistent, and thus irresistible effort to “organize Hindu society” and to “awaken the Hindu.” Such an interpretation excludes from view the specificity of the political space created by the broader societal transformations in the 1980s, which the Hindu nationalist movement and a multitude of other forces sought to occupy.

As I will explore in more detail in the following chapter, the “saffron wave” certainly had much to do with new and bold public strategies, including effective appeals to widely disseminated communal mythologies. Nonetheless, the successes of the RSS, the BJP, and other affiliated organizations in winning broad support in new areas and within new social groups remained crucially dependent on processes beyond the control of its organized effort. The central argument here is that the “saffron wave” was made possible by the conditions of possibility offered in the political field: the emergence of a “majoritarian democracy,” new forms of “populist governmentality,” and proliferation of new demands and new identity claims in a process of “intensified democratic revolution.” I argue that the success of the Hindu nationalist movement was far from inevitable, but it was able to expand and change the political common sense in India because it drew on already existing discursive registers, because it voiced broad-based if imprecise disgruntlements and anxieties, and because in large parts of India it could occupy the political space that opened up as the Congress party gradually disintegrated.


Populism and the Transformation of Governance

Congress returned to power in 1980 and began to reconstitute its political power on the basis of huge electoral majorities in the elections in the following decade. It soon became clear, however, that the edifice of

-134-

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The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • The Saffron Wave *
  • Introduction - Hindu Nationalism and Democracy in India 3
  • 1 - Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in India 16
  • 2 - Imagining the Hindu Nation 60
  • 3 - Organizing the Hindu Nation 90
  • 4 - Democracy, Populism, and Governance in India in the 1980s 134
  • 5 - The Saffron Wave 154
  • 6 - Communal Identities at the Heart of the Nation 200
  • 7 - Hindu Nationalism, Democracy, and Globalization 218
  • Notes 239
  • Glossary 269
  • Bibliography 273
  • Index 289
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