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Hegemony and Identity


The high voltage Uttar Pradesh assembly elections slated to be conducted in 2022 has brought forward themes of social and political contestation as the dominant Bharatiya Janatha Party tests its appeal as the opposition parties weigh in to cut into the social base of the BJP. A defining feature of the contemporary structural-ideological juggernaut of the BJP has been its ability to determine ideological positions which significantly reduces the space and scope for competition among the disparate political parties. The particularity of such ideological homogenization can be located in the ‘identity politics’ of the BSP in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Scholars have argued that the vacuity of social vision for channelling construction of singular identities for emancipation has inadvertently contributed to the fructification of a social-ideological impasse of Hindutva. The question however is whether mere social content can displace the hegemony of Hindutva. Here, I make use of ‘neoliberal subject’ as an analytical tool to understand the crisis of identity politics.

The contemporary social formation has progressively dislodged the postulates of identity politics, the underlying social relations based on separation as unequal and hierarchy as uneven. Ironically, the very postulates have emptied the ‘subaltern’ socialization of a social vision beyond the intensification of caste cleavages. As I had argued in my previous write-up, politics of social identity and justice have inherent epistemic and social limitations. This write-up can be considered as an extension of the arguments made in the previous write


At the structural level, neoliberal governmentality has been argued as a synthetic secularisation and fuzzification of ideological distinctions in the context of party-political formations in India. However, deformation and reconstruction of ‘identity’ as the structuring principle of governmental rationality have been less emphasised. How else can one understand the appropriation of social groups for the purposes of political mobilization which are of different shapes and content? The hegemonic intervention of the BJP in Indian politics can be characterized as localised development and socialised Hindutva. The BJP juggernaut is essentially the mutualisation of caste differences in Hindutva as a unified ideology of social diffusion for the purposes of representation and neoliberal developmentalism as the tool for the deformation of social identities for the purpose of unification.

Counter-hegemonic socialization against the BJP has been articulated by the opposition parties through the frame of representation alone. BSP-SP has been banking on the electoral support of the socially dominant Brahmins while simultaneously attempting to hold onto the Dalit-OBC social base. Reservation, therefore, becomes a locus of this politics of recognition and representation. However, the reservation was/is premised upon certain imagination of a social being rooted in a shared sense of injustices perpetrated by the socially and culturally dominant. Politics of social justice is sandwiched between the cross currents of neoliberal subjectivist onslaught and Hindutva juggernaut which has displaced a sense of shared trauma of oppression at worst and subordination at best.

In his work The Birth of Biopolitics, Michel Foucault argues that neoliberal rationality is both a rupture and an extension of classical liberalism, in it seeks to “economize” all domains of social life. He further argues that such an economization is premised upon a certain subject - ‘the stake in all neo-liberal analyses is the replacement every time of homo oeconomicus as a partner of exchange with a homo oeconomicus as an entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer’.

The philosophic-political category of “Bahujan”, as opposed to the universal expression of “Sarvjan”, is rooted in its criticism of disembodies reason, individualism and invisibilisation of hierarchy, stigma and separation in the bourgeois democracy. Gopal Guru writes that the Dalit critique of liberal democracy is in terms of a claim for “swabhiman” (self-respect) as opposed to “abhiman” (pride). However, Bahujan politics has faced twin crises - the social separation or the “epistemology of provenance” which has isolated the aspect of “knowing” and “being” into an experiential basis. On the other hand, identity politics has struggled to articulate a social alternative to the onslaught of neoliberal subjectification.

George Lukacs writes in the context of capitalist society that the essence of commodity-social structure is the production of value which seems to be autonomous, rational and all-encompassing which simultaneously conceals all traces of the fundamental nature of hierarchical social relations. The emergence of finance-capital hegemony as a socially rational articulation of development has displaced collective struggles.

Therefore, it becomes reasonable and acceptable to mobilize a certain sense of disempowerment by refilling it with social content to construct a distinct social identity characterised by social exclusion. While democracy has empowered the backward social groups to assert electoral presence and visibility, institutional access for equality and justice, neoliberalism has dislocated claims for absolute equality by replacing it with relational mobility/vulnerability negotiated for the preservation of social differences along the lines of caste. Therefore, Hindutva discourse can talk of an extension of reservation benefits to the socially dominant without necessarily being under the threat of alienating the Dalit social base. Even the cases of caste-Hindu violence on Dalits don’t seem to result in a perceptible change towards Hindutva politics. It is equally admissible for Mayawati to appropriate the Hindu cultural symbolism and speak of “Dalit-Brahman Bhai Bhai” to prove their Hinduness; equally admissible for the Prime Minister to speak of the development of Valmikis for recognition and talk of unified Hindu identity to absolve caste violence as a mere aberration.

This is not to suggest that the hegemony of neoliberal-Hindutva at a particular historical juncture is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The sustainability of hegemony requires accommodation of competing interests mutualised through exclusion and the employment of force critically backed by consent. As Gramsci notes, the logic of hegemony is perpetuated by the maintenance of the critical balance of consent and force outside the “public opinion”. The hegemonic trope of accommodation cracks when the inherently indiscernible and contradictory pattern of interaction results in the breakdown of the critical balance.

There are underlying crises of philosophical and social imagination in the Hindu society whose lineage can be traced to at least from the colonial times with two cross-currents of Christian theological interventions and the nationalist compulsions for exterior formations against the colonial rule in the form of social reforms. Several thinkers have contemplated on the "Hindu" identity in the aftermath of "annihilation of caste". The fissures due to this embattled zone of multiplicities that have not come to be negotiated and resolved are taking the form of Hindu nationalism or in its contemporaneous form, Hindutva majoritarianism. Here it takes deep-rooted intellectual anxiety towards Marxist materialist formulations of Hindu philosophical thought - an ensemble of material forces, an ethos of submission and asymmetrical power relations - ideas are the reflections of time and space. Hindutva politics is essentially a politics of crisis premised upon this crisis of thought - an imagination both social and political.

Bahujan politics is therefore entrenched in a milieu that has no easy answers to get out of this impasse. Can post-neoliberal articulation of socialization overlook and de-differentiate without necessarily reifying immediate identities? Can it afford to be addressed solely as an ideological function of the State? Should the socialization wait until the hegemony implodes from within due to the intensification of divergent interests for alternative units of interest aggregation to emerge?

In the next write-up, I will attempt to locate certain fissures which could probably threaten the hegemonic balance of power.


By Nikhil Jois K.S

Nikhil Jois K.S. studied undergraduate degree at Christ University, Bengaluru. Interests in theatre, classical music & anything Jazz including Classical Art. Distinctly passionate about political science.


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