Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Neoliberalism Hindu Style: Nationhood reimagined

I am struck by the adulatory remarks in the major news outlets in India celebrating Bal Thackeray, remarking upon his sense of humor, his penchant for art and poetry, and his role as a political leader that united Maharashtra and gave a sense of national identity for its citizens.

These adulations are completely uncritical, rewriting the story of a leader who often referred to Hindu sentiments to inspire violence and hatred.

From watching and hearing all the praises, you would not know that this is the very demagogue who had inspired a generation of Hindu right wing fanatics, writing the script of a Maratha Hindu state.

You would not know that inspired by Hitler, this was the leader who appealed to the politics of Hindu identity to call for massacres, erasures, and mass scale violence.

What becomes most apparent in the storying of Mr. Thackeray's legacy is the fundamental paradox of neoliberal organizing of India.

This is the essential paradox between a penchant for a narrative of modernity and the affinities for right wing essentialism.

The writers of the story of a cosmopolitan India are unapologetically adulatory of a demagogue who would inspire mass violence against the very signs of modernity that they unapologetically idolize: women going to bars, valentine day celebrations, campaigning for pink underwear etc.

Neoliberalism in India essentially thrives on its ability to accomodate these very contradictory narratives.

Mumbaikars living out a cosmpolite lifestyle, pubbing out, and having a dandy time at late night discos are also very comfortable narrativizing a valorized story of Thackeray.

Media workers who otherwise enjoy the licenses of neoliberalism feel perfectly comfortable reproducing the adulatory narrative of Thackeray because it sells.

Right wing Hindu fanaticism finds perfect peace with cosmopolitinalism of the liberalized economy.

Sexual and material liberalizing works hand-in-hand with the moral police seeking to restrain liberties of desire.

This very paradox plays out in the Mumbai (read Marathi/Gujju) imaginations of a glossy cosmopolitanism sitting atop a seething face of Hindu right-wing terror.

This is the same paradox that goes unchallenged in the everyday being of middle class Indians in a liberalized economy.

On one hand, the citizens of neoliberal India can sing praises of liberalization and development; on the other hand, they can just as easily be comfortable with the logics of right wing fascism as long as it sits comfortably with their desires of greed realized through the promise of liberalization (and most often, it does). 

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