As BJP Aims to Homogenise India, Localised Resistance Can Restore Federalism- Priya Satia

Priya Article As BJP Aims to Homogenise India, Localised Resistance Can Restore Federalism

Farmers at a protest against the Centre's agricultural laws on the outskirts of Amritsar, April 19, 2021. Photo: PTI

As millions of Indians struggle to breathe under his watch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is building himself a palatial new residence, part of a two-billion-dollar BJP government project to redevelop the “Central Vista” of the British-built capital New Delhi. This is an assertion of the power of the Central government in line with efforts to undercut states’ access to vaccines and oxygen, and is in clear defiance of questioning by the Supreme Court. But it comes at a time when the country has never strained more at the edges, with assertions of local power and autonomy across border states.

Kerala, on the southwestern coast, remains a stronghold of Left-leaning parties and has eluded BJP’s control. The BJP also has little appeal in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. In elections in Bengal where the party held massive, virus-spreading rallies, the party was handily defeated by the All-India Trinamool Congress.

For months now, Punjab’s farmers have led the world’s biggest protest, challenging laws that threaten their livelihoods. Meanwhile, the Punjab state government is asking for an “oxygen corridor” to neighbouring Pakistani Punjab. The Centre has been trying hard to assert its dominance of an intransigent Kashmir since 2019, resorting to brutal methods of suppression. It is no coincidence that these are all states with complex religious demographics in which the BJP’s Hindutva ideology struggles for traction.

The centrifugal energy at India’s margins terrifies the Centre more even than its failure to protect its people, driving it now to monumental lengths to assert an unquestioned dominance that it does not possess. It also, however, speaks to the potential for alternative South Asian futures. Many despair at the lack of a strong, viable alternative to the BJP on the national stage, lamenting, in particular, the failures of the Congress party, which let dynastic priorities tarnish the legitimacy it acquired as the nation’s founding party.