Tuesday, Jul 05, 2022

An Alliance With We The People | By Akeel Bilgrami

Coalition-making and opposition to authoritarian politics must have not just form but content—and that content must come from the street, the farm...

An Alliance With We The People | By Akeel Bilgrami Photograph by Amit Haralkar

The state in polities broadly described as ‘liberal democracies’ with political economies broadly described as ‘capitalist’ are characterised by a feature that Gramsci called ‘hegemony’. This is a technical term, not to be confused with the loose use of that term to connote ‘power and domination over another’. In Gramsci’s special sense, hegemony means that a class gets to be the ruling class by convincing all other classes that its interests are the interests of all other classes. It is because of this feature that such states avoid being authoritarian. Authoritarian states need to be authoritarian precisely because they lack Gramscian hegemony. It would follow from this that if a state that does possess hegemony in this sense is authoritarian, there is something compulsive about its authoritarianism. Now, what is interesting is that the present government in India keeps boastfully proclaiming that it possesses hegemony in this sense, that it has all the classes convinced that its policies are to their benefit. If so, one can only conclude that its widely rec­orded authoritarianism, therefore, is pathological.

There have been spectacular cases of this authoritarianism such as the recent arrest of five journalists and professors on charges that are virtually nonsensical. The liberal middle class has expressed some anger about these and, given how authoritarian the government has become, that took some courage. But Muslims and Dalits and, quite generally, the unprotected poor suffer from brutality and arbitrary arrest each day and this goes unreported even in the regional media. It is so pervasive that it is not news and it invokes nothing but indifference from the liberal middle class.