India: Liberal Democracy and the Extreme Right

Aijaz Ahmad


The basic trajectory of Indian political life over roughly the past quarter century, 1990 to 2015 let us say, especially as it comes into sharper relief after the elections of 2014, indicates a steady rightward shift that is both quantitatively and qualitatively so significant that it is not so much the right that moves closer to the liberal centre, occasional tactical concessions notwithstanding, but the liberal centre that keeps moving further and further to the right. The Indian polity of today seems to be undergoing a historically unprecedented process: the irresistible rise of the extreme right to dominance in vast areas of culture, society, ideology and economy, albeit with commitment to observe virtually all the institutional norms of liberal democracy. This will to a ‘long march through the institutions’ and to capturing total state power not through frontal seizure, as was once customary for revolutions of the left as well as the right, but through patiently engineered and legally legitimate takeover of those institutions by its personnel from within, while keeping the institutions intact, raises a very different kind of question: is there really an irreconcilable contradiction, an unbridgeable gap, between institutions of liberal democracy and takeover of the state by the extreme right? In other words, can the extreme right rule and pursue its own agenda through liberal institutions?

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