Empty rhetoric, aggressive nationalism and zero ideology: Pawanism is just good old Populism

Pawan Kalyan, the demigod of this cult called Pawanism is making many promises without realising that he is neither a radical nor a messiah.
Empty rhetoric, aggressive nationalism and zero ideology: Pawanism is just good old Populism
Empty rhetoric, aggressive nationalism and zero ideology: Pawanism is just good old Populism
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‘Aapathbhandhavuda… Anaadharakshaka…Govinda…Govinda…’ thus reverberate the cries of devotees who visit Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam to offer respects to the richest of the cult-like mass Gods of Hinduism, Lord Venkateswara. Literally these cries mean ‘O Govinda! O saviour in danger! O protector of the orphaned!’ which reflect helplessness and a desperate call for succour in what Marx would describe as a ‘heartless and soulless’ world.

Just at the foothills of this temple, another cult-like mass demigod delivered a thundering emotional speech recently, overflowing with rhetoric. Every time he raised his voice or every time he mocked someone or every time he downplayed himself only to immediately praise himself using clichéd male chauvinistic phrases or every time he ran his fingers through his hair, the mass of people threw themselves in a deafening frenzy. This cult-like mass psychology also has a name - Pawanism. 

Although the name itself might sound asinine, one cannot dismiss this as harmless cretinism especially after a young Pawan Kalyan fan was murdered by a Jr. NTR fan for mocking his hero in the same Tirupati a couple of days ago.

Religious cults sometimes provide a sociological springboard to understand politics. A keen observer would slowly begin to see the connections between religious cults, plebeian discontent, cultural desperation and political hope and the manner in which an irrational ideologically bereft Pawanism could potentially integrate these incongruous elements into a political programme. It is too early to call this fascism but one can safely call it good old populism. 

But even political populism serves a function. It lends itself to context and attempts to fill a vacuum in the political space. So the most important question one needs to ask is - is there a political vacuum and is Pawan Kalyan going to fill this vacuum? 

Let us attempt to answer the first question. Ever since Andhra Pradesh (AP) was made into a model state, an experimental state where the imperialist IMF-World Bank combine can fast-track its neoliberal policies with the blue-eyed boy of the corporates Chandrababu Naidu at the helm, welfare measures have been dismantled. The state has become a facilitator and not a provider.

To overcome the handicap of invisibility that a mere facilitator would suffer from, which could be fatal in the electoral arena, Chandrababu has proposed the model of an activist facilitator. It is described as taking governance to the people, but it is more of taking himself, or rather his image, to the people. Taking governance to the people can only mean greater decentralisation of governance, but what Chandrababu is doing is, in a sense greater centralisation, for his brand of administrative activism concentrates the image of governance in one person — himself. This has gone to the frivolous extent of administering oaths of good governance and increasing GDP, to innocent devotees visiting the Krishna Pushkaralu. 

His party men are also making a lot of money in this process, because Chandrababu’s activist governance has involved giving contracts, starting from rural programmes like Janmabhoomi to the latest Swiss Challenge model for developing the controversial capital region in Amaravati, on an informal basis. While the YSRCP men are crying hoarse about this because it affects their own moneymaking opportunities, what is more significant about the exercise is the search that Chandrababu is making for a vote-gathering as for that much derided thing called ‘populism’. This may come in use to them, too, in the future.

And in all of this, the Left, not including the CPI (Maoist), which calls itself the only party to fight against this onslaught of neoliberalism, is nowhere to be seen. Their critique is outdated. 

This bring us to the second question. Clearly there is a huge gap left by the Left for a Pawan Kalyan to fill. But unfortunately he is not up to the task. If there is one word which can be employed to qualify the politics of Pawan Kalyan, it is this - confused.

A quick look at his Jana Sena Party’s ideology on its website will leave you with a sense of vagueness stemming from all its glorified and clichéd idealism. There is no concrete analysis of the socio-economic situation or of social reality in general. Even in the multiple TV interviews he has given, one cannot find any ideological consistency, akin to the Aam Aadmi Party. A quote from Gandhi here, a reference to Bhagat Singh there, professing love for Che Guevara’s humanism — but not his communism — and in the same breadth eulogising Modi and the BJP’s version of principled chauvinism is proving that just like every other politician in this country who is ideologically bankrupt, Pawan Kalyan too is taking refuge in aggressive nationalism.

Moreover, his overemphasis that he is here to stay and will not run away — may be like his brother — from serious politics, only points to his ideological complexes and shortcomings.

His speech in Tirupati yesterday was an exercise in rhetoric filled with emotionally cringe-worthy moments, especially towards the end. But if there is anything about his political line that one can pick up for yesterday was this — a ferocious empty nationalist/regionalist populism of the NTR variety, which allows him to be democratic in a formal political sense, while retaining an anti-democratic core.

This populism fights not so much the real enemies of the people, but just the most obvious and apparent enemies perceived by the people — and these are the arrogant Congress high command leaders including Digvijay Singh, Jairam Ramesh, Sonia Gandhi or ‘madame’ as he likes to mock, a few spineless rich businessmen cum legislators of the TDP, the backstabbing BJP (but highly respectable Modiji), the obstructive bureaucrat, the corrupt clerk and so on. 

His mileage will last as long as he can successfully play the ‘heads-I-win-tails-you-lose’ game like he did when he supported the BJP-TDP combine in the 2014 elections fully knowing that he should ride the anti-incumbency wave, and even if later these parties backstab, like they did now with regards to special status, he can still play the victim card, which is exactly what he is doing now.

The rise of Pawan Kalyan, thus should be seen in the context of the nationwide right-wing populistic response to the corrupt UPA government selling sweetmeat called ‘hope’ to the aspirational Indian middle class.  But populism is the weakness of the Hindu God, which is evident with all the generous boons they grant. Pawan Kalyan, the demigod of this cult called Pawanism is making many promises without realising that he is neither a radical nor a messiah. All his good intentions will accrue to nothing if he continues to remain ideologically inconsistent.

(The views expressed in the article are the personal opinion of the author.)

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