The local community had been protesting outside the district collectors office for four hours, they camped there with their demand which was the recognition of their rights to land. This was a familiar scene in many rural areas and I witnessed this one during my fieldwork in Sonbadra, UP in 2015. The bureaucracy and the state in India are faced with a massive challenge of delivering welfare schemes, implementing rights-based legislations while being pro-business in its approach to development.
How is this important now and why should we be concerned about this? The pandemic has forced us to revisit this fundamental question as citizens of what do we expect from our state? The Modi government with its flair for making sweeping decisions quickly enforced a nationwide lockdown. This is seen as one way to combat the pandemic or to flatten the curve. The decision, however, has left migrant laborers, the homeless and the poor in the margins as many are unable to travel back home or get jobs.
Can the Modi government known for its ability to bring economic growth (which it has not succeeded in doing either) rise to this welfare challenge? The coming weeks and the present treatment of migrant workers exposes us to the reality of the Indian state where it has lost its ability to provide welfare services in the eagerness to become pro-business.
The Politics of Care Vs the Politics of Hate
The Modi regime since its inception in 2014 has been a sampling of many initiatives to further the politics of hate and exclusion. Be it lynching for the supposed consumption of beef or trading of cattle or the brazen hate speeches we have seen from many leaders. The tipping point was the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act,2020 where it deliberately excluded Muslims from the list of religions that can claim citizenship.
The recent communal riots in Delhi was an unfortunate and sad expression of this politics of hate. The politics of hate grounded in Hindutva is based on a myopic idea of India being a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ much has been said about this idea but what I want to take some time to discuss is how it might be influencing statecraft.
In Kandhamal, Odisha, where communal riots took place in August 2008, has left the community divided with a strong presence of the Hindu right-wing. I was there to study the implementation of rights-based legislation- the Forest Rights Act,2006. What I witnessed was the politics of hate translating into the exclusion of Dalit Christian communities in their claim for forest rights.
This, of course, is quite specific to the context but what I can draw from that experience is the ability of the politics of hate to influence the practice of the state and the bureaucracy. In the present pandemic where we are all equally impacted can the Modi government respond with the politics of care without discrimination?
The politics of care would be one shaped by the inclusion of all with a particular emphasis on care for the vulnerable. The politics of hate needs to take a back seat if we are to appropriately govern in a pandemic. Federalism has come to our rescue with the expression of the politics of care by regional governments like the Kejriwal government in New Delhi.
Should we renegotiate the social contract with the Indian state?
As we witness the unjust manner in which the lockdown is being managed with migrant workers being forced to walk home. This pandemic has exposed us to the hollowing out of our institutions in addressing the welfare of all citizens. Our health care systems are not ready to take on such a big challenge. As citizens, this is perhaps a moment to revisit our expectations of the Indian state.
The relationship between the citizen and the Indian state has been a contested one but perhaps not contested enough. Should we be renegotiating the very basis on which this relationship was established? The need of the state to provide welfare, practice the politics of care and to secure our livelihood has come to the fore in this period.
While the pro-business character of the Indian state has been one of the many reasons that its need to provide welfare has taken a back seat. The pandemic shows us that a renaissance of the welfare state is imperative to get us through this. Access to healthcare, water, sanitation among other socio-economic rights needs to be an integral part of our relationship with the state and our ability as citizens to hold it accountable on these grounds.
As leaders tweet on us joining an online anthakshari or to watch the Ramayana, as concerned citizens of a democracy we should go back to the fundamental question, what is our relationship with the state? How do we push the Modi government to operate from the vantage point of the politics of care and not hate?
 To know more read Atul Kohli’s work on the politics of economic growth in India.