Since women constitute half of the population, it is interesting to study their role in the consensus generation process. Women as a social group in India are only beginning their march toward empowerment, and to this extent their political power is not fully expressed. In the West, women have advanced socially, politically and economically, thanks to brave demonstrations on part of suffragettes and women’s rights activists. In India, while women as a group have the potential to leverage their political power, so far they have been held back by entrenched patriarchal norms. For example, “in the years following India’s independence, it was mainly elite women who were visible in public life. Even today, there are at least three women leading major national political parties. But, for the vast majority of women, the triple burdens of gender, class, caste, and religion, overlaid with the power of patriarchy, make the constitutional promise of gender equality seem more symbolic than substantive.” (Jayal, 2008, p.92)
One area where both the Congress and its leading opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem to converge is in the realm of economic ideology. And both parties have used it in recent elections to gain popular support. Since 1991, when the Congress government under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao started the process of economic liberalization, the economic policy framework of all subsequent governments has been markedly right-wing. So, the propaganda machinery of both parties has projected the dream of ‘India Shining’ to garner votes. This tactic has given mixed results – in the 2004 election campaign, this was BJP’s slogan, but it backfired. This is so because in the two decades since India embraced neoliberalism, numerous social and economic issues have cropped up. Since the country is still largely agrarian, with more than 60 percent of the population living in rural areas, the neoliberal ideology has not gone down with this constituency. As a result, peasant protests against Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) have risen in frequency. These protests articulate agrarian interests through and against both national and transnational idioms…and their targets include corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill, Rhone-Poulenc Agro, and KFC franchises and institutions such as the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the World Intellectual Property Organization. (Roy & Borowiak, 2003, p.57) Further,
“At one level, these protests mobilize post independent critiques of political economy, aligning government-funded commercial and technological agriculture with statist conceptions of national development. At the normative level, they appeal to a politics of cultural identification centring on the notion of “indigeneity.” The history of this identification designates the development policies undertaken by the post-independent state to be “borrowed” From the West. In this way, questions of distribution and social justice are couched within the idioms of postcolonial cultural politics: the material interests of peasant protestors are thus specified through the image of a denationalized, urban elite–a hegemon whose moral authority is ultimately derivative of, or imported from, the historical power of the “West.”” (Roy & Borowiak, 2003, p.57)
Indian politics is so unique that to comprehend power equations within the system, one has to take into account factors such as class, caste and religion. Caste is a uniquely Indian concept and it can loosely be equated to the politics of ethnicity seen in other countries. Of course, polarizations among the population on lines of class and religion are more familiar. But what typifies India’s move toward political right is its close alliance with the United States of America. Being the leader of the neoliberal world order, the American polity (which is heavily under the influence of MNCs) has made several strategic moves toward stronger trade ties with India. A consequence of this is the simultaneous rise of religious fundamentalism in the country – comparable to that of the Christian Right in the U.S. The BJP and other organizations affiliated to the Sangh Parivar are at the heart of this growing constituency. (Bhatt, 2001, p.23) But its ideology is based on reactionary religious fervour, which can prove dangerous in the multicultural Indian society.