Saturday, October 18, 2008

India is revealing its moral vacuum

The National Integration Council has met — 146 individuals representing the cross section of India’s political and intellectual class, including leaders of the government and the opposition. According to the Prime Minister’s summing up, “there is across the board consensus on the need to contain communal discord and violence, protect minority rights and uphold our cherished values of nationalism, secularism, inclusiveness and non-violence.”
If anyone believes this, he also believes in the tooth-fairy. The bald fact is that there is no consensus in this country on the issue of communal peace. The Council may have been unanimous in condemning the wave of communal violence sweeping the land, but neither its deliberations, nor its condemnation matter a whit to those who have been killed, raped, made refugees in their own land. The fact of the matter is that the system has singularly failed to act in the face of a rising nihilistic mood in the country which seems devoid of all human consideration.
Take the behaviour of the Goa police in the latest case relating to the rape of a minor. After the Scarlett murder, we would have thought that they would be hyper active in pursuing similar charges. Instead, they have acted true to form. Because a minister was involved, they dragged their feet, and actually tried to get the mother to drop the charges, and acted only when she went public. So is it surprising that the nun who was raped in Orissa says that policemen watched on while the assault was taking place?


The anatomy of the failure of law and order when confronted with inter-religious violence appears to be the same whether in West Asia or India, or for that matter anywhere else — a blind and unreasonable hatred for the ‘other’ that spares neither man, nor woman or child. A hatred that corrodes the police force and the custodians of the law. It has nothing to do with education. Jewish rioters in Israel are highly educated people as compared to their Indian counterparts, but they do not lack in barbarian behaviour when it comes to their Arab counterparts, as was evidenced in the city of Acre recently.
In this situation, parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress are merely fishermen casting their line in the troubled waters to see how many electoral fish they can land. There is a cynicism in their behaviour, and a dangerous degree of opportunism.
As for religion, it is an even more complex issue. Among the founding values of this nation is “secularism”. But the concept of the state being blind to religion has been long abandoned. The result is a pandering to its proclivity by the Congress, and a naked assertion of its primacy by the BJP.
The police are not partisan here in the sense of favouring a religion or caste, but simply behaving like a force belonging to a banana republic. As for the politicians, the less said the better. Take the violence in Orissa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. It is easy to pin it down to a sinister effort by the BJP to stir up the temperature and harvest Hindu votes in the coming elections. But even if there is just a grain of truth in that, it shows how foolish the party is. The social and psychological behaviour of large populations is not something that you turn on and off like a light bulb.
Once a certain pattern of behaviour is given sanction, it becomes the norm. Currently, the ruling party and the opposition are giving sanction for use of violence to: the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena for the assertion of a regional identity; Bajrang Dal activists for the reconversion of tribal converts to Christianity; the Gujjars in Rajasthan for the right of reservation in jobs. Another kind of coercion is being aimed at the Muslim community in the name of fighting terrorism.
The BJP may hope that in this climate they will best the Congress, as they well may. But they will not be able to cool the raised temperatures that easily. Breaking order into disorder is an easy process, but trying to restore order from disorder is not that easy. What has happened in the Kashmir Valley is a case in point. Years of repression and electoral malpractice brought the old order down, but the torn social fabric of the state is not amenable to easy repair.


India is a land of communities and castes which is striving to make them into a nation of “Indians”. The problem is that we have two major visions of what this means. There is one that can be ascribed to Nehru and Ambedkar which sees an India rid of the taint of caste and functioning on the basis of its principal values —democracy and secularism. There is another vision, authored by Golwalkar and Hegdewar which sees India as a “Hindu” nation. Just what this means is not clear, because neither asserted that this should be based on the Manusmriti or the Dharamshastras, which means that caste would remain as one of its defining principles.
Unfortunately, the Nehru-Ambedkar project is not doing too well. Instead of eliminating caste as a pernicious factor, we are celebrating it — the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan which was based on the community’s desire to go down the caste ladder, rather than come up, is a case in point. The push for OBC reservations is another instance.
The perverted logic of reservations and its mindless application has brought us to a cul de sac and no one knows the way out. There are protagonists of reservations who no longer see it as a means to get ahead, but to keep others down.


On the other hand, the Sangh Parivar is gaining more and more success in damaging India’s composite culture, though it is not clear whether they will ever be able to achieve their concept of “Hindu” India without destroying the nation as we know it now.
In a recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly, Andre Béteille has referred to the shoddy record of governments and opposition in upholding the Constitution and meeting the demands of the people. He has ascribed the failure to the lack of what he calls “constitutional morality.” To my mind this means they may be observing the letter of the Constitution, but not its spirit.
The problem does not arise because there is no word for “morality” in Hindi or the Indian languages, but that our political class and along with them, the bureaucracy and police, have become totally amoral. Atal Bihari Vajpayee understood this when he urged Narendra Modi to observe raj dharma in 2002, but we know that he did not succeed. So Vajpayee must share the stigma for Gujarat with Modi. What we are witnessing today in Orissa and other states is a consequence of the inability of our rulers and the opposition to observe constitutional morality, or raj dharma, if you will.
This moral vacuum is reflected in a small way in the inability of the Goa police to be moved by the plight of a 14 year old girl who has been raped.
This article first appeared in Mail Today October 16, 2008

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