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Can Anyone Be Trusted?

Can Anyone Be Trusted?

Unpredictability Invites Unpredictability

The credibility of public institutions had long been fast declining, until of late, going further, “shocking people” beyond belief has developed into an art by today’s politicians. Statements are made to bewilder and bemuse, promises to defer and distract, agreements to be derided at and discarded. Immediately after assuming office, Donald Trump ridiculed and rejected the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Climate agreement. He called his competitors in Europe “Foes,” those in Russia “Enemies.” He dubbed China a “Currency Manipulator,” India the “Tariff King.” He himself remains the sovereign of ‘sanctions’ and emperor of ‘embargos.’ He speaks as though it is he who will decide how the world should behave. There are no more commonly accepted codes of conduct, norms of relationships, meanings of words. Erratic political decisions of erratic leaders today warp the World Order.

Trump considers himself ‘smart’ remaining unpredictable. He says, he has no need of the UN or its allied organisations. He threatens to pull out of the World Trade Organization unless it remains pliant, and to scrap the nuclear agreement with Russia as he had done with Iran. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif warns, “Mutual unpredictability will lead to chaos. President Trump expects to be unpredictable and expects others to be predictable. Unpredictability will lead to mutual unpredictability and unpredictability is chaotic.”

Indeed! The World Order is going chaotic. Unpredictability dominates the political and economic scenario, unreliability of bonds and relationships, unreasonableness of approaches and search for solutions, unprincipled styles and ways of dealing…which lead to unforeseeable and unintended consequences. In this atmosphere people ask: “Can anyone be trusted at all?”

Fear dominates the world scene.  Morgan Stanley feels that the global economy is heading for a recession, nudged by US-China trade war. Higher tariffs mean higher prices for consumers, lower sales, weaker distribution. Trump is calling American companies in China to come home and give jobs to Americans. International companies are reeling amidst uncertainties. Indian economy is slowing down, not making the “$5 trillion high jump” as Modiji wished.

What Next? Who Next?

People in India are asking: “What next?” Demonetisation has doomed the fate of millions, GST that of the survivors.  RTI, Terrorist act, abolition of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution…all part of the Hindutva agenda, have been hustled through the two Houses with calculated speed. The Ruling clique can get anything done with brute majority in the Parliament and brute force in the field.  It is ominous that the army is going to be centralized further, and that the Rafale deals are going through with Macron praising India.  Ramachandra Guha sees an undeclared Emergency in full function under “paranoid, insecure” leaders.  

“What next?” people ask. Are Reservations going to be reduced, Minority rights minimized? We are in the hands of the ‘deified duo,’ Modi and Shah. The actor Rajnikant has raised them to the level of Krishna and Arjuna! The Hindutva plans to create an Akhand Bharat and a Hindu Rashtra are given shape only by them and the RSS think-tank. The business community asks, “What next?” What surprises are ahead? Tradesmen are afraid to invest. Money gets frozen. Car sales have fallen, oil import is reduced. Rupee value is sinking, unemployment rising. Shaktikanta Das, Governor of the RBI, plays on words to prevent absolute pessimism. Meanwhile Amit Shah promises to make India the third biggest economy by 2024!

Many Ashvamedha sacrifices may have to be performed before the Modi-Shah-RSS dreams get realized. A few more heads must roll. “Who next?” people wonder.  Chidambaram, Tharoor, Yechury, Rahul, Priyanka? Every critic is asked to stand in court.  Any protester may be declared a terrorist, any dissenter an ‘anti-nationalist’, anyone with a secular view ‘anti-Hindu.’ Meanwhile anger is mounting in Kashmir. A fear has gripped the nation too about the wider application of the Kashmir-formula. Does the Assam accord stand threatened, or the sixth schedule protecting tribal land, or the government of India agreement on August 15, 1947 with the Khasi Syiems, Lyngdohs, Sirdars, Wahadars, Dollois? Can anyone trust anyone at all, if solemn agreements are scraps of paper only?

The Business Community Grows Jittery

With this general drooping of spirit, Amitabh Kant of Niti Aayog doubts whether it will be easy to rouse the “animal spirit” (John Keynes) of investors. The problem with today’s economy is that the “Invisible hand” has become too visible, and it keeps interfering and flexing its muscles. Kant is sure that Modi-reforms were rushed through in haste without adequate thought and preparation. It was as unpredictable as the recent ‘surgical strike’ against the Constitution, article 370 and 35A (Ruchir Joshi). Kant says that authorities have shown themselves callous in imposing the new norms, which lacked clarity; they were hard upon those who failed.

Small business concerns have gone on the defensive. They find it hard to negotiate the regulations and interferences. They are afraid to take risks. Unfortunately, the Modi-Shah movements are unpredictable and non-transparent. Rajiv Kumar, Vice President of Niti Aayog is emphatic, “Nobody is trusting anybody” anymore. When communities are polarised, mutual confidence is pulverized. Immobility is the result, and inertia.  A hush-hush approach does not make “Public Reasoning” of Amartya Sen possible.

We are moving into a confused and confusing world. The Kashmir change was rushed through the Parliament, distracting the public with the controversial RTI abolition and Terrorist prevention Bills…before political observers could even become aware of what was happening. The nation was presented with an accomplished fact: Kashmir is open for fleecing…as Tripura tribal belts have been a long time and Jharkhand tribal areas are fast becoming. Studied strategies to make Hindu Rashtra take shape! Chanakya and Manu are in command.

Meanwhile Chidambaram’s arrest distracts the media from the Kashmir conflagration. So does Modi’s tête-à-tête with Macron, Trump’s phone-call, Russia’s non-interference. Keeping a 1.3 billion market is more important for these leaders than carping about Kashmir. But the Kashmiris feel let down.

Is a Demographic Clogging in Plan, or a Business Outsmarting?

The BJP MLA Vikram Singh Saini from Muzzafarnagar was exuberant when he invited UP young men to launch a ‘love jihad’ into Kashmir and make it their home. In this way, Yogi’s UP will be transplanted into the Valley, with its human development levels of underweight children, high infant mortality, low female education, and low life expectancy! The Economist Jean Dreze is sure that Kashmir is way ahead even of Modi’s Gujarat in all these respects. The Birlas may open a few gaushalas as an encouragement, as they are going to launch a 100 high-tech gaushalas in MP. An October meeting of investors will decide how to share the Kashmir spoils. 

Saini himself is a class IX dropout with many criminal cases against him. He threatened to “bomb” those who said they were unsafe in the country (to prove that they are safe), if only he were given a central ministry. Such are the lawmakers that lead the nation today!

The Kashmiris felt betrayed when things happened against the assurances that were given to them when 10,000 of the Indian troops moved into their state. Whom can they trust now? Silence reigns. Reducing information-flow from Kashmir has reduced credibility too. As of now, even moderates are likely to turn radicals. An anti-India sentiment is taking root.  Rajnath Singh’s ‘unprovoked threat’ to be the first to use the nuclear weapon does not add to the sense of security in the region. The Opponent can make the same option. Whom can we trust, then?

Provoking Psychological Counteractions in the Neighbourhood

“Jai Shri Ram” was the song that dominated the first session of the Parliament after elections. People have been killed in the countryside for failing to join in the song. India’s secular image could not have plunged lower.  Our neighbours have been reading the signals a long time and searching how to respond to our insolent postures. We are not surprised, therefore, that the first satellite that Sri Lanka put into orbit was given the name “Ravana,” as Pakistan responded to our ‘Prithviraj’ missile with one named ‘Ghori.’ As Indians are proud of their king who extended his kingdom to southwards, Sri Lankans are proud of their king who resisted. According to the Sri Lankan version of the story, Ravana was a noble-minded king and was defeated only because of the betrayal of his brother Vibhishana.

A Pali epic says, it was prince Vijaya of Kalinga that first settled in Sri Lanka around the 6th century BC. This may explain why Buddhism found a ready welcome in the island. But today’s radicals would like to disown any earlier connection with India. The Singhalese are indigenous, they claim. There is a growing anti-Indian strain in Sri Lanka. When the Indian peace-keeping army landed in Sri Lanka, they nicknamed it the “Monkey Army” of Sugriva. Today there is a cultural revitalisation of the native identity: books, songs, article, statues, Ravana representing a technologically advanced Sri Lankan civilization, with aircrafts and satellites.

The Hindutva Philosophy of Exclusion has Created a “Tukde Tukde” Culture

Our Pakistan-fixated policymakers would not consider Sri Lanka as a threat, nor Maldives, nor Nepal. But the “Emotional Distances” that our Hindutva friends have built within the country and in the neighbourhood is destined to undermine our strength. They constitute a greater threat to the long-term future of South Asia than nuclear weapons.

A philosophy of exclusion and mutual non-belonging has been drilled into the minds of Hindutva initiates. Neighbouring communities, differing by religion and caste, develop myths and fables against each other and build up grievances against each other. Each community keeps alive its own hurt memories and its own interpretation of history. Each develops its own concepts of injustice, expressed in its own internal vocabulary. Emotional distances have turned enormous. Each is like a nation unto itself with its own internal vocabulary, meaning systems, and hate-deposits. They constitute parallel worlds in the neighbourhood.

Even the majority community, herded together only for elections, are no more than “tukde tukde” as soon as caste arrogance manifests itself in public life. When majoritarian politics propounds exclusion to strengthen majority unity, the economy that depends on social trust, inter-community cooperation, and national solidarity suffers immensely. What helps ‘your’ politics, ruins ‘our’ common, shared, national economics.

Spiritual Threads Needed to Bind the Nation Together

Recently Queen Elizabeth showed annoyance at the quality of leadership that has emerged on the British political scene, presenting a set of people unfit to govern. If the western political ethics has become Machiavellian, the Indian has turned Chanakyan.  Our leaders must ask themselves sincerely: “Are we distorting the national ethos to suit partisan interests, ruining it forever?” 

It is true, one must not “demonise Modi” as Congress leaders Abhishek Singhvi and Jairam Ramesh have argued. However, we must immediately add, we must not “divinize” him either. He works hard, we appreciate that. He can make strong decisions, we appreciate that when he is right. But if he deliberately chooses to make unwise decisions or opt for divisive policies, his fellow-citizens have a right to tell him that he is wrong. He is accountable to India’s millions. If the rupee is the worst performing currency in Asia today, he and his team must take responsibility. When we evaluate his policies and find them wanting, we are contributing to the collective thinking of the nation. It takes away nothing from his other achievements.

The style of his team’s power-hunt has damaged their image most of all. Basic principles of political uprightness are wantonly twisted to suit their electoral convenience. Men are treated as merchandise, to be bought and sold. Legislators have become saleable goods. In the last elections the BJP did not win even one seat in Sikkim. If, then, ten MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front walked across to be welcomed by the BJP, have they any claim to represent the people who elected them? Do the BJP leaders not deserve the popular accusation that described them as “ravenous” wolves? Why hold elections at all spending crores? Where is democracy here? How is the will of the people expressed?  Can anyone be trusted at all in such contexts? Would the person be wrong who says that the present BJP is made up of people from the “waste dump” of the other parties?

The Ruling Team seems to have taken the “erosion of morality” as their distinguishing mark.  Their morality has been fast yielding to muscularity. Where bullying failed, bribe-based bargains have worked the greater miracle. That is the slime-laden ethos that they wish to transfer to Kashmir. Meantime silence has fallen upon the Valley. Nothing seems to happen there anymore.  How long can an entire society of intelligent people be kept captive? When will Tagore’s dream come true, when all Indians can hold their heads “high”?  Kalhana said in his Rajatarangini in the 12th century, “Kashmir can be conquered by the power of spiritual merit, but never by the force of soldiers.”  We need the spiritual threads of love and mutual relationships to hold this nation together.

(Published on 02nd September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 36)