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Do Leaders Mature In Office?

Do Leaders Mature In Office?

Election Tensions Over, Dignity and a Sense of Responsibility in Office

No one thrives under criticism like Modiji. He once said in London that during the last twenty-five years he has been fed and nourished on ton-loads of “galis” (abuse). And he throve. He too enjoyed insulting the Gandhis, humiliating Nehru, abusing the Congress, re-interpreting Indian history. Let us be frank: in the past, he was capable of being callous, insensitive, even crass, capable of hitting below the belt. But, as he stabilizes in office, he seems to be maturing. One of the first things he did after assuming office was to ask his colleagues in positions of responsibility not to make irresponsible statements. He asked them to bear themselves with dignity. He eliminated from his immediate team some of those who were known for providing ‘masala’ to the press. Supply of ‘masala’ from his own mouth has been greatly reduced.

Gradually, Modiji is growing conscious of his own dignity, now that the rat race for power position is over. He is a little more than a Chowkidar, Balakot hero, if he is the Prime Minister of India. The question remains: can we really say he is maturing in office, taking full responsibility for 1.3 billion Indians? And that his colleagues are doing the same? Will India emerge like the UK and US with two ‘strong’ parties, one a little to the Right and the other a little to the Left, competing in earnest to serve the nation? As of now, it is too early to tell.

Cynical Democracy

Of late, Modiji gave us a warning that we cannot take democracy for granted. In his mouth those words sounded moving, though somewhat cynical. Yes, we are going to be under a “Cynical Democracy” for the foreseeable future. All democratic structures will be preserved, gestures and postures will have a democratic semblance, but democratic values will begin to fade away. It is already happening. We are fast moving towards what may be called “controlled” democracy, “populist” democracy, democracy with “Hindutva characteristics.” The BJP is not in a hurry to change the Constitution, they have all the decision-making bodies and mind-shaping instruments in their hands. Whatever they do will be considered right, perfectly Indian, fully in keeping with the national genius. So, certain amount of tall claims and flamboyant ‘display’ finds acceptability.

We stand with Modiji in whatever is right. For example, he condemned the mob lynching of Tabrez Ansari, 24, at Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. The young man was thoroughly humiliated, and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman,” before being beaten to death by a lynching mob. We compliment the Prime Minister that at long last he takes note of such heinous crimes and denounces them.

But immediately after that criticism, he went on to condemn the political violence of other Parties too. Perfectly right. But a few questions arise in our minds. Is the PM saying that cow-related lynching is a form of political violence? Is he, then, frankly admitting that the religious fanaticism that his followers are promoting is his party’s political strategy? Or, is he making an offer that he could persuade his supporters to avoid violence if the Opposition did the same? Or, is he merely shifting responsibility:   your violence is the cause of my (our, BJP) violence? Is that the type of democracy (exchange of equal violence) he is proposing?

In a similar fashion, Modi reacted strongly to the Indore MLA Akash Vijayvargiya’s assault on a civic official with a cricket bat. What annoyed him even more was that he was garlanded by his supporters when he stepped out of prison. Such “arrogance” cannot be tolerated, he said, no matter who he is. His father explained it away as a “minor demeanour.” The old man, a BJP veteran, rather, found fault with the officials who, in his opinion, showed “ahankar” to elected representatives. The officer needed to be taught a lesson “in public interest,” and that with a cricket bat! This is exactly the Upper Caste Worldview that has been given the Royal throne in the 2019 elections. Manu has been re-established in authority. Manuvad replaces the Constitution in actual life. The elite feel that elected members are chosen to be Maharajahs, not servants of the Indian people. They can beat up officers with a cricket bat, thrash air hostesses with slippers, honour mob-lynchers with garlands. And if they are caught, they can get exemptions from court as Pragya Singh Thakur did recently. She was found too sick for the court, but not for political manoeuvring.

Some of these high-brow political stalwarts are Harvard-returned, who have no embarrassment in taking their own society back to Neanderthal ethos. This is precisely the culture that Gandhi and Nehru stood firmly against. Today, that period would look like a brief interruption of the High Caste Absolutism that held sway over the Subcontinent for centuries. Historically, every revolt against the dominant classes was taken in hand and tamed by Brahminic inventiveness, whether it was Buddhist revivals, bhakti movements, the self-respect movement, the Marxist movement, or recently the modern secular consciousness. Today, such a process is going on under the guidance of the new Avatar called Narendra Modi. Democracy too has assumed a new Avatar: Cynical Democracy.

Reincarnation of Indian ‘Secularism’ as ‘BJP-Hindutva’

Meanwhile Indian self-understanding itself is changing. Indian identity is evolving. Its ‘secular’ identity has been so metamorphosed into ‘Hindutva’ core identity, that we do not know how to make a distinction. After all, Darwin admitted that Evolution advanced with mutations from time to time. A mutation has taken place with the last two elections. Therefore, we need not be surprised that Venkaiah Naidu could claim that India was the ‘most secular’ country in the world, and that others did not need to lecture to her. He was referring to a US report on the status of religious freedom in India, which was critical. In the recent evolution-process that our ‘secular identity’ has undergone, a mutation has taken place, bringing to birth a new species called ‘BJP-Hindutva.’ This species differs from genuine ‘Hindutva,’ the universally respected identity of millions of our compatriots, to which we have always paid homage.

Venkaiah Naidu’s version of our ‘secular identity’ was celebrated during the oath-taking ceremony recently with the chaotic shouts of Jai Shri Ram, Jai Hanuman, Jai Kali, etc. as though it were a Kumbha Mela. It was followed by Yoga celebrations from the Prime Minister’s level to the last village. Guwahati Raj Bhavan conducted a Yoga workshop. Assam government’s primary concern after assuming office was to ensure a grand Ambubachi Mela at Kamakhya. There is an aggressive dimension to our new-found ‘secularism’ too. A 16-year boy was beaten up in Kanpur for refusing to chant “Jai Shri Ram.”   The same thing happened to HM Sharukh Halder in a Sealdah-bound train. The junior doctors beaten up recently in Kolkata were Muslims too.

‘Obscurantism’ with fearful consequences has got enthroned with the new Government assuming office. The beheaded body of a woman was discovered near the temple on Nilachal Hills (Guwahati), a few days ahead of the Ambubachi mela. It would seem it was a human sacrifice offered for the success of the Mela. No enquiry was reported. Meantime devotions keep multiplying nationwide. There is a proliferation of Hanuman temples, especially in tribal areas. Tribal psyche is being forced ‘enslaved.’ India’s ‘secular’ government can make any amount of money available for Ram Navami celebrations.   Tilak and red thread on the wrists are growing popular. People line up for vehicle blessings. There is a proposal to introduce Ramayana and Mahabharata war tactics into the curriculum of Defence Academy! Will a Lanka-invasion like venture be attempted against our Eastern neighbour?  Our very worldviews and social outlook are being Purani-fied, shaped after the epics.

How Moral Codes Surrender to Manu-vad, How Majoritarians Dominate

Ajay Gudavarthy shows how these developments influence our moral order too, which is already over-influenced by the Caste Order. He points out that public morality in India is linked to caste-based norms of socialization. Moral norms in India are contextual and not driven by universal moral standards, he says. Your position in the caste order decides what is legitimate for you. What is admissible in the higher may not be admissible in the lower. What can be tolerated in an Upper Caste, cannot be tolerated in the lower castes, e.g. Ahankar. Advani or Pragya may have been the cause of the death of a large number of people but can go free, not Mevani or Lalu Prasad whatever little way they have failed. MPs and MLAs can act as gundas, not the ordinary party worker, far less dalits or Mulsims.

What is legitimate for the BJP (bribing and using violence) is not legitimate for the Congress. What is approved for the Hindutva brigade (e.g. convert-making), is completely forbidden to minorities. Ajay says, BJP-RSS has clearly sanctioned lies, false propaganda, and opportunism as legitimate. Gandhi-Nehru sincerely wanted to rescue Indian society from this form of distorted social order. Scholars like Bourdieu and Colemen argue that healthy democracy and sound economy can flourish only if certain social values are prevalent in a society. They call them “Social Capital,” which includes bonds within a group, trust, intergenerational relationships, norms and sanctions, sturdy relationships, lively associational life. If social capital weaken, that society is greatly endangered.

Perceptive persons must speak up against such a danger. Scholars must write. But will there remain space for such a possibility within our ‘cynical democracy’? India ranks 140th in World Press Freedom Index. Adhir Ranjan of the Congress accused the government of stifling the media by refusing advertisements. Assam Students’ Union warned the Centre against gagging the media. Assam Tribune is in trouble for criticizing the Citizenship Bill. Samantak Das is very humble in confessing, “Somewhere, deep down and unacknowledged even by ourselves, we take the security of our brute majority for granted.” While majoritarians flaunt their strength, feebler commmnities are thrown on the defensive.   Three Dalits have been booked at Gorakhpur for installing an Ambedkar statue “without permission.” Cases have been filed against the initiators under sections 143, 332, 447, 504… illegal gathering, challenging authority, and a whole lot of other charges, for merely wanting to honour their hero. However, never underestimate the inner resources of a suppressed society. Energy is generated on a day-to-day basis within the bosom of a humiliated people. Beware!

Encounter with the Inner Self

Modiji’s visit to Kedarnath temple created a sensation. It made the shrine more popular. Devotees are crowding to the spot. It was a ‘proselytization initiative’ par excellence! When asked what he had gone to Kedarnath temple for, his prompt reply was, “to meet myself,” to encounter “my inner self.” Every sincere Indian would have been thrilled. I was. The answer that Gandhiji or Vivekananda would have given would be something similar. This longing for an inner search is part of us. Facing oneself is an exciting experience. Joy and sorrow mingle. Eagerness to make allegations against others sink, consciousness of one’s own limitations and failures emerge. A sense of accountability takes over one’s inner world.

The man who said “Nation’s blood is boiling” with reference to alleged Pak provocations may experience vibrations of ‘shanti’ within himself. He may ask himself whether Balakot success would guarantee economic success as well, whether jobs can be ensured to the poor, whether fair prices can be offered to hungry farmers, whether Dalits and minorities deserve a better deal, whether true Democracy can be ensured.

Imran Khan was happy that Modi was elected, because now it is worthwhile dialoguing with him. He can make decisions that bind. If you have an agreement with persons that hold extreme views, the future is safer for both sides; no unexpected aggression is likely to take place. Surgical strikes are not good conversation. In fact Imran Khan has been asking for a “civilized relationship.” The rest of the world too is worried, especially those in the neighbourhood. Lotay Tshering, the PM of Bhutan, pleaded fervently, “If India and Pakistan don’t work together for this region, nothing can move ahead. So my prayers and wishes from our deeply spiritual country are for the leaders in this region to go ahead together.” Very touching! One ought to mature in a position of responsibility. In the inner courts of one’s Deeper Self one must resolve on a confidence-winning (vishwas) programme of action. Every word of criticism must be considered “precious.” Democratic values must mean respecting others who hold other views.

It is clear that during political dialogues too there are moving moments. Rahul’s 1000-word letter of resignation provided such a moment. He said he felt alone fighting the Prime Minister’s policies, the RSS and what they stand for. His entire effort was to defend the “ideals that India was built on.” He was proud to stand alone. He made it clear he did not want to cling to power, but was ready to fight for Indian values to the last. “Where they see differences, I see similarity. Where they see hatred, I see love. What they fear, I embrace…Every living cell in my body resists their ideal of India.” If Modiji is known for his hard work, Rahul is known for his open-mindedness. He is human, neutral, non-partisan; he belongs to all. In the Congress, he would have greater acceptability nationwide than anyone else. Whatever the Party decides, even his critics would concede that.

Whether at Kailash or Kedarnath, the core message of the Inner Voice would be the same: be fair to All people, develop an inclusive attitude, look after everyone who lives under the shadow of the Himalayas. The message is valid at Varanasi or Wayanad, Amethi or Guwahati. As the Ruling Party matures in office, we pray that the opposition parties too grow in a sense of responsibility to the Entire Nation.

(Published on 15th July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 29)