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Impending Social Breakdown

Impending Social Breakdown

What Christian Parenti intends to present in his “Tropic of Chaos” (National Books, New York, 2012) are the consequences of climate change, e.g. erratic weather, severe droughts following violent floods. Many people, including Donald Trump, call it an ‘alarmist’ view. Others argue that weather variations are merely a small part of the foreseen negative consequences; that by 2030 new diseases may kill over 500,000 a year and cost the economy $600 billion annually. Colombia University projects 700 million climate change refugees. If these predictions come true, there is bound to be a ‘political-economic-environmental confluence’ of disasters. Parenti calls it the “catastrophic convergence” (Parenti 7). That is what made him give the book a sub-title ‘Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.’ Violence comes from the breakdown of societies.

Mounting Inequality Leads to Permanent Crisis

Parenti argues that a World that had concentrated its attention on issues related to Cold War militarism and neoliberal profit-making only, is ill-equipped to handle the present situation of violent dislocations of people. The irresponsible strategies adopted to handle the Cold War problems have left behind a horrible legacy: Taliban and ISIS in West Asia, proxy wars of “armed groups,” movements of cheap weapons, and the creation of smuggling networks in the Global South (Third World). They corrupted the officialdom in many developing countries. This situation has been accentuated by the negative fruits of murderous competition in the Third World, where extreme inequality is creating a state of mounting anger and a situation ‘permanent crisis.’  In many countries, e.g. in Africa, the government has been reduced to a shell (Ibid 8).

Coming closer to home, in parts of India the government machinery has turned ineffective, partly due to the resistance of the downtrodden and partly to the interfering behaviour of the political bosses. It is little realized that resistance of the weaker sections is very much a response to the arbitrary ways people with political clout or bureaucratic authority speak and act in total disregard for democratic traditions. Hindutva mavericks in this respect are one step ahead of the arrogant politicians and bureaucrats of our times. Whatever they do is accepted as divine destiny by a section of the people, but not by others.

Parenti foresees the stronger economies of the North going through a period of xenophobia, racism, and police repression, turning their nations into political fortresses and neo-fascist islands. The Global South, on the contrary, will undergo an intense experience of political-economic-environmental chaos leading to criminality, hunger, disease, and fanaticism, with the danger of ‘social breakdown’ (Ibid 20). Civil unrest, intermittent war, and the danger of state collapse will invite interventions from the North with “counterinsurgency” measures that may go on interminably (Ibid 11,18), as it is happening in many parts of the Third World today.  A US colonel defined counterinsurgency as “total war at the grassroots level” (Ibid 22). Half a century of experience at this game is telling the perceptive section of American society that it is merely counterproductive, whether it be in Vietnam or in Afghanistan.

Erratic Counterinsurgency Measures Destroy Social Cohesion, Community Values

It is not that we have not experimented with the same folly on our soil, e.g. in Kashmir, the Northeast, or Central India. The tragedy that Parenti sees in counterinsurgency is not only loss of life and the weakening of economy, but the social disintegration that it sets in motion. It is a direct attack on the existing “social fabric” and a drive to remake the inherited social relations in a community. The social norms and values prevalent in a society are destroyed, the bonds of solidarity torn asunder and internal social regulations wiped out of existence. Normlessness and lawlessness turn out to be its ongoing legacy. It is a society-destroying exercise (Ibid 24). A community’s soul goes extinct.

In Central India the issue is about “Jal, Jungle, Zameen” (Ibid 135). In Bihar and Chhattisgarh there are, in addition, grievances related to large scale mining in tribal land and the alienation of big proportions of a community’s ancestral domain. The Naxalite movement which was waning in West Bengal came to life with the name Maoist movement in these areas (Ibid 134). The Gonds of Adilabad are astir (Ibid 133).

Direct action is by poor peasants, but a guerrilla cadre provides violent support, often acting in unpredictable ways.  Intellectuals, generally, show sympathy to the cause (Ibid 137), earning the name “Urban Naxalites.  “In recent years the state has pushed back with a classic, increasingly violent counterinsurgency, hunting down and killing both insurgents and their civilian supporters.” Its erratic style has greatly weakened the indigenous social fabric; crime and corruption consequently have increased. We have reached a pathological state of affairs in Central India (Ibid 137).  A feeling that we are dealing fellow-citizens has disappeared. Greyhounds in Telengana, for instance, act as assassins than as part of the law-enforcing machinery. State violence goes under the name “encounters.”  A dignified designation has thus been given to actual “state terrorism” (Ibid 150).

Those who suffer most are persons in responsible positions in the local community, like pradhans, and also poor ordinary people. They are accused by government authorities of not cooperating, and are considered ‘betrayers’ of their own people by the armed young men. They are forced to contribute by one party, and are punished for the same by the other. Extortions increase. Poverty provides the fuel, which has been heightened by neoliberal policies that kill the prices of local products and indigenous crafts (Ibid 153).

A situation of joblessness and indiscipline takes over. Unemployed youth easily join the underground. What results are smuggling, robbery, assassination, brutality, and violence against government forces.  Drug-running becomes normal. With social order weakened by counterinsurgency, an army of insensitive activists, violent in word and deed, take over leadership in civil society.  The police go into action in response; we continually hear of torture, violence, and disappearance (Ibid 34).

Humiliated Communities Hit Back

But there is a response to this violent suppression. Solidarity grows among the victims. This is what happened in Britain when Nazi aggression reached a peak. All class-distinctions disappeared. All felt one in collective self-defence. This happened in Germany and Japan too under pressure; in North Vietnam under carpet bombing. The civilian suffering is the most tragic of all. Derek Summerfield says that in World War I only 5% of victims were civilians, in World War II 50%, in Vietnam 80%, and in current armed conflicts 90%. The poor suffer the most. Women and children among them are hit hardest. Violence is done to homes, families, and the ethnic fabric of grassroots social relations... leading to total demoralization and paralysis (Ibid 25).

Possibly this is what happened in Kashmir and Northeast when a uniform mode of being ‘Indian’ was thrust upon the peripheries. Today the demand goes further: accept a uniform way of being ‘Hindu,’ and accommodate to the Hindutva mould (what some people call the ‘cowbelt mould’). A resistance is more visible in Central India where people feel in addition that they were being robbed of their natural resources. What they resent even more is that their collective identity is not respected.

With one’s selfhood in the dust, all that one can look forward to is utter “social collapse.” But then, solidarity of victims builds up. The ULFA in Assam are gathering strength again due to the unconcern of the Centre. New recruits are joining up, persons are being killed, bomb-blasts are heard of again. If cannons make the State, Parenti muses, Kalashnikov (guerrilla warfare) might undo it (Ibid 94).

The Weakening of Constitutional Institutions Weakens National Togetherness

We have studied for a while how the prevailing policies have contributed to the social fragmentation of communities at the grassroots level. In the same way, unbending interference with the structures of the government will bring the same result to the larger society at the national level. The BJP government has been wrestling with the Reserve Bank of India for some time, without bothering about its consequences. Manmohan Singh emphasized the other day that a nation without well-functioning institutions was bound to fail. Any weakening of the Central Bureau of Investigation, for example, will lead to chaos in the country. Further, he said, the secular character of the Judiciary and other institutions should be strictly respected. These are forgotten truths in today’s India.  It is the responsibility of leadership (political, religious, of the intelligentsia, civil society), he said, to uphold the Constitution. Manmohan insisted that communal polarisation raises fear in society. It has already led to the breakdown of Law and Order.

The fact is that today’s political discourse is considered having a punch only if it is communally charged and aggressively phrased. That is where the BJP stands ahead. ‘Exclusion’ is the policy and ‘Polarisation’ is the strategy. Jairam Ramesh a former minister lamented the high level of communal polarisation during elections. The only difference, he felt, was that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were engaged in ‘overt polarisation,’ and the RSS in ‘covert polarisation’...house to house and mouth to mouth. This perception differs from Modi’s, since he claims that his Mann ki Baat is only about people’s aspiration, not politics. Apparently others think otherwise.  

The Belittling of the Constitution by Gurus and Godmen at Ayodhya

What shocks law-abiding citizens in the country is that the VHP riff-raff and their leaders (including Godmen and Seers) are exempt from the norms of Rule of Law and the Constitution when it comes to controversial issues. These basic documents are only for the border States when they are pressing for independence. The Constitution is sacrosanct when discussing the destiny of Nagaland and Kashmir, not when discussing the Ram Temple and Hindutva supremacy claims! The VHP organized dharma Sabha at Ayodhya had no regard for the Constitution nor the Judiciary. The godmen themselves would decide what was to be done: ordinance, legislation, or even total rejection of any constitutional decision. Their words were arrogant and angry. They promised war to those who opposed.

Are the poor tribal people fighting for their land in Central India the enemies of the nation, or the divines and their henchmen at Ayodhya who challenge the Law of the Land and the Constitution? If the disintegration of our society is well advanced today, it is precisely these Supermen and the likes of them that must take responsibility. India yielded to invaders, from Alexander to Panipat and Plassey, in periods when she stood divided. We are heading in that direction.

Fortunately, a while after the VHP organised dharma sabha, hundreds of ‘a-political sadhus’ gathered in Ayodhya to protest against the politically motivated religious gathering that took place there earlier. They accused Yogi and Modi for making of religion a communal force...for religion’s instrumentalisation in politics. They rejected the political goals of the VHP-serving sadhus. They declared Yogi’s plan to make a 221-metre statue of Ram an ‘anti-Hindu’ initiative. Ram, as the Lord of the universe, should not be made to compete with Patel, a national leader, they said. Dharma sabhas should be for the betterment of society, not to threaten Muslims, they affirmed. No one has the right to criticize the courts or the Constitution, they asserted. In fact, genuine sadhus have distanced themselves from the Temple project. The Sankaracharyas did not attend the VHP-managed dharma sabha, which was considered a political rally. The farmers flocking to Delhi said they were not worried about a temple at Ayodhya, their concern were the loan waver and fair prices for their yield!

Raavan Azad, the founder of Bhim Army, promised to take a copy of the Constitution to the DC of Ayodhya. He accused the VHP leaders of inciting the people to ignore the Constitution and to disregard the Law. If Modi and Yogi cannot control their own supporters, they should resign. Bahujan Samaj (referring to the dalit community) will accept the resignation. Azad alleged that the VHP dharma sabha was a ‘polarisation exercise,’ fanning communal passions in preparation for the elections of 2019.  He brought to the attention of people the new initiative of Vineet Maurya, a Buddhist devotee, who had just made a claim on the disputed land in Ayodhya. Maurya has filed a case in the Supreme Court asserting that the Ayodhya land belonged to a Buddhist shrine. In the 5th and 6th centuries BC, the place was called Saketa and served as the capital of the Buddhist kingdom of Kosala. In this way, it becomes evident that the Ayodhya-game is going to turn against its initiators. It will end only when the indigenous tribal people of India will make a claim, not only to the small piece of land at Ayodhya, but the entire expanse of the Indo-Gangetic belt of which they have been dispossessed!!

“You Don’t Belong,” Is the Painful Message Today!

Thus, the sense of ‘mutual non-belonging’ that the BJP has planted into the heart of the nation is yielding its bitter fruit in many ways. In the Madhaya Pradesh elections, the names of Christians were found missing on a large scale, including that of Archbishop Leo Cornelio. Sanghani BJP has accused Verghese Kurien, the reputed King of the White Revolution and the originator of Amul products, of diverting his dairy profits for religious conversion, though his daughter Nirmala has denied it. Whatever good is done by the members of another community confers no benefit. “You don’t belong.” The Law-breaking sadhus alone are true patriots! So, we see, that it is not voting machines alone that are being manipulated, but also the minds of unperceptive citizens are getting loaded with prejudices, and institutions are made to bend to the Hindutva cause.

The anxiety for the secular citizen, further, is the ease with which politicians change their parties when they are refused the election-ticket, as though there are no ideological differences between the major political affiliations.  Most see only ‘interest-differences,’ self-interest coming first! Indeed, today there is only a narrow gap between ‘hard Hindutva’ and ‘soft Hindutva.’ Majoritarianism dominates. The rest can go to Pakistan. That is the vocabulary. There is no place for principles, values, and consistencies. Goodbye to dharma and satya, welcome to artha and kama. It is not without reason that Ruchir Joshi asks whether an Emergency will be declared before the elections, creating a tussle with Pakistan (Telegraph 27.11.18). This anti-Pakistan complex, anti-Muslim, ‘anti-other’ complex is a deadly plague.

Conversion Needed Today to Be Able to Say: “You Belong, We Are One”

The problem in India today is that ‘human sensitivity’ is going dead. Modiji defending his anti-Pakistan ‘surgical strike’ against Congress criticism boasted that its victims were an enormous number. “Their dead bodies were being hauled away in trucks!” he roared. “Wasn’t every Indian proud it?” That is Modi’s patriotism. It is not the defence of the nation, but the suffering he inflicted on the opponent that gives him joy...on the ‘other:’ on people who differ from him...in Pakistan, in Kashmir, in Gujarat after the Godhra incident...on those who deal in cows, those who refuse to learn Hindi, those who oppose the renaming of cities, those who refuse to sing BJP praises. “You don’t belong,” that is the VHP cry. That is the message that breaks India into a thousand pieces. It is taking the fragmentation of India to its last limits.  Here is where a real CONVERSION is required; not GHAR VAPSI but real Mann Parivartan...to be able to sing together that we are ONE!

(Published on 10th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 50)