A Crisis Of Conscience

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
07 Sep 2020

The main argument of Francis Fukuyama in his book “Trust” is that economy can thrive only in a climate of trust. A community that fosters trust among its members progresses. If Pataliputra prospered it was due to an atmosphere of trust among the diverse communities that the Buddhist culture promoted in Greater Magadha. Medieval city republics in Italy throve during the period that they were able to ensure fair sharing and equality of opportunity among trading communes. In multi-cultural societies, communities that fostered inner-community confidence made headway leaving fissiparous groups far behind. Nations like Britain, Holland or Japan took giant steps forward at those stages of their history when they were able to build up an inner cohesion under effective leadership or a motivating ideology.

This was what Modiji proposed to do when he took over charge of the nation a second time. He said he would try to work towards building “Vishwas”, seek to win the “Confidence” of various communities and regions. He sounded very convincing. He would not readily admit that he had failed to do so during the previous term, that is not in Modiji’s style. Those infallible must always remain infallible. But he seemed to imply that his supporters, acting in his name or on their own behalf, had ruined this “Confidence” thoroughly. His tone was that he would work on a course correction. Indian society was greatly relieved. Everyone admired his attention to the feelings of weaker or more distant communities.

A Credibility Crisis

But this drama was in preparation for the most ‘unkindest cut’ upon the sensitivity of a large section of the Indian people through his unilateral intervention in Kashmir, ignoring the Constitution. Vishwas which was beginning to bud, was totally crushed. Credibility crumbled. This was just the first step. What was becoming clear was that fidelity to his ideology and fulfilment of his promises to his constituents were more important to Modiji than assurances to the nation. His exceptional skill for smoothening the path towards an unpopular decision, (in the view of many an ‘unfair’ decision), was put at the service of the Ayodhya issue.  He proved to his Hindutva admirers that he was first a Pracharak, then the Prime Minister, especially when he presided at the bhoomi pujan. While millions rejoiced, other millions thought it best to bury their anger. But consequences remain. The CAA protests were/are a response to many other such hurtful or humiliating decisions.

Once credibility is damaged, one little realizes that one is getting approval merely from one’s self-interested admirers, as Hitler or Mao did in their own times. Xi Jinping has an assured cheering crowd in Beijing when he takes over Hong Kong and fulminates against Taiwan. Communist Party members have no other alternative. In the name of fighting corruption, Xi has eliminated all his opponents. The tragedy in India today is that more and more of this drama is taking place when Coronavirus is dragging India to the topmost position in the world. We would have liked to believe our Prime Minister when he claimed that Covid-19 situation has been managed well in India because he had made the “right decisions at the right time”. But it is very hard to do so when the daily spike has reached up to over 80,000. And the author of this tragedy is least concerned, awarding prizes to puppies that help our jawans.

Words Lose Their Meaning

What does the word “right” mean? In the present context it means just the opposite. The ministers who eulogized Modi’s Covid-19 strategies spent longer time in the hospital than other patients. Our former President Pranab Mukherjee has just passed away. The head of the Ayodhya Temple Trust who was pulled into the August 5th event, on an inauspicious day according to Orthodox calculation, has been hospitalized. Meantime Modiji is busy in his Mann Ki Baat proposing that India becomes the world leader in the export of toys and training of dogs for defence purposes. 

The tragedy is that much of the media has been sold to the elite group in command of national affairs presently. They dictate the themes, provide the facts and decide the conclusions from above. Any alternative interpretation is either marginalized or totally ignored. It has no way of reaching the general public. For a while we were better informed how many pillars and domes the Ayodhya Temple would have than how Coivid-19 was being treated and how our fighting men fared on the Ladakh frontier…which according to our foreign minister S. Jaishankar is the “most serious” since 1962.

Boasts and Ground Realities

Here again, what we are told do not correspond to ground realities. While the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister had assured the nation that not an “inch” of land has been lost to the intruder, it is public knowledge that the Chinese are fully in possession of several places beyond the LAC. And pitifully, when the Defence minister went to inspect the newly arrived Rafale aircrafts, his chief concern was about Hindutva devotions, not quality verifications.  Meantime China launches an advanced warship for Pakistan navy. There is trepidation in the hearts of sincere citizens lest Aatma Nirbhar in arms production will not end up enriching some BJP-billionaires and the army being equipped with toy guns and sham tanks for the Chinese front!! Trivialization of matters in Mann Ki Baat can shift ground from words to deeds, and to real situations…to the victimisation of our heroic defenders…twenty of them just of late!

As Nehru had spent the major portion of his life fighting colonialism, his sincere desire was to build up Asian solidarity in such a way as to show to their erstwhile masters that they were equals, and do so most respectfully.  China on the other hand had not been colonized, only harassed and exploited. Mao’s eagerness was to reaffirm China’s ancient greatness with the same military might which was used against her. The Gandhian idealism of Nehru and the Machiavellian militancy of Mao were at two different levels for dialogue. As Nehru’s exaggerated idealism landed his country in some trouble, Mao’s insensitive adventurism led his own country to the loss of millions of lives in the Great Lead Forward and Cultural Revolution campaigns. The lesson is clear: intense attention to diverse opinions is absolutely necessary for the leaders of any nation to safely construct its future.

Romanticizing the Past is a Sure way to Self-Deception

Romanticizing India’s past has been the chief hobby of RSS ideologues. One wonders whether it has a blinding effect or serves as a motivating force. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is all set on reconstructing for Turkey the ancient Ottoman glory, beginning with dominating Eastern Mediterranean. Saddam Hussain destroyed himself in trying to reassert Babylonia’s ancient greatness in the Middle East; Egypt weakened itself turning aggressive with the idea of reviving Pharaoh’s glorious days. Hitler and Mussolini had done something similar in their own times. It is not very clear whether India under the present leadership is after a Maya of imaginary past or aiming at clear-visioned realistic future. Mimicking Mahabharata mythical greatness or Ramayana military strategies is not a good preparation for facing Chinese frontlines. The Ladakh confronting forces are guided by civil leaderships that are at two different levels of self-perception. Our spokespersons seem to have chosen the path of self-deception.

There can be disastrous consequences if the Indian leadership chooses to make wrong decisions with regard to its stronger neighbour. General Bipin Rawat was speaking of “military” options, ‘counter incursions’. Our mighty neighbour is known for readily accepting challenges…always in a cool and calculated way. Some cool people who look far ahead exclaim, wait a while until the consequence of China’s one-child policy catches up with her within a couple of decades. These are not genuine ‘Asian’ ways of thinking. A collaborative spirit is in our genes. Our destinies are intertwined.

Certainly surprises are ahead. Like the unexpected breakup of the Soviet Union, the sudden rise of Middle East with oil prosperity, and the development of China beyond anyone’s expectations, the rise of Africa is going to be the next great surprise ahead. If the Asian giants choose to clash, the fast decline of an “aging Asia” may hasten the rise of Africa with its burgeoning population. Nigeria alone will outnumber the whole of Europe in a few decades. Asia is not far behind EU in population trends. A major Asian clash will hasten the “African century”. Population is destiny, neither GDP nor Aatma Nirbhar in arms production will help. Education alone can give shape to that destiny, neither romanticization of the past  nor revival of obscurantism can ensure a future.

The Very Display of Strength Exposes One’s Weaknesses

Going back to our original theme of trust, all hope for economic performance sinks if mutual “Trust” fails, if “Vishwas” collapses among communities and groups in India. The Ruling Party has been rejoicing at the absence of inner cohesion that is revealing itself in the Congress. No one is denying those weaknesses. Congress men themselves have been critical of their failures after the last elections. But the BJP  has outdone the Congress in 5 years in what the Grand Old Party did not succeed to achieve in 7 decades:  corruption on a grand scale, bribing the entire electorate, buying MPs and ML As without the least sign of embarrassment, toppling of legitimately constituted governments, silencing of criticism…all done is in the most benign,  bewitching, Modi-an way as though nothing is happening.

Moreover, internal divisions are beginning to reveal themselves within the BJP household itself. It is hard to see how the much-vaunted national unity of the Sangh Parivar combines with ‘Bihar first’, ‘MP alone’ and ‘Haryana exclusively’ when it comes to job distribution. More of local fads are bound to arise. Fanatic centralization has just set in motion another wave of regional and local self-assertions that took place a few decades ago. History repeats itself. Action invites reaction. Yes, ‘Local’ will become ‘Vocal’, and Modiji will find that his charm is as not as universal as his admirers affirm. The Bengal BJP is already fumbling to choose their Chief Ministerial candidate.

Fragmentation of Society Itself

Let alone allies leaving their BJP link one by one,  (the last being the Shiv Sena, Marathi Manoos saying good bye to the Gujarati duo), inter-caste strife has started in the heartland of Hindutva, UP itself. The Brahmins are planning to collaborate with SP and BSP to erect a 108 ft high statue of Parashuram in protest against the Thakur domination under the Yogi regime. Parshuram is supposed to have wiped out an entire race of arrogant kshatriyas, referring in the present  context to the abuse of power by the  UP Thakurs. Anger has risen to great heights. They call Yogi’s police force the “Thakur Force” that suppresses all dissent. Bhoomi Pujan has not helped.  

Meantime Shiva Sena, an erstwhile ally of BJP, finds to its utter dismay that Shivaji’s statues have been taken down in Belgaum Dt in Karnataka and Chhindwara Dt in MP, evidently under BJP supervision. Hindutva icons are discarded one by one by one ally or the other all in due turn. Even Rama does not stir the hearts of Ravana-worshippers. There is no constructive ideology that holds together all who claim to be Hindutva adherents. Interests do for a while! Opportunism gets the greatest number of devotees. Great religious authorities are quoted, not accepted. Great ideas are proclaimed, not lived.

There ought be a rethinking on statue-making itself with the one of John McDonald coming down in Montreal as a racist, like the ones of Columbus or the Confederate Generals a little earlier. It would seem that statue-erection for self-glorification, personal or collective, has already served its purpose. Another political or social order comes along and discards it with all that it stands for. Temples erected to BJP glory too face a hazy future.

A Crisis of Conscience

A retired army officer considered it very wrong for leaders to make a ‘political use’ of our soldiers’ self-sacrifice. He was referring to the 20 fighting men who lost their lives on the Ladakh front. He said that army men sincerely seek to serve the nation no matter which party is in power. He was feeling great unease at today’s leadership identifying the national cause with the Hindutva cause. There is a crisis of conscience wondering in whose cause are our fighting men called to die, for the Indian nation or for Hindutva promotion. Vishwas is shaken. In civil service too, officers with idealism go through mental agonies questioning themselves whom they are serving: the Indian people or a communal cause.

Conscientious citizens too feel immensely embarrassed when they see the government machinery waiting for a Hindutva nod before decisions are made, priorities are chosen, candidates are selected, promotions are given, officers are transferred. Whose agenda is being carried out when citizens’ money goes for Temple building, poojas and yajnas, melas and yathras,  at the neglect of poor farmers, migrant workers, covid-19 patients, and unemployed youth? Is the government serving the nation or the interests of an obscurantist club? The answers are implanted into the very contradictions and incoherences we see, and the collapse may be unexpectedly sudden.

  (Published on 07th September 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 37)

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