Divine Excuse: When Partisan Political Decisions Get Hitched on to ‘An Act of God’

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
12 Oct 2020

Let the farmers protest, let the Ladakh borders keep losing salami slices of Indian territory, let Dalit girls get insulted beyond measure in BJP ruled states, the Prime Minister remains unperturbed

Bhoomi Pujan did not bring about Rama Rajya in the UP, certainly not in Hathras. ‘Beti Bachao’ has not helped the 51% of the Indian women between 15 to 49 who have been found extremly anaemic in a recent survey

Divine Excuse:

When Partisan Political Decisions Get Hitched on to ‘An Act of God’

The Modi Magic

Modiji’s self-composure is admirable. One would like to delve deep into the secret of his inner confidence. Nothing seems to disturb him. Let the farmers protest, let the Ladakh borders keep losing salami slices of Indian territory, let Dalit girls get insulted beyond measure in BJP ruled states, the Prime Minister remains unperturbed. Meanwhile the economy is collapsing. The Nobel Prize winning Abhijit Banerjee says that India’s economy is one of the worst performing at the present moment. It has sunk by 23.9% recently and is likely to sink further by 11.5%. But Modiji remains self-assured. His aids seem to place every Government failure under the category an ‘Act of God’. 

Covid-19 may carry away a hundred thousand Indians, Modiji keeps busy calculating how many neighboring countries he is going to help once the vaccine is ready next year. What is important for him is that his ideological agenda be pushed ahead: a pre-establsihed over-arching social order must be regenerated. He doesn’t specifically say it is Manu’s order, but elite concerns keep throwing out of view the anxieties of the underprivileged. 

In Hathras, a village of Brahmins and Thakurs, 16 Valmiki families can easily be ignored. Any accusation in their behalf is an “International plot” to defame UP and Yogi. In a Hindutva-ruled state Dalit-humiliation is normal. 

In any case,  Modiji is busy with his own priorities. One who rules by ordinances is sure of every step he takes and certain of the outcome. Weighty bills are rushed through without discussions. Newspaper reports read, “Ten Bills in a Day”, “Seven Bills in Three Hours and a Half ”. Right or wrong, things get done; good or bad, events keep moving. Protests die out during Coronavirus time. They are made to die out…by some mysterious process. Act of God? 

Who Is Responsible for Recent Events? Tragedies?

We well admit that Covid-19 may have come uninvited. But did the destruction of the Babri Masjid take place in an unintended manner? Did over 100,000 people come to Ayodhya on December 2, 1992 with crowbars, hoes and spades under the guidance of fire-breathing Hindutva leaders with only constructive motives? If the promoters of hate who oversaw the destruction, camouflaged in helplessness, are not responsible, who then are? Over 3000 people were killed in connection with the great tragedy. Is no one responsible? It hurts one’s conscience to think of it. What would you think of a historian who would say that the storming of Somnath Temple by Mahmud Ghazni was unintended, merely done by some rowdy boys? Or of Delhi by Timur or Nadir Shah? No! A Sense of Responsibility is the supreme law of Self-Respect!

We remember with veneration Mahatma Gandhi who, in 1922, took moral responsibility for the burning of the police station at Chauri Chaura by some activists which caused the death of several police men… though it was totally unintended. Gandhiji called off the Non-Cooperation Movement. This single action won international attention, and wide respect. A sense of responsibility betokens Dignity, Stature, Mahatmahood. 

Amnesty International has just been asked to pack up and leave India. Why? It holds decision-makers responsible. It stands for vulnerable people, as many NGOs had done before FCRA regulations became unreasonable. The new regulations seem to say, look after the well-to-do, promote the welfare of the better-off people, possibly around Delhi. Bye-bye to the margins, to the weak. Investigating officers have been given a free hand to bring communal criteria into making their decision. An Act of God?

Does Loyalty Mean Cultivating an Unquestioning Attitude?

What amazes neutral people and objective observers, both inside and outside the country, is the present Indian situation of economic collapse, foreign humiliation, crime rise and pandemic mishandling,  while the responsible person behind the devastation continues to “charm” the people with an elusive vocabulary drawn from the cultural and religious world of the majoritarian community. Literally, he makes his devotees walk on empty air. It is not easy to explain why, though there is no Vikas, Vishwas remains. Don’t speak about Swachh Bharat in Ghaziabad or Beti Bachao in Hathras, UP (the land where 14.7% of crimes against women in India take place). Modiji alone can stand tall among ruins. 

Vishwas remains. Experts have been seeking an explanation. What the Pied Piper has is a Psychological Hold, which is not linked with any fact-based evaluations. China, for all its weakness, ensures meritocracy, despite its insistence on Party loyalty. There is too little evidence of that happening in this country. An alternative voice is never heard. Worshippers put talent to flight. 

India’s scenario today is a combination of contradictions. Social media is full of Right-Wing populist narratives. Those who oppose them are declared anti-nationals, extremists. When realities fail, absurdities keep blind followers contended: small “doses of religious drugs” like Bhoomi Pujan in the context of economic failure; cultural doses like Atmanirbhar before Ladakh losses; some border incidents when Coronavirus makes new gains. All the while the Saviour figure is given a “mystical aura”, and unperceptive masses remain mystified.

Saba Naqvi’s explanation is far simpler. The cult leader has ended up in a “cloistered” club of his own making. Their supreme law is, “No argument, only obedience”. Thus, talent gets marginalised, allies get alienated, perceptive persons get estranged. The end result is, as Chetan Bhagat says, sycophants who shield the Great Leader, protect him also from Truth. This combines well with a self-censuring press that seeks to misguide the entire nation. This does not look like an “international conspiracy”, very national, and eve nationalistic!

Historic Parallels

Students of history see parallels. Historian Ian Kershaw notices that at Nuremburg trials every Nazi party official disclaimed responsibility for the Holocaust saying that they were merely carrying out orders.  And yet, Hitler himself gave very few orders.  What he ensured was a “cumulative radicalization” of the German society towards the irrational goals enshrined in the Nazi ideology. Once society grew convinced that Hitler ‘incarnated’ in his person that very ideology, his thoughts turned infallible. There was no need to give any specific order, he just had to allow his over-zealous supporters to interpret his mind. They started competing for his attention and approval, and interpreted his instruction to their subordinates in the harshest possible terms. The harsher the interpretation, the greater the chance of recognition and promotion. And the instructions hardened as they moved down the ladder of the bureaucracy.

Hitler was deeply impressed by Darwin’s theory of ‘Survival of the Fittest’. Races eliminate each other, the stronger and the worthier ultimately triumphs. This law is written into nature. If we do not respect the laws of nature, we shall get wiped out. All that Hitler did was to apply this law to the Nazi party and to Germany. Rather than dictate who should do what,  he allowed his subordinates to take initiative in realizing this vision even going to the extreme. It reached a point there was no going back!

We are tempted to think that Nazism was a product of some uneducated and irresponsible people in Germany against the more balanced and intelligent. But recent studies have shown how academics, civil servants, town planners and demographers worked out detailed plans for the murder of Germany’s Jews. They were not mad fanatics, but sober, learned men and women, going about their professions. They merely sought status and career advancement. Indeed, the Holocaust itself was carried out by some of the cleverest people  who wanted to put Hitler’s ideas into practice. Did something similar happen in Gujarat on a smaller scale during the communal riots of 2002 when 2000 people were killed? None responsible?  Act of God again?

A Return to the Prescribed Social Order

In India’s case, the decisive document is not Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, but the Manusmriti that assigns roles and rules for diverse castes in society. When those roles are presented as the divinely willed order, even the victims of the unfair distribution appropriate them as absolute and personalize them as beneficial. Arun Shourie in his Hinduism: Essence and Consequences (Vikas Publishing House, Ghaziabad, 1977) explains the phenomenon in this manner: “Once these notions have been internalized by the populace, (they) do not perceive  the constraints, … they even regard it as a good thing…Such system …is much harder to break”.  And he continues, “…even when individual shudras might have climbed out of the quagmire in which they had been born, the system…did not change… the individual shudra who attained the status of honour… became a Brahmin in his very psyche…” “What we are seeing at work is not a society tolerating those who oppose it but a society that is co-opting the ringleaders of those who might oppose it”. 

The victims themselves turn the system’s defenders, tacit supporters, or helpless condoners! Ambedkar saw that happening. That was why he suggested a break with the entire system and opted for Buddhism. Not many have followed him in this respect. Today we can see Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati going soft on Hindutva, because they can see that it is going to stay. 

What is demanded in the system is an “unreasoning” surrender.  “Shun reason, it said, have faith, let your guru, the traditions, the texts, do your thinking for you: the guru, in turn was told to be very careful to pass the tradition only to those who were sure to carry it forward without diluting or questioning it—the two levels of truth, the tradition said; the Absolute can contain contradictions in Himself…hence all the contradictory propositions are simultaneously true”. Arun Shourie had no reason for exaggerating.  The norm of surrendering reasoning when you have found the right guide (guru) is gone too deep into the collective consciousness of our political order. “Contradictions” don’t count. Inconsistencies don’t matter. Absurdities are normal in life. Loyalty is everything. Swadharma is true Religion. Let everyone remain true to his caste duty, and India will prosper. 

Right or wrong, this is the ideology that is being pushed upon the nation. If highly educated Germany could be misled in the twentieth century, Indian masses can more easily be today. There is room for “Self-hypnosis” both for the leader and the led. We are uncertain where we will end up one day. Just look at North Korea. Kim Jong-un has asked the Education Department to set aside 90 minutes in the morning for “Greatness Education”, explaining the marvel of the leader. The rest of the world sees the truth, not Koreans. India in this respect is not far different. Sycophants surround the Leader like in North Korea or Nazi Germany. History repeats itself.

The Greatest National Weakness: Divided Thinking

Let us look into history again. John Keay in his “History of India” describes the condition of medieval India immediately before the Islamic invasions: “…economic collapse, social oppression and caste discrimination hand in hand with political fragmentations.” Meantime the leaders kept “squandering the resources”, and “oppressing the people…”  This situation was aggravated by competing dynasties in the north and central India (Pg. 226). Temple building alone continued vigorously amidst contending petty princes and competing holy men. Do you notice some similarities with our times when China has put 50,000 of their best men on our northern borders?

A government sponsored newspaper in China proposed a few years ago that the PLA breaks up India into 300 hundred pieces. It was in a moment of anger. What the critics of the present government allege is that the RSS-BJP from the Hindi belt have divided the nation into 600 pieces already: alienated Kashmir forever, exasperated groups in the south and east in such a way that they cannot even confidently speak up, divided sincere citizens along lines of caste, creed, conviction, food habits and spoken tongue.  The ruling dispensation has planted divided thinking into the Indian psyche. Who will rescue us from this unhappy condition?

Failed Programmes Invite Rethinking

Bhoomi Pujan did not bring about Rama Rajya in the UP, certainly not in Hathras. ‘Beti Bachao’ has not helped the 51% of the Indian women between 15 to 49 who have been found extremly anaemic in a recent survey. The demonetisation to fight black money has only produced more black money: in 2019 Rs. 25.39 crore worth  fake notes of Rs. 2,000 notes were seized, 11% more than the previous year. The curious fact is that the biggest number of fake notes were recovered in two BJP strongholds: Gujarat and UP. Credibility comes tumbling down. The Farm Bills threaten to reduce farmers into bonded labourers, even slaves. Vodafone’s victory has exposed the “arbitrariness” of the decisions of the Indian government before the entire world. You cannot link your own fallacies to an Act of God. Our international image has suffered. 

In addition, we are losing friends in the neighbourhood one by one. China is investing heavily in Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives. While the US, EU and Taiwan have retained their trade relations with China, India is thinking of hasty decoupling. Politicizing military and trade strategies is merely counterproductive. One thing is clear: China under Xi is strategic. Quad is great. But one must not forget that they represent countries some of whose leaders have said, my country “first”. Looking back, they themselves may be critical of a Leader who puts his own Party “first”, even before his country. ‘Hindutva first’, said or unsaid, but made quite visible, is not a confidence-winning certificate.

To conclude, political criticism is about national “Concerns”, not mere fault-finding. It stands for Commitment to the common good, and is offered with utmost respect. The Supreme Court recently affirmed that the Government should not curtail freedom even amidst a pandemic. The Rethinking invited here is towards healing, not discouraging. Everything is possible to those who promote Unity and Togetherness. God Acts in their behalf!

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