Decades ago, when computers began to emerge out of car-sheds and garages, we knew that binaries, 0 and 1, were the backbone of the computer language, and who ever thought that binaries would become part of modern life, to the extent that we cannot think of anything in modern day out of binaries. Be it personal life or social life, professional life or even academic life, we are inundated by binaries of all sorts, and to make things worse, we are called to take sides, either this or that side, choose between the devil and the deep sea.
It is not easy to make up what we should start with, because in the ocean of binaries, every bit might taste salty, and can anyone say which part of the ocean is more salty; however the greatest collateral that we are being forced to pawn for our peace and harmony in the society is to be part of the bilateral. Unfortunately, we have come up with NOTA (none of the above) in the ballot papers, but we could not apply the same logic when it comes to social life, especially when we are told by the law-makers that we have no other option but to choose between the binaries. In fact, they would make it amply clear to us that choosing either of the options would mean the same to us – falling prey into the vicious cycle of cynicism, sadism, masochism, and we should consider ourselves lucky if we are able to come out of the maze, or the web of improbable and impossibilities.
State vs Centre
We are all quite used to the popular riddle, which comes first, egg or chicken; I have not heard a satisfactory answer even in half the century that I have crossed, and I am quite sure if my generation (and happily that includes you too) has not come up with a satisfactory answer, no other generation would. That riddle applies brilliantly to one of the most confusing and never-ending cycle of binaries of state and center. Political scientists may not be able to tell boldly which of these two is of more importance in the social life of the people of this great nation.
It is true that it may be next to impossible to state plainly whether the state or the centre is more important and our politicians have fought numerous fights arguing which is better, depending on their locus standi. Naturally you cannot expect any Cabinet minister of the central government would dare to say that the state is more important. In the same way, no state minister would give that credit to the Centre as the main, while the state played only a subsidiary role.
One of the most contested and contentious issues that had come to fore in the recent days involving the centre and the state relationship is bringing the fuel under the ambit of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). While the centre contemplated bringing this major change in order to bring down the fuel prices at least Rs. 30, the states argue that their income through the tax on the fuel would be adversely affected, and therefore are against the move of the centre and the GST Council, which met recently to debate and discuss on the issue.
As we can imagine, in binaries it is hard to choose either of the options, because without the other one cannot have existence, and therefore we may continue to debate on this issue: which is more important in a democracy, the role of the centre or the state, without ever arriving at a satisfactory solution.
Hindu vs the rest
Let us again call on the first phrase of computer coding, which is Hello World! This is the universal statement for starting the ball rolling, and today in India we have an equivalent: Hindu World! Everything is seen through the periscope of Hinduism, as professed, promoted and promulgated by the rightwing Hindus, who have come under the umbrella of the BJP. It is not hard to see through the well-knit and managed political network, based on the religious moors and moods of the majority of the nation, and fortunately even conscientious Hindus today know that the Hinduism promoted and promulgated by the loud-mouths is nothing but “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
There are several states, in particular the ones ruled by the BJP and its allies, who continue to legislate on matters which border religious fanaticism; the recent act passed by the state of Karnataka to protect the illegal religious constructions mainly shields all the illegal Hindu temples which had mushroomed across the state, but to give a colour of magnanimity to safeguard the interests of Muslims and Christians, they have brought the churches and mosques too under the ambit of the new act.
Unfortunately, secularism is slowly disappearing from the nation and is being fast replaced by fanaticism, using money and muscle, to assert might is right. The minority communities are forced to bow to the whims and fancies of leaders who are obsessed with their own agenda, forgetting the greater and more urgent needs of the nation, reeling under the burden of unemployment, insurgency, economic melt-down, sky-rocketing price of essential commodities, to name a few.
India Vs the US
The bilateral issues confronting the subcontinent and the United States of America have opened up avenues, where both the parties are aiming for a lion’s share, trying hard to dish out a pound of flesh, at the expense of the other. As good partner, India wishes to put into the ears of the US things which would benefit her in the long run, and that includes sanctioning Pakistan and not providing financial aid to the neighbour. In the same way, the US too wishes India to walk the talk when it comes to human right issues, treatment of minority communities, in particular Christians, and the laws of the land respecting the sentiments of the international communities. But this is not easy for India to digest, as she keeps justifying that she has been fair with all communities, and human right violations are dealt with an iron fist.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wishes to make hay when the sun shines, and he is scheduled to meet Kamala Harris, the US Vice-President, and the meeting may go beyond the courtesy call, given the important role she plays in American federal system.
Whether we like it or not, the US is a superpower India can only dream of competing with, but the reality is that the socio-economic chasm between the two nations may never be bridged, though we may claim the otherwise. Americans have a different yardstick to measure than the one we use, especially when it comes to public utilities and projects, public servants and appointments to institutions of national importance and premiere offices which determine the fate of the citizens. It had become amply clear that most of the appointments to most important offices, including judiciary, are made on the basis of religious affiliations, particularly toeing the path of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, all of them coming under the umbrella of the BJP.
We vs they
Steven Handel had talked about “Us vs Them” mentality, where a particular group considers itself saintly and the other as devilish. This mentality which originally was required to build a particular group, so that the ‘other’ does not scatter us helter-skelter, robbing from us the identity we had developed as a homogenous group, caring for the wellbeing of the people they are part of. But the same mentality has also prompted one group to look at the other with suspicion and distrust.
Often we blame the British of playing spoilsports in India during their colonial rule using the time-tested ‘divide and rule policy’; but today can we proclaim boldly that we are not indulging in the same game? In the tribal-populated states, the tribals are branded as anti-nationals (and the naxals and Maoists are synonymous with leaders who emerged out of the people to change the system and cleanse it of people who cannot think beyond their selfish interests). The Modi-Shah-regime had proclaimed an updated version of such people, branding them as ‘urban-naxals’, and anyone who stands for justice, truth, transparency, and honesty is branded as anti-national, brought under the ominous, devilish Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to curb any growth of the nation.
The binary of ‘we vs they’ has given birth to a new breed of men and women, who determine who should be associated with them, who should avail the national service schemes, who should benefit from the numerous government-sponsored projects. The others are left behind to languish in poverty and hunger, illiteracy and unemployment, yet on every national importance day, they are called to display their ‘rich’ indigenous culture and tradition, so that those who are with them might recognize the magnanimity and good will of the leaders who decide the fate of ‘they’.
Beyond the Binary
Is it ever possible to drop out of the binary of our making? What could happen if we decide to create a new column NOTA? It is hard to imagine what could be the fate of those who defy the set pattern of our system, and we have already seen in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that such people may be branded as ‘aliens’ and cast into the camps to perish, deprived of the dignity and honor they deserve. Some of the men of West Bengal who had recently returned from such camps in Assam had horrifying and bone-chilling stories to narrate, and thanks to the pandemic and the lockdown, the CAA has gone into cold-storage, and one hopes that it may never see the light of day.
Fighting against the binary is not going to be easy, especially if one does not subscribe to the state’s ideology and even idiosyncrasies; that may only lead one to remain a stranger in his or her own country. The other alternative is to be a fighter, who is not afraid of losing the battle, who is bold enough to bear any chain and handcuffs, who dares to defy the unjust structures and systems which are inhuman, who is determined to push himself or herself beyond limits to emerge victorious.
But we may still wonder if we have decided to remain outside the binary, will we be left behind the benefits we are entitled to as a citizen of the nation. This is the risk that I should be prepared to if I do not want to subscribe to what I am forced to accept without questioning. But the good news is that I would soon realize that I am not alone in this attempt to create a new breed of citizens who are conscientious, caring for the nation and her people, and at the service of those who are left behind the bandwagon of development.
(The writer is a freelance video program producer, specialized in production of ‘massive open online courses’)