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Watching Dissolution of Secular Republic

Mathew John Mathew John
10 Jan 2022

“Only Hate was happy, hoping to augment
His practice now, and his shabby clientele
Who think they can be cured by killing
And covering the garden with ashes.”
(W H Auden)

As a nation, we know we are at a dire tipping point when a powerful religious congregation sounds a clarion call for the genocide of Muslims and vows to turn the country into a Hindu Rashtra; when Christians are compelled to chant “Jai Shri Ram”; when blatantly communal government ads targeting Muslims are on the front pages of even allegedly independent, secular newspapers; when prayer services of minorities are disrupted – and all these abominations perpetrated with impunity knowing that the law enforcers are collaborators. 

Hate, fear and despair stalk our benighted land but what makes the situation irredeemable is the complicit apathy of the rest of us. We have paved the way for the dissolution of the Republic!

In this troubled time of existential dread, I reflexively turned to history in search of parallels. What we are going through has eerie similarities with Germany of the 1930s. A unique characteristic of fascism in that period was the use of stormtroopers operating under the benign gaze of the State. The majority of citizens, though not actively involved in the mayhem, by their passivity and indifference validated “the genocidal consensus”. The courts and the police were willing accomplices of the anti-democratic camp. And predictably, the oleaginous civil servants, the middle-class, industrialists and army veterans provided the strategic and economic heft for the movement.

I was struck by a particular description of the Fuhrer put out by the Nazi propaganda machine and culled from the Nizkor Project website which is dedicated to combating Holocaust denial by hate groups: “No smoking, no drinking, no women – only work until he falls asleep at night. He is a charismatic and incorruptible leader with incredible energy and endurance; a man of steel who refuses to compromise on any issue; a visionary who has brought about all-round industrial development; a mesmeric orator who can arouse the emotions of the crowd and who works on the psychology that the masses prefer to submit to the strong rather than the weak; a man of mystery steadfastly refusing to divulge anything of his personal life. For each success of the State, he modestly accepts all the credit.”

But for the omission of the Maybach limousine and sun-glasses, this could well be the advertised pen sketch of the leader here. 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn had observed with devastating prescience that when we neither punish nor reproach evil doers, “we are ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” The world has witnessed varying responses to mass murder and genocide. The Nuremberg trials investigated the crimes of the military, political and economic leadership of Nazi Germany and delivered the most severe penalties against those responsible for genocide. 

In striking contrast, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was a restorative justice body that stressed on reconciliation and granted amnesty to many of the perpetrators of the horrors of apartheid. However, the underlying philosophy for setting up these bodies was essentially the same -- to acknowledge that what happened was horrendous and would never be allowed to recur.

Desmond Tutu stressed the importance of a critical systemic evaluation of such ghastly happenings: “We needed to look the beast in the eye, so that the past wouldn’t hold us hostage anymore.” But in our bedimmed country, we have learnt nothing from the mass murder and savagery of the past. Our society’s refusal to confront the evil within us head-on has resulted in periodic remission but never a closure, and hence, an inevitable recurrence of the same evil.

Take the Partition riots, when Hindus and Muslims killed each other in hundreds of thousands in the most horrific civilian bloodbath the world has seen. Thousands of Indians and Pakistanis had blood on their hands. And yet our founding fathers ignored the eternal verity that if crimes go unpunished, they will come around again. No dispassionate investigation was conducted into the causes and dimensions of this colossal tragedy so that remedial lessons could be learnt and the matter brought to a closure. Instead, they chose to wish it away as a nightmare best forgotten. That has not happened and we have already paid a heavy price for their dereliction. 

Most believe that we did right in feverishly trying to forget past horrors so that we could “move on”. How terribly wrong is that understanding! It was Martin Luther King Jr who reminded the world of the simple truth that without justice there can be no peace. The way things have panned out, there has neither been forgetting nor redemptive change in our thinking. The genocidal conflagrations of 1984 and then of 2002, far from provoking revulsion and a resolve never to allow such unmitigated evil to surface again, have not transformed us into a more humane society; rather, the miasma of unpunished crimes, of distrust, of hate, still hangs like a lowering cloud over the country.

But that dark cloud has morphed into a tsunami of hate under this dispensation. There is a frightening social churning taking place right under our noses. The ideological fascism of Hindutva has now been reinforced by the terrorism of the stormtroopers who are shielded by a regime that is adept only at stoking hate. There is a serious method in this madness. The indiscriminate violence and terror not only ensure that the regime’s opponents live in fear but also effectively deflect attention from its many failures.

The people of the country are in dire straits economically, a fact inadvertently advertised by the Government’s boast of providing dole to 80 crore citizens through its food distribution program. Debilitating unemployment (5 crore fewer jobs today when compared to 2014) and rising inflation have caused severe discontent and anger, especially among the young. However, by diabolic manipulation of their angst through sustained virulent communal propaganda and coercive intimidation, the regime and its Parivar have clearly succeeded in directing their fury against the two minority groups that are in the cross hairs of Hindutva, egged on by the despicable, opportunistic breed of corporate honchos, bureaucrats, traders and army veterans. 

Our PM is perhaps the only leader in the world today who is wilfully dividing his own people in order to stay in power. At the launch of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor last month in Varanasi, after advertising his Hindu credentials with a dip in the Ganga and offering prayers at the Kaal Bhairav temple in the full glare of the media, the PM blasted off on the theme closest to his heart -- the binary contrast between communities on the basis of religious affiliation: “History is witness to Aurangzeb’s atrocities, his terror. He tried to crush culture with fanaticism. But the soil of this country is different from the rest of the world. Here if an Aurangzeb comes, a Shivaji also rises. If a Salar Masud marches ahead, warriors like Raja Suhaldev make him realise the power of our unity.” 

His loaded message was that one denomination was predatory, barbarian, beyond the pale whereas the other was the upholder of Indian civilisation. He set the ball rolling for the ugly haters! As if on cue, the stormtroopers were all over the place persecuting Muslims and Christians, with the police looking on. The overpowering stench of hate and fear is there for all to see. Secularism is dead but my fears go even deeper. I fear the dissolution of the Republic as our forefathers conceived it.

Not all are accomplices in this soul-destroying mission of communal hate-mongering but, to modify what Yeats said, the worst are full of passionate intensity whereas the rest lack all conviction. Too many who are embarrassed by the misdeeds of the PM seek an alibi for their continuing support of his fascist reign bemoaning the absence of an alternative to Modi. To one friend guilty of such witless worship, I retorted; “Is there a place hotter than hell?”

As a nation, we have never been worse off than we are today. Apart from the damage this regime has inflicted on the social fabric and the economy, Kashmir is more alienated than ever, the North-East region is slowly unravelling, the Chinese are stomping all over our territory and we have no friend in the neighbourhood; the farmers and the Sikh community are at loggerheads with the regime, and the once independent and effective institutions have been reduced to ciphers, severely damaged and compromised. Ominously, there are tell-tale signs of an incipient saffronisation in the armed forces. We are indeed headed into a deep abyss and yet we repose faith in the man who has dragged us down us to this pretty pass! 

The social cleavage is deeper than ever. Clarence Darrow, the humanist who fought relentlessly for the rights of blacks in America, had famously observed that no matter what laws we pass, unless people are kind and decent and human to one another, there can be no peaceful existence or liberty. In the ultimate analysis, ‘peace and freedom come from human beings rather than from laws and institutions.’ Or as so poignantly stated by Auden: “We must all love one another or die!” Sadly, in India today there is neither brotherhood nor love but only manic hate. 

(The writer is a former civil servant. Views are personal)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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