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Thriving on Polarisation, Building on Alienation, Landing in Isolation

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
26 Jul 2021

Polarizers Thrive Today

The current trend of polarisation in different countries, including America and India, has made many people think. They speak of “an epistemic crisis”. An accepted manner of logical thinking has broken down. Generally held value-systems, that were handed down many generations and re-shaped under respected leadership, do not seem to hold good any more. Many people have developed a mode of thinking that does not recognize what is evidently true, but only what promotes their ‘sectarian interests’. Majoritarians move one step further; they adopt a belligerent attitude to weaker communities. They do not go by facts, figures and truths, but have created their own idiocies and myths in their self-interest. They act as though they are a superior race. If ideologies have led people to exaggerations, idiocies have led them to fanaticisms. 

When this trend advances, all “inclusive narratives” that kept communities united get banished, and society become a “fragmented”. While belonging to one nation, their tales differ, heroes differ, values differ, visions differ. In fact, they are “made” to differ. They are “made” to be proud about ‘different’ things, displeased and disappointed about ‘different’ things, treasure and cherish and value and reverence ‘different’ things. And those who have polarised society in this manner, misled the nation, shattered the shared vision, emerge as leaders of prominence… princes of polarisation, exarchs of exclusion, kings of condemnation. 

They insist that history be re-written to flatter their community and new ideological curriculums be introduced. Meanwhile true history wriggles on the floor like a wounded soldier. A recent reading of history proposed by the UGC makes no mention of Akbar; and the Mughals are presented merely as opposers of Rajputs and Marathas. Indus Valley civilization disappears; what appears is an Indus-Sarawati civilization. International scholarship will discard such historic re-inventions as not worthy of consideration. The only references given by the UGC are Hindi books by non-historians, who translate mythologies into history! Such trends are truly alarming. They have longer consequence than immediate instances of violence like cow-related lynchings or slips in the economy. 

Is Resistance Turning Futile?

At the first stage, intellectuals protested and tried to resist. Great historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib were speedily laid aside. Others were hushed, marginalized, silenced in various ways and by various means. People like Gauri Lankesh were eliminated. We have reached a stage of ‘self-censorship’ from the side of individual intellectuals and mainline media. And those that would still like to be vocal are gradually reaching a point of helpless. There is too little news, too few issues open for discussion. Democracy is about proposals, plans, difference of opinions, discussions, debates, intelligent choices and conscientious execution. The present leadership has moved away from discussions to ‘Imperatives’, Impromptu  diktats,  and ‘Imperial styles’ of dealing, bypassing even the limitations of Emergency. 

During brief “shows” of discussion on the internet, intervenors are asked to follow “protocol”, which ultimately amounts to one-way communication. Criticism is described as sedition. A total of 149 cases of sedition have been registered over “critical” or “derogatory” remarks against the Prime Minister, 144 against the Chief Minister of UP. These are a few of the  many. Intellectual skills are breaking down in this atmosphere. Most have agreed to be compliant to Power, also in view of  maintaining a minimum of social acceptance in a society that has been ‘forced’ into a majoritarian ideology. What the leadership presents has to be accepted as truth.

It is in this light we must understand Modiji praising Yogi for handling Covid exceptionally well. Mamata’s outburst ridiculing the statement was spontaneous, because dead bodies thrown into the Ganga had reached as far as Bengal. What is clean forgotten is the shortage of oxygen in UP hospitals, absence of care, suppression of complaint, the undercounting of numbers.  With this below average quality of performance what encouraged Modi to affirm Yogi was that he had won 75% of the ‘block pramukh’ seats in the local elections. It was, then, an election-related approval. But why those glamorous billboards across Delhi? 

When Coercion Combines with Co-option 

While commenting on the recent celebration of the centenary of the Community party in China, Pallavi Aiyar, sought to explain the reasons for the success of their authoritarian regime during the last 72 years. Unlike their Russian colleagues, the Chinese leadership skilfully combined ‘coercion’ with ‘co-option’, authoritarian politics with liberalization of economy, suppression of freedoms with playing with cultural tools that flattered the Chinese psyche… with frequent use of phrases like “with Chinese characteristics,” which was nothing beyond mere eyewash. And China has stood firm. 

The Majoritarian Authoritarianism in India too has cleverly combined “coercion with co-option”? Here the interesting feature is that much coercion is “outsourced”  to anti-social elements who can do anything in the name of cow-protection or culture defence. Police concentrate of filing cases against the victims. Cyber-warriors keep guard against any alternative opinion.  Most significant is the co-option of RSS volunteers who serve both as informal intelligence agents and advisory board members. In addition, groups with Hindutva convictions like retired officers promote the RSS designs with their wide experience. Ready finances of the corporates are available for their projects at any time. Emotion-building is their main mission.

Psychologists tell us that when people’s loyalty to a leader is based on emotive issues, not life-related issues, people can be led to accept the most absurd things, to believe ridiculous statements, comply with the queerest proposals. That is how in India there has developed a ‘blind acceptance’ of official explanations. Modiji called the Kashmir leaders to bridge ‘dil ki doori’. Was there any change after that, e.g. an effort to free Kashmiri youth under detention, or ensure measures to prevent serious demographic changes? At another moment he proclaimed that the needs of 21st century cannot be satisfied by the approaches of the 20th century? Why then is he taking the country back to the days of Mahabharata?  He has just invited opinions from all Opposition leaders during the monsoon session. Everyone knows that it is going to be a futile exercise.

Contenders too can be ‘co-opted’. Hindutva provides the magic wand. For example, Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena recently compared the handling of Stan Swamy case by Modi regime to that of Hitler and Mussolini. Is he serious? But the same Shiv Sena sings Hindutva songs from time to time to keep the bridge open, in case of a changed power situation. Similarly, while Kejriwal is a strong contender, he keeps his Hindutva loyalty. He is a devotee of Hanuman. He is a promoter of Yoga. He is willing to give a free instructor where there are 20 people who wish to learn Yoga, he says. Some 450 Yoga masters are already under training. People may starve, but Yoga must thrive at government expense. And again, the RSS, the “extra-constitutional” authority in India, makes sure in every situation that the vested interests of the majoritarian community is effectively served, while claiming to be promoting Indian culture.  

Is Indian Culture Power-centred or People-centred?

Pavan Varma, referring to these zealots for Indian culture, laments their effort to build up the image of an aggressive Bharata Mata that is xenophobic and chauvinistic. But where is the zeal for genuine Indian culture in the present day Hindutva activists, he asks. Of late, China has built 150 modern galleries and 50 museums of world standard, seeking to immortalize their art and culture. Countries like Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and UAE are building art museums of impressive standard. India is spending similar amounts on cow-shelters, earning the ridicule of the world. 

For all their aggressive nationalism, has the present leadership been vigilant on India’s borders? According to the latest information we have, the PLA had penetrated 18 km into India before our leaders woke up to what was happening. There has been steady nibbling of our territory. Were, then, our Hindutva heroes attending to Covid patients? If so, why such high death rates? The latest survey reveals that Bihar death rate was 20 times more than reported, MP 23 times, UP must have been even more. Last of all, were they busy with the economy? Why then is our domestic demand falling, rupee value declining, unemployment rising, prices soaring? Even Nitin Gadkari has admitted that skyrocketing petrol prices have made people agitate…it has led to anger, pain, agony. Consequently, Business Confidence Index (BCI) has fallen. Domestic economy is in shambles. Has the present Regime succeeded in anything? Demonetisation? GST? Kashmir venture? CAA? NRC? Farm laws? Yes, they were roaring success in selling off national assets to private agencies and imposing labour laws on the poor!

An ailing Lalu Prasad claimed the other day that his rule was not jungle raj, but ‘people’s rule’. Even those who hesitate to accept his claim will admit that he never asked people to kowtow before him like the present leaders. Patrick Heller shows great surprise how sycophancy, myopia, callousness and arrogance have combined in the present Indian leadership in a way rarely seen in democracy. They have “weaponised” a politics of polarisation, demonisation, and ethnic nationalism, he says. It is a policy that has led India to isolation in the neighbourhood, and being a dwarf in the world. 

Alienation of Others Leads to Isolation

At one moment you find that the weapons you forged against others turn against you in a way you never expected. In Gujarat, Modiji’s anti-Muslim attitude may have made him a hero. At the national level, while the same image made him an ‘avatar’ before blind worshippers, he sank in the esteem of the Islamic world. What he did to Kashmir and Babri Masjid was just a part of what his larger team was doing to the people of that faith, including lynching and murder. Alienation leads to alienation. 

With Balakot surgical strikes, Modiji may have won the election of 2019, but made a Neighbour into a permanent Enemy. Others like the Maldives caught the negative vibration. With the danger Afghanistan falling into the hands of  Taliban, India’s aggressive postures have turned immensely counterproductive. Amit Shah should be asked to guard his words when he speaks of neighbouring nations.

Learning from India’s exaggerations in cultural nationalism, Sri Lanka has moved further in the same direction. Alienating even Hindu Nepal, Hindutva nationalism has proved that it has nothing to do with genuine Hinduism, it is merely the self-assertion of a selfish elite. Thus, India’s isolation in the neighbourhood is complete. 

Bangladesh alone has maintained fairly good relationship with India, more due to Sheikh Hasina’s maturity than our leadership’s diplomatic skills. She surprised her Neighbours recently sending mangoes to the President of India, the Prime Minister, and the Chief Ministers of states that touch Bangladesh. Biplav Kumar Dev, the CM of Tripura, was so moved that he immediately responded with a dispatch of pineapples. The message that Hasina sends undoubtedly means that it is not alienation that pays but helpful relationships. Neighbours  need each other. 

“No Man Is Wise Who Is Not Humble” (Chinese Proverb)

India’s foreign minister, Jaishankar agreed with his counterpart, Wang Yi, during their last encounter on the border issue that their countries needed each other. More than 21,000 Indian students are studying in China for MBBS. A similar number of Chinese are in Bangalore, Delhi and other places engaged in business. And despite tension, India-China trade grew 62.7% to 57.4 billion last year, India buying medical and electronic goods, and China purchasing raw materials like iron ore. India has a lot to learn from China whose overall exports surged 32% recently. Both will do well to listen to the wisdom of the Chinese ancients which says “No man is wise who is not humble”.

Xi Jinping changed his style when Joe Biden began to speak in realistic tones that there would be a measured response if China goes beyond accepted norms. Xi spoke  of humility and kindness for the first time in recent years. Reasonableness elicits reasonableness. A realistic approach draws forth a realistic response. Xi knows that he needs to maintain his transactions with the US and EU. He was particularly keen on keeping close to the German and French markets. Merkel and Macron have responded too. We need each other.

“Common Be Your Resolutions” (Rig Veda)

Let us come to talk of issues on which we can agree. Persons with intelligence talk about realities. Our leadership has to come out of the world of astrology, horoscope, cow-shelter projects, and puranic self-importance to the 21st century. Political leaders must leave matters like Temple building, Kumbha Mela, gathering of RSS men, patronising of sadhus, trips to Puri, ventures to Kailas, to religious devotees. The leaders of a secular state must deal with this-world realities, not legends and myths:  facts, figures, numbers, social needs, soaring prices, inflation that has risen to 6.3%, unemployed youth, work ethic, fair distribution, healthy habits. Or else we shall be left behind, not only by the Asian Tigers, oil countries and China, but even by Bangladesh, Vietnam and Somalia. This is happening right before our eyes!! And we shall remain polarised, fragmented, mutually exclusive as every Conqueror found when he marched into India. The PLA have found the same!

That is not what our ancestors taught us. Rig Veda held out the following message:  “Be united; speak in harmony; let your minds apprehend alike; common be your prayers; common be the end of your assembly; common be your resolutions; common be your deliberations; unified be your hearts; common be your intentions; perfect be your unity” (Rig Veda 19,191,24). 

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