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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 33 New Delhi August 8, 2015

Welcome to our own Tea Party

Saturday 8 August 2015, by Badri Raina

Finally, it is here—our own Tea Party.

It had to happen, of course, given the drift of political/ideological predilections over the last year.

One of India’s high constitutional authorities has admonished the state to keep “tabs” on all those who attended the funeral of the executed Yakub Memon (barring his family and friends, thankfully, although one would have argued that they indeed would have the most cause to do something untoward, no?) as “potential terrorists”.

Now, notwithstanding the circumstance that tele-coverage of that funeral was gagged, reports have it that a large mass of Indians attended that funeral in Mumbai. Were one to include the numbers across the country who have been of the opinion that the late Memon, although guilty, did not deserve to be hung, since the evidence against him under the now discarded TADA comprised “confessions” procured by the police (admissible under TADA but not under any normal jurisprudence,—and four of which “confessions” were retracted), plus the fact that he had already spent twenty or more years in jail in solitary—in excess of a normative life-term sentence—so that both delay and double jeopardy could have been credibly pleaded in the case, as also the recently revealed fact that, subsequent to his capture/surrender, he had provided the Indian investigating authorities highly valuable revelations about the working of enemy agencies,—were one to add all those who think along such lines, the number of “potential terrorists” would swell very consider-ably, and, significantly, transgress communal demarcations. Not to speak of those other bad apples who lament that, despicable as a death sentence is, it is odd that the same should be executed with alacrity on some “terrorists” and not so on other similarly convicted ones; or, perish the thought that agencies of the state should advise tardiness in prosecuting still other types of “terrorists” who inhabit a different shade of cloth (although we are regularly admonished that “terrorism” has no colour). And were you to further include citizens who believe that cases of gruesome cruelty vented upon hapless people during communal pogroms should also be considered acts of “terrorism” and punished accordingly, we would be left perhaps with only a handful of Indians who would escape the sobriquet of being “potential terrorists”.

Our national discourse seems now to have touched a point where any dissent with respect to capital punishment is liable to be interpreted as a defence of such wrong-doers as the late Yakub, although it is to be hoped that the fresh debate that his execution has, usefully, generated about the issue will, in time, succeed in pushing the “collective conscience” of Gandhi’s India away from espousing this barbaric and vengeful mode of punishing crimiinals. It is to be doubted that any society that cannot discriminate between justice and revenge can remain civilised for long.

Clearly a situation, as Brecht had once quipped in one of his plays, may be developing in our land where an empowered new elite, impatient for instant conformity with a domi-nant paradigm of “nationalism”, might verily recommend that the people be changed if they will not listen to big brother without demur.

In the meanwhile, contrary to campaign rhetoric and “popular” expectations, during the reign so far of India’s year or more-old “strong” leadership, far from quieting down or being famously quelled, not only does the troublesome border with Pakistan seem to have come alive but indeed exploded, and, after a quarter century or so, “terrorism” seems to have entered the Punjab once again. All that, interestingly, with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the saddle in Jammu and its ally, the Akali Dal, in the Punjab. The thought may be forgiveable that, in contrast, the earlier regimes at the Centre and in the two troubled States were, if anything, providing somewhat “gooder governance” than seems now in evidence. Proving, perhaps, that, alas, stridency (although alternating illogically with periodic flourishes of camraderie) is not tantamount to policy. It is everyday painful to witness the bind in which our ex-Generals fume and fret, tied in knots by the legacy of that ill-advised decision to declare our nuclear status in 1998: how they would do such things to Pakistan but do not know how to. As to finding a political answer to the festering Kashmir issue, no sir, that would be showing “nationalist” pride and might in poor light.

Naturally, we are “patriotically” advised not to make any linkage between the now not-so-new government’s general attitude towards India’s largest “minority” community, or its chest-thumping militarism and the deterioration of the zeitgeist. Making such a linkage is tantamount to “appeasing” a community that deseves first to be brought in line, and reminded of its good fortune in being citizens of a free and democratic country, however its institutions may look habitually a bit awry at them from case to case, event to event, time to time. Thus the reports of various Commissions (Sachar; Ranganath Mishra) and the findings of umpteen other Census documents are not for implemen-tation but eternal advisement of the fact that India’s Muslims owe their backward situation first to themselves rather than to the state; except, of course, when the state has been run by the Congress Party. Without the suggestion that the prevarications of that Party need to be rectified, now that the new dispensation has widely and loudly proclaimed its guiding logo to be “sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas” (holistic develop-ment of one and all). Such development, we are told, is to take place without making any special or extra provisions for, not just Muslims but bulk of the hoi polloi who remain, after six decades from Independence, still at the receiving end of policies unvaryingly designed to fatten the fat cats—a praxis that straddles class and caste lines simultaneously, leaving tribals and many sorts of other “minority” elements wondering when the state may include them in its concerns. As we ponder the dastardly enemies bent upon destabilising the prospects of global glory for our republic, we may be excused for also pondering whether the sort of “good gover-nance” and “development” we are providing are conducive to consolidating social peace and quiet at home.

The fact remains that we may have taken the hardware of democracy from the mother of all democracies, but the software continues to remain our own. As a columnist has recently suggested, come whichever government, our elites—including the bulk of “Liberals”—remain time-honouredly conservative in matters of egalit-arian social transformation, whether it concern our minorities, or other oppressed sections who, whether they like it or not, are still counted as “Hindus” (Dalits, millions of deserted and disem-powered children and women, not to speak of tribal populations whose “ghar wapsi” is everyday “encouraged” by concerned agencies of the RSS). The more extreme (because the more successful within a market-fundamentalist, free-wheeling, profit-maximising capitalism) sections of our new “educated” urban vanguards addi-tionally now brook no patience for any analysis of the causes of social disharmony and suffo-cated disaffection; their favourite citizen now seems the efficient hangman (be it judge or executioner) who quickly disposes off recalcitrant or rebellious nuisance with finality, leaving no residue to disrupt the operations of demand and supply.

If one might encapsulate thus: the speedy efficiencies of ever-new gadgetry are now sought to translate into an attitude which prizes despatch in sweeping uncomfortable social, cultural, historical conundrums off the executive table in a decisive jiffy over any considered analyses or evaluations of the not-so-black-and-white complexities which form the substance of those conundrums, and of our failure or refusal to attend to them, just so long as the propertied classes are able to wade through obstacles to “development”. The people and those who regularly speak on their behalf—a pretty marked Spartan bunch by now—who stymie that even course of “reform” need thus either to be changed or executed. There is only one right side to any question—that which comes now from our Tea Party, flamboyantly articulated for them each tele-evening at prime time by celebrity anchors—with honourable exceptions, it ought to be said—who gather panelists not for dialogue but a pre-determined one-way cosy endorsement or no-holds-barred bashing. Democracy at work famously. Indeed, events in the current monsoon session of Parlia-ment testify to this new, no-nonsense urge to render any legitimate and morally worthwhile examination of issues null. Often the attempt to force a consideration of those issues by the Opposition benches is propagated as a criminal usurpation of time and money which need, without a nay to be invested in corporate urgencies which knock on the government’s head. Anchors are never tired of suggesting how “the people” (read the new yuppy classes) are fed up with the shenanigans of parlia-mentarians whose case, next to the imperatives of money-spinning, are sheer bunkum. The ugly fact that is sought to be concealed is how these classes, at bottom, would be happiest if Parliament was simply abolished and the state handed over to one “strong” leader—who, it would seem thus far, may not much object to such a course either.

 The question must be whether the resistance now sought to be put up by a resurgent Congress Party and other located political formations will in the days to come gather sufficient and desirable momentum and content to elicit mass support across the republic of a kind that a posse of policemen or the corporate overlords—economic and religious ones in conjunction—may find it not so easy to gag, suppress, purchase, or ultimately disregard.

As I have said in my previous article, the Assembly election in Bihar will provide far-reaching answers. Who knows that the poor of all communities may come together and vote the combined Left to power. After all, why not envisage a second Greece in some corner of India. Although the troubling thought remains that what percentage of the popular vote they manage may end up harming rather than helping matters.

Final thought: no politics is of any substance that does not teach us to live till we die.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.