Saving India’s “social fabric”

Saving India’s “social fabric”

Hari Jaisingh

On the occasion of the release of Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu’s book on September 2 in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that ‘calling for discipline is not being autocratic’. True, we as a people tend to be indisciplined. The same Indians working overseas are a disciplined lot. Has the Prime Minister given serious thought to this swadeshi and videshi setting notwithstanding his numerous trips overseas during over four years of the BJP-led NDA regime?

It is worthwhile for Narendra Modi to mull over the issue. Equally relevant is the larger question of why Indians are mostly success stories abroad while the people here have to run from pillar to post to establish themselves professionally in their areas of work. The problem here is one of creating the right professional environment, and not pursuing the politics of favouritism.

There may be some improvement in the working of the country’s bureaucratized system. But looking at the evolution of the Indian polity over the years, I have come to realise the dangers of a centralized polity which has thrown up a restless electorate and given wide-ranging social conflicts, the nature of which have varied at different paces in different times and different situations. I am not looking at past happenings. I have discussed such events in my earlier books. I am more concerned about happenings in recent years.

Take the growing threat of lynching. It is not mere “mobocracy”, but the absence of the Fear of Law which creates an atmosphere of indiscipline. This, in turn, makes the persons with “right political connections” feel that they could get away with acts of crime. The police records such lynching incidents as “cow smuggling, animal cruelty, rash driving and road rage”.

What is not being realized by the Modi establishment is that such violent acts directed against a section of society tear apart the “pluralistic social fabric” of the country. What is equally disquieting is that, directly or indirectly, such attitudes throw up a climate of intolerance, hate and political impunity and growth of negative elements, away from our value-based Liberal Hinduism. This is not a healthy sign for Prime Minister Modi’s agenda of vikas.

Here let me recall Swami Vivekananda’s famous Chicago address of September 11, 1893.  Besides, showing the face of Hinduism of tolerance and respect for other religious faiths to the rest of the world, he said, “I fervently hope that the bell tolled this morning in honour of this convention may the death-knell of all fanaticism.” Well, we cannot go back to the age of barbarianism as practiced by fanatic elements of various religious groups. India today is different.

I hold Swami Vivekananda as a role model for India. I have also striven to make an objective assessment of India in all fascinating facets. I have peeped into the past and have had a close look at the ancient theories of dharma and karma and the Indian attitude of accepting misfortunes as the will of God. Religion is still a potent fact in individual and community life. But what seems to be playing havoc with the polity today is the mixing of distorted facets of religions with politics of expediency. Even in areas of explosive sensitivity in the social arena, selective religious passages are being used as instruments of politics. This has had its fallout, both on the communal divide and in the growth of fundamentalism.

In fact, increasing communalization, blatant criminalization of politics and the Hindu backlash --- all are sad pointers to volcanic social and political settings that we see today. This puts the Indian electorate on the horns of a dilemma. Of course, dreams of a rosy future are sold by the dozen. This is a favourite pastime of our politicians. They first sell dreams and then exploit them for self-aggrandisement. They even do not hesitate to exploit the pangs of poverty to obtain votes. And we all are faced with a vicious circle of votes and notes, throwing up in the process, a parallel economy of what is called the “black money economy”.

Over a long period of time, the black economy has become more powerful than the official economy. This sounds paradoxical in the land of Mahatma Gandhi whose mantra was simple living and high thinking. The Grand Old Gandhi survives today by courtesy of Richard Attenborough. True, democracy is a ‘live’ thing in India today, despite numerous hurdles. However, the drift is towards chaos.

I expect the Prime Minister to give serious thought to all matters and issues raised in this short piece. I am not raising the critical issue of high-profile arrests of human rights activists recently by the Pune police on the charge of being “active members” of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoists) and for being part of a conspiracy to set up an “Anti-Fascist Front” “to overthrow the democratic government of the country. The police is yet to file a charge-sheet against them even after 90 days of the January 1 “violence” in Bhima Koregaon. The Pune court has been gracious enough to grant them 90 days more to finalise the charge-sheet!

I do not wish to go into the merits of the issue since the matter now is under consideration of the Supreme Court. However, what needs to be noted seriously by the powers-that-be is interim observations by the apex court. It said, “dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst”. This is a clear warning to the Modi establishment on how not to govern and handle the wheel of Indian democracy.

Even former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha has said that the arrests of these civil rights activists are “an attempt to suppress the dissent voice” and are “an attack on freedom of speech and an act to undermine the fundamentals of constitutional democracy”.

I also wish to recall certain observations of India’s next CJI Justice Ranjan Gogoi at the Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture in New Delhi. Underlining the divide between “two Indias” – one that believes that it is the “new order” and another that lives below a ridiculously drawn poverty line. He called for a “constitutional moment” of the judiciary which, he said, “has been long been overdue”.

Indeed, the time has come for introspection on growing negative trends in India’s polity. To check this politics of negativism, Justice Gogoi has underlined the need for “noisy judges, independent journalists, judiciary on the front foot”. Well, we have to put the best foot forward to undo the process of killing India’s traditional social fabric which derives its strength from tolerance, understanding, mutual respect for other religious faiths and secular ethos.