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India: Creating a threatening other

The political establishment makes capital out of "polarised" debates

by Aruna Roy, 18 June 2013

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The Times of India, June 18, 2013

Like my rural friends, i find a story for most occasions. The story of the famous dervish, Mullah Nasruddin, fits this one. The story goes that he was hunting for his key in his courtyard. After watching for a few hours, his neighbour started searching too.

A couple of hours later, the exasperated neighbour asked, "Where did you lose it?" The mullah answered, "Inside the house." The angry neighbour exclaimed, "Then why are you hunting for it here?" The mullah’s answer was simple, "There is more light outside." Such is the nature of the polarised public discourse today.

People fear Maoist violence. State repression through force is an easier option than governance. The political establishment makes capital out of "polarised" debates. If you are not with me, you are with the enemy! The victim is chosen with deliberate malice, attempting to gain popularity while demolishing a soft adversary without any justification. There is no real connection bet-ween the ailment and its remedy.

In the apparent desire for "strong political leaders" to resolve the chaos of current politics, there could be a strong inherent danger. We need to ask the important questions that follow: strong, but based on what principles? Can we justify the creation of an arbitrary and unjust system, based on capricious provocation?

There is always a possibility that we will be victims one day of the same arbitrariness. Divided as we are by language, caste, religion and class interests, we cannot surrender our will and reason to a system, to people in power, without due process, bereft of accountability of speech and action. This question is critical and needs to be addressed. Because once arbitrariness infiltrates into any system, it stays. We flinch under it every day.

Chaos and confusion are results of deliberate action and a consequence of historical processes. Confusion is, however, sometimes used to promote imposition of ’simplistic’ remedies, which, in calmer times, would have failed the test of logic and justice. An exasperated and bewildered population, desperate to see a neat solution, wants to fix the guilty and resolve the predicament. Victims are cynically identified for narrow political ends.

Losing sight of justice and reason, we are caught in a psychological stampede. Like all irrational fears, the biggest danger is the loss of reason itself. Answers cannot be simple, given the conditions that exist. Since the Maoist predicament is rooted in this complexity, simplistic or strategic solutions fail to address the problem. In any persistently unequal society, violence is seen as the means to a lasting solution by both extremes.

Ironically, Narendra Modi as head of the BJP’s national election committee, in criticising the government for not addressing the Maoist issue, weakens his own argument; when he cites the appointment of Harsh Mander and Binayak Sen - alleged Maoist supporters - as members of the National Advisory Council and a Planning Commission panel, as an example of appeasement. It is significant that this deliberate provocation follows the Maoist attack on Congress workers when public opinion is "zero tolerant" against Naxalites and their purported supporters.

Mander and Sen have, for different reasons, been labelled Maoists. Hitting at ideological opponents and champions for equality is to settle old scores and gain political popularity with no real attempt to address the problem. By using this method of political expediency, Modi has once again demonstrated his need to create and demonise adversaries.

The charges against Sen by the Chhattisgarh government are based on arguments that are tenuous at best. Even the Supreme Court argued that possession of Gandhi’s autobiography did not make one Gandhian, any more than possession of Maoist literature makes us Maoists.

The accusation of association with Maoists against Mander is absurd. Mander has written and spoken out against the Maoist mode of violence. The anxiety of political aspirations perhaps lies in the series of authenticated documents and films that have established the complicity of the Gujarat government in what has been one of the worst instances of a state betraying its people and the Constitution.

The deliberate attempt to push Mander into a corner is because he has been a constant and persistent champion of justice in Gujarat. His article, "Cry my beloved India", helped push the news of the 2002 events in Gujarat worldwide. The oft-repeated counter about the Sikh killings in 1984 being in the same category obviously does not justify the 2002 Gujarat genocide.

But Mander, as an IAS officer in Indore, displayed his commitment to uphold the Constitution by calling in the army to protect the Sikh communities under attack. Perhaps the contrast with his own acts of omission and commission rankle Modi even more.

The political battle is now an economic one. Millions are forcibly displaced across the country for "development" and for the profit of others. An ostensibly democratic polity may use authoritarianism and violence on those on the margins but expands its repertoire to repress dissent in the mainstream.

Modi’s remarks betray impatience with disagreement. He lumps all manner of dissent into one anti-state seditious category. Personality cults cannot deliver governance. Power can indeed be won through the force of majority, but "leadership" of a democratic country requires respectful accommodation of differences. Anything else is authoritarianism.

The writer is a social activist and convener, NCPRI.


The above article from The Times o India is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use