I am a compulsive gambler and I have lost a small fortune (by my standards) in this pursuit. One of my significant learning has been that there is a common pattern to all my significant losses. They all begin with a winning streak and my taking winning as my birth right,, followed by a reversal of trend, followed by my intense rage, desperation and recklessness, followed by a state where I “stake it all “ in a spirit of “all or nothing” and eventually getting “cleaned out”
I find a remarkable similarity between this process and what I see happening in the country today. First let us look at the Modi Sarkar. It started with a strong winning streak, not just in terms of electoral results but also with the hope and enthusiasm that got generated on several fronts. Soon the trend began to reverse with gradual disillusionment. The tipping point I think was the defeat in Delhi elections. Ever since the government seems to have been in a state of directionless desperation. The present crisis around JNU captures the entire process very well. It started with what seemed like a victory for the Government against its arch-rival (usually described as liberal, secular left) and more importantly providing it a platform from where the passion could be raised in the name of Bharat Mata rather than only Hindu religion. However it over-stetched itself and through manipulated evidence did a “self side goal”. Ever since, its reactions are becoming increasingly mind –boggling. One would expect that in a situation like this the government will try to diffuse the situation rather than escalate it. Hence inaction of police at Patiala court, Ms. Irani’s histrionics in the parliament, tacit support to people who wish to see the issue in terms of Nationalism and disapproval of those who see it in terms of liberalism and veiled threat of charges of sedition against all and sundry, suggest a state of panic. I will not be surprised if in not too distant a future it reaches a point of no return and where it will find itself compelled to “stake it all” in a mother of all battles.
The story on the other side is different and yet similar. The other side (usually described as Liberal, Secular, Left) has been accustomed to winning over a long period of time. For several decades it has dominated the political and academic/intellectual space in the country. During this period it smugly dismissed all other view-points with the rhetoric of reactionary, right-wing, anti-dalit, non-secular, Manuwadi and a host of similar labels. While it had received some earlier set backs, its tipping point came in the last general elections. Not merely BJP got a majority on its own, it also made significant dents into its well-entretched vote-banks particularly among the poor, dalits and even minorities. Over decades this group has mastered the art of playing politics of discontent and hence it was alarmed at the prospect of “hope” rather than discontent and discrimination becoming the fulcrum of Indian polity and that too under the leadership of someone whom it had consistently painted as a monster. Predictably fueling Paranoia became a very high priority and thus it became paramount that all real or imagined areas of discontent/intolerance etc. are exploited to the hilt. It may have over-reached in case of JNU and at one stage it appeared that it had made itself vulneable to a knock-out punch, but to its credit it managed to make a come-back and now seems to be equally intent to escalate the issue rather than diffuse it.
Thus it seems both sides are preparing themselves for a “no-holds barred” mother of all battles. This may not happen immediately or in the immediate future but we certainly seem to be moving towards it. As an ordinary citizen, I am worried- not so much about who will lose but more about who will win. This is of course a familiar sentiment of many Indians during all elections ( our choices being determined by who we want to lose rather than who we want to win) But in this instance the stakes are much higher because irrespective of which side emerges as victorious, it is INDIANNESS which will be the loser. Let me elaborate.
If the so called “ Nationalists” win then it will effectively be a victory of a monolithic notion of Nationalism which is not part of us but which we have mindlessly swallowed from others. Our notion of Nationalism is more akin to what Gandhi called “oceanic circles” rather than a hierarchical pyramidical monolith. Similarly, if the “Liberals” win then it will effectively be a victory of constructs which have rarely been examined and interpreted in our own context. For example the frames and structures around concepts like liberalism, democracy, secularism etc. have largely developed in societies where Individual is the basic unit in Social Design. In our case, while the Individual is regarded as completely autonomous in the spiritual domain, he/she has no independent existence in the social life. It is the group (family, tribe, jati etc.) which is treated as the basic building block in social design. The basic concept being that while the accountability of the Individual towards the social unit is absolute, as far as the spiritual domain is concerned, the accountability is only towards the Self. Thus in India, while social codes are tightly and rigidly defined, the approach towards spirituality is (or at least was till recently) a lot more “open-ended” and organized religion did not have a very strong hold over it. By not taking these basic differences into account and mouthing platitudes around liberalism, we not merely do violence to ourselves but also perpetuate “self-hate” and disdain towards our own heritage.
We need to acknowledge that with all our diversity of class, caste, region, religion , language etc. we also have a shared identity. Our sense of identity and togetherness does not flow from commonality of tangibles (like race, religion, language, customs etc.) but through shared intangibles like values, beliefs, psychological orientations and the like. This is not to say that we all have identical values and psychological orientations but only that as members of a shared civilization, we have certain leanings which cut across differences of religion, language etc. For example, we lean a little more towards Communion as compared to Individual Agency. Similarly our approach to dealing with differences/conflicts is more focused on learning to live with them rather than necessarily resolving/eliminating them. Hence when we talk of Nationalism or Liberalism we should talk of them in the context of our Identity rather than as absolutes.
Unfortunately, we are also dealing with the legacy of Colonization which has severely eroded our faith not just in our heritage but even in our own psychological orientations. Thus some of us have begun to believe that tight monolithic structures (both in the area of religion and governance) are superior to open-ended loose arrangements. Similarly some people have begun to believe that any restraint stemming from sensitivity to others/will of the collective is regressive and oppressive.This has generated huge amount of “self –hate” and in many ways what we are witnessing today is a fight between the two sides of this “self-hate”
The liberals discharge this self-hate through continuously finding fault with us and our heritage and using their “selective rationality” in as provocative a manner as possible. Needless to say that their real intent is for us to become aware of our own pathologies and rise above them. However, the repressed “self-hate” is expressed through reactive insensitivity which only generates counter-defensiveness. On the other hand, the Nationalists discharge it through directing it towards an external villain ( be it a member of another religion/region/institution/country or an abstract notion like westernization) . Here again the real intent is to foster a sense of pride in our heritage and to generate self-belief. However, the repressed “self-hate” gets expressed through vehement attacks on a real or imagined enemy and hence only generates, fear, revulsion and violence.
It is only natural and also healthy for any collectivity to have negative feelings about itself. If it didn’t it would turn into an inhuman monster. The difficulty arises (as in case of a colonized mind) when one starts looking at one self through the eyes of the aggressor and then gets preoccupied with validating /refuting that perception. Thus being seen as strong becomes more important than being strong and being seen as liberal becomes more important than being liberal.
I wonder when will begin to look at ourselves through our own eyes, when will be able to mobilize some compassion and genuine respect for our selves and each other and when will say good-bye to our feats of self-destruction?