Symptoms of an emerging social anarchy

Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu

The duty of every citizen to safeguard the health of the society is today neglected the most. Everyone wants to have a benign society and wants it served on a platter. At the same time, people endorse socially disruptive agendas to bolster their vested interests. We pay lip-service to values and assume that values are mostly, for others to follow, and for our advantage. No principle is welcome when upholding it goes against our interests. We want the courts, for example, to be impartial but we throw a tantrum when judicial impartiality goes against our calculations. We are doing everything imaginable to erode the health and wholeness of our society. We seem to have lost the ability to look beyond our noses. And we are today paying the price for it.

Not only the society as a whole, but also the individuals who comprise it are vulnerable to ill-health. Disharmony among the constituent parts is the pattern of illness in both cases. In a human being a heart attack results, for instance, when the relationship between a part and the rest of the heart is compromised through the narrowing of the coronary artery. The hand experiences acute pain and dies when the blood flow into it is cut off. Paralysis results from the alienation between the brain and the affected limbs. In other words physical illness implies organic anarchy. The same pattern applies to macro-systems like societies and nations. When these symptoms of collective pathology are neglected over time, societies begin to degenerate and collapse into anarchy.

Because of the enormous difference in scales between the individual and the society, symptoms of collective illness are apt to be mistaken for the vitality of a constituent part. Consider this illustration. In a certain neurological condition, a gentle tap on a muscle results in an enormous jerk of the limb concerned, quite beyond the range of normal sensitivity. If the massive jerk is seen in isolation, it could be mistaken as a proof of the patient’s extraordinary strength. But when it is seen in the light of that person’s inability to do any useful work, it emerges as a pathological phenomenon.

Communal atrocities that signal our social ill-health are of this kind. They are misunderstood as signs of religious vitality in the absence of a total vision of societal health. It is a suicidal folly to condone, much less encourage, any anarchic agenda, overlooking its disruptiveness in the national context. Sadly, the protagonists of vote-bank politics have mislead a large number of people to believe otherwise. Allowing their discernment to be lulled by the spell of spurious patriotism, the gullible and the naive have become a party to undermining the health and wholeness of our society. Though the silver-lining on the cloud is that the façade of deception has begun to slip, allowing the truth to emerge, albeit gradually. The obvious loss of popular enthusiasm for the mandir movement, especially in the temple city itself, is the most significant fact that shines through the recent stage-management of the Ayodhya imbroglio.

We are being hijacked into becoming an ungovernable society. This is a roguish ritual sustained by political parties and communal outfits. But the most dramatic aspect of this liturgy of social anarchy is the increasing State patronage it receives. It is no longer a secret that every communal atrocity, every instance of corruption and oppression, presupposes political protection and patronage. The recent carnage in Gujarat, like Ayodhya of 1992, would have been impossible had it not received the complicity of the State. Shiladaan at Ayodhya ended the way it did only because the government at the Centre had to be seen holding the VHP hawks under leash, even while lending further legitimacy to their agenda. As regards the bluster of Paramhans, Singhal, Katiyar and co. only consider how quickly they sobered down when the likelihood of ISI agents infiltrating the karsevak crowd was merely mentioned to them. The salutary effect of a firm stand on the part of the Central dispensation can be easily imagined.

The creed of an anarchic society is total faith in violence. Over the last five decades the very foundation of our national life has been shifted from a faith in non-violence to the exclusive faith in the use or threat of violence. This process reached its summit with the political ascendancy of the Sangh Parivar, with its unabashed commitment to crafting a culture of violence. The Atom Bomb, as is amply clear now, was not a strategic but a symbolic object: a cultic embodiment of the culture of violence. This was of a piece with the Ram mandir movement that celebrated its virility through the destruction of the centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya. It was the self-same cult of violence that was witnessed again in the charade of the shila-daan. The message that the threat of violence, including that of self-immolation, will be amply rewarded is writ large over the way the government handled this law and order problem. An experienced and seasoned politician like Vajpayee should not have to be told that such encouragement extended in full public glare to forces that openly defy constituted authority, including that of the Supreme Court. This is a recipe for national anarchy. It amounts to a gross betrayal of the constitutional obligations under which governments are required to function.

The latest in the Sangh Parivar series of the public indulgence in the cult of violence is the attack on the Orissa assembly. This does not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the ideological outlook of the Parivar. What surprises objective on-lookers is the zealous avoidance of the term ‘terrorism’ in this and similar other contexts. The attack on the J & K assembly amounted to terrorism. It was terrorism, par excellence, when five men managed to infiltrate into the premises of the Parliament. But hardly anyone thinks of the organized, pre-meditated attack on the Orissa assembly as an act of terrorism. Any objective assessment is sure to see the VHP-Bajrang Dal as a terrorist combine, no better than SIMI in terms of explicit words and deeds. To countenance such open advocacy and practice of aggression is to encourage the agents of anarchy.

The flip-side of the culture of violence is what psychologists call the “grievance-hunting mentality”. In psychology this is recognized as a condition of illness. It betrays a state of mind singularly incapable of normally engaging the opportunities and responsibilities of today and so must flee to the past to discover a haven of grievance for itself. The landscape of the present is littered with responsibilities, which it cannot or does not want to handle. No human being infected with this grievance-hunting mentality can perform normally and creatively because it has a great deal of nuisance value. That being the case, nobody should be in any doubt as to what it means for a whole nation to be infected with this sick mentality. The massive ritual of collective grievance-hunting, such as is choreographed by the Sangh Parivar, has already taken its toll on the country as a whole. It has crippled our national energies and diverted the attention of the nation from the pressing issues that cry out for attention. It is worse than absurd that the attention of the whole nation is focused on two blocks of carved stone, to the total exclusion of life-and-death issues affecting a billion people. One is left wondering if this can ever happen in any other country.

Yet another ingredient in the recipe for social and collective anarchy is the keenness to erode faith in public institutions, especially the judiciary and the State. Perhaps there is nothing new in this. But what is absolutely new is the complicity of the State in eroding its own credibility, as in the case of Gujarat. What makes it all the more worrisome is the fact that it did not take long for the Gujarat syndrome to catch up with the Centre. The way the shila daan melodrama was stage-managed does not leave anyone, not even the so-called coalition partners, in any doubt as to the partisan role played by the Vajpayee government in this matter. Those who remember Ayodhya 1992 would agree that the communal and partisan role of the State has reached a new peak now. In 1992, it was an ordinary policeman in his ‘secular’ uniform that was seen kneeling and praying at the site where the mosque was destroyed and a makeshift temple was hastily set up. In 2002 it is a senior bureaucrat from the PMO who is forced to pose before the media and seen accepting the shilas for the would-be temple. These postures corrupt the secular character of the State. The fact that this has come in the wake of the role that the Attorney General of India played, seen by most people as pleading the VHP cause in the Supreme Court, leaves the ‘secular’ part of Indian democracy in the sewer of a veritable scandal.

The animating force of an anarchic society is the spirit of negativity, which remains powerful precisely because it is not recognized for what it is. It is this spirit of negativity that enhances the popular appeal of divisive and hate-driven ideologies and agendas. The inclination to revel in destruction is bred by this spirit. The sight of a frenzied mob tearing down Babri Masjid in a matter of hours, ecstatic in this act of negative assertion, speaks for itself. No comparable enthusiasm can be whipped up for building the temple. Whatever drama happened in Ayodhya recently was simply stage-managed, merely to cover up the fact that the local people are apathetic to the mandir movement. If they were not, there would have been no need to bring quasi-tourists from other parts of the country to Ayodhya.

The cost for the nation on account of popularizing this spirit of negativity is not limited to the days lost in fire-fighting, as in Ayodhya 2002. The larger cost is that the epidemic of negativity infects the mind of India and disables the nation from realizing her full potential. Negativity cannot be selectively invoked or employed. If you are negative to your neighbour because he happens to practice a religion that you dislike, you will be negative to all others who displease you in one way or another. In the end you will discover that there is hardly anyone you really like and that your life is filled with hate and futility. Apart from relationships, the foremost casualty to the spirit of negativity is work-culture. Very few people have an instinctive liking for the work they do. It is either the general idea of contributing to nation-building or the hope of being recognized in the context of work that sustains most people in their work. The epidemic of negativity will erode all these things degrading the workplace into a jungle of grievances.

Our foremost need as a nation, faced with unprecedented challenges and pressures in the wake of globalization, is to enunciate and internalize a shared vision for the country in harmony with the spirit of the Indian Constitution and our shared heritage of spirituality. Given how integral religious plurality and cultural diversity are to the history and ethos of India, a project of religious and cultural homogenization is sure to turn India into a Sri Lanka, ten times over. Religious Minorities numbering some 200 million and dalits of an even larger chunk cannot be wished away or browbeaten into submission forever. There is room enough in this country for all; or there will be room for none and that is the truth. Unless, the logic of history is changed for the sake of some misguided elements, who happen to enjoy official patronage. But the rest of us cannot afford to entertain any illusion on this count. Precipitating social anarchy for sectarian gains is an anti-national act. It is terrorism from within, which is far more dangerous than cross-border terrorism of the worst kind.