COMMUNALISM AND THE CRISIS OF DEMOCRACY
Swami Agnivesh and Rev. Valson Thampu
A Principal of a prestigious school who has been thoroughly non-political and a widely respected educationalist rang us up one day. She had a question to ask. She wanted to know- “Whom shall we address these letters to?” These letters referred to the hundreds of letters written by the school children, pouring out their anguish at the unspeakable suffering inflicted on innocent people of Gujarat for no other crime than the fact that they belonged to a minority community. She went on to say that -“normally, in a democracy these letters should have been addressed to the Prime Minister. But do we have a Prime Minister?” This is a casual question, but a question that captures the growing perplexity of millions of people around the country. This is a question that shoots like an arrow right into the eye of Indian democracy.
One of the unmistakable signs of the ill health of a system is the way its instruments are turned against itself. Arthur Koestler wrote that one should not forget that it was by using legitimate democratic means that Hitler murdered democracy. It is similar to what is called auto-immunity vis-à-vis the human body, a condition in which the body turns against itself. In a democracy like ours it is the Prime Minister who symbolizes the unity and integrity of the country. When a person assumes office as Prime Minister under the oath of allegiance and secrecy, he embraces the duty to function impartially as the leader of the whole nation and not just merely the pracharak of a particular party. It is within this enlarged framework that Prime Ministerial sensitivities should operate. The alternative is to hijack this exalted office to serve the interests of a particular ideology and precipitate the self-contradictions and inconsistencies that betoken the sickness of our democracy.
In this respect, Vajpayee is only a transitional figure. All transitional characters are condemned to hypocrisy for they have to speak with two different mouths: one crying in compassion at the Shah Alam camp and the other is the bellowing ideology in Goa. Vajpayee who fears that he would not be able to recite a poem ever again, and yet another phase of Vajpayee who insists remorselessly that Narendra Modi must continue to preside over and prolong the very agony of the people that makes him sink into poetic impotence, together comprise the profile of a transitional leader. The next generation of Sangh leadership as portended by Modi, will not carry this baggage of sentimentality or doublespeak. They will be chillingly clear, brutally honest and surgically unemotional, as in the case of Modi’s excursion into Newtonian physics. But in due course, we shall learn that those of us who may survive to see that day- that the hypocrisy of Vajpayee is a million times more human than the consistency and clarity of the self-styled “Chote Sardar” and Sanghis of his ilk.
Then there is this other symptom of the pathology of our democracy: the more the people lose their faith in and respect for their elected leaders, the more stable the government becomes. An ironic commentary on the state of our democratic culture today is that it is the fear of having to face the electorate that glues together the disparate and distressed coalition partners to the BJP, even when they know that this could mean political hara-kiri for them. As Vajpayee remarked to a newspaper editor some time ago, the more the electorate rejects the BJP the more parties vie with each other to court it. This leads to some interesting side-shows. So we have a Chandrababu Naidu, who is profoundly disturbed at the communal carnage in Gujarat and who wants Modi out, but stands steadfastly by Vajpayee who snubs him in public on this demand. We have a Mamta whose heart breaks over the victims in Gujarat but thinks this heartburn can be healed in a ministerial birth in Delhi and so will prop up the BJP at all costs. Besides, we have an Omar Abdullah who can neither vote for the Government nor leave it which results in a pathetic ritual of twice expressing his compulsion as well as unwillingness to leave office. Of course, he will not learn from Ram Vilas Paswan that liberating oneself from a ministerial couch of pins and needles is not all that difficult, if at least your rear-end is sensitive.
A third symptom of the terminal illness of our democracy is the utter irrelevance of the people to the game plans of governance. A question that we had to face repeatedly in the refugee camps in Gujarat was, “Are we not the citizens of India?” The answer is simple. Of course, they are. But this glorious democracy has today reached a stage in which citizens have ceased to matter. What we have today is a government of the politicians, by the politicians and for the politicians. The plight of the Muslims in Gujarat bristles with this truth, a truth that applies to the overwhelming majority of the people. Its level of intensity of hurt may vary in degree, but not in kind. Well, this is not just the case with ordinary people, even the coalition partners have to live with the reality of their mounting irrelevance. Now that Mayawati, the dalit Messiah, is in the BJP camp, Chandrababu Naidu’s stock has crashed. Look at the way Karunanidhi has shriveled with Jayalalitha going back in favour of the BJP. What is utterly regrettable, that the loudest statement on the irrelevance of the people in recent times has come from Vajpayee himself when, in the run-up to the UP elections, he announced that the BJP could manage without the Muslims. Since then, Modi in Gujarat has outstripped Vajpayee and proved that Muslims have no place in the Gujarat of his dreams.
This is because today people as people have ceased to matter to the managers of Indian democracy. And this is precisely the reason why no worthwhile efforts are being made to put out the communal fires in Gujarat. It is for the same reason that relief and rehabilitation measures have failed to take off even after two months of this barbaric eruption. To compromise on the primacy of “We the people” is to encourage politicians to get away with tokenisms at all levels. So Vajpayee thinks that the soap water of 150 crores will wash away the stains of senseless destruction, varyingly estimated between 2000 – 5000 crores. Not many people seem to see through this insult.
It is not only for the BJP-led government that the people seem to have vanished from the radar of Indian democracy. The opposition parties themselves seem to have internalized this fascist perversion of democracy. It was this that made the historic debate in the Lok Sabha under rule 184 such a bitter disappointments. Over 17 long and tumultuous hours, everything under the sun was bandied back and forth, but the keenness to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gujarat was conspicuous by its absence.
This is what communalism does to democracy. It kicks up a dust storm of gods, religions, temples, priests, and politicians and blacks out the people. Communalism operates in terms of a vicious cycle. It corrupts the culture of governance and banishes principled politics. This generates the compulsion to farm vote-banks based on caste and religion. This requires that people are divided and directed against each other. Their labels are only of incidental interest. What matters is the gullibility of the people and the perversity written into mass psychology by which people, when made to act in a group, go not only against the norms of humanity but even against their own interests. Eventually, those who obliged the Sangh Parivar ringleaders by reveling in the abominable in Gujarat would discover to their horror that by serving as the tools of a fascist outfit they were building their own dungeons of unfreedom, brick by brick. But the question is- will it be too late by then?