Social unrest is probably the right term that defines the condition of the present political landscape in India. Mass rallies, protests and identity-based movements are ubiquitous and have gripped almost the entire country. The reasons for the outrage are manifold, staying true to the diverse predicaments that engulf a particular region.
As much of it is directed vaguely against the system, the myriad rallies have also internalised a language of disruption, violence and chaos, which stems from a deeply-embedded xenophobic attitude toward the "other". This need not be a religious group as the unrest includes internecine communitarian conflicts, a more horizontal tussle for power rather than the traditional hierarchical feud between upper castes and lower castes and even nativism based on motley channels of mobilisation like language, culture and history.
The question of how the political class deals with the current social and political turmoil is ambiguous to say the least. A fundamental list of priorities in dealing with destabilising events like these is conspicuous by its absence. Surely, the plurality and the contextual nature of events demand local solutions. At the same time, the universality of sagaciousness, coherence and stability seem to be getting deliberately buried under the purported dynamism of the "particular". The recent rape case reported in Ahmednagar - in which a Maratha girl was violated by a Dalit boy - has seen mass churning in the form of rallies and protests.
However, the Maratha community, realising the wider, potential political mileage, have managed to surreptitiously reignite the demand for reservations within the same mould. This is political expediency at its ruthless best. This can be seen, albeit in a different manner, in the turmoil surrounding the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The issue has precipitously degenerated from an exclusive water sharing issue to a petty confrontation based on linguistic chauvinism. Similar meaningless prevarication from more pressing issues to that of egoism and skulduggery is seen in the uneasy relationship between Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung. Logic and common sense are taking a sever hit in the ongoing tussle that sees neither of the two budging from their position.
All three incidents are classic cases of how the political parties and the system at large are undergoing an institutional crisis in dealing with the situation. The reactions, especially coming from the incumbent political dispensation, severely lack a blueprint of practical, immediate solutions.
Violence and mass disturbance are increasingly channelised through non-institutional means, signifying a gross lack of imagination among the political leaders. Leadership is invested more in fanning the existing flames sans any real effort of dousing them. The Maratha reservations issue matters as they form a sizeable electoral block in the state; the Bengaluru episode cannot be handled objectively as too many conflicting calculations are involved, whereas the Delhi episode is emblematic of the political lethargy that prioritises a reaction — seldom in the interest of all.
The political apparatus looks completely incapable of resurrecting the existing situation. In fact, the status quo bodes well for both the government and the opposition as the events become a site for further injecting and disseminating their ideology. To keep the wounds unhealed in this case is tantamount to siding with the logic of the "rational irrationalist". Social justice forever remains an elusive goal amidst this chaotic quest for power. As the very nature of power is decentralised in these cases, multiple communities, their aspirations and demands act as various agencies to cling to for future consolidation of their vote blocks.
A discernible set of principles that can collectively act toward normalcy is nowhere in sight. Far from having a well-structured reactionary politics, a practical version of what Rawls would term lexical priority of the principles of justice, a series of discontinuity looms and further increases the aspersions of what the respective parties exactly stand for.
The absence of a sacrosanct set of minimum beliefs and ideas widens the gap between those in power and the aam aadmi. A situation like the one in Maharashtra then witnesses outrage from all the vantage points barring the institutional one. This happens as the latter is muddied with parties and leaders who have becomes rudderless and supine with their constant indecision over positions and reactions.
Intuitive reactions are conveniently masked for their inherent political naiveté.
Reactions, seen in the light of the unrest, are received as devoid of any semblance of "judgement". To use Hannah Arendt's terminology, the incoherent reactions lack the seamless thread of "thinking, willing and judging", which ultimately produces "conscience".
In fact, in such situations, pragmatism always trumps conscience and thereby precludes the possibility of a concrete form of judgement.The social unrest, unless seen in its totality with a genuine effort toward reaching objectivity, will go down in history as a series of events that precipitated the fragmentation of our society. The aggravation of the decay of political imagination is an addition to the burgeoning list of worrisome developments of the present day.