Why I'm seriously worried about this country (and so should you be)

Voting has become a mechanical exercise that gives the illusion of agency and free choice.

 |  12-minute read |   19-05-2018
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We have reached a point where democracy has had its head lopped off in a neat surgical strike. But, instead of dismay there is ghoulish celebration in the ranks of the RSS-BJP supporters.

Admittedly not all, however. All some of them wanted to do was to support a newcomer to the PM's chair who would take away the bitter taste of the UPA days and the daily news of scams and frauds, of corruption and inactivity. Someone, though he liked the camera too much and had expensive tastes in clothes and rockstar jamborees around the world, like a newly anointed primate marking territory, still promised change for the better.

What they ended up doing was getting pushed to a corner they had never imagined. A corner where they had to justify and support lynchings, misogynist godmen, thugs in saffron, fumbling U-turns, the worst financial decision in decades, the undermining of democratic and educational institutions, interference in food choices, bans on films, racist discrimination against wide swathes of the country, and lastly the nation of the cow.

bjp690_051618041719_051918012733.jpgTreating democracy like some holy cow?

There is nothing as fragile and insecure as the ego of a person who has made a wrong choice and is loathe to admitting it. There will be much more to defend soon enough as India plummets further into the abyss, false equivalences to dream up, whatabouteries from history to dredge up, and strawmen to build, to champion more foul creatures that emerge from the pit — because once you have thrown your lot in the ring — you have to go through with it brazenly until the last.

Unless of course you are that one extraordinary person to whom truth matters more than partisanship.

We treat democracy like some holy cow. The vast majority of people in India are told they have to vote so they go out to vote. If their rights were suspended this vast majority who actually make the difference and whom parties address, coax, cajole, divide and rule, wouldn’t turn a hair.

If this majority voted for a dictator who wanted to suspend their rights and liberties, it would be legal since it was done democratically. Paradoxical, because hey presto, there would be no democracy.

The only people standing between this and people’s rights are a small handful. They are NGO’s academicians, a few activists, some journalists and lawyers, and a few people in the media.

All these people are clubbed under the definition of “intellectuals” and usually considered redundant along with armchair critics who are also considered useless on the ground.

The vast majority enjoy the fruits of their struggles, but find them funny and eccentric, and definitely irritating killjoys.

It’s so much easier to let things be and slide, looking to one’s own financial interests. “Someone else” is always there to set things right. There will be noise rules. There will be mangroves. Some criminal industrialist will get caught and sent to jail.

Well, most of the time, that someone else is someone we are all mocking and spitting on and calling a crazy person. And at times like this, an anti-national.

Hell, who knows? Maybe they are crazy. Why bother when the world ends when you end anyway?

It helps to understand most journalists taking absurd positions that go against their educated backgrounds and common sense, if one sees them in the context of, not belief systems any more, but personal branding and having to make huge career jumps. The lack of credibility that results mainly because the public mindset respects permanence of convictions, and not flexibility, makes this practically suicidal. Once you have taken a stand you have to go on till the bitter end.

All these years Indian democracy has acceptable, urbane, suave, and cosmopolitan faces at the top of the hierarchy that ruled by delegating to grassroot level leaders who were anything but acceptable, urbane, suave, and cosmopolitan. The people always did choose from among themselves, those they could relate to, but the reins of power were held ultimately by those faces.

Things started changing after the Emergency and one of the biggest shocks to the system at that time was having a Lalu Prasad Yadav as CM of Bihar. But he had earned his spurs fighting MISA and opposing the Emergency along with the likes of LK Advani and George Fernandes.

His rustic crudity was soon overlooked, Jyoti Basu called him a friend of West Bengal and he earned the admiration of the seculars and liberals of that time when he stopped Advani's rath yatra from entering Bihar. That one act of his made everyone overlook his sins. There were titters when Rabri Devi was made CM, but that was not cause for outrage.

Yogi Adityanath has won several elections; he's not new to politics. As mentioned, people have always chosen from among their own, but the faces at the top have always been acceptable — what the BJP chaps say the "Lutyens" types — and the urban western-educated elite has, for all these years been complacent in the belief that they are in control, looking with disdain and hauteur at what goes on beneath, assured that the scum won't rise to the surface. Or what they consider scum.

Direct democracy is described as a form or system of democracy giving citizens an extraordinary amount of participation in the legislation process and granting them a maximum of political self-determination. Policy initiatives are voted on directly as opposed to representative democracies, but that definition describes the voting process.

Another definition of direct democracy could be (indulge me here) people voting for exactly who they consider one of their own and putting him directly in power, doing away with the top guys. He is no longer a satrap, no longer an intermediary, there are no strings on him, he speaks their language, articulates their belief system, and can go right up to the top.

Unfortunately, in the climate of politicians aiding and abetting divisiveness by jumping into the myriad schisms and stratifications of Indian society, religious and caste driven, that is how we got Modi and that is how we got Adityanath.

This is an overthrow of the political class system where subaltern India has occupied their space, but not in the way the Left envisioned it. When many urban cosmopolitan people bitterly talk or joke about Baba Ramdev becoming president, they should realise it's not reductio ad absurdum or out of the question.

That old hierarchy of legal luminaries, erudite men and women of intellect, landed old money aristocracy that gave the superficial gloss to India and made it look more or less presentable is gone.

Democracy is not being run indirectly any more. Call it majoritarianism if you will, perhaps kakistocracy, but "Yatha Praja Tatha Raja" is now a reality everyone has to deal with.

The problem with making yourself into such a dominating all encompassing personality on the run-up to elections and projecting yourself like some god or messiah, promising the earth and the moon and every impossible thing is that every little thing, every failure is going to be put at your door. Even the ones you are not responsible for.

Therefore, there is no point in bhakts complaining and making sarcastic comments that even the weather is going to be Modi's fault according to "some." It is. Because that is the way the mass mindset had been created when it was convenient.

The idea was to inherit a system, not to change it. Inherit, fashion a different and alternate historical narrative, and replace the labels. At the same time it was necessary to keep the fomenting alive, to distract as well as maintain a permanent band of followers who would be steeped in a state of constant outrage and vengeful resentment. For that these so-called "fringe groups" have to be kept simmering on the back burner.

Basically, today we have reached a pass after all the U-turns and the shitstorms (everyone knows what shitstorms), when, if you ask a Modi/BJP supporter (not a moronic bhakt, mind you, but a reasonably intelligent person): "So, what do you still like about Modi and the BJP?" He/ she will think about two seconds and blurt out a thousand things he/she does not like about the Congress and the Left parties. This probably coincides with what many in the liberal camp feel too. But, this person will not answer your question directly.

Let's take a look at their world view and sense of history from which their "nationalism" comes from.

The assumption of stasis and permanence of an entire population, caught like a fly in amber, their gene pool unaffected, their customs and world views intact for 4000 (?) years, is astounding.

It is as if an enchanted people have been holding their breaths, frozen in time in a vacuum behind a force shield, while outsiders like the Shakas, Huns, Kushanas, Mongols, French, Portugese and British have come and done their worst, and are now just picking up where they left off. Some ideological foundation, that.

I love India, this land. I love its culture, its food, the people, many of their customs, the landscape, flora and fauna, and the indomitable spirit of our people who rise above every adversity. My love is not for the political entity bound by political borders.

My love spills over into that space called Bangladesh too because of my origins there. Just as many would love that space called Pakistan. Political spaces are fickle. Their borders are drawn and redrawn over time. You are forced to circumscribe your affections by walls, barbed wires and men with guns. That is not natural. That is not how the heart responds. And cultures do not come to a sudden stop at political borders and decide "thus far and no further".

True nationalism is geographical, not political. Many great people throughout the ages, have said great things about the wonder of the civilisation that is India, praised its past glories, rich heritage and culture and the collective wisdom of its saints. One feels indeed proud when one hears that train of thought.

The problem is when some of us want to hitch their little buggy wagon at the end of that train to get a free ride. Because, it’s a very sad looking buggy wagon full of false pride, prejudice, pathetic contemporary scenarios, and a civil society riven by casteism, hatred, communalism and poverty.

No, sorry Mr Desh Bhakt, you don't get a free pass to hitch your buggy wagon on that magnificent train. You have to earn it all over again.

And how do they choose to convince us of this world view?

bjp_051918013312.jpgBetween the devil and the deep blue sea, we chose the devil.

From what I can see, manipulative constructions on comments to engineer responses, and deliberate provocative appeals to emotion, sheer lies by photoshopping, used to be the preserve of a certain kind of cunning that relied on the raw and untutored, the simple minded, to deliver expected reactions.

I call it the "suno gaon walo" homespun earthy strategy that yields immediate results, bypassing logic or rationality, and even legal parameters in many cases. A simple appeal to the mob. To be fair this is not just a tool used by right-wing reactionaries, but the left too when it suits them.

However, this has in recent times been an important part of the arsenal of the Sangh Parivar and its constituents in the run up to the elections as well as in present times, with the BJP, its back to the wall, unable to deliver on their election promises, and on constant aggressive campaign mode.

The choice of a television soap actress as one of its high-profile ministers holding a key portfolio is not an oversight; it is very well-planned. We are well aware at what level and what demographic the GEC (general entertainment channels) serials work best with. Such a choice defines the tone and tenor and the nature of the engagement of the present government with the people.

If Smriti Irani is melodrama, then Modi is hyperbole and the two are a formidable combination in a country such as ours. In the muddied waters that public discourse has become, one fears that we will have lost the last shreds of our sanity. Beyond a point no amount of comparison with previous governments and "same to you" rebuttals is going to stop people from talking when their interests are hurt.

No amount of whitewashing, denials, clever Mexican impasses while furthering agendas is going to save this blatantly arrogant government. Between the devil and the deep blue sea, we chose the devil.

Next time, we'll chose the deep blue sea all over again. That has its own set of problems. Voting has become a mechanical exercise that gives the illusion of agency and free choice. But the people will choose a corrupt democracy that doesn't work for them and eats them slowly from inside like termites, than a majoritarian democracy like this one which rampages like a mad elephant destroying the foundations of everything a just society stands for.

No, we didn't have a just society or a perfect system, but at least we had the foundations. We could have built on them. This isn't pest control. This isn't even building a new house. Its utter insanity. Today, in our severely divided society we have reached a pass where the most unforgivable can be forgiven, glossed over, condoned and indeed, cheered on and encouraged, where the most hypocritical can be whitewashed and legitimised, where the worst specimens that line the bottom of the barrel of humanity can float to the top and rule over the others, simply by an alignment with religion, creed, caste, and a rock star leader of choice.

1.3 billion Indians have voluntarily pawned their brains and futures in their social contract with a chimera.

Also read: Our prayers have been answered — we Anglo-Indians don't want to be used as pawns by any political party

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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