Decline in Values? Compromise with Evil? Yes, everyday we find that our society, polity and even much of our education and culture are faced with so much of compromises with values. What we hold as dear to our sense of truth and morality. Yet we have learnt to, live with life as it goes on! Each generation, of leaders and the common people, have to live by a core set of values, stand up to an activist mind-set. A sense of moral outrage against the powerful and the influential to buy and sell our own fate is what can be considered as the new liberalist moral and political creed for the present generation.
Every generation and every time of fundamental change, like the present one, inside and outside India, need to have some core system of beliefs and a world outlook. Call it an ideology or an ism, a country or a society cant live by the material success or outward peace and a seemingly contented society or a social order. India seems to be going through a relatively stable progress, in terms of political stability and an economic growth phase. But there are also concerns over the sort of core beliefs by which the Indian society and polity seems to move on.
There is much that is disquieting. Only intellectuals, artists, poets and others who are outside the many vested interest groups, including the political class, who can see beyond the outward calm. So, what can be the basic believe system or an ideology (ideology, isms are concepts a bit out of fashion now) that drives our leaders, our power elite or our power list often put out by the tabloids or the visual media?
As on date there seems to be none or no one cares a damn! But this is likely to be upset by many unexpected or unpredicted sudden collapse. The collapse of an incumbent government or give rise to new challenges. It is at times like such changes men and women go for search for an inner equilibrium, a search for moral value, or we ask ourselves at what we really believe. Time- servers would all be swept aside. The stark questions of what binds the people of India together would arise. Who can ask such questions? Or, who can come out to answer such basic questions? Can we just think of any of those in the power lists or any such polls that make their appearances and then disappear are the answers?
There is a new public mood in India now. This sudden change of a new public concern and involvement in the Indian mind-set is accused, in my opinion, by the recent many developments. India, after signing the nuclear deal with the USA and the visit of the American President to India and the climate of a new political confidence among the Indian people and the recognition and appeals of the same by George Bush, in spite of his otherwise many controversial actions had brought about a qualitative change in the public opinion in the country. Close on the event also came the two important troubling issues that had outraged and infuriated public opinion. I mean the tortured course of the Best Bakery case, which came to symbolize much that was repugnant to the (Indian sensibilities, namely, the genocide in Gujarat.
The second one was the Jessica Lall murder case verdict. The Supreme Court in its wisdom also acted rather swiftly and gave an unusual verdict by convicting the crucial witness who turned hostile one year in jail and fine of Rs.50,000. In the Lall murder case too what gave rise to a public outrage was the fact that in this case too the powerful got away and all the accused were acquitted, in spite of the fact that the entire, almost, high society was there when the gruesome murder took place and yet, after 7 long years the case took to come to a verdict, had seen all the educated, highly motivated, well-off persons took the safe route of turning hostile and the case fell through. So, the retrial of the case is going to be watched by all sections of society, not the least being the very structure of the government in Delhi, for the ministers or party leaders didn’t react to the highly hopeless verdict that saw the very powerful escape and the equally very powerful elite showed total moral bankruptcy! It was only after a hue and cry was mounted by the TV channels; the government woke up and acted.
So, the many developments, besides the ones we mentioned, yes, even after these events, there were other developments, the Variance serial blasts, also the reaction of the BJP to polarize the polity by taking extreme positions (for which luckily the public mood nor the mood within the BJP itself was not favorable) is a sign of the times, it looks. The sign is that the country is almost a bit tired of the antics of the politicians, especially by seasoned politicians to resort to simple tried formulas of inciting the public for violence or dividing people into religious communities. Indian people seem to have moved away for more mature political action and belief systems.
Even elsewhere, in UP for example there are the desperate cases of exposing politicians through not so very honorable political means but by a series of dishonorable means, by phone tapping and also later by trying to remove Rajya Sabha members belonging to one major ruling party in UP where the otherwise dominant Congress party is nowhere in the picture. These acts, obviously, are the works of handymen who, either by themselves in their over-zealous loyalties or through inducements by the concerned desperate parties or their leaders to resort to serious unconstitutional means.
What further such sting operations showed, as in the NDTV editor, Bharka Dutt’s surveillance incident showed, is the fact that Indian society and polity is becoming more prone to unethical practices. In the Amar Singh phone tapping case, not one big leader or highly placed bigwigs, even in high positions, did express any moral outrage. In any other mature societies, in the West specially, such phone tapping of public figures and thus invading one’s privacy would have been condemned as the very height of lunacy. But here what we see is one of amusement on the part of political players, of all hues, at the discomfiture of the man concerned. Amar Singh doesn’t evoke public sympathy among the elite, rather some figure of fun and light comments. The elite seems to enjoy the discomforts of a man seen by the vast sections as one of a very lucky man with enormous clout and enjoys also the high life, the glamour and glitz that come with it.
The phone tapping was not stopped. We don’t have a word from the Prime Minister or any senior minister that such an act was volatile of one’s privacy and the Indian polity takes serious note of this deviation! There is rather disquieting silence. Or is there any design to discredit the Samajwadi Party by these acts, by tapping into phones and unseating Raja Saba members selectively?
One doesn’t know. What we know for sure is the fact that the political atmosphere is one of unconcern, there is no driving commonly shared public philosophy of what constitutes a decent society. Or, what limits are there for people and citizens beyond whom their privacy won’t be invaded or their privacy would be protected. Even in the NDTV editor’s case it was made abundantly clear that corruption is so pervasive and anyone who has the means can buy any information, from banks or other details of phone conversations or snoop into one’s privacy.
Even here we don’t find any one talking. The PM is quiet, the party leaders are quiet and there is not even any expression of dismay but one of self preservation. All are securely positioned in the comforts of their office chairs! And now, what are India’s current belief systems? I mean the political belief systems? It looks we are living through times when the most corrupt and criminal and also powerful can enter and dominate politics and society, right? Yes, it is there for all to see. The many great constitutional offices are occupied (or invaded?) by these very same elements. Who is responsible for these developments? Or, who in the present times have the power to play a role in preventing this degeneration of the polity and society?
Rather harsh and sensitive questions! But they are questions that would be troubling the minds of many, from the top elites to the common man on the street, right?
I look around and see that in this blame game everyone has a role. The political leaders, I am sure, have the first and foremost responsibility. Yes, Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister resorted to bribery to stay in office. He was justly punished, though indirectly. Now, the very same blame can be laid at the doors of many leaders. One can keep quiet or one can speak out. It depends who the person is. As for intellectuals the responsibility is complicated. When the whole society and polity is silent why make a noise! Is this right? Or wrong? I am not so sure!
The point is that India today doesn’t believe in any political ideology. The very word or concept is irrelevant? Do we know what the Prime Minister believes in? Do we for that matter know what the Finance Minister believes in? Or Sonia Gandhi? Or the BJP or the Communists?
Of course no one believes in Socialism. Nor Communism. May be the CPI and the CPI(M) may mouth the old jargon but surely they don’t mean them anymore! After all the Communist Party of China does this very same contradictory thing. So, we can be sure the Communists in India are no less wise! As for the BJP, they are as thoroughly confused as they always were. Luckily, Vajpayee saved them with his own contradictory personality. At least he had the saving grace of a mature personality; He could contain the party’s contradictions by skillful oratory. Others in the BJP are not so endowed.
It is the Congress party that is the villain, it seems. The Party goes about subscribing to the dynastic rule and it looks everything is solved by this route. There is no secure future for any party that doesn’t believe in any system of beliefs or doesn’t care for articulation but only stands by the immediately paying dynastic elements. As I see it, the Congress party’s victories so far can be as short-lived as they were always, after Indira Gandhi’s rule. Even Mrs. Gandhi had to destroy much of the Congress legacy to sustain her in power.
Today, in the new century, with an India that is raring to march ahead, with its superior educated work force, the knowledge workers, the knowledge economy and much else, there is going to be more questions than answers to such short-sighted dynastic considerations.
After Rajiv Gandhi, the party had to resort to a non-Gandhi, now too a non-Gandhi is set up. Much more damaging to India’s current strengths, both moral and political credibility, I feel that Dr.Singh, while being a good man and man for all seasons, is leading India, more so the Indian youth towards a cynical political future. He doesn’t believe in any higher political principles, it seems. He had worked under different Prime Ministers. Thus, he is neither this nor that type of a person. Does he believe in the new capitalism? Or does he have some modifications where the economy will be driven by new public-private partnership, a predominantly capitalist economy driven and regulated by enlightened policies. One is not sure.
As far as we are concerned there is in India today, inside the country much that is deplorable. There is political survival instincts that drive us all to align with any party, any ideology so long that alignment helps to retain power. Thus, we see in Tamil Nadu, there is complete mockery of any principles. The Congress desperately seeks the Dame’s help by declaring all demands as the Central government policies! The Dravidian parties, being basically fascist type outfits, where cult worship is the order of the day, much corruption and misgovernance is tolerated.
The many allies of the Congress fall into this category. So, what we witness in Delhi is the culmination of this survival culture, this self preservation and thus, when incidents like there Best Bakery or Jessica Lall cases come our way everyone seems to turn the other side. Only when the public outrage gets out of hand the institutions of State seem to move. This could be a dangerous trend, we feel. To save the soul of the nation, it is the brave individuals suffer, or toil all the time, one Teesta Setalvad or one NGO or other till the State wake up.
Justice is not done in most such cases. Justice is becoming inaccessible in the counry. Social justice is a travesty in the hands of fascist forces. There is much pent-up tension, much inarticulated frustration in the polity and society. The press is free of course but the press, more so the print media is largely won over by the State. It is pro-establishment. There is so much black money that powers the party machines. Almost all parties. There is no government department that is corruption free. Justice is so costly. The bureaucracy is unaccountable and insensitive.
There is violence in the countryside, the rise of Naxalites, Maoists and the caste armies and the rise of goaded elements in all States. It is these violent elements that drive fear in the minds of the citizens and voters. Yes, the elections are largely free of these elements. But do you do when the very same elements gets elected?
Indian society is not driven by meritocracy or the polity. It is cynicism, self-aggrandisement, and the money power that decides the values and what have you. So, how long the present state of cynicism will last? Will it win elections? Yes, there is Bihar that made a change for the better. But that may be an exception.
Everyone who seriously believes in a systematic change towards the more caring, more humane society and polity would yearn for a basic belief system. With Socialism gone after Nehru, with Indira it was personal authoritarianism, now is the time to define some of our basic beliefs and commitments.
No ism is good enough. The era of isms is gone. With George Bush and Tony Blair throwing to winds their own belief systems, it is no Republican rightwing, the so-called neurons nor Blair’s highly suspect use for any ism except his own hone brew of highly personalized media-manipulated big lies to turn the tide and keep his flock always on high expectations. So, the intensity of international terrorism has not abated. It is rather in the reverse. Iraq could prove to be Bush’s inglorious end. Also Iran could prove to be another blackhole. With Russia and China preoccupied with their problems, India with its new found friendship with the USA could find itself in a tight situation.
Inside India we have seen there is a need to cool off the current drift towards a sort of political anarchy. Political parties must give thought towards a new national consensus. For a more tolerant, liberal-minded political creeds. Of course, I am painfully aware of the pitfall in defining such a political creed. The word liberal is highly suspect by both the Left as well as the Right. There is a long history behind the rise and fall and the ebb of liberalism at different times in history, also in different countries. I don’t want to go into any academic discussion of the subject. India is a liberal country even now in so many aspects. Our peaceful existence for sixty years as a democracy, with not so much ethnic violence and religious extremisms is an indication of our largely liberal mindedness. Gokhale was the first great liberal minded leader. Gandhi too started as a follower of Gokhale and through all his mass struggles Gandhi evolved into a messenger of peace and non-violence. This is our priceless heritage. Though Nehru called himself a Socialist, he too was highly civilized and liberal, open -minded.
What worries me today is the rise of regional parties, many are plainly fascist, ethnic chauvinism is their selling point and hence they pull the people into many undesirable mindsets.That is one reason why our country could not make much progress, especially in such fields like culture, modern culture, literature and even in the modernization of society, the caste forces are politically ranged and India’s poverty, backwardness etc are all worries. To affect a paradigm shift we need a new political creed, we have to define a new political creed that could open a new chapter and turn the tide of the country’s enormous potential.
The world is full of extremist political and religious ideologies. Of course, the concept of ideology, religious or political, is quite out of fashion. But all the same, we can’t say that the world has come a long way towards a new political outlook or a new fundamental political belief system as such. We, I mean the world, had only recently, in 1989-91, witnessed the collapse of one of the most fundamental belief system, namely, Communism. Even now, after nearly some one and a half decade of so much of developments in the world, the invention of computers, the IT revolution, the Internet and telecommunications revolutions, the very pace of globalization of our lives and our own inter-cultural, ethnic and large migrant populations in all developed countries and the very tensions that had built up in the way the world had developed to cause the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the aftermath, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the developing new tensions in Iran and elsewhere, all have only contributed to intensify the religious fundamentalism, the religion-driven terrorism all across the world.
Yes, George Bush, the US President, has his own world view and his own solutions that are not finding favor with most of the major countries, mostly in Western Europe and Middle East, Latin America and even those other major powers like Russia and China, not the least India have their own different perceptions as to the wisdom or otherwise of the US foreign policy. As for India, as Bush had noted on his recent visit to the country, there is much cause for celebration about our not so inconsiderable success in promoting internal domestic harmony, more so between the two major communities of Hindus and Muslims, no less with other minority religious communities of which we have so many. So, this is a major positive development on the Indian political front.
Even when the series of communal riots and flare-ups, there has been a remarkable unanimity among the various communities of the Indian people. During the latest bomb blasts in Varanasi, the holiest of the Hindu pilgrim centre, there was this remarkable unity of the people. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board as well as the All-India Jamiat-ul-Quresh condemned the serial blasts and the communal peace was swiftly restored within few hours of the incident. So, in spite of the Bharatiya Janata Party trying to communalise the issue and announced rash yatras, the mood in the country was for maintaining communal peace and as it was often pointed out that India with the second largest Muslim population has no Al Queda sympathisers.
To put it rather bluntly, Indian Muslims seem so different from their counterparts as far as taking to extremist positions. Indian democracy can take credit for much of this positive development that everyone, in this country feels equal without any reference to the religious or other ethnical considerations. India is a truly secular country and the BJP and its other communal outfits would progressively find themselves isolated from the mainstream politics. If the past, including the recent past (of our politics) is any guidance, it is this progress of the people towards a more tolerant and a more open society democracy. Indian democracy is thus unique in many ways than being one more imitation of any other country’s model. We are so different from the US and UK models. There is so much disquiet even within the use about their democratic institutions, their Supreme Court, their human rights records, their criminal justice system are all deficient in so many significant ways. Even their very electoral system was found wanting! So too the UK model, with its mother of Parliament, the UK system more so under the Tony Blair regime is found deficient in so many ways. In India we have a much widely admired Supreme Court, Election Commission and a really open and vigorous media, both print and visual media which have lately emerged as the champion of people’s freedoms and peoples concerns.
Whiteman’s Burden? Or, it is the Brown Man’s turn now?
The globalised world is faced with so many challenges.The rise of international terrorism, the unrest in the Muslim Middle East, the many theories for the current world’s wars and bloodshed call for serious introspection on the part of thinking sections of all peoples.
I had just consulted the 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia of Britannica for an understanding of liberalism. I just felt exasperated! Why? Liberalism had 7 pages of coverage! Of course as I browsed through the volume my eyes fell upon the entry on Judaism. It had some 45 pages! I am not sure of the latest editions. In those days when time was still plenty and the scholarly men thought at length and in great depth.The Britannica essay tells at one point that liberalism is the very embodiment of Western culture, a culture that fostered individual liberty and fought for upholding individual freedom down the ages.
So, what I am going to do here is to sum up from my past reading and present reflections what I consider to be the basic minimum of what constitutes liberalist creed for the current times. Firstly, I must say that India at the start of the new century is new country, as we live in a new globalised world. So, whatever our predecessors, from ancient times to the present times, inside India as well as outside, thought about or gone about practicing their idea of a liberal politics wont suit the present needs.
Just now I read a review of a book on Lenin (Lenin and the Exile of the Intelligentsia). Lenin in 1922 put on two ships and sent out 220 intellectuals, together with their families, he threw them out for building his brand of Socialism. Those thrown out were Christian socialists, some conservatives. So, the Communists earned eternal blame for whatever that was held great in human spirit, the human spirit of seeking individualism, freedom and much else.
So, from what I have read about the great political doctrines that shaped man’s conception of an ideal society is that from Hebrew doctrines to Sermon on the Mount to the modern world of French Revolution and much else, from the many versions of Liberal parties and groups to the many theories of “end” and” death” of Liberalism, it survived and still with us.
History of Liberalist creeds is what we have to first understand.
Inside India, our freedom struggle brought about a transformation of political thought. Gandhi is disciple of Gokhale as well as a new type of liberal cum authoritarian leader with the claim for practicing non-violence. Only an objective and impartial historic appraisal of his personality can finally give us a true account of his liberal and open mind. Nehru was again both a liberal as well as a doctrinaire socialist.
I am rather embarrassed to note that his great journalist friend Kingsley Martin, the editor of New Statesman weekly was also my inspiration for much of my Fabian Socialism in this time. Thus, Nehru accumulated a corpus of socialist doctrines that survived not long after him. The trouble today is that what we follow in Delhi as the political doctrine is neither liberalism nor genuine capitalism. Capitalism is also an article of faith for some liberal minded persons and I have my own qualifications to make here.Socialism, scientific and utopian, called Marx and Engles.That is a false dichotamy.What we need is the emphasis on individual liberty in today’s parliamentary democracies. Indian democracy is, in some ways, only a shell; the inside of the system is rotten! There is even state-winked oppression everyday. There is a lack of sensitivity on the part of political operators who are all turncoats!
Liberalist creed is at the very heart a spiritual and moral affirmation in the inviolable right of individuals to remain free of the state oppression. Readers can qualify their own observations. Basic morality of politics is to define the individual right for complete liberaty. Human rights vilolations are the very anti-this of any liberalist creed. Gandhiji’s politics and morality has much of Western construct. The Indian element is minimal. Nehruvian construct is more Western. Indira Gandhi had an authorial mind-set.
Her successors might be secularists but they don’t seem to believe in any value system. There are too many pretenders today in politics May be Tagore is a more evolved person, taking his inspirations from Raja Rammohan Roy. Every generation has to define its own political creed. Today’s life, today’s world is not dictated by honest definitions of concepts. There are new cons, the so-called conservatives, and the oppressive minority that dictates terms to American society. This is not the great American democracy, asserted Tocquville, two hundred years ago, the same is asserted by the leading French philosopher, HML, in his latest book on America (American vertigo). Britain, Indians have to learn to forget! Tony Blair’s country can’t play any role model. The idealistic Britain I had known, the Britain of the early Fabian Socialists, the Britain of my early Fifties L.T.Hobhouse and R.H.Tawney and Harold Laski lie the past!
Blair’s Britain and George Bush America don’t articulate any vision but believe only in bloody wars! All major modern wars had been of European origin! Now, they are of American origins! May be his latest visit to India might change him. Rather it is France and Germany who have pleaded for UN role in promoting world peace. India has a big burden, the Brown Man’s Burden! So, liberalist creed today needs new definitions. India is well-positioned to give a lead in promoting a more humane society and a more tolerant social harmony in its multi-religious and multi-cultural formations.
Indian middle class’s sensitivity and insensitivity!
Indian middle classes differ from city to city. In Delhi it is one of high paranoia. Finding powerful and at the same time powerless vis a vis the almost illiterate political class, the New Delhi middle class can make noises, say, on a Jessica murder case judgement and express the rightful indignation at so many injustices. But when it comes to those whomsover in power, the same middle class presents a tame timidity! Almost to the point of becoming dead numb! No insensitivity to their own plight of surrendering all their pretensions for their own freedoms and feigning ignorance of things around them! Middle classes in Bangalore or Chennai have their own sensitivity antennaes! The middle classes in the state capitals have their own rightful spheres of freedom as well as their own willingness to surrender their freedom for their own survival! That is why so much corruption is tolerated; so much illegal wealth is also created and condoned. So much for our claims to modernity and our own sense of uprightness.
The real cause for these contradictory features of the Indian character is that Indians have yet to evolve into modern world individuals. It is my view that Indians still basically remain tied to so many Indian traditions. Ironically, even educated Indians of the last and present generation are yet to realise that we haven’t become yet fully free individuals, our mindset is still tied to our Macaulay education values, and we have to go a long way to reach that individuality we envy in the Westerners.
Western, European societies struggled hard to win their freedoms, India is yet to go through the processes of such struggles, individually and collectively. Only a liberalised society can realise what individual freedoms are and how much it costs to realise our own individual freedoms.