Dangers of politics of prescription

Privileged classes and individuals can no longer have their way of complacence and definitional power.

Jeopardising equality, justice, freedom and dignity of individuals and groups, the cardinal constitutional values of India, is the hallmark of the politics of prescription and ascription, as is being practiced significantly in the country. This is an obvious corollary of majoritarian prejudice and political assertiveness.

Restricting the scope of eating habits and choices, profession, business activities, employment and incomes of various sections of people, demonising and pillorying on the grounds of food habits, religion, social mores, modes of worship and contingent happenings like love and marriage are, indeed, ways of practicing inequality. This has been happening with very pronounced definitional and informal immunity during the last 2-3 years.

This is exemplified in the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in September 2015 for supposed storing of beef, the killing of Mazlum Ansari and Imteyaz Khan in March 2016 in Jharkhand for trade and transport of cattle and the flogging of four Dalits in July 2016 in Una of Gujarat for suspected killing and flaying of a cow.

These atrocities are just a continuation of the happenings like the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the aftermath killings of Muslims in Mumbai and the anti-Muslim riots of Gujarat in 2002.

Such instances, small and big, are numerous and convey that law and the Constitution are held in utter contempt by the powers-that-be and their institutionalised and proclaimed acolytes. And, this is despite frequent pulpit affirmations that pluralism and inclusive politics are the official fundamental political values, which seem rather an attempt to hold forth a façade of constitutionalism and possibly a salve to forestall international censure.

In fact, the impression is strong that one gets into elective power with a view of teaching a lesson to the non-conformists and minorities, to prescribe to them what they should do or not do with regard to their lives, livelihoods and food; and to ascribe to them the otherness, anti-nationalism and anti-patriotism – otherwise famous as the politics of sloganeering, Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki Jai.

Jeopardy to rule of law and due process of law is another source of political angst and agony in the country. The case of the hanging of Afzal Guru, accused in the Parliament attack case is typical. He was hanged solely because of political one-upmanship – the hanging was held as a criterion to decide who would be considered a greater anti-terrorist party, the Congress or the BJP.

The BJP indulged in a high-decibel clamour and the Congress chose to steal the wind out of the anti-terrorism sail of the BJP; and hanged Afzal Guru. Here, due process was ignored in implementing the so-called court judgment and Presidential pardon.

Observers have noted that subsequent judgements have laid bare the defects in evidence procedure undertaken in the Afzal Guru case. These defects/omissions have been traced to the ambient clamour about nationalism and have overridden the criterion of judicial calm and rationality.

Serious challenges
There is no need to gloat over the hanging of this accused; nor one needs to say it was wrong. But the question is whether we are seriously into the path of adhering to the rule of law and due process. The political conduct and accusations in the hanging cannot be held as a landmark in deciding what patriotism is and who a patriot is, much less as an exemplar of rule of law and due process of law.

In this context, the country and the governments are facing serious political challenges. We are on a path of steady economic progress and poverty has come down significantly. People are hurrying in the path of participatory democracy and are not content with higher incomes and levels of incomes and facilities thereof. They are demanding opportunities as partners and decision makers.

But, majoritarian and feudalist proclivities are snail-like in their exit. People are increasingly conscious of being neglected and denied of opportunities. They are not only producers and consumers but also democratically conscious, the legatees of the freedom movement values and the working of the Constitution, conscious of elective opportunities and elections.

People like Rohit Vemula cannot be put into social ghettoes. The privileged classes and individuals can no longer have their way – the way of complacence and definitional power and privilege. Institutional growth in India, in all spheres and at all levels cannot be expected without the willing participation of all sections, such as the Dalits, the Muslims, the women, the farmers etc.

We cannot afford to prescribe what is right conduct, right knowledge, right history, right politics etc. What is right and appropriate has to be evolved through a truly democratic public opinion process and evidence-based rational arguments.

(The writer is former professor, Maharaja's College, University of Mysore, Mysuru)

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