Will they survive this govt?

Will they survive this govt?

Composite culture and dissent have been two outstanding values in India’s democracy. We, Indians, whe­rever we may be, belong to and believe in composite culture. Composite culture that instils in us a sense of ultimate values discerned from a confluence of influences, is the mainstay of our nationhood.

Dissent is a constitutionally permitted means available to all in any great democratic set up. In fact, informed and constructive dissent, as Vaclav Havel, the Czech-playwright, notes, comes with a ‘transcendental anchor’ which propels a socially conscious dissenter to stand for fairness and objectivity, cautioning against relativisation and angularities.

The angst today is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime is seen as the most ‘anti-intellectual government’, as noted historian Ramachandra Guha stated recently. Its hidden hostility to legacies and musings on composite culture and dissent is an indication of this fact.

The angst is whether composite culture that accommodates various intellectual and philosophical discourses, religious pluralism and tolerance towards others’ cultural practices can survive, along with dissent that embraces differences and yet pleads for objectivity, under the RSS-influenced Modi’s regime. Certain instances from recent happenings make this question all the more relevant as seen below.

In the last three years of Modi’s regime, a deeper divide vis-à-vis communal hatred, stoking minority-bashing, has given rise to political cynicism. With the space for dissent diminishing day by day, with cow-vigilante violence happening in subtle connivance with BJP-ruled states, and with the RSS-supported chauvinistic nationalism and Hindutva pursued blissfully, meaning bane to the people of India attuned to composite culture, the future of India in terms of communal harmony seems to be not that ‘shining’.

The angst is all the more intense when our prime minister, known otherwise for eloquence, prefers to maintain an unusual silence against such happenings including the plan to build a Ram temple at a disputed site in Ayodhya even before the Supreme Court could come up with a fair solution.

Handling of the ongoing farmers’ dissent is another boiling issue. Farmers’ grievances are genuine and long-standing with vagaries of nature playing havoc. Under constant pressure to repay loans, with states’ ham-fisted approaches to the agitation as seen in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, and with distress on the home front on varied counts, farmers are constrained to think of suicide as a way out.

For decades, farmers stand betrayed. What is surprising again is the silence of the prime minister who could spare time and energy to make 63 foreign trips in three years and travel to any part of India to win elections, has little time to sit with farmers and listen to their angst. The pain of the farming community could be halved if the prime minister can initiate a dialoguing rapport by bringing in experts like M S Swaminathan to grasp the emotional spill-over of the agrarian crisis.

Silencing the media against dissent is another disturbing phenomenon. Informed dissent is a prerogative and mainstay of the media. Wheedling the willing media to glorify Modi’s leadership, plant stories favourable to BJP, and hype certain achievements of Modi’s government as if there is no alternative against his leadership is a subtle way of reducing the Fourth Estate into subservience.

A jaundiced portrayal hurts objectivity, weakens the audacity of the media to be a dissenting voice, and like match-fixing, ‘fixes’ the mind of the public to side with one party. It ushers in corrupt connivance between the media and those who are in power, breeding forth moral bankruptcy among journalists.

In the light of these observations, readers may draw varied conclusions: one perception is that the upbeat (BJP president) Amit Shah-Modi-led BJP tom-toms about corruption-free governance at the Centre with an eye for one more term cannot guarantee the survival of composite culture and dissent.

With Opposition parties ‘partly living and partly dying’, as if they were patients in an ethereal state in an emergency ward, with worms such as dynasty politics, casteism, groupism, corrupt practices and ego politics gorging them, the masses are trapped in a gyre of elections animated by money and muscle power while looking for alternative leadership.
‘Undeclared emergency’

Against this scenario, pessimism informs us that one more term for BJP may usher in toppling of composite culture and dissent to the extent that we, the people, may end up with a state of ‘undeclared emergency’ where minority-bashing aimed at pleasing the majority will continue, where the freedom to celebrate the spirit of composite culture would be curtailed and where Dalit-vote-bank will still count, as demonstrated in Modi’s outsmarting move nominating a Dalit candidate for presidential election. These are all indications where RSS-Modi combine is gearing towards.

To conclude, reasonable minds gauge that with the gradual loss of political space for dialogic cogitations and plurisignifying cultural discourses, collec­tive identity of the people will lose its shine and stature, pushing people in general into a ghettoistic mould and mindset.

The future of India cannot be left into the hands of one party or one individual leader tending to be condescending in consort with a narrow ideological combine trying to sabotage pluralism. Composite culture connotes that the collective consciousness of the soul of India pines for team leadership emerging out of a decent multi-party system that stands for diversity and dissent.

Let us not forget that independence was won by Gandhi’s team leadership with differences and dissents respected. There were tall and dissenting leaders in the team of Jawaharlal Nehru stewarding the first postcolonial governance of the country. A B Vajpayee, as prime minister, stood tall in the estimation of many including a number of Opposition leaders for the regard he had for other points of view.

The point is plain and simple: only a team leader with a social conscience, capable of listening to as many voices as possible, can take the country towards greater heights. Such a leader can be a game-changer in the polity of India in terms of elevating the true spirit of democracy and dissent.

(The writer, a professor of English, was with University of Mysore)

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