False consensus festers ill will and weakens democracy

Rohit Dhankar

One of the most flamboyant politicians of our nation thinks that opening up issues like article 370 and uniform civil code for debate is a divisive act and it should not happen. That is, Indian public should not express their views on these, and other similar, issues openly. Whatever is decided at one time in our history is decided for ever.

The problem is that a large number of people do talk about these issues and express their dissatisfaction on them. They think that these decisions were made to appease a certain section of the population. Now, this impression of the people might be wrong and they may be squarely misguided by the propaganda of the Sangh Parivar. We must remember that there is a large number of young people who see such issues as unjustifiable in modern India. These people have had no chance to educate themselves about such issues, they have a very different and consumerist conception of democracy. I think by resisting debate on such issues, and even if one enters the debate then simply declaring these issues closed for all time to come leaves this section of population in the hands of the sangh parivar. The argument that sangh parivar builds is: “there are some people who thrive on a vote bank; they misguide the Indian Muslims and rather than working for their development give them emotional issues of no value. It is in the interest of such politicians and parties that these issues remain untouchable raw nerves and never thought through”.

How do people like Mr. Tharoor hope to counter such an argument, even if it is wrong, without debate? Leaving such issues out of debate will certainly make them fissures in the public thinking which will keep on festering unattended.

The only way in a democracy to resolve such problems is debate, an open and deep debate which takes the public to the very core of democratic principles and educates them on the legitimate basis of such decisions. Fighting shy of debates in a democracy is a losing option.

My personal view if that the 2014 election results is also a reflection of slowly emerging “Hindu Political Identity”. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) started work on building such a Hindu political identity in 1925. Its work is bearing fruit. RSS has been propounding theories of Muslims oppressing Hindus for last 1000 years, Muslim appeasement, and Muslim aggression towards Hinduism. The left leaning intellectuals and most of the political formations shied away from a threadbare discussion on such allegations. They propounded theories that look like attempts at ‘explaining away’ rather than explanation for understanding. The intellectuals considered engaging in such debates with low level understanding of RSS ideologues below their intellectual ken. Their short outbursts of anger and dismissals were not properly understood by the public and therefore remained ineffective. Thus leaving the public mind open for Sangh Parivar manipulation.

Yesterday I was talking politics in rural Rajasthan in 43 degree centigrade, sitting in a veranda facing merciless Rajasthani heat. The people involved in the conversation were the ones who could sway the village voters easily. They all were Modi supporters. I asked them: do you really think the Modi government will bring in economic development? Will it make the farmers lot better?

One of them said: I believe it will create more jobs, bachchon ko nokari milegi.

The other said: whatever happens it will show Muslims their place, they are becoming very arrogant and aggressive.

This village has no Muslims, but the nearby villages do; and these people have economic and cultural relations with Muslims. There are about 20 Muslim families in the nearby village who make bangles, and supply to all women folk. Have significant cultural space in marriages when a special set of bangles is supposed to be brought for the bride. Another village, now resembling a township, has more than 200 Muslim families and they are iron-smiths, rajai makers and have several other essential functions in rural economy.

I challenged them to site examples of the local Muslim population when they have behaved aggressively or with undue arrogance. They had none. One of them said: “our Muslims are good. They are like us. But Muslims in Kashmir and where they are in Majority behave differently.”

I asked them how do they know? A young boy, educated to postgraduate level, jumped in: “Look now, we cannot go to Kashmir and by land, but Muslims from Kashmir can buy land anywhere in India. They can marry four times. Their population is increasing. The Hindu population in Bangladesh and Pakistan is decreasing.” All the arguments given for Muslim aggression and appeasement by the Sangh Parivar.

My point is not that the arguments bear any scrutiny; it is rather, without an open debate unfettered by political correctness how do you dispel this mind-set? We should realise that declaring people who ask such questions communal is no more effective in countering such charges. The opinion makers have to take the responsibility more directly and counter such arguments in public; and if there has been any truth in them then have to admit and find alternatives.

Sweeping issues under carpet in a democracy increases fissures in public opinion and weakens the democracy itself. Rather than calling names the opponent has to be seen as an equal citizen and his/her views has to be given a hearing; and have to be proved wrong is they happen to be misguided. Therefore, in spite of anger of Abdullas and timidity of Tharoors these issues have to be dealt with by means of a fair debate; that is, in case we are concerned with the kind of Hindu political identity that is being formed by Sangh parivar and want to arrest its success. Ostriches don’t win, they can only die in denial.


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