Identity politics will produce Giriraj Singhs

December 5, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

[Posting every day is a bad idea. But still… Also these thoughts are truly “loud thinking”, not very well worked out. Just a rough cut.]

“There is a need to increase population of Hindus in the country. They should take this issue seriously as their population has been decreasing in eight States in the country,” Mr. Giriraj Singh, Union Minister of State, said in October 16, as per a report in the The Hindu, 5th December 16.

“The country is facing population explosion, it has to be controlled soon,” the same Minister says in December 16, and as per The Hindu report, and he also thinks that “after ‘notebandi’ (demonetisation), there is an urgent need to make laws for ‘nasbandi’ (sterilisation) in the country.”

Looking at his record one needs waste no time in explaining that he wants ‘nasbandi’ for Muslims and ‘increase of population’ of Hindus. The question is: should such a person be a minister in the government of a secular country?

Percentage of Muslim population in the country is increasing can hardly be denied. Nor can one close ones eyes to the fact that in some areas (particularly along the Bangladesh boarder) it has changed the local demography beyond recognition. This phenomenon cannot be explained through the ‘general minority mentality’ syndrome as population of Hindus in both Pakistan and Bangladesh is constantly decreasing in spite of Hindus being in a minority in these countries. Those who think that this phenomenon has nothing to do with religion and political use of it are over stretching their intellectual capabilities.

However, the question still remains: should not people like Mr. Singh be shunted out of the government? Those who govern a democratic country are expected to rise above their sectarian biases and of being capable of a little more intelligent thinking. They should try to understand the complex factors what influence reproduction rate in any section of population. And they are to do with economic and educational status of the section in question as well. Yes, religious beliefs and practices are a very important factor, but that is not the only factor.

It seems to me that what makes such leaders acceptable to the masses is intense identity politics in India. Identity politics encourages—nay, depends on—excusatory principle of membership of a political formation, it is not open to all citizens on the basis of their political views. It is restricted by caste or religion or any other basis that provides a fulcrum of identity. It harms the moral and intellectual development of the members of such formations as they cannot grow beyond their restricted identities; and induces the same desire to play identity politics in other communities. All this gives rise to intense competition between communities, the humanitarian values and individual freedom suffers.

All communal (I am deliberately using the term “communal” for “community based”) identities are exclusory in nature and repressive to individual members of their own communities. If it is allowed and appreciated when Jats, Rajputs, Brahmins, Dalits, Muslims etc. organise themselves and struggle for their interests; how does one oppose some more sinister (and perhaps cleverer) minds to organise Hindus to fight for their own interests? One understand that politics is a messy business and does not always take a straight path; therefore, there may be times when a deliberately disadvantaged section of population comes together and fights against injustice done to them. But this has to be played with care, the basic principle of organisation has to remain political and the politicians have to be wise enough to know when to stop playing it.

Indian people have to learn to go beyond their restrictive identities to recognise themselves humans first and foremost; and then construct an identity of being Indians for themselves. The smaller indemnities of being an Indian and belonging to a caste or religious group have to submit to the paramount identity as a human being; and have to be governed by the principles of equality, justice and freedom for all humans.

That is the only way to neutralise people like Modi and Giriraj Singh. Pitching one identity or interest group against another is a sure way to lose. If all this sounds too simplistic to some complex minds, go on and obfuscate as much as you please, Girirajs and Modis will thrive. Politics in India at this moment has to be conducted in a simpler language that people can understand, and make sense of. “Sab se pahale tum insaan ho; Hindustani, Pakistani, chini baad men. Aur Jat, Rajput, Dalit, Musalman, Hindu to use se bhi baad men.” I think an ordinary Indian can understand, argue, debate, accept and reject this proposition. And that is what is needed at the moment.


Democratic Dilemmas

December 4, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Accepting democracy as way to form government of the day means accepting one citizen one vote. That is also an acceptance that every human being (where there is universal adult franchise) is capable of contributing to the process of formation of that government and has the right to do so. It also implies that anyone’s supposed wisdom does not give him/her any more right to have a say in this process than one whom the wise consider ignorant. The only way the wise can play a larger role is by persuading others to accept their wisdom, and this acceptance itself has to be their own free choice.

If that is the case in a democracy: what should be the response of the wise if the general public elects someone whom the wise consider absolutely disastrous and unacceptable?

Should a wise true democrat accept one’s own limitations that s/he failed to convince the people, and work for their better understanding? Or should s/he declare that ignorant public’s choice is unacceptable to her/him, and s/he does not recognize the legitimacy of elected government? Would the later mean that the wise reserve the right to accept democratic decisions only as per their prescription, and by dent of their wisdom are not bound by the outcome of democratic process if it does not suit them?

The Indian Lok Sabha elections is 2014 and recent US presidential elections is also a revolt against the hegemony, obscure verbose reasoning, and political correctness of the wise. It is assertion of unsophisticated thinking of the larger public. This assertion has thrown up results that may undermine the very democratic process. Democracy so far it seems have been functioning on the recognition of the common citizen that s/he may not understand the complicated matter of statecraft, and therefore, accepted the thought-leadership of the select few. Now it seems either that set of the select few is being replaced or every citizen is claiming his/her own right to have his/her own say. That means they are becoming more responsible and asserting their own will, be that sophisticated or rude; be that right or wrong. Can we say that the democracy actually is deepening in this sense?

Everyone has equal interest in life in the nation. The supposed to be unsophisticated public will learn to be more reasonable and responsible only when they start using their own opinion in government formation rather than opinions handed over by the wise. In this sense it might be a moment to cherish for a truly democratic mind: that an opinion counter to his/her own has emerged more powerful, but at the same time that also distributes the responsibility of remaining on course among a much larger set of people. Is capability to cherish the win of the opposite view a necessary condition to be a true democrat?

In this half worked out (at this moment, more work has to go into it) thought I have ignored the argument that the public is swayed, or cheated or coned or intimidated or made a fool of in any other way. This needs to be considered. But that will involve a very careful shifting of ideas. Reason being that even in the claim that the “public” is swayed or coned etc. but “we are not” there is inherent superiority of judgment attributed to “us”! Which might be actually true, but has no force in one-citizen-one-vote principle. That again raises the issue: whether the simplistic or ignorant “public” which can be swayed and coned should have rights equal to “us” who are wiser?

All this raises some very sharp questions (at least in my own mind): does the ideal of democracy necessarily involve acceptance of an opinion counter to my own and which I consider also inferior to my own? Does it necessarily imply submission to the popular will while at the same time I consider my own judgment to be superior to that popular will? Does it necessarily imply that when one stands in the public the wise have to leave the halo of their wisdom at home, and count themselves as anyone else?

It seems to me that a legitimate struggle against a popular mandate in a democracy can be waged only by first accepting the mandate; and then through a peaceful rational persuasion to right the wrongs in the popular mandate, bringing about a shift in popular thinking. It involves unrelenting resistance against the wrong decisions of the elected government, but also acceptance of the right ones. It involves more work with the common citizen (the public) than with the government. Are we doing that?


Attention: this is patriotism

December 3, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered that:

(a) “There shall be no commercial exploitation” of the national anthem,

(b) “There shall not be dramatization” of it,

(c) “National Anthem or a part of it shall not be printed” in such a manner that “may be disgraceful to its status and tantamount to disrespect.”

(d) All the cinema halls in India shall play the National Anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.”

(e) While the national anthem is being played “the entry and exit doors shall remain closed”

(f) Playing of national anthem will “be with the National Flag on the screen.” And,

(g) The abridge version of the National Anthem … shall not be played or displayed.”

I have been arguing on this blog (particularly during the JNU tamasha) that:

  1. It is wrong to think that the notion of nationalism is necessarily (a) repressive for some sections of the population and (b) aggressive to other nations. There can be forms of nationalism that are no-repressive and non-aggressive.
  2. The humanity at present is not developed enough to organise itself and have a non-repressive state without the ideas of nation and constitutional nationalism, which to my mind come so close to patriotism that is virtually indistinguishable from it. Therefore, they are necessary ideas at present state of intellectual and moral development of humanity.
  3. It is not possible to argue in favour of and struggle for the ideals of equality, justice, freedom, etc. if one discards the ideas of nation and nationalism.
  4. The ideas of the nation and nationalism expressed in the idiotic Sanghi vigilante brigade are not the ideas or ideals on which Indian nation is built. Therefore, assuming that that is what nationalism is and attacking the very core of Indian nation under this false assumption is massive foolishness.
  5. The overbearing and screaming critics of the ideas of nation and nationalism are deriding the massive section of population, undermining the binding force for the democratic nation and spreading disaffection for the nation and state. While at the same time reaping all the benefits of these very ideals; they are actually being irresponsible and selfish free riders.

This SC order seems to be a legal reaction to this kind of irresponsible, loud and overbearing criticism. This kind of criticism is made possible by some theories of nationalism built on false assumption of necessity of repression and aggression in nationalism. This also provided such people an opportunity to pretend to be the champions of the repressed, and therefore take the moral high ground. Many people lose no opportunity of earning credentials of being revolutionary simply by showing deviant behaviour. For example in on public function when the national anthem was sang at the conclusion a supposed to be revolutionary intellectual remained seated. That person was clearly seeking attention in a very childish way. This act did not constitute a critique, did not constitute any resistance, it was simply an act of trying to show “who one is”.

However, the SC order itself raises very serious and disturbing questions. The order assumes that the above mentioned legal diktats will “instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism”. The court thinks that the Article 51A(a) of the constitution makes it “clear as crystal that it is the sacred obligation of every citizen to abide by the ideals engrafted in the Constitution. And one such ideal is to show respect for the National Anthem and the National Flag.” Then goes on “[B]e it stated, a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem which is the symbol of the Constitutional Patriotism and inherent national quality. It does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible.”

Most of the objectives of the order may be laudable, but one wonders whether patriotism can be instilled by legal orders. Yes, legal orders may ensure external behaviour as per stated norms, in other words can ensure a “show” of patriotism. But patriotism and love and respect for the nation is much more than just an outward show of it. It is a sentiment, a disposition, a commitment which comes about from one’s internal intellectual and emotional processes; from shared experiences and public feelings. This commitment cannot be enforced, this cannot be based on any “sacred” ideas with legal force. That respect and love has to come from a rational understanding and emotional bonding with the people living in the nation, the citizenry. If some loud people are building their intellectual fortunes on the basis of pitting one section of the population against other, are incapable of imagining common public good and ways to achieve that without attacking the very foundations of the nation; they cannot be made ineffective by legal action.

Their genuine concerns have to be addressed and their misguided attacks have to be intellectually countered. This is not an issue of defeating them, this is an issue of convincing them of more meaningful ways of critiquing the ills our democracy has and showing them the necessity of respect to some fundamental ideals as well as large sections of population who disagree with them. This is a project of freeing them of their own bigotry.

This requires a more balanced debate and rejection of the factionalist nationalism of the sangh-parivad as well. The saner people have to groups to deal with: the sanghi-bigots as well as the all-knowing so-called left liberals. Two wrongs in the national arena cannot be righted by a legal order.