People’s Democracy and their trust in Opposition | Mohammad Sajjad

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Note: This is unabridged version of the Rediff Column of the author published on May 26, 2017. 

From the perspective of a deeply concerned citizen, it seems, the Indian democracy is passing through its worst phase. This became much more evident with what happened on 18 May 2017 in rural Jharkhand, few kilometres away from the steel city of Jamshedpur. As per the news-reports, in two different villages, just on absolutely baseless rumours, not only four Muslims, but also two Dalits, were barbarically lynched allegedly by a tribal mob. There are few other instances of such killings in other villages of the locality. Yet, the degree of the outrage in terms of articulation from the civil society is woefully inadequate. People seem to have either gone mute, or got used to such ghastly killings, which is increasingly becoming order of the day, across the country. Is it indeed a ‘New Normal’?

Institutional paralysis has touched such a nadir that the judiciary does take up PIL cases suo moto on the issues of bad roads, bad municipal system, and environmental issues, but series of ‘spectacular’ lynching skips the judicial attention, nor does the civil society has taken such issues to the law court.

Neither the oppositional politics nor the intelligentsia (including most of the media, substantial section of which has already been kowtowing before the establishment) talk any more of breakdown of constitutional machinery in the BJP governed Jharkhand. Nobody talked of imposing President’s Rule. No political party came out on the streets with its support base. No opinion writer of liberal secular persuasion asked the non-BJP political formations to take its support-base out on the streets to protest (against the brutality) through mass demonstration. Not only the power-seeking politicians, but also the liberal secular intelligentsia, are desperately waiting to stitch together a broad alliance which could dislodge the BJP from power in 2019. Within the confines of luxurious hotels, the talks of coalitions and alliances are taking place, only for the elections to be held after two years from now. At the moment, none are prepared to come out of the comfort zones and take to the streets. Little do they realise that mere unity from top can no longer befool the masses, just in the name of secularism and social justice. In fact, such moves of “opportunistic unity at top” would create a counter-mobilization with greater vengeance in favour of the BJP.

Mayawati did not come out on the streets even though thousands of Dalits are coming out against the atrocity against them in Saharanpur. Nor did the recently ‘dislodged’ chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav join this protest demonstration from Saharanpur to Delhi, even while stating his willingness to align with Mayawati. The leaders will bargain coalitions for power but they won’t make their core/captive support base to join together in the demonstrations on the streets. In November 2015, after the Mahagathbandhan won and formed its government in Bihar, the darling of secularists, Lalu Yadav boasted of camping in Banaras to launch a mass mobilization against the un-kept promises of Narendra Modi. But he is busy in affirming the power-base of his two sons inside the coalition in Patna. At least in order to pre-empt any attempt at dislodging his son, with utmost alacrity, he has scheduled a rally on 27 May at Patna. His captive support-base refuses to ask him some pertinent questions. Why? It will strengthen Hindutva, they say. In self-deception, they have been saying so, for the last many years. They are ignoring the fact that by not asking such questions, they have actually created a vacuum, which has come to be filled in eventually by the Hindutva.

With all their palpable single caste and single dynasty perpetuation in power, the likes of Lalu, Mulayam, Mayawati stand extremely discredited today. Yet, they doggedly refuse to learn any lesson. No traditional “secular” political formation is prepared to accommodate the rising aspirations of the lower OBCs and lower Dalits. These left-out groups have been lured by the saffron forces. Today, these traditional “secular” forces are neither willing to, nor capable of, re-scripting the grammar of the politics. Today, even the intelligentsia has become palpably partisan. They can shout at the loudest of their voices against the omissions and commissions of the saffron establishments but they would choose to become little less shrill and less strident when they are needed to speak against the non- saffron forces. While the Sangh Parivar is covertly and overtly extending its support to the lynch mobs, the liberals did not, and do not, speak as strongly, say for instance, against the Akhilesh regime whose police in Dadri, Muzaffarnagar, and elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh, did not for the constitution.

For the common citizens, even more worrisome, in fact alarming, is the reality that even the liberal-secular intelligentsia is not speaking against this kind of politics which is scheming to re-grab power through opportunistically self-serving coalitions/permutations negotiated in luxurious hotels. These discredited politicians refuse to come out on the streets, with their respective support-base, which would go on to mount an effective pressure on, and corrective to, the ruling establishment drunk in the power, arrogance, wilful inaction, and pathological hatred too, notwithstanding the hollow rhetoric of ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’. If frequent lynching and similar atrocities across the country cannot make the opposition come out on the streets, then what else can really move them? Unemployment has gone its highest ever, Railway services are at the worst, yet the charges are rising, bank transactions have been made much exacting, rural distress has accentuated further, agricultural growth rate is at its lowest ever (1.7%) .

To mobilise people against all these, new language, new slogan, new tactics, new face of leaders, in politics, remains hopelessly elusive. People are not prepared to trust the existing opposition who have been cheating them since long. In the name of secularism and social justice they have perpetuated their dynasty.

It is this paralysis, of the oppositional politics, and of the intelligentsia, which needs to be diagnosed. Never before did the Indian oppositional politics and the intelligentsia witness such a pathetic crisis of credibility.

Both, society as well as polity, in India seems to have got reduced to a bizarre binary, as if no third space really exists any more. On the social sites, it seems, India has got only two colours: saffron, and non-saffron. Polychromatic India appears to becoming elusive, and as if those not subscribing to saffron political ideology, are nothing but an unpatriotic bunch. One rarely finds someone who can simultaneously talk against the scams on all sides of politics, say for instance, Fodder, Vyapam, and various such scams. One set would say, speaking against fodder will strengthen Hindutva, another side argues, speaking against lynching and Vyapam will bring back the regressive dynasties. Forget about the ruling elites on both sides of the political divide, even the common citizens on social sites become partisan, and fall prey to the carefully constructed bipolarity of politics. They will feign shameless ignorance about the crime and corruption on one side, while speaking out loudly against the same on another side of the political divide. They will invoke ‘jungle raj’ of one regime but will look away from similar or even more palpable failure of the constitutional machineries under another regime.

If the supporters of the Lalu-Rabri regime were not as much shaken by the massacres against the Dalits, and the daily killings in vehicle-snatching and kidnapping for ransom, the saffron supporters are hardly outraged against the lynch mobs. Both enjoy(ed) impunity in the respective regimes. Yesterday, Lalu-Rabri was dismissing the charges of kidnappings, killings, vehicle-snatching, lawlessness and corruption, as Brahmanical and saffron conspiracy, today the saffron forces dismiss all such charges by saying that this could all be a conspiracy of the ‘sickularists’, of those who ‘appeased’ the minorities. Yesterday, Lalu sold out his subalterneity as a bhains-wala (buffalo-rearer), today Narendra Modi is able to sell out his subalterneity as a chai-wala (tea-seller).

While drawing this parallel, one runs the risk of being condemned for having ignored the degrees of the ferocity of the human-sufferings. The fact is, one isn’t ignoring the degrees. Comparisons do carry oddities. But this is how rationalizations have been working on the two sides of the political divide. Killers of various varieties, (be the cow vigilantes and lynch mobs of today, or those in the so called ‘Muslim friendly’ regimes of Lalu, Akhilesh and their predecessors) always enjoyed impunity. Yet, they managed to keep getting votes of the victims en masse, en bloc.

Similarly, in the late 1990s, the BJP shouted against Lalu’s man, Taslimuddin, having been made Union Minister of Home despite his criminal antecedents. In 2017, the BJP has brought a chief minister who has similar or even more heinous charges of violence. Equally sad is the fact that the SP and BSP regimes of the past have remained as soft on the case, as the BJP would now remain, understandably.

I often repeat, one of the biggest failures of the Indian democracy has been in the domain of the criminal justice system, where killings done in the name of identity based hatred (against Muslims, Dalits, Tribes, etc.), are most of the times not taken to their logical conclusion. Quite often, even the well meaning people will insist on forgetting and moving on. This is how the killers enjoy impunity and get emboldened further. This is why such killings perpetuate. These acts of “forgiveness” embolden the thuggish hate-merchants and killers. Thus, the accountability of the party in power goes out of question. Identity-based blame games circulate.

In such a bleak scenario, why cannot the intelligentsia (academics and media) help out the republic?

Because, even those universities, hitherto known for their anti-establishment politics and academics, have now been made to face such crisis of credibility in palpably unprecedented manner! In the 1960s and 1970s, when the hegemony of the ruling Congress had to be challenged, sections of motivated students and teachers took to revolutionary path and joined the poor landless labourers of Bihar, West Bengal, and other parts of India. They lived with them, they suffered for them, served jails too. As late as in the 1990s, a student leader of JNU, Chandrashekhar, rather than preferring a cool career of academics in elite universities, chose to fight out the gangster-landlord nexus in Saran, patronised by the state. In this act of revolution, he made the supreme sacrifice of his life. Ironically, the state was then controlled by someone professing his commitment for social justice and secularism.

All these sacrifices and contributions of those selected premier elite educational institutions seem to have gone in vain. Today, some motivated political forces have succeeded in unleashing propaganda, accusing those very institutions and emancipatory ideologies to be unpatriotic, seditious, and whatnot. Today, even most illiterate segments of the remotest hinterlands have been fed with only one thing about those institutions: that they are dens of treason and of sexual chaos. We should not and cannot dismiss it merely by saying that since it is an ‘era of mass stupidity’, hence rumours are replacing truth so successfully. There is certainly more to it that despite so many anti-people economic measures inflicted upon the masses, they are not able to mobilise the people against the pro-corporate and anti-poor incumbent regime. These suffering masses just don’t trust them anymore.

When the things have come to such a pass, one certainly needs to introspect as to why and how did it really happen? How did the oppositional politics and the intelligentsia, both lose their credibility so pathetically? Because, there has certainly developed an unmistakably huge disjunction between the society and the intelligentsia! The tribe of pen-pushers and knowledge-producers have come to be seen as unworthy suckers of public money. Lots of incompetent, dishonest, greedy fellows have occupied the academic spaces. Decadence and decomposition is quite visible. Even the best of our universities are suffering from the worst kind of irregularities. These recruits are now seen as a bunch of self-seekers with un-ending appetite for money and luxury, rather than as selfless servers of the society. This is just one of the many diseases our academies are afflicted with. That this painful scenario is being cynically exploited to the hilt by the saffron establishment at the moment, is another serious question, awaiting informed answer. Though, they rarely subject themselves to self-scrutiny!

Mohammad Sajjad

Mohammad Sajjad

Mohammad Sajjad is a Professor of History at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University. He is the author of ‘Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours’ and ‘Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857’.