While victory brings with it responsibilities and challenges, defeat demands patience and perseverance. Victors have no pressing need to introspect, but the defeated, on the other side, are obliged to ask hard questions and not engage in a pass-the-buck game. If we evade introspection now, then all the energy we put in to carry on, will be to no avail. As trenchant critics of the system of exploitation and oppression, we cannot escape from interrogating and scrutinising dogmas that we carry.
Let us begin with victors first. For some time, the ‘feel-good’ energy generated by a sweeping election victory will last. But some things cannot be artificially kept buoyant with news management and/or news suppression. At this moment, it is not from the electorally marginalised Left-liberals that the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) faces threat from. The threat, if any, will be posed by cow vigilantes and lynch mobs, masquerading as gau sevaks (cow protectors) and self-appointed upholders of morality and purity. Because such groups now feel empowered to carry on with their lawless ways, it will become a major cause for worry for the ruling BJP. Remember, that a law and order issue can graduate to become a matter of internal security. Simply put, if citizens are not secure at home or in public space, their life and liberty is compromised they do not feel confident about getting justice, how can there be any scope for social peace. If the victorious party encourages an exclusionary approach towards minorities, and/or clamps down on dissent, it may ensure their electoral victory, but the country would be a loser. For a simple reason that people’s energies will be frittered away in mediating conflicts, instead of getting invested in socially productive labour.
The victors, by and large, do not feel the need to examine themselves, but re-election behoves that they examine where things went wrong in the previous five years lest they repeat and take the same to new heights.
In his victory speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck all the right chords and spoke of development and uplift of the poor as the main task of his government, with an assurance to take everyone along. For the government to get on with the task of development, ensuring social peace is of utmost importance. If real issues are to be addressed, the country cannot afford to get embroiled in politics that espouse taking revenge for 1,200 years of slavery.
As things stand today, we cannot shrug away the worsening state of law and order wherein the credibility of police and administration has suffered because of their biased and/or prejudicial conduct. The terror unleashed by lynchings and attacks by vigilantes as well as the lack of any remorse and compassion for the victims became the signature tune of the last five years. This, together with data suppression to hide the economy’s slowdown, the worsening unemployment problem, acute agrarian distress, water crisis, the issue of land and forest land acquisition, clearly showed that India was on a slippery slope towards regression.
Why is it important to raise concern over this post-election? Because, it is now common to hear people call for Uniform Civil Code (obsessed with Muslim personal law). We rarely stop to ask if India can even claim to have a Uniform Criminal Code. The communal and casteist bias of the administration has been on open display over a long period beginning under Congress and scaled new heights under BJP in the past five years. It is hypocritical to talk about Uniform Civil Code when India is doing away with a Uniform Criminal Code, which espouses protection of law for all and promises equality before law. Had a uniform criminal code been truly enforced in the country and every person reassured that he/she would get justice, there would have been far less reluctance for a Uniform Civil Code. In the absence of a Common Criminal Code, to raise the issue of a Common Civil Code would be akin to victors imposing their preference to institutionalise discrimination.
So, will the National Democratic Alliance-III government, with even a greater electoral victory under its belt, be any different? For instance, in 2014, the Modi-led NDA-II pushed for replacing the United Progressive Alliance’s Land Acquisition Act of 2013, by trying to restore British era Land Acquisition Act. Meeting resistance, they pushed the envelope to states to introduce changes in law and the BJP managed to get around the Opposition. But the issue remained contentious throughout NDA-II. What will happen now? Will the NDA-III regime withdraw the draft Forest Act that takes away from forest dwellers their constitutional right to self-governance and threatens to bring back the dreaded forest bureaucracy of colonial vintage?
Indeed, will the NDA-III government opt for regimentation using the cover of national security to suppress views/perspectives unpalatable to the rulers? Ideological parties can become dogmatic and kill the spirit of scientific inquiry, prevent the search for answers and truth, discourage curiosity and inquisitiveness. India’s development will become skewed and hollow if education kills the spirit of inquiry, rational reasoning and search for truth. It’s through battle of ideas, and not suppression of dissidents and views unpalatable to rulers, that a society progresses, introduces correctives and innovates. Take, for example, the issue of economic data. If data generation remains a matter of government massaging figures as it suits them, and the autonomy of the agency tasked with this is crushed, it will not inspire investors to feel confident. The ‘animal spirit’ of capitalism cannot take flight on dubious or contentious data. To speculators, rigged data may not matter, but to large long-term investors, it matters a great deal.
Expressing hope may appear foolhardy when electronic and print media have fallen in line, academia now faces ideological streamlining and the terms of debate are heavily loaded in favour of illiberalism. What this means is that there is real threat of stagnation and mediocrity become the policy norm. The zeal to change history books, deprive social sciences of critical thought, promotion of hate-mongering and demanding acquiescence are all measures that are guaranteed to keep us chained.
But can the defeated do anything? Can we hold on to our beliefs without any question? Can we even appear credible if we remain mired in our dogmas, refusing to admit our mistakes?
It is not that we have to give up believing in what is dear to us. But having been electorally defeated, far more is demanded from us today than ever before. Let me illustrate this. Take the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The problem did not begin in 2014, but decades ago. However, it certainly went back to becoming worse in the past five years. Are we to pretend that all that matters is to crush the armed militancy and the so- called “proxy war” will come to an end and Pakistan’s attempt to snatch Kashmir will get defeated?
If 70 years after J&K was merged with India, we are still harping about Pakistan’s machinations, then it speaks more for the Indian government’s failure to win over the people despite a head-start, rather than Pakistan’s complicity in fomenting violence. If despite curbing constitutional freedoms, normal political activity, decline in economic activities, central rule with no accountability, and a couple of hundred local militants can still keep at bay a huge armed force carrying out operations, then it shows that the policy of military suppression was wrong. Because, each time militancy was brought down, it was not followed by any sincere political initiative.
Therefore, to argue now that all that J&K requires is to be fully merged in India by discarding constitutional autonomy, then this means fuelling conflict, not solving it. A weary, battered population may not be able to make its voice heard, with a possibility that such a course could give a fillip to militancy. If policymakers, knowing that this could happen, persist with this approach, then it means that they want to prolong military suppression.
Consider the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the issue of legal immunity for government forces, and denial of justice to victims of government forces atrocities. Much of our energy was focussed on repeal of AFSPA. However, there was no clarity on where we stood on the issue of wars at home. Somehow it was considered alright to send troops for decades together to suppress our own people, (these were treated as birth pangs of a “nation-in-making”), and also rule out political initiatives, as long as human rights violations were “managed” better. This, when it is common sense that conflicts erupt and are prolonged when governments reject a political solution.
Perhaps, we need to begin talking about bringing wars at home to an end. Behind each war at home there is a historical context of why a demand first emerged, gained ground, why some people took to arms, and how militancy turned virulent and vicious. If we look at the origin of the conflict, then it enables us to argue for bringing the wars to an end through political resolution. So long as wars are fought at home, the Army cannot and will not give up AFSPA. So, if the Army, our primary force to meet external threats, is to be saved from prolonged deployment, which is a costly distraction, then instead of asking for repeal of AFSPA, we perhaps need to ask for end to wars at home. Bringing wars to an end will remove the Army from long drawn out operations at home, which is degrading and grossly unfair to their morale.
So, we who oppose Hindutva, cannot run away from facing criticism, ridicule or escape from attempts to silence us. However, we know too well that despite the strenuous efforts of the government, ideas do not die. If criminalised, they become subterranean. Indeed, the strength of a strong government lies in realising that society’s capacity to influence ideas or temper them, rises leaps and bounds through engagement, rather than incarceration and abuse. It’s when ideas are discussed and debated that they alter, modify, or change. Consequently, only a strong leader heading a strong government has the possibility to become a statesman guided by enlightened self-interest, moving away from dogmas, rigidity and hackneyed thinking, in order to take everyone along. Meanwhile, the electorally vanquished ought to remember the words of poet and singer Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
There is a crack
A crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in...”