Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ruin or wisdom? The choice is ours


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A mature society brings out its best at election time – the best candidates, the best arguments, the best issues for debate and, usually, the best results. We should pause to ponder why elections bring out the worst in India, from candidates to tactics. Even civilised men turn quarrelsome, irresponsible and inexcusably negative in the mad rush for votes.

Look at the way our netas have been exploiting (a) inflammatory religious provocations and (b) the brazen commercialisation of cricket. For a society that is described as “the largest democracy in the world”, these are life-threatening portends.

Sure, colonial Britain sowed the seeds of communal divisiveness in India. But that was all the more reason why, after the colonial exploiters’ departure, we should have gone out of our way to eliminate the dividing lines. Instead, we solidified and multiplied them. We developed religion as the shortest cut to political profiteering.

A candidate can of course take the position that he would, if elected, uphold the values of this religion or that. But to say that his hand is the hand of lotus that would cut off the heads of Muslims is to grant the right to other zealots to raise their hands to cut off the heads of Hindus and Sikhs and Christians and Buddhists. A state based on the rule of law would immediately take action against such public calls to violence.

Initially, the leaders of the BJP understood the validity of such action. Their instinctive reaction was to “disown and distance themselves” from the demagogue who violated the law so impudently. Later, however, the hardliners swung things their way and began justifying the unjustifiable for the sake of politics. Once again long-term national interests were sacrificed for short-term party gains.

The petty politicians of cricket have been equally damaging. Even by their own standards of putting money above everything else, their display of upside-down priorities has been astonishing this time. They virtually demanded that the security requirements of cricket be placed above those of the elections. When they found this wouldn’t work, they announced a grand “boycott” of India and went overseas.

Nothing better could be expected from a bunch of men who perverted even cricket for commercial gain. But the alacrity with which politicians turned it into an electoral side-game was the true eye-opener here. The Congress party was blamed for its inability to provide security for cricket and thereby damaging India’s reputation in the world. The Congress party can be blamed for dozens of unforgivable sins – from perpetuation of an undemocratic dynastic system to developing corruption to its present monstrous proportions. But it cannot be faulted for refusing to pull out border troops etc. to help BCCI make a few hundred crores more of profit. If the BJP were in power, its government would most likely have done the same. Power imposes on its wielders a logic of responsibility.

Yet we see an otherwise thinking man like Arun Jaitley bemoaning the Government’s incompetence on the security front. Narendra Modi of all people describes cricket going abroad as a national shame. The likes of Bal Thackeray and Praveen Togadia welcome Varun Gandhi as a hero.

The irresponsibility of religious fanatics is what brings shame to our great civilisation. Shame and the threat of disintegration. For states founded on religious hatreds collapse one way or another. This is an old lesson of history and its current exemplars are Pakistan and Israel. Is this the path ahead for India – or the path carved out by the great philosophers who wrote the Upanishads? It’s for us to choose.