August 14, 2022

Can Argumentative Indians Survive?

M A Baby

IN his famous book, The Argumentative Indian, Prof Amartya Sen traces the most distinguishing characteristic of the people of India, a desire for engaging in arguments, whatever the subject matter. Prof Sen delves deep into the Buddhist tradition and other historical sources to prove his point.  Today, a spine-chilling question stares at us when we are about to complete the first quarter of the 21st century and the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from the British colonial yoke. How long can Amartya’s argumentative Indian enjoy the freedom to be argumentative? 

Teesta Setalvad, a renowned lawyer and champion of human rights and civil liberties and a courageous fighter against communalism and R B Sreekumar, a distinguished IPS officer (Retd) are languishing in jail for having taken up the cause of the victims of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.   Their only ‘crime’ was that they knocked on the doors of the judiciary by exercising their constitutional right to approach the courts with any of their grievances. But strangely enough, the Supreme Court failed to offer them any succour. Instead, the highest court of India made certain unusual and unjustifiable observations against the petitioners in the judgment which emboldened the vengeful instruments of the executive to arrest them, deny them bail and put them behind bars.

The obstinate refusal of the powers-that-be to appreciate the democratic rights of dissent and argument is an insult to the constitution of India.  This is a political and cultural issue at the same time. Multipronged and meticulous plans have been hatched for the establishment of a majoritarian communal Brahmanical Hindu Rashtra. The entire project is theorised as a move towards establishing “cultural nationalism”. This euphemism is coined by the RSS to camouflage its real objective which is to establish a non-secular, fascistic, theocratic state, which cuts at the roots of the modern concept of the inclusive, syncretic and democratic nation state. 

The RSS idealogue, M S Golwalkar (1906-1979), wrote the following: “To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races, the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here.  Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into a united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.” (We, or Our Nationhood Defined, Page 43)

Needless to say, Golwalkar’s interpretation of the concept of culture as well as the nation is antithetical to the cherished values of our constitution. One should not miss the three words in the first sentence – purity, nation and culture.  It is clear that the term `cultural nationalism’ was coined after the Nazi experiment in Germany. 

During the BJP regime, guided and controlled by the RSS, the focus is on interfering with the cultural sphere to reshape it based on the RSS ideology of Hindu rashtra.  Apart from distorting history and communalising school and university education, their calculated interference with various academic and cultural institutions and organisations with autonomous tradition and status are well-documented.

Due to the very rich democratic traditions of Indian society, there were and there still are many scholars, intellectuals, artists, writers and cultural activists who dare to stand up and express their dissent in unequivocal terms. Various extremist and violent outfits of RSS with misleading names of various senas have been let loose against those who dare to argue and dissent.  In these dastardly acts, the country has lost many outstanding sons and daughters – Dr M M Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, Gauri Lankesh, and Stan Swami, to name a few. It is worth recalling the bold decision of Nayantara Sahgal, Satchidanandan, Uday Prakash, Chaman Lal and Rahman Abbas and many others to return the Academy awards in 2015, or to openly criticise the growing culture of violence and killings on communal lines.

An obnoxious form of State terrorism manifested under the present dispensation is fabricating evidence using modern technology to incarcerate renowned intellectuals and human rights activists who refuse to fall in line with the Sangh Parivar.  Dr Anand Teltumde, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao and others accused in the Bhima Koregaon case are languishing in jails under UAPA and other similar pernicious Acts.  Mohammed Zubair of Alt News, who has made a remarkable contribution in exposing fake news, propagated by Sangh Parivar and their lackeys was charge-sheeted on a fake allegation. He was arrested and put in jail. It was the Supreme Court which finally granted him bail. 

Spine-chilling instruments of torture like mob lynching, targeted killings, the threat of prosecution, imprisonment etc are being used for political mobilisation on socially-engineered majoritarian lines. Along with this, systematic orchestration against minority communities is being planned and executed for the same purpose.  The earlier quote from Golwalkar explicitly argues that what Nazis did in Germany is “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”.  The actions and campaigns of Sangh Parivar prove that Golwalkar’s ideas are implemented in letter and spirit. 

On December 16-18, 2021, the Sangh Parivar organised a dharma sansad (religious parliament) in Haridwar. Yogis and yoginis wearing saffron clothes concluded their very long speeches with a public call to take arms and annihilate the minorities who are the main obstacle to the establishment of the Hindu rashtra.  None of the speakers was arrested or prosecuted, though they spoke against the constitution and law of the land.  Neither prime minister nor the home minister condemned it or disassociated themselves from the calls for violent intervention to achieve their goal.  Both of them did not condemn or disassociate themselves from the dharma sansad because what was spoken there was something dearer to their hearts. The founder and president of Genocide Watch, Prof Gregory Stanton’s prediction is spine-chilling. What he predicted was that the trends, signs and events point toward the possibility of genocide against minorities in India sooner than later.  I wish and hope that Prof Stanton would be proved wrong. 

Those who are committed to the constitutional values of democracy, right to dissent, rule of law and secularism should seriously work together on a broad platform to try and prevent the drifting of our society on dangerous lines. In India today, there is a growing trend of the majoritarian communal narrative influencing large sections of society as “common sense”. For this, the Sangh Parivar uses hydra-headed organisations, technology and cultural tools. Members of various Sangh Parivar organisations through their activities as well as their direct contact with people, including visits to workplaces and places of dwelling, constantly communicate with people at large. For this, they have penetrated residential associations and temple committees.

The RSS uses social media effectively to manufacture consent in favour of their nefarious agenda.  There are 265 million YouTube users and 329 million Facebook users and 459 million WhatsApp users in our country.  The systematic penetration of Sangh Parivar in these is almost unbelievable. The cyber volunteers of RSS come out with specious arguments against facts, as soon as someone tries to expose them and their agenda in social media!

Apart from using Doordarshan, All India Radio and most of the print and electronic media by operating their carrot and stick policy, other cultural products such as books, theatre, songs and films (for example, Uri, The Surgical Strike, Kashmir Files, Calcutta Killings etc) are also effectively made use of by the BJP. The Kashmir Files is a classic example of the use of art to promote the divisive hate agenda of the BJP in Kashmir.

This entire project of communalisation of society to establish a Hindu rashtra is also aimed at protecting the interest of monopoly houses and finance capital.  The aim is a Hindu rashtra with Brahmanical domination protecting the financial interests of Indian and foreign capital. That is why Indian ruling classes are supporting majoritarian communalism and communalists protecting the interests of Indian and foreign capital.

How do we save the secular democratic and egalitarian values enshrined in the Indian constitution, the outcome of the freedom struggle, participated by workers, peasants and toiling masses?  The Left and democratic forces have to regroup themselves and work in constant touch with the masses by taking up socio-political, economic and cultural issues close to their life.  This is a very tedious task.  However, we have the experience of fighting the mighty British imperialism. We know how imperialist Britain boasted then:  The Sun never sets in the British Empire. We have to learn lessons from the hapless workers, peasants and jobless people who fought against and overthrew such a powerful imperialist force. 

The sacrifice of innumerable unknown martyrs and the heroic sacrifices of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, on the one hand, and the broad nationalist movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, on the other, and Communist-led uprisings of Telangana, Punnapra-Vayalar, Tebhaga, Surma Valley, Warli, INA, RIN etc– all galvanised into a mighty force and compelled the Britishers to surrender and arrive at a hasty settlement. Such sagas of glorious struggles give us confidence that the toiling masses, including workers, peasants, women, youth, students, dalits and adivasis, once made conscious and organised, can turn into an invincible force. 

In making people conscious of the challenging situation, dedicated work in the cultural sphere has to make important contributions. The Party Central Committee has adopted a document regarding the tasks on the cultural front.  After having analysed the trends in the Indian cultural scenario, immediate practical responsibilities in the cultural front work have been enlisted in the following manner:

To resist all forms of intolerance whether in the name of cultural nationalism as advocated by communal forces, in the name of ‘religious emotion’ or the name of ‘caste superiority’; to recognise and encourage linguistic, ethnic, and regional diversity in the cultural practices of the people, to promote better communication and understanding among such diverse practitioners and to stand up for thinkers and artists under attack for representing these diverse traditions, special attention needs to be devoted.

Obscurantism, bigotry, superstition and irrationality are to be exposed.  Similarly, we need to defend the system of public education as well as the autonomy of scientific, scholarly and cultural institutions; to oppose attacks on centres of higher learning and research. We must stand up and expose the widespread exploitation of people’s sufferings, their deep need for emotional succour and for faith by ‘religious’ institutions and ‘spiritual’ leaders of different denominations who use religion like big business, propagating irrationality and superstition, sowing seeds of divisiveness and communalism among their followers.

Communal and extremist organisations are active in many places of worship. The activities associated with festivals there are dominated by communal divisive propaganda aim at misleading the people. Efforts should be made to prevent this to the extent possible through the intervention of our activists depending on the concrete situation prevailing in each place.

There is a very large segment among those who practice religion while being non-communal.  Sangh Parivar tries to convert them too into communal extremism.  Our protracted move, therefore, is to save them from communal poison.  In other words, the fight against all forms of communalism has to be by mobilising all sections of non-communal and religious-minded people also. Some progressive sections, at times, are not very clear about this distinction.

Systematic, planned efforts are needed to re-appropriate spaces within the world of technologically advanced print and audio-visual media for the people who are being deprived of the benefits of such advances because of the stranglehold of corporate capital over electronic media. This is leading to the domination of mindless advertisements strung together by trivialised news, nasty and superfluous reality shows and retrograde, patriarchal and misogynist serials and other electronic products. Online publications, social media, documentary films, community radio, etc, are some of how such technology can be used to reclaim some space that would be of more relevance to the people; those who have expertise in these areas need to be encouraged and motivated in this direction in a planned and systematic manner.

We need to stand up to protect children, students and youth so that they may have opportunities to develop their independent creative faculties; to ensure that their aspirations are not swallowed up by the ruthlessly competitive consumerist values of the times or by the cult of hatred and mutual destruction; their educational rights and their rights to the most advanced knowledge have to be asserted; there have to be many-sided efforts to put them in touch with our best intellectual and creative traditions both within and outside educational institutions.

We live in a world where various extremist, sectarian and terrorist outfits and ideologies are gaining ground and engaging in violent activities. This is being misused to move towards greater forms of authoritarianism by governments across the globe. Wherever possible, special powers are also being usurped by the State. In many cases, common people are persuaded or forced to support such measures in the name of national security. We stand in defence of civil liberties, and democratic and human rights wherever they are infringed upon by the authoritarian State; we oppose the draconian laws that give the State unbridled power and freedom to suppress dissenting views.

In 1989, the inimitable Malayalam writer, late Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (1908-1994), made a thought-provoking observation in a meeting of freedom fighters. After having narrated the dastardly assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, he said: “The poisonous wind that came out of the pistol of Godse is spreading in India today. Truth, justice, dharma, love, mercy – these have not been erased. Flowers of goodness are still blossoming here. However, they are withering due to the poisonous wind”.  Being a genius, Basheer was able to foresee the plight of our country a decade ahead.

The task of the Left democratic and progressive movement to constantly work among the masses, establish living contact with people by personally meeting them and also use modern scientific facilities of communication is the fundamental step.  Similarly, rigorous efforts to build the widest possible platform to develop a mighty popular movement for democracy, secularism, social progress and equity are important, if we are to succeed in our goal to expose and isolate the Sangh Parivar’s domination over our polity.