The Democracy Flu
Breaches in the Bastions
Delicious democracy is loosed upon India.
(With apologies to W.B.Yeats for the distorted third line.)
Ah, how often in human history have bastions of one kind or another sought to thwart the march of the rational, always without success.
Recall that after the leveling tendencies of the Reform Bill of 1832, and the ominous mass assertions that accompanied that zeitgeist, some famous Oxford dons got together to demand that English Christianity return to its Roman roots.
Ostensibly directed against liberalizing movements in theology, Newmanism and Puseyism were at bottom terrified responses to those mass democratic assertions for full realizations of the principle of equality.
The mutely stated assumption was that the Protestant Reformation had broken the embankments of the infallibly centralized authority of the Pontiff, and thereby let loose the demons of anarchy. Thus their call (1933-1845) to reintroduce medieval liturgies into Church doctrine, and to return to Rome. Which Newman did in 1845.
History, nonetheless, carried on, consigning the Tractarians and their many Tracts to a residual past that could have no future.
Same with the Arnoldian prescription that only the classical “best” ( “Culture,” he called it) could salvage the depredations wrought by undeserving little men seeking parity with the elect. Thankfully, over the last century and a half, Culture has been inundated by cultures, and men and women everywhere in the world express themselves severally, freed from the diktats of self-appointed elites.
That magnificently democratizing Russian genius, Mikhail Bakhtin (who, among other things, coined the term “dialogy”), writing in not so democratic, Stalinist times, conceived of authoritarian historical milieus as “monologic” eras, when only a single, centralized voice holds sway, be it in politics or in culture, or in the novels of Tolstoy.
But only so long as other voices have not gathered enough force to breach that sway.
And when those times arrive—times always in the making, however suppressed—the “heteroglossia” of new urges breaks the authoritarian barricades, and delicious “polyphony” spreads into nooks and crevices, and then on to the mainstreets of history. Then it is that the closed circuits of philosophical, literary, cultural forms come apart, yielding to new forms of knowing, living, and relating. The “timeless” authority of the “classics” crumbles, and the fecund outpouring of ordinary human prose assumes the realities and requirements of the contemporary world.
Suddenly, what had seemed “forever” becomes a dysfunctional part of the archaeology of knowledge, and highpriests of this and that find refuge in the coves and grottos of myth and mystery.
Such is the delicious polyphony that now assails two of India’s hitherto godlike institutions—the Judiciary and the RSS (mentor and manipulator of India,s second largest political formation, the Bhartiya Janata Party).
Who doesn’t know that the Judiciary must always remain above and beyond suspicion.
Yet, alas, many instances have recently suggested that there may be one thing more puissant than the Lordships on the bench, namely, the lure of Commodity.
Calls have thus gone up, led heroically by a voluntary organization of democrats whose chief mover and architect is a frail-looking but steely advocate, Prashant Bhushan (truly a catalyst of India’s future Judicial history), and one that includes some erstwhile judges of the highest court, that a small step forward to curb the lure of commodity might be to oblige judges, like the politicians, to make a public declaration of their assets.
But, no, says the voice from the monologic pulpit; such declarations, the voice says, would bring unnecessary harassment to the Lordships on behalf of deranged and ill-motivated litigants/citizens, rendering them incapacitated, and compromising their independence.
Yet, lo and behold, so forceful can the rational be that a polyphony of judicial voices now rise to contradict the pulpit. Following Bakhtin, they say no single pulpit can have the right to represent all judicial voices. And some have indeed gone on to declare their assets as well.
Others point out that the Right to Information Law cannot make an exemption of those who administer the law, and that only those judges fear declaration who have anything to hide. All the more reason that their assets be known, including any mis-statements thereof, so that the fair ends of justice are protected.
A Protestant Reformation is thus underway among the Lordships, and it hardly seems that any demand for a return to Rome is likely to win the day either.
Born some eighty years ago with the purpose of centralizing the then Indian freedom movement towards a monologic Hindu state wherein but one cultural voice alone would be permitted to be representative of the world’s MOST diverse polity, it has sought to spawn political fronts through the decades into which it inducts its disciplined swayamsevaks (voluntary workers).
Thus within the current day BJP (estbl., 1980, superceding the erstwhile Jana Sangh) a whole bevy of fifth-column RSS workers occupies leading space.
The unvaryingly grounding mythology of the RSS/BJP has been that Jinnah was the lone communalist during the freedom movement, and that Jinnah was alone and singularly responsible for the partition of India in 1947 along communal lines.
On another axis of mythmaking, having had no role in the fight for freedom from colonial rule, it has sought to fill that massive hollow in its “nationalist” pretensions by appropriating that life-long Congressman, Sardar Patel, for its own man. All because Patel, ostensibly, was sympathetic to the Hindu cause (although they will not say so), and played a stellar role in uniting the Princely states with the Provinces.
Alas, the facts of Patel’s career bely this myth everywhere. Never more so than in his bold decision to ban the RSS after the murder of Gandhi at the hands of Hindu fanatics.
The RSS, whose man Gandhi’s murderer was (all according to no less than the recorded account of Godse’s own brother, a co-conspirator, recently released from jail), propagates that Patel affected the ban on Nehru’s say-so. Alas, again not true, not true.
Consider what Patel then wrote to two scions of the RSS, Shyama Prasad Mukerjee and Guru Gowalker.
“As regards the RSS and the Hindu Maha Sabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is subjudice, and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organizations, but the reports do confirm that as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. . . .The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the government and the state. . . .Indeed, as time marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.”
“The RSS did service to the Hindu Society” but the “objectionable part arose when they. . .began attacking Mussalmans.”
“All their speeches were full of communal poison. . . .As a result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji. . . .Infact, opposition (to the RSS) grew. . .when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.”
A staunch secularist and Congressman to the end, the RSS would have been as inimical to him as cheese to chalk.
Yet a founding member of the BJP, Jaswant Singh, has now been summarily expelled from the party overnight, without as much as the courtesy of a show-cause notice, and without anyone really having read the book he has written, ostensibly for having reinterpreted Jinnah and bad-mouthed Patel.
With each passing day news now arrives of someone or other of the BJP leaders jumping the boat, the erstwhile adviser of Advani, Sudheender Kulkarni being the last one, shortly it seems to be followed by the cunningly redoubtable Arun Shourie.
The fact of the matter is that after the two successive electoral defeats of 2004 and 2009, the fascistic BJP has been unable to sustain the loss of state power. If Vajpayee held it together, he was largely able to do so because the BJP was the leading party in the government through 1998-2004.
With him gone into obsolescence, what had seemed impregnable turns out now to be humiliatingly cacophonous and deranged.
And no matter what the monologic RSS does to stem the rot, the rot multiplies.
Those that abandon boat proffer the most unlikely reasons for doing so. Kulkarni pleads ideological differences, believing that the BJP can survive and thrive only if learns to be all-inclusive (to wit, accepting of Muslims) and liberal.
Yet the same Kulkarni never as much squeaked a protest when Muslims were massacred in Gujarat (2002), or more recently, when during the campaign of 2009, Varun Gandhi volunteered to cut off Muslim hands were they raised against Hindus.
Arun Shourie, who made the most scurrilously illiberal attack on Ambedkar in one of his books, shouts with Mao that the BJP can be redeemed only if the Headquarters are bombarded, all top leaders dumped and recruits inducted from the mufassil.
Ridiculing the current BJP president, Rajnath Singh, by name (a known RSS appointee) as a mere “Alice in Blunderland” and a “Humpty Dumpty” to boot, he is canny enough to proclaim that the same RSS should now openly take over the BJP. Even as he also opposes the ouster of the Rajasthan BJP chief, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, whom the RSS wants out.
Why this seemingly and maddeningly nonsensical heteroglossia within the BJP?
For the reason that the RSS brand of religious/racial citizenship and nationalism no longer has many buyers among India’s new, upwardly-mobile classes.
And those that would wish to break away from the RSS know that all the BJP’s cadres really come from it.
Yet, after the loss of state power, and the continuing reluctance to revisit decisively the formative axes of its ideological being—contradicting tomorrow what it says today on any subject of consequence—the BJP seems now overwhelmed by the contradiction between its regressive umbilical attachment to the pulpit in Nagpur and its desire to be designated the party of the futurist free-marketeers.
It will thus remain to be seen where the Protestant Reformation within the Sangh Parivar leads its fortunes. The point, though, is that the force of history today renders cacophonously polyphonous what was deemed a hermetically centred political formation. All to the good, we say, of the further evolution of Indian democracy.
Sinking as it seems into a free fall, the BJP’s descent into chaos unnerves two powerful influences within Indian political life—a reason why India’s electronic channels seem to want to devote all their time and energy to working out its problems.
Sections of the Indian bourgeoisie are truly terrified at the thought that with the disappearance of the BJP some other political formation, even more left to the mildly but problematically Left-of-Centre Congress may come to take its place.
Were this to happen the space of the right-wing privatisers in collaboration with just that sufficiently distracting modicum of religiosity—distracting, that is, from the return of the labouring classes to any classical Left-wing orientation—would be grievously lost.
A day might come when indeed the appellation “socialist” that sits in the text of the Pre-Amble of the Constitution of India becomes something more than a dead gesture to “we the people.”
It is to be expected, therefore, that the RSS and this section of the bourgeoisie will leave no stone unturned to revive the fortunes of the BJP.
The trouble is that the two must then have to come to some modus vivendi as to how the BJP must in the years to come play out Hindutva while devoting itself fully to enhancing the fortunes of the urban rich, a formula that may find sufficient general acceptance to return the BJP to power.
This modus vivendi will necessarily have to be short of either the RSS giving up its stated goal of reworking citizenship and nationhood, and of the bourgeoisie jettisoning its modernist devotion to technology and profiteering, with all the concomitant transformations in the world of “values.”
But the pulpits shake, and heteroglossia wins the day.