Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bonsaing of the Banyan Tree

Mr. Narendra Modi, as the Secular, Socialist and Democratic Republic of India’s PM, you are duty bound to prevent every myopic folly that might destroy India’s political unity. It is time for you to start behaving as the Prime Minister of India rather than BJP’s leading propagandist. This is what the average Indian voter wants. This was why the youth of India reposed faith in you.
Hope you are listening.

AAP 67, BJP 3 and Congress 0! This is one nightmare that the BJP had not anticipated. As for the Indian National Congress, it has been in a self-liquidation mode for quite some time now. Are these results from the Delhi State Assembly elections the sign of another seismic shift in the country’s politics? Obviously, the AAP has done to BJP in Delhi what the BJP had done to the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Consequently, the AAP has confirmed its hold over the Delhi electorate, something that was dismissed as a fluke the last time. This landslide victory may well have a rippling effect on the national politics eventually. However, the AAP will have to deliver, if it really wants to thank the Delhi voter for giving the party a second chance. They have been lucky in that their credibility has not been placed under the scanner despite the best efforts of the BJP and the INC’s exertions. But if they don’t perform, they will not so lucky the next time around.

But, for the moment, let us look at what it means for the two national parties, the Goliaths that have been humbled so thoroughly by a party of “upstarts”. As far as the Indian National Congress is concerned, it looks like that a banyan tree has been “bonsaied” finally. Not so much by the Aam Aadmi Party as through its own sins and blunders. There is a lesson for the BJP in this phenomenon, since it aspires to replace the INC as the national party of the 21st century India.

Founded in 1885, the INC had started off as the WOG’s koi hai club, where armchair intellectuals tut-tutted over minor issues, and occasionally demanded from their British masters – ever so politely – limited democratic reforms. The arrival of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi changed all that. In 1920, he started off with his new political weapon – Satyagraha – that caught the imagination of the nation and bamboozled the Brits. His Quit India Movement eventually confirmed the Congress as the single most effective and popular political entity that could galvanize the nation into a focused struggle for India’s independence through non-violent means, which totally disarmed the mighty colonial power. The movement derived its power, not from any specific political ideology, but from its all-inclusive character. People from different parts of the country, from all walks of life and diverse religions and creeds, and practitioners of contrasting political ideologies, came together with the single most important aim of achieving the independence. The Indian National Congress metamorphosed into a huge banyan tree that could provide space and shade to all comers. 

After India’s independence, the Congress ruled at the centre and a majority of states for twenty years, because of its banyan-tree like character. Today’s generation will find it difficult to believe how different sets of people (often politically at loggerheads) could look upon the party as their own. Even after its split in 1969, despite the splintering, the INC retained its credibility, albeit on a reduced scale, as an all-India party that accommodated diverse ideological and social-economic elements. It was looked upon as irreplaceable under Mrs. Indira Gandhi until the Emergency happened, which eventually resulted in its route at the hustings at the hands of a hodgepodge political combine. Yet, the inherent contradictions in the Janata Party facilitated its return to the power, prompting assorted political pundits to parrot the TINA mantra. What surprises one (in hindsight, of course) that nobody in the party or among its supports from the intellectual classes cared to focus on the creeping infirmities in the party’s structure and functioning. The shedding of inner democracy, the belittling and eventual demolition of political stalwarts at the central and state levels, the rising corruption and the hubris, the deification of the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty and rise of neo-fascism within the party, had started corroding the vitals of the party. Soon, the party was cut off from the common citizen. The culture of feudal arrogance manifested itself, as did that of rampant corruption and brazen rent seeking.

In the post-Rajiv Gandhi era, the Congress Party has been gradually getting bonsaied. There is no leader of substance left. Most of the present lot clings on to the Family as the only lifeline to political survival. Nobody has the guts, or the vision, to suggest reinvention of the party. As a result, the INC today faces the mortification of scoring zero in the Delhi Assembly polls. The party has been well and truly bonsaied indeed. The only way it can rejuvenate itself is to introduce the culture of inner democracy that would eventually throw up leaders from the grassroots. It will take time, but this is the only way. Today’s voter, especially the youth, has nothing but contempt for the traditional netas. Moreover, they are not willing to pay court to the so-called baba log class of politicians, who have inherited their political power from their parents. It is time for the Yuvraj to shed the quasi-feudal trappings and get down to the brass-tacks of everyday politics, work as an ordinary member of the INC and gain popular acceptance. He can no longer cash on the images of his grandmother or great grandfather, as today’s generation is not much enamored of them. It is going to be a bitter, soul-sapping long haul but it is the only way.

There are some lessons for the BJP, too. They should remember that they won the election on the promise of inclusive development, efficient and corruption-free governance and transparency. The youth did not vote for ushering in Hindutva, nor did the middle classes back any agenda for ghar wapisi. While its advent on India’s political firmament has brought about tremendous changes in the political equations within the country, and the country’s equation with the world at large, it should remember that it has to deliver on the promises made. Dubbed as a fringe of India’s political edifice, the BJP’s previous avatar, the Jan Sangh, was not taken seriously as a force in the country’s electoral politics – it was supposed be no more than an anachronism having some nuisance value. But, today, thanks to its perceived reinvention as a modern, development oriented progressive party, it has become a major political player that is showing every sign of not only staying put as a top-dog but also expanding its turf to cover the entire country. But, sadly, alarm bells have begun to ring in the bastions of liberal-secular entities. Every time a sadhu or a sadhvi mouths saffronized shibboleths the leftists, secularists and minorities go through epileptic paroxysms, as the world, especially the western democracies, take more than passing interest in this retrogressive phenomenon. The recent remarks by the US president Barack Obama could be seen in this context. Not that there were no communal riots when the secularist parties were in power. In fact, some of worst bloodbaths took place under the stewardship of the Indian National Congress – notably in Assam, Punjab and Delhi. So, why this alarmist approach to the BJP’s regime, when the communal violence is actually on a declining scale?

The reasons are clear. The BJP makes no bones about its Hindutva DNA. It turns a blind eye to the dangerous antics of fringe groups. And, somehow, just about anybody connected with the Sangh parivar – even remotely – thinks that he or she is the sole arbitrator of all things Hindu. They want to dictate what the common citizens should read, watch, celebrate or even think. This is not going to work. Their ghar wapsi attempt is quite thoughtless, to put it mildly. It is obviously an attempt to homogenize the Indian society. Little do these Hindutva Quixotes & their Sancho Panzas realize that India was always a secular, pluralistic society that had space for even diametrically opposing creeds, concepts and ideologies. It is true that for a civilization to have a distinct identity, it must possess historical and cultural unity. But, somehow, this unity is being mistaken for its modern political sense. They forget that the Indian Civilization is essentially unique in the sense that it has been inherently assimilative. This shows in our daily rituals.

Millennia ago, circa 2000 BC or even before, a highly developed civilization flourished in the Indus Valley. With the coming in of diverse tribes from different parts of the world, many elements of Hinduism that were not present in Vedic civilization were adopted or internalized over centuries. The subsequent rise of Buddhism and Jainism enriched the civilization’s character. Historians point out that, from around 200 BC to circa 500 AD India was invaded by many northern powers. This was a time of great flux, growth and syncretism. Under the Gupta Empire (320 AD to 550 AD), when most of northern India was under a single power, classical Hinduism found its most consistent expression. The sacred laws were codified, the great temples began to be built, and myths and rituals were preserved in the Puranas. In the post-Gupta period, a less rigid and more eclectic form of Hinduism emerged, with more dissident sects and vernacular movements. At this time, too, the great bhakti movements arose throughout the subcontinent. Many of the sects that emerged during the period from 800 to 1800 are still active in India today. Other traditions, based on the teachings of such philosophers as Sankara and Ramanuja, were developed in the context of the six great classical philosophies. Parallel with these complex philosophical investigations, vernacular songs were composed, transmitted orally, and preserved locally throughout India in a form more accessible to the average worshipper. The 16th century witnessed the emergence of a number of Hindi mystic poets, including Kabir, Tulsi Das and Surdas. Later on, the rise of Sikhism added to the civilization’s assimilative character. One can, thus, conclude that these diverse developments helped the Indian civilization to acquire a unique sophistication, which enabled it to come to terms with the ever-increasing diversity and adapt to new social as well as political challenges.

Therefore, it is not surprising it was only in India a Gandhi could boldly and successfully experiment with new political, social and economic ideas. The visionary that he was, Gandhiji understood the value of mutual tolerance and, along with other reformist and like-minded leaders, contributed towards the culture of reconciling traditional Hinduism with the contemporary social reforms and political ideals. Thus, today, India’s political unity is firmly based upon what history has essentially bequeathed to us – tolerance, mutual respect and understanding. It would be suicidal to get rid of these underpinnings, which are indispensable for the existence of a modern, secular and progressive India. India can survive the bonsaing of the banyan tree named Indian National Congress. But, India itself is now a much bigger banyan tree. It is home to every imaginable ethnic, linguistic, political and religious as well as cultural stratum that exists on our planet. This is what Gandhiji wanted to preserve, in which he succeeded substantially if not wholly.

Gandhiji’s socio-political achievement, which is based upon historical inheritance and political sagacity, not to mention cultural vision, should not be undone. Mr. Narendra Modi, as the Secular, Socialist and Democratic Republic of India’s PM, you are duty bound to prevent every myopic folly that might destroy India’s political unity. It is time for you to start behaving as the Prime Minister of India rather than BJP’s leading propagandist. This is what the average Indian voter wants. This was why the youth of India reposed faith in you. 

Hope you are listening.

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