The world seems to be moving backwards with the march of time. The incursions of regressive and retrograde forces on the liberal-democratic ethos of our times are more stark and insidious today than ever before.When the Berlin Wall came down in September 1990 or when the former Soviet Union disintegrated, Francis Fukuyama had vainly proclaimed the ‘end of history’ with the battle of ideology having putatively been won by the liberal-democratic forces. But it was around the same time that there were prophets of doom like Samuel Huntington who warned of an impending ‘clash of civilisations’ looming large because of potential clashes along the cultural faultlines. However, the latter was excoriated as the winds of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG) were sweeping the world off its feet. Whoever thought that the tide would soon turn to make Huntington sound prophetic today? If we look around, something appears to be really putrid about the time we live in. The negative attitude in thought and action coupled with sinister developments are revolting. While we should have constructively engaged ourselves with resolving the development problems, the societal discourse seems to have got stuck in a vicious time-warp. The insular and reactionary forces are running amok prescribing gastronomical and cultural norms, both nationally and internationally.
The ascendancy and appeal of chauvinistic forces at the expense of liberalism, as reflected in their swagger on the world ramp, are staggering and somehow reveal the cerebral atrophy of this era. There have been multiple developments in recent times which prove that we, as a society, still have not resolved our existential dilemmas. This often compromises and impinges on the normative narratives which have all along defined and delineated the Indian civilisation.
The same holds true for many nation-states across the world. The seemingly ‘innocuous’ cultural and intellectual excesses of fellow human beings often cross the boundaries to start interfering with the fundamentals of corporate living. Here, an attempt to build a monolithic straitjacketed social order is made by the conversion of the ‘salad bowl’ into a ‘melting pot’ in the garb of ‘Swadeshi’ and ‘Nationalism’. And when this happens, Goebbelian lies and cultural McCarthism become rampant.
A cultural conformism is sought to be imposed through intimidation and violence. The real issues facing the society are put on the backburner and sensationalist emotional subjects overpower hoi-polloi with jingoist fervour and deemed cultural nationalism. Instead of attempting to build a strong, well-knit futuristic society, we have started chasing an anachronistic chimera and creating Frankenstein which may eventually devour this civilisational entity. So, the selfproclaimed cultural custodians, by their diktats and fiats, not only deprive millions of their livelihood but also take off the menu the preferred food of millions by proscribing beef. They do this without realising the economics of the move and by alienating a significant section of our citizenry. In fact, by throwing millions into unemployment, a huge section of the populace gets disaffected and is a sitting duck to the preying revisionist forces.
What one fails to fathom is the limit of such inanity.If beef is banned because the same is taboo in Hinduism or for various benefits it brings to society, what about sundry other non-vegetarian items which are still not banned and the consumption of which might hurt the sensibilities of others. When this country is failing in the task of macro-managing its larger interests, we are trying to micromanage things which are better left to the citizens. The country not only loses billions of dollars because of the measure, but also creates the liability of maintaining the unproductive cattle which have to be cared for and for which we have no adequate resources or fodder available.
The culture vultures, encouraged by a section of powers that be, have found readymade excuses to take the law in their hands because they suspect someone of dealing in or consuming beef, thereby compromising the fundamental right to life and liberty of common citizens as enshrined in our Constitution. The ‘Love Jihad’ and ghar wapsi are other inanities that masquerade as cultural vigilantism. You are no longer allowed to go out or be seen with your girl/boyfriend in certain parts of this country.
It is really ironical that people have serious objections to the public expression of affection, but look the other way in the event of rioting. Be it the ban on books, films, liquor, Pakistani artistes and players, we love the ‘B’ word without realising the irrationality of the same in this world of free information and communication signified by worldwide web.
Sinister attitudes and thoughts that are reflected globally with the rise of Donald Trump, the emergence of entities like the Taliban, Al Qaida and ISIS, the terror attacks in London, Paris, and elsewhere, the killing of liberal writers and scribes, revisionist and irredentist Chinese incursions on neighbouring countries, Grexit, Brexit or ban on Muslims or visa cuts for emigrant workers by the US and Australia.
If we revel in swadeshi and prefer to ‘Make in India’, others would do a reactive tit for our ‘nationalist’ tat. The ‘Quit India’ calls for Sonu Nigam, Shah Rukh Khan, Kanhaiya Kumar, Aamir Khan or Khusbu are reflections of intolerance. People are persecuted for being vocal. As Voltaire rightly said, “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. The opinions expressed may be wrong, but expressions of the same make the truth appear brighter. The threats to the Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Kerala, the ban on late-night parties in Goa, attempts to ban dance bars, face-blackening or throwing shoes at people whom ‘we don’t like’ are some other instances of growing intolerance in the country.What is surprising is that while we have time for attending to such non-issues to reclaim our cultural pride, we find ourselves at our wits end when our soldiers are cursed, abused or manhandled in Kashmir or when they are beheaded by the enemy.
Balkanisation of countries has happened in the past because people have tried to impose one culture or way of life over others. Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo, Indonesia and many other countries are divided simply because they could not value the plural sub-nationalities. If India has so far succeeded in pulling along in one piece, it is simply because our forefathers strove to build the concept of Indian nationhood in a spirit of “consociationalism” ~ a form of democracy which seeks to regulate the sharing of power in a state that comprises diverse societies by allocating these groups collective rights. It is because of our pluralism and multi-culturalism that we have pulled off the impossibility of building a successful model of a diverse society.
Slowly but steadily, we have been progressing from being a statenation, a geographical congregation of princely states in 1947 to a nation-state with a strong liberal democratic tradition and foundation. If we don’t resolve these contradictions soon, we will only be destroying ourselves as did the mythical ‘Bhasmasur’. Whether we survive in one piece as a country will depend on how effectively and swiftly we resolve these existential dilemmas and contradictions.
The writer is Additional Secretary, Dept of Health and Family Welfare, West Bengal. The views expressed are personal and not the Government’s.