By Vijay Darda | 29-02-2016
The last week witnessed turbulent scenes in the parliament. Of course, these took place during the course of debates, and in that sense the situation was much better than the past sessions when the proceedings were washed out due to disturbances. But the emerging scenario was no less disturbing. On the contrary, several of the dimensions revealed in the process have been traumatic to say the least.
A lot of partisan energy, passion and fury has been expended while discussing the issues related to the suicide of the Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and the controversy surrounding the slogan shouting by the students ( and now outsiders too) in the JNU campus. We have heard the views of every side with the government’s stand being aggressively articulated by its ministers-Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh and of course the HRD minister Smriti Irani who has been in the eye of the storm. The leading lights of the opposition Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia in the Lok Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Sitaram Yechury, Mayawati in the Rajya Sabha have all had their say. No one is naïve enough to overlook the political reality that these are not straight forward black and white issues, and every political party has its own mechanism to control campus politics.
But the bedrock of the Indian polity is not party politics or the divisive confrontation of ideologies that come along as its essential baggage. On the contrary, the strength of our democracy and polity rests on the sanctity of the constitutionally guaranteed citizens’ rights that makes them individually and collectively the sovereign rulers of the nation.
It is this power that changes governments every five years, and it was this that brought prime minister Narendra Modi to power riding on the promise of his slogan ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. One can be sure that the millions of ordinary voters who do not understand that the real power behind Modi’s prime ministerial throne is the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh fully trusted that his only agenda would be the development of the country. They would not have imagined that voting for Modi would be an endorsement for the RSS ideology that has its own definitions of nationalism and patriotism in terms of food habits, religious beliefs and approach to Mahatma Gandhi, and even on what are acceptable and unacceptable slogans. Indeed, even among those who voted for Modi and were aware of his RSS links and past conduct, the belief was that 12 years after Godhra 2002, he is a changed man and now has a strict focus on development.
It cannot be presumed that the prime minister is oblivious to this core of the people’s mandate and the impact of these Sangh-inspired events on his and the country’s image abroad. He is a media savvy, brand image conscious public figure with a proven track record of reaping the benefits of all the tools of brand building. From his vantage position on the Raisina Hills, silent assent is always the most powerful endorsement, and the fact that all the so-called “fringe” elements are dominating the perception building/damaging events under his watch lead us to draw only two conclusions-either he is with them or he is unable to control them. Neither conclusion does any good to India.
It has happened in the past as well that various arms of governance and even organisations and institutions may trample upon these rights, but the central government and the courts of law have been always defending them with all their might. However, in these two cases, Rohith Vemula’s suicide and Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest on sedition charges we have seen the shocking and disturbing weakening of these roles.
The worst malady that is rampant these days is something that is called ‘whataboutery’ on social media. Every present wrong is sought to be answered with a counter question referring to the past and then asking: ”What about it?” Now two wrongs do not make one right is a hackneyed logic and the other aspect of this approach is that this is no solution to the problem. So, if there have been suicides by other Dalits in the past, then waxing eloquent on this theme by the present ministers does not justify the government’s conduct in the context of Rohith’s suicide. Besides, what is it that they are trying to prove?
When it comes to slogan shouting as the parliament was reminded so brilliantly by Trinamool Congress MP Sugata Bose a Harvard scholar that the Indian nationalism is not ‘so brittle that it would be shaken by the echo” of a few slogans. Besides, since independence there has been no dearth of fissiparous tendencies, nor has there been any shortage of secessionist movements. These challenges have been handled with the resolute care, firm determination and a judicious mix of force and statesmanship. Never has a sledgehammer been used to swat a fly.
However for a student to be charged with sedition, pushed behind bars, and then publicly assaulted by people who claim to be patriots and assert that they would do the same thing again provides a new definition to the entire approach towards nationalism. The tragedy of the Vemula and Kanhaiya episodes is not limited to the fact that these have taken place in the 21st century. But the added worrying dimension is that there is a government endorsing and justifying these assaults on citizen’s rights.
We could have perhaps moved ahead if after the debate in the parliament there had been any element of regret, remorse in the government and it had been matched by actions. Yet, there is no sign that the government intends to release Kanhaiya and withdraw the sedition charge and take some steps that would offer some relief to Vemula’s mother and family. That would have been the path of constitutional governance, and not the partisan patriotism of the RSS. The simple thing is that the government of the day irrespective of the political colour can safely leave the ideological battles to be fought verbally among the RSS, the Leftists, the Congress and all others, and confine itself to the rule of law as mandated by the constitution.
For the years they rule, beginning from the prime minister his entire cabinet would have to remember that their primary allegiance is to the oath of office and secrecy they have taken under the constitution. We know that they have also pledged their loyalty to the saffron flag of the RSS, but they would have to keep that in abeyance while they are in office and remain committed only to the tricolour. We have seen that the saffron nationalism and tricolour patriotism are not the same thing.
Before I conclude…
Union railways minister Suresh Prabhu has presented his second railways budget and while the decision to spare the passengers of any fare hike is welcome, this feeling is tempered with a realisation that he would not be averse to delivering that tough medicine whenever, he deems fit. His desire to curb populism and refrain from announcing new trains during the budget speech also marks a positive change from the past. He is known for his innovative ideas and brings a laudable managerial approach to the task of running the gigantic public transporter, and now he faces the test of implementing his own ideas and bringing these to fruition. Railways need all round improvement and mere incremental changes would not be enough.