Suhas Palshikar - Disenfranchising The ‘Other’ // Ajaz Ashraf interviews Ashis Nandy on the future of India

M.G. Vaidya (‘The price of personal law, IE, November 1) makes chilling reading. It is not easy to believe that in a democracy, someone could seriously argue a case for disenfranchisement of citizens. But that is exactly what Vaidya’s suggestion to the Law Commission does. It is unlikely that Vaidya would not know or remember the opposition by many Hindu (and Hindutva) organisations to the reform of Hindu laws in the 1950s. So, we do not know if he would disenfranchise those opponents retrospectively. But it is clear that his variant of the argument is oblivious to nuance. So, he would not be interested in questions such as those that some feminists raise over “uniformity” and application of Hindu reforms to all communities. Nor will he find merit in the argument that the problem of triple talaq could be separated from the larger task of bringing all personal laws under a uniform umbrella.

However, in order to simplify the debate, let us not get into those intricacies. Triple talaq is a practice that certainly needs redressal — and, it must be repeated — not because it is a Hindu-Muslim question, but because it is a question of gender justice. It must also be stressed that reform of religious practices and interpretations of religion is a larger, long-term, but welcome process. Having said this, we need to turn to the larger issue. In his enthusiasm to uphold one provision in the Constitution (Article 44), Vaidya has chosen to undermine the larger spirit of diversity and democracy that informs the Constitution. Disenfranchisement does not fit into that spirit.

Vaidya’s piece and his suggestion to the Law Commission need to be read not only in terms of overenthusiasm about Article 44 (one wishes he would be equally enthusiastic about not just other provisions of the Constitution, but also about the spirit of the Constitution). Though the piece smacks of contempt for Muslims, which is not unknown to the ideological tradition he belongs to, the larger danger is not just Muslim-baiting either. Beyond a hackneyed and partial reading of the Constitution and beyond the well-known antipathy toward the Muslim community, the argument makes more dangerous reading for its bold attempt to openly canvass for a “Hindu” democracy.

Religious beliefs of non-Hindus or customs of “so-called” (his word) Adivasis would invite disenfranchisement — so, despite all the social engineering, Hindutva ideology is back to emphasising that this nation belongs to mainly caste Hindus; others may live here but would not be treated as part of the nation. Within this framework of the Hindu nation, democracy is fine; but if one is thinking of a diverse social context, then second rate citizenship is on offer. Critics of Hindutva have often charged the Hindutva political forces of supporting second-rate citizenship. Now, Vaidya’s initiative confirms those criticisms. In the homogenised Hindu national space, “others” can only be second-grade citizens.

There is something more sinister to Vaidya’s suggestion. One always thought the vote is the cardinal principle of citizenship. By recommending disenfranchisement, Vaidya’s piece attempts to link acceptance of everything the state does to citizenship. If you do not accept something the state does, you are no more a citizen. Though his argument is specious about the meaning of the word “shall”, the real point he makes is this: Legislatures are creations of the Constitution, therefore, not agreeing with policies and decisions of legislatures invites forfeiture of citizenship. That is, if you do not accept the UCC, you lose the right to vote. But why the UCC alone? This logic can apply to many such “fundamental” disagreements with legislative assemblies or the parliament.

Attempts to draft personal laws based on uniform principles is an important challenge, but the enthusiasm of the likes of Vaidya can only make that task more difficult because no community would like to acquiesce with a constitutional provision with the proverbial gun of disenfranchisement held to its head. Only recently, a Union minister stated, “You cannot have a uniform civil code without a broad consensus.” (Venkaiah Naidu, IE, October 27). So, do we believe the minister or the inner voice of Hindutva?

Ajaz Ashraf interviews Ashis Nandy on the future of India
In 1916, the Congress and the Muslim League signed the Lucknow Pact, stoking hopes that they would bridge the chasm dividing them and mount together a ferocious campaign against the British colonial rule. This hope was soon to be belied. The gulf between the two parties, as also between Hindus and Muslims, widened even further, ultimately leading to Partition. Indeed, what we jubilate over today can lead to sorrow and tragedy tomorrow. And the worries and problems of the present can fire us to create a new India a century later. In 2016, India marches towards what is recognised as the new dawn of economic prosperity and political power. In this interview to Outlook, renown political psychologist Ashis Nandy speaks on the future of India, based on his reading of its past and present. Excerpts:  

The opening lines of your book, Regimes of Narcissism, Regimes of Despair, are: “These essays are about an India that is no longer the country on which I have written for something like four decades. Many things have changed drastically in recent years…” What do these changes presage for India’s future?
Let me take a broad sweep of things. First of all, India no longer has a vision of its own. Its vision is the vision of many developing societies around the world.  It is a homogenized, predictable future which has been sold to us as a universal cure for poverty, indignity and backwardness in general. In other words, our own futures have been stolen.

All developing societies, including China, have now accepted that they are backward. Our future is exactly the same as the future of all standardized nation-states. It is a new vision for them as well, except that their vision is 300 years. We have now joined the bandwagon. India, therefore, doesn’t have a distinctive future.    

When you talk of India having accepted the universal vision, are you referring to what you call “urban-industrial vision”?
Yes. It is an acceptance that is not even a critical acceptance. In fact, it is an unqualified acceptance. Mind you, this was not the creation of the Bharatiya Janata Party. India had already changed before it came to power.

Perhaps the BJP’s rise is a result of India having changed.
That’s right. They can deliver the urban-industrial vision more ruthlessly, or at least seem to do so. To repeat, the vision of all ambitious, so-called Southern countries – Brazil, India, China, etc – is exactly the same. Our hero is (Singapore’s first prime minister) Lee Kuan Yew. He’s so popular that one is afraid of saying he was one of the last despots, the last votary of “developmental authoritarianism”. Take the East Asian Tigers. I have argued that they were not only tigers but also man-eaters. All of them had despotic regimes. If you want spectacular development, then be prepared for a high-degree of authoritarianism.

Is India headed that way?
In India, this movement began with Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the mid-Seventies. But what we did by default – not because we had thought through it – we do now (by design). When CN Annadurai (one of the architects of the Dravidian movement and former chief minister) declared that Tamil Nadu wanted to be a separate country, nobody called him a traitor or attacked him in Parliament or organized countrywide protests. Not even the Jan Sangh (the BJP’s earlier incarnate). They knew that when people are angry, in distress, they say things which must be ignored.

The same thing happened with Mrs. Gandhi, who ultimately had to sign an agreement with Laldenga. He died when he was Mizoram’s chief minister. He was given a state funeral. One who used to call himself Gen Laldenga and led a rebel army became Patriotic Laldenga. These defaults are no longer available to us, because someone or the other is going to take a political advantage of it. My second point is that not only our visions have been stolen, the range of politics in India has narrowed drastically.

Will it get even narrower, say, by 2050 or 2100?
It can’t get narrower than this.

Is it because there are no alternative visions available to us?
That is right. Whatever alternative visions there are, these are confined to the margins. In one sense, people like Medha Patkar or Claude Alvares or Vandana Shiva don’t feel defeated because they are powerful men and women who hold on to their visions. But apart from a fringe element, nobody thinks of them as visionaries. Nor does anyone think of them as politically relevant.

Are we then trapped in a peculiar circumstance in which we don’t have choices, but only the chance to examine the consequences of having a homogenized vision?
Choices? Well, I often say that if a person in India and China dies after living a virtuous life, he doesn’t go to heaven – he goes to New York. We can’t even talk, as we used to earlier, of many of the environmental problems we encounter. We don’t have the courage to admit that most of our mega-dams have not delivered. Only four of the eight dams planned under India’s first multipurpose dam project, the Damodar Valley Corporation, were built. It costs us more to maintain the DVC than what it delivers. Take Bihar, where without dams, only 15 per cent of it would get flooded every year. With dams, the percentage has grown to more than 30 per cent.

The ecological sensitivity was built into our lives over centuries. Nobody talked of ecology or environment, but the traditional fear of it, the magicality attributed to Nature, protected us. All these have been declared as mere superstitions – and shelved. We no longer have the concept of future generations. We are now like that American wit who said, “Why should I think of the future. What has the future done for me?” Every Indian wants to have his or her life – whether your car guzzles petrol or releases particulate matter, it doesn’t matter. The superior courts are taking a position. They have some vision. But everyone else thinks of how to beat the laws and find loopholes in them.

One of the consequences of mega-dams has been the displacement of tribals. Do you think the India of 2100 will go the way of the United States, where indigenous Indians have been packed off to reserves?
We are waiting to do that. Actually, wherever they are not concentrated in numbers, as in Nagaland and Mizoram, we will just finish them. One-third of all tribes in India are tribes only by name. They have been dispersed, atomized, and individualized. They have joined the proletariat. In fact, the programme of proletarianization of tribals, directly or indirectly, is built into the manifesto of every party, including the Left. They want equality for the tribes, not separate existence. They want justice – but what is their concept of justice is very different from that of the tribals.

One of the results of this is the Naxalite movement. The second Naxalite movement, unlike the first one, is not an urban phenomenon. It is the rebellion of tribals, only some urban youths have joined them.

Do you think by 2100, India will be more like America than India?
By 2100, India will be more like an American slum to the nth degree, a poor man’s America. Even to become that, we will have to pay a price in terms of shrinkage of our liberties.  

In what sense?
Even in universities you are now facing difficulties in saying what you want to. It is becoming difficult to deviate from the developmental vision even in newspaper columns. It has become difficult to articulate radical diversities, for which India was known.

Even our traditions are diverse. For instance, there are millions in Tamil Nadu and North Bengal who are Ravana-worshippers and who observe Ramnavami as a day of mourning. What is wrong about it? In Sri Lanka, Ravana’s brother, Vibhishana, is worshipped. Himachal Pradesh has temples to Duryodhana, the villain of Mahabharata. Nobody took offence. But we are now being homogenized in the manner of Protestant Christianity – (that is akin to saying) “let us have a religion”. We didn’t have a religion. We had dharmic traditions.

That reminds me of what you once wrote, “Hindutva is an attack on Hinduism, that Hindutva is an ideology for those whose Hinduism has worn off, and that Hindutva’s triumph will mark the end of Hinduism.” Are we headed in that direction?
Yes, Hinduism that we see around us is not 2000 or 4000 years old. It is just 150 years old. It was born in urban India, under the new political economy that the British Raj introduced. The reference point was Protestant Christianity, not Catholicism, which is relatively more open. I come from a Protestant family. I know today’s Hinduism is that.

The first-generation of RSS pracharaks – men like (Hindu Mahasabha leader) BS Munje and (RSS founder KB) Hegdewar – took their inspiration from the Ramakrishna Mission (which was influenced by Christianity). Swami Vivekananda (Ramakrishna Mission’s founder) was himself a very different person. He did not speak of Islam and Muslims as villains. 

What are the basic attributes of this new Hinduism? A homogenized religion?
Once you endorse nationalism (typically, one country, one religion, one language) you don’t even have to discuss it (religion). I think it was (Ernest) Gellner who said you don’t have to read the texts of nationalism because all nationalisms are the same. (Veer) Savarkar recognised it. He did not believe in anything (religious). He refused to give a Hindu funeral to his own wife and said that there was nothing sacred about the cow. He also made fun of (RSS’s second sarsanghchalak) Golwalkar’s fondness for rituals.  Savarkar is the real father of the emerging India. Gandhi is now the step-father.

Getting back to your essay, do you think Hinduism will fight its battle with Hindutva?
Yes. There is always a tacit force in Hinduism which rebels against this kind of disjunctive imposition. Civilization never bends down, it always incorporate and digests (what is sought to be imposed on it). Civilization can destroy a state without saying a word. It must be remembered that the Indic civilization is different from the Indian nation-state, which is a European concoction just 300 years old.

I have this confidence that it is just not possible to mobilize India into a homogenized nation. Tagore said there is no nation in India. That is why he wrote the English word nation in Bengali. But he had 12 to 15 Bengali words for patriotism. Indians are patriotic. But patriotism is often confused with nationalism.

The nation is a demand for homogenizing the people, leaving the individual face-to-face with the state. There is no interface – no community, no religion, no sect, no caste, no trade union, simply no intermediary structures. There is just the individual and the state in the ideal nation-state system. I don’t think Indians will go for this beyond a point.

So you feel a challenge to this idea of nation-state will emerge from Hinduism itself.

Do you think caste could be fighting Hinduism’s battle?
Caste has been so discredited and so heavily politicized that you shouldn’t be talking of how caste is influencing politics, but how politics is influencing caste. But caste does resist Hindutva. That is why Hindutva-wallahs are against caste also. But a wider vision, an alternative vision, will come through sects and diversified belief systems.

Do you see signs of it now?
Every believing Indian is a sign of that. Hindutva has flouted some of the fundamental canons of Hinduism. For instance, each person has private gods and goddesses, his family has its gods and goddesses, his community has its gods and goddesses, his village has its gods and goddesses, his sect has its gods and goddesses.

In addition, they have their personal preferences – and though they may not worship some gods and goddesses, they don’t wish to antagonize them. Whether they identify with them or not, whether they believe in them or not is irrelevant. For instance, Hindus like to go to dargahs and the Golden Temple. This Hindutva can’t stop. This is a completely different game.

If Gandhi were to come to India in 2050 or 2100, what would he be like?
Major philosophical positions don’t simply die out. They automatically emerge in some situations. Do not forget that the major heroes of the post World War II world have been Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama – they are the people who approximated, directly or indirectly, to the image of Gandhi. They did not read Gandhi to take the position they did. Nor did Polish trade union leader Lech Walesa, whom the Poles called, “Our Gandhi.”
You can’t efface or kill the Gandhian strand. It will continue as a minority stand. Perhaps a catastrophe will produce…

Not Gandhi, but hundreds of variations of him. Then only it can become a mass movement. You will not have to wait till 2100. It will come earlier. This is because we have entered the last cycle of climate change. Some kind of limits to human greed and consumption will have to be put in place. Once I tried to count the number of shades of lipstick available. I stopped after counting till 1200, I just couldn’t handle it. I don’t think our retina is capable of even registering 1200 shades. Yet we continue to produce more shades.

Personally, I don’t think we can return to a pastoral way of life. But the limits of urban-industrial vision have been crossed. It is not reversible. It is as bad as that. When the crunch comes, you will have to impose limits on using the resources of Earth for the survival of at least your children and grandchildren, even if you are not thinking of the future.

In 2100, what would Ambedkar be like?
Unfortunately, even though Ambedkar opted for a religion that has tremendous congruence with the Gandhian past, he was a very modern man. He definitely wanted some version of urban-industrial vision. He certainly did not look beyond it.

You wrote an essay on Happiness. Will Indians in 2050 be happy?
It will be demanded of them to not be unhappy.

So how happy India will be in 2100?
Right now, Indians are mostly happy. Poorer countries generally are. Bangladesh was quite high on the list of happy countries, so was Nigeria. Indians are on the higher side too. The current figures will not change so easily. Therefore, there will be a public demand to be happy. So if you are unhappy, you are a traitor. If you are unhappy, you will become a class enemy, as it happened in the Soviet Union. Unhappy people there were sent to psychiatrists.

Are we headed that way?
I am afraid there are efforts to push India in that direction.

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