There was a young lady of Niger
Who went for a ride on a tiger
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside
And a smile on the face of the tiger.
This limerick came to mind almost immediately when Sudheendra Kulkarni, the organiser of the function to launch the book of former Pakistan foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, had his face blackened by miscreants, following the veto by Maharashtra’s “Tiger” party, the Shiv Sena, of any function in Mumbai involving a personality from India’s western neighbour. That he was a prominent figure, till some years ago, of a political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the governments in Delhi and Mumbai, with the Shiv Sena as a junior partner, apparently cut no ice with the Sena, which more or less said “serves him right” after the unfortunate incident. But then, after having consorted with a party like the BJP, many of whose members have made a virtue of divisions in society, Kulkarni ought to have been aware of the consequences of associating with a perceived “enemy” whose country is anathema to the professed worldview of his ex-party and its like-minded partners. It would, therefore be apposite to remember the Biblical injunction “they have sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind”. History is replete with instances of the consequences of one’s karmas (both of individuals and nations) visiting one in this rather than in a future life. The eternal wonder is that this unpleasant truth does not cause man to ponder over his actions. Events from the not so distant past down to the present day illustrate man’s continued myopic vision.
We can start with the two major totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, the Third Reich of Germany and the Communist Soviet Union. Touted to last a thousand years, the German Reich crawled to its miserable, ignominious end in just over twelve years. Riding to power on the wave of disenchantment of the German people with inflation and unemployment, the Nazi Party, with its openly anti-Semitic approach, capitalised on the weak-kneed approach of European powers to unleash aggression on many of Germany’s smaller neighbours climaxing in the conquest of France in 1940 and the assault on Great Britain. Along with the millions killed in actual combat, there was the horrific genocide involving over six million Jews. The Second World War ended with the devastation of Germany and its division into two countries for the next forty five years. The Soviet Union, founded on the promise of equality for all, witnessed some of the greatest purges of its citizens and the despatch of countless others to concentration camps. The contradictions of an inefficient economic system and an oppressive political system saw the uprooting of the entire Communist edifice in the Soviet Union and its satellite states before the dawn of the twenty first century.
The USA has been no exception to this karmic cycle. Its post-World War II attempts to keep communism at bay and secure the world for Western (read American) capital led to the standoff in Korea and the disastrous misadventures in Vietnam, Kampuchea and Laos. Unchastened by this experience, the USA leapt into the fray through its proxies, the Mujahedin and Pakistan, to counter the takeover of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. These Mujahedin were to form the nucleus of the Al Qaeda which took the war into US territory sixty years after Pearl Harbor. Further American adventurism in Iraq destroyed the one regime (of Saddam Hussein) that might have checked the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. With the Arab spring, the path was open for fundamentalism to spread through a number of countries with tottering regimes in the Middle East. In effect, US policy since the Second World War has led it to shoot itself in the foot; the terrible consequences are unfortunately being borne today by the masses of refugees fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries.
Coming to India, we have the Grand Old Party, the Indian National Congress, suffering (and, collaterally, making the nation suffer for) the consequences of one historic blunder after another. The declaration of the Emergency in 1975 saw the suspension of civil liberties and the unchecked use of brute state power against the people, whether in the relocation of people in the name of city beautification or the forced sterilisation campaigns. Given a resounding slap by voters in the 1977 general elections, the Congress showed it had learnt no lessons when it came back to power in 1980. The tolerance of (and tacit support to) ethnic divisions for narrow electoral gains saw the horrific Nellie massacre of 1983 in Assam and Operation Blue Star in 1984. Dabbling in ethnic quarrels exposed India to domestic terrorism with the assassinations,within seven years, of a Prime Minister and a former Prime Minister. The encouragement by the Congress of the Shiv Sena in the 1960s to check the influence of the leftist trade union movement in Mumbai nourished the growing “Tiger”. So much so that the Shiv Sena and its allies have controlled the cash-rich Mumbai Municipal Corporation for most of the past forty years. The Congress gave yet another chance of grabbing power to the Shiv Sena and its allies when it mishandled the 1993 Mumbai riots; coupled with internecine warfare within the Congress, the Shiv Sena and its allies were able to capture power in Maharashtra in 1995. Just four years of this government and the voter was ready to give another chance to a squabbling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance. Fifteen years further down the road, this alliance, with its inept governance, blew its chances yet again and handed a major state to its opponents on a platter.
All these events are warning signs for practitioners of political power today but they continue to blithely ignore the lessons of history. The BJP came to power in 2014 on the electoral plank of “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” (with the cooperation of all, for the development of all). Unfortunately, its 16-month tenure has been marked by growing tensions between religious communities and a deep sense of insecurity in minorities. The utterances and actions of members of the ruling dispensation have emboldened fringe groups to take the law into their own hands, whether it be the murder of rationalists, the lynching at Dadri or the recent shenanigans over Ghulam Ali and Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri in Mumbai. It will be argued that states ruled by different parties are responsible for the protection of their citizens. But when a government at the national level lends support to Orwellian thought-control processes for controlling at least three of the five senses (sight, hearing and taste) of its citizens, it is not surprising that impressionable sections of the majority community work out their perceived grievances and frustrations on those who are not seen as part of their fraternity. Irresponsible and incendiary statements at election time and at emotionally surcharged moments only add fuel to the fire.
This column is tired of reiterating that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. Yet, the aspirations of the aam aurat/aadmi – jobs, houses, food – are lost sight of in the preoccupation with rewriting history and dictating moral codes to the population at large. India’s youth is far more concerned with a resplendent future than with a glorious past. Agitating emotive issues to win electoral support can take a political party only so far. As matters stand, the Dadri incident may well cost the BJP dear in the ongoing Bihar elections. If it does not recast its image as a right of centre party with a plural approach to diversity, it may find the going tough in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections. And come 2019, we may see the Indian voter, with her dreams of achche din (good days) not realised, trudging to the polling booth echoing the immortal words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn,
This is not that dawn of which there was expectation.