Bizarre things are happening in what are touted as the world’s largest democracy” and the “world’s greatest.” The difference, if at all, is that while...
If in the world’s ‘greatest’ democracy, a piquant situation has arisen for the Americans who are dismayed by the tone and tenor of front-runners for nomination to November Presidential elections, the world’s largest democracy is rattled by impertinent politicos ceaselessly stoking passions on touchy issues
Bizarre things are happening in what are touted as the world’s largest democracy” and the “world’s greatest.” The difference, if at all, is that while it is an election-time affair in the United States, in India we have been witnessing it daily. While Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton is surging ahead despite controversies, getting close to being nominated for this November’s presidential election, her likely rival Donald Trump has threatened ‘riots’ if he is not nominated by his Republican Party.
Trump, who took an early start, has become globally (in)famous for the type of statements he has been making against Muslims, Blacks and other ethnic groups, women, media, refugees and, from time to time, the Indians for taking away American jobs. The tone and tenor of the language he uses on public and his vulgarity have crossed the limits.
Both candidates are considered ‘weak’ in that despite their wins in the party primaries, at the cost of candidates who have greater acceptability, they have failed to win the confidence of the people who are confused and confounded at the sorry choice they would have to make, come November. The front-runners are winning party votes, but not hearts of the American people. According to Gallup Poll, 53 per cent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, while those who dislike Trump are a whopping 63 per cent.
American sociologists, historians and election experts say this is unprecedented. Equally so is the effort by the Republican Party establishment that has worked actively, spending millions on ad campaigns and persuading party delegates to scuttle Trump’s winning the nomination. It is this effort, perhaps, that makes him threaten ‘riots.’
There may be a million reasons why the Americans are behaving the way they are, giving themselves extreme choices. These are bad signs for the world since the winner will govern the world’s richest and most powerful nation. Asked if he had a foreign policy team in place to deal with the world, Trump’s reply on March 17 was: “I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things."
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi is headed for Washington to cement the Indo-US ties, rather than gloat over Clintons, Trumps and ultimate outcome of the American presidential race, it will be worthwhile to look inwards at what is happening among and around us. Some random, but significant incidents need taking note of.
One that caused massive revulsion was the beating and maiming of ‘Shaktimaan’, the horse serving the police in Dehradun. The hapless animal was silently performing its duty as part of the Uttarakhand Police force dealing with opposition demonstrators. In a violent frenzy, in full public view, BJP legislator Ganesh Joshi and his partymen repeatedly struck at the horse till it collapsed in pain.
There are excesses on animals very many, and excesses by politicians on fellow-humans – in the name of freedom, democracy and in service of the people – would also be numerous. But this would by far be unprecedented, certainly in India, if not the world. Joshi, who should be commended for his unique protest, to avoid punishment, merely claims that he is being ‘framed’. The leg was eventually amputed.
That is not all. Sympathetic government VVIPs from the Congress visited the horse in agony. To impress them, the animal, already under the spell of drugs meant to curb the pain, was made to stand on its three legs, the fourth being badly injured. During the ‘show,’ it collapsed again. Does one make a patient at a hospital stand up and greet the visitors who come to make sympathetic inquiries? Truly, the minders and the doctors appeared totally lacking in, for lack of a better expression, horse-sense.
Another incident is the suspension of Maharashtra legislator Waris Pathan for refusing to say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.” The slogan is associated with right-wing parties and organisations and the BJP, as Jana Sangh in its earlier avatar, adopted it. But never was it sought to be imposed on others. Now, Amit Shah says, it is “not negotiable.”
Nobody could object to showing reverence to the country as the mother figure. Husain’s leader Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-s-Ittehad-ul-Musalmeen needlessly created a controversy by belligerently declaring that he would not shout that slogan “even with a knife thrust at his throat.” But Javed Akhtar, easily one of the country’s most articulate and enlightened poet-writer, said it three times. He used his swan song in the Rajya Sabha to castigate Owaisi. Thus, it depends upon how one looks at the social, religious and political aspect of this slogan.
Similar is the case of ‘Vande Mataram,” which the right-wing organizations seek to place above the national anthem, or stipulating the flying of the national flag. The bottom-line is that it should not be imposed. On singing of this song while flying the national flag (it was then the Congress flag) Mahatma Gandhi wrote: "They (students) may not Impose Vande Mataram or the National Flag on others. "they may wear National Flag buttons on their own persons but not force others to do the same." (Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Significance, Page 27 (Navjivan Publishing House, 1941).
Each of these controversies that have surfaced, or rather re-surfaced in the recent weeks are laboured and politically contrived to garner political dividends. It seems that idea of aggressive nationalism that is being pursued by the BJP, its ideological mentor RSS and its proteges is based on the conviction that nations can be built with force.
After all, nations are a voluntary and willing association of people who perceive in togetherness their secured future and livable present. Nothing ever has succeeded under duress. Even if someone says Jai Hind, like Waris Pathan did, should be enough. The conviction and belief in force is dangerous and have had dire and dangerous consequences for societies, nations and people.
The Waris Pathan suspension had some more noteworthy aspects. The slogan was injected into the debate when Pathan objected to the use of public funds to build memorials for Shivaji (there are numerous in Maharashtra and across the country) and Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray (to appease the truculent Sena, a BJP ally). Incidentally, criticism of Shivaji or Thackeray has always been touchy issues in Maharshtra even without the type of discourse that we are currently witnessing.
Worse, when Pathan refused to shout the slogan, the entire assembly, including the so-called ‘secular’ parties joined in to unanimously pass a government-sponsored resolution authorizing the Speaker to punish Pathan. The Chair used its overriding powers. Were the ‘secular’ parties afraid of being marginalised and afraid of being considered unpatriotic? The Assembly as a whole did not exactly cover itself with glory.
Secondly, Pathan is a Mumbai legislator, one of the three elected for the first time on the ticket of AIMIM ticket that has its base in Telangana/Andhra Pradesh. Was the Maharashtra Assembly betraying its unease at the presence of legislators from ‘outside’?
The problem lies both with the attitude of Owaisi and the Maharashtra legislators. Actor-activist Shabana Azmi surmised the issue with wit and wisdom when she asked: “Will Owaisi Sahab be happy shouting Bharat Ammi Ki Jai?”
To return to where we began, hyper-nationalism threatens the idea of liberal democracy in both India and the US. The American voter may or may not trip Trump, but Indians need to be a bit ‘intolerant’ and banish the political tramps.