By Abhishek Jha:
There was an interesting development this month in the debate over tolerance. Taking on the protests by writers, activists, filmmakers, and others, Arun Jaitley ended his Facebook post on ‘The Ease of Doing Business’ with the accusation that “their (the protesters) intolerance extends to not accepting an alternative ideological pole,” that “they wish to project India as an intolerant society,” and that the BJP and Narendra Modi were themselves “the worst victim of ideological intolerance.” There was a rejoinder to that, in a sense, when Arundhati Roy said in a statement on returning her national award that “‘intolerance’ is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings.” However, there are more arguments against the use of the word ‘intolerance’, ones that can help mounting a collective expression of solidarity irrespective of the mood and dispensation at the centre.
It is important to understand here that by using the word ‘tolerance’ and its repeated assertion (perhaps in the need for a unifying theme in an otherwise largely unorganised struggle), those protesting have played into the hands of the BJP and the Sangh. The Sangh and its Brahminical brethren have always insisted on India being a ‘tolerant’ society, the claim stemming from its belief that we are a Hindu nation and Hinduism never forced people of other religions to convert. Ghar Waapsi being its corrective measure for the same. One has to see that the Congress doesn’t disagree with this basic premise that India was always a tolerant society. It cries foul only when the BJP argues for a Hindu nation. The squabbles of these two parties aside, Jaitley has played cleverly with words. And if the protesters do not quickly adapt, they might be in for a long and self-defeating battle.
Tolerance means non-intervention, when one can, in the face of things that one dislikes or disapproves of. So, it is not surprising that Jaitley wants us to tolerate the Sangh and the ideological pole it represents, to allow them to run universities and institutions around that pole when we complain of intolerance. He wants the space where the Sangh can practice and preach ‘meritocracy’, ‘love-jihad’, and the like. Even if the Sangh were to grant Roy’s wishes and stop the call for murder and lynching, Jaitley would have us be taught ‘merit’ and ‘purity’ in classrooms, want us to co-exist in that ideology until they pave the way for a review of reservation and suchlike things. Tolerance seems like a dangerous idea in such circumstances.
A better formula is provided by philosopher Slavoj Zizek. In the essay titled ‘Tolerance As An Ideological Category’, he writes: “The formula of revolutionary solidarity is not ‘let us tolerate our differences,’ it is not a pact of civilizations, but a pact of struggles which cut across civilizations, a pact between what, in each civilization, undermines its identity from within, fights against its oppressive kernel. What unites us is the same struggle. A better formula would thus be: in spite of our differences, we can identify the basic antagonism of antagonistic struggle, in which we are both caught; so let us share our intolerance, and join forces in the same struggle. In other words, in the emancipatory struggle, it is not the cultures in their identity which join hands, it is the repressed, the exploited and suffering, the ‘parts of no-part’ of every culture which come together in a shared struggle. Such universality remains “concrete” in the precise sense that, once formulated, its persistence is not guaranteed: every historical epoch has to find its own specific way to accomplish the breakthrough to universality.”
Luckily enough, we have recent developments that can instantiate what the philosopher has to say. Throughout the Bihar elections, Dilip Mandal, former Managing Editor at Outlook, explained in several Facebook posts that Lalu Yadav was the perfect antidote to the Sangh as he openly called the Sangh Parivar a coalition of upper caste male Brahminical forces. In case you missed Lalu Yadav’s speeches to that effect, you can still go through his tweets and find the fact corroborated. The effect of Lalu’s campaign on the Sangh is well known. Mohan Bhagwat’s speech hailing Ambedkar had to be telecast nationally. BJP went on a defensive, floundered with its communal card, and ultimately surrendered. While most people found amusement in Lalu’s speech, he did what was needed to undo the Sangh. He openly declared “intolerance” towards upper-caste hegemony, uniting the “parts of no-part”– as the aforementioned formula suggests- in their demand for emancipation. This solidarity, no doubt, will confound the Brahminical bosses of the Sangh and media houses.
There are two more examples from ongoing student struggles. We remember the brave front that FTII students put up. However, they played into the hands of the Brahminical forces of Nagpur when they invoked ‘merit’. The I&B Ministry found itself on familiar ground, questioned the ‘merit’ of the students themselves, applied a little super-ego pressure (raising questions over the over-staying students), squeezing them into a corner in television debates, where sympathy for them started to wane. The idea of merit is again steeped in Brahminical discourse, as it is in the discourse of race-supremacy, in the discourse of the supremacy of the able-bodied, etc. If the FTII students had called the Sangh’s bluff and shown the move of the government for what it is, they would stand a better chance. The APSC students were listened to. IIT Roorkee had to take back the students it expelled. And at UGC, where WTO-Brahmanwad Bharat Chhodo is a prominent graffiti, where ‘merit’ has been rejected as a criterion for awarding non-NET fellowship, MHRD already senses trouble.
Those who are protesting against the current climate in the country, therefore, need a quick course-correction. The Brahmin has not only always sought tolerance for his practices but demanded it from the Dalits whom he subjugated, and now expects insulation from those of other religions. The Sangh, therefore, sees no contradiction between tolerance, which asks for maintaining the status quo, and itself. The only contradiction in a call for ‘intolerance’ may seem to be the simultaneous demand from the Sangh, which wants to step up the pace and tempo for the march to a Brahminical state. While responding, those who wish for a different spirit of ‘intolerance’ will find it in the spirit of the constitution, which upholds the rights of all the oppressed and the marginalised. From laws against dowry to laws against manual scavenging, the ideas enshrined in the constitution have dealt Manuwad several ‘intolerant’ blows. Those who seek emancipation, I am sure, will find better banners to rally behind than ‘tolerance’. It will stop masked oppressors from appropriating the struggle and block any easy exit that it might be seeking.