The politics of neutrality is the worst kind of politics. It is a politics that deceives you into thinking that your position is neutral and the rest are biased. It is a mythical all-knowing position. Political clarity comes with a clear knowledge of one’s biases. If you don’t have a bias, you are an unfeeling robot.
When the battle lines are drawn and you can’t find your allies, you should be able to identify your enemy. In politics, that enemy is not a person or a group – it is an idea (or a collection of ideas) that is antithetical to your value system. You take on a person or a group when they represent the idea you oppose. That’s all.
Let’s leave neutrality to bureaucrats and administrators, the paid professionals of the state machinery, who implement plans and projects regardless of ideological colors. People tend to confuse administrative efficiency and lack of corruption as though they are aligned to a certain political ideology. They are not. Efficiency and corruption (or lack of it) are apolitical. They are neutral and administrative. Like the efficiency of E. Sreedharan, renowned for engineering the metro rail system in India, to give a positive example, or Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi general, to give a negative one.
It’s the role of the state to ‘neutralize’ ideology, and the role of citizens to spot it.
What do urban elites, who don’t mind a little ‘Hindutva’ (not be confused with Hinduism), mean when they refer to other urban elites as “rootless pseudo-liberals”? This accusation is in a way an attempt to establish and naturalize certain hierarchies. Let’s deconstruct their argument and see how it works.
Consider this. Let’s suppose there 100 adults at the bottom of the economic pyramid in an Indian village. All of them part of the struggling, labour class. Life goes on with its usual conflicts and calm. Someone lights a communal flame in a nearby city, which spreads to the village. Suddenly, the labour class in the village splits into 80 Hindus and 20 Muslims, with the majority community trying to assert their will on the minority community.
In the city, a group of relatively upper-income urban professionals, university students from multiple social and economic backgrounds, and middle-income academics take a stand against majoritarian assertion and oppose the action of the working-class majority, who in this new communal conflict consider themselves the upper class among the underclass.
Another group of relatively upper-income, urban professionals, university students from multiple social and economic backgrounds, and middle-income academics side with the majority community working-class, the oppressors in this specific case. (That they are labour class does not really matter to these elites, only their religion does. However, their working class status helps the elites frame a deceptive argument.) These elites accuse the previous group of elites as being “rootless pseudo-liberals”.
Remember both the groups in the village are rural and rooted. Both are working class. Both are relatively poor. The only category difference is their religion. And in this specific conflict, one group was trying to assert its will on the other.
This is a tragic episode in the history of class conflicts – the underclasses are pitted against each other, in the name of religion and caste. Any attempt to unify the working class by establishing communal harmony and annihilating caste divisions stands as a threat to the conservative status quo. Among religions, you have the hierarchy of majority community-minority community. Within religion, you have the hierarchy of caste. Within a larger region, you have the hierarchy of majority language-minority languages. When rootedness is used as a convenient argument against the “liberal elite”, we forget that this rootedness is in fact used to justify a certain hierarchy that passes off as the natural order.
The real fight is not about siding with the minorities or standing against the majority. The real fight is about contesting the claim to any “natural” hierarchy – be it gender, religion, caste, region, language or profession.
First, the definition: What does communal stand for? Here it stands for the potential conflict between different communities and the tendency of one community to dislike another, form biases and give legitimacy to these biases.
Next, the context: The communities mentioned here do not represent what is perceived as a traditional social hierarchy: that is, classes, castes or races. Communities here mean people who speak a certain language or those who belong to a certain religion or state.
Step 1: Cultivate intellectual honesty – in this case, the willingness to admit that no community is inherently good or bad. That it is the accident of birth and social conditioning that makes people behave in certain ways. That if you were born in the community you hate, you could very well have behaved like someone you dislike today because of his or her community. That it is possible to rationally question and expose our social conditioning.
Step 2: Be a good hypocrite. Even if your socially conditioned mind dislikes and mistrusts people from the other community, start behaving as though you don’t dislike them. The choice is between being hypocritical to yourself and being a communal bigot in public. A decent hypocrite acknowledges that what he or she genuinely feels is indecent to be expressed in public.
Step 3: Sustain this ‘hypocrisy’ over a longer time and you may genuinely stop disliking people from the other community, thereby improving communal relationships in your society.
Note: A version of this article has appeared as a Facebook note by the author.
Image used is representational. Source: mkgandhi.org