By Sudipt Kumar and Ashutosh Mishra:
The recent turn of events that have unfolded in the nation – be it the brutal killing of Gauri Lankesh down south in Bangalore, or the gratuitous violence that gripped north Indian states after the conviction of the Dera chief – clearly point to the abject failure of the pet project of our first Prime Minister (PM), which was aimed at cultivating a scientific temper and objective rationalism among the citizens.
The regular occurrence and popular acceptance of such phenomena cannot only be looked from one analytic viewpoint of the ‘rise of the dominant, nationalistic fervour’ rhetoric. It requires a deeper analysis – especially considering the baffling ‘popular acceptance’ of the aftermath of violence after the Dera chief’s conviction and the mass social media uproar and blame surrounding the victim.
Given a pragmatic consideration, both these incidents look quite ridiculous – the popular and violent mass support attracted by the Dera chief, and the brutal killing of Gauri Lankesh and the reactions it attracted on social media and other platforms. These manifestations, adding on to the series of killings (of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi), definitely indicate the rot which is infesting our common conscience – which remains grossly irrational and primitive till date, and takes conceit in promoting undue violence and brutal suppression of rational concerns even after 70 years of the existence of a modern democracy.
What Nehru envisioned for a newly-born nation can’t be declared unreasonable. But his audacious optimism has been summarily failed by this conglomeration of ‘diverse realms of existence’, which till date remains infested with the plethora of ‘traditional, common consciences’ – that most often do not coincide with the conceptualisation of the ‘scientific temper’ evolved in the Occidental context. Out of these many unyielding beliefs and ways of living, a few still hold relevance – while the rest remain dreadful as usual.
It should well be taken into consideration that our country is one among few where the organisations dealing with modern science and technology (something of the stature of ISRO) are still submissive to various sorts of dominant, dogmatic ‘rituals’. The state of conscience of the larger populace can well be gauged in reference to this.
Even then, along with the highly literate/skilled population of the country, a majority of our people are deeply entrenched in beliefs and values that can be referred to as ‘erratic and regressive’ when put forth in reference to the popular construct of ‘modernity’. From rural hinterlands to the metropolises (like Delhi and Chennai), one can easily observe a lot of self-styled ‘godmen’, boasting about commanding several influential people from within and outside the country. All these explicitly show that the ‘age of reason’ still remains elusive for us as a nation.
The unwarranted violence that happened after the Gurmeet’s conviction, and the brutal assassination of Gauri Lankesh challenge civility in all its spheres, making it evident how power influences rationality and democracy – and how power enables and constrains rationality and a rational government. Power blurs the dividing line between ‘rationality’ and ‘rationalisation’. The result is a ‘rationality’ that is often imaginary but with very real social and environmental consequences. This signifies that both power and rationality are indirectly proportional to each other.
The best examples are these self-styled ‘godmen’ who have emerged rampantly since the last two decades in India, after they actively started utilising television, and now, the internet. It is believed that devotees are beholden to these ‘holy men’ by becoming part of the faithful. These so-called ‘holy men’, who start out as small-time preachers in villages and towns in the country’s rural hinterland, cultivate a relationship with the poor locals. Over time, they acquire a cult status – commanding a huge gathering, fan-following and even political connections, to camouflage their other nefarious activities.
This is where the impact of the ‘collective irrational power’ can be seen in the theoretically ‘modern democracy’ of ours – in the elected government’s submissive stance before the self-declared ‘messengers of gods’ (or the self- declared ‘contractors of faith’), and in the abusive contestation the ‘modern political structure’ faces from the erratic, primitive ‘common conscience’, as the actors embedded into the structure belong to a larger group with primitive, illogical ‘common conscience’. In a nutshell, what has manifested and has caught all attention has deeper roots than one can think. Though we are labelled as a ‘modern democracy’, as a nation, we are still infested with a multitude of ill beliefs – ranging from caste-based hierarchy to lynching people for their food habits.
The ideas of ‘democratisation’ and ‘politicisation’ have not eliminated ‘religion’ from ‘politics’. Instead, they have given new power and salience to the anti-democratic and xenophobic forms of religion. Historically, it can be inferred that a section of Indian citizens feels more at home with a ‘temple-going’ PM Indira Gandhi – whose ‘temple visit’ was applauded by a larger populace.
India is still struggling with the same rudimentary mindset that Rudyard Kipling once called “The White Man’s Burden”. Indeed! These are the most disparaging, venomous and scathing remarks for any Indian – and this country is still a land of fakirs, snake-charmers, sorcery and ‘holy cows’, despite the robust advancement in technology and growth in the economy.
Sudipt Kumar is currently associated with the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) as an academic associate and holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai) and M.Phil. in Social Sciences from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB). You can reach him at [email protected].
Ashutosh Mishra is currently associated with National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) Hyderabad as research associate and holds a Master’s degree in ‘Development’ program from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. You can reach him at [email protected].