Monday, June 12, 2017

The democracy of fear and the fear of democracy

Ratnakar Tripathy

At a somewhat late age I realize that we intellectuals and academics have a life assignment that may be described fairly simply – to try and protect the rest of the humanity as well as ourselves from two malaises – first, an overwhelming sense of obviousness about life meanings and social order, and second when aspects of personal and social life seem too burdensomely mysterious, to simplify and unravel them. The sense of obviousness is one when you begin to feel that life has been emptied of all the mysteries and enchantments and everything is oh so obvious and clear – so much so there is no need to know any more than one already does. By too much mystery I mean a sense of being crushed by puzzles that seem unanswerable. This is no mean assignment but according to me, totally worthwhile. 

So at this present conjuncture in Indian politics when I went out to seek some light, some insight and hopefully some pearls of wisdom too, where did I find it? In this video by Ravish Kumar the well-known TV journalist from NDTV, known for his grassroots news coverage and his apparent humaneness as a reporter. I do not know Ravish personally although we do have dozens of common friends. What I do value as a real bridge between us is the fact that we both come from Champaran in Bihar, the place where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi started his satyagrah against compulsory farming of Indigo by Bihari landowners a century ago. Several colleagues and friends of mine are currently busy organizing the logistics for a march within Champaran and from Champaran to Delhi later this year. I wish them well not simply for reasons parochial involving pride over coming from a clan rooted in Champaran, but because these are people who are chasing hope with the same desperation, affection and passion as I do, given the present predicament of our country.

So what has Ravish taught me? As someone trained in philosophy and inclined to carry the torch all my life, I have a bias for convoluted theories and a temperamental inability to talk and write without quoting Derrida and Heidegger and some sundry Indian thinkers too. I have to at times try hard to shed these philosophical callouses and think with the purity of one’s own mind.  This essay is an attempt to do precisely that.

To reiterate the question, what did Ravish teach me?

With apologies to those who do not read or understand Hindi, the simple lesson I learn from the longish speech is, the present regime is mainly about two things – it is trying on a 24x7 basis to instill in us a sense of dread and fear. Why should a regime that came riding on the back of a democratic system want to do that instead of feeling grateful to it for fulfilling all its appetite for power? Because Ravish says, it is a regime that shudders with fear of democracy and our votes on a 24x7 basis. So it is the good old bully from school trying to scare you because he is scared of your talent, your decency and warm human feelings.  Is that an oversimplification? Of course it is. But at a moment when you are seeking desperately for ways to ensure survival, you need a pointing finger clearly defining the direction for your attack and escape – you do not need an international conference for a broad exchange of viewpoints and perspectives.

Another reason why I found my wisdom in Ravish. For the past few years I have noticed that my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, mostly intellectuals and academics from India are divided into two groups with frequent overlaps – ones who have given in to a dark, broody gloom, and those who get hysterical within seconds after waking up in the morning and reading the trivialest of current news.  While I appreciate both the emotive predicaments, I have often been made to feel like an ever unremedied and irremediable case of pathological optimism, a genetic disorder to be despised and at times envied. I do not think however that I am afflicted with chronic optimism at all. I just feel that the gloom and the hysteria are both equally irrational and untimely. The situation is a bit like Geeta the little big book from our tradition. Right at the moment of urgent action, the great warrior Arjuna finds himself paralyzed just looking at the faces his arrows should hit – his grandfather, his gurus, and his playmate cousins of his childhood. Krishna then steps in and reminds Arjuna that it is too late and what must be done must quite simply be done, although many of his arguments cross the boundaries of the here and now, soaring above at cosmic heights.

Not that I have even an iota of Krishna’s rare package of wisdom and cunning, what is the one line Geeta moment here? [Remember half of Gandhi’s exegetes see him as a cunning baniya, and the rest see in him an untainted saint]. It is just this – while you hide and hesitate before a fellow countryman, albeit your ruler, you forget that he is quite likely more scared of you than you are of him.  I will now tell a story from my college days, a momentary digression from the conversation but I promise it will prove to be very relevant.

Once upon a time in my BHU hostel room I was invaded by a lumpen-bully batchmate of mine. He accused me rather arbitrarily of not returning his greetings. He shut the door behind him, looked me in the eye and said ‘what if I give you a tight slap in your face?’ I had no choice and no time to think. I said ‘I will give you a tighter one’ and those were days when I did some weights. The bully stared at me awhile and then rushed to me to put his head on my shoulders and hug me. What do you think the big bully man had to say? The hysterical bully told me ‘what? If a friend in a moment of anger gives you a slap, you will forget your long history of friendship and hit him back?’ this melodrama queen was actually teary eyed saying this and we sat down and exchanged some pleasantries, smoked a shared cigarette and parted.

So what is the moral I am trying to squeeze out of this petty anecdote and Ravish’s epic speech? The moral is the enemy is a human being, however evil. So Ravish’s stance is not that of a murderous gallant wanting to squish the enemy under a big thumb but that of love actually. He doesn’t want the rulers to evaporate in the white heat of his anger – he just wants them to come down the pedestal a few rungs and go home with their heads bent in common humility. He wants them to go home and relaxe and do things they may want to – such as not eat beef, not ask too many questions of authority and to blindly follow its dictates, to hug the national flag in the bed and enjoy peaceful sleep, to dream of killing Muslims without acting on the impulse, to believe that the Indian civilization is ten million years old and the mother of entire humanity, that women are meant not to love but to despise, and that drinking cow urine is a better deal than a pint at the club. Your agenda is much longer of course, but dear ruler sir, please do not try to impose any of it on a whole country and do all this at home in your privacy. The right to harmless madness must be counted as a major human right I believe, although I am not aware if our constitution explicitly dwells on it at all. These are times when the CCTV state will cart you to a psychiatry ward if seen making faces at yourself in the mirror, after all!

Gandhi would have been fine with all this talk and the video too and would chuckle toothlessly listening to the man from Champaran.

So have I made clear why this near worshipful piece on Ravish’s video?

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