Raouf Rasool

History – a medley of changing rules

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All those people who share a particular geographical territory during a particular era in time, have claim to a shared history, as have those who despite not sharing the geography nevertheless observe history while it’s being shaped up. There are others also who study it in real time, or even decades later using modern scientific research techniques. This is why any particular event or sequence of events are recorded in the history books differently – depending on who is recording it and on whose behalf and for whom, and, may be, also, why!

Jingoistic praises sung in ‘ultra-patriotic’ fervor aside, fact of the matter remains that right from the days of its freedom struggle against the British to this day when it is a claimant to the permanent Security Council membership, India has all along behaved like any state does. Based on cool calculations of wily statecraft, this country has marched ahead, doing whatever it could with whatever it had. Even though there is nothing wrong in it (this is what all nation states do), but this fact needs to be acknowledged somewhere. Bombarding people with that ‘moralistic trash’ as being the sole guiding force for the country, is too nauseating to digest. Who can deny it that despite non-violence as preached and practiced by its founding father Mahatma Gandhi, being its major political USP in the outside world, India has been very ruthless in dealing with political dissent, within and without?

India is only one of the many classic examples of this shifting morality of the state and its political elite. When among the have-nots, the political elite infused the general public with revolutionary zeal to bring about a change by overthrowing the haves. But once the have-nots themselves become haves, they wasted no time in redefining the rules of the game – so that the tactics that they used against their enemy are no longer available to their adversary for use against them. No wonder then that just eight months after securing independence, the Indian National Congress outlawed passive resistance and made it a crime. It was one thing for them to use passive resistance against the previous haves – the British – but now in power they were going to ensure that this tactics would not be used against them. Previously, as have-nots, Indian leaders would be appealing to the laws higher than the man-made (British) laws; but today, since they make their own laws, India is on the side of the man-made laws – its constitution. And everybody who has a ‘grievance’ is supposed to come and discuss it within the limits of, and in accordance with this Constitution!

A careful reading of the history of India’s freedom movement reveals that Gandhi and his associates repeatedly deplored the inability of their people to give organized, effective, even violent resistance against injustice and tyranny. In an interview with Norman Cousins in 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru described the Hindus of those days as “a demoralized, timid and hopeless mass bullied and crushed by every dominant interest and incapable of resistance.” But once this same ‘timid and demoralized’ lot had been aroused and it had actually brought about the desired change – the Independence – the rules changed overnight. Now the same hopeless lot was brave and chivalrous, but only as long as they didn’t challenge the status quo. And those who do, are immoral and unethical and can always be held guilty of sedition and challenging the integrity of the country. Morally these incidents put India in bad light, but once the country’s “vital interests” (as the political elite wants people to believe it as being) are at stake, it should be OK to forget the lofty sentiments and subjecting the state and even its laws to the charge of inconsistency. Now this policy is clearly Machiavellian, but there is nothing bad about it as along as the state uses it. After all the ‘Prince’ was actually written by Machiavelli for the haves on how to hold power, and how to deny it to those whose head-count actually brings this power to them.

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