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Freer institutions or slavery?

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While a concerted effort is being made to muzzle the voices of dissent – otherwise the life blood of democracy – the institutions, which were until recently seen as great buffer against everything that could possibly threaten the democratic way of life, too are now being easily subverted to push through the ideology and interests of a particular group. In such a situation, it is no shock that a Muslim cop is dragged out of the police station and thrashed mercilessly and forced to carry a saffron flag and chant pro-right slogans by a lynch-mob. Neither is there any reason to explain why police and the courts are applying different yardsticks of correction and justice to deal with people of different political beliefs and backgrounds. Now if media too is chipping in to claim its share of the plum by aligning with the loud street sentiment – notwithstanding its iniquitous pornography — it should also annoy none!

The reason being that whatever is happening now is actually the fruition of a process started decades back. When the (in)famous Rath Yatra in 1990 paved the way for demolition of Babri Masjid two years later in 1992, India’s “powerful” institutions, instead of upholding the writ of the rule of law conveniently chose to go with the loudly visible majority sentiment. Thus a wrong template was set for those who had in reality wronged the system, including its institutions of justice. In 2002 Gujarat pogrom happened, but again the system chose to look other way, patronizing the same wrong template yet again. Before, after, and in-between these major events there were countless other minor happenings which also attracted undue patronage of the state and its institutions. Emboldened by this visible and tacit sponsorship, the so-called fringe steadily morphed into such a powerful institution that it took everybody by surprise when massive electoral success brought it to the centre-stage of politics and power.

Comfortably seated in power with reigns of the country, including those of its institutions in hand, now it is the time for the extreme right to push as hard as it could to wrest control over everything, including on the way people live and dine. But this is not possible until there is some control on the intellectual spaces within and without. So the institutions of higher learning like the universities and colleges, and of course media are obviously an arena for conducting this fight for the control over people’s thinking. With a substantial chunk of pro-right media already on its side, now is the time to go for those who are on the middle and slight left of the political spectrum. This is essential — for India is also a highly mediatized society and those at the helm know that they can’t have it their way unless media too is wooed and coerced to fall in line.

However, in this clash of worldviews which is openly unfolding at every conceivable place — on the streets and varsity campuses, court-rooms and legislative complexes, in the police, paramilitary and army barracks and also in the people’s homes (courtesy 24X7 ‘views’ media), India as a country is overlooking a very important essential. While the focus should have been keeping the body and the soul together (nation being body and democracy its soul), the loud jingoistic chants renting airs everywhere, including the airwaves, is crying for keeping just the body together. To quote Alexis de Tocqueville from his 1835 treatise “it is difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government (read democracy and democratic spirit) should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people.”

Those who are trying to wrest control over democratic spaces of dissent are actually eying a mass of subservient people, with little or no courage and means to challenge the statist discourse on anything and everything, including vices of the rulers and their ineptitude.  This is a recipe for sure disaster which, as history is witness has brought about ruin of many a nations (Hitler’s Germany, or more recent former Yugoslavia). Tocqueville says “the nation, weary of its representatives and of itself, would create freer institutions, or soon return to stretch itself at the feet of a single master.”  Choice is before the people of India – what is it that they want — freer institutions or slavery of a single master?

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