Let’s quickly run through the chain of events that stunned the nation by their sheer brutality. Violence broke out in Assam. Some days later an honourable Member of Parliament warned the nation of impending outburst of a minority community. As if on cue, attacks were carried out on north easterners in those cities that leave no opportunity in flaunting their cosmopolitan credentials. This sparked off a virtual exodus of north easterners especially Assamese, employed in low skill work, back to their state. These people are a lifeline for their families back home. With them returning there is a big question mark as to what will happen to their lives and livelihood.
While this tragedy was unfolding an autonomous organisation (Comptroller and Auditor General) which has been saddled with the “small” business of keeping track of government expenditure acted “beyond its mandate” to report that it had smelt a rat as there was a discrepancy of 1.86 lakh crore in matters to coal! Nothing much said Prime Minister’s Office and dismissed it as preliminary report as if the final draft somehow would magically explain all the misdeeds and the loss to the exchequer would amount to nothing more than zero.
Within two days a very grim looking home secretary told media that the trouble that broke out in certain cites was due to cyber manipulations from Pakistan. Morphed photos, videos and inflammatory text were uploaded from their soil to foment trouble. Once the news broke out politicians from every party who till the other day were listening to one of their esteemed member’s rabble rousing swung into action and started talking tough. Congress fielded none other than Sriprakash Jaisawal, the coal minister, whose ministry incidentally is in the eye of the coal storm. He looked grim too, like the home secretary, but seemed a bit out of place in issuing threats in “to-whom-so-ever-it-may-concern” manner. Internal security is not his domain. Though he tried valiantly to sound convincing, the party managers would have done well to field a better and more convincing figure.
The sequence of events looked a bit too choreographed. A lawmaker warned of something and it came true, a report put the government in the dock and immediately the Pak bogey was raised and the minister from the beleaguered ministry came out to announce India’s integrity would be upheld no matter what. At best these are unimaginative stunts by very smart and intelligent people. At any given day a politician is more intelligent and wise than all of us put together. However, it’s the usage of wisdom that’s under scanner.
Ever since the dawn of society the leaders have connected with their people at gut level –either with people’s fear or their aspiration. Fear is always articulated as identity politics. It revolves around the notion that a particular religion, lifestyle or mere survival of a group of people is at stake so you have to fight tooth and nail to preserve it. However, when a leader connects with the aspirations of the people a new vision for the whole society takes shape and results in all round progress.
In democracy there is an eternal struggle between connecting with fear or aspirations of the masses. In an imperfect democracy like ours it’s easy to articulate fear than to inspire aspirations. In the first 30 years of India’s independence the ruling party was able to articulate aspirations of upper caste Hindus and fears of marginalised Hindus the Scheduled Castes as well as minorities especially the Muslims. By late 1980s, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s mandir rant and later Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s Mandal gamble opened up a Pandora’s box. A whole range of regional, religious and ethnic combinations were up for grabs for crafty politicians who were ready to exploit them. Articulating fear became the weapon of choice for them as every group was wary about their position under the sun.
In last two decades it is this fear mongering in the garb of identity politics that has fragmented the electorate. It was kept under wraps as the economy was supposedly growing and India was shining. However, the benefits of the liberalisation never reached the proverbial “last person in the queue”. It accentuated the fears of the people to such an extent that it became well neigh impossible to predict how and in what form the collective fear will behave on the D-day (on the polling booth). Even the poll pundits and psephologists wrack their brains and arrive at nothing while juggling the petty demands of various communities leave the leaders exhausted to an extent that they compromise their functional integrity to remain in power.
This is the irony of connecting with fear. It’s an easy choice though hard to live with, in the long run. You begin as leader but end up being a slave of the genie you help unlock. The fear inherent in identity politics never diminishes and one day cripples you with inaction. Today what we are witnessing on the streets and in the corridors of power are the result of decades of promotion, lionising and pandering of fear.
Politicians would do well if they can remember just one economic theorem — law of diminishing returns. Politics based on whipping up fear and then riding it has reached its optimum level. It won’t offer them anything except maybe some incremental result for some more time. Instead of waiting till the end and suffer a hard landing they should now stand up and do something which the leaders like Gandhi and Nehru did. They should connect with the growing aspirations of the people. Aspirations for better life, need for creative self expression, a longing to achieve their potential and live a life of dignity and healthy self esteem. This is a huge space left fallow for the last 50 odd years. A new concept, a new dream sown in this space can yield tomorrow’s statesmen.
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