This article was published in the magazine The India Forum on Dec 25th. It’s a kind of heartfelt letter to people of India about the very worrying direction the country is taking under the authoritarian regime of the BJP and the cultural regressiveness (and repressiveness) of the RSS.
Here’s the link to the full article. Below are some excerpts:
I’m losing hope in India because education — the only avenue of mobility for the underprivileged — is fatally being undermined by this government. At the same time regressive, hateful ideas which in the past were restricted to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakhas and schools, are now surfacing in thousands of schools and colleges. In fact, there seems to be an active effort by the Sangh Parivar to overthrow the inclusive educational ideals which fueled our collective cultural and intellectual growth until recently. Educationist Anil Sadgopal, while commenting on the current government’s National Education Policy, says: “RSS-allied organisations have been for long advocating that the most effective way of preparing Hindu Rashtra cadre is to instill Hindutva ideas and ‘ethical’ values (read myths, prejudices and superstitions) in the subconscious mind of the 3-6 year age group.”
I’m losing hope in India because, well, the country is forcibly being turned into one giant Sanghi shakha. If things continue this way, a tremendous number of underprivileged young Indians will lose out on education and on the best opportunity to improve their and their families’ lives. At the same time, the kind of education that will be available for those fortunate enough to receive it, will be heavily compromised in both moral strength and intellectual rigour. To top all that, the rapidity with which the government is undermining both environmental protection laws and the natural environment will end up injecting additional stresses into the lives of the coming generations of Indians….
Anyone who understands and admires India knows that there can never be a “national dream.” It is frightening that the thrust of the Indian state and India’s elite today is to flatten all of our awe-inspiring diversity into misguided “one nation one system” absurdities. And it is unfortunate that well-meaning analysts like Mukherjee seem not to mind such flattening, and are in particular dismissive of India’s fascinating rainbow of political parties and coalition politics: “we wanted to trade some of our democratic chaos for a little bit more growth [through ‘muscular leadership’].”
Instead of looking up to the apparently efficient uniformities of China and Israel, it is high time we looked at our own people and realized that we are a unique nation. We are noisy and messy and argumentative and chaotic. This is no orientalist exoticizaton, it’s just reality. I believe we’ll do far better if we proudly embraced this chaos of our country instead of timidly trading it away for some chimeric developmental utopia, or making absurd assertions like “We’re too much of a democracy”! Our founders too had embraced the chaos with elan, which is in fact how we got such a detailed, voluminous, comprehensive Constitution.
The debate over whether India should continue with its unique democratic chaos or opt for muscular leadership (aka authoritarianism) is not new. One gets a glimpse of it in two interesting persons featured in the first episode of Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s remarkable 1997 documentary, A Tryst with the People of India. One of them sincerely bats for a dictatorial leader and the other vehemently champions democracy and its exhilarating messiness. I obviously was impressed with the latter take. When asked how India can manage the limitations of democracy in its chaotic context, he simply quoted the fiercely patriotic Krishna Menon: “We’ll muddle through.”
The way I see it, if we do away with our colours and chaos, we do away with our Indianness itself. The resultant “rashtra” will be neither China-like nor Israel-like. It will simply be, as we are beginning to see in some ways even today, a monochromatic mongrel of Gorakhpur and Antilia.