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Between the line

The angry people
July 28, 2010


THE escalating violence in the country frightens me. Still more frightening is the shape it is taking. It has turned in some places communal, regional and ideological. Yet whatever the direction, it indicates a trend where the rule of law is lessening and sheer force is gaining recognition. I had imagined that the political parties would not stoke fires and find a way to douse them. Instead, I find some of them organizing their cadres and arming them to jump into the fray at their asking. For the first time, Hindu terrorists are also active.

The Maoists, however misdirected, are at least saying that they do not believe in the ballot box. Their trail is marked by blood which is strewn at least in half of the 200 districts they dominate. The killings of CRPF personnel, now crossing the 100 mark, at Dantewada and Narayanpur district of Chattisgarh are recent examples. There is no stopping of the Maoists who even targeted the civilians when they killed 76 passengers of a Mumbai-bound train in west Midnapore district of West Bengal. How do they serve their cause which is supposed to be the welfare and emancipation of people when the Maoists are killing them even by derailing and blasting trains?

For a moment, forget the Maoists. Even those who avow faith in the parliamentary system have become equally brutal when their own interests are at stake. The stone pelting incidents against the security forces in Kashmir, as instigated by the Hurriyat, are taking place every now and then. This has been the scene for the last one year.

The excesses committed by the security forces in Kashmir are reprehensible and they should be an inquiry by a judicial commission to find out why the security forces indulge in such violent events. The government’s promise of zero tolerance doesn’t mean anything when children are killed in the action taken against the agitators. I do not expect anything from the extreme elements because they are out to destroy the polity and disfigure democracy as much as they can. It is for New Delhi to ensure that no force runs amok and there is proper punishment of people found guilty.

The latest addition to the list of brutality is “honour killing.” In recent months, one has heard about scores of such killings taking place in northern India, particularly in Haryana, where the khap panchayats have openly backed these killings. Several young boys and girls getting married from the same gotra have been the victims. In some cases, the couples were driven to the wall to commit suicide. The neibouring state of Punjab too has joined the law violators. A strange example is that of an NRI killing his own step-daughter because he did not approve of the marriage of the girl to a low-caste Sikh in Brussels. Television networks have rightly brought such brutalities to light.

But one unfortunate fallout that people are beginning to equate violence and “honour killings” with the tainted system. Their confidence in it is turning into cynicism. They are finding the law and order machinery an instrument of tyranny in the hands of rulers and their cohorts who stage-manage false encounters to eliminate the opponents and trump up cases to harass the critics.

Whether it is a single party government or a coalition, the methods employed are no different. The worst culprits are the civil servants. The ethical considerations which once guided their action have dimmed beyond their comprehension. The desire for self-preservation has become the sole motivation for their behavior. This is what they have been doing under any “strong” chief minister in the states and a similar kind of person at the centre.

In the process, people have got disillusioned. They have come to infer that justice is only a relative term. They have lost the awareness of what is right and do not realize what is wrong. They find the dividing line between right and wrong, and moral and immoral, sinking in the sands of opportunism and oppression. They are at a loss as how to act. No wonder they fall prey to what is promised by a demagogue or a person with the gun.

Political parties should realize that any appeal to violence in India is particularly dangerous because of its inherent disruptive character. We have too many fissiparous tendencies in the country to take such risks. Violence, even otherwise, produces an atmosphere of conflict and disruption. It is absurd to imagine that the result of the conflict shall be the victory of socially progressive forces. I find the Left some time thinking on those lines.

In Germany, both the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party were swept away by Rudolf Hitler. This may well happen in India where diversities, which to date are the nation’s forte, are solidifying into separate entities and threatening to become permanent compartments. Consensus, which is the corner stone of democracy, has become so difficult that even the basics cannot get the approval of parliament. Yet there is inherent unity at which the foreigners marvel.

I recall that when I was India’s high commissioner to the UK, the Soviet Union was tottering. Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the then British Prime Minister, told me about the advice she had tendered to Moscow: Learn from the example of India which had stayed together for hundreds of years despite people professing different religions, following different castes and speaking different languages.

Mrs Thatcher asked me what I attributed it to. It took me some time to explain to her that we in India did not divide things into black and white. We believed there was a grey area which we had been expanding for decades for strengthening our pluralism. Twenty years later, I feel what I told Mrs Thatcher is changing to the detriment of our nation.

Unfortunately, the spirit of tolerance or the sense of accommodation, which provided glue to our integration, is drying up. Parties which are attempting to deny or defeat the ethos of secularism are harming the country’s unity and its catholicity. They have their own agenda and want to pursue it even at the expense of the nation’s unity. Methods do not matter to them.

I believe in the basic dictum that wrong means will not lead to the right results. This is merely no longer an ethical doctrine, but a practical proposition. India can disintegrate like the Soviet Union if the nation does not awaken to the dangers of conflict. The Maoists, the Hurriyat and all political parties should eschew not only violence but also the language of violence which instills division and hatred. The situation is too uncertain to be complacent.

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