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Updated: September 29, 2012 16:02 IST

Fear is the way to voters’ hearts

A. N. Siddiqui
Comment (8)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
MARCHING AHEAD: Taming internal and external demons is essential to emerging as a confident nation. Photo: Vivek Bendre
The Hindu MARCHING AHEAD: Taming internal and external demons is essential to emerging as a confident nation. Photo: Vivek Bendre

India’s political class creates and feeds off one paranoia or another

United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, speaking at his inaugural address to fellow Americans on March 1933, remarked, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” These words, spoken long ago by one of the most influential American Presidents, seem to resonate in our political environment today. Indian politics seems to be entering an uncomfortable state of perpetual fear. This state of paranoia is defined by feelings of suspicion, mistrust, hopelessness and cynicism combined with ever increasing fear. Political leaders, cutting across party lines, have contributed in their own way to push our political system into this mess by feeding off the fear factor.

The politics of fear needs the continued presence of an external enemy to reenergise itself. This external enemy is projected as a looming threat to the very survival and progress of a particular community, group or an individual. An extreme example of this politics of fear is Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Both the Shiv Sena and its offshoot, the MNS, have thrived on creating the fear of the North Indian population living in Mumbai in the minds of fellow Marathis. They view people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as a “social menace” that needs to be urgently tackled and controlled so that Mumbai can become a safe haven for its original inhabitants.

Our so-called secular brigade teams up now and then and tells the minorities that they better vote for them otherwise communal forces represented by the likes of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will take over and destroy the fabric of our society. Their commitment towards the minorities in terms of their overall growth and development may or may not be genuine but their ability to mobilise the minorities, particularly Muslims, by projecting the threat from the Hindu right cannot be underestimated. The minorities have always been kept in a state of perpetual fear about the looming threat to their very existence if communal forces are allowed to enter the political corridors of power.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar periodically criticises Narendra Modi to keep his secular credentials alive even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is an active partner in his government in Bihar. Fear is strategically deployed as a powerful mobilising political strategy to keep the support of the minorities, particularly Muslims. The parties belonging to the “Secular Camp” give some token benefits and sops to the minorities just before elections to keep them in good humour but do not try to genuinely address or alleviate their socio-economic problem. They know in their hearts that the politics of fear will do the trick instead.

The Saffron Brigade, on the other hand, through its rhetoric and discourse over the years has created a fear psychosis in the minds of middle-class Hindus by focusing on issues such as the population growth of minorities, so-called “infiltration” from Bangladesh, and acts of extremism involving minority youth. Hindus cutting across caste, regional and linguistic lines are asked to unite against a common enemy.

In Uttar Pradesh, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Mayawati, has played on the fear factor to keep her flock together. Every time she reaffirms her commitment to the Dalit cause she also projects herself as the ultimate saviour of Dalits. The writing on the wall is clear. Vote for me otherwise non-Dalit forces will retard the growth of the Dalit community and you will never have access to political power, at least not in Uttar Pradesh.

FDI in retail

The recent debate about Wal-Mart entering India is based on the fear that the next door “Kirana” shops dotting the social landscape of our neighbourhoods will be washed away by large foreign retailers. No one is bothering to examine the facts and get the true picture. The BJP, the Left and other parties are happy repeating the same words and playing on the fear of the “outside forces” represented by global retail giants like Wal-Mart, Tesco and Metro. We are told this is a repeat of the “colonial era” and Indians must defend their country’s honour against outsiders waiting to pounce on and plunder the national resources.

A robust democracy can only thrive when the social and political atmosphere is free, honest and without fear. It is high time that our political class rethinks its politics of fear and “domesticates” all its internal and external demons so that we can emerge as a confident nation and society.

(A.N. Siddiqui is a Delhi-based commentator.)

More In: Comment | Opinion

The only remedy for this fear gripped masses lies in educating them.
Education should be made compulsory for all from childhood and the RTE
should be enforced strictly. Educated people become confident about
their views and opinions on vote. Only then , they can choose between
'leaders' who try to mislead them with fear and warnings.

from:  koushik
Posted on: Oct 1, 2012 at 14:24 IST

The issue is not if the MNCs would capture the local "kirana" shops. The point is, successive governments by their corruption ridden rule all these years have facilitated a few to make large amounts of money unethically through their businesses and stash it in the banks abroad. Now to overcome the financial resource crunch, the government has decided to allow FDI in retail for the MNCs to invest here and contribute to our treasuries. My contention is why can't the government show the same vigor and urgency in eliminating the corruption and taking effective steps to bring the money stashed abroad to overcome the financial crisis, as in inviting the MNCs, consequently disturbing the life styles of and unsettling the locals. I feel, here it is not the opposition or others who are creating fear in the minds of the people, but the government, who to cover up its shortcomings in the governance is unnecessarily subjecting people to fears and uncertainties associated with the entry of MNCs.

from:  Murtuza
Posted on: Sep 30, 2012 at 09:43 IST

An excellent article! Unfortunately, this seems to be the easiest way to
win elections and I don't see it changing anytime soon.

from:  Manisha M
Posted on: Sep 29, 2012 at 16:20 IST

And to think that Tagore's most inspiring "Gitanjali" prays for a nation "Where the mind is without fear..."

from:  Raghu
Posted on: Sep 29, 2012 at 15:50 IST

Kudos to Mr. Siddiqui for such an excellent analysis of the current political scenario.

from:  Ershad Hussain
Posted on: Sep 29, 2012 at 15:07 IST

Although I agree with your assessment of Indian politics, I disagree with your statement that the current debate on FDI in retail is based on "fear psychosis" alone, and that no one has bothered to look at the facts. That's off the mark. Several times over, perhaps not so much in the mainstream media but certainly in independent media and academia, we've looked at the impact assessment of giant multi-brand retailing, in terms of employment, economies of scale, profiteering, contraction of the market, etc. We have looked at the facts and we are aware of the consequences of big retailing practices in countries such as the UK and Australia, which is where I live. We see, on a daily basis, the after-effects of highly monopolistic retailing here. No one in Australian cities shops at SMEs anymore. Your statement is purely rhetorical and not based on fact.

from:  Arjun Rajkhowa
Posted on: Sep 29, 2012 at 13:24 IST

Retail FDI is a concern to millions of Indians. It will change millions of entrepreneurs
into salaried wage earners.

A society and country is kept alive by the dynamism of its people, and this change
from being responsible for one's own success as an entrepreneur - identifying
opportunities, being self motivated, and so forth, to being a worker-bee drone is a
big box store will make India communities less dynamic and weaker.

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Sep 29, 2012 at 11:23 IST

Fear is a valid and very useful emotion. It has evolved to keep us alive. I recommend
the book "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin Becker - three time presidential appointee - who
developed an effective way to evaluate threats in the modern world.

The trick is to let fear go after it has given us the message, so we can act freely and
constructively.

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Sep 29, 2012 at 11:18 IST
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