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Are we creating an anarchic society?

While the inclination to revel in random and wanton acts of terror and destruction is disturbing, perhaps the most dramatic aspect of this liturgy of growing social anarchy is its increasing State patronage, which has been compounded further by a keenness to erode faith in public institutions. It is a mentality that is crippling and fast obscuring the need for a shared vision for the country. Can we hope for better times? Where are the saner voices, ask SWAMI AGNIVESH and Rev. VALSON THAMPU.

THE duty of every citizen to safeguard the health of society is most neglected today. Everyone wants to have a benign society and wants it served on a platter. At the same time, people endorse socially disruptive agendas to bolster their vested interests. We pay lip-service to values; but we assume that values are, most often, for others to follow for our benefit. No principle is welcome when upholding it goes against our interests. We want the courts, for example, to be impartial, but we throw a tantrum when judicial impartiality goes against our calculations. We seem to have lost the ability to look beyond our noses. We are doing everything imaginable to erode the health and wholeness of our society. And we are, today, paying the price for it.

A society, not less than the individuals who comprise it, is vulnerable to ill-health. Disharmony between the constituent parts is the pattern of illness in both cases. In a human being, a heart attack results, for instance, when the relationship between a part and the rest of the heart is compromised through the narrowing of the coronary artery. The hand experiences acute pain and dies when the blood flow into it is cut off. Paralysis results from the alienation between the brain and the affected limbs. Physical illness implies, in other words, organic anarchy. The same pattern applies to macro-systems like societies and nations. When these symptoms of collective pathology are neglected over time, societies begin to degenerate and collapse into anarchy.

Because of the enormous difference in scales between the individual and society, symptoms of collective illness are apt to be mistaken for the vitality of a constituent part. Consider this illustration. In a certain neurological condition, a gentle tap on a muscle results in an enormous jerk of the limb concerned, quite beyond the range of normal sensitivity. If seen in isolation, it could be mistaken as proof of the patient's extraordinary strength. But when it is seen in the light of that person's inability to do any useful work, it emerges as a pathological phenomenon.

Communal atrocities that signal our social ill-health are of this kind. They are misunderstood as signs of religious vitality in the absence of a total vision of societal health. It is a suicidal folly to condone, much less encourage, any anarchic agenda, overlooking its disruptiveness in the national context. Sadly, the protagonists of vote-bank politics have misled a large number of people to believe otherwise. Allowing their discernment to be lulled by the spell of spurious patriotism, the gullible and the naive have become a party to undermining the health and wholeness of our society. The silver-lining on the cloud, though, is that the facade of deception has begun to slip away, allowing the truth to be seen for what it is. The obvious loss of popular enthusiasm for the mandir movement, especially in the temple city itself, is the most significant fact that shines through the recent stage-management of the Ayodhya imbroglio.

We are being hijacked into becoming an ungovernable society. This is a roguish ritual sustained by political parties and communal outfits. But the most dramatic aspect of this liturgy of social anarchy is the increasing State patronage it receives. It is no longer a secret that every communal atrocity, every instance of corruption and oppression, presupposes political protection and patronage. The recent carnage in Gujarat, like Ayodhya of 1992, would not have occurred but for the complicity of the State. Shila-daan at Ayodhya ended the way it did only because the government at the Centre had to be seen holding the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) hawks on leash, even while lending further legitimacy to their agenda. As regards the bluster of Paramhans, Singhal, Katiyar and the others, only consider how quickly they sobered down when the likelihood of Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) agents infiltrating the karsevak crowd was merely mentioned to them. The salutory effect of a firm stand on the part of the Central dispensation can, then, be easily imagined.

Praying for peace after the riots ... school girls in Gujarat.

The creed of an anarchic society is total faith in violence. Over the last five decades, the very foundation of our national life has shifted from a faith in non-violence to the exclusive faith in use or threat of violence. This process reached its summit with the political ascendancy of the Sangh Parivar, with its unabashed commitment to crafting a culture of violence. The atom bomb, as is now amply clear, was not a strategic but a symbolic object: a cultic embodiment of the culture of violence. This was of a piece with the Ram mandir movement that celebrated its virility through the destruction of the centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya. It was the self-same cult of violence that was witnessed again in the charade of the shiladaan. The message that the threat of violence, including that of self-immolation, will be amply rewarded is writ large over the way the Government handled this law and order problem. An experienced and seasoned politician like Mr. Vajpayee does not have to be told that such encouragement extended in full public glare to forces that openly defy constituted authority, including that of the Supreme Court, is a recipe for national anarchy. It amounts to a gross betrayal of the constitutional obligations under which governments are required to function.

The latest in the Sangh Parivar series of public indulgence in the cult of violence is the attack on the Orissa Assembly. This does not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the ideological outlook of the Parivar. What surprises objective onlookers is the zealous avoidance of the term terrorism in this and similar contexts. The attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly amounted to terrorism. It was terrorism, par excellence, when five men managed to infiltrate into the premises of Parliament. But hardly does anyone think of the organised, pre-meditated attack on the Orissa Assembly as an act of terrorism! In an objective assessment, the VHP-Bajrang Dal can only emerge as a terrorist combine, no better than the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in terms of explicit words and deeds. To countenance such open advocacy and practice of aggression is to encourage the agents of anarchy.

The flip-side of the culture of violence is what psychologists call the grievance-hunting mentality. In psychology this is recognised as a condition of illness. It betrays a state of mind singularly incapable of normally engaging the opportunities and responsibilities of today and so must flee to the past to discover a haven of grievance for itself. The landscape of the present is littered with responsibilities, which it cannot or does not want to handle. No human being infected with this grievance-hunting mentality can perform normally and creatively, though he can have a great deal of nuisance value. That being the case, nobody should be in any doubt as to what it means for a whole nation to be infected with this sick mentality. The massive ritual of collective grievance-hunting, such as is choreographed by the Sangh Parivar, has already taken its toll on the country as a whole. It has crippled our national energies and diverted the attention of the country from the pressing issues that cry out for attention. It is worse than absurd that the attention of the country is focussed on this to the total exclusion of life-and-death issues affecting a billion people. One wonders if this can happen in any other country.

Yet another ingredient in the recipe for social and collective anarchy is the keenness to erode faith in public institutions, especially the Judiciary and the State. Perhaps there is nothing new in this. But what is absolutely new is the complicity of the State in eroding its own credibility, as in the case of Gujarat. What makes it all the more worrisome is that it did not take long for the Gujarat syndrome to catch up with the Centre. The way the shiladaan melodrama was stage-managed does not leave anyone, not even the so-called coalition partners, in any doubt as to the partisan role played by the Vajpayee Government in this matter. Those who remember Ayodhya 1992 would agree that the communal and partisan role of the State has reached a new peak now. In 1992, it was an ordinary policeman in his secular uniform who was seen kneeling and praying at the site where the mosque was destroyed and a makeshift temple was hastily set up. In 2002 it is a senior bureaucrat from the Prime Minister's Office who is forced to pose before the media and seen accepting the would-be temple shilas: a posture that fouls the secular character of the State. The fact that this has come in the wake of the role that the Attorney General of India played, seen by most people as pleading the VHP cause, leaves the secular part of our democracy in the sewer of a veritable scandal.

The animating force of an anarchic society is the spirit of negativity, which remains powerful precisely because it is not recognised for what it is. It is this spirit of negativity that enhances the popular appeal of divisive and hate-driven ideologies and agendas. The inclination to revel in destruction is bred by this spirit. The sight of a frenzied mob tearing down the Babri Masjid in a matter of hours, ecstatic in this act of negative assertion, speaks for itself. No comparable enthusiasm can be whipped up for building the temple. Whatever drama happened in Ayodhya recently was stage-managed, merely to cover up the fact that the local people are apathetic to the mandir movement. If they were not, there would have been no need to import lumpens and quasi-tourists into Ayodhya.

The cost for the nation on account of popularising this spirit of negativity is not limited to the days lost in fire-fighting, as in the recent instance. The larger cost is that the epidemic of negativity infects the mind of India and disables the country from realising its potential. Negativity cannot be selectively invoked or employed. If you are negative to your neighbour because he happens to practise a religion that you dislike, you will be negative to all else who displease you one way or another. This will make life impossible. The foremost casualty to the spirit of negativity is work-culture. Very few people have an instinctive liking for the work they do. It is either the general idea of contributing to nation-building or the hope of being recognised in the context of work that keeps most people positive towards their work. The epidemic of negativity will erode all these, degrading the workplace into a jungle of grievances.

Our foremost need as a nation, faced with unprecedented challenges and pressures in the wake of globalisation, is to enunciate and internalise a shared vision for the country in harmony with the spirit of the Constitution. Given how integral religious plurality and cultural diversity are to the history and ethos of India, a project of religious and cultural homogenisation is sure to turn India into a Sri Lanka, ten times over. Religious minorities, numbering some 200 million, and dalits of an even larger chunk cannot be wished away or browbeaten into submission forever. There is room enough in this country for all; or there will be room for none. That is the truth, unless the logic of history has changed for the sake of some misguided elements who happen to enjoy official patronage today. But the rest of us cannot afford to entertain any illusion on this count: precipitating social anarchy is a singular act of national subversion: it is terrorism from within, which is far more dangerous than cross-border terrorism of the worst kind.

Swami Agnivesh is a noted social activist and national president of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front.

Rev. Valson Thampu is a distinguished writer and peace activist. He is a faculty member of St. Stephen's College, Delhi, and an ordained minister for the Church of North India.

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