Political correctness

The current ideology of political correctness — that people must be divided into irreconcilable classes — is an unmitigated disaster.

THIS IS the era of political correctness, a norm that has replaced ethics as the guide for proper conduct. For instance, recently, there has been severe criticism of the Government's move to introduce ethical bias in textbooks. The Government incurred much of that condemnation not because anyone is against ethics but because its proposals transgressed the unwritten laws of political correctness.

Just as there are arbiters of feminine fashion, there are arbiters of political correctness. As a senior journalist recently remarked, it is dangerous to deviate from the rules set by them. Years ago, Rajaji tried to do so by questioning the efficacy of socialism, which was then the only ideology that was politically correct. He was promptly consigned to intellectual purgatory. However, it must be said that these arbiters of political correctness are generally right. The problem arises only when they claim to be absolutely right. That makes what is generally right precisely wrong. Modern day political correctness has its roots in the dialectic of class conflict, which divides society into an exploited underclass and an exploiting upper class. As a corollary, whatever helps the underclass and hurts the upper class is right; whatever blocks the dictatorship of the underclass or promotes the interests of the upper class is wrong. Hence, the objective is to strive for the Millennium where the upper class is utterly defeated and the underclass triumphs.

This dialectic leads at times to certain anomalies. For instance, paid employees are, by definition, the underclass. However, employees of Government institutions in India are paid so well that even the lowest among them belongs to the upper ten per cent of the economic strata in the country. Political correctness requires that this rich segment of the population must be supported at all costs. Doing so, however, invariably hurts the poorer 90 per cent. That is conceded as unfortunate but accepted as unavoidable. It is treated as collateral damage that must be tolerated in the just struggle for class supremacy. It may be recalled that the Americans made similar claims when they bombed innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

These anomalies expand further when the idea of class conflict is translated to the realm of communal divide. In most countries of the world, the population is virtually a monoculture: in general, over 95 per cent of the population belong to one single ethnic group. India is an exception. It is strongly multicultural. In particular, it has a majority belonging to a prehistoric civilisation vying with a large minority devoted to the latest religious philosophy. Hence, in our country, the communal divide generates more passion than economic inequality does; caste and religion dominate politics. Thoughtful intellectuals have tried to curb that malaise by propagating secularism. Unfortunately, that has not proved successful. The country is now divided bitterly on communal lines as never before.

Translating the principles of class conflict into the communal arena, arbiters of political correctness have divided India's communities into a large underclass and a relatively small upper class. Upper caste Hindus alone constitute the latter. Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and Muslims comprise the former. By extension of the basic principles of class conflicts, any move that favours the underclass of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and the OBCs is politically correct and secular. Anything that helps upper caste Hindus is politically incorrect and communal. In the process, the underclass may become communalised. In many cases it has. That is unfortunate but accepted as the collateral damage that has to be tolerated in the just war against upper caste Hindus.

Recently, this principle was applied in an article in The Hindu to the case of Adivasis of Gujarat who were bribed, or otherwise induced, to attack and kill Muslims. It might have been said that what the Adivasis did was wrong. However, that is not politically correct. Therefore, the article placed the entire blame on upper caste Hindus who, undoubtedly, were the instigators. The conduct of the Adivasis was condoned. They were not asked to introspect but to band themselves to resist the blandishments of caste Hindus.

Thirty years ago, a similar trick was tried. Madhavsinh Solanki, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, formed a coalition of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis, and Muslims — KHAM for short. That was commended at that time as a politically correct move. It ended up tearing the country's fastest growing State into two bitterly opposed factions. It led to the Nav Nirman movement with students agitating against the "carry-over" of reservation of seats in professional colleges. KHAM became a precursor of Indira Gandhi's Emergency. KHAM did much harm but we do not learn from past mistakes.

Because of their obsession with the theory of class conflict, arbiters of political correctness have destroyed the relatively less harmful religiosity of people such as Rajaji or C. Subramaniam. They also silenced the voices of God-fearing adherents of the brand of Hinduism that is positively tolerant of different forms of worship. Secularists systematically ejected from the political leadership all those who were devoted to Hindu religion but not fanatical about it, insular no doubt but not antagonistic to other creeds. Their views were ridiculed and their voices were censored. Sidelined in this manner, their successors turned to the pursuit of economic self-advancement rather than social or political service. Mostly, they migrated abroad where they found a more congenial environment for their talents, or entered the private sector where they were not ostracised the way they were in political and Government circles.

This brand of "secularism", of which KHAM is a notable example, has worked the way pesticides do: it destroyed the relatively benign form of Hinduism only to be replaced by a more virulent one, one which is immune to the pesticide. Thus, we no more have upper caste Hindu leaders of the type of Rajaji but have got the likes of Narendra Modi instead. Hindu leaders of the earlier era fought with words. Though they were devoted to Hinduism, they would never dream of fostering communal violence, let alone massacre of innocent women and children.

The new breed of caste Hindu leaders is different. It does not fight with words. It dismisses logic as irrelevant to matters of faith. It is unashamedly violent. Thus, secularism based on a division of communities into upper caste Hindus and the others has sidelined sober elements among caste Hindus and has brought to the fore a brutal kind.

However, intolerance of one type cannot be cured by intolerance of the opposite type. In Greek mythology, Procrustes was an innkeeper who tried to fit guests to his bed exactly by stretching short ones and chopping off the legs of the tall ones. Our secularists are behaving like that. They want everyone to fit exactly to their idea of correctness.

Although it is not considered politically correct, the time has come to state openly, defiantly, that the current ideology of political correctness — that people must be divided into irreconcilable classes — is an unmitigated disaster. When that principle was applied vigorously to economic classes, it destroyed the economy of Eastern Europe. The same principle applied to India's communal diversity, dividing communalism into a good brand and an evil variety, will as surely destroy Indian society.

I suggest that we all become Indians.

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