FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Towards unfreedom
Updated:Jul 3, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Amartya Sen
 
 
“Faith,” it has been said, “will move mountains.” It is an encouraging belief — when we need to move mountains. But in our day-to-day life, relying on unquestioned faith rather than on reasoning can be a big obstacle to leading an enlightened life, as Buddha discussed 2,500 years ago. Also, arguing and communication can restrain battles and bloodshed. To be sure, faith in good things can have many achievements (such as generating charity and philanthropy), but it can, in general, discourage the willingness to listen to others. And, faith in nasty things can cause cruelty and carnage.
 
 
The Inquisitions that blackened medieval Europe for more than five centuries drew on faith — in the perceived duty to punish heterodoxy and kill the perpetrators. India has been, I have tried to argue, fortunate in having a particularly argumentative culture. The argumentativeness of Indians may have encouraged the tolerance of heterodoxy, with debates and discussions restraining violent confrontation.
 
 
Historically, India has certainly been a refuge for persecuted minorities from many different lands — providing shelter and new homes to hounded Jews from the first century, harassed Christians from the fourth century, fleeing Parsis from the late seventh century and oppressed Bahais from the 19th century.
 
 
Does India’s tolerance of heterodoxy still hold? As we look around today’s India, the signs of tolerance seem to have faded fast. The country that welcomed people fleeing persecution abroad, and allowed the immigrating minorities to have their own beliefs and practices (and food habits), now harbours gangs of wild men hunting down beef-eaters, and killing people — very poor people — whose employment in the leather industry arouses the suspicion of faithful believers in the holiness of the cow.
 
 
A leading news agency that dares to include news that the ruling government does not like can have its founders raided on extraordinarily flimsy charges (NDTV can tell you about this, if you have not kept up with news about news).
 
 
Which side you back in a cricket test match could possibly place you in custodial arrest on the unbelievable ground of “sedition” as determined by the local bosses of the ruling party in control of the police force, completely in violation of the Supreme Court’s clearly stated rules on what kind of incitement to violence can constitute sedition (“Give him another googly” does not quite qualify). With the control of the police, sedition charges are coming plentifully — causing terror with spurious legality. Further, you can be beaten up while in custody (ask Kanhaiya Kumar, the student leader, also charged, rather implausibly, with sedition).
 
 
In the suppression of India’s tolerant tradition, the ruling party, the BJP, has clearly played a gigantic role. What is astonishing is how much tolerance of intolerance the political climate in India has been made to bear. It is as if stunned people are waiting in a daze for something to happen. Further, many people with evidently liberal instincts have been able to continue supporting the government for one reason or another, such as expected benefits from Narendra Modi’s economic reforms (what The Economist, the global magazine, calls “the illusion of reform”), while the country is made to descend down the ladder of intolerance and unfreedom.
 
 
We have to recognise that the freedoms that Indian society enjoyed in beliefs and practice always needed defence and support. Violations had to be opposed to correct the follies and to prevent their resurgence. India did, in fact, witness serious bloodshed in the communal riots in the 1940s, and insightful leaders had to offer resistance through their vision and determined political action. Mahatma Gandhi, in particular, provided leadership in combating communal violence, making big personal sacrifices and taking huge risks, in addition to presenting far-reaching political analysis. He fought with his life and he won.
 
 
We do not have, right now, leadership of a kind that Gandhiji — or Jawaharlal Nehru — could provide, nor what came from leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan. But is the opposition we currently see the best that India can do in resisting the decimation of its strong secular and tolerant tradition? Interestingly, there was much more cogent resistance in the 2004 general elections, opposing — as it happens — a far less extreme sectarian provocation, and indeed the Congress was richly rewarded for following a well-articulated and firmly secular strategy. But today it seems all quite different — and paralysed.
 
 
In the run-up to the election of the President of India, rather than presenting a visionary candidate for the presidentship, the opposition remained inert, waiting for the BJP to make the first move. The Congress, as the inheritor of Mahatma Gandhi’s tradition, could have gone for an intelligent strategy with national appeal. The much-aired name of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who has great intellectual and evocative strength to animate political discussion about the right vision for India, did not evidently suit the present thinking of the Congress.
 
 
Instead, the Congress converted the contest into one of tactics rather than of strategies, and gave the BJP the first move. But at the tactical level, the BJP has proved itself, again and again, to be much smarter than the Congress (reflected even in the state assembly elections in Goa and Manipur earlier this year, where the Congress won more seats than the BJP in both states, but the BJP formed both governments with smart and quick alliances).
 
 
Meira Kumar is now the presidential candidate from the Congress as a second-move response to the BJP’s proposal of Ram Nath Kovind. Had she been put forward earlier as the well thought-out strategic choice of someone coming from a Dalit background, and having important political experience and vision, she could have attracted much more support than she would now be able to get as a belated tactical choice, after the BJP had already locked up quick support for their own Dalit candidate.
 
 
The battle that has to be engaged in India now is one of vision, with tactical support — not one of looking for some super-cunning tactics, without an integrating outlook. A vision, particularly of democracy, tolerance and even-handed treatment of all, can also be a powerful vehicle of good faith — backed by reason. The reasons have to be understood in a clear-headed way, looking both to India’s past and to its future, and they have to be lucidly shared with the people. A visionary strategy can command respect and loyalty in a way that outwitted tactics can hardly be expected to do. If this sounds like a call for change, it may well be just that.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Relations between India and Peru  are united by El Niño and the monsoon yet separated by vast distances across oceans.  Jorge Castaneda, Ambassador of Peru to India, talks to INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS exclusively about what is bringing the two geographically-apart countries closer.
 
read-more
Indian judge Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the International Court of Justice on Monday as the UN General Assembly rallied behind him in a show of force that made Britain  bow to the majority and withdraw its candidate.
 
read-more
Those with a resolve make a big difference to the society. They inspire others to make the best out of a bad situation, steer out of morass with fortitude. Insha Mushtaq, the teenage girl who was pelleted to complete blindness during 2016 emerged as a classic example of courage.
 
read-more
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Sunday said India and China have "great potential" and they could work together at a "practical level".
 
read-more
This week a major United Nations gathering on climate change gets underway in Bonn, Germany.
 
read-more

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to build India's global appeal for investors seem to have finally yielded returns in terms of the country's performance in the World Bank&rsquo...

 
read-more
Column-image

Title: The People Next Door -The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations; Author: T.C.A. Raghavan; Publisher: HarperCollins ; Pages: 361; Price: Rs 699

 
Column-image

Could the North Korean nuclear issue which is giving the world an anxious time due to presence of hotheads on each side, the invasion of Iraq and its toxic fallout, and above all, the arms race in the teeming but impoverished South Asian subcon...

 
Column-image

Title: A Bonsai Tree; Author: Narendra Luther; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 227 Many books have been written on India's partition but here is a firsthand account of the horror by a migrant from what is now Pakistan, who ...

 
Column-image

As talk of war and violence -- all that Mahatma Gandhi stood against -- gains prominence across the world, a Gandhian scholar has urged that the teachings of the apostle of non-violence be taken to the classroom.

 
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.