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Why is India getting dangerously polarized?

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Jai prakash Ojha
Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on [email protected]. Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com

The nation just can’t seem to agree. We, as a society and as a nation, have simply lost the art of consent, so essential, for the smooth functioning of a democracy. There are issues that should have brought the nation together; there should have been broader political consensus and the political parties should not have worked at cross purposes. Common prudence would have required all parties to work together in the fight against the Corona pandemic putting aside their differences and the entire political spectrum talking in unison against the act of Chinese aggression against India at Ladakh but just look at the prevailing situation in the country. Has this happened? The answer is a straight no.

The opposition is throwing tantrums even on issues of national security. It is criticising just for the sake of criticism; it is opposing just for the sake of opposition. In its bid to tear apart Modi, it is not even reluctant to appear anti national and at times, insane. On the Corona related health emergency that has spread panic waves all across the globe, some of the  opposition ruled states and Centre are not often on the same page and instead of finding an amicable way-out, they are simply finding faults with each other and blaming each other for the spread of the pandemic. Abolition of Article 370 and Passing of CAA act shouldn’t have been so divisive. Military shouldn’t have been asked to provide proofs of its strikes. Matters get further chilled up when you see leaders who talk as if they represent Pakistani/Chinese interests. 

In the heat and fury of divisive political rhetoric, even the institutions of the state that were supposed to facilitate the working of the democratic process & safeguard democracy like Election Commission, Judiciary, CAG and Armed Forces are not spared. Parliament passed CAA and people took to the streets, protested violently as if Parliament had done something illegal. The proper course should have been to approach the courts to get the act nullified. Supreme Court ordered that certain changes have to be made in SC/ST act to make it more humane and remove all chances of misuse. What happened? People took to streets and parties supported them if not directly, indirectly. Ultimately the change in the act suggested by the apex court was not accepted by the government.

Street power threatens to triumph over Parliament and Supreme Court. If institutions lose their credibility and collapse due to political viciousness, what avenue will be left for the beleaguered democracy & common citizenry to resurrect? Indian polity is deeply polarized. Poisonous rhetoric, sharp ideological divides and vicious propaganda machinery have led to deep chasms not only in polity but also in the society. Political parties can go to any extent for the sake of power; they are guided more by short term gains and vote bank than by any genuine concerns for the people and the nation. Political ethics or Morality in politics are defined as per political convenience; means don’t matter if the end is political power. This has further sharpened the socio-political polarization in the nation. Democracy has, no doubt, deepened but in the process, it has unleashed rabid identity politics.

The problem with identity politics is that it is like an amoeba taking several forms. Community mobilizations can take place around several poles; the pole can be caste, it can be religion, it can be language or quite simply, it can be local vs outsider. Cases of communities being hostile to each other and constantly at each other’s throats are not uncommon in the nation. The social fabric is torn, communities don’t gel well and remain suspicious of each other.

No community wants to think of the welfare of the entire society but is more concerned about benefits flowing to it. Group identity is shaping the thought process, the political and the ideological bent, the pattern of social interactions and the social behaviour norms. Identity politics has killed public opinion, it has killed public charity and it has killed public solidarity. The outcome is a deeply polarized society where people co-exist in uneasy relationship. Despite, more than 7 decades of independence, we are still a nation of identity obsessed individuals rather than citizens. The society is being torn apart by forces of the left and right, by the forces of nature and market and by various “Ism” or ideologies. It can be Gandhism, Ambedkarism or Lohiaism and it can be communism, socialism or capitalism. Lesser the number of Isms, the better it is for the society. More the number of Isms, the more the fragmentations and the divides in the nation.

Polarization is a phenomenon that is confined not only to India but is visible all across the globe in most of the societies. There are multiple reasons that have led to rise of polarization. The end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin wall has removed the ingrained fears of an invisible enemy from the minds of the people who no longer feel the need to remain united. There were certain values that were linked to democracy like freedom, rights, equality and dignity of individuals but now, these unifying values that brought societies and nations together have been replaced by group identities. And problem begins when group identities threaten the ideas provided in the constitution.

According to Amy Chua, “Leftists believe that Right wing tribalism like bigotry, racism is tearing society apart. The Right believes that left wing tribalism like identity politics, political correctness is tearing society apart. They are both correct.” India has today become the battleground of ideological contestations. Left & Right are no longer distinguished from each other by economics because more or less, there is an undeclared consensus on economic reforms among all the parties right from the onset of market economy in India in the early nineties.

Indian leftists no longer talk about the rights of the workers, they no longer champion the cause of trade unions, they are least bothered by capitalism but are interested more in rants against Brahminism & Hindu religion. The ascendancy of BJP post 2014 in the country has further given impetus to polarization as the Left/Congress/Social justice camp has not been able to reconcile to the emerging consolidation of Hindus and the arrival of BJP to the national mainstream from the margins.

Globalization and the rise of several liberal democracies in Europe, Asia and Americas have led to the growth of multicultural plural societies and religious ethnic diversity which have engendered social distrust. Though societies are plural, communities live in segregated areas. Absence of mixed and heterogeneous neighbourhoods and prevalence of homogeneous societies having the same socio-political thought have further worsened the situation. Spreading of media ghettos, decline in ethics of journalism and the rise of social media in a big way have worked more to widen the social chasms, than to bridge them.

Polarization has deeply impacted societies all around. Rising tide of nationalism has resulted in popular resentment against immigrants and minorities. Brexit is a manifestation. Liberal democracies are on the verge of collapse and Right-wing parties have taken control over many countries in Europe. The rise of Trump, the rise of Modi, the rise of Boris Johnson and the rise of Erdogan in Turkey can be seen in this context. Parties like the Labour Party in UK, the Congress in India and the Democrats in USA have become so rattled by the rise of Right-wing ideology that they have turned more left than the leftists themselves. Globalization was already under threat due to Trade war between China and USA & adoption of trade protection policies by several countries; it now runs the risk of reversal due to the Covid pandemic that has disrupted international supply & manufacturing chains. The Indian PM wants the people to think local and be vocal about local. His motto is simple – a Atmanirbhar Bharat.  Multilateral arrangements like WHO, WTO and UN have lost teeth and credibility.

What lies ahead? Too much socio-political polarization, in India or any country, is dangerous portend for any democracy. Opposition has an important role to play in India, no wonder we have a shadow Cabinet and a shadow PM in UK. Not only has the opposition to debate and discuss issues in the Parliament, it is a part of several Parliamentary committees that examine several issues related to welfare, security, finance etc. The Leader of Opposition enjoys a cabinet rank and is a member of high-profile committees that select important functionaries of the nation like CVC, Chief Election Commissioner, CBI Director etc. Pity that the main opposition party of India is behaving as a fringe group causing disruption, not construction. Too much Polarization may result in parliamentary non-functioning, deadlock over policy matters and anarchy on the streets. It will sound a death blow to the institutions that were devised to protect democracy.

The national landscape will be dotted with social war zones and the people will be divided into numerous tribes headed by tribal chieftains not leaders. Whether it’s the society or it’s politics, we need to stop viewing things in binaries. Solution is not either in black or in white but in between the two and it’s the grey zone. The moment we learn to engage, interact and debate, most of the problems of democracy will vanish. The time is ripe to review policies of Secularism and Social Justice as these twin forces have created divisions in the nation. Secularism has bred communalism, minority-ism and ridicule of Hindu values & culture. Social justice politics has prevented the unification of Hindus by pitting one group against the other. Entitlement has been ingrained so much so in the minds of reserved communities that any talk of parity seems blasphemous to them. Moreover, any affirmative action plan for deprived communities can only continue up to a definite period till they attain parity with other communities. If this policy continues unhindered and indefinitely, it loses its relevance and simply, perpetuates the domination of deprived communities in the long run.

First Past the Pole System needs to be examined seriously as any candidate with a mere 27-28 percentage of votes polled can win in a multi cornered contest. Nothing can be better than making it mandatory for winning candidates to secure 50 percent votes to win. This will compel him to seek votes from a wide array of castes and communities. Policies of exemptions, incentives & concessions based on identity, subsidies & dole outs for purpose of vote bank and creation of special categories of citizenry have to stop immediately. Only inclusive policies that desist from other-ment of sections of population and does not benefit one community at the cost of another community will work.

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Jai prakash Ojha
Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on [email protected]. Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com
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