Era of the Pseudo: Politicking Faith

George Bernard Shaw once said, ”If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.”

In the electoral frenzy of contemporary society, this adage seems to have been realized to the helm. From the era of the Indus Valley civilization, society has acted as the organized whole it is because of its belief in a purpose of existence in communities, besides being isolated individuals. As mentioned in The Da Vinci Code, in the Age of Pisces, human society needed guidance and received it in the form of religion and beliefs, and thereafter notions will seemingly supersede faith. Dan Brown has called for enough controversy and I would not like to weigh him down with another ideological debate. However, his views are visibly in resonance with those of a sizeable many – I do not count myself in that league yet – and highlights the age-old ‘Rational vs. Religious’ debate. Nonetheless, what irks both sides of the rift has been the moulding of the dialogue for political pursuit.

Since the times of Mihirikula and Attila, the naiveté of man lead him to extol his perception of the Supreme Being in the garb of religion and sects. Be it the unparalleled subjugation of the Jews or the recession of Bon-Pa in Tibet, it has always been the victor who has written history in mankind’s quest for ‘truth’. In India, Hinduism was often perceived to be a way of living rather than a religion, with its pantheon of gods and goddesses, only to be swiftly shelved as a pagan-faith of the fakirs by marauding armies and ideologues. The graffiti of sects, cults and castes corroded the essence of the religion, which has been mauled beyond recognition by certain misplaced elements in its own fold. Yet, the fabric of our Indian society was so subtly altered that all the new entrants were assimilated into its patch-work with the sundry threads of culture, history and society. Like pulp fiction, political deception, worldly insight and brute force lent its share in the process. However, what was often lost for good was the quintessence of the heritage that we all so brazenly advertise today. We may laud the Greco-Indian art forms and lament the fall of the Bamian Buddha statues, but we hardly follow the ways in which the areas we now know today as Afghanistan (sadly war-torn at its best at present) proved to be the melting pot of two civilizations that still dominate human imagination today, besides being a pivotal station for the caravanserais on the Silk Road. We may read about the Chauhan bastion at Qila Rai Pithora but little do we know about the life and times of Prithviraj III, both due to ruinous state the Qila is in presently and because of the rather too poetic accounts of Chand Bardai in Prithviraj Raso. When the Brits tagged ours as a land of a defeated civilization, there was a lot more than colonial arrogance in the statement. Not to forget, the Brits were the ones who inked the vices of bureaucratic apathy (Jan Lokpal for Dalhousie, Mr. Hazare?!) and the ambiguity of secularism in the collective psyche of the subcontinent, besides defining for the Indians the Indian-ness in the international arena. The cliché of Divide and Rule has become a buzzword even in elementary school debates today, without evoking the realization that those lightly used phrases have a resonance with today’s communal chaos. Today, communal as a word in isolation is revolting and more so if the electorate defines it to be so. Which Oxbridge scholar would explain to the wayfarers that anything to do with a community is communal?

Coming to the central theme, and touching upon the times of yore: the Hun hordes were arguably the world’s first pseudo-secularists, who, for their interests, posed as sympathizers to the various cults of the Central Asian tracts, only to overthrow the community. However, the dangerous trend setting in is that though in the past, pseudo-secularism ensured survival of the weak as subsidiaries, its present form dismisses its subjects to the illusion of might. And without flinching, one can state that the political bigwigs of the primary Indian political blocs, who advocate secularism for winning elections, are more terrifying than the far Right and certain fundamentalists. The Indian constitution states categorically that every religion can be followed and professed. However, turning a blind eye to the Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam for the political weight in the form of Muslim votes that they have presently (given that now the Bangladeshi nationals seem to be overhauling the ethnic Assamese population), organizing iftar parties, setting aside 15 per cent of priority sector lending in all categories for minority communities in 2007 or putting up posters of government schemes always with a boy in a skull-cap to show his Islamic heritage when the sizeable Muslim population in areas such as Chandni Chowk is bearing the brunt of price hikes (that know no religion) that their MPs (Mr. Sibal?) are instrumental in formulating, is mere mockery of the Muslim masses. Similarly, tagging all the Right-wing as Hindutva elements and as the false voices of the majority Hindu community is now a well recognized political gimmick of the ruling regime to sideline certain opposition parties. When Digvijay Singh goes to the hinterlands of the metropolises and calls out to the Muslims and the Dalits as the marginalized masses of society or Jagdish Tytler apologizes for the 1984 riots during the election season, there seemingly is something illusory in their conviction. When Narendra Modi stages a Sadbhavna Fast in Ahmedabad, people know when to look for the deception point. Secularism is the need of the hour and is the means of promoting harmony in society. However, promoting agnostic and atheistic ideas in the garb of secularism or the use of the secularism plank for power is the gravest ruse of all. Just like the reserved classes not being taken to be meritocratic in many circles today, pseudo-secularism can only push forth the minority’s interests in a very narrow and inappropriate manner wherein all the communities can only lose.

Though no words can sufficiently highlight the gravity of, and condone the plague of fundamentalism but playing the Ayodhya card or the Gujarat Riots card in elections is slowly becoming a stale commodity (courtesy: the rising awareness levels of the masses). What have resulted are a monotonous political environment and the touch-them-not attitude of the demographic majority that bear the brunt of the axe both in terms of reservation (that has a long-winded debate associated as well) and the weight of being those responsible for the general welfare of the state. I am in no way advocating or siding by the blatant instances of violent activism of any state-actors but since no scholar could clear history’s grey areas and crease out the subjective and ever-evolving lines of the oppressor and oppressed, the ruler and the ruled, the majority and the minority, and the religious lines in the administration of the country, one cannot pin out anyone community’s claim on what I see as a shared heritage.

Opportunistic politicking has earned the government the wrath of many minority groups as well. “If the world knows a Pakistan, why not Khalistan?” may voice more than Longewala’s bugle-call: rational if not legitimate in all respects. Unlike the medieval times, when the sword was followed by the clerics, masses have reached equilibrium with a subtle interplay of some wise and other naive decisions by society at large. But when chaos has set in and the purgatory is the wrong place to be in (!), some critical questions do arise. In case of the subcontinent: If Pakistan was formed upon the idea of being the realm of the Muslims of the Indian mainland, then why did the authorities flinch from dividing the whole country upon religious and sectarian lines alone for the others as well? Why did the India government not put a ban on conversion among religions thereafter and bring in the liberal secular clause? Why did India, as it stands, try to be the all-encompassing messianic state? All these arguments probably rise from the friction and fissures rising out of the Partition: a rather absurd decision for a country with a heritage such as India. The all-too-important-to-neglect question is that when Shahjahanabad could be the capital of Bharat and Roman Catholic edifices were symbols of added glory, did Mountbatten have the authority to carry out the most unsuccessful Caesarean surgery of history? Did we as a nation, as the true citizens of Akhand Bharat, fail to live up to the responsibilities that history endowed us with? Pakistan may have more than its share of trouble but isn’t it obvious that even with the Jinnah’s threat of a civil war, the subcontinent would have been a different place without Partition 1947? Wasn’t Jinnah seeking a Utopian idea and being artificial to the cause of nation-building?

Being one of the four pillars of any democracy, it is largely the media that has sometimes been pseudo-secularist. The glaring example of the fact is the Shopian murder case and the subsequent analysis of the story by Justice Jan. The so called secular journalists, for paltry interests, distorted the coverage to incite communal violence. In an instance, as reported, Muslim rape-victims were shown to be smeared with sindoor to highlight the fact that the culprits were Hindus. However, it was later proven, that the marks were due to the bleeding and the case was fabricated by certain journalists.

But this argument can be extrapolated to the larger political reality of various democratic countries. Religion is a mode of faith, of ambient realization, of self-understanding. However, in this Kalyug (!) of ours, politics and religion have eerie common points, for the better or for worse. With the people electing their representatives with great zeal and solemnity, the sad truth of contemporary society is that in the maximum cases, faith is only an instrument of politics i.e. there is a politicking of the trust people endow their leaders with. One can see that quite often autocratic states have high rates of development, at the expense of essential human rights. So, is that an excuse for all the coup-sters to raise their heads? Absolutely not. The one political system that can be most relied upon surely is Democracy. However, having said that, one needs to realize that this IS the era of certain pseudos and the idea of pseudo-secularism is all that important because in India, wherein politics is intricately linked to religion, caste and creed of the ‘target groups’ for social engineering by the political fronts. And in this labyrinthine ploy, the role of the civil society is extremely important. Being the son of a social anthropologist, I have been associated with certain NGOs informally, one of which has been the Anti-Tobacco Drive by WHO. You can’t help but stare in disbelief at the tactics used by the Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) and the resultant number of tobacco consumers in the whole of the South East Asia Region. Be it sponsoring the national cricket team in a cricket-crazy nation or funding large hotel conglomerates, the gloss on the murk is so alluring that the agents beckoning you with their warm smiles may be the latest agents of Yamraj! Enough chutnification! The point I want to establish is that with the advent of certain civil-society, voluntary groups and the onset of the winds of hope,  ‘change we can believe in’ is no longer Mr. Obama’s election campaign slogan. It is a war-call now. A war call to establish rational sanity and to tear apart the false visage of the pseudos, the hypocrites, who are eating away at the bowels of society.

By selective administrative practices, are we not disturbing the thin line between the ersatz and the real? Are we not strengthening the idea behind the Era of the Pseudo? This is THE pertinent question that needs to be answered before it is late.

(This article has been selected by the organizers of SPAN-Youth-Ki-Awaaz Blogocracy 2012 in the short-list for the title: http://youthkiawaaz.com/blogocracy/).

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8 thoughts on “Era of the Pseudo: Politicking Faith

    1. Thank you Joseph. Keep reading my posts whenever I publish them (which is not quite often!) 🙂

  1. I think it was a really well-written article. I particularly liked the understanding of the “labyrinthine” nexus between religion-caste-creed-politics int the context of the subcontinent. Most people tend to blast the issue of ‘faith’ as beyond the scope of politics for fearing of treading the dangerous ground that would affirm how deep and intricate and irreparably beyond recall the connection has taken roots. Or, people tend to define the country through a loose, broad, general idea in popular imagination regarding ‘secularism’. What came into play ever since the Partition became a reality, or perhaps, even before that, is a far subtler affair. Overall, a reasonably balanced approach to the idea, I must say. Good job.

  2. It was a good, and challenging, read. I’m not quite used to reading articles of this stature (writing is, of course, out of question). It needed a complexity of thought that made me re-read it.

    I believe that pseudo-secularism, as long as it is set within some constitutionalism, is not only justifiable, but perhaps even good.

    In economics, we study something called the median voter theorem, i.e. all political parties will tend to converge to the preferences of the median voter. If that, in the Indian political scenario, is secularism, then it pays the political parties to portray themselves as secularists, even if they do not quite feel for it themselves. I guess it is just a reflection of our society, and there’s nothing prima facie wrong with that.

    Yes, sometimes this ‘vote-bank’ politics can remove us from the socially optimal polity. But then, the same argument can be made about any kind of vote-bank politics, even genuine ones like Mayawati’s Dalit card – and hence it would be unfair to take out only these people for castigation. Rather, what is better is to set out guidelines and limits as to how far politicians can go. This is where judicial activism becomes important.

    1. Interesting comment Subhashish. I believe morally sound arguments are not always politically sound in countries like India. But I do not quite agree with your idea of judicial activism and the thought of guidelines being set up by the judiciary alone. I believe, in this age of civil society activism, it is the duty of the citizens to enact the checks and balances for their leaders. Vote-bank politics, as such, may be obsolete if the civil-society wave is given some oxygen. As for your argument about median voters, I feel that you have touched the nerve-centre of a rather massive problem in society today: that of perception vs. reality. Today, secularism is used with such frivolity that one tends to suspect that the word was coined by some atheist! However, I cannot but argue against the Theorem you stated. In a country like India, where the word ‘diversity’ describes social-classes classified on the basis of various characteristics, I don’t feel that leaders can identify a trend associated with any particular median of their electorate. As far as communal segregation is concerned, it is the long-drawn tussle between the minority rights and the cry of the majorities that often end up as pseudo-minorities! Politics, unfortunately, is not satiated with the votes obtained by poaching on such sentiments. However, one must understand that that is only the wrong kind of politics practiced that makes it so. That is where civil society needs to reinvent the polity and live the change.

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