The Political Mystique of Polarization

A Treatise of Ideas on the State of Democracy

By Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

‘Polar’ is a most conspicuous term: be it in the simple linguistic form of being associated with poles or being associated with Argand Planes and Dipolar Functions in Arithmetic and the Natural Sciences (being a Physics-undergrad, I often fail to prevent those boffin-istic idioms falling onto parchment!). Since the times of the Pharoahs – be it the Amun – Aten religious conflict in Nefertiti’s reign or the paranormal glimpses of Bertrand Dortmund regarding the Sphinx’ origins in the age of Alexandria — the words ‘polarization’, ‘polarize(d)’, ‘polar’ and ‘dipolar’, in their contextual Cueniform or Heiroglyphic form (no kudos for wondering what would have been the pictograms depicting these terms!), has always been associated with contrasting social, economic, political and ideological postures, mainly on a societal scale. The title for this blog-post may have given the game away, but being a sly fella (don’t mind confessing to that..!), I have some riches still in my satchel (like those pro-communist youth carrying all the capitalist tags in Red bags) and I can hardly stop myself from ROTFLOLing…not because you may not have been able to gauge the issues I would be raising out here but because of the visibly absurd manner in which polarities have been considered in the India sub-continent. I mean Camus could have written a treatise on it! Being an Indian, I have an instinctive inclination to begin with the ‘Golden Sparrow’. So in a most verbose manner, I begin…

In India, ‘polarization’, since 1947, has been largely written about in musings that rid the idea of its expansive understanding. In a country, which, in its infancy, had to deal with foreign military aggression and the rise of communal violence, the philosophy of most of the ‘-isms’ were shrouded behind the more visible facets arising out of the application of the ‘-isms’. For a man pulling a rickshaw in Kolkata or a human-scavenger in the urban-hinterlands, the ideas of Communism or ‘Bahujan Samaj’ did not go much beyond representing Land-Reforms or some amorphous public-welfare schemes from the Babus in the Secretariats. And in whatever the slowly modernizing masses received of all the ‘-isms’, the media had THE frontal role to play. So, how is the Indian populace polar? Again, a somewhat ridiculous question…for a country that rose –in a most prosaic way—from the ashes of its lost glory, with the bugle-call of Partition.  As the saying goes, Radcliffe’s pen-work cut through the very heart of the Sub-Continent. What followed was mass exodus and suppressed, but collective, resentment of going by one identity-issue, to be herded (radical though the term ‘herded’ may sound, that should be a good way of literally canvassing those times) into cattle-pens that some Oxbridge-returned statesmen agreed upon. And the irony of the tale is that the two most radically polar elements in the then-political spectrum: Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Veer Savarkar were not known to be zealots before their detour into the world of religion-based politics. While the former was hardly amused by even the most fundamental tenets of Islam, the latter was hardly the most pious Hindu in India. In the most painful Caesarean in living-history, the country was torn up on religious lines. More than the immediate after-math of the Partition, the question of selective religious politicking became ingrained in the minds of the populace. After all, though the idea of a theocratic state on the Sub-Continent was not a new commodity (the Ilbari, Tughluq and Khilji Sultanate besides the Mughals were infamous for their jaziya tax) but the fabric of Indian society was always inclusive and all-absorbing. As a result, one can find the architectural wonders of Mehrauli built upon Muslim edifices with Hindu-elements of the razed Lal-Kot and Qila Rai Pithora, or the gourmet pleasures of Biryani/Pulao and Kabab/Pakora can be found only on the Sub-Continent. But instead of taking this as a cultural heritage, certain sections of society started misinterpreting Akhand Bharat. Roughly speaking, any population that has had to face the brunt of repeated invasions and that enjoys a simple demographic majority in the new Republic of India would want to avenge historical wrongs. I, for one, am a staunch supporter of true Hindutva and am a vocal critic of pseudo-secularism (wrote an article for Youth Ki Awaaz on the topic) that promotes certain religious postures for vote-banks. But, I admit that razing the Babri Masjid as a focal point for building a Ram Rajya had been a destructive move, which played the dual-card: made the Bharatiya Janta Party a national political entity and, at the same time, spelled a moral crisis for the ideology of the Sangh-Parivar. Thereafter, anything that stank of communalism and the Parivar was taboo…even with certain sections of the Indian polity openly daring the administration from opposing their hard-line stands in matters of religion or caste.

Speaking of caste, Aarakshan is much more than an Amitabh-Bachhan starrer…it is the most controversial point of discussion in almost any forum today. Built upon the idea of compensating historical oppression inflicted upon the SC/ST/OBC populace, the idea of reservation upon caste-ist lines in almost any and every organization is absurd as well. I mean isn’t it the economic deprivation rather than social neglect that should be taken care of? Can we assume that the socio-economic disregard factor is uniform for all such castes? Aren’t we aware of Brahmin boys taking up arms to contest the system—albeit in a most dramatic reversal of social stature—and of Ahoms, once the rulers of present day Assam, being in the SC/ST/OBC list (!) ? Today, Mayawati, supremo of the Bahujan Samaj Party is busy in building grandiose structures in the Hindi-heartland of Uttar Pradesh ‘in the memory of all Bahujan Samaj ideologues and idols’ when infants are dying of Encephalitis in her own state. Today, Muslim forums are raising cudgels against the Saffron lot when Ansari-weavers in Varanasi are languishing in poverty.

Is polarization the safest way forward for Indian politicians?

In countries like Sri Lanka, the polarity-question has been built upon more community-based lines. LTTE’s sole aim was to build a Tamil state in Sri Lanka. Speaking of Tamil, one can never forget the out roar over Hindi being taken as the national language of India. It was a representation of the ancient Aryan-Dravidian rift in modern times. The idea of a Tamil ‘Eelam’ was a natural corollary of the rift.

Lastly, I would like to analyze the role of ‘polarization’ in secessionist movements. In common-perception, a ‘revolt’ is a movement against an establishment. However, what is often overlooked is the subtle process of highlighting the ‘Other’. Such forces become potent only by deriving a polar-angle out of the understated inter-play of various identities. So, the apparent undermining of the North-Eastern states has led the NE youth to fan the secessionist flag. What the mainlanders often fail to perceive is the other conflicts at play. It is only NE vs. India Mainland! For instance, being a Kuki or an Ao would have made a lot of difference in a Naga dispute in the hill-tracts. It would have spelled which side of the manslaughter you would be on! Similarly, the Islamization of Jammu and Kashmir has been so drastic—accompanied by the flight of the Kashmiri Pandits—that terrorist camps in POK speak of liberating J&K from Hindustan. But, then again, the point to be noted is that, other than a few genuine anarchists (!), most sensible secessionists have the political tarot in mind. Why else was the debate of J&K becoming independent transformed to J&K going to Pakistan? Because they know, that J&K cannot exist one single day independently, given that China has its hungry eyes on the ‘Paradise on Earth’.

But the one potent and existent ray of hope is Democracy. Democratic ideals are For the People, By the People and Of the People. However, polarized a one segment of society may be and whatever social clout it may have, democratic structures safeguard the opportunity given to all to voice their views and to profess their beliefs. In such a harmonious setting, polarities tend to lose their significance. In the 21st century the most useful instrument for democracy has been virtual social media. Today, given the plethora of social-networking sites on the virtual world where identities tend to get blurred, polarization has become a tough call. Social-engineering has given way to social-networking. Today, in a diversified country like India, even the far-Right is scrambling to draw up a moderate tone on these popular platforms. Information, notions and expressions need only a little pen-work (stylus’ don’t add much to the writer’s ease on capacitive touch-screens, I must say) to be put forth on public domain in their entirety. People at the farthest corners of the earth are connected like never before. What transpires in Yemen or Syria, Libya or Iraq needs a jiffy to be reported in Reykjavik or Guatemala. Identities are becoming fluid by the minute. Diverse people can share diverse interests on the same forum. Narrow sectarian views are steadily being sidelined. However, this massive generational shift has brought in many misconceptions: be it Atheism as an understanding of Secularism or likewise.  But that is a different topic altogether. I would like to conclude with some self-composed free-verses

Like virtual chiaroscuro,

In mirrors play contrasts,

Bereft of chromatic truths

As in a half-realized trance…

Surreal for séances,

Surreal for taste

Of hourglass puppeteers’

In hazardous haste!

Mrittunjoy is an undergraduate student of Physics at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. He is interested in Politics, Social Anthropology and Psychology. He has been writing for Youth Ki Awaaz and in other social platforms. He hopes to chart a career in scientific research along with the development of a good repository of socially and politically relevant essays and literary pieces. 


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