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Lok Sabha Elections: Yet another blind Indostani

Sunday, 11 May 2014 - 8:44pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The election results will be out very soon and they could not have come at an appropriate time. In the final lap, the polls turned ugly – perhaps inevitably so. The fault is not restricted to any particular party and there has been enough pain and poison amonst non-politicians doubting fellow Indians’ intentions who are opposed to their ideas. 

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

As a BJP sympathiser, one has learnt to zone out the insinuations, just like others have also had to unfortunately get used to other forms of dignified monikers on social media. But implying that the average supporter of BJP is a Hindu Fascist or upper caste bigot is akin to calling the the average David “Evangelical” Cameron supporter in the UK— a Christian supremacist or white nationalist. And as a non-white, non-Christian admirer of Western right-leaning parties, I disagree and know that there is a lot more nuance involved. 

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

Similarly, calling the average Congress supporter an crypto-Islamist or deracinated Hindu is as absurd as calling the average Barack Obama supporter a soft Marxist or a Black Panther.

I know of Hindus, far more rooted in tradition than myself, who would hold their nose and support the Congress this time because they have a different view of BJP. It is not that they do not understand public policy or political philosophy – far from it - or the pressing need for change, but the time horizons and pecking order of values differ from person to person. So be it.

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

Because cultural wars – very important as they are - constitute just one part of politics, and economics is also important. After all, why did the same Indian educated middle class that rooted for Singh in 2009 is now rooting for Modi? Did they turn “fascist” or are they mostly voting their pocketbook anxieties? However, even if the assumption of economics trumping identity is correct, that does not mean that the latter is not important. To support BJP as a public intellectual, while having no view on Hindu nationalism is a bit like asking Mrs. Lincoln about the rest of the play.

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

As a political liberal, my views have been clear – if Hindutva is to mean Hindu statism, I am against it. That means all conversion and beef bans, all Hindu undivided family tax benefits and so should go, along with of course religion-based personal laws and educational concessions for the “minorities”.  

The individual should be the unit of state policy, as Arun Shourie has rightly pointed out preferring the word “pluralism” over “secularism”. Yet it is clearly not as simple as that, as we saw over the debate over Bangladeshi refugees, and I remain sympathetic towards a non-statist form of cultural nationalism. 

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, 
And felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

Now, I could be wrong – who knows the Hindutva-statists that want to save my soul (where have I heard that before) from reading Doniger’s wonderful books or eating meat may well have an argument. Maybe the multiculture-statists who want to have a Ottoman-style Millat system albeit with a NAC-Politburo redistributing roads and rice (that vanish every monsoon) across silos of identity also have a point. Nonetheless, I do not think that all of the former are anti-Muslim, or that all of the latter are anti-national. Not in the least.

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

Simply because, I have been lucky enough to have met far too many people who have their opinions but not others’ ears to hear them. What about the wise Sikh government servant who I just met and who has never taken a 'naya paisa' of bribe in his life and is very hurt about 1984, but still voted the Congress this time because he is sick and tired of the BJP-allied Akalis' “massive corruption”?

The state government is, as John Godfrey Saxe would say in his poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, what that bureaucrat most closely perceives. Others may see the job they want to get— the father they want to afford retirement, the daughter they want to be safe.

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

As Zahir Janmohamed, a Gujarat-based Indian-American activist who is not a Modi supporter, has bravely and beautifully written at Scroll, “I accept my own culpability…I have learned to examine the limitations of my gaze.. I have learned to embrace my confusion. And I have learned to recognise that each time I ask questions of others, I have to ask many more to myself.” In that spirit of epistemological humility, I too wonder at times if I made the right decision when I see so many fellow citizens in anguish. A democracy pushes great responsibility on all. We are forced to decide, and be damned either way. But to decide, we must see – and who can see all of Indostan at once? 

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


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