We are endorsing a radical modification in ourselves, at once mindfully and mindlessly, whose price and penalty we should prepare ourselves to have to pay. When it comes down, and whatever shape or size it comes down in, that price will be heavy.
Pardon me for scavenging a line, or a thought or two, from what I last wrote in these columns but it appears we might be in need of necessary reminders of what we are turning into — a people despicable enough to make a festival of our prejudices and their consequent enactments; a people turning more and more, with each passing day, into the image of what we set out not to be. We revel in lavishing ridicule on the noble vision we embraced at the prompting of our prudent and high-minded fathers. We spit upon the letter and spirit of our Constitution, arguably the best crafted human contract of the modern age, and some of us are not ashamed to demand that its vitals — our vitals as the world’s most splendoured pluralism — be rescinded. It’s trendy to call Gandhi a misguided traitor and Nehru nothing more than a profligate Anglophile who dabbled in bungled ideas and ideologies. Each day, we do something that brutally stains this platinum year of our coming into being, each day is a poisoning of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’. Each day, in the process, we render Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s smile wider and wryer in vindication. Nothing is as intent and determined on proving the Two-Nation theorist right than a vociferous part of us that is right to feel entitled, endorsed and encouraged by the entrenched skippers of New India.
What else are we accelerating towards other than Jinnah’s prophecy? What are we becoming other than just what he predicted we would become — a nation that would so suffocate and subjugate the Mussalman that he would sense no belonging, much less any affinity. He would feel wrong, simply that. Possessed of the wrong name and family and heritage. Practitioner of the wrong sorts of ways and habits. Turned out in the wrong kind of clothes. Eating the wrong sorts of things. Possessing the wrong sorts of books. Believing the wrong sorts of texts. Praying to the wrong sort of god. Wrong people in the wrong place. That’s what we are telling this nation’s largest minority. It’s probably appropriate to mention here that while we heckle our minority in inventive ways, we also go about spinning patently pernicious myths about them multiplying themselves with such leporid fervour that they will turn into a raging majority someday very soon. An eminent propagandist of prejudices found herself ruffled enough recently to upgrade the figment of love jihad to sex jihad and shed frightful tears over the exploits of “trained stud bulls” and pleaded with the government to issue a “White Paper... documenting each such case”. She would later delete her public rant, but her sentiment is pervasive and nothing that can so easily be deleted. It is also such that it should cause us alarm. It should alert us to what we are inexorably turning into — a people with foregrounded disrespect to the fundamentals of our agreed governing principles.
I am not certain we recognize it for what it is yet, but our nation has been going through a series of big and small transformative referendums since the election of Narendra Modi in 2014 that will eventually render us at absolute odds with our adopted — and often demonstrably kissed — Constitution. Barring the odd exception, what we have chosen to say in elections — and what we have chosen not to say about things that the citizenry should have voiced its opinion on — has amounted to a mighty endorsement of not merely a dictated bigotry but also of our belittlement. What have we said of the flight of harried and hapless millions across our vast geography to escape the consequences of a whimsical lockdown? What have we had to say about the criminal mismanagement of a pandemic phase that left vast stretches of the Gangetic plains littered with the dead? What did we say of the inexplicably imagined and executed demonetization and how it left a whole nation paralyzed? What have we said of the Chinese aggression in Ladakh that has left our territorial integrity grievously compromised? What are we saying about prices going skyward? Broadly, we as a people have rewarded all of this; we have accoladed our punishment, or been silent, like whipped and trembled creatures. That should be cause for alarm.
We rewarded the pitiless diminishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, whom we like to call our own. We celebrated the dismantling of what we pride as our crown. We left Jammu and Kashmir diminished geographically, politically, physically, socially, psychologically. We have now chosen to plant such unseemly celebration in other ways in other places. Selective arrests and arraignment. Collective winking on patent crime — issue a public cry to murder, and if you’ve done it with a smile, it’s all right, go right ahead. If you have the right name, it will not matter; with the wrong name, god help you. Somewhere, a ban on what citizens choose to wear. Somewhere, the banishment of what we wish to put on our plates. Somewhere, open calls for social exclusion or commercial boycotts. What law even bears any of this up? How all of this must blemish the Constitution, and all that it ensures and protects. How palpably we have come not to care. How we shall one day have to pay.