If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Shame, for want of a stronger word

The elections results in West Bengal and Tamilnadu have proved beyond a shred of doubt that a majority of the peoples in these states had left behind baggage like “ethics” and “values” at their homes when they’d gone to cast their votes in April/May 2016. Sadly, it hasn’t happened in India for the first time.

Please think back to the so-called Gujarat riots in 2002. (While the people responsible for the Godhra massacre cannot be condemned strongly enough, what followed was a pogrom according to some, and state-sponsored terror by others. In three days of organised violence, over 1,400 Muslims were murdered, countless women raped, and thousands of families destroyed by the killers from the Saffron Brigade, which included ministers, while the state government, who were morally and legally bound to protect its people, looked the other way. But the voters of Gujarat chose to vote back the same government to power with a slightly bigger majority. Shame is such an inadequate word to describe the situation!

Moving back to the present, let me focus on West Bengal, where I have lived more than half my life. Just before the poll results were declared, I wrote on my Blog:

“… let me stick my neck out and predict that … (the) ruling party will lose and lose by miles. But how can I be so certain?

“My prediction is … based on an unshakable faith on human beings. Firstly, I refuse to believe that the people of Bengal have become so corrupt morally that they would vote for the leader of a bunch of goons whose sole purpose of being in politics has been to make money in every possible and often impossible way. Secondly, I refuse to believe that the people of Bengal have suddenly become politically illiterate and not notice that under the present government, all the institutions, from education to policing have been nearly destroyed. Finally, I refuse to believe that the people of Bengal could be so stupid that they wouldn’t realise that if this evil force is given another five years to rule us, nothing much will be left of West Bengal by 2021.”

I admit that I have been stupid. A majority of the people of Bengal have indeed become morally corrupt, culturally insensitive, and politically naïve. In this rather gloomy morning under a bright sun, let me try to find out why.

It does seem they haven’t forgiven the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI M and their opportunistic allies for all their past sins, which is fine.

But the option they have chosen over the Left is much worse. And there WAS an option called NOTA or “None of the Above” on the voting machines! Of the West Bengal electorate, only 1.5% has chosen NOTA. I salute them because although they didn’t put their weight against the TMC, they did take a morally sustainable position.

How I wish that the percentage of NOTA had been 15 instead of 1.5. Instead, 44% people have voted for TMC (6% more than the last time). By neither voting against the rulers nor remaining neutral, they have
·         Condoned the large number of murders and rapes and deliberate actions to protect the perpetrators.
·         Condoned the systematic loot of poor in Sarda, Rose Valley and other scams with the active connivance of the ruling party leaders.
·         Told the world that they don’t care if their so-called leaders are clearly seen taking wads of currency notes from fictitious companies in exchange of political favours.
·         Announced that they don’t give a damn that ruling party stooges run a parallel economy of extorting money from common people and civil contractors, that they don’t care if a bridge collapses over people under the unbearable weight of rampant corruption.

And it seems shameless bribery by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government has done the trick. In a state where people are morally corrupt, the most corrupt should be the master. I cannot think of another reason for the TMC coming up trumps. And before I end, I would like to ask a few questions to the people who have voted TMC back to power.

Will you have the moral right to protest if your uncle, the principal of a college, gets beaten up by TMC goons? After all, your local club gets lakhs of rupees every year so that your son can make merry with public money!

Or if, God forbid, a girl from your family gets raped? After all, your daughter has got a blue bicycle from the government!

Or if, God forbid, your son is murdered and the killers roam around free and threaten you to withdraw the police complaint? After all, the government is paying a monthly stipend to the imam of your mosque!

Do you have the moral right to feel unhappy when thousands of young people from Bengal go to Kerala or Gujarat in search of work where they live like animals? After all, you get rice at Rs.2 a kg!

Dear People of Bengal, Shame is such an inadequate word to describe you!

Bengaluru / Saturday, 21 May 2016

Post script:

I posted this on my Facebook page. (I am posting it on my Blog now, the original was only marginally different.) Quite a few people shared it and there was a flurry of comments. So I guess there are many among my friends who agree with these views. But there were contrarian views too, which I am trying to sum up here.

1.       The view that the people at large have become immoral and foolish, besides being audacious, is uninformed. 
2.       It takes more sensitivity to understand the relationship the rural and urban poor have with politicians. A friend has referred to a brilliant article by Raghuram Rajan, who says “Our provision of public goods is unfortunately biased against access by the poor … This is where the crooked but savvy politician fits in. While the poor do not have the money to “purchase” public services that are their right, they have a vote that the politician wants. The politician does a little bit to make life a little more tolerable for his poor constituents – a government job here, an FIR registered there, a land right honoured somewhere else. For this, he gets the gratitude of his voters, and more important, their vote.”
3.       Another commentator was unhappy with the tone of rebuke towards the people, and not the political opposition which have failed to bring together a popular movement against all these issues. It is unfair, according to him to criticise the majority “without … pondering over the fact as to whether there was any suitable as well as strong alternative available … to them.”

My response in the same order:

1.       Let me paraphrase the first objection as (a) “Although individuals can be corrupted, people cannot be” and (b) it is audacious to say “a majority of the people of Bengal have indeed … morally corrupt, culturally insensitive, and politically naïve.”

I have already mentioned BJP’s electoral victory immediately after the Gujarat mass killings. Let me expand the idea a little. These are the number of seats own by the BJP since 1998 out of 182 seats or thereabout.
1998 – 117
2002 – 127 (post killings)
2007 – 122
2012 – 115

This roughly indicates that BJP’s vote bank in the state has remained intact since 2002. Interestingly, Atal Behari Bajpai famously said that BJP lost the 2004 national elections because the people of India hadn’t condoned the Gujarat riots. Extrapolating this statement to the state elections, the Gujarat voters did condone one of the most brutal mass killings in post-independence India that was almost shown live on TV. If this is not moral corruption, what is?

Let me end this argument by quoting a friend Sayantan, who defended my position saying: “There is no audacity in calling the common people's decision stupid. Hitler's NSDAP won maximum seats in 1932 and I guess we all know what happened next. The fascist rascals in Kampuchea killed millions of Buddhists wearing the mask of Marxism during the late 1970's and they had been elected by the common people as well. Mass hysteria is common in social crisis and people do stupid things to survive. We’ve already seen how corrupt the [West Bengal] ruling party is and the amount of vandalism they’re spreading. It doesn’t make one a saint if they kill an innocent and blame it on their political predecessors. A crime is always a crime and if you support the cause, you’re just being another block in the domino, waiting to fall.”

2.       Dr Rajan’s description of the voter’s dependence on the corrupt politico is incontrovertible. But considering the situation as immutable betrays a cynical acceptance of the unjust order of the day. People will be able to come out of the vicious cycle only if they think beyond the imperatives and if their judgement is rooted in ethical values. The people of Bengal have miserably failed in this respect.

3.       Finally, I agree, the opposition, particularly the Left, did nothing to inspire confidence. They are one political group which neither changed their leaders, not their policies after the colossal debacle of 2011, which was followed by a series of electoral losses, albeit in elections vitiated by widespread violence by the ruling party. So if the electorate has turned their face away, it’s fine. But the only problem is that the remedy they have chosen is worse than the disease.

Let’s wait to check the position in 2019. From what we are seeing around us, I have absolutely no doubt that the situation in West Bengal will be far worse than what it is now.

Bengaluru / 25 May 2016

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