An Open Letter To Nitish Kumar
Dear Shri Nitish Kumar-ji,
Now that the avalanche of congratulatory messages must be subsiding, I hope you will have a moment to reflect on the following letter from a well-wisher of Bihar (the name instantly arouses in me a reverence, for indeed the region was once dotted with Buddha Viharas) and an octogenarian child of Mother India.
Many years ago I became an admirer of yours: I have forgotten whether I saw the scene on the TV or read it in a newspaper: you were speaking in the Lok Sabha on some problems of your state when an M.P. interrupted you, commenting in a lighter vein, that Ek Bihari Pradhan Mantri hona chahiye! (A Bihari ought to be the Prime Minister.) Pat came your response: “Hoga, hoga, Atal Bihari!” There was spontaneous laughter. I felt that behind the wit stood a refined and self-confident leader.
Alas, our country is passing through a bizarre phase of democracy when we suffer a large number of “leaders” who are too unrefined to realise the harm their arrogant actions do to the spirit of democracy in the long run. I can never forget the laughter, though constrained, that greeted me in a foreign country – when the news was broadcast that a Chief Minister simply drags Madame from the kitchen and makes her occupy his seat when himself obliged to quit it for reasons that were bad enough.
But the Madame, uneducated by her own admission, is not to blame, nor are to blame her two offsprings who too find themselves enthroned today, even though one of them cannot differentiate between words conveying opposite meaning. All the three are creatures of circumstance. We the people who love to be hoodwinked and leaders like the aforesaid former Chief Minister who expertises in hoodwinking us are the makers of such circumstances. We the people, indeed, must share the blame.
Believe me, Nitish Kumar-ji, I did not expect you to consciously contribute to the making of such unfortunate circumstances in any way. But how on earth could you promote the idea of Bihari versus the Bahari? Even if this slogan might have been—as some observers say—the greatest single factor in your favour—you should have nipped the idea in the bud. Imagine an India which begins to act according to the sinister idea lurking in the slogan. No, no Indian can be a Bahari—an outsider—anywhere in India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. I need not elaborate. I am afraid, you fell a victim of so called exigency, though I believed you had the innate strength to rise above it. I pray to Providence that I am not proved wrong in days ahead.
My impression is, like Shri Narendra Modi, you have achieved leadership by dint of your own merit, not by the vicissitudes of casteism. People like you should be brave enough to try eradicate the curse that is our caste-oriented politics. Don’t we aspire for a cast-distinction-free India? The kind of leaders who have thrived on pampering the caste sentiment, instead of doing anything at all to eradicate at the grass-root level the bias, the prejudice and such vices that go with it, can never be expected to contribute in that direction. There are innumerable instances of petty-minded leaders provoking caste sentiments at the earliest and silliest opportunity in the name of championing the cause of the neglected. Years ago a so-called lower caste Chief Minister of a BJP-ruled State resigned his position because of some difference with the party on a policy matter. (He returned to the party later.)Immediately the supremo of a caste-based party commented that he was not tolerated because of his “lower”caste. This is only a tiny example of the readiness at the top rank of Indian politics to keep on pumping artificial spirit into the unfortunate caste acrimony.
Nitish Kumar-ji, it is for leaders like you to seriously question, disassociating yourselves from the average quality of thinking—rather a pitiable lack of thinking at the average level—if the caste distinction and all the social and administrative distinctions that go with it – must become the eternal face of India! If not, what is wrong in someone stating that it was time for a rethinking on the quota policy? Must he be criticised simply because he headed an organisation that is an anathema to some political parties? Must every statement on such fundamental national issues be measured not by its merit but by political prejudices? What is our goal after all—to demolish the caste and its corollary quota system or to perpetuate them?
By the way I may bring to your notice a few other issues as they are seen by me and a number of my friends who are under the impression that our leaders have lost the habit of being objective in their outlook.
Mob-violence continues to create havoc from time to time, under one pretext or another. As a school boy I had the terrible experience of listening to the ghastly tales told by Hindu refugees from the then East Bengal—from Noakhali in particular; during the Bangladesh war I met Muslims escaping from their province who narrated the horrors perpetrated on them by fellow-Muslims.
The intellectuals know very well that “Mob had no mind”. In normal times many members of a mob might have proved to be individually a good father or a good neighbour. But one’s conscience seems paralysed under some hostile influence during a mob-action. Those who killed a man suspecting him to be dealing in beef must be punished like perpetrators of any crime of that intensity. But my question to those intellectuals who returned their awards in protest against “Intolerance” (they were praised by some leaders for their action) is, what purpose did it serve? So far as the Sahitya Akademi Award is concerned, the recipient is chosen by fellow-writers; to return it is to insult the writers. So far as the Padma Award is concerned, it is a national recognition given by the President who symbolises the nation and not the ruling party or even the government of a particular time. To return it is to betray the faith reposed in the recipient. But never mind that! The question is, did the concerned mob know what the Akademi Award or the Padma Award is? Did it realise its folly? How many of these writers did ever try to demolish the prejudices that govern the conduct of a mob?
In an international students conference abroad—in the fifties of the last century– I and an elegantly Westernised Pakistani young man – the latter was on a visit there and was attending the conference as an observer, became friends. We both were invited for dinner by a young local Muslim. The Pakistani youth very politely told the would-be host that he should not be offered any beef item. “Is it because of your Hindu friend?” asked the host. “No,” answered the youth. “Then? Because of some hang-over from your probable Hindu ancestry?” he asked a bit offensively. “Yes and no,” answered the young man. “Before the partition we lived amidst Hindus. My grandfather used to say, the great Hindu God Lord Siva has a bull for his vehicle. Lord Krishna, so dear to the Hindus, is known as Gopal or the guardian of the cows. Hence the sanctity of the cow is deep-rooted in the collective sub-consciousness of our neighbours. Why should we offend their sensitiveness? Well, I have not developed any taste for it and I don’t care to develop.”
Yes, the cow in the Vedas mean light, not the cattle, true, but the impression in the collective sub-consciousness because of the cow’s association with the unfathomably influential Deities cannot be wished away. Rationalism is fine, but our life is not entirely governed by our rational wisdom and all that is outside our definition of the rational should not be viewed as either irrational; they are non-rational realities. We have to bear with them till human consciousness evolved to a higher or supra-rational stage.
I am not arguing in favour of a ban on beef-eating. No doubt there are logistic hindrances to the proposition. But the argument of the rationalists that nobody’s food habit can be interfered with is irrational. We cannot eat up an endangered species, however delicious. A species considered sacred by the majority of a nation should at least be on par with the endangered ones. Under the guise of non-violent protest organising beef parties are a direct provocation to violence, for the organisers are not above that propensity.
May I be allowed to say a little more about the collective sub-consciousness. I happened to be in Ayodhya soon after the Babri demolition. Three local acquaintances showed me around. This is the summary, in my words, of what they said over a couple of hours:
“Nothing short of gunning down at least a couple of thousand people could have saved that monument that had ceased to be a working mosque long ago, and was dilapidated enough to readily collapse. What erupted that day was the stream of fury running in the veins of the multitude for generations. Varanasi is not far from Ayodhya. When you see there the grand temple of the presiding Deity transformed into a mosque, the Hindu sacred sculptures still prominent on its lower half, or when you read elsewhere the proud inscription listing the number of temples demolished in order to build a mosque, you cannot but feel awfully remorseful and guilty for your forefathers’ failure to protect them. Such feelings were turned into anger. It would have been great if a conscientious Muslims community would have looked upon it only as a symbolic act of nemesis—as descendants of a humiliated generation satisfying their anguish through a sort of shadow boxing against a symbol.”
My friendly guides were Hindus; hence we may take their statements with a pinch of salt—but no more than a pinch of salt – for they sounded so sanguine! A more conscientious Hindu community would have left the deserted monument as it is. But at the present state of humanity the reality cannot be wished away by superficial rational reaction. Yes, education has to play its role in explaining history objectively, glorifying the past achievements but not hiding the past weaknesses either, and impressing upon the present generation of both the communities that we are not responsible for the deeds and misdeeds of the past. We must prepare the present to welcome a much brighter future—above all the divisive and disruptive movements of our age. What I have put down is not to condone any community’s folly or to condemn another’s, but to focus on the psychological reality at a deeper level. Once Pakistan was carved out of basic India, I do not know how happier, how purposeful the life of the citizens of that newly formed country became thereby. But that division left a permanent uneasiness in the minds of the totally innocent masses of Indian Muslims. They suspect—not very consciously though—that they are being looked upon by the Hindus as rightfully belonging to that country! This again is a subdued rankling you cannot change easily. There are elements in both the communities to indirectly feed this uneasiness. But if both the communities truly love India, truly aspire to see this ancient nation fulfilling its role in moulding a spiritually enlightened world, that will be the unfailing meeting ground of both and the collective uneasiness of the community will disappear.
Dear Nitish Kumar-ji, it is time for at least some leaders to rise above the narrow dictates of the party and the vote-bank politics. I sincerely believe that Shri Narendra Modi has the vision and zeal to lead the country in that direction. Somehow I feel—and some of my worthy friends feel—that you are one of the few leaders who can rise above the election exigencies for the sake of a resurgent India. We wish honest and capable leaders irrespective of parties to understand one another and co-operate with one another for the sake of India.
With Warm Regards,