Monday, May 11, 2020

Indian society and politics: How 'identity interest' overrides 'own interest', force us to vote for those who endanger our future

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

This post was written after a recent discussion regarding former PM Manmohan Singh, who despite his simplicity, knowledge and efforts-policies to bring record number of Indian citizens out of poverty, is not given due credit and remains the 'other'.

Going back to early 1990s to explain how I learnt this aspect of Indian politics and societal behaviour.

None of the other ministers in that region was doing exceptional or great work, then. But during discussion in a group, people would focus on one minister, accusing him of being a 'non-performer' because he belonged to a minority community.

It'd take someone to take stand, 'WTF, he is not doing bad, look at it, much better than others', to shut the rest up. Point is that majority in the society decides, and it judges 'other' very harshly. If person is 'apna' (own), then all is forgotten, even if his policies harm us. He will be turned into a 'devdoot', the narrative of his greatness would be established.

'Atalji' could've transformed Lucknow but even if he didn't do it, despite representing constituency, it was fine. No one dared question or even say why he couldn't do it as much, even when he wasn't PM and was member of parliament from the city.

Anyone else who worries or even works for you is still the 'other'. The 'other' won't get due credit. That's how it works, majoritarian tendencies in vernacular papers, channels plus social talk, propaganda, own biases lead to such narrative that people even oppose those who benefit, would not feel thankful. 'The other'.

Man working for you becomes villain in your own eyes

So the feeling of 'class interest', 'caste interest', 'religious bonding' or this feeling of 'own', overpowers everything else. The man working for you would become a villain in your eyes and the man who is not doing much, would be a hero. Aadmi 'apna' hona chahiye. You may lose supporting the goons and ruffians but what to do about feelings!

So that early 90s experience helped me realise then only that people are not interested even in real work or own welfare. What they were upset basically was that why 'this man was made minister', because he was 'not our own', (an alpsankhyak, a minority). That's how it works. 'Not our own'.

Just imagine how 'identity interest' is ahead of even 'own interest'. Complex process--approval or disapproval but it starts spontaneously, finding ways to criticise politician who is 'not own'. Similar to why we want our own caste or community man in politics, thought it won't help us

But role of Hindi, regional papers in making people readily form strong opinions is most unique phenomenon. Wish I could someday write. It is more enigmatic than anything else in this democracy.

And why should any politician one bother about law-and-order! For riots, politicians never go to jails in India, our judiciary is well known for letting these cases continue for decades. No jail terms, it's perfect system. Riots, killings ensure rewards.

24 people were shot dead dead in UP only recently--there are atrocities, people who were part of movement against NRC, were targeted. Large sections of society felt it was the 'tough message' that was needed. 

Wherever you'd go in North India, you would hear people praising the strong 'action'. In fact, in Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Chouhan was often criticised by core right-wing, those allied to other Sangh bodies and also many BJP supporters just because he appeared 'soft' earlier.

The moment a politician turns hardcore right-wing, suddenly, there are no more expectations to deliver on any other front--development, jobs or whatever. He can be in his third or fourth term but media won't even ask tough questions. He is not expected to do anything anymore. He's just arrived.

Violence is just a 'tamasha' (sic) in this society, it doesn't really bother or upset masses. For politicians, it helps them achieve the status of a masculine big leader. Publicly everyone won't say it but message goes--'this leader can bring them on their knees'. That's reality.

Either it is a communal riot or any other conflict, action is delayed. Army is never called timely because public posturing apart, leaders too come from the same society & many of them want to 'teach lesson to other community'--basically the same inherent violent streak in our society where riots, bloodbath is not an aberration.

It was after the killings during Rath Yatra that LK Advani became 'the leader'. It was after 2002 that Modi conquered hearts of the majority. And earlier Shiv Sena supremo too got respect for this reason. So that's the tried and tested formula in our politics. Be as ruthless as possible. Count bodies, conquer hearts. 

Photo: Social media