11 Mar 2016 19:24 IST

Reclaiming a sacred space

In a country like India, consensus building is vital for the society to function in harmony

After JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was released on bail, he, not surprisingly, came back to the campus to a rapturous welcome. He gave a mesmerising speech after his return to the campus, which was widely reported and applauded by his supporters both inside and outside the campus. Even sections of the media seemed to be in thrall of him.

But in a series of public lectures on nationalism on JNU campus, Makarand Paranjpe, Professor of English in JNU, made some interesting counters to some of the facts in Kumar’s speech.

Though Paranjpe makes use of high sounding terms like ‘diatopical hermeneutics’, his larger argument — of the loss of the middle ground and ceding it to the extremes of both the Right and Left — is valid.

Disaster and utopia

He then cites some interesting yet tragic figures of the millions of people killed or sent to Gulags in Stalin’s Socialist utopia. He also counters Kumar’s assertion that the Communists fought for India’s independence, by citing their support to the British government during World War II, when the Quit India movement was at its peak.

But from a Communist standpoint, one could argue that a temporary alliance with an imperialist power made sense as the larger enemy to fight then was fascism. But to my mind, the greater tragedy from the Left point of view was the CPI’s disastrous support to the Congress during the Emergency — arguably the darkest chapter in Indian democracy.

Narendra Modi’s ascension to power almost two years ago appears to have cleaved this country. One set of people believe that Modi is a messiah who can rid this country of all its ills. These people are derisively called ‘Modi Bhakts’ by his critics.

The other set thinks that Modi’s coming to power has sent this country to a dark, downward spiral, which will only result in more intolerance, communal violence and all round disharmony.

The reality, fortunately, lies somewhere in between.

The middle ground

In the economic front, some op-ed page writers have made this curious link between neo-liberal economic agenda and a Right-wing Hindu communal political agenda. To them, both these ideologies go hand in hand.

But here again facts tell a different story.

It was the Congress party, which is supposed to be wedded to a secular ideology, that ushered the economic reforms and liberalisation in 1991. Although the Congress governments in the 1980s took baby steps towards liberalising the economy, it was only in 1991 that the ‘licence-permit raj’ was dismantled. And the governments that followed have hardly deviated from this path.

In fact, P Chidambaram presented his ‘dream Budget’ when he was part of the United Front coalition, in which the Communists played a major role. Globally, China was one country that adopted the neo-liberal economic agenda with gusto over the last three decades and achieved spectacular growth. Though this has come at the cost of increasing inequality and environmental degradation — and China is a country ruled by the Communist Party!

In a country as diverse as India, consensus building is vital for the society to function with a semblance of social harmony and order. And to build this consensus, a middle ground where issues can be discussed and debated in a reasoned and nuanced manner is of crucial importance.

Coming back to the JNU saga, now that the tempers have cooled, one hopes that we can reclaim that sacred middle ground which has shrunk drastically in the recent past.

Recommended for you