The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.
Avinash Mohapatra, MBA 2014-16, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur.
The Jaipur Lit fest holds the distinction of being the largest free literary festival on Earth, held annually. It hosts a constellation of colossal minds in the world of literature to vanguard the discussion on diverse topics. Observed through a span of 5 days(21st – 25th Jan 2015), the cognition therewith is beyond mention. My choicest session was the most awaited final debate ‘Culture is the new Politics’. It was housed by Suhel Seth, Rajiv Malhotra, Arshia Sattar, Shazia Ilmi, moderated by Sanjoy Roy. The cynosure of the discussion was entirely in the Indian context.
My appreciation of the entire dialogue process shall find precedence in the ensuing paras.
Culture is the insignia of ideas, customs, and social behavior, crafted by human intellect, regarded collectively. The Indian culture or say the Hindu culture, has the distinguishing feature of great assimilation and peaks of refinement. The pluralistic nature of the Hindu society coupled with the grandeur of evolving with time, has been the cornerstone of our existence despite multiple invasions by foreign aggressors. The liberty extended in Hindu culture should not however be boundless to unfettered extremes, as to temper with its integral fabric of pluralism and mutual respect. As Mr. Rajiv Malhotra very prudently opined – Hindu Culture should be like an Open architecture(as modern day internet). A society with the fountainhead of open architecture shall allow new people to come, new ideas to mushroom, but on the condition that they are good citizens on the principle of mutual respect. Here, ‘mutual’ is an important term, to be taken into account. Respect can never be unconditional or unidirectional – it has to be ‘mutual’. Hence, like any open architecture, diversity is welcome but if somebody tries to deride others, then it should be treated as a virus, that the system should get rid of. In this context, MF Hussain’s perverted painting of Hindu deities in sexual pose or Wendy Doniger’s misinterpretation of Hindu culture as an overtly sexual cult, are but mischievous attempts in bringing down Hindu belief system and faith. The lawsuits thus filed against these attempts brought a legal and methodical stall to their nefarious intents.
A culture on the premise of open architecture i.e being fluid,evolving,porous,adaptive,contextual – is the bedrock of a matured and healthy society. Such a culture should reflect in politics as well. However, when the political system becomes an opportunistic vote bank fiasco for short sighted success – the real problem begins. Politics should not control culture rather it should be the other way round. The lunatic fringe on either side of the political divide, hijacking the assimilatory power of the Indian society, has been the direct result of vote bank politics.
The proprietor of parliamentary democracy, the UK is a small country with relatively no diversity. For a vast and diverse Nation as India, its worth contemplating if the parliamentary democracy is really suitable.Bottom-up consensus building nevertheless includes everyone’s opinion, but at the same time we have a rickety equilibrium, which is fragmented in nature. To put up in simple terms, parliamentary democracy gives rise to multiparty system, which in turn breeds alliance theatricals post election. Thus arises the need to cater to fringe elements in order to build consensus on an intended cause to a particular community satisfying the vote bank agenda. I feel the Presidential Democracy system of the United States can be a counter to such political nuisance in our country.
Suhel Seth categorized citizens as being either engaged, indifferent or enraged, based on different periods of modern Indian history. Pre-independence we were an engaged group; Post-independence period till 1971 we were an indifferent lot;Post-Emergency we have become an enraged mass. Over the last 4 years, the brand of intolerance in our country has become stunningly viscous. Mr. Rajiv Malhotra made it clairvoyant that outlet of anger is a barometer of frustration in the society and it should come out. Given a millennium of persecution at the hands of invaders and then deceit by politicians, the present outburst is an obvious affair. Selective bias of media houses in silencing certain voices has caused a surge of repercussions on the social media platform. The latter offers a good corrective to the power and hegemony of electronic media. Intolerance in any form is appalling, particularly when it gets subverted to the level of issuing threat to life for disagreeing with some religious discourse. Author of international best-seller ‘The Satanic Verses’, Mr. Salman Rushdie had to step down of Jaipur Lit Fest in 2014 after such a threat by fringe group elements. Bangladeshi writer Tasleema Nasrin has been on exile since the publishing of her masterpiece ‘Lajja’ that slammed the dictum of Islamic fundamentalists. Disagreement of ideas should not be clamped down to disagreement with personalities, else it would be a libel to free expression. As a popular saying goes ‘You can’t live by the pen and die by the sword’.
In the evolving fabric of India, where tarka-sastra (argument) has always been pivotal in shaping ideas for future generations, the role of debate can’t be abjured. Tight-lipped on religiously fragile issues for fear of backlash from fringe groups can do no good in clearing the fog of anxiety. It’s only through debate on as sensitive issues as religion, that the odds can be corrected. Till that day, the liberal elements shall keep asserting themselves against the guns and bombs of the bigots. Their points of view shall keep showing the mirror to the fundamentalists and unveil their ignoble face to the respite of mankind