Decades ago James Baldwin had written the book Fire Next Time issuing a grim warning about the seething rage causing unrest among the Afro-American community that could explode like a volcano any moment. But let’s not digress. What is distressing us at the moment is not any apprehension about the future but the raging bush fires around us that can engulf and destroy all they touch when they assume the form of an inferno. Young Indians are so used to bandhs and road blockades marked by vandalism and arson. They have become so desensitised to garish images of scarlet flames leaping or billowing dark smoke that no alarm bells ring in their ears. Why blame the young? Are we—the pre-millennial generation—any better? How easily we turn the newspaper page or change the channel to move to a less disturbing image.
There is never any dearth of ‘news’ about celebrities—the rich and beautiful, aspirational role models, sports persons, socialites, film stars—to get our daily fix. There is other stuff that gives us perverse delight—stings and scoops that describe in meticulous detail the fall of the once mighty politicians, industrialists, flamboyant playboys and their playmate. There is no space left for what was once called hard news. News is a word seldom used without a prefix—‘fake’ or ‘paid’. ‘New reality’ has many aspects and can be conveniently interpreted as per individual need. Between advertorials and infotainment, truth is bound to become the first casualty in times of uneasy peace.
We have no intention to continue in this abstract vein lamenting irreversible loss. Past few days have seen outbursts of anger. First, it was the Dalit upsurge (that couldn’t remain non-violent) against alleged ‘dilution’ of the Social Discrimination Act, then came the predictable backlash of the anti-reservation elements/forces—both words are euphemisms for ‘upper’ castes. This has for the moment pushed to the back burner the conflict between Hindu ‘majority’ and other religious minorities that dwell in this land. It seems necessary to put the word ‘majority’ in single inverted comas as the deep and painful caste divide renders it impotent of playing the role of a brute, barbaric majority.
Practitioners of Hinduism are battling each other fiercely raising the banners of linguistic or regional chauvinism. There is no chance (thank God, for that!) of their uniting to oppress the minorities. But how can we take satisfaction in this? What we are witnessing from ‘Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Kamrup to Kutch’ to borrow the alliterating word play patented by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the lengthening shadow of not another partition but many uncivil wars that can cripple our beloved country.
What we feel is the gravest threat is the erosion of Rule of Law. Credibility of higher judiciary and Election Commission are being subverted. Bureaucracy, never trusted by the masses, hasn’t shown that its members have any spine or strong knees. Those who dare to break the mould are swiftly neutered—they may survive physically but their spirit is broken, the fire in the belly extinguished. Do we need to list well-known names of ‘martyrs’ and victims who disputed the conventional wisdom that discretion is the better part of valour? Similarly, there should be no need to cite glaring examples of double standards in police investigation, I-T raids, CBI investigation and even grant of bail and sentencing.
With all due respect to the judiciary we submit that it too has failed to ensure that all Indians are treated alike. Salman Khan to Teesta Seetalvad to convicted Lalu Yadav and Mohammad Shahabuddin, some seem to be more privileged when it comes to getting legal relief. Witnesses routinely turn hostile by the dozen when the accused belong to the party in power. This has happened in the Vyapam and Ishrat Jahan fake encounter cases. Not very reassuring.
The majesty of law can only numb and silence the meek and the weak. The rich and strong can afford the sharpest legal minds, doctors with impeccable credentials to keep flouting the laws with impunity and when trapped easily find refuge in safe havens abroad. Even countries with whom we have extradition treaties are more sympathetic to the accused fugitives.
It is these double standards that have made people impatient and angry. You can’t keep the seething anger within tamed. When the world we live in is a tinderbox, all it needs is a small spark to ignite a forest fire. Don’t wait for the fire fighters to contain it. It’s time we looked inwards—anger at our own and government’s impotence, our own greed, blind prejudice that makes us treat fellow Indians less privileged than ourselves as sub-humans, be it Dalits, tribals, women and the abjectly poor. Millennia ago, the Buddha delivered his ‘Fire Sermon’ and quelled the fears of his disciples. But who has the time for enlightening sermons when elections are less than a year away?