The DNA-based theory on the origin of man released recently by researchers of the University of Basel, Switzerland, in collaboration with scholars at Rockefeller University says that after some catastrophe wiped out life on the earth, a single couple could have parented mankind about 200,000 years ago. Says research associate Mark Stoeckle, “At a time when humans place so much emphasis on individual and group differences, maybe we should spend more time on the ways in which we resemble one another…”
Stoeckle’s call may unnerve some who love the recent elections in some states.
That takes us to history: It was a small assembly of dignitaries. A snob, irritated at a “racially inferior” Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) attending it, came closer to him and asked, “Is it true, Mr Dumas, that you are a quadroon?” “True, Sir!” replied Dumas. “And your father?” “A mulatto,” said Dumas. (Quadroon is one-quarter black by descent; a mulatto, offspring of white and black parentage.)
“What about your grandfather, Mr Dumas?” the snob persisted louder. “A pure Negro.” “And your great grandfather?” “Well,” answered Dumas, calm but loud enough for all to here, “An ape, Sir! In fact my pedigree began where yours seems to be ending.”With all the ideas of human dignity refining us since the beginning of the 20th century, we should expect the tribe of that 19th century snob to have shrunk to a Sentinelese minority. But it has survived civilisation.
Lately this dark trend owed its revivalist articulation to the spokesman of a party resenting a tea-seller climbing to a lofty position. But the spokesman hailed from an orthodox feudal stock; hence atavism haunting him once in a while was not unexpected. But the recent voice of another “leader” crying hoarse at the phenomenon that someone born of indistinguishable parents should challenge one of illustrious lineage, is alarming. It was high time the major parties took steps to educate not only their cadres but also their numerous little spokesmen in the fundamentals of the Constitution and common sense.
In view of such silly signs on the eve of the recent elections, can’t we suggest to the high commands of our major parties to come together and resolve to follow a brief code of conduct? Let us keep aside the colossal tragedy of each election strengthening the curse that is casteism, which an earlier generation had dreamed would become obsolete decades ago.
Let us limit our attention to easily achievable goals. A bandh is supposed to be a sign of collective anger. It must be spontaneous. Must we compel people to pretend to be angry or sorry when they are not? Keep aside the issue of economic damage or even that of the cruelty meted out to the common man through disruption of communications and other facilities, but do the sponsors know that they are nurturing hordes of rowdies who jump at such calls irrespective of issues and destroy the nation’s property and, intoxicated with violence, endanger public life through crimes at other times? Have the leaders observed how this ritual of bandh provokes strikes and gheraos on trivial issues in the educational campuses? Had any party wondered whether or not the bandh they launched perpetrated greater injustice than the injustice it condemned?
The second item in the small common programme should be fixing a ceiling on the pitch and content of pre-election speeches. They must remember the impact of their vocabulary on the social poise. They must not belittle the personal dignity of a rival. One could not help the absence of any halo around one’s ancestors any more than another could help its presence on his. Their restraints will influence the quality of future entrants into politics.
We get the government we deserve cannot be dismissed as a truism in a post-colonial, post-monarchical and post-feudal age. Evidently we the people are stooping to dishonesty ever more. Politicians have set monumental examples before the Indian middle class that fills up the vast clerical and subordinate space in the nationwide administration, education, small and not-too small trades, contracts, constructions, etc.
Once considered victims of the affluent and the powerful, now hardly a day passes when several members of this class are not hauled up for corruption. And this class being the most vibrant and visible area of we the people, we are face to face with the good old riddle: egg first or chicken first—who to blame for the situation, the people or the politicos.
Let us remember George Orwell’s experience as a police officer in Myanmar. In a state of transitory musth an elephant tramples a man to death. As the protector of the people Orwell must destroy the menace. A huge mass silently follows him and in total silence its collective lust obliges him to shoot down the creature, by then normal, trudging with an innocent grandmotherly gait.
Orwell realises then how while destroying the elephant he was destroying his own freedom.It is a stark reality that often an otherwise good man in politics takes a dubious step under pressure from a mass of people which could be as unholy as an individual. We must acknowledge this, yet persist amidst this paradox and try transcend it, however humbly.