Lockdown makes us think about the unthinkable

Has the World Wide War against Covid-19 set us on a similar self-destructive path? Banishing the unthinkable from public discourse can only be suicidal. 

Published: 31st May 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th May 2020 11:05 AM   |  A+A-

For representational purposes (Photo | Prabha Shankar, Express Illustrations)

For representational purposes (Photo | Prabha Shankar, Express Illustrations)

The lockdown has forced us to ‘Think about the Unthinkable’. This was the phrase once in currency at the height of the Cold War about Nuclear Holocaust.

Madness of First Strike that would inevitably lead to Mutually Assured Destruction.

Has the World Wide War against Covid-19 set us on a similar self-destructive path? Banishing the Unthinkable from public discourse can only be suicidal. 

There are legitimate causes for concern. It is glaringly apparent that the Indian Constitution is under severe stress.

The Migrant Labour Crisis has made it impossible to believe that all citizens of this country are equal in the eyes of law and enjoy the protection of the same fundamental rights.

The Executive unfettered by any legislative or judicial restraints has assumed unprecedented powers to wage the war against an invisible enemy.

The federal system has been irreparably damaged to cope with exceptional challenges.

The only argument that can be extended to mitigate the charge of authoritarianism is that this is how ‘others’ are dealing with this unforeseen calamity—Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Xi Jinping, Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, not to forget good old Erdogan. 

In a few months, the world will learn to live with the pandemic. Those who survive will be more numerous than the unfortunate ones who perish.

As they pick up the threads of their lives torn asunder by the virus, they will be constrained to rethink concepts such as equality, justice, human rights and the idea of shared identity and sovereign nation state.

The ‘Idea of India’ means different things to different people. To some, it is inseparable from the Nehruvian concept of liberal, secular, democracy with a marked tilt towards Socialism, synonymous with modernity, urbanisation, industrialisation and scientific temper.

It may shock some readers when reminded that this idea of India was far removed from the India that the Father of the Nation dreamt of. 

As a matter of fact, it was a conscious rejection of the blue print provided for India after independence in Hind Swaraj.

Though Gandhi had outlined these ideas sometime towards the end of the first decade of 20th century, he asserted till the end of his life that this was the core of his prescription to make India self-reliant economically and politically.

India of Gandhi’s dreams was a loose federation of self-reliant villages, producing what they required locally in cottage industries.

He had hoped that people would voluntarily eschew wasteful consumption, reduce their needs and live simple contented lives with religion playing a pivotal role in society.

By the time India attained freedom, it was clear that not many of his compatriots shared his vision or roadmap for future. Hind Swaraj was essentially a harsh critique of Western civilisation and dehumanising technology.

It was not only Nehru who had serious reservations about discarding technology and science. Imperatives of accelerated economic development left no choice but to embrace these. 

Before we ponder fundamental differences between the Master and his followers, it is necessary to have a close look at another Idea of India.

This for convenience is often labelled the concept of Glorious Hindu Rashtra—Akhand Bharat. Those who propounded this idea—based more on myths than history—accused Nehru of having sold out to Marxists-Communists alleging that his English education in Great Britain had alienated him from Indian values and culture, and his friendship with Mountbatten family had rendered him a puppet in the hands of retreating colonial masters. 

The divisions between modernisers and traditionalist surfaced repeatedly during deliberations in the constituent assembly. Many a time a motion was carried by the slimmest possible majority or through a hastily cobbled fragile consensus.

There was not much in common between Nehru and his Socialist supporters, and those who were flag-bearers of tradition and Hindu religion—Babu Rajendra Prasad, KM Munshi, Seth Gobind Das and others.

Members of the constituent assembly representing the princely states were by and large against sudden change that would disturb the status quo.

It is to the credit of Babasaheb Ambedkar that he succeeded in cobbling together a draft that reconciled different views to an impossibly large extent.

The Constitution was forged in the immediate aftermath of the Great War and the Partition. Integration of princely states in the Indian Union was then a work in progress. Federal Structure of polity with Separation of Powers between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary was seen as the best hope to ward off anarchy.

No doubt there have been moments in the past when the Rule of Law has been under stress (the Constitution has been amended more than hundred times), but the basic law that the People of India  gave unto themselves has served them well.

This shouldn’t make us complacent. The cracks in the wall that had been hurriedly plastered over at the time of the birth of our nation are deeper and more dangerous today. 


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  • Suresh D

    Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had given a few other good prescriptions. They too must be reviewed again in some detail now ...
    1 year ago reply
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