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Friday, February 15, 2008

On Parochialism and Xenophobia

Posted by: danish Ahmed 5:14 PM

There seems to be a misunderstanding among a section of Indians that democracy is only about being able to elect a government. Such a democracy would be soul-less, farcical and at best a kind of dictatorship where the dictator is not one person but a group of like-minded individuals. I wouldn't call it an oligarchy because there is some semblance of democratic principles in an oligarchy too but there is none in a democracy that allows fascistic rule. The essence of democracy does not consist in just entrusting the individual with the right to hold a different opinion but also in accepting the right of others to hold diverse opinions. This also means that one has right to protest against opinions of others but all forms of protests should conform to the democratic norms and the founding principles of the civil society.
In recent times I have observed that while debating on a controversial issue participants usually generalize issues instead of judging every issue based on it's own merit. At times even a wrongful act is sought to be justified by citing similar instances in the past. The most gruesome instance is the post-Godhra riots where the Chief Minister justified genocide by dubbing it as a 'reaction' to the Godhra train carnage. Raj Thackeray's statement against non-Maharashtrians and his next statement justifying it by drawing analogy with instances of parochialism in other parts of India is another such instance. Mr. Thackeray has missed two fine points while generalizing his parochialism. The first and the most important part is that two wrongs do not make a right. He has a valid point when he says that political parties in Tamil Nadu that have links with the LTTE are equally parochial as are those people of West Bengal who come out on streets protesting Saurav Ganguly's exclusion from team India. However, his lack of understanding on why the media and general populace has singled him out and his allegation against Amitabh Bachchan proves that Raj Thackeray lacks the subtlety something as complex as human emotions. Patriotism, communalism, regionalism and all such isms are two-edged swords, their negative and positive ramifications depend on the individual.
People tend to see these ideologies as divisive and they are not very wrong when one sees that most ideologies in recent times have been propagated to divide the society and spread discord but when viewed from another perspective these ideologies appear as something natural, unifying and desirable. They are desirable when they form the basis of inclusiveness but are certainly undesirable when they form the basis of an ideology that advocates exclusiveness and apathy. Let us take the case of patriotism, patriotism means loving and caring for one's country-men but the meaning is often distorted to create hatred towards people not belonging to one's own country. The same applies to regionalism, it forms the basis of expressing solidarity with people belonging to one own region but often it is exploited to ferment hatred towards the outsiders. Affection and loyalty towards one's own immediate community is natural and desirable, one cannot love all the people in the world equally, some have to be dearer than others and the former always are people with whom one shares linguistic, ethnic, cultural, religious and other bonds. As the sphere of interaction widens and one becomes member of larger groups with lesser degree of commonality the affection does decrease but there is no reason why it should be replaced with animosity towards those with whom one has lesser bonding.
So from one perspective groupism consist of inclusiveness or finding commonalities and forging bonds with more and more people instead of being hostile or apathetic towards them but from another perspective, groupism consists of exclusiveness or finding out differences and antagonizing which progressively increases as the spectrum of commonality widens. If Amitabh Bachchan's contribution towards UP reflects anything it his affection for the state as well as the country and not apathy for Maharashtra or any other state. It is really unfortunate that his philanthropy was dragged into a mire of controversy which culminated into acts of mindless violence.
Senior politicians, conscientious citizens and the media have been quick and vociferous in condemning and have in the process given him publicity the likes of which he could only dream. In fact Baba Amte's death went largely unlamented as the media as well as the people were so engrossed in the ongoing slugfest.
Anyway, this controversy has reached its zenith, it will gradually climb down and disappear, TV audience gets bored fast and since Raj Thackeray and Abu Azmi have both been arrested and released on bail one can expect this controversy to die out changing nothing except making both these individuals a bit more famous than they had been. There has been abundant criticism of the media for giving the issue a lot more space than was due to it. But the question remains, was the issue handled correctly? Raj Thackeray may have been vilified by the media but the massive press exposure has actually helped him consolidate his base. What needs to be tackled is the sentiment that Thackeray exploited to gain political mileage. It should not be forgotten that a segment of the population, however small, does have a parochial mindset and the Thackerays have always exploited/aggravated their xenophobia for political gains. As we move towards globalization it becomes urgently necessary that efforts be made to educate the masses on necessity of tolerance and co-existence. In a democratic and heterogeneous country like India tolerating aggressive parochial ideologies can be dangerous and detrimental to the nation.

Posted By danish Ahmed 5:14 PM