Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Divided we fall

Three major trends are being witnessed in the country, which look distinct, but are closely interlinked. Firstly, the anger of youth against growing unemployment is spilling out on the streets, triggered by an army recruitment scheme that has crushed their hopes and aspirations of finding a decent job and leading a dignified and fulfilling life. Secondly, communal passions are being stoked against the Muslim community with an alarming undermining of the rule of law as ensured and guaranteed by our Constitution. Thirdly, a dome of heatwave has settled over the subcontinent with temperatures soaring up to 50 degrees celsius putting in peril the lives of animals, humans and plants alike.
How are the three interlinked? Explanations of these issues are being carefully pushed aside by mainstream media. What we see, discuss, believe and seek answers to, are the issues thrown at us with rapid fire by the corporate controlled electronic, print and social media. It gives little time and space to us to develop an understanding about the real issues affecting more than 90% of our population. And alternative views are either suppressed using the law enforcement agencies or ridiculed by the troll army of the ruling party, or get buried by the non-availability of disseminating platforms. Perhaps the only mass agitation that forced the central government to eat humble pie and concede to the protestors’ demands was the agitation by the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, amply supported by about 500 organizations across the country. Now that the government has gone back on the promises it made to farmers to consider their demands, most prominently of forming a committee to discuss and decide the minimum support price for their produce, it would not like another similar agitation. Besides, having closely followed the discourse during the UP election campaign, the issues that figured prominently were unemployment, price rise, the cattle menace, MSP and other economic issues. There was hardly any mention of temples or mosques. Hence the immediate need for a smokescreen or sideshow to create divisions among the masses and distract them. For that, the BJP government, in the last 8 years, has recruited enough rabble rousers, whose voices are easily amplified by compliant media. The whole country then gets plunged into discussing something where facts in the history are hazy or unclear. We are then bombarded through electronic, print and social media with blatant untruths. Muslims and their religion are being targeted with impunity. Those who protest are “punished” by their governments with utter disregard for the Constitution and rule of law. Sadly, very few among the Hindu community express shock or dismay at what is happening to our Muslim brothers, not realizing perhaps that sooner than later this impunity and undermining of law will devour us all. Why have we become so desensitized? Is it not an evolutionary fact that human societies in the past have progressed only because of our altruism, cooperation and coming to the aid of members of our species? Is it not that these qualities are hardwired in our brains? So, what has gone wrong? The “neo-liberalism” that we adopted in 1991 has promoted extreme individualism and competition among all of us, pitting everyone against everyone. We have all become extremely individualized. It has weakened the family, social and community bonds that enrich our lives and developed a kind of mistrust across society. An ideal condition for violent and extremist forces to grow and imperil the lives of ordinary citizens. Here the environmental catastrophe we are facing becomes clear. The answer lies in seeing how neo-liberalism in economic policies has destroyed the India that we loved so much. Neoliberal policies have placed market, profit and wealth creation at the center of our existence rather than our social responsibilities. Wealth can come from growth, and uncontrolled growth has gravely injured our planet. The corporates in cahoots with the political, bureaucratic leadership and media are shamelessly exploiting our natural environment and dumping the waste with impunity in our water bodies, on land and polluting the air we breathe. The situation is so bad that there were 35 Indian cities among the top 50 most polluted cities in the world in 2021. It also explains the huge impact of global warming and species extinction rates that we are now witnessing. Does this model of development suit us? Our country has finite resources and so it is true of our planet. There is no way that we can stretch this planet for more resources. We have gone far beyond our requirement and precious resources are being wasted on war machinery, ostentatious lifestyles and the vulgar display of wealth. It is time for us to pursue policies that are in the interests of people and our beloved planet. We have to create bridging networks within society. Let us revive our natural inborn tendency to cooperate with each other rather than othering communities. Most importantly, it is also time to take back democracy from the clutches of moneybags and demagogues that thrive on slogans, symbols and sensations. Agnipath being the latest. The main proponent of neoliberalism, Friedrich Hayek, had said in Chile under the dictator Pinochet: “I would rather live in a liberal economy under dictatorship than democracy without liberalism.” We have to bury this neo-liberalism along with its two main proponents, Hayek and Milton Friedman, before it is too late for all kinds of lives on this planet. Remember the old adage, united we stand, divided we fall.
Avinash Mohananey is former Director General of Police, Sikkim
(As published in The Citizen)

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