In Search of Enemies

 

“Pradhan Mantri ke vision se suryast suryoday mein badal gaya hairaat ho rahi hai lekin hum dekh rahe hain Ek Nayi Subah (The Prime Minister’s vision has turned sunset into sunrise, night is falling but we are watching ‘a new dawn’)….”

This is how Doordarshan, the chief public television broadcaster of India chose to describe the advent of a ‘new era’ under the leadership of a prime-minister, who continues to remain new even after the completion of two years of his government.

Replace Pradhan Mantri with Chairman, and the sentence assumes a familiarity, at least for those who are steeped in the Stalinist or Maoist political culture. Everything in Maoist China had to be informed by the vision of the Chairman or was worthless. Similarly, in the Soviet Union, for any idea to be valued it needed to bear the stamp of Stalin.

The sheer obsession with the adjective ‘new’ or ‘historic’ also takes one back to the days of these two ‘greats’ of history, who were red and not saffron. Stalin wanted to engineer the souls of his dear people to carve out a ‘new man’ and a ‘new society’ out of them.

For a new to be created, the old has to be destroyed. The appeal for the new thus becomes the legitimizer of the death of the old. The only problem is that the old lingers on in many forms and threatens to sabotage the project of the new. So, its residuals need to identified through a campaign and destroyed completely. It becomes a popular and democratic project, as the old is also made synonymous with the elite.

When Chairman Mao gave a call to the Chinese people, one should not miss the point that it was the youth he mainly addressed and turned them against the old. The cultural revolution of China started on 16 May fifty years ago, which again in one of the ironies of history, is the date when a ‘new revolution’ started in India two years ago.

Chairman Mao divided his people into two categories: to one belonged the revolutionary masses and to the other the old privileged elite, remnants of the past, the bourgeoisie and their stooges who needed to be weeded out. Mao called for a protracted revolution. It was called ‘cultural’ as it sought to change the way people lived, their notion of relationships and transform them from individuals to soldiers of a great mission.

Such regimes confer the title of the real or true people on one set of the masses, who are then unleashed on the other who are termed enemies of the people or non-people. The Cultural Revolution of Mao or the long purge of Stalin witnessed people voluntarily participating in not only eliminating the ‘enemies’ but also in creating them.

Such non-people ranged from schoolteachers to entrepreneurs, doctors to cultural workers, scientists and researchers, homosexuals and Jews or simply ‘non-productive’ people. Children reported on their parents and teachers and participated in their public humiliation and in many cases organized their killing.

The list of non-people officially sanctioned and promoted by the new regime of India is growing: ‘terrorists’, ‘love-jihadis’, ‘beef-eaters’,‘religious converters’ , ‘infiltrators’ and finally ‘anti-nationals’ or ‘saboteurs’.

A more neat division was suggested on 26 May by the Prime Minister when he said, “But I can say there is development on one side and obstructionism on the other. The people will decide which side to choose, that I firmly believe..” His trust in the intelligence of the people is touching.

The horrifyingly interesting part of the Cultural Revolution was that it gave a sense of agency to people, who were in fact conforming to the orders of the leader. Power is thus handed over to the ordinary masses, who always crave for it and they exercise it against the obstructionists or anti-nationals. People do not have the luxury of not choosing their side. Otherwise, they become suspects themselves.

The rush to join the officially sanctioned category of the people does not have anything to do with a particular ideology. Germans, Russians, Chinese, Americans, Israeli, have been complicit in the crimes unleashed on their fellow-beings by their leaders. Even the persecuted offer themselves. They ‘self-denounce’ and seek purification.

The joy of disempowering your neighbor always pushes human goodness into a dark corner. It is revived only after the departure of the bully from the scene. The narratives of the old red-guards of the Cultural Revolution, or the veterans of the Vietnam war or the Israeli combatants reveal the scale of moral devastation all of them have gone through.

There are people, however, who are in the job of intellection, who can see through the game. They alert the people of the danger of loss of their humanity. Maxim Gorky did it in the heyday of the Bolshevik Revolution when he condemned Lenin for turning the working masses into murderers and immoral morons. Lenin nudged off Gorky to Italy. Others were not so lucky. Ironically, Gorky returned to the Soviet Union to be a collaborator of the heir of Lenin.

Denunciation of intellectuals and disinterested scholarship is thus one of the main features of such drives. Masses are pitted against intellectuals who are portrayed as parasites who must be put to real work.

The May 16 circular of Mao, which became the manifesto of the Cultural Revolution said, “This concept which makes no class distinction on academic matters is also very wrong. The truth on academic questions, the truth of Marxism-Leninism, of Mao Tse-tung’s thought — which the proletariat has grasped — has already far surpassed and beaten the bourgeoisie. The formulation in the outline shows that its authors laud the so-called academic authorities of the bourgeoisie and try to boost their prestige, and that they hate and repress the militant newborn forces representative of the proletariat in academic circles.” There is nothing then that remains as scholarship or professionalism.

China is now the envy of the developed world. But it is a deeply wounded society. A witness of the cultural revolution says that it has been turned into a moral wasteland. It finds it difficult to look into its own eyes.

The memory of the sense of powerlessness of their victims gnaws at the hearts of the former red guards of the Chinese Revolution. Will their lost humanity be ever restored? This question came to me when I read Bandookwala Saheb in this newspaper and felt his sense of helplessness when he says that he forgives to hope. He knows it well that there is no one seeking forgiveness and therefore his offer has no value. But by doing so, he is desperately trying to claim the power of humanity for himself. It is a pathetic sight. How much time would his tormentors need to realize that by making people like Bandookwala powerless they were in fact robbing themselves of their humanity?

Such realization on part of the tormentors is not easy, as journalist John Pilger tells us :”The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened …Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter … “. Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” Let us examine ourselves: are we under a spell of hypnosis?

( Also published in the Indian Express on 31 May,2016)

11 thoughts on “In Search of Enemies

  1. Wonderfully written… I agree, we are in for some ‘interesting times’. I can’t believe that this nation is swallowing their codswallop entirely.

  2. shaturya

    I appreciate the sensitivity with which this piece is written.

    The process through which such vicious change is brought out is very well described in ‘Ánimal Farm ‘.

    But the after effect of such Orwellian violence (including intellectual violence) on the society has been very tellingly described here.

    ‘…… it has been turned into a moral wasteland. It finds it difficult to look into its own eyes. ‘ I have never met with a better description of such vigilantism.

    Hope ín our country , people become a little thick skinned so that their sentiments don’t get hurt so easily and their emotions are not taken advantage of for furthering vigilantism !

  3. K SHESHU BABU

    ‘The big brother is watching you’re … how true! There is constant shadow on the intellectuals, artists, students, workers,labourers and so on. The ‘ demacles’ sword’ is hanging on everyone’s head. Fascist rulers are pounding on their ‘subjects’ and instructing what to do and what not to do.

  4. I am afraid the writer has gone too far to compare Modi with Mao and Stalin.And also one has to always keep in mind that India,even Hindoosthan,is neither China nor Russia.The history of each makes the whole difference -both of the “greats” and the countries.This much is clear that the country is now heading towards ‘cold civil war ‘ at a terrific speed.Every Nayi Subha is different from the last one.I think the Sanghi Hindus are still not that powerful as to beat the Non-Sanghi Hindus.The division is no more confined to Hindus and Muslims

    1. I agree that there are differences in the various narratives but according to their own regional factors and historical influences. Which is as it should be, but the idea was that such dictatorial tendencies and mass adulation/sycophancy/hysteria could arise anywhere in the world and the symptoms are that it is happening here too.
      Also, the idea of a cold civil war is just about right but it is no longer divided merely by the idea of right and left, capitalist/socialist-communist, hindu-muslim. Never underestimate the virulence of their agenda and imagine that it is following the normal lines where Sanghis are faced with Non-Sanghis any more. They were clever enough to leverage the aspirations (let us call it greed, in fact) of the middle class in this country to show them that they are on their side. So even the so-called Non-Sanghi hindus these days are spouting rubbish about how acche din are already here.
      If you think they are not as powerful now, you must speak to the common people and see how their perceptions have altered in the last few years. Even the sane ones are now talking rubbish.

      But, strangely enough, I am not really worried. Yes, we will go through evil times, bad times. But I always live in the hope that no matter how dark the night, there shall always be a tomorrow. This madness has taken over nations, societies, communities in the past too – say, Nazi Germany, McCarthy in the USA, Staling and Mao as the author has mentioned, Mussolini – the list is endless. But in spite of all that, the movements or the ideologies could not alter the true nature of the nation or its people and a balance would be arrived at in time. So, in spite of what has overtaken our nation now, this madness also has to subside. I am hopeful. If not in my own time, then some day. But do I believe that they are weak or not as powerful as the sane? No, the outlook is dire, their numbers are swelling and they will prevail for some time. It is only the duration of those dark days that we have to suffer. But they are winning now and I am not being pessimistic, just realistic. When you speak to people you have known for decades who now spout garbage of the Sangh-parivar kind and then justify it by comparing them with older regimes and accept whatever sordid changes that are taking place in the name of development, patriotism, identity and nationalism – it is then that you know that you have lost and they have won. At least, for now. Some day it will reverse. At least, I hope so.

      1. shaturya

        I agree with you that they aren’t weak and the ‘ process’ has already begun.
        However, I very strongly feel that it is not Sanghis alone who are responsible for it. It is our inability to be wholly secular which continued to give them the strength.

        No one in the entire history of independent India could say that State and religion are separate . We brought birth ascribed features into state through a route of social status, religious freedom, and other host such pious looking philosophies. For vote catching, we started stooping to lower and lower denominator. Not only did we allow the caste and religion to have a say in our political and thus governmental decision making , we stamped it with a seal .

        People resented that. Political parties didn’t think that it could become such an issue. Still , none dares to voice it. (Remember the Emergency, during Emergency, everything seemed calm and smooth, but resentment was widespread in the bosom of people)

        Though , through a various channels of distributaries and tributaries of emotional fluid, the discontent didn’t come out publicly , but remained in the heart and mind of a majority of people. This discontent oozed out once it found a credible channel (credibility was crafted through adroit use of TV in 2014 elections).

        Yes, very unfortunately, the release of discontent might turn into a night of despair. But it will be too late. Indian society has not been violently organized, but is not culturally submissive. The history is witness to it. That is where the ray of hope comes through. But we must realize that in order to defeat such forces, we need to be very really really secular in all respect.

        1. chatoo

          You are on the dot when you say that in order to combat and counter religious fundamentalism and fascism that goes with it, one needs to be emphatically secular.
          Half hearted measures coupled with backdoor entry of birth ascribed privileges into government administration only go to strengthen such forces.
          Unfortunately even left also is guilty of not being wholly secular, let alone congress.

        2. Absolutely correct and well put. In some ways, we are all guilty of being non-secular. Our deep-rooted prejudices, our upbringing and influences overwhelm our rational thinking at times. Very well put, thank you.

  5. Pingback: In Search of Enemies | अप्रासंगिक Aprasangik : अपूर्वानंद

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