The messages doing the rounds just before the election results were announced on 23 May were on the lines of “What can India expect if…?” “What should we brace for?”
Those who had braced themselves for a BJP-led NDA victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, were well aware of what they needed to brace themselves for. The last few years have offered some indication.
There is the assumption that ‘bracing’ will help. It is unlikely. Bracing helps to break a fall, either in a crash landing or in a somewhat evenly-matched martial contest.
Once you fall, even if you’ve managed to land without breaking your collar bone, you are still down and defenseless, and whoever put you down must have done it with some intention. There is precious little you can do to prevent the realisation of that intention in the moment.
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Whether the results are an accurate reflection of the people’s mandate and whether majoritarian ambition is all that will be permitted expression henceforth, remains to be seen. The question to focus on is not what to worry about, or even what to combat, but what we value, and how to achieve such values.
We Rally Against Big Corporates...Yet We Shop At Malls
For too long, the national conversation has been dominated by unacceptable ideas, and people we want to reject rather than embrace. For some citizens, the idea of secularism was unacceptable. But I find it hard to believe that they valued ‘hatred’ as a life principle. For others, corruption or crony capitalism was unacceptable. But not much energy and time was spent building the road to the opposite values – honesty, and small, independent enterprises.
We may rally against wealth being concentrated in the hands of industrialists who fund the careers of the most powerful people in Parliament, and who will inevitably extract their pound of flesh.
However, we continue to use the services and goods that make these business houses richer. We do not build or invest in more independent services because using them is inconvenient.
We don’t mind taking long drives or wasting fossil fuels because the mood strikes us. We do mind going two kilometres to pick up groceries and clothes from non-big corporation owned, non-shopping malls. We don’t like other people consuming hateful rhetoric. We do mind paying the full price for independent media. We don’t like surveillance. We sign up for Aadhaar-based surveillance. We are aghast at men threatening to beat up women for drinking in pubs. We do little to counter such men, except make cartoons or memes to share on social media.
How Do We Regain Our Sense Of Who We Are?
We would like to think these two strands of choice are unconnected. We would like to do our thing and remain safe, remain free, remain a basically good, inclusive society, all the while surrendering our time, money, our bodies to the processes that fund the exact opposite of what we truly desire and value.
The way to recover our sense of who we are is by inhabiting and embodying the values we proclaim. There is no other way. That is why the leaders of the Independence struggle were successful in turning hearts – they didn’t just state, they strove to inhabit their cherished values.
Ultimately, there are only two things that keep us going as individuals and as a people – love and justice. Take away either and it’s like living with one lung; take away both and the organism starts to collapse.
What Would Happen If We Braced For ‘The End of Hope’?
The nation may yet survive as an anxious, under-nourished, over-worked citizen continues to breathe, work, pays bills. But her being suffers. As hope of love and justice fades, it is replaced by bitterness and rage.
While bitterness may yet be diluted through fear or the occasional candy bribe, rage is a hungry beast, not easily domesticated.
It cannot be that some Indians consistently get away with destroying lives and livelihoods. They merely open the floodgates for all others to follow their lead. As it is, India has long suffered from a lack of active, visible justice. Many people already believe that existing systems and processes subvert the Constitution rather than enabling it. If people were to stop participating even in the ‘facade’ of justice, if expectation of dignity and respect were abandoned, then the law, its makers and its administrators will cease to mean anything. Then, we will need to brace for the end of hope. I am not sure if it is possible to brace against such a thing.
(Annie Zaidi is a playwright, short filmmaker, writer and documentary filmmaker. She tweets at @anniezaidi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)