February 11, 2016

Identity politics forms the basis of Indian democracy today corroding economic & political rights (TK Arun)

The Economic Times

Identity politics forms the basis of Indian democracy today corroding economic & political rights
February 11, 2016, 4:23 am IST TK Arun in Cursor | Economy, India | ET

Journalist Malini Subramaniam, who reports on violence against tribal people in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, faces intimidation and violence at her Jagdalpur home, but the police refuse to file a case.

Tanzanians are beaten and harassed in Bengaluru after another African driver mows down a villager. Journalists are attacked in Uttar Pradesh for reporting the death of a boy in celebratory firing by politicians.

After acquittal, five terror accused in Lucknow demand compensation for the 10 years they spent in jail. Patanjali emerges from nowhere to become the new kid on the country’s fast-moving-consumer-goods block.

A policeman confesses in remorse that the so-called rebel whom he had killed in a Manipur encounter under his supervisor’s orders had, in fact, been unarmed. Connect the dots.

This is what politics in India is today. It mobilises people on the basis of identity, not for their advance, but to emotionally charge them against another identity, so that the instigator gets elected to office, and can then offer patronage to those who help them ascend, never mind rules and principles or even basic humanity.

Why did two Tanzanians, who had nothing to do with the car accident that killed a villager, but arrived on the scene half an hour later, get beaten up? How can it not be racism?

The answer lies in the country’s identity politics. Individuals are seen primarily as members of a larger group. The group is held responsible for an individual’s crimes. This is the basic logic of identity politics and all communal violence.

The same logic played out in Bengaluru: an African was responsible for the fatal accident, so other Africans must pay. This is how Indian democracy trains its people to think.

Us Versus Them…

Malini Subramaniam’s reports in Scroll.in have embarrassed the Chhattisgarh government and, because of its implication of personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force in acts of sexual violence against tribal women, the Centre.

Both are headed by the BJP. But a local Congress leader was part of the group that went to Subramaniam’s home to threaten her and instigate her neighbours to throw stones at her. The identity politics at work here is Maoists versus Citizens.

The journalist sides with the Maoists is the main accusation. That tribal women have been beaten, raped and their homes looted does not matter, just as the individual rights of the Tanzanians did not matter.

The same perverse logic is visible in the way Indian security forces keep arresting young Muslim men on suspicion of links with terrorists. Us versus Them. Who cares which precise members of Them had any links with terrorists? When it is Us versus Them, journalists are a nuisance, who deserve to be swatted down, whether in Chhattisgarh or in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. Activists like Teesta Setalvad have to be muzzled, entangled in charges of accounting violations, never mind the service she has done to India’s democratic legitimacy by getting prosecution to work and secure convictions for a communal riot, instead of allowing it to be resolved in another riot later.

Us versus Them is not democracy. Suppression of dissent and selective application of the laws of the land, currently underway in Chhattisgarh, have no place in a democracy.

Arresting anyone convenient to arrest and ruining their lives by packing them off to jail for years with no credible proof and knowing no credible proof exists is not democracy. Failure to take action against the police personnel who do this while decorating ‘ketchup colonels’ and others who stage fake encounters in Kashmir is not democracy.

And Us versus Them now plays out in the economy, too. Those who have the support of the ruling dispensation will get anti-dumping duties slapped on their produce, or, in the latest instance, a minimum import price.

And Them? It would be mere conspiracy to suggest that they can expect bans on their products that lapse under legal scrutiny. But it would be plain fact to say that they would be left to stew in their own noodles, while those who have the support of the ruling dispensation move fast to corner a share of the market.

The same principle of patronage, when applied to banking, has resulted in the current mess in which banks are burdened with enormous bad loans. The obverse of bad loans is companies under strain. Many Indian companies are going under, unable to service the debt they have accumulated on projects that had inflated costs and got stalled on the way.

…Simply is Not Democracy

Patronage for Us. Death, torture and destruction for Them. India cannot improve ease of doing business when its politics works on this unholy combination of identity and patronage. Ease of doing business is not just getting a company registered or being able to pay your taxes fast. Laws and rules that are respected and enforced: these are prerequisites. That these laws and rules have to also be rational is secondary. Rule of law is primary. And India’s commitment to the rule of law is on test, right now, in Chhattisgarh.