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Home > News > Columnists > Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Abuse as argument

August 06, 2007

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Complete coverage: The quota issue

The most conspicuous aspect of the reservations debate in our country is the unanimity in the political class. There is not a single political party or leader that even questions, let alone tries to stop, the growing quota mania.

With the Supreme Court starting to hear from August 7 the Constitutional validity of the law providing 27 per cent reservations for Other Backward Classes in elite educational institutions, we shall wait and watch to what extent the government goes to implement the retrograde agenda of caste-based reservations.

For it is only the apex court that can decelerate, though not stop, the march of casteism. Politicians have not opposed and will not oppose the expanding scope of reservations.

This, however, does not mean that the entire political class is convinced of the efficacy or justness of reservations. A large number of politicians -- especially in the biggest parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- know that the more reservations on birth-based criteria would be socially divisive and economically ruinous. Yet, they keep quiet. Why?

The politicians who are against the expansion of quotas are forced to acquiesce to the retrograde policies of the Arjun Singhs, the Paswans, and the Karunanidhis because a peculiar depravity has entered public discourse: abuse has become the argument.

Anybody who opposes any idea or policy of the holders of conventional wisdom -- be it affirmative action, welfarism, or the 'root-cause' theory on terror -- is immediately gets maligned and denounced as a reactionary, a status-quoist, and worse. Even if one supports quotas but is not as vocal and extreme as, say, Paswan, one may attract the ire of quota maniacs.

In a country where sloganeering is confused with eloquence and platitudes with wisdom, it is hardly surprising that shouting passes off as the cry of the long-suffering, silent majority. Needless to say, nobody bothers to examine the authenticity of any cry: a cry, by virtue of being a cry, is always authentic. Or, so it is believed.

Shouting having become the sexiest mode of protest, decibels often perform the function what in saner times cogency of argument used to do. If you dare to challenge the tyranny of decibels, you will be, well, shouted down. The downtrodden are being neglected and pauperized in the liberalized economy, cry the self-proclaimed champions of the poor. If you dare to challenge this, or ask for any evidence to substantiate such an assertion, you would be immediately branded as a stooge of the World Bank, or a lackey of the diabolical multinational corporations (MNCs), or both.

The Muslims are being "stereotyped" by the media and the West, shout liberals. If you have not blinded yourself to the reality, you are likely to point out that there is no "stereotyping" and that Islam is what Islam does (and it is not what the Mushirul Hasans and the Edward Saids say it is), you would be denounced as an ignorant bigot. Hindu society is most iniquitous, unjust, and unfair in the world, in which a small minority of upper castes oppress and exploit their less fortunate brethren, scream Leftist intellectuals and casteist leaders. If you have the courage to challenge such canards, you are inarguably a status quoist, an apologist of the barbaric caste system, and of course a Hindu fundamentalist.

Interestingly, you will face only accusations and allegations; no reason or evidence is expected to substantiate the grave charges against you. You may argue, they won't: they will shout, and you will be shouted down. Similarly, once the high priests of politically correct inquisition brand you as communal, fascist, or anti-poor, there is no way you can challenge that. There will not even be a mock trial; only the charge is read out and immediately it becomes the verdict; your views will not even be heard; if you insist, you will be, well, shouted down. Abuse is the argument.

A number of factors -- political, social, and cultural -- sustain and nurture the tyranny of decibels. The most important factors are: the diffidence of politicians; and the moral bankruptcy of the intellectual class, which has created a climate of opinion conducive for caste politics.

Consider the case of the main Opposition, BJP. Escalation in caste politics leaves it in a quandary, as it polarises Hindu society, the party's main constituency. But, instead of resisting more quotas in jobs and educational institutes, the party supports it, though with a lot of conditionalities like 'We support the Mandal Commission report but are against the way it is being implemented.'

The BJP could not garner enough courage to directly challenge the Mandal demon. When the demon was first unleashed by a cynical prime minister in 1990, the BJP was nonplussed. As a commentator said at that time, the party 'invoked Lord Ram to slay Mandal.' Lord Ram was indeed invoked successfully -- that is, successfully, from the BJP's perspective, as He catapulted the party to the highest office in 1996 for 13 days and in 1998 for six years. The Mandal demon, however, was not slain; he was merely hurt; after more than one and a half decades, he has come back, reinvigorated and fiercer.

The Mandal demon's worshippers believe that just chanting the mantras of social justice and reservations will make them successful. So far, they have succeeded: the mantras, especially when used with a lot of clamor and humbug, become a weapon of mass deception. While casteist politicians provide clamor, an obsequious intellectual class come up with humbug; the effect is synergistic in nature.

The guilt-ridden mainstream politicians and parties get scared by this WMD. What they do not realise is that this WMD is effective as long as it is not countered by its antidote -- informed debate and discussion. And this is what the quota fanatics are afraid of; they try to drown any debate in a deluge of nice-sound mantras and slogans.

It is time the BJP and the Congress took on these fanatics, for the sake of the nation and for their own sake. For when casteism raises its ugly head in politics, the biggest losers are the national parties. And the biggest gainers are the retrograde, illiberal parties and leaders.

The author works with The Political and Business Daily

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