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  Opinion   Oped  30 Mar 2019  Politics is creating antagonism to distort culture

Politics is creating antagonism to distort culture

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Mar 30, 2019, 6:30 am IST
Updated : Mar 30, 2019, 6:30 am IST

It may be that all elections, if they are free and sometimes even if they are not free, are determinations of the character or soul of a nation.

British Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo: AP)
 British Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo: AP)

“Other creatures don’t practice deception
The magpie, I’m told, is the only exception
All human beings can learn to lie —
It’s evolution — Darwin knows why.

The wise find it’s a useful tool
Though fools don’t have to play the fool…”

From Much Urdu About Nothing by Bachchoo

 

I have recently realised that nations don’t just have characteristics — British humour, German officiousness, Italian devil-may-care-lessness, French intellectual self-deception, — they have souls. These reside in the body politic and are sometimes, as Faust found out when the devil approached him, subject to temptation and change. .

This realisation dawns through reading over the last few months, British and Indian newspapers.

Britain is torn by the Brexit saga. Its Parliament and people are divided and don’t know which way to go. The dilemma, which presents dramatic twists and defeats each day, is not a matter of determining directions. It continues to bring into question the definitions of “democracy”, of “suzerainty” of “control” and other nebulous concepts such as “racism”, “xenophobia”, “socialism”… and then some.

 

For those who are sceptical of the metaphor of a country having a “soul”, I can refer to it as a struggle for the personality of the country.

Britain is not alone. And now the “democratic” combat of the general election of India has taken the shape which, gentle reader, I choose to see as not simply a process of choosing the next government, but one that involves the definition of India, Bharat, Hindustan. Another struggle with several devils trying to buy Faust’s soul. (I tried to think of a character from an Indian narrative who is subject to selling his atma for earthly gain, but came up with no one with a precise parallel — fd. FD, we don’t admit our own ignorance in this publication — Ed.)

 

It may be that all elections, if they are free and sometimes even if they are not free, are determinations of the character or soul of a nation. In dictatorships, it’s the imposition of the vision of an individual and his/her supporters, or the vision of some ideal or ideology that a party perpetrates. All elections assume the purdah of material progress, of promises of advancement to one section or all of the population. The outer slogan can be “bring back the jobs from South Korea to Detroit”, or it could be “roti kapda aur makan” — and these may seem to win the allegiance of voters, but the real resonance may be for “Make America Great Again” or “Apna Bharat Mahan”.

 

In today’s battles, of Brexit and of the Indian elections, there is undoubtedly a factor of generating antagonisms and these are generated in the name of one or the other contention of purity. Despite the Brexiteers protesting that their main consideration is for the suzerainty of the Westminster Parliament, for a severance of the conditions and constraints that membership of the EU entails, there is a nasty specter behind this ideological veil. However much Boris Johnson and the other politicians and Mickey Marxists protest that Brexiteers are acting in all liberal conscience to “take back control!”, the big factor that pushed the Brexit referendum result to a very slim “leave” majority was and is xenophobia and racism. The central factor which neither the present Theresa May government, nor the aspirants who want to replace her as leader of the Tories or the present leadership of the Labour Party will at all costs cling on to is stopping the “free movement of labour”. It means keep the Europeans from coming to Britain to live and work.

 

It’s the one condition that no party can abandon without losing the Brexiteer population’s support. If Britain were to leave the EU with a complete break from all other requirements of membership — which the Brexiteer leaders and the TFOs, the Trotskyist Fantasy Outfits, tout as their reasons for leaving — except the free movement of labour, there would be no Brexit.

The referendum result had very little to do with the material disaster that would result from quitting EU membership, turning the country into Bringapore, and very much to do with a vision of Britain as the country over whose empire the sun never set — a country whose folk memory says that “the wogs begin at Calais and Broadstairs men are suspect!”.

 

Those who maintain that the remain voters are being snobbish by labelling the majority of leave voters as xenophobic and wanting a stop to immigration, should commission a poll whose simple question would be: “If you take back control of everything except immigration, would you still vote to leave?” My prediction? 90 per cent of those who did vote to leave would say that’s not the referendum they want and 8 per cent of the remainder would abstain. I admit, speculation doesn’t prove the point.  

The fight for India’s soul goes deeper. Is this a modern democracy or a theocracy of superstition and hatred? Is the antagonism to Pakistan and thence to the Muslim population of India the only unifying factor that the incumbent government relies on? Is the coalition of parties that are uniting, in opposition to such a stance, in it for a larger principle or are they in it for the game of political positioning which enables corruption? Perhaps this question will only be answered after the election and the horse-trading and sale of allegiances is set in motion.

 

More bewildering perhaps is the merging of myth and history that is being attempted, even in supposedly academic circles, to define the country’s being. Every civilisation must own its myths, be proud of them and flout them. There are ways of incorporating the values embodied within them into the ethical fabric of a country: The idea of French Liberty-Equality-Fraternity; the of-for-and-by of democratic states; the dharma of Indian epics…

Leave myth to narrative entertainment and ethical instruction. Mixed with history it distorts the soul and makes for fantasy, lies and fatal self-deception.

Tags: brexit, theresa may government