Democratic Principles as a Totem pole

Written By Jeenal Gala

Another day, another Jayanti. And another ‘the day after’, when a leader’s teachings have been forgotten. But they linger on as in our collective consciousness as mere totems. The ideas and ideals are ignored. But their birth and death anniversaries are made spectacles of, so that in people’s minds it appears that our current set of leaders are indeed guided by the principles of the bygone leaders.

Senior leaders including the Prime Minister and the Home Minister diligently pay tributes to national icons who inspired our freedom struggle. They however express generic wishes, merely to signal to the laity that they are inspired by their ideals. In reality, they not only do not adhere to the principles they espoused, but even actively digress from them. Yet, the BJP has been keen about stealing national icons—from Sardar Patel to Bhagat Singh; From Gandhi to Ambedkar.

The BJP has a dearth of national icons and is an intellectually anemic party. This is reflected in their decision to appoint a history graduate as the chief of the Reserve Bank of India—an institution in which Ambedkar had a crucial role in establishing. Such is the seriousness of the BJP government that they could not find a competent economist to lead the RBI. The same is with all the institutions that are designed to uphold our democracy. They are all mere totem poles, representative of our ideals. And just that.

If the BJP was serious about furthering the ideas espoused by Ambedkar, they would promote social justice and work to diminish discrimination. Instead of doing this, many BJP leaders, including those who are in senior positions have known to make most irresponsible statements that sustain and promote prejudices in society. And instead of reining in the rogue elements, the PM feigns helplessness and says he would never be able to forgive such people. He did that with Pragya Thakur, but didn’t shy away from promoting her in the party. Likewise, he hasn’t shied away from following those who celebrated the assassination/deaths of Gauri Lankesh, Rohit Vemula, Justice Loya and others. When he has no choice but to respond, he sheds a tear or two. That probably comes easy to him considering his followers claim that he fought crocodiles as a boy. He surely has developed the art of shedding crocodile tears too.

Of course, it isn’t only the leaders to blame. All of us, as citizens, must introspect and assess where we are headed as a society. Our public discourse is replete with divisive talk based on identities. We seldom deliberate upon matters that pertain to equality, social justice, peace and progress. We meekly tolerate the affronts on our freedoms.  We remain silent when prominent leaders are locked-down under flimsy grounds. Without social justice, without our freedoms, we essentially go back to the days of colonial times. Only this time, the colour of the skin and the nationality will not be markers to identify the oppressors.

If we continue reducing our leaders and principles to mere totems, so will our freedoms. On the face of it, our democracy will look dapper, but from the inside it will decay. When the pillars fall, there will be nothing left of it. Somewhere in the dissonance between what we practice and what we post on social media, lies the reality of our democracy. If we are to progress as a society, we must rescue our principles from oblivion and start practicing them. Now.

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