Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations is playing around us. Huntington's thesis is that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of future conflicts. That future wars will be fought not between countries, but between cultures. The diversity of India, represented by its vast collection of ethnicities, languages, religions and culture should then make an ideal playground to test Huntington’s thesis. And we’re seeing it play out in full measure, with right wing politicians stoking the fires of cultural, linguistic and ethnic chauvinism, with an eye to creating vote banks differentiated from what must be the ideal, of a homogeneous national identity.
From the United States to the Middle East and Europe, across India and Myanmar to the Far East and the Pacific, radical religionists and right-wing formations have organised themselves into groups, in a bid to channel civilisation as we know it, into their narrow, bigoted ways.
It has always been the way of the liberal to remain politically unorganised or even disorganised. Liberalism, with its many facets and colours, does not lend easily to coherent organisation. It doesn’t even coalesce into coherence when the political choices are limited, like the US, so to see it remaining a fractured expression in a polity that offers unlimited political choices, like India, is but natural. The radical, right wing end of the spectrum however, instinctively migrates towards the political groupings that best serve their bigoted ends.
It is thus that we observe the clash of the Christian right-wing under the banner of the Republicans led by Trump, versus the liberal Democrats in the US; a right wing Islamic polity under Erdogan in Turkey, the radical ISIS versus the liberal Muslim world, countless free-ranging radical groups versus the rest of Pakistan, the radical Sangh Parivar, through its political arm the BJP, versus the rest of India, a Buddhist right wing polity in Myanmar, Malay Islamic extremism and a Filipino right wing Government led by Duterte and so on. The battle lines are drawn across the world, not between religions per se, but between the expressions of all sorts of identities but by and large, between liberals and radicals. And in this scrum, probably the best placed to observe and comment, is the atheist bystander; who, if he must take sides must naturally side with the liberal believer.
How then can the liberal world reclaim that ethos humanity has worked to create over the centuries following the Renaissance, but has all but lost to the radical, right wing proponent of violent religiosity? Difficult as it may seem, the liberal component of civil society will have to become more vocal in the expression of their liberalism, for ironically, it has been their liberalism that has enabled the radical political spectrum to usurp the diversity of our public life and turn all differences into a matter of paranoid awareness and consequent strife. The liberal cannot any longer allow the reclamation of liberal public spaces to be hampered by liberalism itself! For the radical right has acquired political power, with the consequent ability to play havoc into the social and political structures of the State and into the State's dialogue with its citizens. The systematic undermining of social and political structures, that we are witnessing today is a dangerous trend that the liberal Indian, who to my mind, still comprises the overwhelming majority of our nation, can ignore only to our collective peril.
There are dangerous facets to the polarisation the current has been able to achieve, which has the potential to snowball into conditions that can render us into a society akin to a Talibanised Afghanistan, in no time.
The first step must obviously be the coalescing of liberal forces into a political grouping able to tackle the fascists at the hustings. The BJP, with a mere 31% of the popular vote, attracted via an unprecedented high decibel media campaign replete with vilification, character assassination, lies and a hyperbolic raising of public expectations, won the 2014 elections, only because liberal forces distributed the balance 69% of the vote among them, in effect creating for the BJP, its 2014 windfall electoral fortune. All of India’s political parties being majorly family run parties, personal egos are the biggest stumbling block in such a quest.
Assuming that three months from now, India pulls away from the edge of the societal precipice it stands upon, it is the agenda for the future that will be a matter of life or death for our nation. The biggest failure of our nation, to my mind, over the past seven decades, has been its inability to infuse education with the liberal and the scientific ethos, that has seen the success of many nations and economies we envy. Emulating best-in-world practices for education and ramping up Central and State outlay for education, should be the most important item on our agenda.
There is need for many more social organisations to interface with liberal social scientists to begin a dialogue and start speaking with all communities, to soothe tensions over language, culture and religion. If the politician seeks to exacerbate such differences, society must counter such efforts. In time, politicians will receive the message, that it is counter-productive to seek votes on polarity and easier to obtain them over development of a more fruitful life for the citizen.
(Rajiv Tyagi is an erstwhile fighter pilot,
and a published author)