Indian Panorama

Intolerance may be religious or it may be irreligious. But it is intolerance all the way. The net result is the same : victimisation of the weak and powerless. Senseless religious intolerance in the name of Islam has clearly become an international problem. Sensible public opinion is horrified at the activities of the IS (Islamic State) e.g. massacre of innocent civilians in Paris, brutal murder of several rationalists in Bangladesh and so on. It is noticeable that one section of those professing Islam has felt constrained to condemn the activities of the IS. Nobody except a few diehard Islamic fanatics would disagree that whatever the offences done by the Western powers against the people of the Middle-East, there can be no justification for such barbarous attacks.

Intolerance may broadly be defined as curbing of democracy. Whether there can exist any democracy in the pure sense of the term is debatable. Even the advanced capitalist states of Europe were, and still are, in the final analysis, dictatorships of the rich and powerful, and hence intolerant towards certain sections of the population. The tendency towards intolerance in the earliest post-(socialist) revolutionary societies was noted by Rosa Luxemburg, the German communist leader, in her unfinished text The Russian Revolution : "Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains an active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously—at bottom, then, a clique affair."

In India there has been no socialist revolution led by the communist party or the working class supposed to be led by it, and the people have only the right to vote. But even that voting right is denied by the ruling party through administrative fiat and naked muscle power. Political dissent is not allowed and yet they call it the biggest democracy in the world. Then intolerance is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Of late the people have been witnessing barbaric acts of intolerance in the name of Hindutva. The heart-breaking Dadri episode, the murders of Davolkar, Pansare and Kulburgi, and many other similar events are now well publicised and well discussed. But there remains the stark fact that intolerance is not confined to the religious sphere only. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pampered intolerance associated with Hindutva is clearly designed to make people remain inattentive to the crisis that neo-Iiberalism portends for the country as a whole. On the other hand, dominant political parties, in order to acquire or retain power, constantly try to corner or even eliminate, by non-peaceful means, their political rivals or those who refuse to submit to their hegemony. In some places, the dominant parties openly serve the interests of the corporate houses in the name of 'development', and repress the people whose interests are adversely affected. In some others, the class content of this interest is less pronounced, but what is clear is the scheme to create a lumpen raj at the expense of the public exchequer.

The existing situation in West Bengal is probably an excellent showcase of the latter phenomenon. It is often said, with at least some justification, that the CPI(M) built up an exclusive political hegemony with the help of various vested interests and muscle power. It is also true that this party, during the later phase of its rule, became increasingly and blatantly pro-corporate and open followers of neo-liberalism and 'developmental terrorism'. The Nandigram episode of 2007-08 was a glaring example of the latter. In the advocacy of this policy, there was no discernible difference between Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Jyoti Basu. But ever since her ascent to power, Mamata Banerjee has resorted to the tactics of terrorism in the crudest form conceivable, her professed opposition to intolerance on the occasion of the Bihar assembly polls notwithstanding. The last panchayet polls, the 2014 parliamentary polls and the latest municipal polls— the Salt Lake polls provide one glaring example—have shown widespread rigging, capture of booths, intimidation of voters and even assault on journalists, who, it was feared, would publicise the misdeeds of the TMC. Recently, CPI(M) processions have been attacked in several places and important CPI(M) functionaries have been humiliated in the most uncivilised manner. It is perhaps needless to mention that the present dispension has succeeded in forming a lumpen army that can be used to exterminate all political opposition.

What is the secret of this success? One reason is the free license to loot public money in the name of 'development'. Lavish donations to clubs (donations have exceeded Rs 4 billions till date) in the name of promotion of sports, but without any guidelines and without a system of checks and balances provide one illustration. The message of the Chief Minister and her acolytes is clear: 'We give you money in the name of sports, but you may do whatever you like with it, subject to the condition that you have to work as mercenaries of the Trinamul Congress, particularly at the time of the polls'.

Of course there is no strong mass movement in West Bengal that can create an atmosphere of political tolerance. There was one exception, the movement initiated by students of Jadavpur University, which cut across party barriers and finally forced the government to retreat.

Almost in all states political opposition is being suppressed by using draconian laws, brute police force and partisan violence. But violence begets violence. And this parliamentary democracy though borrowed from the West, finally becomes a farcical exercise to maintain the status quo. Political violence, rather criminalisation of politics, is the order of the day and no state is free from it. In truth it is all about how to loot the exchequer while maintaining the facade of democracy. But political intolerance is dangerous, even at the state level because it seems to foreshadow the establishment of an authoritarian regime which allows brutal political repression and stifling of voice of protest with impunity.

No doubt intolerance, more precisely religious intolerance, has become a subject of public discourse, but it is still mainly confined to the intelligentsia. The ground reality is that ordinary people irrespective of their religious beliefs being terrorised by market fundamentalists everyday, continue to live in cordial harmony without bothering about the tolerance-intolerance debate.

Vol. 48, No. 22, Dec 6 - 12, 2015