State Vs Super-State

Our Citizenship and Our Living Existence

Jayanta Bhattacharya

Articles 370 and 35A have been abrogated in Kashmir. Since the beginning of August 2019, India has been heavily charged with conjectures about its implications. Post-election India has also seen a number of unnecessary and perhaps avoidable deaths which are not easy to sign off in the biggest democratic country of the world. One 18-year old girl has committed suicide, failing to enlist her name in the National Register of Citizens (NRC). In different parts of India including West Bengal mob lynching has become an almost regular phenomenon, especially in the post-election period. BBC News reports on July 10, 2019—"Jai Shri Ram: The Hindu chant that became a murder cry". The New York Times reports on June 25, 2019—"Forced to Chant Hindu Slogans, Muslim Man is Beaten to Death in India". One's identity as a citizen(?) becomes visibly tagged with a specific slogan. These incidentshave compelled us to rethink about our state, secular and democratic constitution, our citizenship and the interrelationships between them.We can revisit our given notion of being a citizen in a democratic space, as has been empowered by our constitution.

To recapitulate, most of the Indian intelligentsia almost without exception could not fathom pre- and post-election predicament regarding the number of parliamentary seats won by the ruling party. They failed to assay the cumulative impact of at least 6,00,000 cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at the grass root level. Insidiously they constructed bit by bit a different yet unique social psyche over a period of months or years.All the lateral organisations were adding power to this effort at various levels—lay people, school teachers, women, house wives, youth, and more. Our intelligentsia, as a sequel, have behaved more in a re-active, rather than pro-active, mode.

At a particular juncture of history, the ghastly terrorist attack on army personnel gave rise to resurgence of the issues like national security, patriotism, and enemy-hunting. Quite expectedly, India hit back hard. This attack brought the question of national security and flagrant nationalist thought to the fore, surpassing anything and everything. Common people felt the need of a strong leadership, strong country and a unified public opinion for the mobilization of highest possible strength to demolish every miniscule supposed to be anti-national and non-patriotic. The questions of economy, social security, freedom of expression, scope of education and job, gender security, not-so-good picture of health, "Roti, Kapda, Aur Makan"—all were subsumed by the newly emerging extremely powerful nationalist sentiment. To put it otherwise, it was destined to be. Intelligentsia were vacuous about such possibilities which were in the offing. They tried to build up a "civil space" or "third space", as historically seen in developed democratic countries. But it turned out to be a pipe dream.

In this highly charged situation, the difference between the party, state, the executive apparatus and judiciary gets blurred and oftentimes effaced. Democratic institutions are stalled. A void erupts, which is quickly filled by faceless aggressive and killer mob (otherwise called lumpens). This points to a particular fact which may become an ominous sign for society. In contrast to the desired democratisation process or centrifugal (or away from the centre) trend it leads again to a pull towards the centre or centripetal force.

The journey of engrafted modernity in India, which started under the aegis of the state itself in the post-1947 era, made all the Indian subjects "citizens" at a single stroke. And it happened without prior social or cultural movements or churnings from below the society. To emphasise, the greater part of European countries attained the status of citizenship and nation-state through a protracted and consistent social, political, economic and historical process spanning about 300 years. But all the categories comprising of citizenship, nation-state and others were engrafted on the mostly agrarian, semi-feudal political structure of the Indian subcontinent over a period of only a few decades. The way European states had witnessed the emergence of the individual, interrelationships between the newly emerging individual and the state, the disappearance of the societal or clan and the rise and expansion of the space of secularism in social, civil and political spheres were altogether absent in India.In European perspective, society disintegrated and dissolved to produce the individual who was directly tied to the state. In India, even after the formation of truncated nation-state, society reigned supreme between the state and the individual/person. Individual was subsumed in society with its lingering impact even in this digital consumer era, the age of liquid modernity. The mode and quanta of political freedom and "one person, one vote" system introduced in India was limited to upper echelons of society and became their insignia of social power. It did not penetrate to the lowest rung of Indian society and did never mean social and political empowerment of the so-called "subalterns". They had little access to political freedom and liberty enjoyed by the masters at the top of pyramidal societal structure. In a modern nation-state, to put it somewhat bluntly, there remains no mediatory or interstitial "social" between the individual and the state. It is represented through civil space which may be otherwise called "third space". Historically, there emerges not only statist discourse of modernity, but also a number of competing non-statist discourse on modernity too. For example, we can remember the historical Paris uprising of the late 1960s or anti-Vietnam protests in US or, in more recent times, "Occupy Wall Street" or "Another World is Possible" movements. At such unique historical junctures the concept of non-citizenship is also equally accommodated along with the statist concept of citizenship. (Though, to emphasize,such notion is expunged when the state behaves like a super-state,as presently experienced by the Trump-led US.)

What if the historical context of the formation of nation-state does not correspond to the European context and its historicity? What happens if something like "bridge course" is propounded at the time of inception of nation-state? Historically, the tentacles of democracy through its capillaries of power do not reach out to people at lowermost layer of society. As a sequel, the social and political trend becomes centripetal. At the time of formation Indian nation-state,it was enmeshed in innumerable irreconcilable and unresolved contradictions in the realm of the "social" and "political",distributive justice and entitlement in society. The crucial questions regarding centre-state relationship, caste politics, gender issues and nationality questions were all asymmetrically overdetermined. If not so, the questions were buried peacefully under the carpet of power.

Satinath Bhaduri's Dhorai Charit Manasre presents an excellent narrative of our burgeoning nation-state with its so many fault lines.Dhorai murmurs—"Bot (vote) is a peculiar thing. When a man gets money his prestige is increased. Similarly, bot (vote) increases prestige of a person—not only who castes vote but also of the whole village." Interestingly, beyond Dhorai's conceptualisation, Dhorai gets bound to the state through its techniques and mechanisms. Though, it is not clear if Dhorai of Tatmatuli belonging to the lowest caste has unfolded his existence as a "citizen". Has he really made "anonymous performance of citizenship"? He fails to perform the newly ascribed "citizen" role of his life. His existence is moored in his village-clan-society. Dhorai feels a bond with "Mahatmaji" through bot in his psyche—imagined communities—the kingdom of truth. But existentially Dhorai remains outside the ambit of the known binary of modernity-citizenship. He is at the crossroad of the "pakki"high road of modern India, which leads toan altogether different journey of Dhorai, containing within himself the fraction of a clan society, not any integer at all.

By following the logic pursued in the post-1947 India—which was recast in the mould of the discursive narrative of Euro-American modernity—it becomes apparent that a citizen in the new state will be an integer—1 or 0. There remains no fraction, nor is it allowed at all. There cannot be overlapping identities like Manipuri or Kashmiri. These are fractions, not an integer. Language becomes an effective tool to construct such a monolithic social psyche. Again, in a pragmatic logic, integers can turn at times into negative integers too. Dr.Kafeel Khan of Goarakhpur is such an example. Numbing of our collective sensibilities and historical and social amnesia put together perform an outstanding historical job in this regard. So negative integers accumulate—Gauri Lankesh, M. M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Asifa (8-year old Kashmiri girl), Akhlaqu, and many more will join.

More intriguingly, the limited civil or third space which we used to enjoy is being increasingly constricted. Masculinisation of the state and politics is becoming more abrasive. And then comes ethical tranquilisation of which we are all more or less a component. Innumerable non-integers are there—citizen-non-citizen, patriot-traitor, Hindi-non-Hindi, India of the centre-India of the margin, India of prowess-India of nondescript powerless, India of cricket-India of danguli, India of tennis-India of village games, India of the "Complan Boy"-India hankering after an egg in mid-day meal! All these differentials are to be expressed through a single and unique positive integer, as the state now catechizeus. Indian citizens are gazed through a prism of binaries. Assam is learning it today, other states will learn it some other day. Through these techniques of exclusion and, also, inclusion (under the overarching umbrella of a singular identity building mechanism) the state attains the characteristics of a super-state. In this process of exclusion, hatred, violence and ostracisation are socially disseminated and spectacularised.They are made to be the order of the day. Common people without having any alternative avenue of venting are insidiously acclimatised.

In such a social milieu, teachers become "educational managers"—adept at managing various techniques of educational institutions. They no more exist as seekers of knowledge, assiduously striving to generate "ask why" among learners. Curricula will also be accordingly tailor-made. Recent incident of the University of Delhi is a pointer.Rabindranath Tagore will also be dropped from syllabi. His works do not serve the purpose of corporate capital and the super-state. A new culture is germinating and striking roots coming out of nativity. This new culture is embedded in presentness, living with constructed materiality of existence. People of lower depths who were lurking in dark will surface and occupy civil/third space and cohabit with the orbit of power. They now can inscribe the symbols of violence, hatred, death and extermination on society. "Others" will bear new inscriptions on their existence. Division between party and the state gradually fades away. They do not follow the hitherto practised and understood frame of politics. There is something more beyond it. All the democratic institutions, especially judiciary and bureaucracy, are bypassed. Power of torture and killing is entrusted with trained mob. Such a mechanism does not need official acknowledgement, because official procedures invoke some face-saving judicial protocols (remember the case of the murderous police officer Runu Guha Neogi).

History is being rewritten. Corporate greed and global capital exhort us to be submerged in this history. Man is no more phenomenological, thinking and perceptive person. He is only an economic man—a faceless consumer. About 100 years ago, in 1925, Rabindranath warned us—"Thiers is the cry of a past that is already exhausted, a past that has thrived upon the exclusive spirit of national individualism … I have come to your door seeking the voice of humanity, which must sound its solemn challenge and overcome the clamour of the greedy crowd of slave-drivers. Perhaps it is already being uttered in whispers behind the closed doors, and will grow in volume till it bursts forth in a thundering cry of judgement, and the vulgar shout of brute force is silenced in awe." (The Voice of Humanity)

Back to Home Page

Vol. 52, No. 11, Sep 15 - 21, 2019