Samvada | The word ‘remorse’ is missing from our political lexicon

Governments need to be questioned about their silence on denying democratic space to dissent. This is essential to keep democracies alive

The nature of the State has fundamentally changed over the last three decades throughout the world. Certain characteristics that were exhibited by autocratic rules in the past have entered the self-understanding of the state in democratic countries as well. Previously such autocratic regimes were described by the global community of nations as ‘rogue nations’. The ‘rogue nations’ were the ones who showed no respect for the established norms of decency in relations with their own people as well as in relation with other nations.

In the second decade of the twentieth century, though democracies have not plummeted to those low depths, they have slowly started becoming indifferent to some of the basic democratic values in relation to their own people. This is so particularly in respect of the ethnic, linguistic and religious sections that do not count much in electoral terms. The term commonly used for such insensitivity to the marginal social groups is ‘majoritarian rule’. The phenomenon is widespread, from Turkey, Egypt, Russia, China, and the United States to Ukraine, Austria, Spain and our own country. The spread of the new slant in democracies cannot be brushed aside by thinking of it merely in terms of personality cults or as historical accidents. It calls for a reasoned explanation.

Three important developments over the last three decades appear to be at the heart of the matter. The most visible of these is the rise of the corporate power and its debilitating impact on the state’s ability to make decisions. The relatively less visible but equally important is the near collapse of international organisations and the waning of their ability to regulate nations and to maintain a balance of power among them. The third reason is the enormous increase in the role of technology in every aspect of life in its individual and collective forms.

The three together form a single narrative. Stated in plain words, it says that an increased engagement with technology is synonymous with progress. In order to enhance the control on technology, an increasingly free play be made possible for the ever-spreading corporate. And finally, for providing the space for the corporate, the State should carve large chunks out of its own authority as well as obligations. The cumulative result of this narrative is the need to increase surveillance and to silence people, particularly those who are marginal and those who question this new understanding of the state’s responsibility towards the people who constitute it.

In this new order of democracies, we have started witnessing repression of the people with an unprecedented frequency. It is not that there has been no precedence to this tendency. It is in plenty, whether in France or in Italy or in India. General de Gaulle had dealt with the young generation of his time with the same ruthless might as the successive Italian governments had with the Communists. In India, perfectly peaceful agitators have been dealt by the State with uncalled for violence on numerous occasions. But, in those instances, nations, political parties, people and media thought it fit to condemn the unfair use of violence. Over the last three decades, the voices that condemn the state’s use of violence against its hapless people have been effectively silenced. What is worse is that the word 'remorse' is no longer in circulation in the political lexicon. The perpetrators have learnt to justify the denial of democratic spaces through flat denials. The one who causes offense receives sympathy, the victims are damned.

In recent times, the killings of innocent individuals by vigilantes, killings of intellectuals by zealots, cold blooded hacking of political opponents, insults hurled at adivasis, dalits, women and minorities have all shown in their plot-structures that the feeling of remorse is banished from our public discourse. The silence of the government on denial of democratic space for every dissent is now the norm. This silence needs to be questioned if democracies have to be kept in life.

(The author is a literary critic and cultural activist. He can be reached at ganesh_devy@yahoo.com)

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