Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are we really that nice a nation?

I have been watching The World At War documentary series nowadays. And it got me thinking. In our minds, we have essentially labelled off Hitler and his fellow Nazis as evil. And all those Germans who supported his grandiose campaigns and the persecution of the Jews were an exception, a case of rotten apples. And of course, we think that such a thing can never happen in India. Or can it?

How did Hitler come to power? Germany was in the throes of mass dissatisfaction. Unemployment was at a record high. Inequalities in the society were only increasing. At such a time the people were looking to the socialist worker's (and anti-communist) party. Not only that Hitler was adept at invoking a sense of violated national pride due to Germany's drubbing at The Great War and the subsequent Versailles treaty where parts of erstwhile Germany were stripped from it. These two things gave Hitler mass appeal and to cut a very long story short, he stormed into power and later became the President in addition to being the Vice-Chancellor, getting total control over Germany's army and its people.

And what were the basic things Hitler promised? Jobs for all? Economic development? Well yes. But they were part of a larger plan. The reign of the Germans, in simple words. The supremacy of the German Reich over all of Europe. He was an anti-Semite to the very core and was also very much an anti-communist. And he promised getting rid of the Jews and the commies. And he delivered.

Let us draw the parallels with India now. A huge majority of our country is Hindu. There are frequent communal clashes in many parts of the country. It is always followed by the chirp of being secular and how India will slowly root out the fundamentalists who stoke this hatred between brothers. But do you really see that happening?

Many many Hindus believe that the Godhra riots were just. The RSS ideology states in very clear words that India is a Hindu nation and we can not allow any other race or community to take control or pollute this great Hindu nation. And Muslims are seen as a threat. If Hitler was an anti-Semite, the right wing fundamentalists are surely anti-Islamist. Today, if a strong enough personality who draws legitimacy from the immense Hindu population of this country stands up and calls for the 'eradication' of other faiths from this country, especially Muslims, is too hard to believe that a large portion of the country, and not just a large portion of the Hindus will stand in his support? I used to think that no, that is just not a possibility. People are rational. But my thinking has been tempered. I admit I live in a metro, offering a much more cosmopolitan environment than 99% of the nation. And maybe that was the reason I thought people really believe in one of India's most pomped up tenet, Secularism. But India is huge. Undeniably huge. I might sound stupid here, but I had not realized the immensity of India's size till I had traveled long distances by train, bus and even bullock carts through its hinterland. And this immenseness hides from us city folks, us pseudo-journalists sitting in the metros who think they have a feel of the pulse of the nation and set about creating the 'right' or the 'real' public opinion. And it is this very immenseness which also hides from us what a huge portion of the population thinks. (Of course, I am falling into my own trap here, but let that be for now)

Many people want India to be rid of Muslims. And given a mass movement, they would support it. Just as Godhra had its perpetrators. They weren't special hired goons who did everything. Stoke the fire enough and the flames shoot out, engulfing most of all the perceptions that people have built, leaving nothing but a crumbling edifice.

So, should an Anna type figure or a Vajpayee or even a Thackeray with wider appeal stand up today and declare a war on Muslims, I fear the call would soon turn into a movement. And we will believe in it. We will believe that we need to be freed from this menace of Islam. We will believe that this was our land, and they were just invaders. We will take their customs and rip them apart, satanifying them to horrify the millions of Hindus and justify this action. We will attack polygamy. We will attack the eating of beef. We will attack them simply because they are related to Jinnah.

And in doing this, will we be much different from the ordinary German fella who supported Hitler? He did the same. There was a fire. He stoked it. And stoked it hard. And people were won over. Those who didn't agree fell by the wayside or ran away. Was there something fundamentally wrong with those people? I don't think so. There have been experiments, many experiments proving that a man can be made to do absolutely evil things when enough pressure is exerted. The Stanford experiment and the Milgram experiment are just two of those. And those times, in Germany, were of extreme pressure. People were under extreme duress, and they had to take a side. Some didn't. But many did.

And that is my question. Can India face a similar fate? Is it just a veneer of secularism that holds this country together? Or is there more to it? What prevents our society from falling apart? Spirit, brotherhood, love are just terms. There has to be something substantial, logical or abstract that has to explain why we have held together for so long and why we shall continue to hold together for longer still.

I am afraid I have no answer in the affirmative. I fear that yeah, we can fall. And fall really quickly. There will be many of us who will revolt, rebel, shout out that this is wrong, it can not happen. But mass movements aren't built on logic. More often than not, they are built by rhetoric but they have their foundations in emotions. And emotions out-trump logic, almost always. At least when religion is concerned.

Can you give me any hope?