Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Post Ayodhya Verdict: Intellectuals v/s the Common Man

In the recent times, no other court verdict has evoked as much expectancy, apprehension and uncertainty, on   a nation-wide scale, as the Ayodhya verdict has. It was as though the entire nation was waiting, with bated breath, for the final pronouncement of the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court to come.

It was literally like a game of skittles, all of which could have easily collapsed in a single stroke, with all the secularists and the communalists landing into an indivisible heap. Although the stakes were alarmingly high, the prognostications about its probable consequences were, expectedly, as low as could possibly be.

From the politicians of all hues (with their uncharacteristic tight-lipped statements) to the journalists of whatever variety (with their characteristic ambivalence), from the intellectual hawks (forever ready with their sound-bites) to the socialite doves (with their typical ‘I-told-you-so’ attitude), from the dyed-in-the wool thinkers (who never tire of their equivocations and/or facile prescriptions) to a man-in-the-street (who always, always has to bear the brunt of it all), almost everyone was equally nervous.

No wonder, on the eve of the judgment, several TV channels ran a regular and sustained ‘Save India’ campaign. It was as though everyone was sending up a silent prayer: ‘Oh God! Let this moment of ‘crisis’ blow over, sooner than later. And let the spirit of India triumph, one last time!’         

At 4 pm on September 30, our nation virtually came to a standstill. While some organizations in UP, apprehending trouble, had already declared a holiday, others in UP and elsewhere allowed their employees to proceed home at 3 pm, hoping that a major communal conflagration might flare up in wake of this judgment.

Whether inside their homes, offices or shops, people had sat glued to their TV sets, waiting for our ‘dome’ of communal volatility to do its worst, and finally bring down the crumbling walls of secularism for good. It was as though everyone was waiting for the fault lines of Indian brand of secularism to be redrawn, irretrievably. 

Then slowly the details of the much-awaited judgment began to trickle in. And the judgment, as we all are beginning to realize already, has been a historic one, in so many different ways. It is historic because it has gone far beyond the insistent demands of our collective paranoia or schizophrenia. It is historic because it transcends the self-imposed limitations of our text-book notions of secularism and/or communalism. It is historic because it refuses to walk either into the trap of ‘majoritarianism’ or that of ‘minoritarianism.’

It is historic because it supersedes our all normal (or should I say, abnormal?) expectations and apprehensions, articulated as well as unarticulated. It is historic because it has been delivered by a bench of judges, who apparently raised themselves above the petty considerations of group, communal, religious identity and/or markers, and chose to speak in a language of mutual respect and sharing, reiterating our faith in the spirit of commonality, co-operation and solidarity that defines a certain India; India of common man’s aspirations.

In our history of post-Independence India, if it is anyone who has consistently and systematically been ignored in all our political, executive and legal decisions/discourses, it is the common man. We have presumably created this entire edifice for the benefit of the common man and yet when it comes to the crunch, we invariably take decisions adversarial to his cause and his well-being.

Over the years, this common man has increasingly become a ‘mute spectator’ of the ‘absurd drama’ our politicians, bureaucrats, media-men and legal luminaries often collectively stage for his entertainment. It is this common man who is always the first to die when the communal fires rage or the terrorists go on a rampage, despite his unshakeable faith and belief in the common brotherhood of man. It is this common man who often greets his Muslim neighbors on Id, his Hindu friends on Diwali, his Sikh relatives on Nanak‘s birthday and his Christian brothers on Christmas.

Yes, ask him, and he’ll tell you that for him development is an issue, politics isn’t; employment is an issue, employment schemes floated from time to time aren’t; poverty is an issue, religious identity is not; hunger is an issue, temple or masjid are not. Most of the time, it is this common man who goes about chasing prices, rising inflation rates and unrelenting hunger with his habitual doggedness and undying faith in God or destiny.

Most of the time, he is so befuddled by the political rhetoric of his leaders that he hardly makes any sense of it, only sometimes chuckles over its illogic. Most of the time, he remains no more than an invisible mark on our consciousness, our conscience and/or existence. Only rarely does he stare out of R. K. Laxman’s cartoons or Amir Khan’s Peepli Live, forces us to think about him, temporarily becomes real and then gets lost in the din and noise of life, all over again.     

Unfortunately, this common man has not only always remained a silent victim of all decision-making processes, but has consistently puzzled over the divisive rhetoric of his political leaders, the ambivalence of the media-men, and the deft hair-splitting of our ideologues and intellectuals.        

What makes this judgment truly historic and unique is that it has not only taken cognizance of this common man, but has also, very loudly and categorically, voiced his aspirations and expectations, that too, in the language he best understands; i.e. the language of commonality, mutuality and brotherhood.

No wonder, this judgment has left most of our politicians in a state of numbing shock and atrophy. For the first time perhaps, this ‘class’ finds itself on the back foot, completely outscored by the sagacity of the judgment, unable to trot off its well-rehearsed opinions. For the first time, all of them are at their wit’s end, struggling to find how to make the right noises and yet make capital out of the situation.

The right-thinking journalists are apparently relieved, but the mischievous ones are back to their games of representational politics; first using ‘divisive’ headlines, and then defending their indefensible positions through carefully crafted maneuvers.

Ironically, the main opposition to this judgment has come from the most unexpected quarters, our intellectuals who are forever ready with their rag-tag tool-box to do a quick surgical operation on any problem of national/international interest. These are our own version of ‘armchair intellectuals’ who often thrive on the state patronage, and yet never tire of reminding us of their anti-establishment stance.

They are ones who are often guilty of Orwellian ‘double think’ and ‘double speak’ and yet claim to speak from the high moral ground, they would have us believe, never shifts or alters when it alteration finds. They are the ones who enjoy all the perks and privileges because of their proximity to the ruling establishment, yet posit themselves as the champions of everyone’s freedom of expression, including their own.

Interestingly, they are the ones who often give legitimacy to the illegitimate government policies, schemes and ideology (that often run counter to the interests of the common man) and yet when something as momentous as this judgment comes, without a demur, appoint themselves as our interlocutors, too. 

If there is any single ‘class’ in India that is really disappointed, nay dejected, over the Ayodhya verdict, it is this ‘chattering class’ of the so-called intellectuals. Someone has gone on the record saying, it is not a court verdict, but a ‘panchayat ka faisla.’ Someone else is critical of it because the verdict is based not upon history, but the slippery notions of faith. Some others are of the view that the judges have sacrificed reason for emotion, and the principles of justice in favor of judicial and/or political expediency. Some have even gone to the extent of saying that it is simply an endorsement of the out-of-court settlement Shankaracharya had proposed long ago.  

So on and so forth. There are as many theories on the verdict as are the ideologies our intellectuals often subscribe to. It is as though each one of them is speaking from within his own solitary-cell, his own prison-house of thought, language and ideology. Surprisingly, the differences in the opinions of our opinion-makers are only superficial in nature, as beyond the surface, all of them are speaking in the same ‘divisive language’ we often associate with the politicians (to learn and to gain legitimacy for which our politicians invariably turn to our intellectuals), the language that helps their own cause but is detrimental to the cause of the common man.

Let us not turn to interlocutors (read intellectuals) for the final comment on this much awaited, much controversial judgment. It is significant that Post Ayodhya verdict there have been no communal riots; and that the common man is now stubbornly refusing to be ensnared into the vicious and wily machinations of the political rhetoric. The least our chattering classes could do was to read the triumph of the common man in this judgment, and leave him alone, not always talk down to him and say in characteristic haughty manner, ‘Well, we always knew what was good for you!’   

Our intellectuals, with their divisive rhetoric, have already done much harm to our country. Let the commonsensical perception and wisdom of the common man now hold sway and reign supreme over us. Perhaps, no other time was more auspicious for reiterating this position than the Gandhi Jayanti we have celebrated very recently. 

By Rana Nayar


  1. Sir, I agree with your view that the verdict was a historic one especially for the cause of the common man..But seeing the attitude of Sangh Parivar who wants to now build a Majestic Mandir and are non committal on the issue of construction of a Masjid nearby,things are once again looking exactly same...
    Now it is time to see what SC decides..I hope Judiciary will be able to find the middle ground once again..

  2. Supreme Court will find it extremely difficult to go against the spirit of the decision taken by Allahabad High Court. In all probability, the same decision shall be ratified, though it may take another 15 (even 50!)years.

  3. Babri Masjid was a historical site. If it was the site of the temple, we don't have any history of resistance against building the controversial Mosque. If it is true that there was a temple, Lord Ram's followers failed to defend their holiest site. The demolition of the Mosque after 500 years through contrivance, speaks not of their greatness, but of their cowardliness. Can Mr Nayar cite any clause or section of the Indian Constitution, that allowed removing historical sites, the way Mosque has been removed? Did Mr. Nayar write anything after its demolition? Is all that happened in Mumbai and Godhara after its leveling unrelated? Was the case in High Court for division of the site? Who are the guilty? Are they rewarded with this judgment?