Modi criticised UP- and Bihar-style casteism as being the reason for these states’ backwardness. To which Nitish Kumar is supposed to have replied that the pot should not be calling the kettle black – a reference to Modi’s own governance failures post-Godhra.
This kind of response is really a copout. Why shouldn’t the pot call the kettle black? Why should only Snow White have the privilege when we know Snow Whites are a dying breed in Indian politics? As far as the public is concerned, it is good to discuss what the pot and the kettle had to say about each other, so that the public gets to know.
Nitish’s party colleague, Sharad Yadav, went one step further and, in fact, indirectly confirmed what Modi said – but with this debate-stopping line: “Is Gujarat casteless? Which part of the country is out of caste influence?”
If the whole country is casteist, surely that is an issue to be discussed. Yadav should be thanking Modi for opening up the debate.
The strategy of using a counter-accusation is as old as the hills. It is intended to put a stop to any kind of scrutiny of your actions by pointing out that that the other party may be equally guilty of the same or similar crime.
Nitish was probably stung because The Indian Express has been highlighting land scams in Bihar’s Mahadalit scheme – a scheme ostensibly intended to benefit the most backward among Dalits – and so Modi’s caste barb must have hit him when he has gone defensive. Nitish has been in the market for high media praise – and Modi’s comments were probably intended to bring him down one notch. By rising to Modi’s bait, he has probably brought himself down by that notch anyway.
Nitish Kumar’s is the kind of argument that Amitabh Bachchan uses with his police officer brother, played by Shashi Kapoor, in Deewar. Okay, I will confess to my crimes, but first get those bigger crooks to confess to theirs.
The real purpose of pointing fingers at your accusers is to tell them to lay off.
However, as far as the media is concerned, it should reject the Amitabh Bachchan line. Sure, it helps if the accuser is on a higher moral pedestal than the accused, but if this is carried to the logical extreme, we should stop discussing any issue at all in public life. If only the honest can raise questions about probity, few people will be able to do so.
The saying that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones is good advice only for the people concerned. But from a public discourse perspective, people in glass houses should throw stones. People must wash their dirty linen in public. In a democracy, it is when people in glass houses throw stones that we get to see the full reality. The stone-throwers may not benefit, but then they have a vested interest in hiding the truth. As outside observers, we must thank the stone-throwers and dirty linen washers for doing us this service.
India has been a victim of both C’s – casteism and communalism – but unfortunately the “argumentative” Indian has avoided real arguments on both issues. We prefer name-calling to argumentation. We prefer coded political innuendo – of the Nitish kind – to a real argument.
We have spent 65 years trying to abolish caste and have only succeeded in making it more pervasive. Far from reaching a stage where affirmative action has empowered the disadvantaged, we now want to take caste quotas to their logical absurdity– by creating quotas within quotas, never mind what the courts think. But we will not stop to examine whether quotas are the solution to everything, and why despite having quotas we have not empowered Dalits or Muslims or any disadvantaged group.
This is because we have reduced arguments to a simple George Bush-ism: if you are not with us, you are against us. If you do not support quotas, or want them modified in anyway, you are against Dalits. Or Muslims.
What Modi and Nitish Kumar need to do is bring issues regarding casteism and communalism out into the open. They should not be attacking each other for narrow political ends, but to really discuss the issue. The Congress party – which is no friend of either of them – is happy to have the spotlight taken off its own shortcomings.
The issue is not whether Modi is communal or Nitish casteist, but how communalism and casteism are fanned – and how they can be permanently doused.
We cannot solve either problem by pretending that communalism is about one person (in this case Modi) or casteism about one or two states and their leaders (UP and Bihar). We need to discuss these issues without reference to personalities if we want to make any kind of progress.
For the last 10 years, we have discussed Gujarat and Modi as though these were the only issues in communalism. Even though the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits from the Kashmir Valley are also communal issues, nobody likes talking about them.
Similarly, the only issues we like discussing about caste is quotas and fixing past blame for the sorry plight of Dalits, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and other backward classes. That’s easily done. But we don’t want to discuss alternative ways of affirmative action, setting up metrics to see that quotas work, finding ways to avoid making quotas an unending panacea, or things like that.
On communalism, we don’t want to discuss why it happens, how it can be prevented, and the kind of effort we need to put in as a society to build inter-community relationships to the point where they can be self-reinforcing. Worse, we can’t even define what we mean by communalism in non-communal terms. We assume that there can be one kind of communalism – majority communalism – when it can happen in any context.
We also make the mistake in thinking that casteism and communalism are different – they are essentially about bigotry. That is a fight we all need to fight.
It would help if Modi and Nitish really debated all issues in communalism and casteism fully – but they probably won’t. We are more abusive Indians than argumentative Indians.