“Us vs Them”. It is an idea that has persisted throughout human existence. It permeates everything. From our choice of sports teams to our taste in food and not surprisingly, our politics. It is telling that most TV news channels in the country refer to India’s coming elections in militaristic terms. As the current election cycle ramps up, the zeitgeist is rife with phrases like “The Battle of 2019” “The war for Indian Democracy” and other such attempts at pedestrian sensationalism. The transparent intent behind such phrasing aside, one wonders what this says about human society as a whole.
From 1950 to 2005, human population has more than doubled, going from 2.5 billion to 6.5 billion. It stands at 7.6 billion today. Thats a threefold increase during the course of a single lifetime. Whichever way you look at it, our home, this tiny rock spinning in the vast infinity of space, is getting increasingly tinier. As such it behooves us to understand how we interact with it and its inhabitants with a measure of thought. To ask what this idea of “Us vs Them” is doing to us not just as a nation, but as a species. Experts vary on their opinion on this notion, with some saying it is an archaic way of thinking that will surely doom us all, to those who suggest it is a part of our DNA and an integral part of being human.
My own take is that they are both true. Thinking in terms of “Us vs The Enemy” is as natural as breathing. Tribal or group thinking is an integral part of human existence. To put it another way, what most would consider “Liberal values” could be considered “unnatural”. Equality, secularism, freedom of speech and individual liberty above all, these fly in the face of basic biological and social nature. This, admittedly bleak, idea holds especially true for what one would call the “Eastern World”. Countries like China, India and most Eastern civilizations many argue, have always been “collectivist” by nature and tend to value the needs of society over that of the individual. As such, Western style democracy and secularism simply does not make sense for these host societies. This line of thinking was particularly strong in the founders of Hindutva such as Veer Savarkar, a hero of the Nationalist Right. A little probing will show that present adherents of Hindutva believe this notion to be an inviolable truth. It is very much a case of “Us vs Them” they say. Fair enough. Let us assume that contention is true. That western liberal values are, in a very tangible sense, “unnatural” to the mindset of the Indian people. By that measure the grand experiment that is Indian democracy was doomed from the very start. What does that mean? Should be wipe the slate clean and start from scratch? Is it time to finally deal with “Them”?
Thankfully, our species has shown time and again that it will happily embrace the “unnatural” for the greater good. Even if it comes at the cost of some disquiet. Accepting something as being “against human nature”, does not automatically take it out of the domain of public policy. Many things we take for granted are decidedly “unnatural”. Wearing clothes, not having to hunt and gather what we eat, flying across continents in pressurized metallic tubes, sitting in an office for ten hours a day, contraception, you reading this right now, are all unnatural acts completely removed from the natural order. Yet we not only readily indulge in such activity, we have made it a necessity for modern life. Human civilization hinges on unnatural behavior.
Furthermore, many ideas that were taken as “natural” in the past are today (thankfully) considered barbaric. Slavery, child labor and the inclusion of women in the professional workplace are just some examples that come to mind. Human morality is a fluid, ever changing landscape and the horizon is ever expanding. Much of what we indulge in today will be looked upon with horror by future generations. To think that “our way”, whatever and whenever that may be, is the pinnacle of human ingenuity and behavior, is both self delusional and incorrect. Time has proven people who think like that to be on the wrong side of history every single time.
It would be fair to say that this election is not so much about “clean governance” or “Hinduism under threat” but an answer to a much deeper question: “Can’t we all just get along?” The answer given by any fascist ideology and make no mistake, that is exactly what Hindutva is, is a resounding “No.” The best that can be hoped for, proponents of such ideologies argue, is forced assimilation. Not acceptance. Not tolerance. But forced assimilation. “They” are guilty until proven to be “Us”. Between those two ideas lies a vast gulf of hate and fear. Hate and fear won out in 2015.
Think about what that means. If the best our species can hope for, with 7.6 billion of us inhabiting the globe, with nuclear weapons in our arsenals, is a sort of guarded mistrust. The Indian voter carries a burden of responsibility that few have borne in human history, even if he/she does not fully comprehend it. What happens in the polling booth will not just be about national politics. It goes beyond that.
The Indian experiment cannot be written off as a loss. The dream of a democratic, secular and liberal India must live on, bruises and all. Not for the sake of Indians alone but for the sake of human beings everywhere. In many ways the elections of 2019 is not just a battle for India’s soul but an answer to an existential question: Is it always going to be “Us vs Them”? Perhaps as we cast our ballots, it is time to ask a better question: “What if we were all just ‘Us’?”
Hate does not get to win. Not this time.