One of the greatest ironies of India is the ability of its people to live comfortably with the yawning gap between precept and practice. Indians are unbeatable when it comes to saying one thing, meaning another and doing something else entirely at variance with what is said and meant. They are not bothered that this kind of hypocrisy, freely practised, goes against all its glorious literary and cultural heritage.

Let me start off with what I consider to be the core of the core of the corpus of principles defining civilised behaviour: Tolerance. Tolerance in all its forms and dimensions. Tolerance as applied to individuals, events and issues.

All religious scriptures, all the sayings of the ancient seers and sages, all great writings in prose, poetry and drama down the ages, have held it aloft as the very acme of human efflorescence. They all explicitly and enthusiastically welcome dissent from an established mode of thinking. It is not just that Indian culture stands for freedom of thought and expression; it positively and actively encourages expression of unpleasant facts and unpalatable opinions as a means of arriving at the truth.

Upanishads, puranas and epics have asserted that truth itself has many facets and dogmas and doctrinaire rigidities are totally out of place. They have given prominence to debates among the various discussants and characters figuring in them who have questioned the existence of God himself.

At one place, Tiruvalluvar, in his 3000-year old monumental work Tirukkural, (tiru in Tamil means respected, sacred, holy, and kural means couplet), fumes in anger at the prevalence of hunger, and says that if one were to be forced to beg for food, ‘whoever has created the universe’ should be held accountable and hounded out!

GROWING TENDENCY

He is categorical in asserting that every point of view by whomsoever expressed is entitled to deep and respectful consideration. In other words, what is of paramount importance is not the source of a statement, but the validity of its content and its acceptability as a proposition.

I notice with sadness that there is a growing tendency in India to judge issues and opinions, not on their own independent merits, but based on the personalities to whom they are related.

I will illustrate this with reference to the half-baked and opinionated approach to anything connected with Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.

For certain sections, Modi is a demon and can do nothing right. Their untenable conviction essentially springs from their prejudice against all things saffron and from what they perceive as his role in the 2002 riots.

They are not worried that there is nothing to substantiate the propaganda against him on this count, in the form of either a court verdict or credible documentation. I have personally spoken to public servants who have held leadership positions in Gujarat and for whose judgment and intellectual integrity I have the highest regard. Not one subscribes to the demonology mounted against Modi.

FEEL AND FLAVOUR

But since to members of the holier-than-thou brigade, saying anything good about Modi is unthinkable, they go all out to dispute and dismiss all evidence of his achievements on the development front, even though perceptive and disinterested observers from abroad, professional agencies under the Government and the Planning Commission itself have testified to them.

Poor Rahul Gandhi’s fate is also similar at the hands of the biased and the banal. Since he belongs to ‘the Dynasty’, everything he says and does should be despised.

In my opinion, he spoke to good effect at the recent annual general meting of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Remember the meeting was attended by the suited, booted, perfumed tycoons, obsessed with top and bottom lines.

With their access to all echelons of the Government, they could any day ferret out whatever information they want and did not need Rahul to put them wise. What Rahul chose to give them, therefore, was the feel and flavour of the existing and emerging India.

The things he said were precisely the ones that the insulated, isolated, desiccated and dehumanised denizens of the air-conditioned executive suites needed to hear.

I, most of all, consider his description of India as a ‘beehive’ simply brilliant, although zillions of words and sound bytes have been used to ridicule it.

In short, the attitude in India to tolerance has become so venomous that anyone who expresses views contrary to preconceived notions and irrational antipathies is condemned as a villain and a knave.

(This article was published on April 11, 2013)
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