By: Tarun J. Tejpal
Rohinton Maloo was among the 13 diners at the Oberoi, who were marched out onto the service staircase, ostensibly as hostages. But the killers had nothing to bargain for. The answers to the big questions — Babri Masjid, Gujarat, Muslim persecution — were beyond the power of anyone to deliver neatly to the hotel lobby. The small ones — of money and materialism — their crazed indoctrination had already taken them well beyond. With the final banality of all fanaticism — AK-47 in one hand; mobile phone in the other — the killers asked their minders, “Uda dein?” The minder, probably a maintainer of cold statistics, said, “Uda do.”
Rohinton caught seven bullets. He was just 48, with two teenage children, and a hundred plans. In his outstanding career in media marketing, he was ever at the cutting edge of the new . The place was always Mumbai, and he exemplified its attitudes: the hedonism, the get-go, the easy pluralism.
For me there is a deep irony in his death. He was killed by what he set very little store by. He was bemused and baffled by TEHELKA’s obsessive engagement with politics. He was quite sure no one of his class — our class — was interested in the subject. Politics happened elsewhere. Mostly, it had nothing to do with our lives. Eventually he came to grudgingly accept we may have some kind of a case. But he remained unconvinced of its commercial viability. Our kind of readers were interested in other things — food, films, cricket, fashion, gizmos, television, health. Politics, at best, was something they endured.
In the end, politics killed Rohinton, and a few hundred other innocents. In the final count, politics, every single day, is killing, impoverishing, starving, denigrating, millions of Indians all across the country. If the backdrop were not so heartbreaking, the spectacle of the nation’s elite — the keepers of most of our wealth and privilege — frothing on television screens and screaming through mobile phones would be amusing. They have been outraged because the enduring tragedy of
What the Indian elite is discovering today on the debris of fancy eateries is an acidic truth large numbers of ordinary Indians are forced to swallow every day. Children who die of malnutrition, farmers who commit suicide, dalits who are raped and massacred, tribals who are turfed out of century old habitats, peasants whose lands are taken over for car factories, minorities who are bludgeoned into paranoia — these, and many others, know that something is grossly wrong. The system does not work, the system is cruel, the system is unjust, the system exists to only serve those who run it. Crucially, what we, the elite, need to understand is that most of us are complicit in the system. In fact, chances are the more we have — of privilege and money — the more invested we are in the shoring up of an unfair state.
It is time each one of us understood that at the heart of every society is its politics. If the politics is third-rate, the condition of the society will be no better. For too many decades now, the elite of
We stand faulted then in two ways. For turning our back on the collective endeavor; and for our passive embrace of the status quo. This is in equal parts due to selfish instinct and to shallow thinking. Since shining
For years, it has been evident that we are a society being systematically hollowed out by inequality, corruption, bigotry and lack of justice. The planks of public discourse have increasingly been divisive, widening the faultliness of caste, language, religion, class, community and region. As the elite of the most complex society in the world, we have failed to see that we are ratcheted into an intricate framework, full of causal links, where one wrong word begets another, one horrific event leads to another. Where one man’s misery will eventually trigger another’s.
Let’s track one causal chain. The Congress creates Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to neutralize the Akalis; Bhindranwale creates terrorism; Indira Gandhi moves against terrorism; terrorism assassinates Indira Gandhi; blameless Sikhs are slaughtered in
In each of these rough causal chains, there is one thing in common. Their origin in the decisions of the elite. Interlaced with numberless lines of potential divisiveness, the
And so what should we be doing? Well, screaming at politicians is certainly not political engagement. And airy socialites demanding the carpet-bombing of
Most of the shouting of the last few days is little more than personal catharsis through public venting. The fact is the politician has been doing what we have been doing, and as an über Indian he has been doing it much better. Watching out for himself, cornering maximum resource, and turning away from the challenge of the greater good.
The first thing we need to do is to square up to the truth. Acknowledge the fact that we have made a fair shambles of the project of nation-building. Fifty million Indians doing well does not for a great
Let’s be clear we are not in a crisis because the Taj hotel was gutted. We are in a crisis because six years after 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered in
And let no one tell us we need more laws. We need men to implement those that we have. Today all our institutions and processes are failing us. We have compromised each of them on their values, their robustness, their vision and their sense of fair play. Now, at every crucial juncture we depend on random acts of individual excellence and courage to save the day. Great systems, triumphant societies, are veined with ladders of inspiration. Electrified by those above them, men strive to do their very best. Look around. How many constables, head constables, sub-inspectors would risk their lives for the dishonest, weak men they serve, who in turn serve even more compromised masters?
I wish Rohinton had survived the lottery of death in Mumbai last week. In an instant, he would have understood what we always went on about.