The politics of surrender isn't new. It is ingrained in Indian culture

In 1995, in a rare instance of internal indiscipline, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat split. The dispute was obviously over who would lead and who would get what ministry, even if the arguments were couched in more principled terms. The factions were led by Keshubhai Patel and Shankarsinh Vaghela. It was this squabble that began a series of events that ultimately led the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to install as chief minister the man who currently leads India.

In that period, the BJP had names for the two rival factions. Those rebel legislators who left with Vaghela, in classic Indian fashion en masse to be locked up at a resort in Khajuraho, were called Khajuriyas. Those who remained, happy to serve the existing order, were called Hajuriyas. This word refers to someone who says “ji huzoor” to everything, unable and unwilling to assert independence. In English, it is someone who kowtows. The interesting thing is that Hajuriya was not used as a term of condescension any more than Khajuriya was. It was understood and accepted that to be around power meant necessarily to surrender one’s independence. To thump the table enthusiastically at the master’s every pronouncement, even before he had finished.

This is not new or recent to our culture: Total capitulation has always been demanded. European travellers have recorded that India’s Mughal emperors insisted on the kurnish, the bending of the torso forward and the triple salute, raising the cupped palm from floor to forehead (familiar to us through some old Bollywood movies). This action was symbolic of letting go of one’s dignity. Akbar did not find this satisfactory and required full prostration. Many high Mughal traditions were Persian and it is likely that this was the same salute that got Alexander the Great into trouble after he vanquished Darius. 

illustration: Binay Sinha

 
He introduced it in his court and the bending, bowing and curtsying that still happen in the presence of kings and queens across Europe’s kingdoms are a direct result of it. Called proskynesis in Greek, the Persian custom left the Macedonians and Greeks in the army appalled because they did not accept the idea of a divine king. They felt it was not only their right but their obligation to assert their individualism and their equality. In contrast, it is the tradition, the convention and indeed the culture that the Indian folds before power. In Gujarati the word “chaatu”, literally meaning a lick-spit, is a term of everyday usage and can be used easily even among friends. The Hindi word “chamcha” has no parallel in European languages: Sidekick is not the same thing.

In the period of Akbar, it was only a tiny section of the Sunni ulema who for theological reasons resisted the deification of the ruler. This information comes to us only because it is described by the court chronicler Badauni in his unofficial diary. All the others capitulated willingly.

Among Hindus, the acceptance of divinity in the living is conventional. Other than pure selfish interest, there is no real reason to take a position that might be viewed in the least by the authority as antagonistic. Especially on something that might affect us directly. This is important to internalise when one is trying to understand the pusillanimity of the Supreme Court on the matter of the Emergency. Similar motives run through the recent recusal by several current justices who have fled from defending the rights of citizens. It will explain generally why Indian institutions are supine in the time of a strong leader. 

It is unfair to see this purely through the perspective of the state and its institutions. We should accept that also. Even in adversarial politics, this surrender to the powerful leader is made manifest through the constant defections that haemorrhage opposition parties. Ours is a democratic polity, which is based on a mercenary culture, where there is neither qualm at reversing a long-held principle, nor any real penalty. The voter is also a part of the system and will accept and endorse the reality after the defection.

There is, of course, no real ideology in such a polity and the division of people into such categories as Conservative and Right is meaningless. Standing up for principle — or indeed for anything — is difficult in a part of the world where prostration is demanded. The core aspects of constitutionalism — freedom, individual rights, a non-intrusive state and the rule of law — can be and will be sacrificed at this altar quite easily. Even civil society and business leaders will fall in line because there will be punishment forthcoming for those who are seen to resist. And it will be accepted because that is the way things are. It is important we examine what is happening around us from this point of view because otherwise there will be bewilderment at the chasm between what should be happening and what is.

Finally, how did that rebellion referred to at the start against the Gujarat tyranny end?  Of the 100 or so people who began the passage to Khajuraho initially, a few slipped away at the first stop. Others needed help: The wife of Babubhai Bokhiria  (today still a Cabinet minister in Gujarat) arrived to rescue him and he left with her. Only 50 were left by the time the destination arrived and in due course all of them became reconciled to the reality of power.

 


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