Ideology and democratic traditions, the world over, have time and again proved that those with divisive and racist views were pushed to the fringes. Enoch Powell, a brilliant statesman in the UK, whose 1968 speech, the ‘rivers of blood’, put a halt to his political career. In the US, David Duke was ousted because of his allegiance to the ultra-racist Ku Klux Klan, at the behest of George Bush Sr. Tom Finnegan was voted out, in the UK, for similar reasons. In this backdrop, our Executive Editor, Ashoka, sees the ascent of Yogi Adityanath to the position of Chief Minister in UP. He hopes that the new CM would prove his misgivings wrong, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Enoch Powell is not a name that many youngsters today might recognise in India. But those of us who recall the 1960’s would remember him as a leading political figure in the United Kingdom never far away from the headlines. He was a parliamentary debater par excellence and many are of the opinion that Tony Benn and he represented the very best in the post-War debating traditions of the House of Commons.
Powell had a superlatively brilliant academic career which enabled him to grab every conceivable award at the University of Cambridge, where he studied Greek Classics. At a remarkably young age of 25, he was appointed a full professor of Greek Classics at the University of Sydney and within a very short time published some very scholarly articles. As a student of Greek Classics myself, I can attest to their superlative academic worth.
When the Second World War started, he left his teaching position to enlist in the British Army as a Private. Very swiftly he gained a commission and through a series of promotions attained the rank of Brigadier just after the War.
He then decided to give up his military career and joined politics. Very soon, he was elected an MP from Wolverhampton and joined the Cabinet. When the Tories were defeated, in 1964, and 1966, he remained in Ted Heath’s Shadow Cabinet and truly destined for greater things.
But come April 1968, his ascent in politics came to a screeching halt. He made a very famous speech in Birmingham popularly known as the ‘rivers of blood’ speech in which he expressed a foreboding that unless the Black and Asian immigration to the United Kingdom was halted, he could, like the Roman in the classic Aeneid, see River Tiber foaming with much blood.
The speech was clearly meant to stoke up latent racial passions and despite having support within a substantial section of the Conservative MP’s (including Margaret Hilda Thatcher), there was a widespread sense of outrage. It is to the credit of the British democratic polity that Powell’s leader Edward Heath decided to sack him from the Shadow Cabinet considering his views reprehensible and unacceptable.
Powell was relegated to the fringes and the only way he could prolong his career was to join the Ulster Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland. The party incidentally was openly communal and rabidly anti-Catholic and remained so until a visionary called David Trimble took over as the leader. Powell continued to make excellent parliamentary addresses but he was nothing more than a fringe politician, who was never taken very seriously. He ultimately lost the elections and died a lonely death. The formidable talent he undoubtedly had went waste – and all because of that fateful speech, in 1968.
It speaks volumes of the maturity of that country’s democracy that expression of divisive views was considered unacceptable and resulted in the collapse of a political career despite a very strong undercurrent of support within his own party.
Another instance of mature democracy I witnessed was in the United States when I lived there. The Republican Party of Louisiana had in its primaries elected one David Duke as its candidate for the gubernatorial elections later that year. It emerged that Duke had at one time been a high official with the ultra-racist Ku Klux Klan. There were an immediate outcry and the then president, George Bush Sr., not exactly known for his adherence to ethical principles, declared that he was asking all Republicans in Louisiana to vote for the rival Democratic Party candidate Eddie Edwards and ensure that his party candidate Duke was defeated. And that is what happened! It is again to the credit of the democratic traditions the US is committed to upholding that a state head could even consider making such a request.
I recall yet another instance again in the United Kingdom. In the 1983 elections, when Margaret Thatcher was still riding high after the Falkland victory, her Conservative Party had declared one Tom Finnegan as its candidate for Stockton South. It emerged that Finnegan was at one time a member of the ultra-racist National Front. Despite the fact that he had resigned from that party years ago and publicly dissociated himself from it, and despite the strong Conservative wave, Finnegan lost to Ian Wrigglesworth by a mere 102 votes. Large sections of Conservatives voted against him to ensure his defeat. He gave up politics after that.
The reason I am recalling these instances is to illustrate how important it is for any institution that seeks to promote democratic traditions to draw its frontiers and be very clear about those frontiers. That is a sine qua non in a democratic polity. People would naturally be free to entertain any positions as individuals but an institution like a political party should be expected to be very clear about what is not expected from it and adhere to it.
And it’s on this very count I have most concerns in our country. The political process has become completely devoid of any ideology. Yogi Adityanath’s meteoric ascent only served to bring out this deficiency to the fore.
Residing in the mofussil town that he comes from and has been elected five times to the Parliament, I am afraid I am not part of the general euphoria that has gripped the town. And I would be resorting to mendacity if I do not admit to trepidations.
Adityanath has made the most virulent speeches against the Muslims; that is and cannot be contested as some of his profanest and most minatory utterances are to be found on the YouTube. The only difference is that his bosses have not seen it fit to take cognizance of that! Like the other instances I have cited, he is hugely popular among a large section. But as I have pointed out, this popularity did not prevent the decision makers in the mature democracies to exclude the perpetrators of anti-democratic sentiments from their hold.
It is unrealistic and bizarre to expect people to relegate all of his utterances to the sub-conscious. People do make outrageously bizarre statements in a political discourse, which they have no intention of seeing through when they assume power. But it is here that we have to examine the nature of discourse that is acceptable within a political fold. Adityanath’s diatribes would fail comprehensively to be worthy of inclusion within a mature and decent polity.
I must also confess to another major concern that seems to haunt me. Recent history has demonstrated that when the political executive is handed over to an individual whose primary identity stems from an affiliation to a supposedly religious order, it invariably leads to disaster. And no, I am not alluding to a theocratic nation-state like Iran.
People of my generation would be well able to recall the fate that befell Cyprus, one of my favourite countries and a true paradise in every sense of the word. It used to be a British colony until the 1960s when the independence movement acquired a magnitude that the British had to leave. Leading the call for independence was Archbishop Makarios, who headed the Orthodox Church on the island.
The main problem was the ethnic composition of the new nation. It comprised almost 85 per cent Orthodox Christians with strong links to Greece and the remainder Muslims of Turkish ethnicity. The historical antipathy between the two ethnic communities ensured that socialisation between them was minimal. Makarios, who was extremely popular with the Greek section, was never accepted by the Turk Cypriots and being a head of a religious order, which was in the overwhelming majority, he never felt the need to reach out to his fellow countrymen of different ethnicity who subscribed to a different religion.
The outcome as we all know was catastrophic! Disgruntled Turk-Cypriots, who felt excluded and demeaned along all parameters sought help from Turkey. Instead of reaching out to them, Makarios implemented measures, which were clearly meant to deride the Turk Cypriots. The Turk Army along with their ethnic brethren occupied the northern 30 percent of the island – an occupation that still continues today. Now that Berlin has been united, Cyprus capital Nicosia remains the only city in the world to have two sections each belonging to a different country. It had been almost 45 years since Cyprus was divided; and while the Greek and Turk Cypriots who migrated to other countries like Britain freely socialise, the undercurrents of hostility still run very deep in Cyprus itself.
For those reasons, I harbour very major concerns. Adityanath is now the Chief Minister of the country’s most populous state. We have to wish him well in the faint hope that he proves us all wrong.
©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad
Photos from the internet.
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