FDI Debates & Cliché Central

Journalist or politician, if you’re discussing FDI you must throw in the “communalism” card.

WrittenBy:Dr. Ashoka Prasad
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A cliché is infinitely more difficult to battle against than any established fact.

Jacques Derrida had expounded the above-mentioned doctrine at an international seminar held at the International Academy of Philosophy, Leichstenstein in 1989. His words reverberated in my mind when I listened to the television debates on Foreign Direct Investment, both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Nearly all the speakers seemed to be relying on clichés rather than accepted facts, to logically defend their respective positions. While the Bharatiya Janata Party could see nothing but evil in the proposed bill, the Congress (I) presented it as an economic panacea.

More curious was the line that was adopted by the other parties. While the Samajwadi Party, if its spokespersons were to be taken at face value, saw the proposed bill as inimical to the welfare of the nation, they were only too willing to let it be passed by resorting to measures which ensured its passage. The Bahujan Samaj Party was almost non-committal on the merits of the bill but only too willing to discuss installation of an Ambedkar statue higher than that of the Statue of Liberty. Eventually, they decided to vote for the bill in the Rajya Sabha as they did not wish the “communal” forces to accrue any gain. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam which had at every stage voiced its opposition to the bill, decided to support it as it did not wish the “communal” BJP to gain any advantage. If my memory serves me right, it was the same DMK that had been a part of the National Democratic Alliance coalition under Atal Behari Vajpayee, a dyed-in-the-wool BJP leader. Laloo Prasad Yadav made a pious declaration that he would oppose the “communal forces” at every stage.

Party after party denigrated the “communalism” of the BJP, instead of bothering to expound on the merits of the bill itself. The situation remained the same when party political spokespersons were invited on the different channels to debate each other and discuss the FDI bill.

Admittedly, the BJP in public perception has a record that does not inspire trust among the members of a particular community, and it has seemingly not done much to alleviate these apprehensions. This does worry many people, me included. But my problem with this line was that communalism was not the issue in question, and how a principled opposition to a bill could be construed as support for “communal forces” beats me. For the record, the Left parties – perhaps the most stringent critics of the BJP at every stage – voted against the bill. It was abundantly clear that there were other dynamics in the equation which were propelling the various parties to take the positions that they were.

And here was the term “communalism” being used as a cliché! As is my usual practice, I resorted to my Concise Oxford Dictionary to brush up my understanding of the term “communalism” as all these debates had left me somewhat confused. The definition in the dictionary is as follows:

com·mu·nal·ism [kuh-myoon-l-iz-uh m, kom-yuh-nl-] 

1. A theory or system of government according to which each commune is virtually an independent state and the nation is merely a federation of such states.

2. The principles or practices of communal ownership.

3. Strong allegiance to one’s own ethnic group rather than to society as a whole.

And here lies the rub! If one were to accept the third definition as the most logical in the present context i.e. strong allegiance to one’s own ethnic group rather than to society as a whole, I do not believe there is any political party in the present political scenario that can escape being branded as “communal”. The DMK owes its origins to the Dravid movement and unapologetically promotes Dravidian interests. The SP has absolutely no qualms about being a political formation that caters to Yadavas and Muslims. The BSP is brazen about its selective interest in the Dalits, over its commitment to other communities. Even the principle ruling party – Congress (I) – in my opinion is a communal party. In order to be a member in good standing, one has to be a card-carrying Indira/Rajiv/Sonia-worshipper and forsake any individual cognitive initiative. They have to develop a thoroughly obnoxious trait of being profanely vituperative towards anyone who even deigns to question their wisdom let alone intent – witness the performances of Manish Tewari, Renuka Chowdhury and the very moralistic Abhishek Manu Singhvi over the last six months.

While the Election Commission is mandated to clamp down on communal satraps, clearly they follow a different definition of communalism than is to be found in standard English dictionaries. In my own estimation, an institution that shamelessly panders to a caste-ist identity is no less communal than one which exploits religious affiliation.

Yet the cliché has tended to command such a hold over our reason that we have almost accepted that the term should be applied only in the religious context and this narrow concept has become a part of our colloquium. And it is here that I hold the journalists at fault. By and large they have tended to play along with the clichéd version and allowed it to gain currency without question. This has allowed this misconception to persist.

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