India - What's The Beef?

If it was not so tragic, it would be amusing to watch Indian politicians fight it out on television on the issue of eating beef.

The facts are indeed tragic. A family was accused of - wrongly, they claim - eating beef at their home. So, a lynch mob sets on them, kills the father and mortally wounds the son. Politicians appear on TV, with Ministers quoting Gandhi how he would have preferred a beef ban. The ruling party, true to its Hinduvta, proclaim that, for them, life of a cow is sacred, though human life may not be (in context). 

This is indeed supposed to be the most populous democracy on earth! And, one that revels on its diversity and culture of tolerance! That rhetoric is alive and kicking, but the ruling party, elected on a mandate of economic development, has been pursuing a social agenda by stealth. This is just the latest flash point in the silent transformation of India.

Regardless of the party in power, though, India has an appalling attitude towards lives of its ordinary citizens. No one is really outraged when someone is killed, even if scores, or hundreds, are killed. Train accidents, riots, hospital infections, all come and go, people die - but accountability, resignation, shame etc are treated as very Un-Indian. So, this time, as this seems to be a lower middle class, ordinary citizen, who is dead (and another one fighting for life in the hospital), it is completely unremarkable - and Ministers are forbidding people to do politics with it. The inconvenient fact that the dead man's son is an Indian Air Force personnel is perhaps the only source of unease, but otherwise, whats the beef?

So, here is the bit to watch out for! On the table, there is a rather tall promise of better days, and no Indian politician, not just the one who made the promise, have a clue how to deliver it. Some neo-liberal economists may have concocted a formula of slave labour plus environmentally blind natural resource extraction plus global finance capital and hoping that this would bring about an economic transformation of India, but if they have not noticed, the horse has already bolted. That formula, based on the assumption that if one can allow industrial era free-for-all for factory owners, no longer possible in the developed world, all the world's manufacturing will converge in India and bring about jobs, is seriously flawed in the age of automation, more aware customers, precarious environment and more connected world where sensibilities are not confined to certain liberal circles! Anything else - entrepreneurial revolution, innovation and all that (which Indian politicians talk little of anyway) - is also excruciatingly difficult in India because the vested interested are so deeply entrenched everywhere that nothing short of a complete revolution can dethrone them, and make room for new ideas [and people; in a society where rich men's sons have all the good ideas, not many new things will happen!].

Therefore, we must turn to banning books and beef, must discover enemies to beat up, inside and outside. We must create a culture of spectacle, all the foreign tours and Louis Vuitton suits, nice little rainbow logos laden with promise but little else. The point, of course, is - we have been here before! This combination of free-for-all economics and majoritarian society, backed by lynch mobs and gaudy spectacle, is a throwback from past, a dark past, rather than symptoms of a promising future. This road of unsustainable economic promise, followed by social designs and strife, have led to disaster before. This is indeed the past India wanted to escape (while so many new nations fell into it, notably in Africa) when it won its independence, but that experiment is now unraveling. Yes, this one death has that pointed significance - a bigger political design that we must urgently watch out for and guard ourselves from! It is time to be political, as all this, inherently, is political indeed.


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