The Lost Ethical Dimension

Rahul Gandhi

What immediately follows news breaks reporting yet another attack on a Muslim peddler or Muslim milkman on his way back from a fairground with a newly acquired cow,is usually analysis of the incident in current pragmatic-political jargon.What it means in terms of othering Muslims,of impact on vote share of parties,of the psychology behind politics of hate,and what have you.But there is a thinning,fading of the most common and most normal human response,the moral outrage and horror.Not the sheer spontaneity of the  human reflex, the shocked ejaculation of ‘How awful!’ or ‘Brutes!

The simple ethical but visceral  rejection of such conduct is considered naive or conventional.It is seldom that someone like Harsh Mander comes along and pictures the scene in a way that makes tears well up in our eyes.It is not simply the sophistication  of urban life far from the common daily struggles of the laboring masses.Today there is something else much more active and aggressive,the commodification of culture in which we are adrift on a vast ocean of publicity and advertisement.Our responses now follow on pre-set tracks of such commercial calculus of image and market,expected profit and realized value.And I am afraid fashionable formulas of political or social behaviour have become very much part of the commodities in circulation, crowding out the simple but most valuable moral reflexes.

I was hit by such a swirl of thought while browsing through.the Indian Express of the day,I.e.the 5th March.There was the brilliant and eloquent Pratap Bhanu Mehta casually moving his torchlight on the huge glitz and binge about the ‘pre-wedding guest night’ of the Ambani family where celebrities from different countries and varied fields appeared or performed.All of them exuding money and success.Mehta reasons that this extravaganza just highlights our common aspirations and thus tend to arouse awe rather than resentment.A good show.Super.

It also signifies according to him a shift in culture,from a valued privacy  to a craving for publicity if not fame, even in such guarded private nooks as close family affairs. 

May be so.But is there a loss or not? Of course there has long been a hectic competition among the affluent in making wedding celebrations as gorgeous and glittering as one could.But that was always regarded as a secondary effect,like the tail of a bright comet if one likes. What has happened now is turning that into the primary stuff.

The union of a man and his bride is the occasion,the backdrop for the mega event held by the host.And where is there the time and the place for what used to be the most valued gift of all,the heartfelt good wishes and blessings of the visitors? Is that something to rue? This question cannot be buried underground.Has culture been eroded of all values,and are we to groove to the rocky music at the call of tycoons of money and media?

It is not as if people did not have the money in the past.The Tatas obviously had plenty in terms of standards of those days.But they were better known then and even now by such landmarks as TIFR and yes the steel city.In the USA much longer exposed to storms of advertisement and image-making you will find such surprises as a tycoon donating billions of dollars to create a rated and independent university but preferring to be remembered by a statue in a neglected corner of the campus.

And two brothers coming together to create a vast and highly educative living museum of marine life,staffed with best research teams and veterinary doctors,and then dedicating and handing it over to the city of their birth.I am no lover of capitalism.But I cannot but admire that spirit.It is values which moderate and humanise the obscene accumulation of money and the power it bestows. Has commodification put an end to such acts?One hopes not.

Turning to another example in the same issue of IE,one comes upon Badri Narayan’s piece on the failure of the campaign to build up Rahul Gandhi’s image as a fitting counter to Modijee’s saint-cum-hero,a ‘rajarshi’ of our fallen times. Badri Narayan puts Rahul down as an ‘also ran’.                      

I have a notion that Rahul Gandhi originally had the right instincts but he seems to allow himself be guided by a team of professional image-builders in the party or outside it, and thus is robbed of most valuable needed experience. He had alone in the political spectrum started talking about politics in terms of ethics.About love countering hate,justice to the victims of injustice,community overcoming alienness.And throughout the first Bharat Joro Yatra that impulse gleamed through clouds of irrelevant chatter and inconsequential banter.He was learning and learning valuable lessons that his sheltered life never could teach. Perhaps  for the first time in his life.He could and should have continued that.

But he took a break and what followed was a fairly embarrassing series of shots at image building.The idiom of business management intruded upon and overcast the primary ethical impulse.The results were unsatisfactory as he was left far less experienced and seasoned than  a rival who had intimate ties with business and commerce.A close and sustained exposure to the life of the masses,to life in the raw as that could have given him the weapons to overcome the voodoo of commerce.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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