Where Fearless Minds Suffer: Shah Faesal and a Diminishing Republic

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Shah Faesal

BADRI RAINA | Caravan Daily

WHEN Shah Faesal opted to participate in the competition for entry into India’s central services, he expressed his faith in the credibility of the republic.

In 2010, when he topped the list of successful candidates, the occurrence came to be seen as a vindication of that credibility, and of India’s pluralist/integrative democracy.

After eight years of coping with a deteriorating cultural and administrative zeitgeist, Shah Faesal, the icon, has resigned from the coveted Indian Administrative Service “in protest against unabated killings in Kashmir and lack of any sincere reach – out from the union government the marginalisation and invisibalisaton of around 200 million of Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces, reducing them to second class citizens”.

In his letter of resignation, Faesal also speaks more generally of “a growing culture of intolerance in the name of hypernationalism”.

Faesal may have been trolled by expected quarters; it is conceivable that he will be dubbed a disaffected communalist; even a Jinnah analogy may be invoked, for all we know. All of which we will disagree with.

As per reports, Faesal is contemplating joining mainstream Kashmiri politics – just as Yashwant Sinha once did – suggesting that he looks to democratic/political action as a relatively more promising avenue of affecting transformations that he thinks the constitutional republic ordains than a bureaucratic career, however classy.

The question that begs asking here is whether there is any sensitivity and political sagacity left in the rulers of the day to soak in the quality and magnitude of the repudiation that Shah Faesal’s disillusionment betokens.

And, if not, what that indifference may be suggestive of for the life of the constitutional republic, and for that dreamy-eyed, aspiring Kashmiri youth in particular of whom official spokespersons never tire of reminding the nation.

Take another case – that of the celebrated actor, Naseeruddin Shah. The agony in his statements issued likewise from a majoritarian anarchy become a law unto itself, to a point where the lynch mob murder of a police inspector doing his duty in Bulandshahr recently came to be viewed as secondary to the killing of cows. Did it matter that he explicitly spoke as a citizen rather than a Muslim – given that the entire Shah family is an agnostic one, besides being an inter-faith one as well – about the loss of humanist and constitutional values over the recent past?

Hardly; Shah was willy nilly also dubbed a disaffected Muslim, ungrateful to how much honour and repute the country had bestowed on him.

Shah might have asked whether the country that had done so was still the same country. No idle question, were one to make reference to a book about films that Lord Meghnad Desai once wrote, titled Nehru’s Hero: Dilip Kumar in the Life of India (1944-1966).

The burden of that book was to underscore how Indian Hindi cinema during he Nehruvian period foregrounded the foundational values of the independent republic, namely, hope, positivity, secularism, unity in diversity, and a scientific temper. Nasseeruddin Shah may thus be excused for bemoaning the rapid disappearance of an India that young men of his generation grew up with and gave their allegiance to.

Take the even more tragic case of Professor Hiren Gohain, 80 years old now, saddled with a sedition charge. Unlike most promising scholars who, one they leave Indian shores for higher study, tend not to return to India, Gohain doubled back from a Cambridge Ph.D to teach at Gauhati University in his native Assam, hoping to give his mind and heart to enhancing the very values that Meghnad Desai spoke of in his book.

Alas, forces of reaction should now have caught up with him as well, just for saying in a speech that the disquieting developments in Assam issuing from a sectarian ill-conceived Citizenship Amendment Bill could once again fuel demands for Independence there.

The action against him for reading out that caution in exercise of his fundamental right of free speech once again suggests the relevance of the question: is it the country we knew? Recall that when in the April of 1962, Annadurai in his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha raised the demand for “self-determination” for the “Dravidians”, the then ruling dispensation did not come crashing down on him. The modalities of debate, discussion, and conciliation were employed to persuade him of the ill-advised nature of his demand. And, just to underscore, that demand was made on behalf of “Dravidians,” not Muslims.

In our own day, many Naga political organisations continue to speak of their right to sovereignty, yet no one, as far as we know, has been charged with sedition. On the contrary, talks continue to be held on track two to sort out the “Naga” problem. Yet, an outstanding scholar and teacher dedicated to India and to its democratic and rational future finds himself slapped today with a sedition charge for uttering a caution.

Is it not to be desired that the three instances set out here oblige us to ponder the directions in which the constitutional republic seems headed?

A saddening aspect of recent mainstream politics is that even those political forces who have contributed to setting India on a non-sectarian, democratic course seem today shy of often even mentioning the plight suffered by disenfranchised sections of the polity for fear of annoying the majority opinion. Should this trend continue to gain ground, we may rue the day we failed to listen to voices that are now under siege.

(The article first appeared in The Wire)

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