India has been awash with news of what are called “mob lynchings” over the last few years and another case has come to light of a Muslim man in Jharkhand who was tied up, beaten, and forced to chant Jai Shri Ram over a period of 12 hours. The man, Tabrez Ansari, died several days ago. Horrific as this atrocity is, it is also, we might say, part of an orchestrated chaos. One atrocity follows another; attention shifts from one ‘event’ to another, and we do not pause long enough to consider the moral implications of any one atrocity. It is in the light of this that it behooves us to return briefly to what transpired at Kathua, which has receded into the background just days after the court adjudicated on the matter, and consider whether India has not already entered into a phase of moral collapse from which it may never fully recover.
In India’s recently concluded elections, there was much that divided the BJP from an array of political parties constituted as the opposition, among them the Congress, the CPM, and the parties that forged the so-called mahagathbandhan. But there was also much that was common to all the parties, nothing more so than the fact that climate change was almost entirely obscured as an issue deserving of the voter’s attention. What does it mean for the country that not one political party has shown any real sensitivity to the question of climate change and any awareness of the catastrophic certainty that it will seriously erode any possibility of “normal life” for hundreds of millions of Indians unless the country changes course?
S M Mohamed Idris, the Grand Old Man of Penang to the world, or “Uncle Idris” as he was known affectionately to his younger friends—and everyone was younger to him—passed on a late Friday afternoon a little less than three weeks ago. He was the last of his kind: kind and devout, yet fiercely disciplined and a taskmaster to everyone but never more so than to himself, a man of intense moral probity and perhaps more than anything else a relentless enemy of injustice, wherever and in whatever form it appeared. Oh, yes, there was something else about him: it was nearly impossible not to feel affectionate towards Uncle Idris, such was the radiance and goodwill that emanated from him.
I opened the newspapers on May 24th to two disconcerting even stupefying stories that are wholly unrelated and yet, to my mind, seem strangely if not inextricably linked in several ways. Both stories captured the world’s attention, if for altogether different reasons. In India, the incumbent Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had not only retained his seat in Varanasi by a huge margin but he had led his party to a crushing and decisive victory over his political foes, scattering his opponents like atoms in the dust. The Indian Express’s chief political columnist, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, headlined the achievement of Modi with the phrase, “Staggering Dominance”. Some in the media spoke of his “landslide reelection”, while others described the unambiguous “mandate” he had received from the country.