‘I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.’ ~Mahatma Gandhi
A few days ago, I received a Whatsapp forward on my mobile in the form of a 5 minute video. In it was a recording of a television comedy show from the land of our north-westerly neighbour. There was a panel of guests – mostly comedians it seems – along with a studio audience with many women in it. There was also a live band, as most comedy shows do, to provide musical enhancement to the antics of the comedians. Suddenly, in walked a man disguised as Narendra Modi, carrying a metallic container with glasses of tea in it – an obvious reference to his chaiwala past – to supply tea to the panellists.
Immediately the panel members launch a verbal attack on him, stopping just short of actually physically assaulting the man. He is volleyed across the studio, from one guest to another, ridiculed, abused and quite simply ragged. One of them asks him, ‘how dare you say that we harbour terrorists?’; another says ‘you may be Narendra Modi in your country, but here we will thrash you’; ‘don’t you remember the names of our brave soldiers who gave your army a beating?’, and so on and so forth. When the man fakes exhaustion after being pushed around, he is offered water: ‘you stop our water supply, but we will make you drink water; here take this, Ganga jal (water from river Ganga)’. Another guest says, ‘no, for you it is gandha jal (dirty water)’
Finally, towards the end of the ragging session, a woman guest shows the man a picture of a certain cricketer from their country who has married a certain tennis star from our country, just so that Modi is put in his place. Another guest points out, ‘you have given us your daughter, you should not be so proud’. The obviously sexist comment that reveals a patriarchal mind-set is cheered by the women members of the audience, even as the man playing Modi is roundly chastised, harassed and insulted.
Yes, it was only a comedy show. Yes, perhaps you should also expect such behaviour from the people of that country. But the fact that it was a not a bunch of immature teenagers who were indulging in this behaviour rankles. The fact that the so called civil society members – and not the army or their spy agency – were involved in making this program rankles further. After all, the man they were mocking was the same one, who while assuming the prime ministerial office, made a highly conciliatory gesture by inviting his opposite member from that country for the swearing in ceremony. Besides, he has thus far shown amazing restraint in reining in our army’s response to frequent cross-border firing and attempts at infiltration.
Cut to a more local story. It is a trial that has captured the nation’s collective interest. A superstar, who is said to have been driving a car several years ago when it mowed down people sleeping on the pavement, is granted almost unconditional bail, and the case is put off once again. He has also been granted several exemptions from appearing at the court over the last 13 years – a luxury that others can only dream of. A key eyewitness of the incident has been hounded out of normal existence until he met an ungainly death few years ago. Another eyewitness, a singer who happened to be in the car at that time, makes a quiet exit from the country, never to be heard from again. During all these years, the superstar has maintained a stoic silence on the issue; not once has he said that he was not actually driving the car that night, let alone admitting his guilt.
Yet, when the superstar’s recent film is released, apparently with a storyline that espouses good relations with the same neighbouring country of the first scenario, fans come out in droves to watch it and make it a huge success. Even when he was granted bail, the fans arrived as a mob to proclaim their support to their favourite star. While this can be attributed to blind hero-worship, the very fact that he continues to enjoy an ever increasing fan base shows that people are willing to set aside his misdemeanours and watch his films.
This brings us to the topic of our interest: magnanimity. This seems to be a particularly singular Indian affliction, albeit a good one. Our history is replete with instances of magnanimity when foreign invaders defeated by local rulers have been let off with a promise that they would not launch another attack – a pact that was frequently violated. When we helped an eastern neighbour in getting rid of oppressive rulers, we handed the nation on a platter to them, which has since grown into a theocratic society where those in a minority are persecuted and from where lakhs of illegal immigrants enter into our land to settle down permanently.
Are we magnanimous to a fault? Is it our undoing? Are we being too soft? Perhaps. But one has only to look at the core tenet of Sanatana Dharma to understand where this sentiment stems from. It hardly comes as a surprise that Hinduism, which celebrates unity in diversity; treats all faiths as equal paths to the same central destination; and recognises the divine principle in the other, be it in a friend or an enemy; should extol the virtues of magnanimity. In fact the scenarios depicted above would probably serve as instances where the perpetrators are caught in a web of ajnana. It is the delusional belief of separateness that compels people to view each other with suspicion, and consider themselves to be above the law of the land. Therefore we have Lord Krishna advising Arjuna during Gitopadesha that we need to view ajnanis with sympathy, and not respond in a derisive or retaliatory manner. We need to pity them, He says, and help them see the truth; help them find the right path.
But for how long? And how many times? How many times do we get attacked by terrorists from the same nation? How many superstars, ministers and celebrities shall we allow to get away with crime? What about the common man, who is usually the sufferer when any of these perpetrators is up to no good? When terrorists attack our cities, it is the common man who dies. It is the common foot soldier that dies in unprovoked firing across the border. It is the poor in India that are affected when illegal immigrants sneak in to compete with them for the available resources. It was the poor pavement dwellers who were mowed down by the superstar’s car. It was a lowly bodyguard who lost his job, family and life after he was targeted for being a key witness of the incident.
By showing a misplaced sense of magnanimity, aren’t we vilifying the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak, and the voiceless and vulnerable members of our society? What about their human rights? Even Lord Krishna would not have approved of a society that is unable to protect its weak members from the machinations of the rich and armed. Isn’t this why He took the side of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war – to protect the interests of the ostracised and persecuted cousins from the perpetual tyranny of the Kauravas?
‘To be religious is not to be foolish’, warned Sri Ramakrishna Parahamsa. Being magnanimous to the point of being foolish is not going to get us anywhere. Gurcharan Das argues eloquently in his Difficulty of Being Good, that it is blind magnanimity that ultimately led to the destructive Kurukshetra war. If Yudhisthira had not vacillated between action and inaction, and repeatedly turned a blind eye to Duryodhana’s sinister attempts at eliminating the Pandavas, the catastrophe might have been avoided. It was timely and pragmatic retaliation that Yudhishthira should have undertaken to put an end to Duryodhana’s evil plans right at the beginning; and to keep him at bay subsequently.
By all means, give diplomacy a chance. By all means send peace buses and trains to the neighbouring country, and help its people during times of natural calamities. By all means grant asylum to those facing a tough situation in their own country. By all means indulge your favourite celebrity with your love and attention. But do not do so at the cost of objectivity. Do not be blind in your adulation.
If America can go after a terrorist holed up in the neighbouring country for a crime committed on its land, why can’t we at the very least consider this option? Why not drag that country to the International Court of Justice for inhumanely torturing our soldier in clear violation of the Geneva Convention rules? Why not solidify the borders so that terrorists and illegal immigrants cannot trickle in? Why not fast track the judicial process so that celebrity perpetrators are convicted in time. Why not boycott such celebrities and whatever it is that they endorse?
Magnanimity is a virtue that is an inseparable part of Sanatana Dharma – and we would do well to continue to adhere to it in the future. But it has to be tempered with pragmatism and timely action to keep the Duryodhanas at bay.
~By Deepak Pawar