Some imminent trouble.

Wisdom is nothing but agony if we are unable to apply it somewhere. Casual ethnocentrism aside, we have legitimate reasons to celebrate the success of Kerala. Our state has scored high in many social indicators. But it is yet safe to say that we have achieved development?

I understand, the so called development is no substitute to enlightenment. But if social memory, manners and etiquette is a metric, where do we stand?

The recent rise of chauvinism and communalism troubles me. Parochial religious identities are starting to sound comfortable once again. This is antithetical to the ideals our predecessors fought for. Right now, it concentrates upon the religious identities, but this is bound to fail.

There is more to social divisions than economic reasons alone. But for these divisions to be sustainable, an economic rationale is necessary. In our society, all religions boast of communities that hold economic might. So I am afraid, a Hindu-Muslim-Christian divide is quite superficial in politics.

This brings us to the question of caste and class.

Our present understanding of Caste is quite complex. We reject the romantic notion of “Chatur Varna”, based out of the Vedas. In praxis, Caste is much more complex and allows some form of vertical mobility. M.N Srinivas calls this process Sanskritisation. I will ignore the question of Caste for the sake of this article.

Reading about the history of “Sons of the Soil” movements in India motivated me to write this article. There is an inevitable “middle class” angle to this question.

The middle class, in every societies, are a reliable source of societal churn. It is quite clear that I don’t hold my own class in high regard, but my motto here is not to bash the middle classes. History tends to repeat this lesson again and again. The aspirations of the middle classes is a consistent source of social disruption.

When they had incentives, they supported nationalism. Look at the eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe and the new world.

When they had incentive to support Free trade, they did so. Look at the nineteenth century Britain that ravaged India and China.

In India, right now, they have incentive in being communal. So they do in Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp. This is a recurring theme in History again.

An Empire, when it starts off, has to be tolerant to preserve its integrity. As it grows in time, it becomes confident that finally an Ecumene is established. They place themselves in the centre of the world.

The Mughal Padishah ruled the whole globe (according to them, of course). The Chinese nation stood at the centre of the Tianxia. The West of today thinks that their principles are applicable to the whole of mankind.

The cosmopolitan Ottoman Polity, based on the Millet system enabled them to stay in power for so long. Once they dismantled this system in favour of autocracy, they lost their foothold.

Homogenisation is the wet dream of any state system. It is a proven way to preserve the polity. But would later crumble under its own weight. So our founding fathers made a decision to preserve diversity over superficial homogeneity. They believed in an order were homogeneity was not necessary for cohesion. But have we, being myopic, rubbished this ideal?

Sometimes, we are helpless at the onslaught of mighty historical forces. The Ottomans started believing that they could have an homogeneous empire. They failed. Aurangazeb abandoned the syncretism which was the hallmark of Mughal Empire. This brought failure. Pan-Hellenism sounded a good idea. But that failed too. We know were Pan-Arabism is standing as I am writing!

I have digressed a lot. But that’s the reason why I write. No apologies here!

Coming back, my point is this. As the migrant labourers of Kerala graduate to the lower middle class, we are bound to have problems. We have better healthcare and educational opportunities. This will bring about progress to our migrant communities.

But I am fearful that a section of our population may turn cynical. We will have no dearth of politicians who would pander to these petty sentiments. As the middle class will have incentive to opt racism/casteism/exculsivm, they will opt for it. See how many of them embrace communalism today.

We have to be careful that we don’t let this happen. I wish to, but I can’t anymore bet on Kerala being an enlightened society. May be the policymakers want to look into this.

We are defined by how we treat the weakest amongst us. I don’t intend to sound sanctimonious here. We have to take real care to keep this stature so laboriously earned.

Written on June 30, 2018