We, the People: The day after the results - Hindustan Times
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We, the People: The day after the results

Jun 03, 2024 10:00 PM IST

The Constituent Assembly saw We, the People, as an assertion of the entity in whose name the Constitution was adopted.

Today, as the fate of all election hopefuls is revealed, the primary focus will be on who comes to power. But what about We, the People, the day after and onwards?

The new parliament building illuminated in tri-color(ANI) PREMIUM
The new parliament building illuminated in tri-color(ANI)

The old challenge is about how we the people retain our sense of agency by holding those who come to power accountable. In the India of 2024, the more urgent question is how we, the people, will deal with each other.

This election campaign has seen sharp and bitter polarisation among people at large. Within families and among old friends, the intensity of disagreement has reached unprecedented levels. These are not just ideological differences (for example, secularism versus Hindu rashtra). The quarrels are of a more basic nature — about what is real, what is working, what is dysfunctional, what is right and what is wrong at a basic human level.

Take the example of a young friend who sees that both democracy and basic human decency are now under threat. According to her father, who is a middle-class businessman, things have never been better in India because Narendra Modi is a saviour whom he is willing to follow and obey, unconditionally.

It is safe to assume that where there are deep, in this case biological, bonds of affection, the sharp differences in perception will be papered over by the compulsions of routine, everyday life.

But how are we going to behave towards strangers, those with whom we have no emotional history, let alone bonds? Even more importantly, how are we going to behave towards those who appear as a competing or threatening “other”? These questions will remain crucial, regardless of who wins today.

In a time when cynicism is widely regarded as “cool”, or clever, it is imperative to revisit the fundamentals. We need to distinguish between We, the People, as an assertion and as an aspiration.

We, the People, is an assertion by India’s Constituent Assembly that it is the people themselves who are adopting a framework of values for the future. There were those in the Constituent Assembly who argued that the Constitution should be attributed to God. Others argued that it should be attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. But these views were rejected in favour of asserting the power of the people themselves.

The cynic may say that We, the People, is a fiction. After all, there is ample evidence that all Indians do not agree to practise “justice, equality, liberty, fraternity” — the values that the Preamble establishes as the basis for the Indian Constitution.

Fortunately, there is also voluminous evidence of people who aspire to live by and protect these values. This is true across differences of class, caste, language and religion. This has also been demonstrated through the cacophony of election campaigning — with citizens, who may or may not belong to any political party, reaffirming these values and asking others to vote for whoever seems more likely to stand by them. But this is a thin silver lining in a dark cloud.

The key question now is how we — who aspire to live by justice, liberty, equality and fraternity — engage with those who periodically seem to reject these values.

One, by not defining these values in such a purist manner that living by them seems impossible. Let not the pursuit of perfection become the enemy of the good. Even if someone’s definition and practice of “equality” seems flawed or inadequate, can we still treat their effort as a work in progress? To outright reject such effort as half-hearted or flawed may just help those who oppose the core values of the Preamble.

Two, cultivate a long-term strategy based on patience while deploying urgency and agitation as tactics. This means that you recognise the potential for transformation in the “other” — given time and a conducive environment. You live by the faith that those who are now asserting the counter-values of domination and aggression, may in due course change if they feel less insecure.

Three, deliberately or inadvertently, don’t push or provoke people to present their worst selves Too many conversations collapse prematurely because something is said that leads one person to believe the worst of the other. Instead, what is needed is to be able to listen and look for the underlying concern and anxiety that may have driven that person to say something nasty.

But what about those who openly demonstrate malicious intent and forge ahead with a deliberately destructive agenda — building a support base by preying on the vulnerability and insecurities of people? How do those who live by We, the People, as an aspiration deal with this?

Perhaps by reaching out to those who are preyed upon, whose fears are being harnessed and weaponised. This is work that is being done deep in the innards of samaj. It is attracting diverse kinds of talent and energy. It is unclear whether these efforts are on a scale and of an intensity that can make a substantial difference in the short term.

What is clear is that We, the People, as an aspiration is alive. The outcome of the Lok Sabha election result may be felt as either a jolt or a morale boost for those who give this aspiration form and energy. Both feelings, jolt or boost, are a distraction from the work at hand — tirelessly putting energy into We, the People, as an aspiration.

Rajni Bakshi is the founder of the YouTube platform Ahimsa Conversations. The views expressed are personal

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