PERSPECTIVE: PROMISE OF EQUALITY – ‘empathy’ about as tough as one makes it out to be – for wise, long-run self preservation ?!!
EDITORIAL FROM THE TELEGRAPH
AUGUST 27, 2010
Equality is an elusive and a tough concept.
Even in the abstract, as it was first posed during the era of the French Revolution, it was notoriously difficult to define. In the real world, the concept becomes almost difficult to realize through policies and actions.
No one in his right mind argues against the idea of equality, but it is also true that no one quite knows how to achieve equality, which remains ever-receding like the horizon.
There can be no objection to Rahul Gandhi’s statement that in his religion, all are equal. This has been the view of many leaders — political, social and spiritual. In the Indian pantheon, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru — to name only three — had all spoken in similar terms to the people of India.
Their aspirations were noble but contemporary India, rife with inequalities of various kinds, reveals that their vision has not materialized. Elsewhere in the world, under the guise of communism, the ultimate utopia of equality, the most hideous inequalities were imposed on people. Between the idea of equality and its realization falls the harsh and jagged shadow of history.
This is perhaps the main reason why any pronouncement about equality should be made with caution. This warning is particularly true in the case of Mr Gandhi, who has decided to operate in the sphere of politics where people will expect him to live up to some of his promises.
He may find that in the future his championing of equality in front of the poor tribal people of Orissa is coming back to haunt him.
The tribal people all over India are among the poorest in the world. Neither their rights nor their means of welfare have been on the agenda of any government. If any group in India has legitimate grounds to hold a grievance against the State, the tribals do. And the tribal people of Orissa are fortunate that their protests have been heard in Delhi and a young and powerful Congress leader, like Mr Gandhi, has decided to stand by them and take up their cause.
All this might lead to their land being saved from industrial projects but will that lead to the greater good of the tribal people or to greater equality in society? This question has actually not been addressed.
Mr Gandhi and those who think like him will have to decide on their approach to the tribal question.
Do the tribes remain within their traditional way of life and earning a livelihood? If yes, will that lead to equality? If on the other hand, the tribal people are to be made part of the larger society, what happens to the rights to land that they have enjoyed over generations?
These questions have no easy answers and savants like Verrier Elwin and Nirmal Bose have scratched their heads over them.
Mr Gandhi deserves to be complimented for reaching out to the tribal people and for standing by them.
The purpose of this editorial is to gently remind him that he has touched India’s most complex problem. India has miles to go before all are equal, if ever they are.