It is no secret that the Divide and Rule policy was favoured by every invader and imperialist to have held sway over the Indian subcontinent. But they did not have to create rivalries or even exert themselves to exacerbate the teeming tensions between factious groups at each other’s throats on account of a host of petty reasons, because the differences were always there. Since its birth, India has been bitterly divided and progressively weakened without ever feeling like a single country. Not surprisingly, nothing changed after independence. It was hoped that with the dawn of a new age, Indians would set aside their traditional differences and live together peaceably. But that was not to be, then or now.
The landowning classes and ambitious capitalists simply picked up the reins handed over by the British and went right back to exploiting the masses to safeguard the bastions of privilege. We were back to square one and seem to have made absolutely no progress to this day. If recent events are any indication, things have taken a considerable turn for the worse. Ordinarily, a tragedy of epic proportions or the threat of powerful outsiders may be counted on to unite Indians for mutual protection. But this is the age of social media where everyone has been provided with a loudspeaker to vent venom and spew hatred in a torrential outpouring that has resulted in battle lines being drawn, endless skirmishes turning nasty and absolutely no quarter given. Even cataclysmic events and unmitigated disasters are more likely to see us rend and tear at opponents real and imaginary as opposed to bringing us closer together.
This harsh reality was apparent in the ugly aftermath of the tragic demise of an angelic eight – year old, Asifa Bano. Even the most cynical and world weary of us, wept when the details of her passing came to light. Surely we would all join hands and make sure that her death wasn’t in vain by bringing her killers to task and implementing procedures to ensure that nobody else would share her fate in this land? But it wasn’t to be. If the rage and hate fuelled frenzy that has gripped this accursed nation is anything to go by, we are all dirty politicians at heart who will use a child’s murder to further our own mostly pointless ends. Every side, and there are many, seems to be populated with extremists who have become canny operators, skilled in the use of rhetoric to bolster their arguments.
Whatever happened to civility and the need to find a common ground? In these troubled times it would behove us to remember that even if we are passionately devoted to the side we have cast our lot with and are inclined to view everyone who doesn’t agree with every miserable point we swear by, as the enemy, there is always potential for fruitful collaboration provided we are willing to reach out across the void as opposed to being hell-bent on shoving dissenters into it. Simply making the effort could be the difference between slowly rebuilding a fractured country or a doomed one.
This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express.