In the wake of recent riots following the Ram Navami procession in Asansol-Ranigunj in West Bengal, this article is interested to analyse human nature and how does it function in a democratic political culture. The name of Adolf Eichmann is probably known only to a limited circle of people- those affected by his actions and those who studied him later. He was the second in command of the Nazi SS who was part of the team which formulated the policy of Final Solution of the Jews, fled to Argentina after the Second World War, captured by Mossad in May, 1960 , and hanged to death after a trial in Tel Aviv. What is important to know in this chronology of events is that his trial was televised throughout the world to present the extent of atrocities committed by the Nazis (it is however, not to suggest that Israel did not have any hidden agenda of not only gaining sympathy worldwide against the holocaust deniers but also prove its righteousness in putting a man responsible for the death of millions from their own community to trial despite being a nascent nation state which would help them bring their legal authority to the limelight) and that German born American political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote a book based on this trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of Evil to analyse the extent of evil nature of human beings which prompted these people to adopt such horrific methods that led to the extermination of millions of a race from Europe.
Putting in perspective- The curious case of West Bengal:
Although what is happening in West Bengal following the Ram Navami incident is simply nothing compared to the above-mentioned incident, what is necessary to point out is an analysis of human nature. Bengal has been witness to comparatively lesser riots than northern and central regions of the country, except during the period of the country’s Freedom Movement where riots broke out for example in Noakhali which Mahatma Gandhi himself came to quell. Bengal’s experience of dealing with riots is very less- the last one (post the assassination of Indira Gandhi where the Sikhs were targeted) being successfully quelled by strong hand of Jyoti Basu, the long standing Chief Minister (CM) of Communist Party led West Bengal, preventing any reactions against the Sikh population. The Bengali Bhadrolok class has always taken pride in the fact that they are way above the rest of India class wise, where class does not represent any economy but signify a combination of factors like culture, politics, and social cohesion. This kind of feeling has taken its roots since the time of Bengal renaissance when the society led by some of the well-known Bengali intellectuals and social reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Debendranath Tagore ignited a rational thinking among the people (although there are existing views which proclaim that their efforts to modify conservative elements within Hinduism is a step towards making it more acceptable among the populace). We have traversed a long path in History, but we have always loved to bask in the glory of these past achievements and held it very close to our heart. In this long journey we have compromised on our ideals and ideas for petty gains and hence stands no chance of claiming to be on a higher pedestal of moral consciousness. The narratives coming up in the recent communal clashes in Asansol-Raniganj is the same that come up as mud-slinging and blame game following any such similar incidents. The ruling party blames the other, specially the one which has a history of using riot as an instrument to enter the political arena of a geographical space (we have not forgotten Muzaffarnagar yet!), the other accuses the ruling party of allowing the incident to flare up to such an extent by preventing the administration to perform its task
Human Nature- an analysis:
The nature of human as an animal appears to have remain unchanged. The three actors in this case are- BJP’s popular face in Bengal is a Central Minister and earlier voice to many a hit song in Bollywood, Babul Supriyo. CM Mamata Banerjee who has a history of resorting to disruption and chaos in the political culture throughout her rise in the political ladder as an opposition candidate. And finally, the common people who form the significant tool of the implementation of riots as political instruments. All the three actors have their roots in the same society which claims to have nurtured secularism as its core value- so much so that at least the 34 years of communist rule should have been able to nourish a religion-less political thinking. But unfortunately, it failed. It appears everything has gone in vain. Instead of moving towards a more civilised state of nature (at least that’s what Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau would have dreamt of!) we are moving towards a state of animalistic carnal nature of killing one of our own. And here the study of human nature like the one by Arendt attains significance. Human nature is basically animalistic. War, battles, human atrocities, rapes is not something new. It has been going on for generations and has filled the pages of history far too much. What therefore changed were two things- the reasons for the behaviour and the modus operandi of the actions. The basic instinct of performing such acts never left human essence. What Arendt argued was a lack of “thinking” in performing such acts. It always waited for the trigger to manifest its worst nature. With sophistication in our reasoning and societal structure we began our quest for myriad ways of being increasingly animalistic with the sole reason of being powerful over the others. Being powerful allows us to make happen whatever may not otherwise have been within our reach. For our convenience we have given names to these power – some are democratic, some dictatorship while some others are monarchy. But behind all these terminology lies the ever-burning instinct of more power. Democracy is considered to be the best among the worst because it also has its own share of pitfalls and disadvantages like the others but its packaging and marketing by the liberals have been way better than the propagators of the others. What makes such incidents like riots in a democratic polity interesting is, it is the sovereign which was handed the power to rule on behalf of its citizens takes a step backward towards chaos and disorder from where it was duty bound to save the people. Carl Schmitt, the crown jurist of the Nazi era provided an adequate justification in this regard. He claimed it is the sovereign which has the power to decide the cases of ‘exception’ in which it is entitled by the very constitution which binds its action, to take steps to address such scenario. Those exceptional circumstances would facilitate the process of labelling an ‘enemy’ and then follow it up with justification of waging a war against them. Such a logicality was used during the Nazi era to legitimise its actions against the Jews who were made to look responsible for the plight of the Germans post the First World War. The rhetoric in riot like situation is not very different. There is an enemy and there is a saviour. The saviour (Hindus) can legitimise its rule only at the cost of the enemy (the other social groups mainly minorities like Muslims). At the same time, it does not absolve the rulers from its actions or rather (in)action. Following Schmitt, the rulers have misused the legitimacy for its trivial political bargain at the cost of the sovereign who has handed them the power to rule on their behalf.
Last but not the least:
It is important to think why such incidents happen and how are human beings capable of such atrocities despite claiming it to have travelled the civilisational ladder. The political classification only gives us a convenient way out to explain our deeds- a dictator would directly kill people and in a democracy the ruler would instigate or sit back while people are killing each other. Rather it becomes convenient to perform such acts within a democratic scenario (because accountability comes later) in the absence of the baggage of pre-conceived public opinion against the system. Therefore Democracy, funnily, provides that space where leaders are capable of doing anything until it becomes too little too late.