It was Dr Martin Luther King who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. But, the curve of the arc is so imperceptible that most people just do not see it.
Rebecca Solnit writes in her article, The Arc of Justice and the Long Run:
“I don’t know what’s coming. I do know that, whatever it is, some of it will be terrible, but some of it will be miraculous, that term we reserve for the utterly unanticipated, the seeds we didn’t know the soil held. And I know that we don’t know what we do does. As Shane Bauer points out, the doing is the crucial thing.”
The largest mountain and the largest volcano in the solar system, both are the same – Olympus Mons on the planet Mars. The mountain rises up to a height of a staggering 26 kilometres that makes it three times the height of Mount Everest. But if one were to attempt climbing it one would hardly get the feeling that one was on a mountain. Its slope is so gentle that it almost looks flat.
The popular perception of volcanoes is that of a steep mountain hiding within its bosom vast amounts of destructive energy that, once unleashed, can devour whole cities. The absence of tectonic plate movement on Mars allows the Martian crust to remain fixed in place over a magma hotspot, allowing repeated, large, lava flows. At its base, Olympus Mons is 550 Kms. The curvature of this volcano is just as imperceptible as the moral arc of Dr King. The energy contained within Dr King’s moral universe can also be infinite, but as Ms Solnit writes, “sometimes hope lies in not looking forward but backwards to study the line of that arc”.
The UPA’s own Olympus Mons erupted with repeated magma flows in the shape of Adarsh, 2G, CWG, Antrix-Devas, Tatra Trucks, Coalgate, and a number of other explosions, and in the absence of any tectonic plate movement within the Congress party, the crust at the top just became thicker and thicker. However, it also became possible for people to see the curvature of the arc of moral injustice, and when Anna Hazare decided to sit on a fast demanding the institution of a Jan Lokpal; he touched a raw nerve in almost every ordinary citizen of the land.
The overwhelming response from the people was quite infectious and the contours of a moral revolution were just getting outlined. The movement that began on 5th April 2011 at Jantar Mantar soon grew into a mass civic protest across urban India. By keeping politicians of all hues at bay, it derived a moral legitimacy that similar protest movements had failed to garner in the past.
It would have been obvious to even a child that a government, neck-deep in corruption, would never agree to the proposals put forward by civil society; that it would resort to deception, lies, subterfuge, disinformation, and physical coercion to crush the movement; exactly how the Manmohan Singh government responded to Anna Hazare’s challenge.
It had no compunction in orchestrating a debate in the Lok Sabha and then adopting, what was euphemistically called a “sense of the house” resolution on three key issues raised by Anna Hazare. The “sense of the house” resolution moved by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee on 27th August 2011, read: “This House agrees ‘in principle’ on following issues — (i) Citizen’s Charter, (ii) lower bureaucracy under Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and (iii) establishment of Lokayukta in the States; And further resolves to forward the proceedings of the House to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice while finalizing its report.”
A Standing Committee, we know, is where all inconvenient demands are sent for ceremonial burial. Anna Hazare broke his fast the next day, and from then began his journey into obscurity and irrelevance.
Political battles cannot be fought non-politically. Whoever advised Anna against converting the protest movement into a new political association had obviously never been a student of history. By dissociating his movement from Arvind Kejriwal and denouncing the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party, Anna Hazare failed to see the truth behind his moral pretensions. Political realism, as defined by Robert Musil, the Austrian writer, in his novel, “The Man Without Qualities” is a “sensibility driven by needs rather than by ideas.” Robert D. Kaplan, in his essay “Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism” writes: “Realism is thus about deftly playing the hand that has been dealt you. It is not exciting or inspiring.”
Looking back, can we say that Anna Hazare knew Arvind Kejriwal and his associates better? The precipitous descent of the Aam Aadmi Party into a bottomless pit of moral turpitude has made it indistinguishable from the Congress, and today stands completely exposed as nothing but the B-team of Sonia Gandhi’s outfit. Drunk with power, Arvind Kejriwal has destroyed the magical dream that the Anna Hazare movement had evoked. Kejriwal’s moral arc flattened even before it had begun to emerge. As Dr King said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” Both Kejriwal and Anna Hazare failed abysmally on this measuring scale.
The curve of the moral arc that began to become perceptible from April 2011 actually started to point towards justice only from that day on 20th May 2014 when Narendra Modi first entered the Parliament.
This is how The Indian Express reported it: “As he stepped into Parliament for the first time, Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi on Tuesday bowed, with his forehead touching the stairs, to register his high respect for the “temple of democracy”.
“Soon after arriving at the main gate of the Parliament building, Modi was greeted with bouquets by BJP leaders. After accepting their greetings, Modi touched the ground of the entrance with folded hands.
“I visited the Gujarat Chief Minister’s chamber for the first time when I became the Chief Minister. I entered the Gujarat Assembly for the first time after I became the Chief Minister. I have come here also for the first time,” the 63-year-old said later in the historic Central Hall of Parliament.”
Never before had any Prime Minister shown such deep reverence for an institution and touched the entrance steps with his forehead. The arrogance of the office had precluded any such behaviour from the days of Nehru and his descendants. Even the normally servile and naturally bent Manmohan Singh did not show the respect his office demanded, perhaps, because he knew that he was there by accident, and only at the pleasure of his party President.
The moral arc of the Congress party had actually flattened that night on 25th June 1975 when Nehru’s daughter switched off the light of freedom and the darkness of Emergency pervaded the land. Though officially it was ended in March 1977, yet its miasma poisoned the very air for another 37 years until the 2014 elections gave a complete majority in the Lok Sabha to the BJP led by Narendra Modi. Admittedly, there had been periods of energy during the previous NDA terms, but these were inevitably structured around “coalition compulsions,” to use Manmohan Singh’s infamous phrase.
The euphoria generated by the success of the Narendra Modi-led BJP, suddenly gave rise to new expectations and a new confidence among the suffering masses of this country who had been toiling under the crushing burdens of inflation, unemployment, corruption, insecurity, hunger, lack of education and health services, and a host of other disorders that an indifferent political and administrative dispensation had been inflicting upon them.
In a land that has been brought up on a steady diet of mythological lore of divine avatars descending from their heavenly abodes to rid this earth of evil demons, it became very easy for people to believe that Modi was some kind of a 21st century avatar of Lord Krishna who had descended upon Hastinapur to rid it of its Kauravas and their evil empire.
A tremendous amount of goodwill for the new PM and his team gushed forth like a torrent predicting the imminent demise of the ecosystem that had protected and nurtured the evil Queen and her court of rakshasas. Fake news traders, whose very existence depended upon this evil ecosystem, saw doom and gloom for their kind. Stories discrediting each and every decision of the new government began to appear in both print and visual media. The judiciary, the civilian bureaucracy, and the law enforcement agencies having deep-rooted connections and links with the corrupt regimes threw their combined efforts into thwarting the reforms and preventing the Modi government from delivering on the promises made during the election campaign.
Being used to a flat moral arc they were unable to reconcile with the new curvature that forced them to raise their eyes from the feet of their benefactress and look ahead to a new geography where the mountains were vertical and not flat.
Four-and-a-half years on, some of us may be unhappy that Modi has not “deftly” played the hand that the people have dealt him. Many of the promises remain unfulfilled – some are not even works-in-progress. But, for the first time in our history, he has given us a corruption-free government at the centre. His team may not be as energetic and committed as he is, but then one cannot expect all the fingers of a hand to be equal. The ascetic life he has led has given him the physical attributes that enable him to take the burdens of office without flinching.
The Congress knows that if it has to regain power it has to somehow destroy Modi. The constant personal abuse directed at him is symptomatic of the deep frustration with his style of open and transparent governance as against the opacity of his opponents. The Congress President, not known for either hard work or political intelligence, has been resorting to outright lies, calling the PM “a thief” when he has nothing with which to substantiate his allegations. A supposedly suave, urbane spokesperson like Shashi Tharoor has become indistinguishable from a Jignesh Mewani in his language and demeanour. The moral arc has not only flattened but completely disappeared from the political spectrum of the Congress.
Narendra Modi and the BJP’s arc of political realism may be imperceptible to some at the moment. What the future holds may be terrible or miraculous, but the seed is sown and we shall wait with anticipation to see what fruit it sprouts.
One thing, however, is looking more and more certain. Modi will not sacrifice morality at the altar of political realism, compromising the future of the nation for short-term gains. For him, the trajectory of the moral arc is clearly visible and if we, in our ignorance and impatience fail to see it, he is not going to flatten the beam for our convenience. If we fail him now, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. Therefore, for now, by keeping our faith in him, we can hope that the arc will become manifest for us to see.
I for one am confident that its trajectory will remain firmly focused in the direction of justice and will not get flattened like the Congress’s Olympus Mons that is stagnant and immobile at the top.