If Only Clearing One’s Conscience Were As Simple As Wielding A Broom – Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches `Swacch Bharat Mission` - a nationwide campaign that aims to clean up India in five years - from Valmiki Colony, in New Delhi, on Oct. 2, 2014. IANS
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches `Swacch Bharat Mission` – a nationwide campaign that aims to clean up India in five years – from Valmiki Colony, in New Delhi, on Oct. 2, 2014. IANS

You may go on pretending for all the world that your hands are clean and you sleep with a clean conscience, it really doesn’t wash. A guilty conscience pricks and nags at the lump of meat that you call heart, forever, ever so slightly. You plunge yourself into cleaning the physical world around you – from purifying the Ganges to scrubbing the whole country squeaky clean, hoping it would somehow blow the past away

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

‘Out, damned spot! out, I say!’ Lady Macbeth shrieks in horror, in the great Shakespearean tragedy. As she aimlessly wanders through the maze of royal castle, she is driven crazy by the pangs of a guilty conscience.

Having forced her husband, the valiant Macbeth, into killing King Duncan, Lady M is now worn out by the guilt.  She sees blood stains on her hands and everywhere. ‘Out, damned spot! Out, I say!’

But blood stains are strangely stubborn. They do not easily fade away—especially when innocent, human blood is involved. As a conscience-stricken Macbeth laments after slaying his mentor, the world’s oceans couldn’t wash his guilt, nor the blood on his hands.

Jo chup rahegi zuban-e-khanjar/Lahu pukarega aasteen ka

You may go on pretending for all the world that your hands are clean and you sleep with a clean conscience, it really doesn’t wash. A guilty conscience pricks and nags at the lump of meat that you call heart, forever, ever so slightly.

You plunge yourself into cleaning the physical world around you – from purifying the Ganges to scrubbing the whole country squeaky clean, hoping it would somehow blow the past away. If only clearing one’s conscience were as simple as wielding the broom to ‘Clean up India’ (‘Swacch Bharat abhayan’)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks to  President Barack Obama at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Tuesday. PTI/Vijay Verma
PREACHING PEACE? Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks to President Barack Obama at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Tuesday. PTI/Vijay Verma

Since you couldn’t find time to visit your tormentors, still rotting in the wretched relief camps for the past 12 years, you might as well pay homage to victims of another kind at the 9/11 Memorial.

And, yes, while you are at it, preach peace, democracy, development and of course the need to fight the ubiquitous terrorism.

Just as Netanyahu expounds his vision and goes on and on, year after year, at the UN about Islamic terrorism, the unwillingness of Arabs and Muslims to make peace (with occupation) and Iran’s fabled nukes, the world according to our Dear Leader, is divided between Us and Them.

Short of launching his own ‘war on terror,’ he implored the world to unite against the ‘common enemy’ and called for a civilizational alliance against you know who.

For his part, Netanyahu, whose grinning boys have just snuffed out more than 2,000 lives and bombed Gaza back to the Stone Age, without batting an eyelid talked of the clear and present danger to the world peace that is Islam which is represented, according to him, by Iran, Hamas, and yes, ISIS: ‘“ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. When it comes to their goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas. And what they share in common, all militant Islamists share in common. The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith. The question before us is whether militant Islam will have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions.”

In fact, this by now familiar theme dominated the UN General Assembly debate this year. At the institution whose raison d’etre has been promoting peace and preventing conflict, the pretenders to world leadership vied with each other to bat for another war to save the world peace.

And the irony seems to be totally lost on the blessed world community, including the happily ineffectual UN chief Ban-ki Moon and the leader of the free world.

Obama’s performance at the annual charade in New York and his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric over the past few weeks–even the uncanny choice of words–about the latest American munificence to the Middle East increasingly reminds one of his predecessor.

Eyes wide shut, the world has managed to sleepwalk back to where it had started. It’s like déjà vu forever.  As one noted in these columns recently, it’s the same noble crusade and same clueless coalition of the ever willing; it’s just a different president.

The man who was gifted the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office, God knows for what, waxed lyrical about the UN’s role in building peace and conflict resolution even as he tried to rally global support for another just war.

The real piece de resistance was the warning to Russia that “might cannot be right” and “that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.”

This from the folks whose forces now occupy and control virtually every part of the planet.  But then what’s new? Hypocrisy and crass duplicity have long ruled the world affairs. More so today than ever before.

So no one sees anything odd when copious tributes to Martin Luther King Jr, the great human rights icon and symbol of African Americans’ struggle for justice, are paid by Obama and his guest Narendra Modi.

The two leaders exchanged notes about the civil liberties movement, non-violence and Gandhi’s influence on King.  I can’t imagine King’s delight at these apostles of peace visiting him. Modi even presented Obama with Gandhi’s copy of Bhagwad Gita.

Indian media and the rich Gujarati diaspora, already delirious at the Dear Leader’s mere presence on American soil–as if no Indian leader has ever been to the land of the free or addressed the UN before—went nearly berserk when he addressed the elite Indian American audience at the Madison Square Garden or earlier gatecrashed the Global Citizen Festival at the Central Park to lecture the young and restless about world peace, environment and hygiene!

Modi was suitably reverential and profound when he visited the Washington memorial to Gandhi; the great man who said there is peace and happiness only when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.

But then who cares what the Mahatma preached and stood for in the new, resurgent India led by his fellow Gujarati? As John Kenneth Galbraith said, nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.

A yawning gulf exists not just between the sweet words and deeds of the Dear Leader (Say “Indian Muslims will live and die for India”–a perfect sound bite, you must admit–while your brothers in arms drive them into the ground) but also between the India of 1.25 billion people that he claims to be working for and the exclusionist, Hindu Rashtra that the Parivar has been actively pushing for.

You can see and feel the dichotomy everywhere in India today — in the increasingly hysterical media and public discourse, in the insidious and selective governance agenda and in rising hatred and violence against minorities.

Beyond the spiraling Sensex and feel-good rhetoric about development, yoga and cosmetic, cleanliness campaigns, there sadly exists an alternate reality.

Modi’s aggressive, one-dimensional Akhand Bharat seems to have already won and triumphed over the Mahatma’s idea of an inclusive and tolerant India.

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