Tribal wars

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The tourism minister, Anil Gayan, is at the centre of a controversy. He talked about honour killings in Pakistan a couple of years ago and the video is circulating now. Honour killings are a problem, not just in Pakistan, but in India and the wider South Asian (and other parts of the world too). So what? Why has this got everybody so worked up, so much so that Gayan has been accused of ‘insulting’ Pakistan and has hotfooted it to the police to complain of ‘distressing’ posts online. Kind of a strange kind of controversy for a Mauritian MP to get mired in. But then come election time, reason usually goes on holiday. 

On the surface, it looks ridiculous, but in reality foreign countries are usually treated as proxies for local communities. The charges of ‘insulting Pakistan’ come in the long and hoary tradition of playing the India-card and accusing your opponents of ‘insulting India’. This government has indulged in plenty of that. And so each tribal chieftain waxes eloquently and baits the other, looking for the mote in the eye of one country while ignoring the plank in that of another, looking for cheap votes. The reason for this foreign expertise is that go too far, and get too open, about your views and you end up like Soodhun, bereft of a ministry and hiding out in Saudi Arabia while the rest of your colleagues are busy with damage control. So you talk in code instead. Certain countries are supposed to act as extensions of certain communities. So long as you stick to that rule, you can go in all pistons firing. Neither nuclear armed India nor Pakistan have need of these paladins. And in fact, they probably don’t even know that they have the good fortune of having such Lilliputian champions in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  

Here is the dirty little secret: it’s not the politicians that are the problem. The trouble is that most are quick to condemn the banalities our politicians say, but are loathe to call out ordinary folk on it.  Are these politicians really such an outlier? If they were, they would not be elected, or re-elected. And the most egregious examples within the current crop have been getting elected for the past 30 years. Clearly, these chieftains are not too far away from the pulse of their tribes. The people, for their part, when served with this confected nonsense, engage in their most beloved pastime: tribal wars on the internet, where each side indulges in whataboutery, gleefully picking out videos and numbers to ‘prove’ that whatever their own particular tribe is accused of, the other does as well, or worse. The temptation of getting on a moral high-horse and pontificating to one another is too much for most. What purpose this serves is anybody’s guess. 

The real tragedy about all this is that after 50 years of a liberal democracy that has given its citizens a greater liberty and freedom to think than in most developing societies, rather than reflect on the fact that perhaps, just perhaps, this little country with its admirable record of social peace and economic development might actually have surpassed South Asia in many ways, they seem intent on fighting these futile little tribal wars. They have been given the wings of an eagle but insist on continuing to scratch the ground like a hen. 

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