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Yogis and the commissars: Time to re-visit George Orwell's novel '1984'
'The idea of India says persuade, not dictate' - Sunil Khilnani

Published in 1949, George Orwell's novel titled '1984' alerted the world to the culture of 'midnight knocks' of totalitarian regimes. The world was already witnessing the horrors of the excesses of Stalinist regimes, their brain-washings, proliferation of vigilantes and persecution of independent thinking as 'thought crime' and labour camps for the dissidents.

Before publishing the novel, Orwell wrote to a friend,'I must say I believe or fear, that taking the world as a whole these things are on the increase. Hitler, no doubt, will soon disappear, but only at the expense of strengthening (a) Stalin, (b) the Anglo-American millionaires and ….. All the national movements everywhere… seem to take non-democratic forms, to group themselves round some superhuman fuehrer.'

When the year 1984 actually arrived, talks and debates about the lessons of '1984' the novel, were held all over the world. I too attended a series of talks held at the Nehru Centre, at Bombay. The speakers were not only literary figures, but also political scientists and thinkers of all shades.

By then, so many words from the scary novel had already passed into the English language, like Big Brother, doublethink, thought crime, newspeak, and memory hole. 'The adjective 'Orwellian', described official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state'.

Both TIME magazine and Modern Library included '1984' among the 100 Best Novels, written till 2005.

From the lectures I heard and articles I read, there was a common thread running through, that 'In the hands of the governments absolute power corrupts absolutely. Each dictatorship possesses an all-pervading control of collective behaviour and of thought. When the rulers want to change history, they destroy all old books and periodicals and replace them with new ones'.

Dissidence is outlawed. Citizens who dare to think anti-state thoughts are branded 'un-persons' and sent off to 'un-exist' or be brutally re-educated. The line is rigidly set by Big Brother, whose dark, penetrating eyes stare down from posters everywhere. Two-way tele-screens peer into every room and public place. 'Big Brother Is Watching You. There is no such thing as a private life'.

An American teacher recently related that her students did not regard the novel as science fiction, but as mirror to their present society. 'The dystopia described in the novel suddenly feels all too familiar. A world in which Big Brother (or may be the National Security Agency) is always listening in'!

George Orwell himself wrote: 'Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.'

When yogis become commissars, many splendored hues of a nation are eclipsed by a single hue, and the rulers and the ruled all march to the beat of a single drummer!

When protection of the cow supersedes the need to save ailing children, and the massacre at Gorakhpur is explained away as an annual occurrence, we know that the lengthening shadows of '1984' are looming over the land.

Will 'Unity in Diversity' fade away as a distant memory and the sevaks bask in the glory of 'Unity of One'!

Note: 'Yogi and the Commissar' is the title of a very popular 1945 book by Arthur Koestler, in which the author examines the extremes of methodologies, to achieve 'heaven on earth' - from the Commissar at the materialist, scientific end of the spectrum, to the Yogi at the spiritual, metaphysical end. Koestler also visited India and Japan to research his book, 'Lotus and the Robot').

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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