L K Sharma https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/14713/all cached version 19/01/2019 10:42:39 en Rising roar of faux faith in poll-bound India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/rising-roar-of-faux-faith-in-poll-bound-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Read the newspapers, listen to the TV “debates” and see the WhatsApp-trained ignorant armies clash day and night. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20181229_191923.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20181229_191923.jpeg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A rural temple in South India, painted stone as deity.</span></span></span></p><p>If you hear the rising roar of faith, it is election-time in India. Belief in God is stronger than any political belief. Faith rushes to fill ideological vacuum and goes on to cleanse politics of its residual ideological content. &nbsp;</p> <p>Religious fervour, injected into a poll campaign, boosts popular interest in elections, promotes identity politics and alters voting preferences. That is why the ruling BJP has made religious polarisation its electoral strategy. It consolidates Hindu votes by propagating Hindutva, a militant and less inclusive version of Hinduism.</p> <h2><strong>Hindu nationalists</strong></h2> <p>The BJP leaders including L K Advani, who went to Ayodhya in 1992 to demand the building of a Ram temple, were erroneously called “Hindu fundamentalists”. Knowing that the term “fundamentalism” has acquired bad odour in the context of Islam, Advani declared that they were “Hindu nationalists” not “Hindu fundamentalists”. He was correct because going back to the fundamentals in his religion would mean the Vedic tradition which will rob the proposed Ram temple of all significance! </p> <p>His 1992 movement to build a Ram temple generated a toxic mix of religion and nationalism and turned it into a potent political weapon. Till then the political armies marching under the saffron flag had not been able to make much headway. Advani’s historic journey to Ayodhya in his belief-driven ‘chariot’ led to the demolition of a mosque and the killings of Muslims and Hindus. </p> <p>Noted documentary maker Anand Patwardhan says TV serial <em>Ramayan</em>, watched by millions, paved the way for the demolition of the Babri mosque. “A bow-and-arrow bearing Ram entered every household and every heart.” There was no social media then, but TV too promotes pop religion and causes social disharmony. Some partisan TV channels go all out to fuel religious polarisation. </p> <h2><strong>Mental pollution</strong></h2> <p>During the past four years, the sectarian poison has spread much more, with incidents of mob rule becoming frequent. It has seeped into “cultured” upper-class Hindu homes. The kind of people involved in violence matters. Intent is important. While sectarian violence can break out in the best of times, mental pollution sustains the process of violence. </p> <p>The BJP finds assemblies of Hindu monks in saffron politically valuable. Communal worship and public observance of rituals make good TV that spreads the message of Hindutva. Mythology-based TV drama helps. </p> <p>The Hindu nationalists wilfully ignore the theological complexities of Vedic thought and their faith’s glorious history of disputation and argumentation. They try to enforce a simplistic doctrine that supersedes the rich variegated strands of thought and belief. In order to collect Hindus on a single political platform, they want to create a central creed and designate one holy book. Above all, they want to establish the primacy of warrior-king Lord Ram. The people must feel, not think.</p> <p>To get more Hindu votes, the party must fuel envy and animosity by blaming a secular government for “appeasing Muslims. In an election speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a subtle reference to the Hindu cremation grounds and the Muslim graveyards. This was a hint that the socialist state government’s provision of building walls around the graveyards to protect these from encroachment was discriminatory. </p> <p>In the run-up to elections, vicious statements are made to cause tensions and promote orthodoxy. What the BJP spokesmen shout at times during TV discussions is unfit to print. The Muslim spokesmen shout back, which serves the purpose of all sectarian forces. The atmosphere reeks of bigotry and hostility towards the “other” faith. &nbsp;Some children hear their parents say that so and so should be elected since he would “fix” a minority. They learn that “when we say prayers loudly, it is worship, when they worship loudly, it is disturbing noise!” <span class="mag-quote-center">Children learn that “when we say prayers loudly, it is worship, when they worship loudly, it is disturbing noise!”</span></p> <p>As the BJP gained power, the Hindutva got many new adherents. The “secular” leaders who used to condemn Narendra Modi’s sectarianism, now see a messiah in him. Several Hindutva groups have sprung up under official patronage. Their activity highlights the anti-minority dimension of Hindutva. The divisive rhetoric flows with force as the police and some in the lower rungs of judiciary have turned partisan. </p> <p>Some BJP leaders make weird statements that can be generally described as anti-science and irrational. The power of superstition seems to have increased. A poll candidate declares that if she is elected, the police will not be allowed to check child marriage! The fashion of wearing religion on one’s sleeves has caught on. Commercial interests promote more religious festivals. The outbreak of religiosity is to be seen to be believed. More Hindu pilgrims march for miles and miles to fetch the holy Ganga water. Charitable Hindus set up tents on the footpaths for feeding the tired pilgrims. This public spectacle disrupts traffic and at times results in clashes.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/images_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/images_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="400" height="233" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Meditation, quiet contemplation.</span></span></span>The attendance in temples has gone up. More Hindu temples, as also mosques and churches, are being built as a result of growing prosperity. Competitive communalism makes mosques more crowded. The temple loudspeaker’s volume is increased to match the sound coming from the neighbouring mosque. In this atmosphere of religious rivalry, private contemplation and meditation get devalued. </p><h2><strong>Hindutva versus Hindu interplay</strong></h2> <p>A brainchild of the Hindu nationalists, Hindutva is not eclectic and dialogic. It has been honed as a powerful tool for political mobilisation through incendiary divisive statements. Hindutva fiercely seeks converts. When popularised by a charismatic divisive leader, its political dimension overshadows spirituality.</p> <p>In the current atmosphere of intolerance, the political message of Hindutva is amplified through social media by political activists including the Non-Resident Indians. Little is heard about the huge difference between Hindutva and Hinduism known over the centuries as <em>Santan Dharma.</em> </p> <p>To understand the distortion of Hinduism, one has to be familiarised with the real thing. Hinduism, tolerant and inclusive, includes principles taken from different faiths and cultures. Even before its interaction with Islam and Christianity, Hinduism assimilated new ideas and practices while transiting from the Vedic to the Puranic period.</p> <p>Hinduism sanctifies sacrifices of the Vedic Aryans as well as the rituals of primitive tribes. Not all Hindu gods are Aryan gods. Hinduism has no central creed and no central authority, nor does it prescribe one specific book to follow. It is not based on a revelation granted to a prophet. Hindus do not consider themselves to be the “chosen people”. They do not consider their faith to be superior to others. This democratic religion, presided over by a Parliament of Gods, has no founder. <span class="mag-quote-center">Hinduism has no central creed and no central authority, nor does it prescribe one specific book to follow… This democratic religion, presided over by a Parliament of Gods, has no founder.</span></p> <p>The Divine can be reached through any of the several different ways. Two prominent ones are the path of knowledge and the path of devotion. This is a simple journalistic statement about a faith whose complexities even scholars find hard to fathom. Hinduism is studded with elegant metaphysical knots and strange paradoxes. It offers infinite choice. Those who do not like the idea of a galaxy of gods and goddesses can take comfort from the Rig Vedic thought that all the many gods are manifestation of the One Reality. Hindus revere a saint-poet who does not believe in rituals or external formalities and for whom God lives, not in a temple or a mosque but in his devotion. </p> <p>A Hindu can choose from the nine specified ways to perform devotion or devise one of his own. Astounding diversity is reflected not just in innumerable gods and ways of worship but also in the multiple versions of its sacred books and philosophical treatises. Rituals vary from region to region and from caste to caste. There is choice in the ways of dying. Hindus are generally cremated, but thousands of Hindus are given earthen and riverine burials. The variety of thought content, rituals and devotional practices meet the needs of all sections of society, ranging from the intellectual elite to the illiterate masses.</p> <p>Millions recite 1000 names of one God and 1000 names of a Goddess. A sacred text features <em>Mahadevi</em>, literally the Great Goddess who encompasses the thousands of local and regional <em>devis </em>as well as the pan-Indian goddesses. Each god or goddess is worshipped in several forms. </p> <p>Columnist Shobha Narayan writes about her mother being part of an ancient Hindu lineage linked to goddess worship called <em>Sri Vidya</em>. She says: “It is visually and aesthetically very beautiful - with flowers, incense, oil lamps, hand gestures called mudras, sacred drawings called mandalas or yantras, and the chanting of mantras. Mudra, mandala and mantra, the triumvirate as it were - is at the root of this goddess cult.”&nbsp; </p> <p>Hindus of one region may accord primacy to one form which may not be worshipped at all by those of another region. Then, the veneration of natural forces such as the monsoon rains and trees and of animals is common among those living in forests. Ideas and practices from the margins have been leaking into the mainstream. </p> <p>This interplay is seen in Hindu religious art and objects made by Muslims. &nbsp;They participate in Hindu religious festivals. Eminent Muslim musicians played in Hindu temples. Muslim poets wrote devotional songs in praise of Hindu Gods. A most devout Brahmin, Congress leader Kamalapati Tripathi, had a Muslim assistant to clean and arrange the idols in his home temple before daily worship. </p> <h2><strong>Good behaviour</strong></h2> <p>In the absence of a set form of worship, a Hindu is free to act according to his individual belief. What counts is not belief but conduct, as stated by philosopher S. Radhakrishnan, who was India’s President. No wonder Hinduism embraces believers and non-believers, the theist and the atheist, the sceptic and the agonistic.</p> <p>Scholar Kshiti Mohan Sen says the uniting force among the enormous variety of religious beliefs and ceremonies in Hinduism has been the belief in a basic code of behaviour. Today he would have seen more Hindus indulging in an un-Hindu-like conduct at the behest of political leaders. The examples include the lynching of alleged beef transporters, intimidating women temple-goers, disrupting a Christian prayer meeting and demolishing a mosque.</p> <p>The influence of Hinduism over Islam and Christianity is reflected in the Sufi tradition and in Christian meditation and Christian Vedanta. It can be seen in the global Hare Krishna movement. Hinduism also contributed to the New Age faiths! Muslims and Christians extended the reach of the sacred Hindu literature by translating it and even helped preserve some of it. This is never recalled while the voters are constantly reminded of the Hindu temples destroyed by the Moghuls.</p> <p>India’s syncretic tradition can be attributed mainly to the diversity of Hinduism that has a history of several philosophical turns. Of course, this diversity leads to confusion over certain precepts. Differing practices and various interpretations of the same sacred text, in the absence of a validating central authority, result in mixed-up theological concepts and endless arguments. That is why theological dissent always got accommodated.</p> <p>Hinduism is suffused with paradoxes. The Divine is unimaginable and unknowable and yet the Divine is imagined in countless forms appearing in representational and abstract art and as idols of stone and metal. Hindus worship gods both in iconic and aniconic forms. The deity in thousands of rural temples is just a painted stone. Devotion takes the form of meditation, quiet contemplation, lighting sacrificial fire, loud out-of-tune community singing, disciplined congregational chanting, ritual bathing, fasting or even social service since God lives in every human being. </p> <p>There is latent divinity in every being and everything. There is an external God and the God within. God is a distant entity but then the devotee is also part of Brahman, the universal soul! <em>Ahaṁ Brahmāsmi</em>&nbsp;in general terms implies the unity of individual self with the Absolute. Thus, divinity is shared by every human being. Divisive rhetoric has to be foreign to Hinduism which says: Thou art That (<em>Tat Tvam Asi)</em>. </p> <h2><strong>Faux religiosity</strong></h2> <p>Scholars of comparative religions can observe how Hinduism, when hijacked for political purposes, gets vulgarised. The devotees are encouraged to display faux religiosity. The<em> Sarkari</em> (pro-Government) “seers”, in their so-called religious discourses, bless the Prime Minister. The ruling party needs their endorsement, the seers want political patronage. The seers are sought after by politicians more than by spiritual aspirants. </p> <p>Respected heads of genuine spiritual institutions keep quiet about the misuse of religion for elections. Surely, they are pained by the distortion of their faith tradition, seeing an immense idea being reduced to a dismal creed. Islamic leaders get blamed for not condemning the misuse of their faith by politicians and terrorists. One may ask where have the Hindu spiritual leaders gone? <span class="mag-quote-center">Islamic leaders get blamed for not condemning the misuse of their faith by politicians and terrorists. One may ask where have the Hindu spiritual leaders gone? </span></p> <p>The distortion of Hinduism does not provoke much reaction while many western Christian communities vigorously debate spirituality vs. institutionalised religion. Currently there is no such discourse in Hinduism, notwithstanding its tradition of argumentation.&nbsp; </p> <p>It is left to a few secular politicians and the leftists to offer a trenchant criticism of Hindutva. They reason well but they cannot influence those swayed by the men in saffron robes. The leftists, not well-versed in India’s spiritual traditions, have little leverage with the faithful. Only firm believers protesting against the “hijacking of our religion” can make an impact. They can increase the public understanding of Hinduism unsullied by politics. </p> <p>Those rushing to demolish a mosque or build a temple on a disputed plot know nothing about a faith that assimilated various religions and cultural movements. They are familiar with folklore, mythology and miracles and black magic but unaware of the Vedic Song of Creation that wonders whether even the Creator knows all! That kind of questioning will be considered blasphemy and a punishable offence in some other religions. The sacred texts of Hinduism make bigotry unthinkable. In the wake of the Babri mosque’s demolition, Prof. Amartya Sen attributed growing fanaticism to the neglect of the classics in education. In the wake of the Babri mosque’s demolition, <span class="mag-quote-center">Prof. Amartya Sen attributed growing fanaticism to the neglect of the classics in education.</span></p> <h2><strong>Fanaticism versus self-renewing reform</strong></h2> <p>Fanaticism characterises the politicisation of a religion which retards reforms. The Supreme Court lifted the ban on the entry of young women into a Hindu temple. The BJP launched an agitation against the entry of young women in order to uphold a “sacred tradition”. However, the same ruling party was all for abolishing the traditional Muslim custom of instant divorce because it oppressed Muslim women. The BJP Government undertook the noble mission of reforming Islam but considers reformation of Hinduism as a no-go area. The BJP president advises law courts to refrain from hurting Hindu sentiments and to pass only such judgments that are “implementable”! </p> <p>Every old faith tradition accumulates undesirable rituals and practices and Hinduism, being a product of many cultures and cults, is more prone to do so. In its long journey, Hinduism acquired and discarded many questionable rituals. It abolished some practices partly due to the influence of Christian values but mainly by recollecting its own glorious Vedic past. There was recognition of the corruptive influence of idolatry, child-marriage, self-immolation by widows and untouchability that had no place in its ancient culture. Commenting on this process of reforms and renewal, scholar Kshiti Mohan Sen writes that the impact of the West produced new schools of thought which emphasised old doctrines. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/download-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/download-1.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="429" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Swami Dyanand who founded Arya Samaj to reform Hinduism.</span></span></span>Hinduism has a rich history of reforms. Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83), who founded the <em>Arya Samaj, </em>gave the call “Back to the<em> Vedas”, </em>drawing a large section of Hindus away from idol-worship and exploitative priests. <em>Arya Samaj</em> established excellent educational institutions and worked to raise the status of the backward classes. It also introduced proselytization, which was no part of the Hindu traditions. </p><p>Swami Dayanand came from the state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had used regional pride as an electoral card. Curiously, videos glorify several sons of Gujarat, but not this <em>Arya Samaj</em> founder! Praising this great Gujarati will pose a problem for the party that has made the Ram Temple a central issue of its political campaign. <em>Arya Samaj</em> opposes idol-worship. The Vedic tradition involved sacred sacrifice in the open. The Indo-Aryans did not build permanent structures for the practice of their religion. Temples began to be built much later when worship and supplication were added to sacrifice in the Hindu religious ethos. </p> <p>In Bengal, Raja Rammohun Roy (1774-1833) founded the <em>Brahmo Samaj </em>facing opposition by orthodox Hindus who were dead set against his progressive outlook on social matters. He advocated modern education and wanted Indians to learn science and technology. His agitation led to the abolition of the criminal practice of Sati that ordained a wife to commit suicide by plunging into the fire consuming her dead husband.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/download.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/download.jpg" alt="" title="" width="400" height="439" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Reformer Raja Rammohan Roy.</span></span></span>Another new school of Hinduism developed in Bengal under the influence of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa (1834-86) that appealed to the common man who just prays before a deity without bothering about theology. This simple communication with God, known as the <em>Bhakti</em> movement, became very popular. Earlier in the late 15th century Bengal, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had mesmerised his followers, leading them in congregational chanting, <em>Sankirtan</em>. There were reformers in south India who are venerated by millions of Hindus. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/lord-chaitanya copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/lord-chaitanya copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="206" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – simple devotion through singing in praise of the Lord.</span></span></span>In British India, the conservative Hindu leaders debated with reformers vigorously, but that contestation was due to clashing beliefs and not a political strategy for use in a democracy. Today the orthodox Hindu leaders who are corralled into supporting Prime Minister Modi have no interest in theological debates.</p> <p>In the current atmosphere, Hindus hesitate to even talk of reforms lest they are called anti-Hindu. Political mobs are unleashed on the few reformists asserting the inclusiveness of Hinduism and fighting bigotry. Swami Agnivesh, a social activist who propagates the Vedic tradition, has faced physical assaults. That has not deterred him from continuing his struggle against superstitions that defile religion. Swami Agnivesh laments that politicians promote belief without truth. He reminds the people that the Vedic religion identified God with truth and Gandhi went a step further by saying that “Truth is God”.</p> <p>The Hindu nationalists always opposed religious reforms. In Nehru’s secular India, they protested strongly, but the Government went ahead taking steps for improving the status of Hindu women. Today it seems like a miracle that in the face of horrendous Partition-related Hindu-Muslim killings, the Congress leaders managed to establish a secular state. That feat was made possible by Hinduism’s spirit of tolerance and mass adoration of the secular leaders. The parent bodies of today’s Hindutva forces failed to politically challenge Nehru and destroy the Nehruvian ethos. Nehru had called development projects the new temples of India!</p> <p>The slogan “Hinduism in danger” had no appeal then as Hindus had enough self-confidence. That was the India that was! Since then much water has flowed down the holy Ganga. Hinduism now figures in a story of regression. Read the newspapers, listen to the TV “debates” and see the WhatsApp-trained ignorant armies clash day and night. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/divine-players-in-indian-politics">Divine players in Indian politics </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/sowing-division-caste-is-crucial-in-indian-elections">Sowing division: caste is crucial in Indian elections</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas L K Sharma Sat, 19 Jan 2019 10:01:35 +0000 L K Sharma 121354 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sowing division: caste is crucial in Indian elections https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/sowing-division-caste-is-crucial-in-indian-elections <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Of course, politicians did not create the powerful Hindu caste system. They merely exploit this fault-line, exacerbating the caste animosities to build vote banks. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35768923.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35768923.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters listening to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in March, 2018. Hindustan Times/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>“<em>Jaati na poocho sadhu ki, pooch leejiye gyan</em>”, sang India’s saint-poet Kabir. (Do not judge a saint by his caste, imbibe his knowledge). However, the most-asked question in an Indian election is about the candidate’s caste. Political analysts ask it, poll strategists ask it, and the voters ask it. The caste-related issues frivolous to outsiders are debated seriously in TV shows and newspaper articles during an election season. Such weird identity-politics is not played out in any other democracy!</p> <p>Of course, politicians did not create the powerful Hindu caste system. They merely exploit this fault-line, exacerbating the caste animosities to build vote banks. There are four main castes – Brahman (priests and intellectuals), Kshatriya (warriors and kings), Vaishya (traders) and Shudras (servants including the untouchables). They form a hierarchical order that covers hundreds of sub-castes within a caste. Every caste is credited with certain attributes such as valour or craftiness. The tradition of caste-based military regiments established by the British continue. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/varnasystem_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/varnasystem_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The tradition of caste-based military regiments established by the British continue. </span></p> <p>The caste matters a great deal in Hindu rituals and ceremonies. Caste conflict is a regular feature of life in villages and cities. Many inter-caste marriages are destroyed by social sanctions. Some of these and at times even love affairs end in the crematorium. </p> <h2><strong>A god intervenes</strong></h2> <p>Hindu humans are governed by caste hierarchy, but a god was brought under its purview during the recent election campaign. Yogi Adityanath, BJP’s &nbsp;monk-chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, hit the headlines by telling an election rally that Lord Hanuman, known in the West as Monkey God, was a Dalit (belonging to the most depressed caste). The statement made to garner the Dalit votes caused a huge blowback! In a country where Dalits were denied entry into temples, the Yogi called a god Dalit! </p> <p>The statement highlighted the astounding complexity of Indian politics and of Hindu religion. Political parties face a difficult choice. They woo the oppressed and depressed castes in order to collect more votes. In doing so, they antagonise some upper castes. Religiosity and tradition expect them to respect the caste boundaries! Many upper-caste voters in the recent elections turned away from the BJP because of its support to positive discrimination in favour of the depressed castes.</p> <p>By calling Lord Hanuman a Dalit, the Yogi offended the Brahmans, the priestly class. Some protesting Brahmans threatened to sue the chief minister. Interestingly, the Yogi is a Rajput (of warrior caste). BJP’s mentor organisation RSS has mostly been headed by a Brahman and &nbsp;it is often asked whether a Dalit could ever head the RSS. </p> <p>With the Yogi calling Lord Hanuman a Dalit, the Dalit leaders demanded that all Hanuman temples should have Dalit priests, and these should be handed over to them! The Dalits took their protests to some Hanuman temples and in one they forced the Brahman priest to leave the building.</p> <p>A woman Dalit MP resigned from the ruling BJP complaining that Hanuman was humiliated and treated as a slave by the high-caste Hindus. She said Hanuman helped Lord Ram win the war against the demon king Ravan and yet this Dalit was turned into a monkey with a black face!</p> <p>One leader in the Yogi’s own party said Hanuman was not a Dalit but an Arya since the caste system had not started in his age! This will be contested by those who worship Ram as a Kshatriya (the warrior caste). A pro-BJP royal Rajput family claims to have descended from Lord Ram.</p> <h2><strong>Conflicting claims</strong></h2> <p>Contradicting the Yogi, the state BJP minister for religious affairs declared that Hanuman was a Jat (of an intermediate caste). He gave a simple reason. Only the people of this caste jump in to help anyone in trouble and since Hanuman fought Ram’s battle, he was a Jat! A socialist leader of the same state said Hanuman was a Gond tribal. A Jain monk claimed that Hanuman was a Jain. Jainism identifies him as one of the 169 great persons, he said.</p> <p>A Hindu monk-businessman who supports the ruling BJP invoked the sacred texts to say that the caste is determined not by birth but by the nature of duties performed by a Hindu. Since Hanuman burnt down Sri Lanka and made Ram victorious in his war against Ravan, he was a Kshatriya! While some Hindus do worship Ravan, fortunately none declared that a Kshatriya sinned by killing Ravan, the Brahman scholar.</p> <p>As if citing the Hindu caste system was not funny enough, a Muslim politician declared that Hanuman was a Muslim because his name rhymed with common Muslim names such as Rehman and Usman! A wag said Hanuman was a Chinese because his name rhymes with Jackie Chan! All such statements were given due publicity in the media and led to serious high-decibel TV discussions! <span class="mag-quote-center">A wag said Hanuman was a Chinese because his name rhymes with Jackie Chan!</span></p> <p>Considering half a dozen conflicting claims made about Lord Hanuman’s caste, only a law court can allocate the correct caste to this god and free him from an imposed identity crisis. Secular Hindus grumble that having dividing humans for political gains, the BJP is dividing gods on the basis of caste! Newspaper editors wrote that the poll campaign ought to have focused on the vital livelihood issues instead of on gods and castes. </p> <h2><strong>Caste solidarity and self-immolation</strong></h2> <p>Caste animosities transform the political scene. It happened following Prime Minister V. P. Singh’s decision in 1990 to grant job reservation to the “other backward castes”. The measure, based on the Mandal Commission Report, was designed to reduce inequalities. But by exacerbating caste divisions, it hindered the BJP’s project to unify Hindus on one political platform. The decision did have the political objectives of countering the BJP’s Ram temple agitation and winning the votes of the “other backward classes”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/article-qlzrqzmdyd-1457194913.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/article-qlzrqzmdyd-1457194913.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="207" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anti-Mandal agitation against job reservations for other backward classes.</span></span></span>It sparked a violent agitation by the upper caste students. Self-immolation by some students gave a tragic twist to the protest. The agitation lit caste fires in young minds and sparked a political storm. The BJP, whose core constituency includes a large section of the upper castes, resumed its agitation for building the Ram temple and went on to withdraw its support to the V. P. Singh Government that lost its majority in Parliament and resigned. </p><p>Many upper-caste voters do not like positive discrimination in favour of the backward castes and resent the BJP’s stand on job reservations for them. The BJP does not dare to weaken that policy and displease the lower castes but its attempt to enlarge its footprint alienates the upper castes as seen in the recent state elections.</p> <p>Different political parties are supported by a coalition of specific caste groups. Such coalitions usually stick with their preferred party for a few years. Some join a group for a couple of years then switch their support to another party. In some democracies, such coalitions are based on shared ideology, in India these are formed on the basis of caste solidarity.</p> <h2><strong>Building your caste profile</strong></h2> <p>All parties draw up poll strategy on the basis of the constituency’s caste profile. Messages in the election speeches are tailored to suit the dominant caste, ideological coherence is sacrificed. If a candidate belongs to caste A, his rival belonging to caste B fields dummy candidates of caste A to divide the opponent’s votes.</p> <p>Incendiary rumours enhance inter-caste and intra-caste animosities. False statements fuel sub-caste jealousy. Political rivalry is promoted among the caste groups. The dominant caste in the village tries to impose its political preference on the depressed section by issuing threats. If the election results show that the dominant caste leader’s fiat was ignored, the defiant voters are subjected to violence. Extensive opinion polls, by indicating the voting preference of a particular caste group, make it easy to take revenge.</p> <p>Newspapers give the caste-wise break-up of the candidates fielded and the candidates who win the elections. Caste matters in the selection of the candidates and shapes the content of the poll campaign speeches. When the government is formed, the media highlights the caste composition of the cabinet. It wasn’t so in the newly independent India when democracy was less mature.</p> <p>Earlier, some secular political leaders tried to reduce the role of caste in politics. Congress leader Indira Gandhi once ran a successful poll campaign with the slogan: <em>Na jaat pe, na paat pe, muhar lagegi haath pe </em>(We shall ignore the candidate’s caste and sub-caste and vote for the Congress symbol of hand.)<em> </em></p> <p>Today no party ignores the caste factor that influences the voting behaviour and creates vote banks. Every party devises it poll strategy by considering castes and sub-castes. Paradoxically, even the BJP, while committed to uniting Hindus, plays caste-based politics in a big way. BJP minister has no hesitation in saying that since Congress President Rahul Gandhi belongs to an upper caste, his party cannot bear to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is not from an upper caste. BJP’s spokesman Sambit Patra publicly asked Rahul Gandhi to declare his Gotra (his specific clan within the caste). This question usually comes up when a matrimonial alliance is discussed!</p> <h2><strong>The BJP and caste</strong></h2> <p>The RSS which is BJP’s ideological mentor has mostly been headed by a Brahman and it gives no place to the minorities. A large section of its followers happens to belong to the Baniya caste engaged in business. The ruling BJP, known earlier as a Brahman-Baniya party, has been reaching out to other castes. And yet the organisation is still dominated by the upper castes, as indicated by a detailed analysis of its hierarchy by <em>ThePrint</em>. </p> <p>Prejudices die hard. So, the BJP leaders in the southern state of Kerala invoked the low caste of its leftist chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to attack him. He is being asked to leave his political office and go back to his caste profession as toddy tapper. The chief minister is trying to implement the Supreme Court’s judgment lifting a temple’s ban on the entry of young women. The BJP has launched a violent agitation in defence of faith and tradition. It believes that by consolidating the upper-caste votes, it would be able to make political gains. The Prime Minister made vague comments about belief and said nothing to discourage his party men from defying the Supreme Court judgment. </p> <p>While some BJP leaders do not refrain from making casteist comments, the party has co-opted even Dr B. R. Ambedkar, a Dalit icon. In protest against the oppressive and discriminatory caste system, Ambedkar converted to Buddhism taking thousands of his followers with him. He had warned the nation against Hindu hegemony and burnt a copy of <em>Manusmriti</em>, a Hindu law book containing casteist verses.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/12391924_1733316383564796_8404923063966469405_n.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/12391924_1733316383564796_8404923063966469405_n.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="257" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dr. B R Ambedkar, the Dalit icon.</span></span></span>The support of the lower castes in elections is invaluable. It is more so for the BJP since it ignores Muslims and marginalises them to please its die-hard Hindu supporters. Since it has to woo the lower castes, in this limited context, political compulsions have made the BJP less exclusive. It publicises the caste of its candidate if he or she is from a depressed caste. It does so in the case of Prime Minister Modi who is not from an upper caste. If a party opposing it has a large following in a particular caste, the BJP fields a candidate belonging to the same caste in order to draw away voters of that caste. It does not matter any more which caste dominates the party. All parties play this game, but the case of the BJP is worth noting since its declared objective is to unite Hindus. <span class="mag-quote-center">No one talks of the abolition of the caste system.</span></p> <p>Caste rivalries and religious polarisation during election campaigns disturb social harmony and often cause violence. Elections come and go but tensions continue. Political leaders generate emotional frenzy through divisive rhetoric, mythological tales and false warnings of the danger posed by the religious “Other” or other caste community. Sectarian statements and violence during the election campaign have become the new normal. In this atmosphere, no one talks of the abolition of the caste system.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/divine-players-in-indian-politics">Divine players in Indian politics </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics L K Sharma Thu, 10 Jan 2019 09:29:38 +0000 L K Sharma 121248 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Divine players in Indian politics https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/divine-players-in-indian-politics <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In a politically-surcharged atmosphere, no one should doubt that the appearance of Lord Ram’s idol in the mosque on the night of December 22, 1949 was an act of God.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-40132071.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-40132071.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Agitation demanding Ram Temple construction in Ayodhya, December 9, 2018, New Delhi, India.Hindustan Times/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Foreign reporters coming to cover India’s general election in a few months ought to dive deep into the sea of mythology that has sustained this ancient civilisation. Apart from India’s secular and democratic Constitution, they must read the great Hindu epics such as the <em>Ramayan.</em> To understand the modern India, they have to go back billions of years for the epochs whose memory is rekindled in poll campaigns. </p> <p>Beliefs have become more relevant in politics. Since the ruling BJP injected religion into politics, the media has drawn extensively on mythological stories. The BJP campaign in recent state elections focused on a Ram temple, Lord Hanuman, castes, sub-castes, gods, sadhus, and the holy cow. What do the voters really want from an elected government? Many commentators wondered.</p> <h2><strong>Tradition, tradition</strong></h2> <p>The ruling BJP and its family of right-wing religious groups propagate Hindutva, a muscular and aggressive form of Hinduism. Their opponents see it as a distortion of their noble, gentle and inclusive faith. </p> <p>Superficial signs of modernity do not hide an India that seems obsessed with its pre-historic past. The political discourse resounds to the cries of “tradition, tradition”. But eclectic Hinduism has clashing traditions and the rival armies pick and cite what validates their belief.</p> <p>Come to India and hear about the child who leapt up thousands of miles to eat the Sun, imagining it to be a fruit! He fell down on a rock and got his jaw disfigured. This child with a tail and the face of a monkey grew up to be Lord Hanuman to whom the largest number of temples are dedicated in India and in other countries. An ardent devotee of Lord Ram, he miraculously rescued Ram’s wife Sita abducted by Ravan, the king of Sri Lanka. Lord Ram is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu who belongs to the Trinity of Hindu gods. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lord-Hanuman-wallpaper-ima.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lord-Hanuman-wallpaper-ima.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lord Hanuman.</span></span></span>Come to India and feel the miraculous presence of a “divine mortal, a mortal god, incorporating both into the exemplar who transcends both humans and god”. Ram is described thus by scholar Sheldon Pollock. Lord Ram’s influence extends to countries in South Asia and South-East Asia and to Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. His long rule over his kingdom of Ayodhya is famous for good governance, called <em>Ram-Rajya</em>. </p><h2><strong>Lord Ram</strong></h2> <p>Ram’s life as an ideal human being has inspired sacred texts, varied biographies, poems, philosophical schools and books, paintings, films, sculpture, puppet shows, shadow plays, festivals, novels, songs, TV serials and plays. But he also comes in for criticism by many Hindus for his treatment of Sita. A Hindi poem attacks him on this count. </p> <p>Ram’s devotees sometimes indulge in violence as they did while demolishing a mosque in 1992. A powerful documentary <em>Ram ke Naam</em> (In the Name of God) covers the issue of religious violence.</p> <p>The demand to build a Ram temple figured prominently in the recent state election campaigns. The BJP set the terms of political discourse that also featured the protection of the holy cow. In a BJP-ruled state not involved in the elections, a mob agitating against alleged cow slaughter killed two persons including a police officer. Following this tragedy caused by cow vigilantes, the state’s monk-politician chief minister Yogi Adityanath instructed the police to focus on the crime against the cows! Those stressing the value of human life, including a noted film actor, got trolled in social media. </p> <p>The monk-chief minister unfolded a plan to build a gigantic 221-metre tall copper statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. &nbsp;He announced this holy project hours before a rally of sadhus and political activists in that town demanded that the Ram temple be built on the site of the demolished mosque. </p> <p>The statue plan is also designed to soften the hardliners in the ruling party and its right-wing allies who have started criticising the Modi Government for its failure to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya. They believe a large number of Hindus voted for the BJP because they were sure that its government would make their temple dream come true.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Sita-Ram-PNG-Transparent-Image.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Sita-Ram-PNG-Transparent-Image.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An idol of Ram and Sita together in a temple.</span></span></span>While the sop of the proposed Ram statue is unlikely to silence those demanding the temple, some intellectuals comment on the statue plan from the Hindu perspective. Karan Singh, scholar-parliamentarian, asked the monk-chief minister why there must be a statue of Lord Ram without his wife Sita. It should have both Ram and Sita. He points out that Lord Ram is traditionally always shown in the company of Sita and the couple is referred to as Sita-Ram and Siya-Ram. Sita was unjustly banished on the basis of a rumour after she was rescued from the kingdom of Ravan. So she ought to be honoured. </p><h2><strong>Idol-worship</strong></h2> <p>Author Mrinal Pande highlights the convoluted history of idol-worship in the Hindu tradition by pointing out that the Vedic verses offer prayers only to anthropomorphic forces like the Usha (dawn), Vayu (wind) and Agni (fire). In that era, idols were not created so there was no question of building structures to house them for public worship. Then came icons and much later idol-making was borrowed from Buddhism and Jainism. Sculpted images of gods in various forms caught on in the 4th century. Scriptures appeared saying that the learned ones and yogis know that their gods are in heaven, for the less knowledgeable, they reside in idols made of wood or clay. The sizes specified for idols are tiny to small and thus a giant statue has never been prescribed. </p> <p>Mrinal Pande points out that there is no reference to installation of a large statue of a god out in the open and thus leaving a large divine idol out under the skies is not an option at any point. A political activist wanting to pray in the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya is opposed to this statue for the simple reason that it will be sullied by birds sitting on his head!</p> <h2><strong>Babri mosque</strong></h2> <p>The Hindu nationalist politicians and other devotees demand that the Ram temple must be constructed precisely on the spot where the Babri Mosque was built in 1528. This mosque was demolished in 1992 by a politically mobilised mob. It was said that Moghul Emperor Babur built it after demolishing a Ram temple there. And that the temple had supposedly come up on the spot where centuries earlier Lord Ram was born. </p> <p>The movement for building the Ram temple in Ayodhya that began before independence has a tangled history and an eternal life. It sees ups and downs and, depending on the political situation, and is activated or allowed to hibernate. The demolition of the Babri mosque, which resulted in widespread religious clashes and killings, marked a turning point in Indian politics. </p> <p>The demolition sent a shock wave since India is dotted with common places of worship visited by Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. Secular Hindus as well as a large section of devout Hindus called the demolition a shameful event in India’s history. While the Hindutva votaries celebrate that day as a Day of Bravery, many Hindus along with Muslims see it as a Black Day. </p> <p>Here is just one example of the typical reaction of genuinely devout Hindus to the destruction of the Babri mosque. Writer Salil Tripathi’s elderly Gujarati mother was grief-stricken while watching the mosque destruction on tv. She rang her son in Singapore to say: “We have just killed Gandhi again”. And she added: <em>Avu te karaay koi divas</em>? (in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mother-tongue). Can anyone do such a thing any time? Her statement comes closest to the British sentiment: It’s simply not done!</p> <p>After the mosque’s demolition, philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi argued that in the Hindu tradition, the place where a baby is born is considered “impure” and thus a temple cannot be built on such a site. </p> <h2><strong>Nowhere is safe </strong></h2> <p>These days anyone arguing with a believer has to run for safety. Swami Agnivesh, a social activist and Vedic scholar, was subjected to a physical assault for his campaign against superstitions and “belief without truth”. Religious intolerance is not caused by theological differences but inspired by a political force seeking to consolidate Hindu votes.</p> <p>In a politically-surcharged atmosphere, no one should doubt that the appearance of Lord Ram’s idol in the mosque on the night of December 22, 1949 was an act of God. That this was no divine intervention but a man-made conspiracy to generate religious mass fervour is recorded in a police report on the incident. But a police report or a court judgment cannot lead to suspension of belief. </p> <p>Forty years later in 1992, a Hindu nationalist leader, L K Advani, revived the Ram temple movement with disastrous consequences and went on to become India’s Deputy Prime Minister following BJP’s unprecedented election victory. </p> <p>The Ram temple dispute symbolises a tragic but sustained interaction between religion and politics in India. It proved its political potential and encouraged the Hindu nationalist party. </p> <p>Notwithstanding the campaign by the BJP and its allies, it has not been possible to build the temple on the legally disputed site. Massive preparations for it have been going on for years to keep the momentum. Some Hindu nationalists accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of betrayal since he has been in office for more than four years.</p> <p>Now, as Prime Minister Modi’s popularity shows some decline, one of his regional allies, Shiv Sena, is trying to steal a march over the BJP by declaring that its alliance will depend on the building of Ram temple. It says unless the Prime Minister does that, his party will be defeated in elections. Shiv Sena’s slogan is “Temple first and the Government afterwards!”. It is organising more rallies for building the temple without waiting for the Supreme Court judgment on the dispute. If the Modi Government does take the route of an ordinance for the temple to be built soon, Shiv Sena will take the credit in the election campaign. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/1534864745-9445.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/1534864745-9445.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A model of the proposed Ram Temple in Ayodhya.</span></span></span>The demand for the temple in Ayodhya continues to inspire thousands of Hindus to assemble in several towns to raise saffron flags and shout slogans. The ruling party’s political future seems to depend on the Ram temple dispute that awaits the Supreme Court judgment. The Hindu nationalists issue subtle threats to convey to the court that it should “respect Hindu sentiments”. </p><h2><strong>Crowds and vultures</strong></h2> <p>The primacy of the Ram temple issue is mainly due to the associated religious rivalry on which sectarian politicians feed. The issue would be less significant for a political party had the dispute not involved a mosque. It lets a politically-surcharged emotional discourse be framed in temple vs. mosque terms. Religious fervour pulls large crowds and as Swami Agnivesh, a Vedic scholar and social activist, says, crowds are to politicians what corpses are to vultures! </p> <p>The ruling BJP is also agitating against the Supreme Court judgment lifting the ban on the entry of young women into the Sabarimala temple in a south Indian state ruled by the leftists. The Swami says there would be no stir had this temple been attracting a few hundred devotees instead of millions</p> <p>The Sabarimala temple issue cannot be seen as a clash between tradition and modernity. This was originally a temple of the forest-dwellers and traditionally had no restrictions on the entry of young women. The prohibition came as recently as 1991 when menstruation was linked with impurity and thus with the celibate Lord Ayyappa. Protests have sought to upset the temple’s traditional secular identity and religious symbiosis by disapproving of Ayyappa’s association with Vavar, a Muslim. So, it shows that tradition can be modern, and modernity promoted under the upper-caste influence can lead to the obscuring and violation of women’s rights!&nbsp; </p> <p>Ram’s political devotees remained on the fringe in secular India for more than four decades. But in the nineties, the fortunes of a political party were turned around by the movement to build a Ram temple on a plot of land where once a mosque stood. Later Hindutva lost some of its political influence only to return with full force in 2014. The Hindu nationalists won a big victory mainly because the voters got disappointed by the Congress government. Then in the state elections a few weeks ago, the Hindutva card did not work.</p> <h2><strong>The largest gathering of humanity on earth</strong></h2> <p>The ruling BJP is preparing to play the Hindutva card with greater vigour since it has little else to influence the voters. Grand plans have been drawn up for the mega religious fair called <em>Kumbh </em>beginning this month in the state of monk-chief minister. It is held every six years and draws millions of Hindus for a ritual bath at the confluence of sacred rivers in a town whose name has been changed from Allahabad to Prayagraj by the Yogi’s government. The devotee’s sins are washed away by the holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. The last one in 2013 was attended by 100 million people. The largest gathering of humanity on earth can be photographed by satellites in space.</p> <p>The state-enabled confluence of religion and politics is not hard to observe. The official preparatory events for this religious fair carried a subtle political message. The UP Government has allocated a huge budget for making the fair a magnificent success. </p> <p>The chief minister earlier got the government building painted saffron, a sacred colour that is used in the flags of the BJP and the RSS. The Yogi has made it mandatory for all official stationery and publicity material including hoardings and advertisements, to carry the <em>Kumbh Mela</em> logo. The logo shows Sadhus taking a holy dip against the backdrop of temples and the Swastik symbol. Cinema halls have been directed to screen the <em>Kumbh </em>logo after the national anthem is played. </p> <p>Lord Ram has often been dragged into the political arena since India’s independence. The public display of devotion to Ram intensifies during election campaigns. At times, Lord Ram grants an electoral boon to his devotees; at other times, he withholds that favour and the secular constitution is not undermined. Inter-religious harmony impedes political mobilisation on a sectarian basis. That is why it becomes necessary to cause a conflict between Hindus and Muslims by inflammatory statements. The status of the Muslim minority is to be lowered through militant Hinduism. </p> <h2><strong>Vigilantism and violence </strong></h2> <p>The ruling BJP strategy to win elections through religious polarisation not only marginalises a minority but also divides the Hindu community. Its campaigners say Hinduism is in a danger that must be warded off through political power. Their opponents feel that if Hinduism needs any protection at all, it is from the Hindutva crowd seeking to make Hinduism less tolerant. </p> <p>In the current political atmosphere, many vigilante groups are formed and take to violence without fearing the police. On one St. Valentine Day, the Christian saint attracted the hostile attention of Hindu vigilantes who roughed up couples in a south Indian town. A few days ago, a radical group attacked a house in a village in Maharashtra where a Hindu family had invited many worshippers for a Bible prayer meeting. Some 13 persons were injured. The memory of the alleged beef sellers or cow killers being killed is still fresh. The police are often charged with indifference in such cases because of the political pressures in BJP-ruled states.</p> <p>That the Hindutva card did not yield the desired election results this time does not mean that sectarian political leaders will stop using religion for political mobilisation. In fact, among Hindutva allies, the competition in religious extremism is set to grow in the coming weeks. </p> <h2><strong>May elections</strong></h2> <p>With the general election due in May, Lord Ram will loom larger on India’s political scene as the movement for building the Ram temple on a Hindu-Muslim disputed site has been intensified. This enthuses many Hindus but disturbs those opposed to the religion-politics nexus and the official push towards majoritarianism. The latter feel concerned about Hindutva rising on the back of the Modi Government. They are religious, but they also worship the secular constitution. They do not want God descending in the election machine. </p> <p>The ruling BJP is convinced that the Ram temple issue will help it win the coming national election. It is a powerful instrument for building a massive vote bank through religious polarisation. Faith yields votes, enriches the priests’ coffers and unleashes armed mobs against the Other! Christianity has lost such powers; a version of Hinduism retains these. </p> <p>Some so-called religious movements diminish India’s secular Constitution and the much-admired syncretic tradition. Once again it will be evident in the coming months that inter-religious and inter-caste tensions make the consolidation of votes possible. </p> <p>God’s help is sought for election victory, not for peace and social harmony. The protection of democracy in India also lies in the hands of the Divine!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Ram_ke_Naam.gif" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Ram_ke_Naam.gif" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A poster of the documentary In the Name of God.</span></span></span></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics L K Sharma Thu, 03 Jan 2019 17:42:44 +0000 L K Sharma 121175 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Elections diminish democracy in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/elections-diminish-democracy-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It was not always like that. Those tracking the progress of democracy in India should interview political activists above 90 years of age.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-39954424.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-39954424.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leaders address media during the release of the party manifesto in Jaipur for Rajasthan Assembly Elections 2018 Campaign. NurPhoto/ press Associatin. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Large hoardings in Jaipur, the capital of one of the five poll-bound states in India, call upon the voters to celebrate the democracy “festival” – <em>tyohar</em>, the Hindi word for a religious festival. The Election Commission’s messages are not needed because the poll-related celebrations are in full swing. Campaigners hired on daily wages go around waving party flags and shouting slogans. The festive spirit is reflected in the viral videos of drunken men unable to hold the party flags properly, shouting incoherent slogans.</p> <p>Distribution of currency notes and liquor by the candidates is not uncommon. Election-eve promises sway the voters but liquor is quicker. In a viral audio of a telephonic conversation, a known party leader promises more money and liquor for distribution in response to a demand by the local organiser. In this season of fake news, the viral videos or sound files are hard to verify.</p> <p>The democracy festival (also called <em>utsav</em>) coincided last week with six festivals associated with Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. These were dedicated to Guru Nanak, Prophet Muhammad and Hindu Gods waking up from sleep. Devout Hindus celebrated the second Diwali (Festival of Lights) of the year – this one named Diwali of Gods. There was a wedding anniversary of a sacred plant to the God turned into a stone. And there was a holy day dedicated to gooseberry! The tourists got the impression that in India any time is festival time.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Festival 1.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Festival 1.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hoardings put up by the election commission urging the voters to participate in the Democracy Festival and vote! All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Many festivals memorialise the eternal war between Gods and Demons, good and evil. This evocative theme is adapted by rival candidates to project their electoral battles. The religious festivals strengthen the belief that mythology is history. In the newer New India, this belief is tapped by the Hindu nationalists for their political campaigns. So, for example, the devout masses led by political leaders have decided where and when Lord Ram was born. </p><p>Modernist political leaders had managed to restrict the jurisdiction of faith till the Hindu nationalists burst on the scene demolishing a mosque in 1992 and demanding the construction of a Ram temple on the ground that it was precisely on that plot of land that Lord Ram was born. It was a brilliant idea to polarise the Hindu voters. </p> <p>The demand for building the Ram Temple there leads to mass mobilisation before every election and this is precisely what is happening now in the run-up to the provincial elections in five states.</p> <h2><strong>Sickularity under attack</strong></h2> <p>Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party came to power in 2014, faith has intruded in the political arena with great force. Secular politicians are branded “sickular”. The BJP President Amit Shah declares that law courts should pass judgments that are “implementable”. He said this after a law court asked a temple to allow the entry of young women. The Hindu nationalist party organised a protest against the leftist state government that is bound to implement the judgment that has “hurt Hindu feelings”. Politics is now all about feelings.<span class="mag-quote-center">Politics is now all about feelings!</span></p> <p>Of course, the reformist Hindus shun orthodoxy and traditions that impinge on the rights of women or lower castes. They dislike vulgar displays, loud noises and chaotic exuberance&nbsp; that mark some religious festivals.</p> <p>Similarly, “elections are coming!” is an announcement that makes the peace-loving people a bit anxious. Some almost dread the “democracy festival”. A poet says if there are tensions on the border, it is election time in India! A musician has popularised on YouTube his songs denigrating democracy. </p> <p>The intrusion of religion into politics is becoming the new normal. In a lecture on democracy, independent TV anchor Ravish Kumar says politics dies as religion enters it. Political violence used to be limited in scale, but violent language has overwhelmed politics. Politics is distorting language. Ravish Kumar warns that lies demolish democracy and pave the way for dictatorship. Violence and fear disempowers the voters. These kill democracy within the individual. He tells a gathering of students that democracy in India has entered a most disgraceful phase. Condemning the attempt to marginalise Muslims in politics, he wonders how any party can completely ignore such a large section of society while fielding candidates in an election.</p> <p>Stray violence on the polling days apart, at times public property is destroyed by the fans of an aspiring candidate who is denied the party’s ticket. This happened in Bikaner, a city in Rajasthan. The report of this violence also included a reference to the past when the city’s political culture was harmonious. The candidates opposing each other used to have dinner together from the same plate. And two politicians – one Hindu and one Muslim – were happy to be popularly known by each other’s surname affixed by their constituents!</p> <p>Reports appearing during an election campaign dishearten democrats. The Hindi newspapers of Rajasthan print the lists of <em>dagi</em> (tainted) and <em>bagi</em> (rebels) candidates after the tickets are distributed by the parties. Commentators total up the costs of conducting elections and the annual expenditure on the elected legislators. It comes to a staggering amount. And these paid representatives are charged with “doing nothing” since the parliamentary proceedings are disrupted frequently. Some commentators conclude that democracy be damned!</p> <h2><strong>Cities destroyed </strong></h2> <p>The impact of democracy on urban planning is one topic that gets little attention. The erstwhile rulers built well-planned cities that stand out in sharp contrast to the unregulated ugly colonies that have sprung up in the past few decades. The siting of slums and the encroachment on public lands is linked with the creation of vote banks. The powerful lobby of real estate developers in league with politicians have managed to destroy some beautiful cities.</p> <p>Newspapers report the rising proportion of the super-rich candidates. The acquisition of wealth by the candidates since their earlier electoral victory has to be made public. The people infer from the published data that politics is a good business. The role of money in the election keeps expanding. Poll campaigns have become prohibitively expensive. Leaders of some small parties are accused of selling the party tickets to the rich businessmen who aspire to become law-makers in order to promote their commercial interests.</p> <p>The demonetisation of high-value currency notes by the Modi Government was supposed to have restricted the spending power of the political parties depending on unaccounted money.&nbsp; TV anchor Ravish Kumar had hoped to see election campaigns in which the party leaders will have no money to travel by helicopters or cars or even to print the election manifestoes! </p> <p>Nothing of that kind has happened. Political financiers have appeared in full force and in many cases, they select the party’s candidates for elections.</p> <p>Many candidates are tainted by criminal cases against them. The candidates may face charges of rapes, domestic violence, corruption, inciting sectarian violence and even murder. The newspapers routinely publish the names of the candidates facing criminal complaints. In some elections, more than 30 per cent of the candidates are thus tainted. But their record is ignored by the political parties if they are considered capable of winning. In many cases, the voters, impressed by the candidate’s money and muscle power, ignore his reputation.</p> <h2><strong>Elections diminish democracy</strong></h2> <p>A large number of candidates lack proper academic qualifications. The data on their academic background perhaps makes people question about the use literacy. The commentators criticise the system that prescribes no academic qualification for law-makers but lays down the minimum qualification for a Government employee who merely carries files from one room to another! <span class="mag-quote-center">Having high academic qualifications is no advantage in politics.</span></p> <p>Having high academic qualifications is no advantage in politics. For this situation, the voters are to be blamed. Generally, the people seem to prefer an ill-educated street-smart candidate rather than an educated professional. The latter is unable to manipulate people and is prone to make politically damaging statements. The ordinary people are unable to relate to him just as he cannot relate to them. The trend is set to continue since the ruling party under Narendra Modi has been damning the intellectual class and undermining institutes of higher learning that encourage questioning and breed dissent.</p> <p>The past few years have seen the political class losing respect. Vicious personal attacks on each other during the poll campaign bring political leaders down in public esteem. There are no role models left which makes competent and honest persons stay away from politics. So, the democracy festival, like some religious festivals, calls for celebration as well as a wake.</p> <p>The din and false propaganda associated with prohibitively expensive election campaigns disheartens democrats. Elections diminish democracy. It is indicated by anecdotal evidence and academic studies. </p> <p>Only recently in <em>openDemocracy</em>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/alf-gunvald-nilsen/authoritarian-populism-and-popular-struggles-in-modi-s-india">Gunvald Nilsen</a> wrote about the “slow-motion suffocation of the world’s largest democracy set in train by the ruling BJP in 2014”. Political coercion and cultural nationalism are joined at the hip in BJP’s authoritarian populism, he says. “As with policing of activism and dissent, the making of a cultural and religious Other is a profoundly violent affair.” There have been comments on the emergence of the Republic of Fear in which democracy has no future.</p> <h2><strong>Death of democracy?</strong></h2> <p>Those forecasting the slow death of democracy in some countries write about the erosion of civil liberties in democratic countries, the dominant role of money power in influencing election results, a rising tide of populism, the spreading cancer of divisive politics, the growing appeal of nationalism, misuse of religion in political campaigns and the entry of fools and fanatics in the political arena. </p> <p>Press freedom is subverted not by an official fiat but by threats and incentives to the media moguls. Politically activated state-supported bands of hoodlums silence dissenting intellectuals and independent journalists. Mobs of vigilantes appear time and again to do a political party’s dirty work.</p> <p>Coming back to the current poll season in India, one observes the democratic spirit vanishing from the outwardly impressive exercise of the voting power by the masses. Weird reports come from the five states that are going to elect the provincial governments. The chief minister of a poll-bound southern state boasting of a technology hub seeks Divine help for his victory. Seventy-five Hindu priests conduct a special worship to improve his electoral prospects. </p> <p>The chief minister does not want to depend entirely on the poll strategists and mined data. Of course, help is also sought from the newspapers and TV channels dealing in “paid news”, consultancy services and experts in electoral behaviour of Hindu castes and sub-castes. The leaders of a party that aims at uniting Hinduism deftly divide the castes and sub-castes for political advantage. </p> <p>Newspapers publish extensive caste data related to voters and candidates. The caste combinations become critical in political calculations. A candidate’s electoral prospects improve if his caste dominates the constituency and if his leader is able to exacerbate inter-caste animosity and rivalry.</p> <p>The stakes in these state elections are high because in a few months the Prime Minister’s party will face the national elections. His ruling party wants to see how effective&nbsp; Hindu nationalism will be in the state elections. The contentious and sensitive issue of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya has been revived before the elections. That demolition of the mosque there in 1992 was followed by sectarian killings and thus tensions have risen in the town again. </p> <p>The Hindu agitators mobilised by the extended political family of the ruling BJP are asking the Modi Government not to wait for the Supreme Court judgment in the land dispute case and instead pass a law for building the temple. They threaten to build the temple themselves! The agitation is expected to take an interesting turn just before the national elections next year. The ruling party mobilised Hindu priests and heads of religious institutions who at a mass meeting voiced their full-throated support to the Prime Minister. Some astrologers have let social media broadcast their forecast that Modi will be the Prime Minister again after the 2019 elections. <span class="mag-quote-center">The agitation is expected to take an interesting turn just before the national elections next year.</span></p> <h2><strong>End of ideology</strong></h2> <p>The Prime Minister’s party has used the religious card to polarise the Hindu voters. The secular parties opposing him feel trapped because they have been branded “pro-Muslim”. To counter this charge, they play the “soft Hindutva” card. They do not wish to go down fighting for the principle of secularism enshrined in India’s Constitution and in their own DNA.</p> <p>Opportunism is adopted by all parties and candidates as the key principle in politics. The external pulls and pressures make the selection of candidates for fighting elections even more difficult. The complexity of the exercise can be gauged by raging controversies, scuffles between the rival factions and mid-night conciliatory meetings in the homes of the mediators. Opportunism enlivens the poll season generating newspaper headlines about a host of party functionaries switching their political loyalties and crossing over to the opposite camp. </p> <p>These are no isolated cases. Heavy cross-traffic marks the days during which political parties announce their candidates. Some are denied tickets by their party and others leave the party because they calculate that their party is unlikely to win this time. The candidates who are denied the party ticket promptly announce that they will fight as Independents. Some of them are immediately fielded by the opposition party because of their ability to win! </p> <p>Every party faces a million mutinies by their disgruntled functionaries. Newspapers publish long lists of the rebel candidates with their photographs. The party managers try to woo back the influential rebels. A few withdraw their nomination as Independents and return to the party fold in the hope of getting the ticket in the next elections! Some rebel candidates are won over with offers of an office in the party in lieu of the ticket for fighting the election.</p> <p>There can be no better evidence of the end of ideology. The candidates who won the last elections on the secular platform are busy this time inflaming passions in the name of Hindu religion. Some who won the last elections by playing the Hindutva card now display their new-found belief in secularism! </p> <p>The determination to win the elections at any cost leads to inflammatory statements designed to create mass hysteria. Unholy and illogical alliances are formed and dissolved for political convenience. Very often the people vote for one kind of government but get a very different one because of the post-election deals struck between the rival parties. In a fluid political situation, a dozen elected legislators can frustrate the plan of the largest party to form the government. They are called king-makers.</p> <h2><strong>The progress of democracy in India</strong></h2> <p>The voters expect a lot from political leaders but have also come to realise that they would get nothing. They go looking for a messiah before every election and get bewitched by a populist promising economic nirvana. </p> <p>It was not always like that. The newly independent India won admiration when it gave the voting right to every adult. Those tracking the progress of democracy in India should interview political activists above 90 years of age. One such retired leader told a Jaipur daily that during his days, the lists of candidates used to be finalised in the modest state party office and no more than two or three cases would be referred to the party high command in New Delhi! Now the state units of all political parties have been disempowered! The candidate selection drama takes place in New Delhi, giving sleepless nights to the party leaders and to the aspiring candidates.</p> <p>There was a time when groups within a party would hold meetings and pick the name of a candidate through consensus. Their leaders will then approach the person and persuade him to fight the election! Several such instances are recalled by these veterans.</p> <p>An old-timer in Jaipur says in an interview that he did not have one hundred rupees to buy the party’s form for applying for the ticket and thus there was no question of his fighting the election. His party workers asked him to seek nomination and paid for the form. The party chose him, and he won the election. This was the political scene in 1977! The veteran recalls the days when every party used to field candidates with a record of work. The applicant’s dedication and commitment used to matter, not his wealth. Then, one had to be persuaded to fight the election, these days aspiring candidates fight and kill to secure the party ticket! <span class="mag-quote-center">The applicant’s dedication and commitment used to matter, not his wealth.</span></p> <p>The budgets for fighting elections used to be tiny and the party manifestoes that became irrelevant over the years were read with care. Any candidate defecting from one party to another before or after the election was considered a dishonourable character. Now a defector does not loose face and even wins due to his influence or wealth and the voters’ caste-based loyalty. For him his party’s ideology was never of any use.</p> <p>The veterans lament the decline of the spirit of democracy. They suggest that the pillars of democracy have eroded and find the current democratic scene dismal. The standards of parliamentary debates have fallen abysmally low just as public discourse on politics has got vitiated. Rising intolerance has made reasoned debates impossible. Civil political leaders have become rare. </p> <p>The two House of Parliament frequently witness shouting matches and walk-outs and disorderly scenes have become routine! At the slightest provocation, some honourable members may rush towards the Speaker’s chair or throw an offending piece of paper. They do not fear the voters watching their antics on the TV. Old records of the proceedings will testify to what can be called the golden era of India’s parliamentary democracy. </p> <p>A veteran recalls past incidents such as one in a state legislative assembly when the Speaker responded to a critical reference about him by leaving his chair gracefully and saying that he has lost the confidence of the House. The member went to him, apologised for his remark and requested him to go back to his chair and proceedings were resumed.</p> <p>That was the democratic India that was!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Namaste.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Namaste.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A vehicle mounted poster of Rajasthan chief minister and BJP leader Vasundhara Raje seeking votes.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rajeev-bhargava/states-religious-diversity-and-crisis-of-secularism-0">States, religious diversity, and the crisis of secularism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/alf-gunvald-nilsen/authoritarian-populism-and-popular-struggles-in-modi-s-india">Authoritarian populism and popular struggles in Modi’s India</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/cas-mudde/on-extremism-and-democracy-in-europe-three-years-later">On extremism and democracy in Europe: three years later</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Tue, 04 Dec 2018 12:30:42 +0000 L K Sharma 120834 at https://www.opendemocracy.net #MeToo movement rumbles on in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/metoo-movement-rumbles-on-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Working up public outrage is an art and not all political parties are able to create mass hysteria.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30142468.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30142468.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mobashar Jawed "M.J." Akbar arriving at G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Bonn, 16 February 2017. Federico Gambarini/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>More and more Indian women are coming forward to recall and record their traumatic experience of having been preyed upon by their male bosses. Because of the fresh complaints, the #MeToo movement still grabs a headline, though the TV studio discussions have stopped. The cases of man-woman interaction, consensual or non-consensual, may soon be superseded by the report of another surgical strike against the beef sellers or a march demanding the building of a Hindu temple.</p> <p>The women victims who broke their silence initially belonged to the worlds of print and visual media, films, advertising and public relations. Now even a respected corporate entity &nbsp;in the hotel industry faces the charge of ignoring a sexual harassment complaint by a woman employee who felt compelled to resign her job. Some more media men have figured as accused in the latest news stories. A professor has been forced to resign because of students complaining against his use of inappropriate language.</p> <h2><strong>Akbar fightback</strong></h2> <p>The #MeToo movement in India led to the resignation of M J Akbar as junior external affairs minister following allegations made by women journalists based in India, UK and US. However, Akbar continues to be a member of the Upper House of Parliament. It is not known whether the ethics panel will take up the Akbar case because of the allegations of sexual harassment made against him by more than a dozen women journalists who at one time or the other worked under him when he used to be an editor. </p> <p>The Editors’ Guild of India is considering the future of Akbar’s membership of the organisation. Akbar also continues as vice-chairman of the executive council of the prestigious Nehru Museum and Memorial Library. This body has just been overhauled by the Government so that new members can cooperate in changing the profile of the institution in order to diminish Nehru’s legacy.</p> <p>Akbar filed a defamation suit against one of the woman journalists and during the first court hearing accused her of maligning him and damaging his reputation by levelling false allegations against him. Court cases go on for months and years!</p> <p>In a new case, another Indian woman journalist alleged that Akbar raped him when she worked in India as reporter on <em>The Asian Age </em>of which Akbar was the editor-in-chief. Pallavi Gogoi wrote a first-person article in the <em>Washington Post</em> giving a detailed account of rape, repeated sexual abuse, and violent behaviour. Akbar and his wife issued separate statements accusing the woman journalist of telling a lie. Gogoi is currently chief business editor at National Public Radio in New York.</p> <p>Gogoi alleged that Akbar raped her in his hotel room where she was called to discuss her report for the newspaper. She tried to fight him when he ripped off her clothes but was overpowered by a powerful man. “Instead of reporting him to the police, I was filled with shame. I did not tell anyone about this then. Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself. Why did I go to the hotel room?” </p> <p>She said she had shelved the most painful memories of her life for 23 years but decided to speak out in the wake of all #MeToo accounts by many journalists whom Akbar has threatened to sue.</p> <p>Akbar said in a statement that he and Gogoi had entered into a consensual relationship spanning several months. “This consensual relationship ended, perhaps not on the best note.” Responding to Akbar’s statement, Gogoi said on Twitter: “A relationship based on coercion, and abuse of power, is not consensual. I stand by every word in my published account.”</p> <h2><strong>Indian male psyche</strong></h2> <p>If Gogoi had hoped to get peace by breaking her long silence, she was mistaken. Her fear at the time of her alleged rape seems justified because her <em>Washington Post</em> article has caused an avalanche of hostile comments that will prolong her misery. There is enough material in these posts to study the Indian male psyche! Most of those who have rushed to post comments on Gogoi’s allegation have accused her of telling a lie. On reading these posts, she might wonder whether she is a woman of good character. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some have expressed grave reservations about the #MeToo movement itself and at least a couple of comments accuse the <em>Washington Post</em> of being anti-Indian! Those who feel threatened by women will be glad to note that a backlash has begun. A newspaper or the TV channel supporting the Government may sponsor a public opinion poll, asking the readers or viewers to reply to the question: “Is Gogoi telling the truth?”</p> <p>The posts doubting Gogoi and assassinating her character will convince Akbar that he still retains credibility. He knows of the unofficial moral police in India that hounds couples in public places or attacks girls in beer bars. Akbar should feel elated that the character-building police owing allegiance to a political outfit, has not been unleashed on him. </p> <p>Akbar may feel victimised by the #MeToo movement, but he is lucky to be in the right political party at the right time. Imagine his fate if he were a minister in the Manmohan Singh Government! Akbar would have had to quit his office much earlier. As a BJP minister said earlier, the Modi Government is not like its predecessor, who used to make its ministers resign on public demand.</p> <h2><strong>Ruling party does no wrong</strong></h2> <p>Had Akbar been a Congress minister, Narendra Modi, as the Gujarat chief minister, would have created public outrage against Akbar through powerful speeches. Modi would have supported Akbar’s alleged victims and condemned the “immoral Congress”. Working up public outrage is an art and not all political parties are able to create mass hysteria.</p> <p>Had Akbar not been in the ruling BJP, Modi’s handmaidens in the media would have gone mad with anger. They would be spitting fire and fighting tooth and nail for gender justice! They would have ridiculed Akbar’s claim that the women were making up stories of rape and sexual harassment as part of the campaign for elections next year!</p> <p>A prominent Hollywood Hindu operating from America would have circulated a video of a Pittsburgh #MeToo leader citing the importance of character in the Hindu religion and committing her moral and financial support to the sisters exposing the male pigs of India.</p> <p>Had Akbar been a minister in the Manmohan Singh Government, the<em> Sanskari </em>(of good character)<em> </em>women politicians would have shaved their heads in protest and held a demonstration outside Akbar’s residence. One woman politician would have gone on a fast. Some, even those married outside their religion, would have warned the pious Indian women against Love Jihad. </p> <p>Overnight, a retired intelligence officer, would have floated a Mahila Manch to intensify the struggle against immoral males. The Manch would have appealed to Akbar’s wife to join the movement instead of following the wives of British politicians who stand by their husbands through thick and thin</p> <p>The head of the Sadhu-Sant Samagam Pvt. Ltd. would have issued a Hindu <em>fatwa</em> against Akbar. The newly minted intellectuals would have argued in the TV studios against Akbar by quoting some western feminists. A state assembly would have passed a resolution changing Akbar’s name.</p> <h2><strong>Akbar’s luck</strong></h2> <p>Being associated with the right political party at the right time, Akbar escaped a wider protest movement despite his name and fame. Initially, activists associated with his own party were raring to throw stones, but secret instructions reached the affiliated moral armies and youth organisations to ignore the subversive Indian #MeToo movement. Social media got filled with hundreds of posts deriding the women complaining of sexual harassment.</p> <p>Akbar, who knows political dynamics intimately, surely thanked himself for not being a Congress MP and having crossed over to the BJP at the right time. He thanked his party for coming to the aid of an embattled junior minister and MP.</p> <p>Akbar perhaps sees the silver lining. He has become an object of envy in the eyes of the men obsessed with the paintings of the Mughal emperors ruling their harems. </p> <p>Akbar won a defamation case in the UK earlier and if he wins this one in India, another brilliant book will come out of his computer. He would, of course, make no laudatory reference to Nehru to avoid the book being pulped on public demand.</p> <p>The Akbar Case has led to a discussion on the personal lives of eminent men. Some say that one should continue to enjoy Akbar’s articles and books without bothering about what kind of a person he is. Even Akbar’s alleged victims have admired the brilliant journalist. So many women in their twenties were swayed by his talent. That matters more than the mundane certificates issued to him by the newspaper proprietors who hired him from time to time.</p> <p>Some political analysts have detected the conspiracy by a few liberal women to create political instability in India that needs at least a 50-year-long rule by the current ruling party. </p> <p>Some women have published on-the-other-hand kind of pieces on the #MeToo movement in order to protect the Modi Government. They are releasing information on the personal lives of the politicians belonging to the anti-Modi camp and indulging in whataboutery. Their social media messages are designed to exonerate Akbar in the people’s court and make him electable as a BJP candidate in the parliamentary polls next year. The argument that a great journalist is not a model human being has been accepted by many voters. </p> <h2><strong>Professors of Poetry?</strong></h2> <p>Raymond Chandler is cited to convey the message that if you like someone’s writing, do not meet the writer! A newly-minted <em>sarkari</em> (official) intellectual is trying to make the literate Indians look at Akbar in a new light. He argues that genius has a dark side and the wife of a genius has a horrible tale to tell. He quotes W H Auden who said that real artists are not nice people. “All their best feelings go into their work and life has the residue.” Martin Amis says there is no value co-relation between the life and the work.</p> <p>The said intellectual tells his TV interviewers every night that an individual ought to be judged by his art and professional achievement, not by his private conduct. He illustrates his point by referring to the personal life of V S Naipaul. He tells the nation that a great writer has the licence to be a misogynistic monster! He reminds his TV audience of what an eminent Englishman said during the campaign for the election of the Oxford Professor of Poetry: “Only poetry matters, not a teacher’s record of sexual harassment of girl pupils.”</p> <p>The <em>sarkari</em> intellectual says the Supreme Court should not pass a law that cannot be implemented and the #MeToo movement should not raise a demand that cannot be met. Citing human nature, he asks the people not to pick on Akbar since there are no men of character when women are concerned!</p> <p>He lists a number of eminent persons who were admired for their work even though the &nbsp;#MeToo movement would call them depraved. He points out that Chaucer was a rapist. Golding was a failed rapist. Shakespeare was syphilitic. Byron was a serial seducer. Tolstoy was repellent. Shaw was a philanderer. So was Burns. Dickens liked girls of his daughter’s age. Conrad married a substitute mother. A married Graham Greene had endless affairs. Auden smelt. Ted Hughes was a domestic tyrant. Derek Walcott was a lecherous professor.</p> <p>The <em>sarkari </em>intellectual’s campaign to increase public understanding of the male species is having the desired effect. One of the alleged victims gifted with a poetic sensibility, who had complained of sexual harassment, understood that an extra-marital affair is a font of creativity. </p> <p>She withdrew her complaint and declared that what had happened was consensual. She said it was her private tribute to a creative person, her modest contribution to promote India’s literary talent!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openIndia/metoo-in-country-that-worships-god-as-woman">#MeToo in a country that worships God as woman</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Sun, 04 Nov 2018 15:43:06 +0000 L K Sharma 120452 at https://www.opendemocracy.net #MeToo in a country that worships God as woman https://www.opendemocracy.net/openIndia/metoo-in-country-that-worships-god-as-woman <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>During a festival celebrating the Goddess who kills a demon menacing Gods, scores of educated Indian women have unmasked their tormentors and sparked a mini-revolution.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Durga_Slaying_the_Buffalo_Demon_LACMA_M.70.1.1_(3_of_7).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Durga_Slaying_the_Buffalo_Demon_LACMA_M.70.1.1_(3_of_7).jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Detail. Durga slaying the Buffalo Demon. India, Karnataka, 13th century. Wikicommons/Los Angeles Museum of Art. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>It has led to resignations in the media world, boycotts in the film industry and the closure of a famous film company. Junior foreign minister M J Akbar was made to resign. During a festival celebrating the Goddess who kills a demon menacing Gods, scores of educated Indian women have unmasked their tormentors and sparked a mini-revolution. A journalist has compared these #MeToo revelations to the “eruption of a volcano”.</p> <p>These women had for years suppressed their trauma with silence, but when a visiting US-based Indian woman opened a can of worms, dozens of victims spoke out causing ‘quakes in the worlds of films, journalism, sports and literature.</p> <p>Akbar, an editor-turned-politician, brazened it out for days and filed a criminal defamation case against one of the 16 women journalists for naming and shaming him by describing his alleged misconduct in the work place. Akbar denied all allegations. But finally, he had to resign as minister. The Prime Minister’s silence and the ruling party’s wait-and-watch policy failed to protect him politically for more than 10 days. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Prime Minister’s silence and the ruling party’s wait-and-watch policy failed to protect him politically for more than 10 days. </span></p> <h2><strong>Banner headlines</strong></h2> <p>Akbar’s resignation got banner headlines. <em>The Indian Express,</em> having demanded days ago his exit from his work place, said it marked a new benchmark in politics – of women, by women, for women and men. The minister’s exit was hailed as a “watershed moment” and a “seminal moment” in India’s history.</p> <p>One of the victims had alleged that when she knocked at Akbar’s hotel room door, he opened the door in his underwear and put on a bathrobe to talk to her about journalistic work. A woman commentator wrote that the garment that will be remembered in #MeToo India (and worldwide) not as the miniskirt for which women are blamed but “the bathrobe worn by men, from Harvey Weinstein to Dominique Strauss-Kahn to M J Akbar”.</p> <p>The minister has called all his 16 accusers, including one in the UK and another in the US, liars. The women recalled in adult-grade graphic details their old humiliating encounters with Akbar when he was a powerful editor. A couple of these accounts are not fit to be printed in a family newspaper. The victims asked for a mere apology, what they got was denial and legal intimidation. </p> <p>The ruling party that cries itself hoarse over women’s empowerment was indifferent. That firmed up the protesters’ determination to fight on. Many more women as well as men journalists took up their cause. A battery of retired civil servants wrote a letter to the President of India. Some Opposition leader asked the Prime Minister to say something.</p> <p>The lack of apology by predators and the minister’s combative stand angered many more women and men with access to social media. The woman journalist against whom the defamation suit was filed shot back by saying that truth is her defence. A call went out for crowd-funding her legal expenses.</p> <p>One minister, a political non-entity, declared that the complaints (coming from various parts of India and from a journalist in the UK and another from the US) were part of a political campaign linked to the national elections due next year. Many found this suggestion laughable.</p> <h2><strong>Going political</strong></h2> <p>Since politics is the thing in India, the allegations of sexual harassment have become a political issue. The ruling party spokesman refused to answer any questions about Akbar. The Prime Minister’s devotees hailed Narendra Modi as a strong supporter of women’s empowerment. A couple of women journalists wrote nuanced on-the-other-hand kind of opinion pieces. The pro-Government TV channels and newspapers underplayed the Akbar story. <span class="mag-quote-center">Since politics is the thing in India, the allegations of sexual harassment have become a political issue. </span></p> <p>The Government was not swayed by the preachers of ethics and morality. The ruling establishment initially thought that a select group of “elite” women with limited voting power might not pose too much of a political threat. The RSS chief, who mentors the ruling party, recently reiterated his “cultural” organisation’s commitment to character-building. He remained silent.</p> <p>Akbar, before resigning, deployed 97 lawyers to persuade a judge to reject the allegations, punish the “lying” woman journalist and certify him as a man of sterling character! Court cases in India go on for years. </p> <p>(As an editor, Akbar once filed a defamation case in the UK and won it. The <em>Mail on Sunday</em> apologised for publishing a report falsely involving this brilliant Indian editor in the case of a London woman publisher’s illegitimate child.)</p> <p>The ruling party strategists hope that the political storm will be dissipated as the #MeToo visuals on the TV screens get replaced by fresh ones. Some are asking why these educated girls kept quiet for so long. They ignore the fact that the victims who registered complaints got nowhere. They were told that making a fuss will only harm them. The professional bodies, company managements and male colleagues asked them to get on with their lives as if nothing had happened. </p> <h2><strong>Heroes and villains</strong></h2> <p>Most victims suffered silently for years, suppressing memories, fearing stigma in a deaf and oppressive patriarchal society. One of the victims was Tanushree Dutta, a film actress whose complaint against a famous actor was ignored by all. Disgusted, she left the industry and moved to America to start a new life. But the embers of humiliation kept smouldering in her heart. The #MeToo movement in America steeled her will. She came to India and flung charges at the noted male artists with whom she had worked. Some film stars supported her but the heroes who vanquish villains on the silver screen played safe, avoiding questions by the media.</p> <p>The former film star’s damning social media message triggered a movement and first-person accounts of sexual harassment started raining in. Scores of professionally successful women mustered up the courage to recall and record incidents of molestation by their male bosses or colleagues.</p> <p>They got over the fear that a female victim does not get helped, only gets ridiculed. In social media they found a protest platform. Even this time, they did not hope for justice. They named and shamed predators in order to empower young girls to protest publicly against sexual harassment in the work place.</p> <h2><strong>Public response </strong></h2> <p>Considering the public response to the steps taken by the minister, legal intimidation is unlikely to crush the #MeToo movement in the India of 2018. Some see the use of social media by these long-suffering women as a consequence of the failure of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013. Good laws show few results because of poor enforcement. This law had followed the landmark Vishakha case of 1997 when the Supreme Court declared that sexual harassment at work violated a woman’s constitutional right to equality.</p> <p>Many powerful men accustomed to cutting lewd jokes to attract female employees or making indecent proposals are surely being careful. Women are speaking up in English, and the women journalists working in languages other than English may follow. Their plight is reported to be much worse but then their compulsion to suffer in silence is greater. <span class="mag-quote-center">Women are speaking up in English, and the women journalists working in languages other than English may follow.</span></p> <p>#MeToo has shown results. A film company has closed down. Many professional bodies, for the first time, are issuing statements in support of the women recording complaints. They are taking complaints of sexual harassment seriously. A few resignations in the world of journalism have followed. Some complaints redressal committees and inquiry committees have been formed. This has sensitised both the people and the media. </p> <p>This mini-revolution has surely knocked down the self-confidence of some powerful potential predators. It has made women less risk-averse and readier to protest against sexual harassment.</p> <p>The departures caused by #MeToo in India have created a wave of jubilation, but the women activists rule out a speedy radical reformation. A long struggle lies ahead. Traditions enable the structure of patriarchy to withstand an occasional tremor. At times, even women will be divided, with many refusing to revolt against the oppressors at home or in work places.</p> <p>Already some men as well as women are warning against a backlash. They say the #MeToo movement can be misused by women. Comics featuring deadly superwomen have started appearing. The movement’s critics may soon warn against the coming extinction of the male species!</p> <h2><strong>Mother Durga</strong></h2><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Durga painting.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Durga painting.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="594" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Durga painting. Suddhasattwa Basu. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></strong>The mini-revolution’s timing requires elaboration. The movement gripped India at a time when millions of Hindus are worshipping God as a woman. For nine holy days and nights, Goddess Durga enthrals the devotees and drives even the non-believers to her temporary temples buzzing with cultural and social events. </p><p>For the annual festival for worshipping the ten-armed Goddess, Mother Durga’s idols are made to reflect tradition with a modern touch. Some features show concerns of the day. One year several artists placed a mobile phone in one of the 10 hands of Durga. The Indian version of the #MeToo will inspire imaginative idol-makers next year to make the Buffalo Demon appear in a western suit!</p> <p>This fierce Goddess represents woman power. She kills a nearly indestructible demon in order to protect gods. She proved herself to be more powerful than all gods and demons! The buffalo demon threatened the gods who bowed to the Goddess and sought her protection. </p> <p>According to another version, the King of Demons, claiming limitless power to provide her with sensual enjoyment, asks the Goddess to choose him as her husband. He propositions her, but unlike a human sexual predator does not try to touch her! Durga challenges him to show his might. The demon goes after Durga to kill her! The Goddess radiates blinding energy. The Demon tries to flee and is slayed amid shouts of victory by the crowd of gods! An inspiring tale for the women activists of India where mythology is often used in political campaigns. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Goddess radiates blinding energy. The Demon tries to flee and is slayed amid shouts of victory by the crowd of gods! An inspiring tale...</span></p> <p>Goddesses in different forms offer not just protection but also wealth and wisdom! No wonder, the sacred Hindu texts place the woman on a pedestal. “Gods dwell in a place where women are worshipped” is a popular saying. Unmarried girls are ritualistically worshipped during a festival.</p> <h2><strong>India riddled with contradictions</strong></h2> <p>India was proud to have a woman Prime Minister when that office was only a glint in the eyes of Margret Thatcher. On a visit to India, Thatcher wanted tips from Indira Gandhi! The ratio of women scientists in responsible positions in India is much higher than in Britain. India’s history features eminent women scholars who were invincible in their power to argue.</p> <p>Why should a country like this need laws to protect women from mere men? </p> <p>Alas, India is riddled with contradictions. Whatever is true of India, its opposite is also true. Some tales from ancient India enrage even moderate feminists. Some women poets blame Lord Ram for his treatment of his wife Sita.</p> <p>Many prominent women were dishonoured, humiliated, maltreated and exploited by kings and sages. They were treated as the property of men. Married women were seduced or abducted and impregnated in ancient India. A woman could be disrobed; a wife could be lost in a gambling bet.</p> <p>In contemporary India, the abortion of girl foetuses is a major concern. This crime has been documented in books and in the notices hung in hospitals and medical imaging centres prohibiting the disclosure of the sex of the baby in the womb. The ratio of girl babies has declined.</p> <p>Sonia Bhalotra of the University of Essex and her co-researchers found that when gold prices go up, fewer female babies in India survive their first month of life. The study attributed this to the curse of dowry given by the bride’s family to the groom. “Gold is included in bridal dowries – so when gold prices go up, the cost of raising girls rises and families tend to neglect or abort them.” Despite having been outlawed, dowry is widely prevalent in India.</p> <p>The incidence of rape is very high. The insecurity of women at home, on the road and in public transport is seen as a major police failure. Informal courts run by different castes and sub-castes issue illegal fatwas against women straying from the path set for them by the patriarchs. Girls are denied mobile phones and asked not to wear “indecent” clothes. Dominating fathers select grooms for their daughters and many girls are killed if they decide to marry for love.</p> <p>The sexual exploitation of tribal girls and poor women has been portrayed in countless films and novels. Generally, the oppressors are village landlords and tea estate managers and owners. </p> <h2><strong>The message spreads</strong></h2> <p>It turns out that women belonging to the jet-setting class fare no better when it comes to dowry deaths, domestic violence and sexual harassment in public. &nbsp;These educated women suffer silently for fear of being stigmatised and losing remunerative jobs or the financial security provided by the cruel husband. </p> <p>The predator banks on the victim’s silence and does not fear exposure. Men in stylish suits, appearing to be gentlemen, carry on relentlessly and are never outed. Film-makers document the stories of poor women because that material is easily available. The #MeToo movement has altered that situation a bit. So, films and novels depicting a different class of victims and predators will follow. Many more accomplished and successful women are expected to come forward to challenge the oppressors by naming them, <span class="mag-quote-center">It turns out that women belonging to the jet-setting class fare no better when it comes to dowry deaths, domestic violence and sexual harassment in public.</span></p> <p>The first users of social media as a platform for protest belong to the “elite” class. Women journalists working in small towns for newspapers published in languages other than English are yet to speak even though their plight is reported to be worse. The situation is not very different in other professions. A women’s NGO from Gujarat, the Prime Minister’s home state, says, “for every woman who has courageously spoken up, there are tens of thousands of women who have remained silent”. </p> <p>Gradually, the movement will empower these women. The Google search data shows that the #MeToo message has started reaching India’s small towns. The struggle for women’s empowerment will indeed be long but the mini-revolution has made sexual predators jittery and their victims more courageous. Women are less likely to extend the protection of their silence to those who harass them.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Durga_Slaying_the_Buffalo_Demon_LACMA_M.70.1.1_(7_of_7).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Durga_Slaying_the_Buffalo_Demon_LACMA_M.70.1.1_(7_of_7).jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Durga slaying the Buffalo Demon. India, Karnataka, 13th century. Wikicommons/Los Angeles Museum of Art. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Fri, 19 Oct 2018 08:32:30 +0000 L K Sharma 120164 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Imran thanks Modi, and eyes joint Nobel Peace Prize https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/imran-thanks-modi-and-eyes-joint-nobel-peace-prize <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“India led by you would never think of undoing the Partition. Your party depends on Pakistan for its existence.” A secret letter accessed by the author.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/imran2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/imran2.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>Dear Modiji,</p><p><em>Jai Sri Ram</em>!</p><p>Since this letter is for your eyes only, I can greet you in the name of Lord Ram. This is called blasphemy in Pakistan.</p><p>I am very grateful to you for cancelling the talks between our foreign ministers. You saved me from being called a stooge of India and from political death.</p><p>I understand fully well that the cancellation of the bilateral talk will ensure your victory in the coming elections. Had the talks been held, the Congress would have sent you bangles to wear. Your party had done that to the Congress Prime Minister! A photo of the bangles going viral would have subverted your election campaign.&nbsp;</p><p>The photo of the two foreign ministers shaking hands would have sullied your masculine image. In every Indian city and village, you would have been called spineless. Moreover, some of your party men would have attacked your woman minister for shaking a man’s hand!</p><p>I am glad you kept your diplomats out of drafting that cancellation statement. Their polite words would not have served our common purpose. By insulting me in that official statement, you raised my political stock. I am now seen as a strong leader and you are seen as a hero for calling me names.</p><p>You will recall that your sudden visit to a corrupt Pakistani Prime Minister’s home gave me a big boost. My party won the election by calling Nawaz Shariff a stooge of India. You are a true friend! Hindutva helps me as much it helps you.&nbsp;</p><p>My Spiritual Guide-cum-wife understands politics in our countries. She has asked me to help you just as you helped me. So, I will launch an anti-India tirade before your elections next year. That will bring you victory. <span class="mag-quote-center">The rabid communalists in our two countries can keep both of us going for years.</span></p><p>Your continuation is in Pakistan’s interest. The rabid communalists in our two countries can keep both of us going for years. These two rival formations need each other. Ours cannot increase its base without its counterpart across the border. The rival communal groups clash in public but depend on each other for survival. If Hindutva retreats in India, Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan will find it tough here. They have never won elections here but now they are encouraged by developments in India and I had to co-opt them.</p><p>You understand the importance of religious confrontation even better than your TV channels that pit a saffron-robed Hindu against a skull-capped Mulla to shout at each other in every talk show. The viewers may criticise it but they all enjoy the human version of the cock-fight.&nbsp;</p><p>You wisely adopted the Pakistan Model by altering its colour. We share a long experience. The Islamic fundamentalists running the terrorists have been key players on our political pitch. Now fiery Hindu leaders have cropped up in India. Imitation is the best compliment.&nbsp;</p><p>Both of us are blessed by Allah whom Gandhi also named&nbsp;<em>Ishwar</em>. The Pakistani voters were not turned on by my second wife who wrote a disgusting book about me. Indian voters were not turned off by your conduct during the Gujarat riots.</p><p>I have a lot to learn from you. Because in my country the capitalists had supported my rival, I had to talk about the poor Pakistanis. But now that the elections are over I need to win over the capitalists. And I am going to offer them cheap land and other facilities to make them see in me a new hope as the Indian capitalists saw in you. We in Pakistan face some nuisance created by the liberals and progressives who survived decades of military dictatorship. I want to establish a democracy of fear.&nbsp;</p><h2>Hating secularism</h2><p>We are one in our shared hatred of Nehru and his secularism. He defeated Pakistan in an ideological battle which forced our military to attack India. Allah inspired India to ditch secularism and inch closer to Pakistan which has ended Pakistan’s isolation. You have convinced our people that Pakistan chose the right path after independence since India is following Pakistan’s footsteps and aspires to be a theocratic state. You have enabled Pakistan to shed its inferiority complex. We feel proud when India is called a Hindu Pakistan.</p><p>While living in Britain, I saw the world applauding India for not being Pakistan and condemning Pakistan for not being India. My country always lost on the invisible ideological battlefield. Once I too wanted Pakistan to be secular and democratic like India. On returning to Pakistan and plunging into politics, I corrected my error. I realised the importance of religion in politics. I married my Spiritual Guide and developed a fellow-feeling for you. <span class="mag-quote-center">Now I understand why our Gen. Zia unsheathed the sword of Islam.</span></p><p>Now I understand why our Gen. Zia unsheathed the sword of Islam. In order to confront the secular India, he had to push Pakistan closer to the Arabic Islamic kingdoms. That was the only way of discarding the inclusive Indian heritage and composite culture. Our military sharpened Pakistan’s identity by entering into a strange pact with the Islamic fundamentalists!&nbsp;</p><p>My theocratic nation distanced itself from a secular India. But thanks to your political revolution, Islamic fundamentalism and Hindutva have emerged as comrades-in-arms. You learnt a lesson from Pakistan. Your party came to power attacking Pakistan in election speeches but then presided over India’s defeat in the battle of ideas. India’s surrender has vindicated Pakistan, making us your ideological Guru!&nbsp;</p><p>This growing ideological convergence between Pakistan and the new India was first observed by our poetess Fahmida Riaz who recited in India her famous poem beginning:<em>Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle…</em>(You turned out to be just like us.)</p><p>I have noted with great satisfaction that since the last parliamentary elections, India continues its path-breaking journey, politically marginalising a minority and letting small mobs do what the law-bound public servants cannot do. Some policemen and law enforcement officers, by becoming accomplices of the ruling party, ward off punishment postings. Some are ideologically fired to promote a sectarian agenda. Just like us, I must say.</p><p>Pakistan flaunts an alliance between the army and Islam; India has linked democracy to an authoritarian Hindutva. I notice that democratic India still holds seminars on pluralistic traditions and multi-layered identity. These pose no political thereat to you and you carry on threatening your opponents. You claim you have information on everyone. I am told your minions track the sleeping habits of the dissident academics and income-tax returns of the media houses that refuse to fall in line.</p><p>In all this I see India extending a hidden hand of friendship. My nation now understands India better. For years Pakistan suspected India of trying to undo the Partition, the gift of the departing British. Mahatma Gandhi opposed the Partition and even offered the Prime Ministership of an undivided India to Jinnah in order to abort the birth of Pakistan. That would have killed any chance of your becoming the Prime Minister. We fully understand and appreciate your party’s antipathy towards the Father of your nation.</p><p>After the Partition, your political party kept fantasising about&nbsp;<em>Akhand Bharat</em>(Greater India). Now I realise that Pakistan’s fear of&nbsp;<em>Akhand Bharat</em>was unfounded. This empty slogan (<em>jumla</em>)<em>&nbsp;</em>was not worth taking seriously. India led by you would never think of undoing the Partition. Your party depends on Pakistan for its existence. It secretly thanks Jinnah for securing a separate nation for Indian Muslims. He fulfilled the dream that was first dreamt by the ancestors of your Hindu political family. Of course, praising Jinnah openly is not permitted in your party.</p><p>I am convinced that you would rather have a pure Hindu Bharat than an&nbsp;<em>Akhand Bharat</em>populated by the others posing a demographic danger. So, I would campaign to free my Pakistan from the false fear of a foreign conspiracy to merge Pakistan into India.&nbsp;</p><p>As we both know, Pak-bashing gets votes in India as India-bashing helps us in Pakistan. A dissident Indian poet sings that if there is tension on the Indo-Pak border, it must be election time in India! We must enter into a mutually beneficial agreement to fool our stupid voters.</p><h2><strong>Stupid voters</strong></h2><p>Please help me win a coming provincial election just as our President Parvez Musharraf enabled you to win the Gujarat elections when you ran the poll campaign attacking “Mian Musharraf”. So, do not mind if I go after you in my poll campaign.&nbsp;</p><p>In order to strategize together to perpetuate our political power, my Garib Nawaz Centre has opened a secret communication channel with your Mahabharat Foundation in New Delhi and a joint plan is being formulated.&nbsp;</p><p>At the beginning of 2019, I would start threatening India on a daily basis. You will naturally shoot down every Pakistani brick with a stone! Bilateral tensions will peak. In that emotionally surcharged political atmosphere, you will rally the nationalists. You will call the Opposition leaders traitors for having doubted the surgical strikes inside Pakistan. In every public meeting, you will call them&nbsp;<em>Mia</em>or<em>Begum</em>!&nbsp;</p><p>If you desperately need one more surgical strike, you have my permission to do it. We will mark a forest area by covering some small trees with military uniforms. The resultant dust will fill the Indian airwaves every night during your poll campaign.</p><p>Once your elections are over and I have crushed the residual Opposition in Pakistan, we will begin the next phase in our bilateral relations. Birds of a feather must flock together! Washington fraternised with Moscow when communism collapsed in the former Soviet Union. After returning to power on the strength of a tirade against me, you will start talking about a “changed Imran”. I will stop lobbing bricks and start praising India for something or the other. I will ask my Talibanic friends not to attack India. You will issue an appropriate fiat to your party men.</p><p>I will invite Baba Ramdev to hold a mass yoga session in Lahore. Your slave TV anchors will praise you for popularising Hindutva even in Pakistan! I will allot Baba Ramdev a plot in Pakistan and offer a huge industrial project to any Gujarati capitalist named by you.&nbsp;</p><p>The video clip of Baba Ramdev offering a copy of the Gita to me will encourage your minister to renew her demand to declare the Gita the Sacred Book of India!&nbsp;</p><p>You will exempt our&nbsp;<em>Multani Mitti&nbsp;</em>(soil from Multan) from import duty and announce a special visa system for Pakistani Muslims married to Indian Muslims. I will ensure that it causes a wave of jubilation in Pakistan. I will get seven Indian fishermen released from our jails and invite you for a cricket match in Lahore. You will invite me to a Gujarati&nbsp;<em>Garba</em>dance in Ahmedabad. <span class="mag-quote-center">I will get seven Indian fishermen released from our jails and invite you for a cricket match in Lahore.</span></p><p>You come from a state that produced your Father of Nation as well as our Father of Nation. You aspire to be named the Father of New India and I wish to go down in history as the Father of New Pakistan. Those two leaders were weak and wiry. We both are impressively well-built and muscular. You have publicised your chest size and I plan to get my chest measured.</p><p>By executing our joint plan, we will emerge as two statesmen. The two of us will then hold a joint video press conference to announce a historic first-ever breakthrough in the Indo-Pak relations! You have adopted the Punjabi custom of hugging, so a virtual image will be projected showing the two of us engaged in a&nbsp;<em>jhappi</em>!</p><p>That image will arouse global interest. Both of us will be praised by the world for making peace. The Nobel Peace Prize will come to us unasked. We rewrote history, so now we must go down in history as great souls!</p><p>Gratefully yours,</p><p>Imran Khan</p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia L K Sharma Wed, 17 Oct 2018 13:43:57 +0000 L K Sharma 120132 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Good Bye, Gandhi! https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/good-bye-gandhi <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Writing on Gandhi in an India stricken by faux patriotism and jingoism causes gloom. A poem in Indian English provides an antidote. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-38909055.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-38909055.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rajasthan, India. Children dressed as Mahatma Gandhi during Gandhi Jayanti, the national festival marking his birthday, on October 1, 2018. Shaukat Ahmed/press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>It was the best day for Gandhi, it was the worst day for Gandhi. The President, Prime Minister, Governors and Chief Ministers paid tributes to Gandhi’s memory, some Hindu nationalists took to social media to pay tributes to Gandhi’s killer, thousands garlanded Gandhi’s statues, a few saffron-clad Hindus garlanded his killer’s statue, the world celebrated Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2 as Nonviolence Day, some countries marking the day by violent thoughts and deeds. In India, the day saw police action against poor farmers trying to enter Delhi to highlight their plight. Indian political leaders read out homilies, they sucked morality out of politics, they called on the nation to follow the Gandhian path, while their governments promoted economic policies that went against Gandhi’s vision. </p> <p>In seminars and TV studios, some said Gandhi was more relevant today, some others said Gandhi was outdated in the modern age. Gandhi placed the poorest of the poor in the company of God by calling him <em>Daridra Narayan</em>. Politicians talk about the poor during the election campaigns, but once in power help the rich accumulate more wealth.</p> <p>Gandhi is ignored by those who oppress the lower castes and women, deliver hate speeches against a minority and indulge in violence. Such incidents have increased and what is more vicious, the admirers of Gandhi’s killer have found a new voice through social media. They have “come out”. Their outpouring is linked to the Hindu-Muslim issue that features prominently in the mainstream TV channels and in the First Information Reports filed at the police stations in violence-hit towns and villages.</p> <h2><strong>Godse-admirers come out</strong></h2> <p>To mark this birth anniversary, scholar Vinay Lal had to write on “the killers of Gandhi in modern India”. The newly introduced “muscular” politics is on his mind as he refers to Gandhi’s killer, Nathuram Godse, angered by the Mahatma for effeminising Indian politics:</p> <p>“The so-called toxic masculinity that is on witness in the streets of every town and city in India is not only a manifestation of Hindu rage and a will to shape a decisive understanding of the past, but also a reaction to the androgynous values that Gandhi embodied and which the Hindu nationalist tacitly knows are enshrined in Indian culture. </p> <p>“What is different about the killers of Gandhi today is that they act with total impunity. They are aware of the fact the present political dispensation is favourable to them, and that much of the ‘ruling class’ despises Gandhi. The official pieties surrounding Gandhi Jayanti may be nauseating to behold, but October 2 is a necessary provocation.” </p> <p>Vinay Lal says the display of respect is just to cover up the complete contempt and hatred for the “Mahatma”. He refers to a poem circulating on WhatsApp calling Gandhi a fool and traitor to the nation and to the fact that Gandhi’s assassin can be installed as a deity in a temple! Lal promises to write about this poem.</p> <p>Avijit Pathak, who teaches sociology at the famous Jawaharlal Nehru University, writes: “Every year on October 2, I feel somewhat uneasy. From Rajghat (Gandhi Memorial) to Parliament, from the declaration of “pro-people” policies to the empty slogan initiated by the political class, I experience the death of Gandhi.”</p> <p>He refers to the normalisation of the brute practice of stigmatising the “other” through lynching and cow-vigilantism. “From Gandhi’s time of colonialism, religious reform and the nationalist movement, we seemed to have moved towards a new reality characterised by what I would regard as a mix of neoliberal capitalism and militant cultural nationalism, and market driven consumerism and technocratic developmentalism.” </p> <h2><strong>Attenborough’s <em>Gandhi</em></strong></h2> <p>India’s public broadcaster dutifully screened Richard Attenborough’s famous film <em>Gandhi</em>. It shows the Mahatma stopping communal violence in Calcutta by going there and fasting. It shows Gandhi failing to prevent India’s Partition on the basis of religion. The film moves the secular Hindus to tears with Gandhi calling Hindus and Muslims as the two eyes of mother India. It angers the Hindu nationalists when Gandhi is shown pleading with Jinnah to give up his demand for Partition and to be the Prime Minister of an undivided India! </p> <p>Those committed to social and economic equality feel enthused by Gandhi’s advocacy of the untouchables and women. But the extremist patriarchs and the high-caste goons perhaps switch off the TV! The pacifists thank the film-maker for reminding the nation of Gandhi’s warning that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. Some others see it as a conspiracy to weaken Hindus.</p> <p>Fortunately, the screening of the Richard Attenborough film passed off peacefully! He made the film just in time. He shot it in India when ultra-nationalism was not in vogue and sectarian elements used to express their views in private. Political marginalisation of Muslims was unheard of. A civilizational state was yet to aspire to be a nation-state.</p> <p>Attenborough’s film introduces Gandhi’s key principles even to those who only know that Gandhi was born on October 2 because on this day the schools and offices are closed. Through simple dialogue, the film highlights the foolishness of India imitating the western consumption model, and not building self-reliant village communities, ignoring the value of handicrafts and local resources and indigenous skills. Gandhi’s critics have considered these views quaint, anti-modernity and anti-industrialisation, while even some scientists have admired Gandhi as an “innovator”. R. A. Mashelkar coined the term “Gandhian engineering” to popularise his concept of frugal techniques for “doing more for less for more”.</p> <p>Ironically, it was Gandhi’s call for <em>Swadeshi, </em>(spirit of self-reliance) that fired the Indian scientists to develop high technology when India was denied it in fields ranging from super-computers to atomic energy and from space to military hardware. While roads in India named after Gandhi have shopping malls stuffed with imported underwear and toys, the leaders of America and Europe have become firm believers in <em>Swadeshi </em>by campaigning against imported goods and people!</p> <p>But now, since some western economists and activists have started admiring the Gandhian vision of sustainable development, the TV debates are not dominated by the sceptic experts. It was Gandhi who relentlessly tried to impress on the world leaders that the earth has enough for human needs but not for human greed!</p> <p>Gandhi would have been quite amused to observe all this. One wishes to hear his typical humorous comments. He would have quipped on seeing a photo of his statue being vandalised or on reading a news report that the tallest statue in India will not be of the Father of the Nation but of his follower Sardar Patel!</p> <h2><strong>Globalising Gandhi</strong></h2> <p>Gandhi’s birth anniversary yields a rich harvest of cartoons exposing the political elite’s hypocrisy and its use of the ceremonies held on this national holiday. The expected editorials appear on the lip service being paid to the Gandhian principles. The visual media displays the images and symbols associated with Gandhi. </p> <p>Gandhi remains relevant for publishers and for collectors of images and sketches. He remains invaluable for the brand mangers hired by politicians seeking votes and the commercial organisations seeking customers.</p> <p>With his global appeal, Gandhi enhanced India’s brand image. Gandhi even figured on an Apple hoarding in Silicon Valley! On this 149th birth anniversary, the Government took a rare public diplomacy initiative by producing a video with collected clips of artists from 124 countries singing a line of Gandhi’s favourite song that says that only the one who feels the pain of others can be said to be a good person. “<em>Vaishnava jan to tene kahiye, je peed parayi jaane hai</em>…”, the 15th century devotional song in Gujarati, was in the set of hymns sung every day in Gandhi’s Ashram. It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea to present this song to a global audience.</p> <p>A unique product popularised by Gandhi during the freedom struggle has got noticed internationally, thanks to some well-known fashion houses in France and other countries. Khadi, hand-woven cloth made from hand-spun yarn, attracted experts by the feel and look of its texture. For the same reason and not for the underlying Gandhian principle, many affluent Indians too started buying superfine khadi. On Gandhi’s birth anniversary when khadi is subsidised by the Government, New Delhi’s flagship khadi store did a record sale exceeding 100,000 pounds sterling. It had to extend its business hours to handle increased footfall. So, in this case the ideological past profitably fused with the materialistic present.</p> <p>Gandhi used his spinning wheel every day for meeting his own requirement. He spun yarn for a piece of lace that he gave as a wedding gift to Queen Elizabeth. (The Queen gave this piece of lace to Prime Minister Modi whose minister promptly claimed that the gesture showed the esteem in which Modi is held! The Queen’s magnanimity silenced those who want Britain to return the Kohinoor.)</p> <p>Gandhi popularised khadi as a substitute for the British cloth. He propagated khadi as an instrument of uplifting the rural poor and making communities self-reliant. Khadi provided livelihood to countless village artisans. In the post-liberalisation India, the khadi movement suffered, and the impressive turnover of a few glamorous metropolitan outlets does not tell the entire story. Many khadi centres remain in a bad shape and heavily dependent on the state subsidy. Take just one example of a khadi centre opened by Gandhi in 1925 which is “dying, much like his legacy”. The news report says the trust running the first-ever All India Spinners Association in a Punjab village was once famous for its khadi but is now dying of neglect. Today 20 of the state’s 28 khadi trusts are running into losses. As a result, the artisans have either migrated or changed their profession.</p> <p>The famous fashion houses have given a “modern” touch to khadi. This year the simple but elegant Gandhi memorial in the national capital has been equipped with digital displays! The memorial was spruced up after a court criticised its poor maintenance. </p> <p>Displaying devotion to the museumised Father of the Nation and ignoring his principles have gone hand in hand for years. “Gandhi and iconography” has been studied by scholars. The image of his reading glasses came in handy for publicising a public sanitation campaign launched by Prime Minister Modi. All see the spectacles Gandhi used to wear and read the reports of sanitation workers killed by lethal gas while cleaning the sewage lines. The contractors do not give them the gas masks and the same tragedy is repeated over and over.</p> <p>Incidents of the Dalits and Muslims being lynched are not rare. Gandhi would have launched a movement against the atrocities being committed against them. He would not have remained silent about the criminalisation of politics. Some 30 per cent of the legislators have criminal cases registered against them. The Supreme Court says it cannot bar them from fighting elections unless they are proven guilty. </p> <p>India’s youth today does not feel inspired by Gandhi who faces worse than neglect from the Hindu nationalists, capitalists and the middle classes of the new India. The trusteeship principle has been abandoned by the capitalists many of whom had once responded to Gandhi’s call. Moderation has been marginalised. The money-mad Indians indulging in conspicuous consumption wear their contempt for Gandhi on their sleeves. Sustainable development has never been taken seriously by the governments.</p> <h2><strong>Gandhi magic</strong></h2> <p>Do many new Indians read Albert Einstein’s words that generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth?</p> <p>Or Nelson Mandela’s words that Gandhi was the first person to show us the method of organised, disciplined, mass protest. Gopal Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson, asks: What does one say of the ‘mass’ politics and the ‘causes’ of today’s India? “On its thoroughfares, streets, by-lanes, village tracks and a hundred different hideouts, it damages, disfigures, destroys.”</p> <p>Richard Attenborough’s film picturises Gandhi’s fast in Calcutta as he extinguishes the fire of communal violence and restores sanity. Viceroy Lord Mountbatten writes to Gandhi: “In the Punjab we have 55,000 soldiers and large-scale rioting on our hands, In Bengal our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting. As a serving officer, as well as administration, may I be allowed to pay my tribute to the One-Man Boundary Force…”</p> <p>What Mountbatten saw as a heroic feat is viewed differently by those promoting communal strife to use it as a political tool for consolidating Hindu votes through religious polarisation! For them Gandhi’s fast made the evisceration of secularism a bit more difficult.</p> <p>It is said that Gandhi could work his magic on Britain, but he would have found it difficult to deal with Hitler’s Germany. “One of Gandhi’s achievements was to show Britons the reality of their own consciences, to reveal to them the gulf between their religious pretensions and political ideals, and their actual practice as imperialists”, writes author George Woodcock.</p> <p>Gandhi worked his magic on Indians of his time. Years later in mid-seventies, some Indians told V. S. Naipaul that since the death of Gandhi truth has fled from India and the world! Naipaul saw an inversion of Gandhianism in the emergence of a violent Hindu cult like the Anand Marg and wrote about the “ease with which Hinduism can decline into barbarism”. Now in 2018 there is no Anand Marg, but many Indians share Naipaul’s fear.</p> <h2><strong>Gandhi redivivus</strong></h2> <p>The 149th birth anniversary provokes one to fantasise about Gandhi’s appearance in today’s India. Suppose in his prayer meeting he talks about the Gita and the Sermon on the Mount in the same breath and says that the latter “went straight to my heart”. Suppose he eulogises India’s syncretic tradition and calls for freedom from fear and from cultural insecurity that have been inflicted on the people. Suppose he repeats his words that “religion is outraged when outrage is perpetrated in its name” and that “truth is God”. Suppose he asks politicians not to tell lies. Suppose he tells them to stop abusing their opponents and start loving them. </p> <p>If that happens, Gandhi will have to abruptly end his prayer meeting and go on a fast! Will Indians ever again march on the street singing Gandhi’s favourite song about the Supreme Being named Ishwar as well as Allah and praying to Him to bestow sanity on all human beings?</p> <p>Writing on Gandhi in an India stricken by faux patriotism and jingoism causes gloom. A poem in Indian English written in the seventies by Nissim Ezekiel provides an antidote. </p> <p><em>The Patriot</em>&nbsp; begins:</p> <p>&nbsp;<em>I am standing for peace and nonviolence.</em></p> <p><em>Why world is fighting and fighting</em></p> <p><em>Why all people of world</em></p> <p><em>Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,</em></p> <p><em>I am simply not understanding….</em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Fri, 12 Oct 2018 13:32:46 +0000 L K Sharma 120074 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hyper-extremism tends to follow extremism https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/hyper-extremism-tends-to-follow-extremism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Hindutva storm-troopers would feel let down, having been trained to abuse the secular Hindus, liberals, intellectuals, dissenting writers and a minority community.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-32027982.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-32027982.jpg" alt="lead lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat (left) and BJP National Chief Amit Shah release coffee table book on the life of the PM Narendra Modi, July 2017. Hindustan Times/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), India’s self-styled “cultural” organisation, whose political wing BJP runs the Government, held a public outreach programme designed to soften its image and make itself palatable to the opponents of its Hindu nationalism and sectarianism. That caused a political stir because as an insider says, this militant Hindu right-wing organisation, manned by a huge network of paramilitary volunteers, never admits there is anything flawed or outdated in its ideology.</p> <p>The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has made some startling statements going against core principles of this organisation founded in 1925 with the objective of providing character training through Hindu discipline and unifying the majority Hindu community, to lead to the formation of a Hindu nation. Bhagwat’s intervention has confused followers accustomed to hard talk. </p> <h2><strong>Hard talk</strong></h2> <p>Bhagwat has suggested, for example, that the organisation wholeheartedly take on board the Indian Constitution. His statement endorsing the Indian Constitution – which he called “the consensus of the country” – made news, because RSS leaders have always criticised the secular and socialist Constitution of India. Commentators have predicted that if the BJP wins a clear majority in the 2019 elections, it will delete the word “secular” from the Constitution. But Bhagwat’s remarks should end the speculation that a BJP Government would amend the Constitution to turn India into a theocratic state, <em>Hindu Rashtra</em>.</p> <p>Another key statement by Bhagwat has suggested that a Hindu nation will have space for Muslims. “The day it is said that Muslims are unwanted here, the concept of Hindutva will cease to exist”. This somewhat reassuring gesture towards Muslims comes at a time when the community is feeling besieged. It has been politically marginalised by the BJP. Not a week passes without newspaper reports of lumpen mobs carrying the Hindutva banner and threatening Muslims for selling beef or being friendly with Hindu women. In many cases, police in BJP-ruled states have shown religious bias. So, Bhagwat’s nuanced statement was very sensible and timely.</p> <p>But what is going on? These statements made ahead of the general election reflect the realisation that aggressive Hindutva politics may not yield a rich harvest of votes this time around – there are limits to religious polarisation promoting the interests of the political wing of the RSS. <span class="mag-quote-center">These statements made ahead of the general election reflect the realisation that… there are limits to religious polarisation.</span></p> <p>Of course, Bhagwat’s lecture was promptly hailed by its member who is currently deputed to the ruling party BJP as its national general secretary. He wrote: “Bhagwat has disarmed most critics through his Glasnost.” He projected Bhagwat as a “reformer”, comparing him to Gorbachev who had said: “If not me, who? And if not now, when?”</p> <p>Some ordinary Hindus and Muslims dismissed Bhagwat’s remarks as an election-eve gimmick. If an atheist starts swearing in the name of God, it will make the news. So, Bhagwat got massive publicity. Most commentators said Bhagwat must walk the talk and make the rank and file follow him. </p> <p>As elections approach, political parties modify their ideological commitments, depending on the prevailing national mood as recorded by their strategists. With parliamentary elections coming up in a few months, India is sinking under a flood of political rhetoric. It is in this context that the nominated supreme leader of the RSS thought of rebranding the “cultural” organisation that runs India by remote-control. </p> <h2><strong>Survival instinct</strong></h2> <p>The RSS has always possessed extraordinary political instincts. Without political acumen, this cultural organisation would not have survived for more than 90 years during which it compromised with the British and kept its distance from the Congress-led freedom movement. After independence, the RSS got blamed because one of its former members killed Mahatma Gandhi. It faced a ban that was lifted after it gave an undertaking to remain a cultural organisation. Sardar Patel was then Home Minister.</p> <p>While the RSS became a pariah in the eyes of most Indians because of its sectarian agenda, it was admired even by its opponents for its record of rescue and relief operations during calamities. The RSS is justifiably proud of its capacity to respond quickly through its efficient organisation. It claimed that it can deploy its volunteers even faster than the army deploys its soldiers!</p> <p>The RSS found easy acceptance among a large section of Indians settled abroad. The Hollywood Hindus of America, feeling insecure about their identity, find comfort in lending digital support to RSS ideology. They would run miles from the White nationalists in their country but support the Hindu nationalists in India! A London-based Gujarati trader grumbling about India teeming with Muslims fell silent when told that white skinheads would complain that London had got far too many Patels.</p> <p>The RSS tradition of public service and hard work in the areas of education and health, designed to counter the influence of missionaries among the tribals and the unprivileged Hindus, kept the organisation in good shape, even in an adverse political environment. All those years before it tasted the fruits of political power, the RSS kept working without fanfare, without publicity, quietly and secretively, attracting more volunteers to its sectarian ideology and expanding its network.</p> <p>As part of its growth strategy, it says Hinduism is in danger and Hindus face a demographic challenge. Its political instinct reflects the way Hindu society has survived the threats posed by invaders, at times compromising with alien rulers but always sticking to its faith in private. All other Hindu organisations such as the Hindu Mela, Ram Rajya Parishad and Hindu Mahasabha withered away. The RSS saw ups and downs and its political wing grabbed every opportunity to mainstream itself by joining and quitting coalitions. </p> <p>Their biggest opportunity came when Jayaprakash Narayan needed volunteers to fight the Indira Gandhi Government. The RSS and its political wing were more than willing to join his movement, notwithstanding ideological differences. Subsequently the socialist leader regretted the entry of the communal forces into his movement, but by then the communal outfit had gained a measure of respectability because of its association with others. The RSS and BJP have spent the past four years trying to mainstream Hindutva ideology, based on exclusion and extremism. <span class="mag-quote-center">For this “cultural” organisation, Indian culture means pre-Islamic Indian culture.</span></p> <p>For this “cultural” organisation, Indian culture means pre-Islamic Indian culture. It does not accept regional diversity or the differences marking different phases of India’s history. Its storm-troopers would malign any historian admiring an Indian culture that had assimilated influences from the Greek world and from Central Asia, from the Christian Jewish Near East or from Islam and from Europe. Its leaders participated in the demolition of the Babri mosque and its volunteers are ever ready to demand the renaming of the roads named after the Mogul emperors. </p> <h2><strong>Under the saffron flag</strong></h2> <p>Ironically, the RSS shows European influence in the garb of its volunteers, in its commitment to the model of the nation-state and its admiration for powerful European leaders who crushed the minorities! </p> <p>It marches on with the saffron flag, playing temple politics and ignoring the basic tenets of the Hindu faith. Its followers cannot be called Hindu fundamentalists because, as scholar Richard Gombrich said, they do not follow the fundamentals of the Hindu faith. Some of the principles propounded by the RSS do not reflect Vedic culture, and are imports both from Islam and Christianity, who have only one central authority and one single holy book. The Hindutva warriors, who threaten dissenters and writers of books on Hinduism, were never exposed to the Vedic hymn questioning the Creator!</p> <p>Respected religious leaders and learned scholars usually keep mum when politicians hijack a religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. Had it not been so, the vast Hindu masses might have come to understand the sharp difference between their faith and the “Hindutva” being propagated by the RSS and its affiliated organisations.</p> <p>The groups carrying saffron flags are always out to “defend” Hindu Gods and Goddesses who are supposed to protect mortals! In this version of the ancient faith, killing a cow is a sin, but killing a human acceptable. <span class="mag-quote-center">In this version of the ancient faith, killing a cow is a sin, but killing a human acceptable.</span></p> <p>The RSS expects its makeover to dissuade those disturbed by Hindutva extremism from deserting its political wing, whose popularity shows some signs of decline. The RSS chief decided to project a slightly liberal face at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a former RSS functionary, has run into a political storm. </p> <p>There are signs of the revival of temple politics that once yielded a rich harvest of votes for the BJP. Considering the outbreak of religiosity in the political arena in the past four years, the fear of secular forces seems justified. In the coming elections, will the ruling party make even greater use of the Hindutva card since its development plans have not delivered? </p> <p>Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the other day that the primary duty of the judiciary is to protect the secular spirit of the Constitution – a task that has become more demanding because “political disputes and electoral battles are increasingly getting laced with religious overtones, symbols, myths and prejudices”. </p> <p>Modi came to power by appealing to the votaries of Hindutva as well as promising rapid economic development. The votaries called him <em>Hindu Hridhay Samrat</em> (Emperor of the Hindu Hearts). The promised economic <em>nirvana</em> attracted those opposed to religious polarisation, hate speech and political marginalisation of a significant community.</p> <p>The combination of Hindutva and economic development has not worked. So, has the RSS concluded that the Hindutva card may not give a majority to the BJP? It had chosen Modi as the BJP’s nominee for the prime-ministership. It may have a Plan B in case its political wing does not get an absolute majority. </p> <p>The BJP will need coalition partners and since Modi has turned out to be a polarising figure, the potential partners will need an excuse to support a party tainted with religious hatred. In that event, the RSS will quickly field Modi’s replacement from within its ranks to attract coalition partners.</p> <p>The controversial but firm ties between the RSS and its political wing once led to the fall of the coalition Janata Government on the issue of “dual membership” as the RSS members in the Government refused to ditch their mentor-organisation. Now that Modi’s charisma, notwithstanding his fiery oratory, has started to diminish, Bhagwat has also made a very subtle attempt in his speech to distance the RSS from its political wing. <span class="mag-quote-center">Now that Modi’s charisma, notwithstanding his fiery oratory, has started to diminish, Bhagwat has also made a very subtle attempt in his speech to distance the RSS from its political wing.</span> </p><p>While the BJP leaders have gone after the Congress and its leaders past and present hammer and tongs, Bhagwat unexpectedly lauded the role of the Congress. He said the RSS did not believe in cleansing the nation of the Congress, contradicting the BJP leaders who say they would eradicate the Congress from the soil of India. Some say the RSS is preparing for the time when a hostile party comes to power again! So, Bhagwat found it necessary to make some conciliatory noises and slightly distance the RSS from its political wing. </p> <h2><strong>Hour of glory</strong></h2> <p>Bhagwat’s sudden appearance as a “reformer” surprised both insiders and outsiders. No questions have ever been raised within the organisation about the fundamental principles on which it was founded. This need to reform has surfaced in the organisation’s hour of glory when its political wing, for the first time in its history, commands unrestricted political power.</p> <p>Since the coming of Prime Minister Modi, the RSS has gained immense influence, leading to the expansion of its nationwide network of volunteers who hold regular drills, armed with sticks. A few bureaucrats, judges, policemen and even the Army chief at times say things that please the RSS but would have horrified any past political establishment. <span class="mag-quote-center">A mini-cultural revolution involving cultural assassinations of selected national heroes has been sweeping the nation.</span></p> <p>A mini-cultural revolution involving cultural assassinations of selected national heroes has been sweeping the nation. All kinds of autonomous institutions are now led by RSS persons. A massive anti-Nehru campaign has been unleashed. The profile of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library has been modified. Bhagwat’s address on the RSS annual day was telecast live by the nation’s public broadcaster. Bhagwat’s public outreach programme was launched in the most prestigious government auditorium. So, in things big and small, the RSS has been richly rewarded by the Modi Government.</p> <p>The RSS, for its part, let the Modi Government go against some of the principles as well as economic policies that were dear to it. Far from uniting Hindus, Modi’s divisive politics has splintered the community further. Some Hindus now feel ashamed to belong to this faith. The global brand of Hinduism has been damaged. The comparison is not appropriate, but some refer to the Muslim Brotherhood while talking of the RSS.</p> <p>The outbreak of regional and sub-regional pride is not what RSS considers desirable in view of its commitment to <em>Akhand Bharat</em> (the one nation concept that at one time included the separated Pakistan). But regional and sub-regional pride was fuelled by the BJP leaders to win votes. If BJP-ruled Gujarat will reserve jobs for Gujaratis, the concept of one India does not go far.</p> <p>Similarly, some of the Modi Government’s economic policies are what the organisations belonging to the Sangh family fought against when their party was not in power. These include the opening up of the big retail trade, privatisation, role of the foreign corporates, labour reforms and the diminished importance of self-reliance. The RSS has overlooked all this. It has silently watched Modi’s glorification as an individual at the cost of an institution which again is not part of the RSS ethos.</p> <p>However, RSS has not regretted that it picked up Modi as the prime-ministerial candidate because it is Modi’s poll campaign that secured an absolute majority for the political wing of the RSS. The RSS came into the limelight and became attractive to the fence-sitters and many of its former opponents. Its influence increased, and its network expanded as new people flocked to it. </p> <h2><strong>Double-edged sword</strong></h2> <p>Ironically, this success has turned out to be a double-edged sword. Seen as running the Government through remote-control, the RSS has got itself exposed as an unconstitutional authority. It has come under fierce attacks from opponents of the BJP. It used to attract less hostility when the BJP was not in power.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-38060733.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-38060733.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat with former PM Manmohan Singh, and BJP Leader M.M. Joshi during a cremation ceremony, August 2018. Hindustan Times/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Now its non-participation in the freedom movement or its preference for a saffron flag is recalled ever more frequently. The critics point out that its constant talk of Hindu nationalism never helped in the nation-building undertaken by the Congress leaders. The RSS showed no respect for either the national flag or such key principles of the Constitution as secularism, socialism, federalism or even democracy. Its organisational set-up is itself undemocratic. </p><p>In the name of nationalism, the RSS opposed every friendly gesture towards Pakistan. It called positive discrimination, ‘appeasement of the minorities’. Some commentators call this organisation anti-national because of this conduct and its record of exacerbating Hindu-Muslim tensions.</p> <p>Its ideology is blamed for physical and verbal attacks on the minorities, the BJP leaders’ hate speeches and an aggressive campaign aided by ministers to rid some educational institutions of leftist influence. It is blamed for attacks on the critics of Hindutva and those challenging the dominant castes. Even for the Government’s failures, the RSS gets blamed by association!</p> <p>Liberal critics have pointed out that Bhagwat skipped some controversial views expressed frequently by BJP leaders and followers. For example, he kept silent on the inter-religious marriages that have led to mob violence and even police harassment of Hindu girls marrying Muslims. Groups trespass into the homes of such couples or accost couples sitting in public places, questioning their identity. He did not say a word about the campaign asking the Muslims to reconvert to Hinduism, the faith of their forefathers.</p> <p>In an organisation like the RSS, one cannot stray too far from the given line even in the name of reform. Bhagwat would have faced less problems in making a slight departure before its political wing polarised the nation on religious lines and exploited the fault lines of communal and caste rivalries. Many Hindus now feel charged with communal passion and support Modi precisely for his ability to “fix” the enemies of Hinduism. <span class="mag-quote-center">In an organisation like the RSS, one cannot stray too far from the given line even in the name of reform.</span></p> <h2><strong>Hyper-extremism</strong></h2> <p>Hyper-extremism follows extremism. A mildly aggressive organisation that fuels violence is either taken over by a more violent leader or superseded by a fierier rival organisation. What a Modi does, a Yogi can do better! Had Yogi, the Hindu monk-politician, not been accommodated as a state chief minister, he could have troubled his party, the BJP, more than any opposition leader. If the RSS moves towards liberalism, the Hindutva storm-troopers, energised and empowered during the past four years, would feel let down. They have been trained to abuse the secular Hindus, liberals, intellectuals, dissenting writers and a minority community. </p> <p>Organisations displaying their Hindutva credential have proliferated during the past four years and new names keep cropping up in news reports about mob violence, intimidation and lynching.&nbsp; </p> <p>The volunteers of the vast moral police are provoked by those selling beef, entering into inter-religious marriages, or not showing respect to a Hindu God or the national flag. Women who wear short skirts or enjoy drinks in a bar have to be a bit more careful about their personal security. Romantic couples find that neither public gardens nor private homes are quite safe. The recent cases of violence will perhaps bring down the number of inter-religious marriages!</p> <h2><strong>Lynching</strong></h2> <p>Scholar Christopher Jaffrelot, who has written extensively on the RSS, has this to say: “Not only has the Prime Minister abstained from condemning lynchings, some legislators and ministers have extended their blessings to the lynchers. Whenever lynchers have been arrested, the local judiciary has released them on bail. If the executive, legislature and judiciary do not effectively oppose lynchings, India may remain a rule-of law country on paper and, in practice, a de facto ethno-state.” </p> <p>When the ruling party president Amit Shah called Muslim infiltrators “termites”, a foreign journalist was reminded of a particular tribe in a distant land being called “cockroaches” for justifying violence against it. These days more abuses are heard in India’s political discourse than in a den of criminals. Fired by bigotry, millions have taken to social media. A large section, comfortable only in their mother tongue, convey their violent messages in Hindi written in the Roman script. <span class="mag-quote-center">Fired by bigotry, millions have taken to social media.</span></p> <p>In this kind of a toxic atmosphere, even the supreme leader of the cadre-based RSS, will find limits to his authority. His nuanced comments, designed for image makeover, are unlikely to lift the threat of Hindutva extremism that now comes from the expanding number of outfits that keep cropping up. </p> <p>The BJP is already facing protests from its upper-caste supporters angered by a legal provision to protect the Dalits that the Modi Government was forced to enact by its coalition partners belonging to the oppressed communities. The core supporters of the RSS and its political wing have always come from the upper castes who are unhappy with what they see as “appeasement” of the Dalits!</p> <p>Some Hindu leaders will denounce any reformist Hindu extremist as “a fake Hindu”. They have learnt that it pays in politics to call your secular Hindu opponent a Muslim, “sickular”, and an agent of Pakistan! Some Hindutva hotheads are asking why the Government has not passed a law to build the promised Ram Temple on the site of the demolished Babri mosque! </p> <p>They can snatch back the crown they had placed on the head of the Emperor of the Hindu Hearts! The communal virus has made violent eruptions routine. It will not be easy to push this genie back into the bottle!&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Sun, 30 Sep 2018 12:08:51 +0000 L K Sharma 119872 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Naipaul: an abandoned child looks and relooks at the motherland https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/naipaul-abandoned-child-looks-and-relooks-at-motherland <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Naipaul always felt that his books would stand the test of time. But which of his books on India, after multiple visits to his ancestral land, will stand that test?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/naipaul .jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/naipaul .jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>V.S.Naipaul. Photo taken by the author.</span></span></span></p><p>Naipaul was obsessed with the idea of exile. His composite hero is a quintessential exile and most of his books reflect continuity. His ancestors came from India. He grew up in Trinidad, spent his life in England and experienced double exile. The scattering of the people from their original homes fascinated him, pained him and gave him material that he treated with pathos and humour. His relationship with India remains a topic of intense exploration. </p> <p>Naipaul’s travelogue <em>An Area of Darkness,</em> published in 1964, portrayed a poor and filthy India. It caused grave offence in his motherland. What mattered was its negative portrayal of India and Indians, not the book’s literary merits. No one read the title differently. Naipaul may have been suggesting that for him, India was and remained an area of darkness. He provoked sharp retorts in India and the book was banned. It was categorised alongside <em>Mother India</em> in which Katherine Mayo had attacked India’s society, culture and religion. The American historian’s polemical book, published in 1927, had been called by Gandhi “a drain inspector’s report”. <span class="mag-quote-center">Naipaul may have been suggesting that for him, India was and remained an area of darkness.</span></p> <p>Poet Nissim Ezekiel issued a famous rejoinder “Naipaul’s India and Mine”, criticising the writer for his description of the grossness and squalor of Indian life, the routine ritualism, the lip service to high ideals, the petrified and distorted sense of cleanliness and a thousand other things. Another distinguished literary critic C. D. Narasimhaiah said Naipaul’s comments lacked sympathy, penetration and concern for people as people. He himself gives a long list of India’s faults and shortcomings – but from Naipaul he had expected an in-depth study of the Indian mind!</p> <p>Since the poverty and public defecation could not be denied, no one said that Naipaul had portrayed an imaginary land, not a real country. Many seemed to say: Yes, the reality is ugly, but let no outsider expose it. Indians indulge in self-criticism but do not appreciate others criticising them. The damning reports appear in the Indian newspapers every day; an “outsider” does not have to ferret out any “inside information”.</p> <p>Some readers blamed Naipaul for painting an incomplete picture. That was not all in their India, they said. Some charged Naipaul with viewing India with the Western Kaleidoscope. Some wanted him to be sympathetic. Some doubted his intellectual integrity, saying that he wrote to suit western readers. Many saw the book marked by cantankerousness and vitriolic asperity. </p> <p>Fortunately, <em>An Area of Darkness</em> was published when Indians had not yet discovered “the extreme form of literary criticism” that has in recent years silenced more than one writer. So, the book was just discussed and not burnt by those offended by the book. Nor did the book prevent Naipaul from visiting his ancestral land again and again. He was welcomed warmly and assisted by volunteers during his travels and interviews for his subsequent books. </p> <p>The barrage of criticism by the nationalist Indians gradually dried up but Naipaul was never written about without a mention of his offensive description of India. Inevitably, such references figured in the obituaries and eulogistic articles published after the death of the Nobel laureate. Eminent poet Keki Daruwalla, for example, recalls that reading <em>An Area of Darkness</em> he had felt Naipaul “physically assaulting” India. <span class="mag-quote-center">Eminent poet Keki Daruwalla recalls that reading <em>An Area of Darkness</em> he had felt Naipaul “physically assaulting” India.</span></p> <p>In basic terms, Naipaul’s encounter with his ancestral land was not so unusual. Imagine a person born in Bombay who at the age of 30 goes for the first time to his ancestral village in a distant backward state of India. He was brought up on his grandmother’s stories about the idyllic rural scene – beautiful trees and the river and the small temple and the courtyard, with the family members sitting and chatting. But what would this Bombay man see in the same poverty-stricken village after having lived in a metropole for three decades.</p> <p>Naipaul had a distinctive way of seeing. A professor of literature commuting daily by the local train in Bombay looks at the rows of men defecating, and sees little. But Naipaul looked and saw. He wrote about it and the critics could not take it. Some said Naipaul was obsessed with excrement because of his “Brahminical fastidiousness”. It could have been attributed to the British influence! Film-maker Danny Boyle says it is a British obsession. Many British films and TV ads have a toilet scene. His own film featuring Bombay shows human excrement.</p> <p>To understand Naipaul’s observations, one must study where Naipaul came from and what expectations he took with him on his visit to the land of his forefathers. The phrase “love-hate” does not explain it fully. Naipaul’s relationship with India has to be seen in the context of his early life experience and his observation of the lives of his father, mother and other Indians living in Trinidad. While growing up, he learnt about his ancestors who had carried India in their memories. </p> <p>The Hindu rituals and Ram Lila performances were replicated in Trinidad. The Ram Lila, the most popular event, conveyed a subtle message about India. That idea of India had enthralled Naipaul during his childhood while expectations about India were built up by the elders who knew all about Gandhi and Nehru. He heard great stories about the “political” India. He detected the civilizational strengths of the place from which his ancestors had come. Naipaul saw the able, resourceful, wise and somewhat learned Indians as well as a different kind of people with a darker complexion.</p> <h2><strong>India of the imagination</strong></h2> <p>Naipaul was exposed daily to the Remembered India! He grew up with the “mangled bits of old India”. Naipaul felt deep bonds with India formed during his childhood. He was not a critical “outsider” who went to collect embarrassing facts to cause sensation and serve his western readers. He went as an Indian with a bagful of romantic memories of a mythical India.&nbsp;The Hindu religious rites and other private ways created a belief in the “wholeness” of India. It was a romantic belief that got shattered when he found that the ancestral civilisation to which they paid tribute, had been broken and rendered helpless before the invaders. It shocked him. He found the gap between the imagined India and the real India so large that initially he even thought of not writing a book.</p> <p>In India, Naipaul witnessed a fractured society. There was no “wholeness”. Even the Trinidadian sense of an Indian community was missing. The people in the ancestral land needed to hold on to smaller ideas of who and what they were. “With my idea of an Indian identity, I could not be reconciled with it.” So, his visit ended in “personal confusion, in futility and impatience… self-reproach and flight”.</p> <p>To study Naipaul’s ties with India, one does not have to consult the history of Trinidad and the shipment of Indians to this distant British colony needing cheap labour. Naipaul left enough clues. “India was the greatest hurt. It was a subject country. It was also the place from whose great poverty our grandfathers had had to run away in the late nineteenth century.”&nbsp; He compares the rawness of his hurt to that reflected in Gandhi’s discovery in the 1890s of the wretchedness of the unprotected Indian workers in South Africa.</p> <p>Explaining the complexity of his relationship with India, he says: “I’m at once too close and too far. It isn’t my home and it cannot be my home; and yet I cannot reject it or be indifferent to it.” Naipaul makes a distinction between the political India and a personal India. He was deeply interested in the latter. He had no home anywhere and yet, perhaps the idea of homecoming filled him with anxiety. “I was full of nerves. But nothing had prepared me for the dereliction I saw. No other country I know had so many layers of wretchedness.” <span class="mag-quote-center">Naipaul could never handle poverty. The poor gave him neurosis.</span></p> <p>Naipaul could never handle poverty. The poor gave him neurosis. He was to later record his contempt for “the men who are nothing and who allow themselves to become nothing”. Such men have no place in this world, he declared. So, poverty in India aggravates Naipaul’s old neurosis. The feeling does not leave him even during his visit to the village of his maternal grandfather that should have been a grand home-coming. He refuses to give a lift to a young boy whom he calls an “idler”. Naipaul reacts in a certain way when he sees “disagreeable people” whether in Africa or in India or while travelling by ship.</p> <p>Naipaul did not want to falsify his intense personal experience by capturing it in a novel. That would have required an “apparatus of invention”. He did not want to repeat the failing of the Indian novel, a form borrowed from the West, that had learnt to deal with “the externals of things, at times missing their terrible essence”. So, he had to write nonfiction to “render his experience faithfully”. </p> <h2><strong>Encountering the self</strong></h2> <p>Naipaul went to India as an insider-outsider. It was an exploration of the self as much as that of a land. One western critic says <em>An Area of Darkness</em> was about a country and also about the writer visiting the land of his ancestors. He wrote: ‘…true autobiography arises when a man encounters something in his life which shocks him into the need for self-examination and self-explanation. He talks about the great hurt. What he saw in India pained him. He was to say later that it was a journey that broke his life into two. “It was a journey that should never have been made”.’</p> <p>Indians may feel less offended by Naipaul’s sharp criticism and understand Naipaul’s anguish better if they read the Mahabharat’s story of Kunti and her son Karna. The unwedded mother abandons her baby who is brought up by a person of a lower caste and thus Karna is known as <em>soota putra</em>. An Indian psychoanalyst might have diagnosed Naipaul as suffering from the <em>soot putra</em> syndrome!</p> <p>Naipaul was so distressed by the impotence of his great ancestral land, the land which his people had to leave in order to go searching for a better life in a far-away stupid plantation colony. Why did the motherland fail to protect them? Why were they thrown into the company of the insignificant “other” people? Why did the mother abandon her children? Was she indifferent? Was she cruel? </p> <p>Naipaul goes to India and discovers that she was helpless. This aggravates his own helplessness. Aggravates his anger about the abandonment. His early writing on India reflects that rage. <span class="mag-quote-center">Naipaul goes to India and discovers that she was helpless… His early writing on India reflects that rage.</span></p> <p>Naipaul then finds the one to blame for the motherland’s plight. He zeroes in on the early invaders and spares those who captured India later, waving the flag of the universal civilisation! This led to another controversy about Naipaul but won him a new kind of admirer. In the eyes of some Indians, Naipaul’s image changed following his two books on Islam, his statements on the demolition of the Babri mosque and his favourable comments on the new India. </p> <p>Naipaul’s analysis of the converted Muslims’ worldview was again read in simplistic black-and-white terms. Because of the vagaries of public perception, his <em>Beyond Belief</em> got classified in Pakistan with <em>An Area of Darkness</em>. The response in the west was different. Naipaul’s comments on Islam came when it no longer needed the Islamists to fight communism. Of course, after 9/11, the west came to value every critical comment on Islam. It was just a coincidence. </p> <p>An expert on “dislocation” and its prime victim, Naipaul observed and beautifully recorded what Islam did to a large section of the world’s population constituted by the non-Arabic Muslims. But those uninterested in Naipaul’s luminous prose and masterly analysis got swayed by the rumour that Naipaul hated Islam. Encouraged by Naipaul’s view on the destruction of the Babri mosque, these few Indians gave Naipaul a hero’s welcome in New Delhi. Naipaul allowed himself to be appropriated by those who played politics in the name of a temple and caused bloodshed.</p> <p>Had they read <em>An Area of Darkness,</em> they would have marched with its copy for a purpose other than reading! They did not know that Naipaul had coined the phrase “Hollywood Hindus” and ridiculed them for self-dramatizing. Nor did they know that Naipaul had called India a country of headless people, the matchstick people! Naipaul had once referred to the “barbaric religious rites of Hinduism”.</p> <p>Those categorising a writer as pro or anti-Indian were pleased that Naipaul had struck a slightly optimistic note in his third India book <em>India:</em> <em>A Million Mutinies Now</em>. This was in the face of overwhelming anecdotal evidence that still validated much of what Naipaul had written in his first infamous volume. Those who admire Naipaul’s authenticity and his commitment to tell the truth were not impressed. <span class="mag-quote-center">The stark realism of his comments on Indian politics appears even more striking so many years later.</span></p> <p>The stark realism of his comments on Indian politics appears even more striking so many years later. While covering the Lok Sabha election campaign in Ajmer in 1971, Naipaul was dismayed by the politicians’ ignorance and hypocrisy. Today many political leaders make most unscientific statements that can embarrass even a school student. Every politician hides his real self and masquerades as someone else in order to make him electable. Masquerading is an art of great interest to Naipaul. </p> <p>India is still busy “exchanging banalities with itself’. It continues to be “ruled by magic, by slogans and potent names”. Naipaul had noticed that Indians had a “strange frenzied attitude, the attitude of the conqueror who wants to plunder as fast as possible as if the opportunity might any moment be withdrawn”. Hasn’t the incidence of loot shot up in the wake of the economic reforms?</p> <p>The daily public defecation festival is still on like a long-running western musical, but Naipaul had done with that kind of stuff. Naipaul’s favourite words were absurdity, banality, fraudulence, mimicry, mendacity, maladministration, chaos and corruption. Indians, perhaps out of respect for Naipaul, did nothing to falsify his narration incorporating these. And today’s India also “responds only to events”. The Indian malady of “taking shelter under grand words” is still rampant. </p> <h2><strong>A new breed of Indians</strong></h2> <p>Why did this great “discoverer of people” fail to discover the emerging new breed of Indians – the kind that provoked him in Africa to make biting remarks. Naipaul had expertly written about “frenzy for the sake of frenzy” but he did not see it in the TV images of the demolition of the Babri mosque. The cruel scenes of communal violence in India did not make him recall his description of a mob in a primitive society elsewhere killing a policeman and then gleefully dancing around his body. </p> <p>During his last years before he fell ill, he visited India more than once and was fully aware of what was going on in India. But his public statements reflected optimism. Only once in 2003 he found it necessary to warn the Vajpayee Government against the “persecution” of the internet media company Tehelka.com of which he was a director. At his press conference in New Delhi, he also spoke of his goodwill towards the Bhartiya Janata Party heading the ruling coalition.</p> <p>Has India progressed or regressed as a knowledge society? Has scientific temper become more popular? Has India’s march towards modernity slowed down? Is dissent valued or resented? Does the Government cherish the spirit if democracy? Is freedom of speech getting full play? </p> <p>Naipaul noted with satisfaction the emergence of an intellectual class. One may argue that India had many more intellectual giants up until the sixties. No doubt since then the market intellectuals and promotional intellectuals have risen. What one sees is the disappearing breed of Indians who recited the Vedas in the morning and did blue-sky scientific research during the day, or those who lectured on political theory in universities and wrote books on classical theatre or music. Naipaul disliked the pointy-headed professors, but school and university teachers could have told him much about the falling standards of education. Naipaul was right in saying that the level of self-confidence among the people had shot up since his first visit. Naipaul has an eye for details and he was quick to spot that the standards of book design and production had improved. They did so because more standard publishing houses emerged and expensive printing and book-binding machines were imported! The market came to demand excellence in graphic design. <span class="mag-quote-center">Naipaul was right in saying that the level of self-confidence among the people had shot up since his first visit.</span></p> <p>Of course, a country changes. During his last few visits, Naipaul came to believe in an India that had given him no hope once. <em>The Financial Times</em> started covering this emerging economic power. Naipaul witnessed the crowds of aspiring Indians, those wanting to achieve something in life. “Achievement” mattered a great deal to Naipaul who had infinite disdain for the non-achievers. </p> <p>If Naipaul had gone to his wretched ancestral village where he was seen as a “giver” in 1962, he would have been welcomed as a “receiver”. The poor boy whom he denied a lift in his jeep is perhaps a rich mining magnate controlling an army of musclemen and two Members of Parliament. He would have served Naipaul the most expensive Scotch. That may have reminded Naipaul of Africa where he had noticed some people suddenly coming into big money!</p> <p>India did change but perhaps the reason for the writer’s new optimism was also personal. In 1962, Naipaul’s arrival and departure made no news. He was lost in the crowd as an ordinary Indian! In recent years, he always got a standing ovation in chandeliered halls brimming with made-up men and coiffured women. Naipaul found more Indians reading his books. </p> <p>Like the country, the writer changed! Another set of critics would say that Naipaul in recent years had failed to see the negative trends. In fact, on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of <em>An Area of Darkness</em>, some readers took to social media to appreciate Naipaul’s earlier criticism and to contradict the mellower Naipaul by saying that in most respects, the country had hardly changed in five decades. </p> <p>Learned critics may say that Naipaul was wrong to appreciate the political fantasy acquiring a religious dimension. Naipaul wrote so well about the converted Muslims who fell under the influence of a faith that was not a matter of conscience or private belief but made imperial demands. And yet Naipaul did not see the rising political Hindutva seeking to replace Hinduism, the religion of his ancestors in India, and creating a disturbance throughout Indian society.</p> <p>Naipaul said during his visit to India in 1962, he saw things “through the haze of my own nerves”. But the clarity of his vision then was certified even by the critics of An<em> Area of Darkness</em>. Naipaul’s intensely angry personal tone is missing in <em>India:</em> <em>A Million Mutinies Now</em>. An African proverb says only a friend tells you that your mouth is stinking. A compassionate and mellower Naipaul was not being very friendly!</p> <p>Naipaul always felt that his books would stand the test of time. Considering the turn that his ancestral land has taken, will <em>India:</em> <em>A Million Mutinies Now</em> stand the test of time? Writing the third book was perhaps Naipaul’s way of making peace with his ancestral land. But his sympathy seems stained with a trace of inauthenticity. Leaving this book aside, India, marching on the path of perpetual sectarian strife, may yet validate Naipaul’s general pessimistic and disdainful assessment of the former colonies!</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Culture International politics L K Sharma Tue, 28 Aug 2018 10:29:54 +0000 L K Sharma 119455 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Democracy eats its parents! https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/democracy-eats-its-parents <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>"If a principled yet powerful leader does emerge, he can only come from yesterday’s disempowered classes." </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/1024px-Kanhaiya_Kumar.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/1024px-Kanhaiya_Kumar.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kanhaiya Kumar, former President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union and leader of the All India Students Federation (AISF). Wikicommons/Mullookkaaran. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The Brexit referendum and the follow-up debates have highlighted a trend relevant to the nature of democracy not just in Great Britain but other countries including America and India. These show how differently the common people think from the creative community and intellectuals.</p> <p>The referendum favoured Britain’s leaving the European Union because workers and the unemployed felt that the immigrants and other foreigners were responsible for their economic woes and joined disillusioned middle classes who wanted to “take back control”. Banking on the economic insecurity of the British working class, the “leavers” fuelled fear and resentment and won the referendum. </p> <p>The campaign widened the gulf between the working class and intellectuals including scientists and the creative community. Scientists and artistes see foreigners serving British interests in the fields of research, innovation, arts and culture. They favour a freer movement of people and oppose tighter immigration controls. They also benefit from EU funding.</p> <p>So, the British scientists make statements that are liked by those who want Britain to remain in the European Union, notwithstanding the referendum’s result. The Eurosceptics do not see scientists as their allies. </p> <p>Royal Society President Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and two of his predecessors alerted the government about the Brexit’s adverse impact on science and innovation in Britain. “Trashing relationships with the EU and member states will jeopardise scientific progress and damage innovation and the economy.” Continued cooperation and mobility are vital for the advancement of science, they say. A scientist laments that his community has neither the resources nor the place of prominence to mould public opinion.</p> <p>Similarly, musicians and opera houses will face difficulties because of Brexit. The classical music sector feels unsettled. Brexit will result in the stoppage of EU funding. Musicians will have to apply for the visas. Thousands of students from EU countries in the British music schools will face problems. The pan-European regulations on intellectual property will create a complex situation. The European Youth Orchestra is shifting its administrative headquarters from the UK to Italy. “You can’t ask for EU funding and then not be in the EU.”</p> <h2><strong>Town vs. Gown?</strong></h2> <p>The issues of culture and science do not concern the English masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and factory workers. They are easily made to resent the cheap foreign labour. The interests of workers and intellectuals diverge. In times of economic insecurity, a populist leader encourages the working class to hate “foreigners”. The intellectuals and the working class can hardly converse with each other when mutual antipathy is created. A Town vs. Gown kind of situation develops!</p> <p>Earlier, intellectuals were not distant from the people and governance. The concept of philosopher-king was prevalent in the ancient India, Greece and Rome. Much later in India, the king with no pretensions of being a philosopher, had a scholar as his official teacher-adviser with the designation of <em>Rajguru</em>.</p> <p>In old Europe, artisans used to be radicalised by intellectuals who prepared them for a political role. This interaction led to “levelling up”. A paper on the “political shoemakers” of Britain co-authored by Eric Hobsbawm quotes a verse that was popular in the 18th century. “A cobbler once in days of yore /Sat musing at his cottage door. /He liked to read old books, he said. /And then to ponder, what he’d read.”</p> <p>The paper lists a number of shoemaker-intellectuals and says that the shoemaker’s reputation as popular philosopher and politician predates the era of industrial capitalism. It cites the example of a shoemaker holding classes in Marxism. It recalls that the shoemaker uncle of Lloyd Gorge taught his nephew the elements of radical politics in a Welsh village of the 1880s. The artisan communities declined but after leaving their mark on history.</p> <p>So, there was a time when the gulf between intellectuals and the common people could be bridged and the two together managed to change the political course of their country.</p> <p>Even during the last century, intellectuals enjoyed a privileged status in society and exercised considerable influence in politics. Their theoretical work paved the way for the emergence of regimes committed to ideologies, good or bad. The earlier ideological revolutions apart, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher derived her inspiration from a certain school of economists to implement her economic development and social engineering plans.</p> <p>Intellectuals interacted intensely with the commoners in an era marked by inter-class empathy and concern. In India, Prime Minister Nehru used to address mass meetings on topics such as democracy, development, secularism and scientific temper. Another westernised law graduate, Mahatma Gandhi, successfully conveyed his thoughts to millions of Indians most of whom were not literate.</p> <h2><strong>Aggressive populism</strong></h2> <p>The intellectuals’ interaction with the commoners had started to decline even before the rise of aggressive populism. Some other factors weakened the intellectuals’ capacity to sway public opinion or influence political trends.</p> <p>Capitalism is essentially anti-democratic and in collusion with political power it suppresses dissent and disrupts the dialogue between the intellectual and her or his audience. The government does not have to come into the picture at all. Hired hooligans or advertisers can do the job. A new book by an eminent intellectual can be pulped by the publisher threatened by a mob. Or it can disappear from the shelves because of poor sales as compared to the<em> bazaru </em>(mass market) fiction<em>. </em>The market becomes a barrier as the intermediaries such as the publishing giants come to play a big role. </p> <p>Faced with market realism, an intellectual may imbibe the spirit of the new times and tailor his thoughts accordingly. He fears marginalisation<em> </em>and may harbour material aspirations that distance him from the ordinary folks.<em> </em>Thus, an intellectual’s enthusiasm to interact with public gets dampened and his communication skills decline.</p> <p>Intellectuals in India are being told not to confine their activity to academia. A student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, makes this point in his powerful speeches as he draws attention to the crisis created by the Modi Government. He attributes the rise of populism and bigotry to the lack of communication between intellectuals and the masses. </p> <p>Intellectuals write papers on “othering” that a few people read and hold seminars on the “outsiders” that only like-minded academics attend. An intellectual comes to public attention only when he says something that hurts a community’s religious sentiments! <span class="mag-quote-center">Intellectuals write papers on “othering” that a few people read and hold seminars on the “outsiders” that only like-minded academics attend. An intellectual comes to public attention only when he says something that hurts a community’s religious sentiments!</span></p> <p>In a politically surcharged atmosphere, intellectuals hesitate to create a controversy. Politicians have dragged universities into verbal battles over nationalism, patriotism and the display of national flags and discarded battle tanks in the campuses. </p> <p>When dissenters get threatened, some resort to self-censorship and some fall silent. Unlike Britain’s Royal Society, the Indian National Science Academy does not release papers to influence government policies on controversial issues lest such statements displease the powers that be. It maintains silence even when political leaders make ridiculous anti-science statements.</p> <p>Intellectuals may have discreetly redefined their role, opting for discretion instead of valour. Thus, they falter in promoting public interest even when not threatened by the mobs or the government. Some decide to become <em>sarkari </em>(official) intellectuals in order to prove their nationalism and to defend the leader.</p> <h2><strong>“Carnival of Democracy”</strong></h2> <p>On the other side, some of the recipients of information and knowledge are now mentally less equipped for such an interaction thanks to the falling standards of school education. They are too distracted by the entertainment media of the lowest kind. Social media, captured by unethical political activists, turns an assertion of democratic rights into a farcical exercise. It diminishes democracy. Newspapers report elections under the banner: “Carnival of Democracy”.</p> <p>A populist leader with autocratic instincts unleashes a vicious campaign to widen the gulf between the intellectual class and hoi polloi. He gathers mass support by spraying simple slogans. He makes false promises. He fuels hatred by popularising false history. He wins the common man’s sympathy by promising to clip the wings of the “elite”. He can come from a remote town to challenge the Washington elite or New Delhi elite!</p> <p>The current atmosphere in many countries has turned favourable for leaders fuelling hatred by invoking cultural nation identity and using immigration and religion for polarisation. They thus widen the gulf between the intellectual elite and the commoners. </p> <p>The political establishment in country after country has devalued the intellectual elite. A new kind of leader regales the people with a vulgar political discourse, running down the intellectual elite. Burkean logic or an indigenous tradition of argumentation has vanished from parliamentary debates. What was unsayable in public has become sayable. Threats to writers and artists keep growing. &nbsp;</p> <p>A populist leader co-opts the financial elite who care little about sectarian strife and do not have the guts to oppose an oppressor. It is ever ready to support a strong leader who offers financial incentives. Since most intellectuals cannot be recruited as accomplices, a populist leader ridicules them to make them fall in public esteem. He targets writers, poets and independent journalists because they breed dissent. </p> <p>The names of “anti-Indian intellectuals” are available for all to see as a media organ has put their list on the web. There are biographical details and extracts from their books or speeches to show how they defame India and Hinduism. Those named and shamed can even read what the hate-mongers say about them in the comments section. An intellectual wanting to win digital applause must leave Hinduism alone and point a finger at Islam. </p> <p>Some years ago, when eminent historian Romila Thapar got a Congressional fellowship in the US, some right-wing people of Indian origin circulated email messages criticising her. It so happens that India suffers from a grave deficit in right-wing intellectuals and the current regime is seeking ‘thinkers’ who can malign left-leaning intellectuals. <span class="mag-quote-center">It so happens that India suffers from a grave deficit in right-wing intellectuals and the current regime is seeking ‘thinkers’ who can malign left-leaning intellectuals.</span></p> <p>Intellectuals face graver dangers under dictatorships. When the Pakistan army committed a genocide in East Bengal, its prime targets were university professors and students. The option of getting intellectuals shot is not available in a democracy. So, they are terrorised with the help of the ruling party’s storm-troopers. </p> <p>The numbers of brave dissenters shrink. Speaking truth to power calls for sacrifice. And not many intellectuals are prepared to be physically harmed or be marginalised. Thus, the intellectual elite invites the charge of cowardice. However, it is not fair to expect a writer, an academic or a journalist to lay down her life for principles, though some Indians in the recent years did court that destiny. But why should a writer cross the road if he sees a mob on the other side baying for his blood? A semiotician suffering from toothache goes to a dentist! That is why at times the literary fists are not raised and the literature festivals and prominent universities and colleges ditch the principle of freedom of speech and disinvite speakers.</p> <p>The populist leader, the biggest beneficiary of social media, leads an army of trollers and commands millions of devotees ever ready to hit out at any critic. Populism curtails the power of reason by silencing intellectuals. An elected populist leader establishes a Republic of Unreason. </p> <h2><strong>Republic of Unreason and the progress of democracy</strong></h2> <p>A populist in power breeds children of absolutism. He distorts history, modifies school text-books and through social media creates a fake reality in the minds of the young as well as the old. Trained historians with academic rigour and research experience are made redundant by the army of trollers circulating pages and pages of “history” to validate the leader’s rhetoric. This massive fraud polarises the voters. They are incited to take revenge for the alleged atrocities suffered by their forefathers! </p> <p>A populist leader comes to power by fuelling the people’s dissatisfaction with the traditional elites. He masquerades as one of “them”, the ordinary folk, raising a banner of revolt against the politically privileged lot who failed to solve the problems of the common man. </p> <p>This leader finds even scholarly criticism galling. He sees the critic as an enemy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose claim of a college degree is being doubted, ridicules Harvard University. A Nobel Laureate teaching in Harvard University criticised India’s economic policies. Modi shot back: Hard work vs. Harvard! Such leaders are suspicious of the public universities which are currently under attack in India. The Republican Party in the US too is not favourably disposed towards the institutes of higher learning. </p> <p>Once the masses are swayed by post-truth rhetoric, fake news and calls for hating the others, a brave intellectual finds himself crying in the wilderness. The recent developments in India, Great Britain and America, have further diminished the intellectual elite’s role in politics. </p> <p>Of course, one must note that it is the progress of democracy that made possible the emergence of semi-literate leaders who ignore or confront the intellectual elite. The transition signals the transfer of political power from those blessed with higher education and leadership qualities to those who took time to learn the ropes of climbing to the top in the political pecking order.</p> <p>As mentioned earlier, once the working classes were led not by one among them but by those well-versed in theories that explained their interests. These thought leaders mobilised workers and organised their struggles. Some such leaders, because of their class background, were called “champagne socialists”.</p> <p>A semi-literate populist leader displeases some among the elite and the mutual antipathy gets expressed at times. Narendra Modi, during his poll campaign, showed off his humble origins, hitting out at a privileged dynasty. Referring to Modi’s claim that as young man, he used to serve tea in a shop, a Cambridge-educated politician in the opposite camp derisively called him a <em>chaiwallah</em> (tea boy, not fit for a high office). This was a God-sent remark for Modi and he used it to win over more unprivileged voters.</p> <p>It is inherent in the logic of democracy that those who cannot dream of wielding political power will assume it one day, irrespective of their social status, academic qualifications or criminal record. Utopian intellectuals, now unable to influence the common people, had dreamt of the democratic process leading to a “levelling up”. What we see today is “levelling down”. There are few role models in a politics that has come to be dominated by political entrepreneurs who grab power by playing to the basest instincts of the common people.</p> <h2><strong>Champagne socialists</strong></h2> <p>The credit for introducing and promoting democracy goes to the intellectual elite. They prepared the theoretical framework and then popularised the principles by interacting with the people. Some aristocrat-intellectuals joined the mission risking their status and privileges. They even influenced those potential beneficiaries who were initially indifferent to a democratic order.</p> <p>But now a government in India is unlikely to be led by a highly educated “champagne socialist”, who devoted his life to working for the poor and made them conscious of their rights. Partly because he cannot compete in telling tales during the poll campaign. Nor can he follow a cynical sinister scheme to influence the voters. If a principled yet powerful leader does emerge, he can only come from yesterday’s disempowered classes. </p> <p>It is said that a revolution eats its children. With democratisation coming such a long way, one might say that democracy eats its parents!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/subverting-democracy-without-vote-rigging">Subverting democracy without vote-rigging</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-1">God votes in India, abstains in Britain. Part 1</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-ii">God votes in India, abstains in Britain, Part II</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia United States UK India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Fri, 10 Aug 2018 11:25:56 +0000 L K Sharma 119220 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Subverting democracy without vote-rigging https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/subverting-democracy-without-vote-rigging <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Recent events in some prominent democratic nations have highlighted the internal threats that are hard to see and even harder to counter. A military dictator can be identified.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37755345.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37755345.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lahore,Punjab,Pakistan. Polling officers with army soldiers,deployed to polling stations. July 26, 2018. Rana Sajid Hussain/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Democracy is in the news in a Pakistan that has held controversial elections and an India that is gripped by hectic preparations for the elections next year. True democrats are wary of the role of Pakistan’s Army that has directly ruled the country for half the period during 70 years of the nation’s history. And they are also getting alarm signals from India, a well-established democracy.</p> <p>India has become an area of their concern because of the outbreak of hyper-nationalism, mobocracy, sectarian hatred, religious violence, bigotry and suppression of dissent. These are not natural disasters but man-made election-linked events and hence critical for the health of democracy. Multi-disciplinary experts will be needed to study the voting behaviour in new India, the cultural war started by the Modi Government and religious conflict unleashed by the ruling party’s associates.</p> <p>The polarisation of voters along sectarian lines and the use of religion for political mobilisation have been incorporated into electoral battle plans. Identity politics has come to play a more and more significant role in Indian elections.</p> <h2><strong>Degrading the political culture</strong></h2> <p>India’s democratically elected Government has created conditions in which democracy or the lack of it has become the topic of a dismal discourse. Writer and commentator Gopal Gandhi asks the question: “Is India being manipulated by the religious bigot, the political bully and the techno-commercial behemoth?” The answer is implied in the question.</p> <p>India does not face any danger of a military coup. However, democracy can be subverted by degrading the political culture and manipulating the democratic process. Communication technologies facilitate the manufacture of consent and dissent. Fake news and vicious propaganda can be used to create mass upsurges. </p> <p>This new subversive capability has made ballot-rigging unnecessary. Booth-capturing seems to be an outdated technique for ensuring favourable election outcomes. However, reports of the recent village council elections in the state of West Bengal suggest that it is still in use.</p> <p>The Modi Government is being blamed for subjecting the country to an “undeclared Emergency”. Suppression of dissent by using informal actors has become a standard technique. Freedom of expression gets curtailed not by the police but by violent groups who feel empowered by the state. In political, judicial and intellectual circles, daily references crop up to self-censorship and mobocracy and to an “undeclared Emergency”. </p> <h2><strong>Undeclared emergency</strong></h2> <p>The reference is to the state of emergency imposed constitutionally by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. That was the time when she became politically vulnerable and her opponents &nbsp;caused country-wide chaos. A respected non-politician leading the protest called on the army and the police to revolt! The Emergency, involving the arrest of the opposition leaders and curtailment of civil liberties, brought the situation under control, but the dark period continued for 22 months. It ended only when Indira Gandhi announced fresh elections and her party got defeated.</p> <p>Barring that blemish, India’s record has been outstanding. Democracy was always taken for granted. Not anymore. The words that sum up the present situation are “undeclared emergency”. </p> <p>This government cannot declare an Emergency since that enabling law was repealed. So, it depends on informal actors to restrain dissidence and punish dissenters. Violent groups spreading sectarian hatred and killing defenceless people feel empowered by the state. Muslims are politically marginalised and demonised. Intellectuals get threatened openly by the ruling party functionaries. Journalists critical of the Prime Minister are abused on social media. Women journalists face threats.</p> <p>&nbsp;Most media moguls have turned their journals and TV channels into the Prime Minister’s PR outfits. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a noted academic, writes that “a shockingly large section of the private media is now the ideological vanguard of the state, its rhetorical stormtroopers in a politics of communalism, polarisation and distraction, anti-intellectualism, mendacity and hate”.</p> <h2><strong>Economic growth?</strong></h2> <p>The social democrats have always maintained that capitalism is essentially anti-democratic. In a rational world, capitalism and communalism would not go together. The establishment of the London Stock Exchange is known to have dampened the religious violence in Great Britain. Sectarian strife is not in the interests of business and industry. </p> <p>Experts with tunnel vision urge others to ignore the sectarian strife and applaud the government for economic growth. Just like some economists want the people to put up with growing inequalities. Some may even argue that growing corruption is a manifestation of economic growth! &nbsp;</p> <p>In India an extraordinary nexus of capitalism and communalism has developed because of the inducements and threats given by the government. Promoting crony capitalism is one of the charges that the Prime Minister faces. Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out that private capital has been enlisted in a project of unprecedented alignment with state goals and policies. He can’t think of “any liberal democracy where so much private capital has been enlisted in not just supporting the government, but also its whole ideological agenda”.</p> <h2><strong>Mass hysteria and adoration</strong></h2> <p>Democracy finds a favourable climate in some countries and faces adverse social and cultural conditions in others. People’s behaviour impacts political culture. Those given to mass hysteria tend to overlook rational choices. India has characteristics that promote and sustain democracy, but one cultural factor is not conducive. Indians generally revere charismatic leaders and many prostrate before such men as they do before Gods. This tempts politicians to be populist and dictatorial. A strong leader thus finds his going easy.</p> <p>This internal threat to democracy was understood by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He saw the danger of mass adoration encouraging him to act undemocratically. As a great democrat, Nehru adopted a pen name to write about this danger and even directed criticism against himself. He never strayed from the democratic path and respected his critics and the cartoonists lampooning him. </p> <p>A strong leader tinkers with social engineering. The people may think they change the government but at times it is the government that changes the people. Prime Minister Modi’s project to “transform” India is producing a new breed of people. Through a major social engineering project, the Prime Minister is trying to limit the influence of secularism and make his version of Hinduism respectable and more acceptable. </p> <p>Many academics see it as a conspiracy to demolish the very “idea of India” against which a certain political force has been campaigning since the first national elections. Historian-politician Sugata Bose says “the next election is not about who will be the Prime Minister; it is about what kind of India we want.”</p> <p>Some leaders the world over tried social engineering. Margaret Thatcher, the iron lady, made the people greedier, less compassionate and more self-centred. Tony Blair of Labour sold the slogan “Cool Britannia” to make Britain a cultural power house. (V S Naipaul criticised him for turning Britain into a nation of philistines!) Harold Wilson wanted his countrymen to be friendlier to technology. </p> <p>Prime Minister Nehru tried to lessen the hold of orthodoxy and superstitions. In mass meetings, he talked about science and technology and of democracy. He called mega projects new temples of India! He was applauded. Today a leader calling a multi-purpose irrigation project a “temple” will hurt the religious feelings of a community and will be punished politically.</p> <p>Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi popularised computerisation in a bid to push India into the 21st century. Prime Minister Narsimha ushered in economic liberalisation that in turn led to social changes. Consumerism can be fuelled or kept under check through official policies. The introduction of the modern Suzuki car in an India that was still grinding out the old Morris parts led to more aggressive behaviour by its new young owners.</p> <p>A charismatic leader can bring out the best in the people or encourage them to attack the “others”. The latter kind fuel divisiveness. A decent democratic leader checks ugly public behaviour by setting a noble example and preaching brotherhood. He provides a just and fair administration that acts promptly to avert sectarian violence. The leader’s statements send the right signals to the district administration. The day Indira Gandhi was defeated, several Dalit homes in a Gujarat district were burnt down, with the oppressors shouting: “We will show you, now that your mother has gone!” </p> <h2><strong>Sectarian conflict</strong></h2> <p>While an elected western leader set a world record in getting the minority people killed, some dictators have kept sectarian conflict under control by inculcating fear. Saddam Hussein ensured that in his Iraq, the Shias and Sunnis lived in harmony. When the communist German Democratic Republic collapsed, the African immigrants in East Berlin running shops on the footpaths were attacked.</p> <p>In some democracies, sectarian conflict is used for political mobilisation. Inter-religious violence is perpetrated to win votes for the majority community. Subservient bureaucrats let the law-and-order machinery collapse in deference to the ruling party. Most of the people keep mum because of fear or due to indifference towards human suffering. Many are brainwashed to justify mob violence caused by identity politics or “hurt religious feelings”.</p> <p>In the Indian context, commentator Monobina Gupta raises a critical question. “Why has this continuing bloodshed and mayhem not caused public outrage?” She then refers to “deeper psychological disorders within a society”. </p> <p>She points out that the “every-day violence directed towards Muslims, Dalits or any and everybody who doesn’t fit the mob’s notion of ‘mainstream’ has not suddenly appeared. Rather, the Narendra Modi government has merely dipped into the reservoir of prejudice waiting to come to the surface and take on a life of its own. These clearly are not aberrant tendencies. What can be counted as an aberration perhaps is the audacious official legitimacy offered from the very top of the chain of political command”.</p> <h2><strong>Reservoir of prejudice</strong></h2> <p>This a frightful scenario. The poison once injected into society cannot be sucked out. The genie cannot be pushed back into the bottle. If polarisation becomes part of the electoral strategy, sectarian strife becomes an essential element of a grand victory plan.</p> <p>&nbsp;A clever and cynical politician knows how to tap the hidden reservoir of ill-feeling and prejudices. Only today’s America could have produced Trump. So, it becomes clear that the democratic process alone cannot ensure democracy. It can throw up as the leader a scoundrel, a bigot, a stooge of the sponsoring business house, a nincompoop, a shallow public entertainer or a wise public-spirited activist! </p> <p>Democracy dies when even sponsored violence fails to outrage the public. Of course, newspaper articles are written and drawing room discussions take place. These do not threaten the regime that remains assured of public support. It can afford to ignore the voices of sanity and gets busy silencing these. </p> <p>The post-independent India has rarely seen a spontaneous mass upsurge. The huge political rallies include hired participants transported free in buses provided to the parties by businessmen. Public outrage is generated if economic interests are hit and not due to humanitarian concerns or because of atrocities against an unprivileged section.</p> <p>A street-smart politician conjures up a “mass upsurge” and “public outrage” with the help of money, and muscle power. He can manufacture moral panic and raise a disruptive force to serve his party’s political ends. All political parties are not all that ‘competent’ to do so. Hence a small scandal causes a political earthquake while a bigger scandal merely creates a ripple. </p> <p>Even a mature electorate can be trapped in a situation created by an unholy coalition of a few capitalists, media moguls, serving or retired intelligence officers, hired political consultants, ad agencies, co-opted goons and social media. Such ventures can create an atmosphere hostile for the political enemy and favourable for the operator.</p> <p>Volumes have been written on Facebook and WhatsApp targeting voters and an Indian political party deploying an army of trollers. Cyber warfare will figure prominently in the next Indian elections. The electorate will have to cope with massive information and misinformation campaigns.</p> <h2><strong>Democratic dystopia</strong></h2> <p>As this article is being written, a minor British political party is transmitting a social media message that some malicious force has hijacked its website and it may get the contact addresses of those subscribing to the newsletter! </p> <p>The democratic dystopia will gradually feature in poems, plays and novels by Indian writers who along with intellectuals face an unprecedented threat to freedom of expression and to their personal safety. But cartoonists, music bands and stand-up comedians react promptly. One can hear on social media protest songs under the label <em>Aisi, Taisi Democracy</em>, roughly translated as Down with Democracy. </p> <p>At some stage all this will lead to total popular disenchantment with democracy. The people’s indifference to voting reduces elections to a sham exercise. This is not a healthy development.</p> <p>In the olden days, a party’s ideology and election manifesto mattered. All that has become more or less irrelevant. The voters hand victory to one political party but get ruled by a different coalition. Some critical editorials appear on horse-trading of the elected legislators ready to switch loyalties for power or money. The end of ideology has hit even the leftist parties in India. They also lose their cadres and leaders to the rival party that comes to power. </p> <p>Bihar’s chief minister assumed office with the support of his electoral allies and ditched them later to continue in power in coalition with the party of the Indian Prime Minster whom he had condemned relentlessly during the election campaign!</p> <p>Electable candidates are in great demand by all parties. They are imported and fielded by a party that ignores their past hostile campaign and the claims for the ticket by its own original members. Some candidates move to an electable party before the polls. Some switch over to the ruling party after elections and that is how a party defeated in the polls forms the government. That too may be called “stealing the elections”.</p> <p>Democratic India is seething with anger and hatred. One does not need a sophisticated sensor to measure the hate index. Enough is revealed daily by the newspaper headlines. Incidents of lynching get reported quite regularly. </p> <p>The ruling party functionaries respond with preposterous, heartless and violent statements. Those making inflammatory speeches go unpunished and unreprimanded by the police and the party. One said that had he been the home minister, he would have shot the intellectuals, seculars and liberals! Any one condemning such statements gets attacked by the army of trollers.</p> <p>Government leaders resort to whataboutry and keep recalling the violent incidents of the past when Narendra Modi was not Prime Minister! It may be interesting to study the ongoing sectarian violence and the Gujarat killings of 2002 in the context of the partition riots, even though in terms of the scale of violence the past was a million times more horrendous. However, one may note Ayesha Jalal’s analysis of the partition riots. She says the killings then were carried out not by communities at large but only by bands of individuals. They had no public support but were able to hold the public hostage with the help of weapons they carried. Was it the same during the Ahmedabad riots and during the recent mob violence?</p> <p>Politics starts out as a type of public service and as a forum for dialogue and the conciliation of conflicting interests. It becomes a playing-field for opportunists, careerists and those seeking quick money or protection from law. Logical arguments in parliamentary debates are replaced by senseless noise and chaotic confrontation.</p> <p>Recent events in some prominent democratic nations have highlighted the internal threats that are hard to see and even harder to counter. A military dictator can be identified. But an elected leader can assume the mantle of a dictator or act like a stooge of the military that ensured his electoral success.</p> <p>The spirit of democracy is demolished by populist leaders with authoritarian instincts making false promises and by the purveyors of fake news through social media. Those commanding the media, money, muscle power, mobs, intelligence and advertising resources are always ready to provide a helping hand for a bargain. And then there is the domestic dark deep state ever ready to run a “controlled democracy”.</p> <p>The proverbial foreign hand can export a democratic “spring” in an unfriendly country. It now commands the remotely-controlled weapon of social media about which extensive reporting has been done in relation to the US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum. </p> <p>Democracy appears besieged by multiple challenges. In many cases, the form survives but the spirit has vanished. The stench of democracy’s decay emanates from different parts of the world. Reports of the impending death of democracy are coming from America and some other countries. All of whom have held elections and are now ruled by a dictator. Like America – Turkey, Hungary and Russia have not set examples worthy of emulation.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-1">God votes in India, abstains in Britain. Part 1</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-ii">God votes in India, abstains in Britain, Part II</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openIndia/l-k-sharma/silence-and-din-define-indian-journalism">Silence and din define Indian journalism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> <div class="field-item even"> Hungary </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> <div class="field-item even"> Russia </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Pakistan </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Can Europe make it? openIndia Pakistan Russia Turkey Hungary United States UK India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics Internet L K Sharma Mon, 30 Jul 2018 17:06:10 +0000 L K Sharma 119071 at https://www.opendemocracy.net God votes in India, abstains in Britain, Part II https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-ii <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Unlike in India, British democracy, distorted by Mammon, is spared by God.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.42.47.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.42.47.png" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screen Shot: The Mail on Sunday.</span></span></span>Britain has undergone rapid secularisation in the last 50 years. It is no playground for religious bigots. Northern Ireland is an exception. There are some people who are always ready to die for their religion. In the rest of the country, the clergy’s influence has waned over the years. </p> <p>In neighbouring Ireland, the Catholic church’s hold on popular imagination has been loosened. &nbsp;This was once considered improbable. The latest referendum results that went against the Government’s faith-driven anti-abortion policy have been interpreted as a public rebuke to the Catholic church.</p> <p>A fall in the numbers of church-goers and the growing indifference to religion have been going on in Britain for decades. Perhaps the deprived tend to turn to God in desperation. So, when prosperity brought TV sets, washing machines and ample bread with butter and marmalade, the need for God declined in Britain. Commercial success promotes materialism. Poets foresee. More than a century earlier, Matthew Arnold had heard the withdrawing roar of faith!</p> <p>Even during the interwar era, the trend of religious indifference continued, though religious questions could stir up occasional excitement. Post-war Britain did not witness a religious revival of the kind that gripped the US. American evangelists like Billy Graham came and went but failed to awaken Britons to a religious frenzy.</p> <h2><strong>Different flavours</strong></h2> <p>Britain has taken major strides towards becoming a multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. The children of the British Empire barged in from distant lands and a large number of surviving Western European Jews made Britain their home. Immigration from Pakistan and other countries made Islam the religion of several thousand Britons.</p> <p>The existence of God and the interface between religion and science are debated vigorously in Britain. The writings of Richard Dawkins helped promote new atheism. The sixties assaulted orthodoxy and left a legacy of New Age religions. As the hold of institutional religion loosened, many young Britons started looking inwards. They found individual ways of fulfilling a kind of spiritual yearning. Many believers started ignoring the God without and heeding the God within. The trend of privatisation of religion picked up.</p> <p>The swinging sixties further expanded and intensified secular influence despite the traditionalists warning against television, lurid advertising and creeping crass commercialism. Society kept marching towards materialism. Growing affluence led to an increase in crime and vandalism. Rebels against orthodoxy proliferated.</p> <p>The Eastern mystics saw more devotees coming to their spiritual sessions. Esoteric religious practices aroused interest. Some Christian theologians devised terms such as “Christian Vedanta” which was contested by an Indian scholar! </p> <p>In a land of multiple choices, God started appearing in different flavours. The traditionalists pooh-poohed it as pick-and-mix approach practised in a spiritual supermarket! One commentator sees it as a mark of mobility, an individually decided preference. He says: “It may be as much as the “cool” of freedom that is being aspired to, as the love of Jesus Christ Our Saviour. If so, Nietzsche may be dead, but God only survives by being available in many exciting flavours.”</p> <p>In a statement more relevant to America and India, he says: “Annoyingly it may well be that religion is gaining greater traction, not because of its own strength, but because of the weakness of political parties. Politicians are desperate to reach and use pockets of activism, and – with the death of class politics – the most available and vocal belong to religious organisations.” He finds it slightly worrying. </p> <p>The plurality and diversity of groups within Christianity itself prevented British politics from being dominated by a single, major confrontation between politics and religion. British sociologist James A. Beckford, who makes this comment, could perhaps add collusion to confrontation! He says the British state did not therefore cast politics into a mould which necessarily polarised or amalgamated religion and politics. The fact that all major religious groups drew members from a variety of social classes and cultural backgrounds also helped to prevent religion from becoming a political issue in itself, he says.</p> <p>Successive Governments took steps to end discrimination against religious and other minorities. Political leaders learnt a lesson from the history of sectarian strife in Britain. They perhaps cared for their nation enough not to light the fires of sectarianism that would have turned it into Disunited Kingdom. </p> <h2><strong>Karen Armstrong on Hinduism</strong></h2> <p>A cynic may say they remembered how promoting sectarian strife harmed the former colonies and benefited the British Empire! The western powers know that the best way to destroy a nation is to damage its social fabric. The British Government created and exacerbated religious strife in the colonies but at home promoted religious harmony and multiculturalism. Writer Karen Armstrong said: “It is ironic that the British who had banished ‘religion’ from the public sphere at home should classify the Indian subcontinent in such tightly religious terms”.</p> <p>She says the castes there did not see themselves as forming an organised religion. They found themselves lumped together into something that the British called Hinduism. This term was first used by Muslim conquerors. The British used it to give a communal identity to the natives which was alien to their age-old traditions.</p> <p>Karen Armstrong elaborates further: The British based the Indian electoral system on religious affiliation and in 1871 conducted a census that made these religious communities acutely aware of their numbers and areas of strength in relation to one another. By bringing religion to the fore this way, the British bequeathed a history of communal conflict in South Asia.</p> <p>In Britain, the clergy saw the clashes between the Catholics and Protestants bringing a bad name to Christianity and moved to arrest the trend. They cared for the way their faith was perceived by the people. Considering how Islam is seen today, they were wise to worry about public perception. The Christian leaders have been trying to turn religion into a positive force instead of becoming an obstacle to progress. Modernity was allowed to seep into their very traditional sphere. That is why Christianity is no longer associated with primitive hysteria, as it was once. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.49.04.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.49.04.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The tragic headlines about religious violence in different parts of the world may have also led many Britons to grow more indifferent to their own religion. Islamic extremism and the rise of British nationalism failed to cause panic in Britain about the erosion of Christianity. The Christian majority has enough self-confidence not to fall prey to any narrow-minded group that may try to instil fear in it by pointing to the growing numbers of the others. </p><p>Britain suffered from sectarian conflicts for centuries, but such ugly incidents are now limited to Northern Ireland. It is said that the establishment of the London Stock Exchange brought down the incidence of religious violence. Capitalism and sectarianism or communalism, as it is called in Indian English, do not go together. This is not understood by India’s business tycoons.</p> <h2><strong>Science, law and critical thinking</strong></h2> <p>Apart from the dampening influence of commerce that requires social harmony, two professions have helped check religious frenzy. Britain made significant contributions in the fields of science and law and jurisprudence, producing many eminent scientists and legal luminaries. Both encourage scepticism, argumentation and rational thinking.</p> <p>The British centres of critical thinking do not come under political attacks unlike what happens in the US and in India. The Republicans of America do not trust universities. India’s ruling party has sought to diminish the influence of universities promoting critical thinking.</p> <p>The decline in the number of church-goers, the ageing of congregations, and the rise in the number of disused and closed churches continue. Church buildings are reopened and turned into places of worship by other faith communities. The faithful have got used to seeing the churches becoming bankrupt and being sold! Rational Christians accept the reality and never make a hue and cry over the conversion of a church. </p> <p>Britain is known for football fanatics, not Christian fanatics! Even the pub fights on Friday nights never acquire a religious hue. Jokes about Jesus provoke mirth, not violence. The English trait of not taking things seriously has been accentuated by the media mocking all those who were once revered and respected. They can be turned into objects of scorn. No authority, spiritual or temporal, is safe from cruel hilarity. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.50.41.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.50.41.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p>The failings of the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, as disclosed by sexual and financial scandals, can get magnified! These convey the message that to be a Christian is not something great. No menacing group goes around asking fellow Christians to declare it with pride that they are Christians. In India, the secular Hindus are asked to repeat: <em>Garva se kaho hum Hindu hain!</em></p> <h2><strong>“God is my business.”</strong></h2> <p>In Britain those looking for “hurt feelings” have to look towards faith groups other than Christians. An official move to slaughter a diseased temple bull might hurt another community and footwear with an artistic image of Lord Ganesh have a similar effect. The host community can’t understand those whose religious sensitivity is hurt.</p> <p>Christianity in Britain mostly does not resist secularisation. At times, it seems to adapt to it. An Archbishop can preach liberal views or sing along to Beatles’ tunes during the Jubilee Concert! To a politician seeking to use God, an Archbishop might say: “God is my business.”</p> <p>Modernity, moderation and a new emphasis on civil rights led to the scrapping of legal provisions for discrimination against religious minorities in Britain. Inclusiveness and diversity became more acceptable. Several factors contributed to the evolution of a political culture in which religion plays little part.</p> <p>Voting intentions have been studied in terms of religious denominations. A section of Catholics tended to favour Labour. The Church of England was once called the Tory Party at prayer! It is now just an interesting saying. Sectarian differences do not dominate the political scene and never lead to a confrontation. No fatwa is issued before any election! A fatwa will not work since the Church of England commands little political influence.</p> <p>Faith, in any case, does not provoke passion, thanks to the growing indifference towards religion. Nor are political battles fought with great passion, especially since the end of ideology. British politics is not marked by a cut-throat competition. Failure in politics is not dreaded because a political career is not essential for survival. A defeated politician can always migrate to the corporate world and make a decent living.</p> <p>Britain has a much smaller and less conservative religious base, so a political constituency fails to develop. The relations between the Government and Christian leaders are never so smooth that a politician can think of winning popularity through their endorsement. </p> <p>Jesus in Britain, unlike Lord Ram in India, does not improve the electoral prospects of a candidate. Thus, there is no political incentive to create social disharmony by fuelling religious hatred. Political leaders in the UK do not try to polarise the voters on sectarian lines. They do not politicise religion. In fact, they fear that an attempt to misuse religion may backfire. &nbsp;</p> <p>In Britain, political leaders know that hate speech may cost their political career. Indian politicians have no such fear and at times they even violate the law in order to incite religious violence. That is why political discourse has been vulgarised in India. </p> <h2><strong>God, on His part, does not do politics</strong></h2> <p>In the UK, religion has become peripheral to politics. Even devout Christians among British politicians do not do God! God, on His part, does not do politics. God may be an Englishman, but he keeps away from British elections. His messengers bring no political message for the voters. Even the faithful do not consult Him in the polling booth. </p> <p>God grants no electoral support to British politicians. In India, God does bless selected politicians who invoke His name on the eve of an election!</p> <p>Britain’s commercial ethos, Christians’ approach towards their faith and the influence of institutions that promote scepticism, critical thinking and dissent – all have shaped a political culture that shuns extremism. Politics in Britain is not afflicted with religion. British democracy, distorted by Mammon, is spared by God!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-1">God votes in India, abstains in Britain. Part 1</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia uk India UK Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Fri, 15 Jun 2018 11:39:30 +0000 L K Sharma 118418 at https://www.opendemocracy.net God votes in India, abstains in Britain. Part 1 https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-1 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Once Britain moved beyond religious nationalism, religion itself became a spent force, though not one prevented from speaking truth to power. Contrast India.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/&#039;Lambeth_Palace&#039;,_c1685_MoL.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/&#039;Lambeth_Palace&#039;,_c1685_MoL.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lambeth Palace from the south. Circa 1685. Wikicommons/ Anonymous - A picture from the collection of the Museum of London. To the north, many of the riverside buildings off of Whitehall and the Strand may be seen. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>A lot depends on where you come from. It affects your way of seeing.</p> <p>Arriving from the India of the eighties, it seemed only normal to hear the Dalai Lama addressing a congregation in a Christian church in London. Coming from India in 2018, one gets anxious hearing Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi chants in a Brighton church. Some fanatic Christians may come and disrupt the well-advertised multi-faith event. They may be provoked further by the weekly prayer meeting being held in the neighbouring Bahai Centre. Nothing of the sort happens. No one arrives to protest.</p> <p>Multi-faith prayers mark the Brighton church’s reopening as Saint Augustine’s Centre for the Arts, Spirituality and Wellbeing! The church building fell into disrepair as the number of worshippers dwindled and it remained disused for 10 years. A real estate developer made the church appear in its new avatar! He bought the building, renovated it and rechristened it. The reincarnation of this Brighton church is not a miracle. Such incidents keep happening in Britain. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114420.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114420.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The new owner is a Christian with an interest in other faiths. He looks enchanted by the Sufi prayers. This writer is unable to concentrate on the words of faith. He is distracted by thoughts of religion-politics interactions in Britain and in India. <span class="mag-quote-center">The new owner is a Christian with an interest in other faiths. He looks enchanted by the Sufi prayers.</span></p> <p>Inside the reopened church, the Gothic architectural setting flaunts contemporary furniture. Modern lights illuminate the high ceiling and walls. The Lady Chapel area is offered as an “unusual setting for boardroom meetings”. Sixty people can be seated for theatre-style talks or 20 people can sit around a large board room table. The Alter area is “an exciting space for powerful business presentations” as well as “a space for spiritual enlightenment”. For 36 pounds an hour, the corporates can invite guests to take their seats. The café and the holistic therapy centre are in business. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114255.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114255.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gothic interior. Author's photograph.</span></span></span>While cafés pop up in church buildings across the UK, a village pub has started holding a regular church service in its precincts. There is no opposition. The pub-owner says Christianity does not disapprove of drinking. </p><h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114025.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114025.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><strong>Once upon a time</strong></h2> <p>The Hindu-Buddhist-Sufi prayers being held in a Christian church building reaffirm inter-faith harmony that was once generally valued in India. In the eighties, one had come to the UK from an India where devout Hindus passing by a mosque or a church bowed their heads.</p> <p>During a visit to Britain in 1955, writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri went to the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge on Easter Sunday. Moved by the service, he wrote: “I said to myself that if anywhere I, a Hindu, could think of becoming a Christian it was in such a place.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114248.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114248.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Brighton renovated church building.</span></span></span>In an Indian town in the late fifties, a bearded old man used to stand for hours on a street corner talking of Jesus Christ. A respected Sanskrit-knowing Hindu was safely invited to address the evening prayer meeting in a local mosque. India is dotted with places of worship visited by devotees belonging to different faiths. </p><p>Of course, India was never free of sectarian clashes, but respected community leaders always moved fast to restore normalcy. The participants in violence would later show remorse. Mutual hatred did not last long. Usually, all was forgotten and forgiven. In normal times, Hindu and Muslim neighbours live peacefully, the two telling each other: “You do your things, we do ours”. The majority community did not display triumphalism. That was the India that was. <span class="mag-quote-center">“You do your things, we do ours”. The majority community did not display triumphalism. That was the India that was. </span></p><h2><strong>Mental pollution wins elections</strong></h2> <p>Today a politically promoted religious resurgence seems to be transforming India. A thick layer of mental pollution shrouds the nation. Bigoted political leaders spew sectarian hatred and get away with it. They are encouraged and helped by the print and audio-visual media and even more by social media.</p> <p>Newspaper headlines tell a depressing story. A Hindu-Muslim wedding is disrupted by goons. An inter-faith couple in a public garden is thrashed by a group screaming “love jihad”. Journalists who do not promote sectarianism are threatened. The principle of secularism is attacked openly. The secular people are called “sickular”. A religious minority is threatened. At times their place of worship is vandalised.</p> <p>It is not a genuine religious resurgence. All this is done to polarise voters. Religion is deployed blatantly to win every electoral battle. Sectarian strife disturbs social harmony. But it helps a Hindu nationalist party whose electoral strategy involves religion-inspired aggressive political mobilisation. This strategy calls for generating sectarian tensions in the run up to elections. Attacking a religious minority in election speeches helps in the consolidation of Hindu votes.</p> <p>Religion has become central to politics as some poll campaigns in India indicate. The behaviour pattern of Hindus has helped. They prostrate themselves before the gods as well as before their mortal heroes. Nirad C. Chaudhuri points out that “between the secular prostrations and prostrations before the gods there is only a difference of degree and not of kind, because in India the most powerful political leadership is itself quasi-religious.” </p> <p>Niradbabu did not live on to see an Indian temple with the idol of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters being called “devotees”. This aspect of Hindu behaviour makes Indian democracy vulnerable to religious frenzy. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some other features of the Hindu tradition are designed to sustain and enrich democracy. Hinduism features millions of gods and goddesses constituting a grand Divine Parliament! What could be more diverse and multi-cultural? Hinduism has no single Book nor a central religious authority. It embraces even non-believers in its fold. It has varied philosophical schools and a long tradition of scepticism, argumentation and disbelief. Scholarly debates once prevailed over theological divisions.</p> <p>Notwithstanding this glorious legacy, the faith tradition has been hijacked for narrow ends and is used as an effective tool for political mobilisation. Even the complex caste system and the multiplicity of gods and goddesses do not always frustrate a plan to rally a majority of Hindus behind one political banner. </p> <p>A political formation organises communal display of faith and taps it for electoral gains. Increased intolerance and violence mark the process as fiery rhetoric incites religious passion. That is why coming from the India of 2018, one feared trouble outside that Christian church in Brighton on that sunny afternoon.</p> <h2><strong>Borrowed nationalism </strong></h2> <p>Religious nationalism anywhere is always aggressive. True religion could not be read on the faces of the Hindus mobilised by a political party to demolish a mosque in India. According to Steve Bruce, who has written extensively on sociology of religion, the most violent individuals were usually the least personally religious. He also notes that many of the churches played a key role in encouraging reconciliation. In India religious leaders do little to bring about reconciliation between clashing faith groups. Some NGOs and secular and leftist parties make heroic efforts to counter hate and violence.</p> <p>India’s present ruling party says it is committed to “Hindu nationalism”&nbsp; – a mixed-up concept based on imported ideas. Leaving aside the party’s Fascist tendencies, it is to be noted that “Nationalism” was borrowed from Europe. And temple politics, through which nationalism is promoted, has no place in the original Hindu faith tradition. Temple cults were borrowed from western Asia. Even after their adoption by Hindus, these retained the features they had in their homelands. Christianity had fought and triumphed over these very cults.</p> <p>Christianity was a violent religion in the era of the Crusades of the 11th century. However, to see Britain as an image of contemporary India where nationalism needs to be clothed in religious idiom, one has to go back to the 16th and 17th centuries that saw constant sectarian strife. Religion was nationalism then. In fact, religion was a 16th century word for nationalism. Over the centuries, English nationalism discarded its religious garb. And in the last few decades, religion itself became a spent force. <span class="mag-quote-center">Over the centuries, English nationalism discarded its religious garb. And… religion itself became a spent force.</span></p> <p>Today no Protestant group displays a messianic fervour. No one retaliates or feels hurt if a church is converted into a multi-faith institution. Different faith groups co-exist in peace and even intermingle on special occasions. </p> <p>Surprisingly in Britain the rise of militant Islam has not led to a major spurt in Christian militancy. Attacks on mosques and Sikh temples have increased but these are not politically motivated, and the criminals do not enjoy political patronage. And there is no religious inspiration behind these. And all hate crimes are taken seriously by the police and politicians.</p> <p>The two major parties in Britain have regular internal debates to scrutinise if any of their members has been affected by the virus of Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. Racial prejudice is sought to be curbed and not encouraged with a view to winning votes. In the current situation marked by Islamic militancy, the election of a Muslim as the Mayor of London and the appointment of a Muslim as the UK’s Home Secretary cannot be dismissed as token gestures.</p> <p>Hate speech has no place in Britain’s political culture. Fifty years ago, senior Conservative leader Enoch Powell made a speech in an attempt to instil the fear of immigrants. That one statement ended his political career. A few weeks ago, a Tory councillor in Britain was suspended for Islamophobic comments on social media. Some Labour Party leaders have faced disciplinary action because their statements were considered anti-Semitic. </p> <h2><strong>The US and the UK</strong></h2> <p>The political scene in the US is different. There a Charlottesville Hate Marcher belonging to a pro-White group recently got elected to a Republican Party post. Britain does not witness the US-style culture wars. In America, a Christian group may indulge in competitive communalism, raise anti-Islam slogans and behave violently. </p> <p>In America Islamic militancy has given rise to Christian militancy. Bigoted pastors issue fiery statements and campaign for their chosen political leader. A special breed of American voters called “evangelical voters” command considerable political influence in selected areas. </p> <p>President Donald Trump banks on bigoted pastors one of whom was chosen for giving the controversial benediction at the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. This fanatic has a record of inciting against religious minorities including Mormons, Catholics, Jews and Muslims. This pastor supported Trump during the election and blamed President Obama for paving the way for the Antichrist! Britain does not produce such priests.</p> <p>President George Bush had a direct line to God who presumably asked him to invade Iraq. Bush was never shy of making a reference to his proximity to God. In Britain, even a practising Christian among its political leaders does not wear his faith on his sleeves. If a politician professes his Christian faith too much, journalists start pelting him with hostile questions. </p> <p>British Prime Minister Theresa May offered an Easter message in which she spoke of herself as a vicar’s daughter. But she takes care to say that “we don’t flaunt our faith.” Her approach has been described as “a very English form of understated belief”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114401.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114401.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Margaret Thatcher opposed the national lottery because she was a Methodist. She did not hesitate to discuss religion and was not amused by the Archbishop of Canterbury and some bishops talking of the inner cities and the Falklands War. Tony Blair converted to Catholicism only after leaving the Prime Minister’s office. </p><p>In Britain, the demand for restricting the number of immigrants is driven by economic reasons rather than religious prejudice. Many Christians seem to have drawn a different lesson from Islamic militancy. They perhaps link violence to religions in general rather than to one particular religion. They have become more indifferent to religion.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_113918.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_113918.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Of course, Britain remains a predominantly Christian country. It has a long history of close interaction between the church and the state. Royal occasions provide an opportunity for the two institutions to display their bond. The monarchy as well as political institutions such as Parliament are associated with faith and religious rituals. The formal links have not been snapped despite official secularisation and the social trend of moving away from religion. </p><p>The Archbishop of Canterbury lives in a mansion far grander than the modest abode of the Prime Minister and gets as much publicity as the Prime Minister. However, as a historian points out, “the effect of the Church upon the day-to-day lives of its supposed members had long since been subordinated to a variety of secular influences”. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Archbishop of Canterbury lives in a mansion far grander than the modest abode of the Prime Minister and gets as much publicity as the Prime Minister.</span></p> <p>The British clergy’s conduct also discourages the political leaders from thinking of misusing religion. In some countries, men of religion keep quiet when their faith is hijacked by the ruling party. Some willingly get enlisted by politicians to incite sectarian passions. </p> <p>When social harmony is disturbed, a minority religious leader has to be careful in what he says. In India, a letter of instruction from the Archbishop of the Delhi Diocese to its churches to pray for the nation was construed as an attack on the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister! Because of that innocuous letter, the Archbishop got mauled in social media by the devotees of the powerful political leader. Those benefiting from mixing religion with politics start warning others against mixing the two.</p> <h2><strong>Speaking truth to power</strong></h2> <p>The clergymen of Britain can and do speak truth to power. They often condemn the Government’s anti-poor policies and cuts in the welfare budget. The Church comes out with reports on the plight of the poor. It has contributed a great deal to creating the impression that Thatcherism was to blame for growing spiritual and economic poverty of the inner cities.</p> <p>Senior clergymen oppose the Government’s “immoral” move even if it seeks to enhance British power. For example, Anglican Clergyman Canon John Collins, along with philosopher Bertrand Russel, led the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. A clergyman was the vice-president of the CND for years. A few church leaders oppose Britain waging wars, though the Government always ignores their view. Politicians know that they can afford to ignore the church leaders. After all, how many Brigades does the Pope have?</p> <p>Some politicians resent those in dog collars campaigning against welfare reform. The churches bypass the official structures providing food banks and housing and employment advice. All religions talk of love, compassion and service. Churches in Britain, like in other countries, implement the message by running educational institutions and by collecting money for providing relief and deploying volunteers to help the poor, homeless and starved. One Archbishop hoped that the Church will fill the void left by a failing state. He saw the mood generated by economic problems as “the greatest opportunity” for the Church.</p> <p><em>(Part II follows)</em></p><p><em>All the photographs were taken by the author.<br /></em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia uk UK United States India Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Sat, 09 Jun 2018 13:14:01 +0000 L K Sharma 118323 at https://www.opendemocracy.net When Harry weds Meghan https://www.opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/when-harry-weds-meghan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Some bashed the monarchy and called the royal wedding a non-event. A minority voice claimed that the wedding was no big deal. (He was wrong). </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36600232.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36600232.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk down the steps after their wedding at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Saturday, May 19, 2018. Ben BirchHall/Press Association. All right reserved.</span></span></span>Why does V S Naipaul go to Africa to record mass hysteria? He could witness it in his adopted land during every royal wedding and funeral. That is when the long-suppressed emotions of the reserved Britons find a release. The un-British act of crying in public with joy or sorrow is there for all to see.</p> <p>Prince Harry married Meghan and Britons came out to dance with joy. Nothing else mattered to the revellers forming a sea of Union Jacks. </p> <p>The young royals, when they marry or produce babies, also serve the Queen! Every such event increases the longevity of the monarchy. The carefully choreographed spectacle enhances the monarchy’s magic and mystique.</p> <p>The British monarchy is criticised for not becoming as modern as the bicycling kings of northern Europe. In Britain, royal traditions are hard to discard. Even then the monarchy keeps trying to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant. </p> <p>Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle. She is a commoner from a former colony, daughter of a black mother and white father, product of a broken home, an actress with a record of social activism and of saying things that are not said in Britain’s palaces. The pet phrases of the British aristocracy such as “simply not done” or “simply not said” are as foreign to Harry’s new wife as light to a coal mine. <span class="mag-quote-center">Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle.</span></p> <p>Harry made a powerful social and cultural statement by picking Meghan as his wife and magically transforming her into the Duchess of Sussex. He brought Buckingham Palace closer to Balti Britain and showed that he had grown up since the days when he used to utter words such as “Paki” and ‘raghead”.</p> <p>What could be more modern than marrying a mixed-race American divorcee? The British people once refused to accept their king marrying an American divorcee. The king responded by giving up his throne for love. But in 2018 more than 100,000 flag-waving ecstatic Britons turned up in Windsor town to catch a glimpse of the bridegroom and the bride. </p> <p>The nation loved the lovers. The people trusted the choice of their Prince. The class, colour and creed of the beloved was not a matter of contention. Had Prince Harry chosen to marry a British communist, the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain would have gained followers! Had he chosen a Hindu bride, the cries of Love Jihad would have been muted. Had he chosen a Muslim girl, it would have stopped the radicalisation of her community.</p> <p>Harry made Britain appear as an island of diversity and inclusiveness. The Queen merrily went through her grandson’s wedding ceremony that included strange new elements such as a powerful sermon by a black American minister. The Bishop’s repeated and emphatic reference to “love” sounded novel to the British ears. If some royals were made uncomfortable by the unusual ceremony, they did not show it. <span class="mag-quote-center">Had Prince Harry chosen to marry a British communist, the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain would have gained followers!</span></p> <h2><strong>Royal bouts of inclusiveness</strong></h2> <p>In a distant past, this castle of white privilege has undergone bouts of inclusiveness, like when Queen Victoria got too close to her Indian Munshi Karim or when Princess Diana took to hugging. An American visitor came to celebrate the wedding in Windsor with the placard, “we are Americans, we hug”.</p> <p>Britain’s social and cultural transformation over the years made the monarchy abandon some traditions. Jeremy Paxman, the TV anchor, commented that Britain ran out of virgins after Diana got married to Prince Charles! The perquisite of virginity for a royal bride was scrapped without a murmur by the loyal subjects. Following Diana’s death, Prince Charles married his old flame Camilla Parker Bowles, a divorcee.</p> <p>Many royal alliances in the past were firmed up to yield a strategic advantage to the ruling families. Prince Harry’s choice of wife has strengthened the Anglo-American special relationship at a time when Donald Trump is weakening it. A British think tank may hold a seminar on Harry’s role in promoting the most important relationship.</p> <p>By marrying an American, Harry has also sent a powerful message against the British Government’s hostile policy towards the immigrants. This policy has popular backing as the Brexit referendum results proved. But the Government unrolled a red carpet for the American immigrant wanting to live in the UK by marrying a Briton. It will not be so for brides from India. In fact, at one time the Government had wanted to subject them to a virginity test at Heathrow airport before letting them marry anyone in Britain!</p> <p>Even before Harry confirmed it, it was known that many British men prefer American women. In the past the Englishmen wanted the dollars and American women wanted to live like aristocrats. In contemporary Britain, this attraction has been portrayed in films hinting at the sexual allure of American girls. English maidens should think about it.</p> <h2><strong>A commoner in the palace</strong></h2> <p>Meghan Markle is currently bathed in public adoration. But a fairy-tale wedding does not always lead to a happy married life. The Prince’s bride must have read how a British royal wife is expected to conduct herself. A commoner has to be quite careful while living in a palace. </p> <p>Her being an American makes Meghan’s task more daunting. Britain and America are divided not just by a common tongue but also by customs, and the people’s behaviour and temperament. Americans are loud and demonstrative. The British people are reserved and cold. Britons consider Americans to be vulgar. In popular American imagination, funny people inhabit the small island. Meghan will have to be less of an American or her British husband will have to jump to her defence every now and then.</p> <p>Meghan will be unable to follow the footsteps of her sister-in-law who has endeared herself to the nation by saying nothing in public. Meghan’s upbringing, family background, American education, film career and activism have not prepared her to keep her mouth shut. Her conduct will make the monarchy look modern but may cause strains within the palace.</p> <p>The fawning media coverage does not always last. Interesting material about Meghan’s feuding family in America is floating around. British tabloids are committed to transparency related to bottoms and breasts. A tabloid once published a photo of a royal wife’s toes being sucked by someone other than the husband. That led to a royal divorce! <span class="mag-quote-center">British tabloids are committed to transparency related to bottoms and breasts.</span></p> <p>Strangely, such developments have not harmed the institution of monarchy. The republican movement got no stronger even when daylight fell upon the magic of monarchy. Much publicised marital misery, bed-hopping, adultery, sordid exhibitionism by young royals and the financial scandals have not lessened the charm of the royal family. </p> <p>In fact, such disclosures made the royalty a major player in the celebrity circus. The royal narratives are made for tele-visuals, a staple of popular cultural entertainment. Harry’s wedding was a grand performance in contemporary celebrity culture that values the famous for being famous!</p> <p>A royal event turns Great Britain into a mass observation laboratory of interest to serious academics apart from those writing on current fashions and royal traditions and scandals. </p> <p>Most Britons live to celebrate royal weddings and births. A few days earlier, Harry’s older brother, who would be the king one day, and his wife were blessed with a baby. Hundreds of people had slept outside the hospital in order to catch the first glimpse of the baby hailed as the most influential entity. <span class="mag-quote-center">Most Britons live to celebrate royal weddings and births.</span></p> <h2><strong>Serious ideological debate</strong></h2> <p>Of course, the royal wedding, apart from causing mirth and laughter on a massive scale, also sparked a serious ideological debate on the future of the monarchy. </p> <p>The media came under scrutiny because many enlightened citizens, not necessarily republicans, felt disgusted by the excessive coverage of the wedding. These readers and viewers did not like the news about the people’s problems being blacked out because of a royal wedding.</p> <p>The newspapers and TV channels know their readers and viewers. Afraid of losing the ratings war, they deployed hundreds of journalists to cover the wedding that enthralled the royalists who dressed up in Union Jack suits and camped for days to catch a glimpse of the Prince and his bride.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36605480.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36605480.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex exit St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their royal wedding ceremony, in Windsor, Britain, 19 May 2018. Pool/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The high level of public interest forced even a newspaper such as <em>The Guardian </em>to go all out to cover the wedding. It shocked many of its serious readers. A typical comment was: Appalling, sycophantic coverage worthy of the <em>Daily Mail</em>. There could have been no greater insult to <em>The Guardian</em>. Some readers declared on social media that they are cancelling their subscription. </p><p>Once the <em>Morning Star</em> could be different. It dismissed the 1973 wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Philips with a two-sentence coverage: “Some traffic congestion is expected in Westminster today due to the wedding of Anne Windsor and Mark Philips.” <span class="mag-quote-center">“Some traffic congestion is expected in Westminster today due to the wedding of Anne Windsor and Mark Philips.”</span></p> <p>Public interest in stars and styles was so high that every newspaper wanted to publish eight royal wedding stories on the front page. The minutest detail was broadcast about what the bride wore, and what the bridegroom looked like. Every bit of information was lapped up. &nbsp;When Prince Charles had married Camilla, a million words were printed about her hat. This time it was all about the bride’s gown. One person thought the white gown was not well-tailored. </p> <p>Another had no interest in the design or the fabric. He said: “Oh wow, look at her taxpayer-funded dress.” Guess who is footing the massive bill for the wedding? That question was raised by some penny-pinching kill-joy Britons. They did not like the people having to cough up 300 million pounds to spruce up one of the palaces! Another mean Briton asked why a 33-year old should have a wedding treat costing millions of pounds on security alone.</p> <p>The homeless on the Windsor footpaths were moved away to “make room for those wanting to gawp at the tawdry display of the wedding procession”. This attracted many adverse remarks.</p> <p>The anti-royalty Britons were called mean, but some called the royalty mean because the ordinary invited guests for the wedding were asked to bring their own picnic lunch! One invitee protested by binning the royal invitation which many were prepared to die for. <span class="mag-quote-center">One invitee protested by binning the royal invitation which many were prepared to die for.</span></p> <p>The few moaners reminded the nation of the problems of daily life. Some bashed the monarchy and called the royal wedding a non-event. A minority voice claimed that the wedding was no big deal. (He was wrong). </p> <p>A vocal minority criticised the royalty-mad majority for its euphoria. It consists of a section that has no problem with the monarchy but disapproves of the excessive and vulgar way of holding the wedding.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36590638.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36590638.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>May 19, 2018 - London, UK - Royal wedding well wishers at Waterloo station on their way to Windsor. Veronika Lukasova/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Some commentators referred to “bread and circus” and compared the wedding to a football match. They were attacked by the revellers for being emotionally constipated. The revellers said: “Oh, sod off, we’re having fun.” But one said: “I’m avoiding this display of bourgeoisie elitist shit at all costs.” </p><h2><strong>More emotional constipation</strong></h2> <p>Take another comment: “This royal wedding is the epitome of everything that’s wrong with society, people coming out to celebrate greed and indulgence of the super wealthy while the homeless are swept away like garbage and kids go hungry.”</p> <p>Others counted the benefits of monarchy such as the Queen bringing in tourists. Even during the reign of Queen Victoria, some used to ask whether the nation was getting value for money from the monarchy. But that did no harm to the institution. The public interest in the monarchy was noted by Walter Bagehot who wondered how the actions of a retired widow and an unemployed youth had become of such importance.</p> <p>A monarchist argued that a royal wedding, like a football match, brings the people together. It gives them a sense of pride and belonging. “The monarchy gave us a strong national identity and has done a lot for the people, historically”. </p> <p>Others asked them to read the history of the royals who came over from Germany in the 17th century and “subjugated us”. One social media user whose comment was not deleted just wrote: “Off with their heads!!!”</p> <p>The usual Left-Right divide crept in. A fun-loving Briton condemned Lefties as a miserable lot! Some called the Conservatives hypocrites since they advocate meritocracy and yet support privileges based on heredity.</p> <p>Mass psychologists must investigate whether the people play this charade in order to escape from their miserable life. It is also said that many critics of the excessive coverage only feign to be against it. They love to watch it either secretly or while pretending to do so for a higher serious purpose.</p> <h2><strong>Forward to June!</strong></h2> <p>The royal wedding mattered for the young couple. But it was critical for the Queen as it demonstrated her hold on the British psyche. It reassured the Queen that her people want to remain subjects instead of becoming citizens. She can safely ignore the few Republicans and true democrats shouting in the wilderness. That they are allowed to shout and not beheaded serves the purpose of telling the world that Britain is a democracy!</p> <p>The dramatisation and popularisation of royal spectacle is set to continue as the nation gets ready to celebrate the Queen’s birthday in June. The magic and mystique of the mediated monarchy will endure.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span>LK Sharma's two e-books <a href="https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/kshare?asin=B07BD2SWFK&amp;id=VYQatYmRRj-rjWBn32lYoQ&amp;reshareChannel=system&amp;reshareId=BMHMN2YHHNEF9EZZ6PHZ">The Twain</a> and <a href="https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/kshare?ref_=r_sa_glf_b_1_hdrw_ss_CAu4AAA&amp;asin=B07C73Z7F5&amp;id=vlcU5UCVQHyr8zLt5BNh4w&amp;reshareChannel=system&amp;reshareId=NNY95MSEETJ5EV23E93X">A Parliamentary Affair</a> form part of The Englandia Quartet.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? openIndia uk UK L K Sharma Tue, 22 May 2018 11:43:55 +0000 L K Sharma 118000 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Silence and din define Indian journalism https://www.opendemocracy.net/openIndia/l-k-sharma/silence-and-din-define-indian-journalism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ravish Kumar has recorded the Republic of Fear for posterity. These are the heroes of World Press Freedom Day.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.24.48.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.24.48.png" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Prime Time with Ravish Kumar, May 9, 2018, NDTV. YouTube.</span></span></span>In India today, one cannot talk of science, history or politics without a reference to mythology. Godmen and astrologers make their daily pronouncements on the TV channels. So, how does one report the emergence of an independent journalist in a sea of embedded media. One attributes it to the divine intervening to reform His degraded profession! </p> <p>Sorry, this outrageous statement was designed to make you read this piece on Ravish Kumar, a TV anchor from India. In order to be read or heard today, one has to shout and shock. In the confrontation-loving high-decibel society, the one who shouts the loudest wins. <span class="mag-quote-center">In order to be read or heard today, one has to SHOUT and SHOCK.</span></p> <p>Most newspaper readers have got addicted to hyperbole and rhetoric and the TV viewers to screaming anchors. Journalism promotes vitiated public discourse and falls victim to it. “On the other hand,” is a phrase banished from journalism. Fair journalists are hunted and silenced. Those of the other kind are bought and deployed to make maniac noises in favour of the ruling establishment and against its critics.</p> <p>A sober beginning to this article would not have worked. &nbsp;“Indian journalism in crisis” would strike no new note since this is not typical of India alone. America’s President is told every day that free press is essential for sustaining democracy.</p> <h2><strong>Dark spots</strong></h2> <p>The theme of this World Press Freedom Day on May 3 was “Keeping Power in Check: Media Justice and the Rule of Law”. One heard stirring calls on governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Many depressing headlines marked the occasion. One from India said: “Bastar journalist charged with sedition for sharing cartoon lampooning the government.” With seven complaints registered against reporters in one month, the police of the Chattisgarh state are notorious for acting against journalists. Old headlines of journalists murdered featured in opinion pieces.</p> <p>The threats to press freedom even by the so-called democratic governments were discussed. Some references came up to the internal threat from within the profession. Veteran journalist Thalif Deen recalled that once a Malaysian politician, asked about the leading newspapers in his country, shot back: “We have only misleading newspapers”.</p> <p>Reports about the dark spots carried references to fake news, enforced disappearances of journalists, authoritarian governments tightening grip on press freedom, getting away with murder in Slovakia, pre-election tension threatening free speech in Brazil, Azerbaijan blocking news websites, Kenyan journalists feeling heat, and to internet freedom rapidly degrading in Southeast Asia.</p> <h2><strong>Hostile environment</strong></h2> <p>There is a hostile environment in India in which Ravish Kumar and other independent journalists work. They are attacked by the devotees of the Modi Government. Ravish Kumar’s fans keep alerting him and wishing for his safety and security. Ravish Kumar works for a Hindi TV channel. Thanks to the translation of one of his books in English many more citizens can understand the dangers to democracy that he warns against in his Hindi programmes.</p> <p><em>The Free Voice: Ravish Kumar on Democracy, Culture and the Nation </em>is a more searing document than a Free Press Inquiry Commission Report. Of course, it is more interesting to read. The author recalls that within a few months in 2017, journalists were forced to gather twice to condemn violence against colleagues. In a sequel to this book, he will have to say, “our speeches made no difference as threats and violence against journalists continued or even increased”.</p> <p>The chapter headings give a flavour of Ravish Kumar’s short book: The Robo-Public and the Building of a New Democracy. The National Project for Instilling Fear. Wherever a Mob Gathers is Hitler’s Germany. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Robo-Public and the Building of a New Democracy. The National Project for Instilling Fear. Wherever a Mob Gathers is Hitler’s Germany. </span></p> <p>The book covers an area wider than just press freedom. Ravish Kumar refers to the wars for religious pride. He writes about the ongoing battles against what some radical Hindus call ‘Love Jihad’. “Every other day a handful of goons go on a rampage because a girl of one faith chooses to marry a boy of another faith.” </p> <p>Internal threats to press freedom are not new. In many democratic countries, including India, advertisers and media owners diminished it. Some of the organisations fighting for press freedom during the cold war era never dealt with this internal threat. The state was their only target and change of regime their goal.</p> <p>A western media mogul inspired his Indian counterparts to transform journalism into a profit-making ‘infotainment’ business. The media feeds the readers and viewers with what they supposedly want. The owners dumped the editors who thought the readers should be given what is good for them and for society! What the newspaper readers really want remains a controversial topic. The readers’ appetite can be whetted by titillating stories and images. If a tabloid prints a naked woman’s photo, its rival has to flash two women. It is said that readers of a British tabloid do not care who ruled the country as long as they see the photos of porn stars every morning! <span class="mag-quote-center">What the newspaper readers really want remains a controversial topic.</span></p> <p>Most TV anchors can be called the children of a former TV star, an American of Irish origin, who gained mass popularity for his extreme right-wing views and for his ability to silence his studio guests with insults. His pernicious influence afflicted a host of Indian TV journalists. </p> <h2><strong>Badge of honour</strong></h2> <p>Ravish Kumar seeks to counter such trends night after night, challenging his Hindi TV viewers to change to another channel if the issues of unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and sick hospitals and under-funded state schools do not interest them and if they are obsessed with the Hindu-Muslim debates engineered by the vote-grabbing politicians.</p> <p>His selection of topics can bore the viewer looking for titillation. The disclosure that so many schools have neither teachers nor buildings and so many officially electrified villages turn dark at night may interest some concerned citizens. But most others want to know whether Rekha was seen with A or with B at last night’s Bollywood bash. So, Ravish Kumar’s news and discussion agenda drags his channel down in the ratings competition and affects its balance sheet. However, his channel wears it as a badge of honour and Ravish Kumar gets an honourable mention in select circles of media critics and enlightened TV watchers.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.18.28.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.18.28.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Ravish Kumar's Speech On Fake News Order At Press Club Of India, April 2018. YouTube.</span></span></span>He refrains from using the formula to win the ratings war. Apart from politics, he covers education and health extensively, highlights public grievances, failures of the administration and hypocrisy of politicians. He does this effectively, gently and with a literary flair. Irony and satire mark his coverage at a time when many other journalists either lack this talent or dare not use it lest an intolerant government is offended. Ravish Kumar seeks to give voice to the powerless. He cajoles the powerful to hear the voices from the margins. </p><p>Such journalistic conduct was taken for granted once but “old-fashioned” journalism has gone out of fashion. Ravish Kumar is conscious of his profession’s failures and indulges in self-criticism. He distilled his disappointment in a memorable programme titled “TV stricken with TB”. That night, black screen was all that there was to see. A powerful commentary made up for the loss of picture. The surprised viewers were told that the black TV screen was not due to a technical problem but was designed to make a point! </p> <h2><strong>Unleashing the Rottweilers</strong></h2> <p>The risks that Ravish Kumar takes by practicing developmental journalism pale into insignificance when compared to the risk to his life and limbs that he takes by criticising the Modi Government. He is spared no threats, abuses and insults. And these are not just via the social media. He has been chased and his live interviews interrupted by bikers. After one such incident, he telecast a programme recreating the scene through computer graphics and images of menacing shadowy figures. It seemed like a thriller film clip.</p> <p>Many others like Ravish Kumar face similar problems. The women journalists refusing to be embedded anger the ruling party activists even more. A minister calls them “presstitutes”. Not many fellow journalists protest. Some because they have been won over by the ruling establishment flaunting its power to punish and reward. <span class="mag-quote-center">The women journalists refusing to be embedded anger the ruling party activists even more.</span></p> <p>Ravish Kumar and his ilk work in a hostile environment. Dealing with independent journalists has been outsourced since official measures to curb press freedom attract too much frontal criticism. This kind of threat is new for India. It once went through a much darker but brief period when the state suppressed press freedom and arrested some dissenting journalists. That was when the Indira Gandhi Government declared Emergency and suspended the civil rights. Then the suppression of press freedom was blatant and was there for all to see. These days “crowds” deal directly with the critics of the government which may signal to the police force to look the other way. <span class="mag-quote-center">Dealing with independent journalists has been outsourced.</span></p> <p>This method is subtle and insidious and invites less criticism. When the state suppresses press freedom, it becomes an identifiable target for the NGOs and brave newspaper editors. The BJP-ruled Government of Rajasthan tried to curb press freedom through an official order but had to retreat in the face of powerful protests. </p> <p>A safer strategy is to unleash state-sponsored or state-inspired Rottweilers against a few targeted journalists. Dissenters and critics can be silenced as easily by threats of physical and psychological violence delivered by goons personally or through social media, as by a local police inspector knocking at the door at midnight. </p> <h2><strong>Debate abandoned</strong></h2> <p>Once goons terrorise, discretion trumps bravery. Self-censorship attracts little attention and the government achieves its objective without getting blamed. This has become common in democracies where unconstitutional conduct against suspected terrorists is outsourced by the governments.</p> <p>Reporting rising sectarian violence makes independent journalists more vulnerable. When the accused persons belong to a political outfit, the party activists attack the reporters. Ravish Kumar writes: “Today, the number of people who spread hatred by highlighting this reason or that or by exploiting various inequalities has increased exponentially.” He talks about the erosion of liberty and dignity, the undermining of the Constitution and democracy and the collapse of institutions.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 19.50.43.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 19.50.43.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Ravish Kumar Acceptance Speech 'Journalist of the Year', 2016. You Tube.</span></span></span>The author scrutinises the Government’s mal-intention and society’s response. It is a field report on the spurt in intolerance, hate and sectarianism. It is about an emerging dictatorial order underpinned by mobocracy and populist politics spreading like wildfire in this post-fact era. The tradition of debate and dialogue has been abandoned. To be a critic of the ruling establishment is to be the enemy of the nation. <span class="mag-quote-center">To be a critic of the ruling establishment is to be the enemy of the nation.</span></p> <p>Ravish Kumar records the proliferation of programmed Indians who can see only one face (that of the Prime Minister). “They are programmed to dismiss not only contrary opinion, but also discussion. They listen to nothing, they read nothing. Those who behold a different sight are enemies and traitors – in the context of India, they would be anti-Modi, anti-Hindu, anti-national.”</p> <h2><strong>Robo-public</strong></h2> <p>He continues: “Fake news first falsified news and journalism and it is now turning the citizens fake. The Robo-public is a fake public. A fake public makes a fake Republic, a fake political consciousness, a fake democracy.”</p> <p>Ravish Kumar begins the book narrating his own encounter with fear that affects all those who speak out. He describes the deadly feeling while handling a report about the sudden death of a judge dealing with a case featuring allegations against a powerful politician who went on to become the President of the ruling party. Ravish Kumar chose to speak out. <span class="mag-quote-center">Ravish Kumar chose to speak out.</span></p> <p>Some honest police officers or independent judges protecting the powerless must have been gripped by a similar fear during their careers, but Ravish Kumar recalls his experience with a literary flair. So, his introduction to the book becomes a moving and frightening document. </p> <p>He breaks the shuddering silence surrounding that sensitive news story. He delivers the sensitive report on NDTV concluding with the words: “Now whatever will be, will be”. The closing sentence, he says, was “for my viewers, and also for myself”. Having done the programme, he finds release from the fear that had held him in its suffocating grip for two days.</p> <p>This independent journalist says he makes the journey from fear to courage every day. “My days start with the trolls’ abuses and threats and end with the thought that I should be careful for the sake of my job.”</p> <h2><strong>Republic of Fear</strong></h2> <p>The recent transformation of the nation into a Republic of Fear has been observed by all but only a few like Ravish Kumar have recorded it for posterity that will inherit an officially revised history of the nation, its religions, and its leaders. </p> <p>The author says: Post 2014, the political winds began to change course. Criticism of the government began to be equated with criticism of the nation. A factory called the IT Cell was set up and many varieties of fear were manufactured inside its basement. </p> <p>The trolls of the IT Cell mounted fierce attacks on anyone who dared to ask questions. They were called many things, from anti-nation, anti-religion to even pimps of the opposition media…. Even serving ministers began to attack reporters. The IT Cell (of the ruling party) rapidly transformed media into lapdog media. He notes that many anchors and journalists crept into the laps of power and began to sing praises of Prime Minister Modi.</p> <p>Ravish Kumar refers to the IT Cell running the WhatsApp university that specialises in teaching fake and poisonous history. He quotes politicians threatening to kill critics or announcing rewards for their heads.</p> <p>The threats to the freedom of the press, like the violation of human rights, used to cause greater concern in international fora and the western capitals during the cold war. These days the “international community” is not shocked by the murder of journalists in India or the threats to the freedom of the press. It is different if such incidents take place in a country that refuses to be a “strategic ally” or that has neither oil nor market to offer. <span class="mag-quote-center">It is different if such incidents take place in a country that refuses to be a “strategic ally” or that has neither oil nor market to offer. </span></p> <p>The recent Commonwealth summit in London did not take much notice of these issues. The Commonwealth Journalists Association and the Commonwealth Human Rights initiative tried in vain to sensitise the leaders to such problems in the member-nations. The activists should try and slip the reprint of the chapter “Speaking Out” into the pack of agenda papers of the summiteers at every forum! Ravish Kumar’s prose may move some of them.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/queen-rules-commonwealth">The Queen rules the Commonwealth!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/cut-throat-competition-distorts-democracy-in-india"> Cut-throat competition distorts democracy in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/remotely-controlled-weapons-hit-democracy-killing-from-distance">Remotely-controlled weapons hit democracy: killing from a distance</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Thu, 10 May 2018 19:45:27 +0000 L K Sharma 117809 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Queen rules the Commonwealth! https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/queen-rules-commonwealth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Many epithets have been used to run down the Commonwealth. The London summit may even be called the Commonwealth Games II…</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083398.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083398.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Queen Elizabeth II hosts a dinner at Buckingham Palace in London during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. April 19, 2018. Toby Melville/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It was a grand family reunion. The head of the family opened her magnificent home for the members coming from all over the world. She won them over by a charming smile and the display of her wealth. Her wish became her command.</p> <p>The Queen and her Government, suspicious of revolutionary fervour, easily convinced the diverse family members that continuity and stability were more desirable. With great foresight, the Queen intervened politically to suggest her successor, since the office of the Head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary. The member-nations readily accepted the suggestion. So, it was formally announced that when the time comes, Prince Charles will be the Head of the Commonwealth. The decision was an excellent gift to the Queen on the eve of her 92nd birthday. </p> <p>The Queen, as the Head of the Commonwealth, and her Government that hosted the London summit, felt victorious. The endorsement by 52 other countries should discourage the minority of Britons who keep talking against the monarchy. <span class="mag-quote-center">The endorsement by 52 other countries should discourage the minority of Britons who keep talking against the monarchy.</span></p> <p>This summit was to have “transformed” the Commonwealth, a voluntary inter-governmental organisation of Britain’s former colonies. There was much talk of its being reimagined, renewed and revitalised. It was to have been modernised. That was what its supporters and critics had hoped. The intense involvement of the royals has thus come in for some criticism.</p> <p>The decision to have the Prince of Wales as the next Head of the Commonwealth was variously attributed to “strong consensus” and “unanimity”. The pro-democracy activists would like to know the process through which this consensus was secured. The dark secret may be revealed when a retired head of the state writes his memoires. </p> <p>A British correspondent asked at the press conference whether it was democratic that an unelected leader selected another unelected person to succeed her in the Commonwealth office. A Head of the State did not respond to this question. &nbsp;</p> <p>There were hostile comments from ordinary people including a member of the Indian Diaspora. Some said Prince Charles was not fit for the job. Some criticised royal nepotism. Some felt offended. Some saw a trace of racism and gender inequality because the Prince is a white male. One saw it as a hideous and laughable reminder of the Empire.</p> <p>But that was not what the leaders had felt. They were not sensitive about the royal relationship. The “royal show”, as it was planned, did not remind them of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conference_of_Rulers">the Durbar</a>. The leaders quite liked being in Buckingham Palace and in Windsor Castle. It was a great photo opportunity, and some clicked away their mobile phone cameras. The constituents back home will be impressed that their leader shook hands with the Queen!</p> <p>Of course, how could they defy the head of the family. Family values are deeply ingrained in societies in which the young ones respect the head. And the Queen is quite a sweet old lady. Only a British author would move her from her palace to a bed-sit.</p> <p>So, the Queen ruled the Commonwealth Summit! <span class="mag-quote-center">And the Queen is quite a sweet old lady.</span></p> <h2><strong>Money well spent</strong></h2> <p>It was a big diplomatic victory for the British Government that had discreetly lobbied for such future transition. The Prince of Wales readily recalled his association with the institution from his childhood. The Government that ran a huge bill on hosting the Summit saw it as money well spent. </p> <p>The Commonwealth is no longer called the British Commonwealth but then what is in a name? Call it just “Commonwealth” but even decades later, as the London summit proved, it still smells like the British Commonwealth!</p> <p>A vociferous section of commentators in Britain minds it. The tiny group of the Republicans minds it. But the member states themselves don’t mind it. Not even the leader of the largest member-nation who rails against dynasties. The <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shah#Shahzadeh">British <em>shahzada</em></a> was acceptable to all!</p> <p>Those ideologically opposed to the monarchy and dynasties do not see the other side of the coin. Most feudal societies do not care for their advocacy of elections for every office. And at times, elections cause a lot of trouble and instability!</p> <p>The pragmatists recognise that during her long reign, the Queen has provided the glue that has kept this unique family of diverse nations together. She sided with the wishes of the majority in the family when a dominant member such as her own Government went against it, as happened during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.</p> <p>There have been many suggestions from British Labour leaders and others about having an elected Head of the Commonwealth. Considering the political confrontation going on in some of the democracies and semi-dictatorial regimes in the Commonwealth, a decision for having an elected Head could open a can of worms. Headship by rotation! Some wonder: when will the nation whose name begins with ‘Z’ assume office? </p> <p>And what happens when an elected head of Government is thrown out of office in a mid-term election? So, howsoever outdated the concept of hereditary office in the context of the Commonwealth, no one has placed a better alternative on the table.</p> <h2><strong>Civil society talk shows and other missed opportunities</strong></h2> <p>Leaving the Queen’s role aside, some other steps could have been taken to modernise the Commonwealth and making it appear less tied to the royals and the British Government. In fact, in order to clinch the issue of succession, the Royals were made to play an even more dominant role this time. Most of its members of the royal family and their assets were deployed for impressing the guests from the former colonies. This had the desired effect. The Prime Ministers and Presidents walking on the endless stretch of the red carpet were overwhelmed by the images and statues.</p> <p>The infrastructure for running the Commonwealth is largely British. The malady has been known for years. An old study had highlighted that the largest share of consultancy and aid programme contracts given out by the Commonwealth Secretariat were going to the British firms. There were case studies indicating how some projects in Africa had to be closed down because of the inappropriate technologies recommended or sold by British firms.</p> <p>The sorting out of the succession issue may have ensured a measure of stability and continuity in future, but it distracted from whatever the London summit said to promote sustainable development, security and a clean environment. </p> <p>The leaders’ meetings and the retreat were preceded by the civil society talk shows. The exchange of ideas among the activists belonging to the women, youth and human rights groups would have enriched the political perspective of any leader who could have spared any time to attend these meetings.</p> <p>Moving tales were heard of discrimination and oppression and of suppression of the freedom of expression. A young successful woman politician lamented that she lost her first boy-friend and was having trouble with the second one because in her country it is believed that a woman cannot succeed in politics unless she has slept with a powerful leader!</p> <p>While these fora were officially part of the summit, there was not much evidence in the official communique of any inputs received from these. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative or the Commonwealth Journalists Association, dealing with some of the burning issues today, have no reason to feel satisfied with the outcome of the summit.</p> <p>The host Government, under domestic pressure to promote gay rights, felt afraid of displeasing the guests. So, The British Prime Minister had to remain satisfied by making a fleeting reference to this issue in her statement at the concluding press conference. She slipped in a comment about the use of nerve agent in the UK and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.</p> <p>The summit highlighted the growing vulnerabilities caused by climate change and the rising sea levels. The issue concerns the Commonwealth even more since many of its member-nations are exposed to such natural calamities and being small states have no resources to deal with the tragedy. The summit sensitised the participating leaders to the pollution of the oceans by plastic. The issue was in the news because the host Government decided to do something about it like banning plastic straws. <span class="mag-quote-center">The summit sensitised the participating leaders to the pollution of the oceans by plastic.</span></p> <p>The leaders adopted a Commonwealth Blue Charter designed to cover one-third of the world’s national coastal waters and help sustain livelihoods and ecosystems globally. “They agreed on a bold, coordinated push to protect the ocean from the effects of climate change, pollution and over-fishing.”</p> <p>Their communique inevitably covered cyber security, health and education and “Commonwealth values”. </p> <h2><strong>Commonwealth values </strong></h2> <p>The leaders expressed their concern over rising protectionism and reaffirmed their commitment to a transparent, rule-based multilateral system of free-trade. The issue of trade and investment was deliberated at length at the Business Forum. The leaders committed themselves to the vision of increasing intra-Commonwealth trade to 2 trillion US dollars by 2030 and expanding intra-Commonwealth investment.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083619.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083619.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II greet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace. Matt Dunham/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Britain’s economic diplomacy in this context is under attack from two sides. The Europhiles say the Commonwealth will never make up the loss that Britain will suffer because of leaving the European Union. The Commonwealth supporters say Britain should stop looking at the member-nations just as trading partners! They want Britain to treat them as long-lost cousins who were betrayed when Britain joined the European Union. </p><p>This summit will be remembered most by the relief it brought to the Caribbean migrant families settled for decades in Britain who were facing the threat of deportation and some of whom had been deported as they could not prove their British citizenship. Known as the “Windrush generation” as their forefathers came by this ship to help a war-devastated Britain to rebuild itself.</p> <p>The issue was taken up by the media and the opposition in a big way. Tragic stories of individual families were published and shown on the TV day after day. Migration is a sensitive subject in domestic politics: but despite that the newspapers and TV channels showed no bias in favour of the Government or waved the flag of nationalism. They all wanted to be “fair”. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Prime Minister met the Caribbean leaders, offered apologies, promised immediate action and even agreed to the Labour Opposition’s demand for compensation to the families.</span></p> <p>Since the issue had the potential to disrupt the Commonwealth event, the host Government went into fire-fighting mode to minimise the damage. The Prime Minister met the Caribbean leaders, offered apologies, promised immediate action and even agreed to the Labour Opposition’s demand for compensation to the families victimised by what was officially described as a “hostile immigration policy”. This lowered the anxiety of the concerned Commonwealth leaders and the summit was immunised against any ill-effect.</p> <p>It was an unprecedented Commonwealth summit. It was the biggest such meeting. It got more than usual media coverage. Thanks to the distribution of Commonwealth information packs in schools, ignorance about this institution may reduce. </p> <p>The summit was held amid extraordinary fanfare as well as trenchant criticism by the opinion-makers angered by the Brexit politicians flourishing the Commonwealth as a counter-veiling economic force to Europe! A book, launched to coincide with the summit queered the pitch. Ironically, it is written by the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Philip Murphy. The book is called <em>The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth. </em><span class="mag-quote-center">A book, launched to coincide with the summit queered the pitch.</span></p> <p>The summit turned him into a media star and he let out a flood of comments about the Commonwealth facing “an existential crisis”. Many epithets have been used to run down the Commonwealth. The London summit may even be called the Commonwealth Games II.</p> <p>The London summit did push the organisation towards tradition, frustrating the endeavour to make it modern. The dream of reimagining the Commonwealth will remain a dream for some time.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Can Europe make it? openIndia uk UK Culture Democracy and government International politics Commonwealth L K Sharma Mon, 23 Apr 2018 08:42:32 +0000 L K Sharma 117435 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Commonwealth gets extra attention https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/commonwealth-gets-extra-attention <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Some 5,000 participants from government, business and civil society have arrived for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The central theme of the deliberations is ‘Towards a Common Future’.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34976995.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34976995.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Queen Elizabeth hosts Commonwealth Diaspora community at Buckingham Palace, in the lead up to CHOGM this April in London. Jonathan Brady/ Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Great Britain is known for its grand events and theatre. Magnificent pomp and pageantry awaits the leaders of 53 Commonwealth nations arriving here for their summit. The masters of ornamentalism have pulled out all the stops and a prominent role is being played by the Queen as the head of the Commonwealth, and other royals.</p> <p>Some 5,000 participants from government, business and civil society have arrived for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The central theme of the deliberations is ‘Towards a Common Future’. Their vision is to promote peace, prosperity and democracy.</p> <h2><strong>Providing relief</strong></h2> <p>The Commonwealth has been playing a constructive role over the years by highlighting the problems of the developing countries and small island nations and by providing aid. Concerned British leaders and groups see it as an effective instrument for helping the helpless of the world through aid programmes. It fights malaria, malnutrition and other maladies in the member-countries. It provides relief in the face of natural calamities. <span class="mag-quote-center">Concerned British leaders and groups see it as an effective instrument for helping the helpless of the world through aid programmes.</span></p> <p>Some want the Commonwealth to promote democracy and free speech by enforcing these virtues and punishing the offenders – even throwing out a member-country straying from the democratic path. Some others feel that the institution’s extra emphasis on human rights was driven by cold war considerations.</p> <p>The business leaders expect every institution to promote commercial interests. So, the Business Forum will have a busy schedule during the summit. </p> <h2><strong>A valued talking shop</strong></h2> <p>Since the present British Government is tasked with implementing the result of the referendum favouring exit from Europe, popularly known as Brexit, it has come to value the Commonwealth even more.</p> <p>It has drawn an elaborate programme for the summit and the supplementary events involving business leaders, youth, women and civil society. The institution is often derided as a “talking shop” but the flow of ideas at various fora will be quite interesting. Only a Commonwealth Literature Festival is missing from the long list. The Declaration will, of course, present a concrete plan for marching towards a common future.</p> <p>The substantive part of the proceedings apart, the summit will provide plenty of grist to the sketch-writers’ mill, generating any number of colour stories. Odd Republicans may criticise the intense involvement of the Queen and the royals and the selection of Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and Windsor Castle as the venues for the Summit. </p> <p>Some of the giant portraits on the regal walls may cause an allergic reaction in those who refuse to believe that the British Empire was a benevolent enterprise. Mercifully, Shashi Tharoor, an Indian MP, who called the period of the British rule in India an era of darkness, will not be part of the Indian delegation.</p> <h2><strong>Relocating to India?</strong></h2> <p>Most leaders of the Commonwealth countries are not that sensitive. The hosts know that the current masters of their old colonies value photo opportunities as much as concrete benefits. India’s Prime Minister, who will simultaneously address his domestic audience, is expected to find the splendorous Buckingham Palace quite impressive. <span class="mag-quote-center">The hosts know that the current masters of their old colonies value photo opportunities as much as concrete benefits.</span></p> <p>Modi will have to refrain from criticising dynasties since the event involves the Queen, her son, the grandsons and other royals. Also, the Queen is accustomed to being greeted in exotic ways when she visits some Commonwealth countries, but she will not be amused if any leader tries to hug her!</p> <p>A non-substantive issue that is causing waves here is the reported proposal that Prince Charles should be the next Head of the Commonwealth. The post is not hereditary. It appears that the Queen, while not ready to abdicate, may be willing to let the Prince be given a consolation prize. Amid secret lobbying about succession, a British Labour MP has come out against the move, even criticising the Prince. India’s stand on the British <em>shahzada</em> inheriting the office is not known as yet.</p> <p>If this move faces any hurdle a deal-maker summiteer may suggest that the next Head should be a democratically elected leader. Some British commentators have also proposed that the Commonwealth Secretariat be shifted from London to the capital of another member-country. New Delhi could be a strong contender. Such a relocation will bring a few low-level jobs to India and a windfall of votes for the Prime Minister! India has become a bit more enthusiastic about the Commonwealth which was not always the case in the recent past.</p> <h2><strong>Amazing diversity</strong></h2> <p>Next to the UN, the Commonwealth is one forum that showcases amazing diversity at a time when diversity is under attack. It signifies the importance of multi-culturalism and multilateralism when both have entered a phase of decline. So, the forum itself is the message!</p> <p>Britain is hosting the summit at a time when the Commonwealth has acquired a special significance in its contentious domestic politics. So, while the British Government has become more enthusiastic about it, more critics have emerged to devalue the Commonwealth.</p> <p>For this reason, this summit’s outcome will come under closer scrutiny. Those expecting concrete results will not be satisfied only with colourful stories about the fanfare marking the occasion. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Commonwealth is used to indifference by the people of the member-countries and by the leaders of the emerging powers that were powerless earlier.</span></p> <p>The Commonwealth is used to indifference by the people of the member-countries and by the leaders of the emerging powers that were powerless earlier. This time an external factor has spawned a new breed of critics painting a pessimistic scenario about the Commonwealth’s present and its future. </p> <p>This is because the institution has been dragged into the ongoing battle over Britain’s relationship with Europe that has polarised the country. In a 2016 referendum, Britons wanting to leave the European Union won a narrow victory. In their vigorous campaign, they used the Commonwealth to allay the nation’s fear of isolation in the event of severing the official link with the European Union. They assured the voters that there was a world beyond Europe, the world of former colonies with people long accustomed to treating Britain as their mother country.</p> <h2><strong>Oxygen of publicity</strong></h2> <p>This angered the pro-European commentators who jumped into the fray to demolish the myth that the loss caused by leaving the European Union will be met by the Commonwealth family. The Commonwealth-sceptics say that the former colonies are still problem-ridden. They present a strong case because the trade and investments within the Commonwealth do not amount to much. They represent the realistic school of foreign policy. </p> <p>However, their efforts to pull down the Commonwealth have given it the oxygen of publicity. And that is one thing that this institution lacked even during its hey-day.</p> <p>The Commonwealth-sceptics strengthen their case by pointing out that the former colonies were not enthusiastic about Britain leaving Europe. They feared that Brexit would adversely affect their foreign trade and aid.</p> <p>These nations wanting to promote free movement of manpower noted that the Brexiteers ran an anti-immigration campaign with a trace of racism. So, if a country turns its back on the Poles and Hungarians, why would it welcome Indians or Pakistanis, they wondered. <span class="mag-quote-center">If a country turns its back on the Poles and Hungarians, why would it welcome Indians or Pakistanis, they wondered.</span></p> <p>The pro-European commentators say that the UK-India talks on free trade failed since New Delhi wanted more Indians to be allowed to come and work in Britain. The British Prime Minister was in no position to entertain such a request because migration has become a hot subject in British politics. The summiteers from the rest of the Commonwealth should not expect a grand gesture in this regard from the host nation.</p> <h2><strong>Contrasting styles past and future </strong></h2> <p>The debate on the relative importance of the Commonwealth is suffused with images and words used in personal relationships. So, Britain is painted as a divorcee on the rebound wooing an old flame. In the imagination conditioned by the British Empire, the composite of the rest of the Commonwealth is a female. As it happens, this female is no longer a supplicant. It has become somewhat empowered and is not quite dying to embrace the old lord and master. </p> <p>The pro-Europeans keep pointing out the futility of courting the old flame and kneading nostalgia into international relations. Commonwealth links were liked by some of these critics only for their entertainment value. The Prince of Wales being ceremonially welcomed by some Australian or African tribe is funny stuff, a reminder of an exotic encounter of the past and the glory of the Empire.</p> <p>An essay on the Commonwealth is illustrated with a photo of the sari-clad British Prime Minister with a bright yellow garland around her neck standing with a bare-chested Hindu temple priest in Bangalore. One sees in newspapers a visiting British royal wearing a funny traditional wig or dancing with the rural hosts with semi-exposed bottoms. In contrast, the European Union headquarters in Brussels enact a civilised scene with the pin-striped suits from Britain conducting hard business negotiations.</p> <p>Of course, the Commonwealth has always had sections of supporters who valued it for different reasons. Its origins lay in Britain searching for its identity after it lost its Empire. The search still continues amid a great deal of confusion. At times, Britain wishes to return to its glorious past as an imperial power and at times it wants to be an equal partner with the neighbouring European nations. <span class="mag-quote-center">Some British thinkers and politicians envision the Commonwealth as Empire 2.0, but now voices are heard about the sins of the British Empire.</span></p> <p>Some British thinkers and politicians envision the Commonwealth as Empire 2.0, but now voices are heard about the sins of the British Empire. This reaction was provoked by the academic-salesmen who used fiction to list the benefits of the British Empire. This debate is sullying the image of the Commonwealth, even leading to the suggestion that the Queen may be replaced by an elected Head of the Commonwealth!</p> <h2><strong>More equal partners</strong></h2> <p>The imperial Britain’s misdeeds may be an old story, but the Shadow Foreign Secretary wants the British Prime Minister to tender an apology at the Commonwealth Summit for other historic wrongs including what Thatcher’s Government did during the apartheid struggle in South Africa. Margaret Thatcher ignored in the eighties the Commonwealth’s effort to end the apartheid regime in South Africa. </p> <p>Labour MP Emily Thornberry dug up a 30-year-old story and said that Margaret Thatcher nearly destroyed the Commonwealth by not listening to the member-nations who wanted unified sanctions imposed against South Africa’s apartheid regime. She writes: “We should see our commonwealth cousins not just as trading partners but as full and equal partners.”</p> <p>The old demand for an apology by the host nation is unlikely to generate any heat but the one contentious issue that the leaders may face is about the rights of the gays and lesbians. It puts Britain in a somewhat awkward position as a large number of member-nations are not ready to decriminalise the conduct of these minorities. </p> <p>The hosts know it only too well and thus notwithstanding the pressure from the human rights activists, Britain will go slow in promoting gay rights.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> India </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Can Europe make it? openIndia uk EU India UK L K Sharma Mon, 16 Apr 2018 12:35:49 +0000 L K Sharma 117308 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Cut-throat competition distorts democracy in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/cut-throat-competition-distorts-democracy-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>So, what is the right measure of passion in politics that is good for the health of democracy? There has to be a right balance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34624377.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34624377.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>January 23, 2018 - Ajmer, Rajasthan, India - Indian national congress and BJP supporters during campaign on bye-elections. Shaukat Ahmed/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Commenting on democracy in Great Britain, a north European journalist attributed its ills to “too much competition”. His own country is accustomed to a much gentler version of the democratic order. </p> <p>If he were to come to New Delhi and read just a day’s newspapers, he would find that in the case of India, his diagnosis is confirmed. Cut-throat competition afflicts democracy in India. Global warming is tracked by instruments but there are no instruments to measure the rise in sectarian hatred recorded by newspaper headlines. One such front-page headline may be sampled here: “As communal heat rises, BJP allies in Bihar rally together”. The same daily carries as many as ten reports related to sectarian animosity and violence. </p> <p>Growing mental pollution causes this upsurge in violence. The poison of bigotry being injected into society can be felt and talked about but not measured by an electronic sensor. The seamy side of Indian politics has been highlighted for some time but earlier the main instruments were money and muscle power. The marginalisation of a religious minority and consolidation of the Hindu votes through sectarian incitement are recent developments. Some of the latest polls have proved that polarisation pays.</p> <p>The word “communal” in Indian English is used as a substitute for “sectarian”. What has triggered the current wave of communal violence? In most cases, the spark is provided not by religious fundamentalists but by political activists whose leaders understand the power of religious passion and fault-lines of society. <span class="mag-quote-center">The poison of bigotry being injected into society can be felt and talked about but not measured by an electronic sensor. </span></p><p>They call themselves Hindu nationalists. They have become overactive on seeing that votes can be won by polarisation of communities based on religion and castes. The voters, fired by baser emotions, can be driven to the polling booths easily. In a surcharged atmosphere, a gentleman-politician is overwhelmed by a street-smart man who outshouts him. The former species will be extinct one day. </p> <p>The formula for winning elections has been standardised. Create resentment and anger against the political rival. Intensify religious hatred, promote inter-caste rivalry and attack the secularists ruthlessly. Tap the voters’ feelings and promise the moon. Administer the right mixture of fear of the other and hope for the future. That populism and fake nationalism damage the nation is not the concern of the victorious candidate.</p> <p>In such an atmosphere, Indian democracy faces multiple threats, though mercifully none from any rogue General. However, internal subversion by an elected leader is subtle and equally lethal. Democracy can easily be hijacked by an actor-politician, a second-hand car salesman or a seller of snake oil. Anyone with the power to mesmerise the audience. </p> <p>Democracy is turned into a sound-and-light spectacle featuring a 3-D Hologrammed leader. The leader delivers his line with great effect. He knows all about light and camera angle. He chooses carefully the colour and style of his dress for the day’s role. Democracy led in this fashion retains its name but loses its true spirit. Significantly, newspapers publish elections-related news under such telling banners as The Carnival of Democracy. No newspaper in Britain uses this banner.</p> <p>Lovers of democracy lament that every election campaign report uses the word “hawa” (wind) to signify the political atmosphere created, not as a result of the deeds or the misdeeds of the outgoing government, but by the rhetoric used and bogus promises made by the leaders. Then there is another set way of describing the election-eve atmosphere. The word used is “wave”. The biggest democracy turns into a mighty ocean and the candidate who generates a mighty wave by the gift of the gab is swept to power. </p> <h2><strong>Offence given, taken and sucked away</strong></h2> <p>In India, a community can feel hurt by a word or an image. Politicians can afford to ignore the basic needs of the electorate but dare not ignore the sensitivities of the dominant communities. Offence is given and taken very easily. The book lovers complaining of the writers not writing about “feelings” should know that feelings have been sucked away by politics!</p> <p>If feelings rather than a dispassionate analysis influence the voting behaviour, consolidation of votes through inculcating hatred for and fear of ‘the other’ pays political dividends. In a cut-throat competition for winning political power, no holds are barred. More and more street-smart boys and criminals get into politics which starts losing traditional, dignified public-spirited leaders.</p> <p>Social media makes it easier to create a favourable political atmosphere by rousing baser emotions. The task of poll strategists is merely technical like that of those who generate clouds on a film set and create a dream sequence or a nightmare on screen. The voters get impressed by the performance of the leader descending on the stage or talking to them from remote locations and forget his dismal performance in office. The future of democracy in a virtually real world is another topic. <span class="mag-quote-center">In India, a community can feel hurt by a word or an image. Politicians can afford to ignore the basic needs of the electorate but dare not ignore the sensitivities of the dominant communities.</span></p> <p>A tough competitor in the political arena knows that feelings are bankable and that defines the poll strategist’s task. He has to incite the mob frenzy that characterises developing countries. V. S. Naipaul has written about it in his books referring to Africa. India is ripe for a fresh visit by Naipaul as he can witness another version of the million mutinies that he observed the last time. As in Africa, so in India. Naipaul will see celebrations by violent mobs. He will be amused by the elected municipal councillors installing their name plates on public facilities and renaming roads.</p> <p>Naipaul will witness a nation in a temper. Long before America voted for Trump, British journalist Gavin Esler went there and discovered the United States of Anger (USA) and wrote a book with that title. Today, an illiterate maid in New Delhi, who has not heard of that book, says that there is krodh (anger) all around. She is worried as to how long the people like her or the daily wage-earners will be able to go out to work in safety.</p> <h2><strong>A failure of intent</strong></h2> <p>Anyone writing about “intolerance” and the spurt in sectarian hatred and violence has to face “whataboutry” from the Prime Minister’s devotees. What about the riots of such and such year, is their counter question. Yes, India was never free of sectarian violence but there is a qualitative difference between the past and the present. </p> <p>The sporadic incidents in the past were not always politically motivated and, in most cases, the state and the district administration distinguished between the victim and the accused. The civil servants failed at times because of incompetence but did not turn a blind eye knowing that the political leadership would discreetly approve of it. Now an impression has gone around that the ruling party is determined to marginalise a community. The failure to control violence and enforce law and order is one thing but the failure of intent is another.</p> <p>This has encouraged the closet communalists in the bureaucracy, police and even judiciary to be less cautious. The ruling party leaders freely make inflammatory speeches, the like of which would have ended their political career in another democratic country.</p> <p>Till the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya, one never heard insensitive sectarian statements in the so-called elite or refined or cultural families. That has changed. This is the difference between the past and the present of a secular India.</p> <p>All these years, those trying to harness Hinduism for political benefit faced resistance not just from the liberal secular Hindus but also from the staunch believers who remain committed to their faith’s inherent pluralism and inclusiveness, extending even to the atheists within its fold. </p> <h2><strong>Diversity hatred and ‘Hindu Pakistan’</strong></h2> <p>This diversity is hated by a rising political force trying to inject the foreign ideology of Fascism into an indigenous faith. It is determined to monopolise power by establishing the primacy of one single Hindu God – Lord Rama. This chosen God comes into the picture in the reports of many incidents of politically inspired inter-religious violence. </p> <p>The condemnation by the liberals no longer frightens the sectarian forces. But what they are up against is a faith tradition having millions of theologically approved Gods. Thus, forcing homogeneity and uniformity on Hindus is going to be a difficult project.</p> <p>This sectarian agenda has no theological basis. It involves no official plan to “reform” Hinduism. If anything, the party activists try to enforce some medieval customs in order to “purify” the faith tempered with modernity over the years. A top item in this agenda that mobilises many believers is reclamation of the temples demolished by the foreign invaders belonging to a different religion.</p> <p>The current political confrontation has been given a religious dimension but essentially it is a political project designed to assert the supremacy of Hindus in a nation that establishes its new identity in the world. Those who have generated this cut-throat political competition are not religious scholars. In fact, they have little understanding of the Vedic literature or of the classical language associated with their faith. The spirit of argumentation that marks this faith tradition is foreign to them. <span class="mag-quote-center">The long-cherished project of the mentor of the ruling party is eventually to establish a powerful Hindu nation.</span></p> <p>The top leadership of the ruling party is not into politics for pelf or for power for the sake of power or for public service. It has a single-point agenda. The long-cherished project of the mentor of the ruling party is eventually to establish a powerful Hindu nation. Fired by messianic zeal, the party leaders are perennially focused on electoral strategies, ignoring governance and the citizens’ problems. For the first time in the history of independent India, this party has gained unrestricted political power and influence and it does not want to let go of this opportunity. It is keen to move faster towards its goal of establishing what its critics call a “Hindu Pakistan”.</p> <p>The Government has got away with this till now, despite its failure to fulfil Modi’s election-eve promises, because of its power of patronage and the Prime Minister’s charisma. Both are being used by the “cultural” organisation that holds the real power derived from its extensive network of volunteers. </p> <p>But now voices are being heard against the politicians for being obsessed with the Hindu-Muslim debate and ignoring the issues of public health, education, malnutrition, safety and transport.</p> <p>The constant public discourse on the Hindu-Muslim issue and embedded media’s focus on it are bringing democracy into disrepute. Politicians are being ridiculed and condemned more and more. “Plague on both your houses” is a slogan that has been heard. The Prime Minister’s devotees attack anyone criticising their beloved leader. One devotee took to social media to seriously suggest that Modi should impose a dictatorship to teach his critics a lesson!</p> <h2><strong>Full-time politicians</strong></h2> <p>While the ruling party’s Hindutva agenda is mainly responsible for queering the pitch, some other factors also intensify competition in Indian politics. Far too many politicians are full-time politicians. They know no other way of leading a life. Many are into politics for making money. Some lack the qualifications to get any job and possess no skills to earn in any other line of business. So, winning an election at any cost becomes essential for them.</p> <p>Thanks to the declining faith in the police and judiciary and the administration’s failure to provide civic amenities, more and more people are joining politics in order to secure the necessary clout to get the administration to do their work or to secure the safety of their families. They use political power to safeguard the interests of their relations, friends and supporters. <span class="mag-quote-center">They use political power to safeguard the interests of their relations, friends and supporters. </span></p> <p>More ambitious corrupt politicians use political power to promote the interests of their rich friends in the corporate world. Some business leaders and media moguls do not spend money on sponsoring other politicians and join politics to directly benefit their business.</p> <p>The cut-throat political competition for gaining power exacerbates religious animosities and widens social fault lines. However, it may be argued that such intense competition at least proves that democracy is alive and kicking. The people are willing to kill or die during a heated poll campaign for a leader they love! </p> <p>Here is a dilemma. Suppose the voters turn indifferent and spend the polling day holiday decorating their homes instead of taking the trouble of going to cast their vote. That kind of mass indifference to exercising one’s right will also enfeeble democracy. </p> <p>So, what is the right measure of passion in politics that is good for the health of democracy? There has to be a right balance. It will depend not on the regulatory authorities or election &nbsp;laws but on the wisdom of the leaders and on the proverbial common man.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/remotely-controlled-weapons-hit-democracy-killing-from-distance">Remotely-controlled weapons hit democracy: killing from a distance</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/statues-are-not-safe-in-india">Statues are not safe in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/when-faith-fills-ballot-boxes"> When faith fills ballot boxes</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Conflict Democracy and government International politics L K Sharma Fri, 06 Apr 2018 13:38:53 +0000 L K Sharma 117081 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Remotely-controlled weapons hit democracy: killing from a distance https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/remotely-controlled-weapons-hit-democracy-killing-from-distance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the new information order, manipulated voters have come to outnumber threatened voters and bribed voters. The larger picture.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35613070.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35613070.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters listening to Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP candidate for the presidential elections during his last campaign meeting on May 3, 2007 in Montpellier, France. ABACA/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>National electorates have lost their primacy in deciding the outcome of their elections. They have the vote and they go to the polling booths, but their choice may be determined by a foreign government or a private company. In the new information order, manipulated voters have come to outnumber threatened voters and bribed voters.</p> <p>Democracy stands diminished as the world debates whether Donald Trump was sent to the White House by American voters or by Vladimir Putin! Not a month goes by without protests by those who believe that the Russian state meddled in the US election. </p> <p>This controversy has been followed by reports that a British data analytics firm energised Trump’s poll campaign by using allegedly stolen private data for targeting American voters.</p> <p>Democracy has spawned manufacturers of dissent and consent who can be contracted for swaying the election results in one country or organising a political 'Spring' and destabilising a regime in another. If it is illegal to subvert free elections in another country, the official intelligence agency can outsource the job to private commercial players. This formula for plausible deniability has been tried and tested. <span class="mag-quote-center">Democracy has spawned manufacturers of dissent and consent who can be contracted for swaying the election results in one country or organising a political ‘Spring’ and destabilising a regime in another.</span></p> <h2><strong>Loads of Russians and some Brits from Cambridge</strong></h2> <p>Technological advances have increased asymmetry in power relations and the new business leaders come from the same regions that dominated manufacturing and financial services. Their business depends on data mining based on technologies monopolised by the privileged. </p> <p>Stealing of private data seems easier than pilfering coal from the mines. Data is far more expensive than coal. The victims of robber barons knew what they lost but the victims of data miners do not know what is being stolen from them. </p> <p>Data mining is as important a weapon in the arsenal of a political leader as it is for a company selling soap and shampoo. </p> <p>The involvement of a “foreign hand” was one of the reasons that made Donald Trump’s victory controversial from the moment the results were announced in 2016. One senior US official or the other keeps revealing details of cyber-meddling by Moscow. A grand jury in Washington accuses 13 Russians and three organisations of plotting to sway the US presidential election in favour of Trump.</p> <p>The indictment goes beyond the charge of an online operation and using a “troll farm” in Russia to flood the social media with pro-Trump and anti-Hillary content. Some Russians even travelled to the US clandestinely to contact social and political activists and organise demonstrations and protests designed to harm Hillary and benefit Trump.</p> <p>This indictment was used by the US national security adviser H R McMaster to say that “Russian meddling is incontrovertible and beyond dispute”. Trump denies the allegation and blames the FBI for investigating his election campaign. <span class="mag-quote-center">Trump denies the allegation and blames the FBI for investigating his election campaign.</span></p> <p>As if the alleged Russian involvement was not enough, it turns out that some credit must also go to a British data analytics firm which carries the prestigious word “Cambridge” in its name. Another newspaper headline: “Cambridge Analytica boasts of dirty tricks to swing elections.” </p> <p>According to media reports<em>, </em>the Cambridge Analytica executives boasted of their role in getting Trump elected. Their weapon was “unattributable and untrackable” advertising to support their clients in elections.&nbsp; The firm, according to a senior member of staff, was “behind” the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign. It just placed false information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watched it grow! </p> <p>Such stuff infiltrates the online community with a lightning speed. Hillary Clinton, the victim of this social media campaign, did notice something unusual. She said that she faced a new kind of campaign that nobody had ever faced before.</p> <p>This data scandal led to the suspension of the company’s chief executive. Also, Cambridge University asked Facebook to tell it whether one of its academics used university data and resources to help Cambridge Analytica.</p> <p><em>The Observer</em> reported that the company had unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles which were used to build a political targeting system to help Trump. The British company faces allegations of the theft of personal data from American voters. &nbsp;The newspaper headlines appearing every week will not let the controversy die or let the Trump poll campaign get a clean chit soon.</p> <h2><strong>More foreign interference, France and elsewhere</strong></h2> <p>A report of foreign interference in national politics has been reported from another democracy – France.&nbsp; The former President Nicolas Sarkozy has been taken into police custody for questioning” over allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal election campaign funding from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Sarkozy won that election in 2007. Sarkozy also faced another allegation of false accounting for his failed re-election campaign of 2012 when he was described as a “political showman” because of his expensive rallies and the US-style stadium gigs. <span class="mag-quote-center">The employment of foreign poll consultants by the candidates in emerging democracies has become a known strategy.</span></p> <p>In France, a foreign power directly helped the then President by funding his re-election campaign. In the US election, a foreign power allegedly meddled by abusing social media.</p> <p>The employment of foreign poll consultants by the candidates in emerging democracies has become a known strategy. In a new scenario, a foreign government can offer this expensive service to a favoured candidate in the Third World in a clandestine manner. It can evade the charge of meddling in a foreign election by enlisting the Diaspora favouring one candidate over the other, one ideology over the other in the motherland. </p> <p>The US and Britain have a long history of using the expatriates in their official as well as unofficial campaigns to dislodge a foreign ruler, elected or non-elected.&nbsp; The Diaspora operates from the safety of their adopted country and does not mind if its campaign finance causes social unrest and political instability in the motherland. </p> <h2><strong>The US and Iran</strong></h2> <p>The Iranian Diaspora in the US plays a big role in the politics of the motherland. The US Government offered grants worth millions of dollars inviting applications from the groups wanting to promote human rights and democracy in Iran. This was seen even by some Iranians in America as a veiled attempt at regime change in that country. </p> <p>A political revolution in Iran can be seeded in Brooklyn! This meddling is done in the name of promoting democracy in the target country. In some cases, the new regime turns out to be more oppressive and a transient political ‘Spring’ is followed by a harsher winter. </p> <p>A big power smells an opportunity if the Diaspora belongs to a politically polarised country. Depending on the foreign and economic policies of the target nation, official agencies recruit either the dissidents or the supporters of the regime from among the expatriates. <span class="mag-quote-center">A political revolution in Iran can be seeded in Brooklyn! This meddling is done in the name of promoting democracy in the target country.</span></p> <p>Social media is a very powerful political tool in possession of the Diaspora! Digital patriots have proliferated in recent years. The Diaspora helps its favourite leader’s campaign in the motherland through tweets and online campaign videos. It organises impressive events for a visiting leader from “home” and holds a token protest against his political opponents or his critics in the media. If a Third World leader cannot afford data mining, analysis and poll consultancy by a foreign firm, the Diaspora can foot the bill.</p> <h2><strong>Third World leaders</strong></h2> <p>Such remotely run campaigns influence the voters of the target country as the US Presidential election proved. The growing external influence on the democratic process is now understood by every smart elected leader. He knows that his people’s mandate for a given number of years is not enough and he fears destabilisation. He wants to strengthen his position by getting a big external power’s endorsement. It also enhances his popularity in his country, especially if it happens to be a former colony.</p> <p>If America gives a favoured-nation treatment, global appreciation follows and the media in the US and Europe starts seeing that country in a new light. Eric Hobsbawm once told this reporter that young India’s achievements were ignored by the western media for decades because America had reservations about India’s policies. </p> <p>The Third World leaders realise the importance of the President of the United States and seek a bargain with him. Abandoning their party’s election manifesto, they open up the domestic market a little more to become more acceptable to powerful nations. They carry orders for big-ticket military equipment when they go to meet their counterparts. &nbsp;A smart elected leader does not antagonise a big power for fear of ruination. His democratic credentials are not enough to keep him safely in power. <span class="mag-quote-center">They carry orders for big-ticket military equipment when they go to meet their counterparts.</span></p> <p>A vilified dictator who benefits the commercial and manufacturing interests of his host country is hailed as a world statesman. And the same dictator refusing to play ball at a later stage can be deported from the world. An old photograph of an American defence secretary bowing in the court of Saddam Hussein illustrates how an enemy was a great friend once.</p> <h2><strong>The Golden Square Mile</strong></h2> <p>Democracy is often threatened by external elements posing as a force for democracy. The use of social media and foreign funding has increased challenges facing the election regulators. In the best of times, the democratic order faced threats from domestic money, media and muscle power. The dominant castes of Bihar or the money bags of London’s Golden Square Mile have always swayed the election results in their respective areas of influence. The latter do not send armed ruffians to capture polling booths but underwrite a friendly political party’s poll campaign. </p> <p>The City’s financial might has protected its extraordinary rights and privileges, granting it immunity from the elected Parliament’s authority! The unkindest description of the Golden Square Mile, from where the old East India Company operated once, comes from <em>The</em> <em>Guardian </em>columnist George Monbiot. He says it is the place “where democracy goes to die”. </p> <p>Another columnist Jeremy Fox calls the City of London “the prime launderette for dirty money and the world’s largest controller of offshore tax havens”. It became the prime destination for the super-rich Russians after the end of the cold war. Following the suspicious deaths of a former Russian spy who spied for Britain, some British columnists made dark references to the Russian oligarchs helping the ruling party in Britain.</p> <h2><strong>British media moguls</strong></h2> <p>Some British media moguls have perfected the art of winning friends in a coming government by influencing the people during the election campaign. A media owner doesn’t just ask his editors to write the desired kind of opinion pieces and editorials but unleashes his trusted reporter on a leader whom he doesn’t want to become the next Prime Minister. At the behest of the government, the media moguls can deploy massive financial resources in publishing and distributing a book written by a foreigner fighting the leader of that country. </p> <p>Their Indian counterparts have quickly learnt from them.&nbsp; The Indian media scene has become so dismal that every now or then a TV or a newspaper journalist either resigns in protest or is thrown out for showing signs of independent thinking. This happened twice this month. The Indian media scene has become so dismal that every now or then a TV or a newspaper journalist either resigns in protest or is thrown out for showing signs of independent thinking. This happened twice this month.</p> <p>Such domestic threats to democracy have been discussed for years. But it is the external threat that has grown manifold and is set to acquire greater lethal power to disrupt a democracy. The new weapon is safer to use, and technological advances will make it more and more effective. It has demonstrated its capability not just in the young democracies but even in mature democracies. <span class="mag-quote-center">The new weapon is safer to use, and technological advances will make it more and more effective.</span></p> <h2><strong>A spectre is haunting the democratic process</strong></h2> <p>Globalisation, data collection and analytics and social media have given a remote weapon to subvert democracy in any distant country. This weapon is humane. An unfriendly foreign leader no longer needs to be killed physically. It is easier to assassinate him politically.</p> <p>Some powerful western democratic nations who preach democracy while supporting cruel but friendly foreign dictators, used to suppress the democratic movements in those countries by offering a dictator the best of weapon systems plus substantial financial aid, while keeping quiet about the human rights violation by his forces. Now, they can help a subservient dictator by using subtle methods to sabotage the electoral chances of his democratic opponent.</p> <p>Many democracies keep trying to curb the misuse of money and muscle power in elections. Now the spectre of the “foreign hand” has come to haunt the democratic process. Media coverage of external meddling in elections makes the true democrats anxious and gives added credibility to those forecasting the death of democracy.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/statues-are-not-safe-in-india">Statues are not safe in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/when-faith-fills-ballot-boxes"> When faith fills ballot boxes</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/of-sacred-cows-and-profane-men">Of sacred cows and profane men</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics Internet L K Sharma Sat, 24 Mar 2018 09:58:20 +0000 L K Sharma 116855 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Statues are not safe in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/statues-are-not-safe-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>One cynic says that after every election, the new Government can spend its first year in uninstalling the statutes erected by the previous regime.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.39.53.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.39.53.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Violent political activists in India, used to attacking fellow humans, have now turned their attention to statues. Within a week they demolished or damaged the statues of Lenin, Ambedkar, the Dalit icon, and Periyar, the social reformer who fought against upper-caste hegemony.</p> <p>In India statues of leaders command an immense political significance which now characterises even the idols of Hindu Gods. These come in all sizes and colours. Prime Minister Modi is seeking to ensure that his home state Gujarat boasts the tallest statue of Sardar Patel, co-opted by his party, even though he was a life-long leader of the Congress and India’s Home Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet. Sardar Patel is being used as an instrument for diminishing Nehru!</p> <p>Towns are dotted with statues installed by the followers of one political party or the other. Statues are erected, defaced and made controversial, all for promoting political interests. A State Governor belonging to Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist party said what a democratically elected government can do can be undone by the next elected party! He was responding to reports of the demolition of a statue of Lenin in a state where the BJP ousted a communist government that had ruled the state for 25 years. </p> <p>One cynic says that after every election, the new Government can spend its first year in uninstalling the statutes erected by the previous regime. The old order changed in this north-eastern state and a commentator is sure that streets named after Lenin will now be renamed to glorify some Hindu nationalist leader!</p> <p>India’s economic policy-makers had some years ago bid goodbye to Lenin, who supported India’s anti-colonial struggle and inspired many Indians to come under the influence of communism. Lenin’s statue suffered a worse fate as soon as the Hindu nationalists dislodged the long-ruling communist government in the state of Tripura. They bulldozed his statue, severed its head and played football with it. The cries of “Victory to Mother India” filled the air as the 11.5-feet tall fibre-glass statue of Lenin was brought down. </p> <p>The demolition of Lenin’s statue was followed up in another state by some miscreants who vandalised a statue of iconic Dravidian leader Periyar. The statue of the social reformer and thinker was attacked soon after a BJP worker issued a statement: “Today it is Lenin’s statue in Tripura. Tomorrow it will be caste zealot E V Ramaswamy’s (Periyar) statue in Tamil Nadu.” </p> <p>The social reformer is revered by large sections in the state for having led a self-respect movement against upper-caste hegemony. The BJP could hardly show respect to the memory of a leader who called the believers in god Barbarians. The state leader of the BJP did not realise that his party is now trying to extend its reach by shedding its image as an upper-caste party. </p> <p>Periyar is not Lenin because the attack on his statue can upset the Prime Minister’s party’s electoral chances in the state of Tamil Nadu. Demolition of Lenin’s statue only strengthens the Indian Prime Minister’s credentials in the eyes of some western powers.</p> <p>It is not just Lenin’s statue that made news. A political carnival, once started, tends to expand. In Kolkata, the statue of Syama Prasad Mookerjee was vandalised by those who felt offended by the demolition of Lenin’s statue by the BJP supporters in another state. Mookerjee was among the founder of BJP’s precursor Hindu nationalist party. He was once in Nehru’s cabinet but fell out with him and founded a new party.&nbsp; The BJP Government is trying to see that history is rewritten to give Mookerjee a more prominent part in the national narrative. </p> <p>A statue of B. R. Ambedkar in the state of the BJP-ruled state of UP was vandalised by some miscreants. Numerous statues of this eminent Dalit leader were installed when the state had a woman Dalit chief minister. However, other parties including the BJP also show respect towards Ambedkar, who was also one of the architects of India’s Constitution. Of course, reverence towards Ambedkar is not shared by many from the upper castes.</p> <p>The focus on statues made the Shiv Sena in Goa demand the reinstallation of a statue of Shivaji, a Hindu King known for his valour. The statue was removed by the local authorities because it was installed illegally. Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu party, is an ally of the BJP so its demand in a BJP-ruled state matters. A Shiv Sena leader said it was not a question of legality but an issue of the people’s emotional attachment to the statue! Hundreds of tiny temples built without permission on public property in Indian cities cannot be touched lest the demolition hurts public sentiments.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.40.28.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.40.28.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot of E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar) statue, still intact at Vaikom town in Kottayam, Kerala. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>World impact</strong></h2> <p>Those who celebrated the demolition of Lenin’s statue abused the communists while some of those who expressed their shock wondered whether India was becoming Iraq or Afghanistan. </p> <p>The world saw in 1992 the TV coverage of the demolition of the Babri mosque in India by the workers of the same party. The demolition of Lenin’s statute was surely seen on the TV screens by the Taliban terrorists. They must have recalled with pride their own glorious feat of demolishing the sixth-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. </p> <p>Alas, Ronald Reagan could not live to see the destruction of Lenin’s statue in India. The present President of America does not consider Communism to be a threat to America’s survival, so he sent no congratulatory message to the Indian Prime Minister. In the post-Reagan era, Washington got more interested in the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq which it accomplished with great aplomb.</p> <p>But the foreign service of at least one nation retains institutional memory. An unnamed foreign diplomat was quick to send a message to Ram Madhav, general secretary of the ruling Hindu nationalist party. The BJP leader publicised the certificate of good conduct: “Congrats Ram! The world needs fewer Communists.”</p> <h2><strong>Prime Minister Narendra Modi</strong></h2> <p>No celebratory event these days passes without a reverential reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ram Madhav in his newspaper article said that in India the task of decimating Communism will most likely be completed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>While Lenin faced physical violence, even national icons such a Nehru and Gandhi have been facing verbal violence in social media. The two mass leaders had fought the sectarian forces and Gandhi was, of course, killed by a Hindu nationalist.</p> <p>This in a country with such diverse traditions that a figure considered evil incarnate in one region is worshipped in another. And despite Shashi Tharoor reminding the nation about the sins of the British Empire, one village in Rajasthan has a temple of a white British military officer where devotees go and offer cigarettes in order to seek his blessings!</p> <p>But this is not the BJP’s idea of India. It seeks to discredit the multi-cultural narrative and assert the supremacy of Hindus. The Prime Minister’s party has unleashed a sort of cultural revolution with its cadres targeting every institution, official, autonomous or even academic. Official plans to weaken the spirit of pluralism, to revise India’s history and to modify the text books are part of a strategy to kill the idea of India and to fashion a new Indian identity reflective of a religious ethos. </p> <p>Scientific temperament, a reference to which figures in India’s Constitution, has been devalued. Scientific theories are challenged by semi-literate ministers and fictional accounts about India’s past are turned into factual treatises. Works of literary imagination glorifying India’s past are presented as reportage based on observation.</p> <p>The storm-troopers for street action against the dissenters, beef-eaters, women drinkers and lovers who display affection in public are supplied by organisations affiliated with the ruling party. </p> <p>The BJP’s mentor, RSS, acts as a think tank, does public service and organises military-style drills by its volunteers to highlight the importance of discipline and love for Mother India. The RSS was banned after the murder of Mahatma Gandhi but then it got free from the ban by declaring itself a “cultural organisation”.</p> <p>The ongoing million mutinies in India have got intensified as a direct consequence of the Modi Government’s efforts to culturally transform India. This plan is based on a vision of India’s fabled past and on the veneration of Hindu Gods. </p> <p>The process is chaotic and at times violent because it involves curbs on personal freedom, demolition of old institutions, vilification of national heroes and manufacturing new idols. </p> <p>India was not pushed into the twenty-first century kicking and screaming, but now there is a systematic attempt to take it back to the medieval period. Interestingly, those leading this movement use the most modern communication technologies and constantly talk of digital <em>nirvana</em>.</p> <p>The ruling party cadres fight some of yesterday’s battles and celebrate victories with an exuberance bordering on violence. They feel empowered after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. </p> <h2><strong>Then there is Hinduism</strong></h2> <p>The Hindu ethos is somewhat different from the ruling party-led Hindutva revolution that is currently spreading in India. Hinduism, as is known, has no central church, no one single book and no single head of the religion. It projects a Parliament of gods! The multiplicity of gods and goddesses that caused occasional intra-faith clashes in the past promoted diversity of beliefs and enabled even the atheists to remain in its fold. </p> <p>The Vedic literature affirms the validity of questioning in faith. Questions were even raised about whether God knows everything! </p> <p>Hinduism is tempered with uncertainty. Certainty in faith unleashes a wave of intolerance. Of late, the space for scholarly debates has shrunk. India has a rich tradition of argumentation but now everyone seems to be screaming: “if you disagree, you are my enemy.” Of course, any critic of the Prime Minister is trolled and certified as the enemy of the nation.</p> <p>Writers, poets and thinkers who were the first to criticise the ruling establishment were given hard time. No one has cared to recall how the poets had started expressing disenchantment with the ruling establishment in the life time of Nehru despite his being adored by the masses.</p> <p>All that the officially discredited writers and poets had done was to criticise the rise of intolerance. But Modi’s devotees could not take it. So how could they allow Lenin’s statue to stand after they defeated the communists in the state elections?&nbsp; </p> <p>It remains to be seen whether the pieces of the statue will be preserved in a museum for visitors to come and throw stones or will be buried for ever so that no power is able to resurrect it for adoration in changed political circumstances. </p> <h2><strong>Communism and communalism</strong></h2> <p>Any opinion poll would show that most Indians believe in reincarnation. But Lenin has little chance since India’s poor are too busy trying to ward off hunger to join in any political revolution.</p> <p>Any serious discussion on the future of communism in India in the wake of the fall of Lenin’s statue is futile. India is one democratic country where the extraordinary power of political power constantly crushes the spirit of democracy. The willing suspension of dissent and disbelief is widespread. &nbsp;The media and the business leaders pay tributes to the ruling deity. </p> <p>The Vicar of Bray used to change his religious doctrines depending on who ruled the country. He has been adopted as a role model by most people and many political leaders. </p> <p>Political power has become a powerful tool for “awakening” the Hindus and showing other faith communities their place. It was only because the BJP was not in power that the public discourse on sectarianism could not take this vicious turn all these years. Those who used to keep their pro-Hindutva views to themselves have been emboldened to say nasty things in public.</p> <p>The poor and neglected states are so dependent on the financial grants from New Delhi that the people readily switch their political loyalty to the party that forms the Union Government. </p> <p>The rulers get away with anything. A Government scheme causing a widespread disaster and costing human lives, is successfully sold by invoking morality.</p> <p>In the current political scenario, ideologies have lost all relevance. The BJP has been embracing its ideological opponents and forming state governments with their help. What matters is setting up a formidable electoral machine and implementing a winning strategy based on the polarisation of voters on the basis of caste or religion and attracting the opponents by promising spoils of office. </p> <p>The cadres and even senior leaders defect either before a coming election if they see their party going nowhere or after an election that dislodges their party’s government. Even the ideologically distinct leftist parties are not immune to this, not to talk of the Congress that provides an umbrella to various shades of opinion.</p> <p>The ruling Hindu nationalist party has benefited from this vulnerability of its opponents, attracting to its fold a large number of them who till the other day were supposed to be committed to secularism and socialism. </p> <p>In its assiduous attempt to cast its net wider and wider, the BJP has displayed amazing flexibility dumbfounding the few ideological purists within its fold. Those committed to the interests of the farmers and workers feel uncomfortable with the economic policies of the Modi Government, but they can’t sever their links with a winning party. </p> <p>As soon as Modi came to power, the RSS abandoned its principle of not encouraging foreign goods and capital and not having any truck with the separatists. The Prime Minister himself set an example of ideological flexibility when he began to implement many of the policies of the earlier Government that he used to attack vociferously.</p> <p>It seems that sectarianism, called communalism in India, has always had more mass appeal than was estimated. It was only that strong secular governments kept divisive sentiments under check. That changed when the BJP came to power in New Delhi.</p> <p>Secularism will perhaps assert itself more forcefully only because of the good sense of the majority and the pluralistic ethos of true Hinduism. The communists, who failed to counter capitalism, are more handicapped in fighting communalism which can be controlled effectively only by the true Hindu believers.</p> <p>The relentless campaign to polarise Hindu voters has succeeded in several recent elections. This trend cannot be arrested by campaigns by the secularists and leftists till the BJP’s political fortunes decline because of new circumstances. </p> <p>The BJP is using its rule in New Delhi to consolidate its hold and propagate its vision of a Hindu India. An occasional electoral setback apart, the Hindu nationalist party marches on triumphantly under the leadership of Narendra Modi.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Sat, 10 Mar 2018 15:47:04 +0000 L K Sharma 116607 at https://www.opendemocracy.net When faith fills ballot boxes https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/when-faith-fills-ballot-boxes <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ironically, the message of scientific temper, modernity, secularism resonated more in India when the rate of literacy was low. Distinctions between science and mythology and mythology and history keep eroding.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/maxresdefault_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/maxresdefault_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kedarnath shrine. Youtube.</span></span></span>Democracy and religiosity are no longer strange bedfellows in the secular India. The display of religiosity spikes during election time. The contestants either seek the Divine blessing or show that they are not atheists. Poll campaigns require a heavy dose of piety apart from large sums of money. Faith moves the voters to the polling booths. The electoral battle at times is won by polarising the Hindu voters. Leading a campaign to build a Hindu temple can make a party leader from zero to hero. The voters overlook the fact that India is not short of temples but short of schools and hospitals. <span class="mag-quote-center">The voters overlook the fact that India is not short of temples but short of schools and hospitals.</span></p> <p>The Opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi finds it necessary not to let the temple visits remain the unique selling point of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So he goes visiting temples in the poll-bound state of Gujarat, Modi’s home state. Gandhi’s temple visits naturally upset the BJP leaders who issue hostile statements. Is visiting a temple still the privilege of the chosen few? Did Rahul Gandhi commit a sin by visiting temples in Gujarat? The BJP leaders who trolled him for doing so seemed to believe so. But in this pre-election season more BJP leaders have visited more Hindu temples. </p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi frequently visits temples in the glare of TV cameras. He even talks about his getting a Divine Call. This time he greeted the people of Gujarat from a temple in the Himalayas that ranks high in the hierarchy of shrines. Setting aside the secular principles to which India is committed, the Prime Minister promised to reconstruct the Kedarnath shrine with the taxpayers’ money! He went to the extent of revealing that Baba (Lord Shiva) had decided that the responsibility of doing the reconstruction work at Kedarnath Temple should be assigned to no one else but to Baba’s son (<em>Read Modi</em>)!</p> <p>One of the builders of the ruling BJP was hailed as <em>Hindu Hriday Samrat</em>, Monarch of the Hindu Hearts, before he was ousted by the Crown Prince to whom the title was transferred by his followers. Till now Modi has done nothing to displease the hardline Hindu followers in his extended political family. Thus he retains the title. </p> <h2><strong>Identity matters </strong></h2> <p>The efficacy of the Hindutva card in elections is tested all the time. Identity in politics has come to matter more in India just as in America and Europe. Narendra Modi once declined to wear the distinctive skull cap offered to him at a public function. That cap would have confused the voters about his brand image based on a different religion.</p> <p>The Hindu temples are in the news for non-electoral reasons also. One more temple in south India recently allowed the untouchables to enter it. Another temple for the first time appointed a non-Brahmin priest.</p> <p>But Rahul Gandhi’s visits to temples in the poll-bound Gujarat hit the headlines because the BJP saw in his visits a conspiracy to diminish its USP. As if it was asking Rahul Gandhi “what right do you have to come to a place that we visit!” Only they must have a direct line to the Hindu Gods and Goddesses who grant electoral boons.</p> <p>The BJP leaders, who spell secular as “sickular”, scampered to protect their party’s brand image built assiduously over the years through agitations against the Hindu Code Bill and cow slaughter and a violent movement for replacing the Babri Mosque with a temple of Lord Ram. </p> <p>The brand image matters in politics even more since electioneering now depends heavily on bands, buntings and social media videos. A brand strategy is as critical for a political party as for Apple or Samsung. Had Rahul Gandhi been a company, he would have been sued for stealing the brand! </p> <p>For a leader, being associated with multiple faiths and cultures used to be a plus point. It has become a liability. It pays political dividends if the leader is seen following the rituals and traditions of the religion of the majority. It does not matter if he is constantly engaged in violating the spirit of that faith. <span class="mag-quote-center">Being associated with multiple faiths and cultures used to be a plus point. It has become a liability.</span></p> <h2><strong>Insinuations</strong></h2> <p>A party that polarises the Hindu votes makes the religious majority feel besieged and see its faith in danger! It needs a distinct ‘other’ to be pitted against. And the other in the Indian context subscribes to a minority faith. That is why some political opponents of the BJP such as Mulayam Singh and Mamta are addressed in a way that misrepresents them as followers of the faith that they do not belong to. Mulayam is addressed as Maulana Mulayam and Mamta as Mamta Bibi. This way they are branded as “the other”. The comments attacking Rahul Gandhi for visiting temples included a reference to the Muslim way of praying. Insinuations matter in the politics of hate.</p> <p>Since the Hindu card worked in some recent elections, there is a greater incentive to mix religion with politics in violation of the Constitution. Any step towards positive discrimination is called appeasement of the minorities. Fake religiosity is promoted and used for a political project designed to brand the Congress as anti-Hindu. </p> <p>This kind of political challenge is not new for Congress. It faced political Hinduism even in the first General Elections when the secular freedom-fighters had an extraordinary mass appeal. Determined to reform the Hindu personal law through the Hindu Code Bill, the Congress handed the first big opportunity to the Jana Sangh the parent body of the BJP, to mobilise forces against secularism. </p> <p>Nehru was challenged by Swami Prabhudutt Brhmachari who campaigned against the Bill arguing that it went against the age-old values associated with his religion. The newly born political party Bharatiya Jana Sangh went into the poll battle portraying the Congress leaders as anti-Hindu. </p> <p>Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, the then UP Chief Minister, while campaigning in the elections, felt it necessary to counter this propaganda. In a Lucknow public meeting, Pant listed the achievements of the Congress and Nehru’s contribution. He went on to assure the audience that the interests of the Hindus were well protected. With a flourish, he added: <em>“Aakhir hum bhi to Hindu hain” </em>(after all, we are also Hindus). Suddenly there was a chorus from all corners of the meeting:<em> “Pantji bhi aaj se Hindu hain!”</em> (Pantji is also a Hindu from today!) </p> <p>Rahul Gandhi will do well to read the account of that campaign written by journalist and freedom fighter Upendra Vajpeyi. “Pantji looked around. There was no police or the Congress volunteers to stop the slogan-mongers who had, in small groups, taken position in all corners. They were all committed volunteers of the newly-born outfit, the forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).” </p> <p>Even then, this party understood well the functioning of the print media. The disturbance of the meeting became the main news in the reports that downplayed what Pant had said about the achievements of the Congress!</p> <h2><strong>Atrocious statements</strong></h2> <p>In his subsequent election speeches, Pandit Pant skipped all references to Hinduism and still Nehru won with an impressive margin. The challenge by the Hindutva forces was not strong during those days. Today the appeal of Hindu nationalism has increased, thanks to the traditional as well as social media. And there is no Sardar Patel to ban any communal party. The leaders can make the most atrocious statements to inflame sectarian passions.</p> <p>The Congress poll strategists have to factor in this reality of the new India. In the process, Congress may succeed in protecting the nation from religious extremism but not without compromising its principles intended to promote secularism.</p> <p>The genie of fanaticism is out of the bottle. The influential Hindu saints and scholars have not spoken against bigotry. They have watched silently the distorted presentation and political misuse of their sacred faith. <span class="mag-quote-center">The genie of fanaticism is out of the bottle. The influential Hindu saints and scholars have not spoken against bigotry.</span></p> <p>Today educated young men donning “I Love New York” T-shirts are seen crowding footpath temples on the auspicious days of the week. The public discourse is full of abuses against certain sections. The audio-visual media, laser shows and managed events have magnified the images of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. </p> <p>The distinction between science and mythology and mythology and history keeps eroding. Ironically, the message of scientific temper, modernity and secularism resonated with the people more when the rate of literacy was low. </p> <p>Nehru could describe the irrigation projects as the temples of modern India and get away with it. A Bengali comedian could make fun of the characters of the <em>Ramayan</em> in his public performances. The feminists could question Lord Ram through their poetry. The people had a better understanding of the traits of the Maryada Purshottam Ram and the principles of Raj Dharma, the noble conduct of the King. Today even a stray comment can hurt one community or the other.</p> <p>With a view to promote Hindu nationalism, history is being rewritten. The memory of even the recent past has to be obliterated. Some political leaders have included the Taj Mahal in the list of the hate objects. Their prime hate object the Babri Mosque has already been demolished. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/kedarnath-temple.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/kedarnath-temple.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kedarnath shrine, 2015.</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>Restoring sanity</strong></h2> <p>India has travelled quite a distance from the days when irrigation projects were called the temples of modern India. Only a few years ago, the most learned and devout Brahmin such as Kamlapati Tripathi, the Congress leader, had a Muslim assistant to clean and rearrange his home temple and its idols before his daily prayers. Dayanand Saraswati had launched a powerful reformist movement that discarded idol worship and popularised the Vedic culture.</p> <p>Such leaders and not the left liberals will be able to counter the communal forces. Learned preachers and apolitical monks well versed in the faith traditions can expose the political <em>pracharaks </em>(propagandists) exploiting Hinduism. They alone can help restore sanity in the nation and prevent the distortion of Hinduism. The communal forces can be fought more effectively by some one who, like the late philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi, attacks them for “hijacking <strong>my </strong>religion”.</p> <p>The BJP has been asking the people to shout with pride: “We are Hindus”, <em>Garva se kaho hum Hindu hain</em>!<em> </em>The slogan sways a large majority. However, on some Hindus it is having the opposite effect. They feel embarrassed by the antics and the bigotry of the self-styled defenders of Hinduism. There is anecdotal evidence of some disenchanted Hindus searching for spiritual solace in other faith traditions or distancing themselves from all religions. </p> <p>Their numbers are very limited but the damage to the brand image of Hinduism may be huge. The defenders of Hinduism must remember how the image of Buddhism got sullied by the bands of violent monks and Islam stands discredited because of the violence and terror resorted to by the jihadis. A few extremists can malign a political party or a religion. At stake is the brand image of Hinduism as well as that of India. <span class="mag-quote-center">At stake is the brand image of Hinduism as well as that of India.</span></p> <p>In India’s politically surcharged atmosphere today one gets to hear strange statements and see strange scenes. A ruling party leader claims that a Shiva Temple lies under the Taj Mahal. A State Governor and the Chief Minister ceremonially welcome Lord Ram alighting from a helicopter that doubles as the <em>Pushpak Viman</em> of the mythological India. </p> <p>If mythology is inducted into science, if rational thinkers are killed and educational institutions devalued, the people can be made to believe what the dominant political force wants them to believe. If argumentation is prohibited no political choices are left.</p> <p>A wag says more is yet to come because competitive sectarianism follows a set trajectory. Nationalism gets superseded by ultra-nationalism. Some may demand the renaming of India and the scrapping of the Hindu Code Bill that reformed the Hindu personal laws. Some may want 10 Hindu saints to be nominated to the Upper House of Parliament to give moral guidance to the Government! </p> <p>Nothing is impossible in the new India!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy was at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the impact of populism on our media, political parties and democracy (see the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/home">WFD2017 website</a> for details).</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/georgios-kolliarakis-rosemary-bechler/from-fake-to-fact-and-then">From Fake to Fact – and then? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/anna-krasteva/facts-will-not-save-youth-from-fake-citizenship-will">Facts will not save (the youth) from Fake. Citizenship will</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India World Forum for Democracy 2017 L K Sharma Sun, 12 Nov 2017 15:37:03 +0000 L K Sharma 114602 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Of sacred cows and profane men https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/of-sacred-cows-and-profane-men <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The cow has highlighted religious, regional, social and cultural differences. Some humans have been killed in the name of the cow. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/DSCN6706(1).JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/DSCN6706(1).JPG" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>From the author's portfolio, a cow sighted in Brighton, England.</span></span></span>On landing in any country with his notebook and pen, V. S. Naipaul wants to know what the people are talking about. If he were to come to India today, he would find the national discourse dominated by the cow. </p> <p>Many people demand that the cow be declared the “national animal”. Many more publicly address the cow as mother (<em>Gau Mata</em>) and deliver fiery speeches against those who do not consider themselves to be the cow’s children. Vigilante groups roam the street attacking those suspected of butchering the cow or eating beef. Transporting cows in trucks has become hazardous. A social media army has gone to war against cow slaughter and beef consumption.</p> <p>The docile cow is credited with divine powers. It has beaten Trump in its polarising power. The cow has highlighted religious, regional, social and cultural differences. It has brought the issues of human rights and democracy to the fore. Some humans have been killed in the name of the cow. </p> <p>The violence by cow-protection vigilantes against the butchers and beef-eaters has caused the fear of creeping Fascism, since these groups decide what the people should not eat. Beef is part of the daily diet of many sections and of the majority in some regions. The beef-eaters are hitting back by organising “beef festivals” and inviting attacks by the cow-protectors.</p> <p>With a Hindu nationalist party ruling, the cow worshippers are asserting their faith in public, at times violently. In the words of writer Mukul Kesavan, the vigilantes bend the system to their will and take the law in their hands with the tacit or explicit blessings of the State and in the name of the virtuous nation.</p> <p>The fault line is widening between those who worship cows and those who use “cow belt” as a term of denigration; between those who relish beef and those who do not want a beef-eater to be their tenant, neighbour or a fellow-citizen.</p> <h2><strong>The virtuous nation</strong></h2> <p>The cow has thrown up issues related to governance, law and order, justice and relations between the Union Government and the States. The New Delhi-sponsored cattle trade regulations have caused friction between some states and New Delhi. The former are resisting what they see as an unconstitutional dilution of their powers. Some states are refusing to implement the New Delhi’s fiat. </p> <p>A regional leader says under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the states have been reduced to municipalities. The Central notification on the cattle trade will keep the High Courts and the Supreme Court busy for some time.</p> <p>No area of human endeavour or discipline of study is left untouched by the cow discourse. Politics (cow veneration gets more Hindu votes, and an anti-cow-slaughter agitation can be used to harm an elected Government), economics (massive beef exports, the livelihood of butchers, dairy farmers and cattle traders and the leather industry) sociology (eating habits), history (did the Hindus eat beef in the ancient India?), cultural studies (the cow’s status in popular imagination) and arts (the depiction of cow and its symbolism – a hybrid of the cow and woman painted by an eminent artist).</p> <p>There are more areas such as faith (cow as mother - <em>Gau Mata</em>), piety (cow as an instrument of charity and penitence) mythology (cow and Lord Krishna or <em>Kamadhenu -- </em>incarnation of wish fulfilment in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puranas">Puranic</a> literature), science (cow as manufacturer of medicinal products), traditional knowledge (the benefits of keeping cows), linguistics (the Sanskrit word for the cow means the earth). </p> <p>Watch on the YouTube a phonetically-driven English teacher telling students that the word ‘go’ in the sentence ‘go down…’ means cow! A cartoon shows a live cow tied to the turret of a Pakistani tank that would rumble on to an easy victory in India because no Indian tank would counter attack!</p> <p>The recent months have again seen the cow being used as a weapon for disturbing social harmony and widening the inter-religious divide (butchers are mostly Muslims while beef exporters may be Hindus also). </p><h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Cow in England copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Cow in England copy.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Author's portfolio.</span></span></span><strong>Illegal activity and sinful lives</strong></h2><h2> </h2><p>The cow is of great interest to those indulging in illegal activity because of the ban on cow slaughter in some states. Cow meat is disguised as buffalo meat till it reaches the foreign destination. There are more than 100,000 illegal slaughter houses.</p> <p>The veneration of the cow is seen in millions of images of a Hindu holy man worshipping a cow after bathing in a holy river or women garlanding a cow. The camera also exposes hypocrisy through the images of hungry cows swallowing plastic bags dotting the roadside rubbish piles. Many cows that stop giving milk are just abandoned.</p> <p>PETA, the people for the ethical treatment of animals, also exposes hypocrisy by pointing out that cows are confined to tiny stalls, crudely inseminated and forced to stand on piles of their own faeces. They are injected with the drug oxytocin that gives them stomach cramps. It is done to increase the milk yield. Recently, several cows died in a badly-managed official cow shelter in Rajasthan.</p> <p>Millions of Indians believe in traditional knowledge about the medicinal properties of cow’s urine and shit. The Modi Government, whose leaders frequently enlighten the scientific community about the technological feats of the ancient India, set up a national steering committee to validate the properties of <em>Panchagavya</em>, a traditional concoction of cow dung, urine, milk and clarified butter. </p> <p>The Department of Science and Technology is coordinating this programme while the steering committee is guiding research. Delhi’s prestigious IIT earlier organised a national brainstorming-cum-consultative workshop on <em>Scientific Validation and Research on Panchagavya</em>. Science means not disbelieving anything that has not been proved to be false. Thus research to validate these claims is fully justified.</p> <p>However, no committee of scientists has been asked to examine the claim aired on the TV that drinking cow’s urine will “wash away the sins of the past life”. This is a nation whose Constitution seeks to inculcate the “scientific temper” and whose first Prime Minister used to talk of science and technology in his mass rallies.</p> <p>The first sight that hits a foreign visitor in India is that of a stray cow sitting or ambling on a busy road. The less faithful are convinced that the cow is slowing down not just the road traffic but India’s march towards modernity, even the South Asian modernity!</p> <h2><strong>“the most superior animal”</strong></h2> <p>The faith-based adulation of the cow has touched even those whose professions are based on reason and a spirit of inquiry. They kept their views private earlier but now they join the chorus coming from the ruling establishment. They are keen to tell the Government that they are with it and not against it. The cow thus figures prominently in the hyperactive display of religiosity.</p> <p>A High Court judge said in a 139-page order that the cow should be declared the “national animal” and cow slaughter should warrant a life sentence. He cited the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedas"> Vedas</a> as saying that “those who kill cows should be massacred”.</p> <p>He described the cow as the “world’s mother who appeared on the earth along with Goddess Lakshmi during the churning of the ocean”! It contains millions of Hindu Gods in its body. He claimed that the cow is the only animal that exhales oxygen! </p> <p>The High Court judge called the cow “the most superior animal”. Of course, among the humans, Lord Curzon had a long time ago appropriated the status of being “a most superior person”.</p> <p>The judge quoted a German scientist who found out that cow has “cosmic energy” between its horns! A Russian scientist, he said, found that cow dung has the property of protecting humans from “radioactive waves”.</p> <h2><strong>National Bird of India</strong></h2> <p>Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma later made some more statements before the media that led to a hilarious public discourse on the sex life of the peacock, the National Bird of India that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/reimagining-india-in-britain">lit the Buckingham Palace facade</a> at the inauguration of the UK-India Year of Culture.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/JUDGE copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/JUDGE copy.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The Indian National Science Academy did not comment on the judge’s claim that the peacock abstains from having sex and remains a life-long celibate, <em>Brhamachari</em>. The judge elaborated on the rare immaculate conception in the kingdom of the peahen who gets pregnant by merely drinking the tears of the peacock. </p><p>Whether the peahen swallows the tears flowing from more than two eyes, the judge did not say. Perhaps out of fear that a new vigilante group may subject Mrs National Bird to character-assassination.</p> <p>Indian scientists, in the current ethos, may not like to contradict a judge and invite the hostile attention of the cow protection vigilantes. It wasn’t always like this. Years ago when newspapers reported a holy man’s claim to turn base metal into gold, an eminent scientist contacted this reporter and gave a statement ridiculing the man.</p> <p>The Royal Society must join the fray since the High Court judge has cited one Dr Hamilton of Britain who says that cow urine cures heart disease. Culture includes science and thus to strengthen the Anglo-Indian relations, the British Council should trace this Dr Hamilton and send him on a lecture tour of India. India’s traditional knowledge desperately needs to be consecrated by Britain.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_20170602_072406767(1) copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_20170602_072406767(1) copy.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>A businessman of Brighton has done his bit by placing a colourful Indian cow at the entrance of his restaurant. This cow has surely brought him more Hindu and Indophile customers. He deserves to be blessed by the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to his restaurant. The British Hindoos may have thought of the fanfare for that event.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/BIRD_PARK_8_0189.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/BIRD_PARK_8_0189.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/reimagining-india-in-britain">Reimagining India in Britain</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia UK India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Science L K Sharma Wed, 07 Jun 2017 18:49:01 +0000 L K Sharma 111502 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Reimagining India in Britain https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/reimagining-india-in-britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Great India Show covers even science in India. It has been blessed by the two governments. Britain is out on a mission to rediscover India.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30304536.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30304536.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A projection designed for the UK-India Year of Culture by Studio Carrom, the Bangalore and London-based design studio, of a peacock and dancing figures on the facade of Buckingham Palace, London, February, 2017.Jonathan Brady/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Those wanting to take a condensed course in India’s heritage and contemporary culture would do well to spend this year in Britain.</p> <p>They will benefit from a massive exposition of a wide range of performing and visual arts, literature, films and rich collections from the national archives. The Great India Show covers even science in India. It has been blessed by the two governments. Britain is out on a mission to rediscover India.</p> <p>The UK-India Year of Culture coincides with the seventieth year of Indian independence. Even after seven decades, Britain lingers on in Indian public memory, though as the most-preferred destination for Indian students, it has been superseded by America. But in public discourse Britain figures more prominently. It gets blamed as well as admired more often. V. S. Naipaul noticed this at a meeting of writers in India and asked them with unsuppressed irritation to move on.</p> <p>In 1851, the Great Exhibition held in London during Queen Victoria’s reign sought to reassure the people about Britain’s industrial and cultural leadership of the world. In 2017 the Great India Show seeks to assure a shaken Britain that beyond Europe lies the Golden Hind!</p> <p>The jewel in the crown of the British Empire was given a disproportionately large space in the Great Exhibition. Of course, no indigenous industry or technology was displayed. The exhibits focused on the opulent trappings of empire.</p> <p>The Great Exhibition was actively patronised by Queen Victoria. This year the UK-India cultural exchange was given a grand start by Queen Elizabeth who hosted a reception in Buckingham Palace.</p> <p>The Great Exhibition of 1851 was seen as a pivotal moment when Britain sought to find a definition for itself or redefine itself. There was an undercurrent of anxiety about industrialisation and modernisation. While conscious of its power and reach, the country was “witnessing class inequality, a fear of foreigners, and a contempt for internationalism”. <span class="mag-quote-center">While conscious of its power and reach, the country was “witnessing class inequality, a fear of foreigners, and a contempt for internationalism”.</span></p> <p>The Great India Show comes in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave Europe. Britons feel this island nation has changed. Britain is not what it was, they lament and are gripped by a feeling of uncertainty.</p> <p>The Great India Show promotes multi-culturalism, thus countering the appeal of the UK Independence Party. The British politicians feasting night after night on the Chicken Tikka Masala at Tandoori Nights tend to dislike jingoism. Those exposed to Tagore’s works see the dangers of nationalism. Cultural exchanges moderate identity politics that is vitiating the atmosphere in many countries.</p> <p>The Great India Show involving several prestigious British institutions and cities will go on for a year. The celebration plan was announced in 2015 by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated the commitment during her India visit in November 2016. </p> <h2><strong>Cultural diplomacy</strong></h2> <p>Cultural diplomacy does not come cheap but the British Government and the cultural institutions are not counting pounds. Culture has a commercial dimension for Britain which boasts of a unique institution called the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce! The Department of Trade and Industry has a strategy for the performing arts. Britain has lost its primacy in politics and manufacturing and sports but is still among the world leaders in terms of culture. It knows that cultural diplomacy is about tourist pounds also.</p> <p>The Indian High Commission and the Ministry of Culture are supplementing the British effort with India@UK2017. &nbsp;When it comes to cultural diplomacy, New Delhi does not think big. India is far behind China in the number of cultural centres abroad. China gets 200 works translated into foreign languages just to participate in the Frankfurt Book Fair. India mainly depends on Bollywood. <span class="mag-quote-center">China gets 200 works translated into foreign languages just to participate in the Frankfurt Book Fair. India mainly depends on Bollywood.</span></p> <p>The Jaipur Literature Festival, a private initiative, has done more than any official agency to promote India’s brand image. This time it teamed up with the British Library to spread the message that good writing is done in India also. The Science Museum will show that India is not poor in innovative skills and scientific talent. It is an unusual gesture because while China’s scientific prowess was highlighted through Joseph Needham’s monumental work, scientific India got ignored.</p> <p>Britain showed little interest in modern India while providing an audience for classical music and dances. India, for its part, was happy to see Ravi Shankar playing the sitar in London and Raj Kapoor being feted in Moscow. It failed to project its space programme. </p> <p>The British TV documentary-makers focused on the semi-naked Sadhus rolling up the hills and the raped girls of India. An eminent British writer and a noted film-maker focused on the carnival of public-defecation in India.</p> <p>This British way of seeing India was a legacy of the colonial era. The empire could be justified by portraying the subject races as inferior beings with no traditions of art, literature, thought or philosophy. Even the scholarly journals described Indian art as a monstrosity. Such people were, of course, incapable of governing themselves!</p> <p>Indo-British political relations during the cold war discouraged Britain from seeing India in a new light. The irritants included the differences over Kashmir and the official patronage given to the separatists agitating against India.</p> <p>With the end of the cold war and India’s emergence as an emerging economic power, relations improved. After 9/11 and the terror attacks in Britain, India’s concerns made more sense to British parliamentarians. Even those British MPs whose lofty pronouncements used to be inspired by the Pakistani migrants in their constituencies, toned down their criticism of India’s human rights record. <span class="mag-quote-center">This British way of seeing India was a legacy of the colonial era.</span></p> <p>The British Foreign Office took a cue from America which had started seeing India not as an enemy of its friend Pakistan but as a useful counter-weight to its enemy named China! British political leaders, pushed by the financial services sector, began courting India. Realising that India invested more in Britain than the European Union, they were happy to walk in Delhi in the mid-day sun.</p> <p>The profile of the Indian community in Britain changed over the years. Once Indians were seen sweeping Heathrow Airport or selling exotic Indian items from door to door. That was now a distant past. The newspaper headlines began to scream about the British billionaires of Indian origin! Indian business leaders came to the UK to lecture their British counterparts on using information technology. Little Indias had sprung up with shops blaring the Bollywood songs. The pavements got coloured by women in saris. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot, Sunday TImes</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>Pissing into Britain</strong></h2> <p>This was not a sudden development. India, as Salman Rushdie would say, has been pissing into Britain for a couple of centuries. The Indian cuisine had entered Britain even before 1773 when a London café started serving it. Indian cooks were taken to Britain by those returning from a career in India where they got accustomed to a different kind of food. Indian curry powder started selling in 1780. </p> <p>From the 1870’s the Indian dishes served by Indian waiters became a regular feature on Queen Victoria’s dining table. Her personal life featuring an Indian functionary highlighted multiculturalism and solidarity with India! <span class="mag-quote-center">The popularisation of the Bhangra beats needed no governmental effort.</span></p> <p>Cultural exchanges were officially promoted periodically but cultural fusion took place in the normal course. The popularisation of the Bhangra beats needed no governmental effort. Britain could sell English language and literature even when the Indian market for its financial services was closed. Following economic liberalisation, the large Indian market gripped the imagination of the British corporate world. The time was thus ripe for heralding the UK-India Year of Culture in 2017 and for strengthening the multifaceted partnership underpinned by historical ties.</p> <p>Since the fare during the year will cover all areas of culture, a debate on the British Empire will get prominence. When Niall Ferguson went around publicising the benefits of the British Empire, no Indian academic pointed out the factual inaccuracy in his telling of the economic history of pre-British India. The challenge was belatedly taken up by a writer who joined politics after a successful career as an international civil servant. <span class="mag-quote-center">Shashi Tharoor launched a scathing attack on the British Empire, first in an Oxford union debate and then in his book <em>An Era of Darkness – The British Empire in India.</em></span></p> <p>Shashi Tharoor launched a scathing attack on the British Empire, first in an Oxford union debate and then in his book <em>An Era of Darkness – The British Empire in India. </em>Tharoor’s eloquence won him millions of social media fans. He will be in the UK to list the misdeeds of the British Empire. It goes to the credit of Britain that no gang has threatened to paint his face black or to ask the publisher to shred his books.</p> <p>Tharoor’s work largely covers the economic rape and destruction of the Indian handicrafts and industry. This is a field in which a lot of work was done even before independence. An investigation of the ‘evils’ of the British Empire requires a multi-disciplinary endeavour. </p> <h2><strong>Empire and political correctness</strong></h2> <p>Fresh material keeps coming to light. One comes across a reference to the adverse impact on the status of women as a result of the Indian male being oppressed and humiliated by the British. So he came home and took it out on his wife. Have the psychological scars been transmitted from generation to generation?</p> <p>Only last month, an activist pointed out that the policing of the performances during the British Raj banished the snake-charmers and street magicians. A significant cultural loss. Many rules and procedures set down by the British Raj continue and are often blamed for the ills afflicting today’s India.</p> <p>The historians may hit the jackpot if they discover some of the official files related to India that were presumed to have been burnt. A lot remains to be known about the British officials winning over some Indian princes by spying on their personal lives. So Tharoor’s work will perhaps be followed up. <span class="mag-quote-center">William Dalrymple is no admirer of the British Empire but that does not discourage the British Council from participating in the festival! That dispassionate approach will be unthinkable for the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.</span></p> <p>The <em>British Empire</em> figures regularly at the yearly Jaipur Literature Festival. Its co-director William Dalrymple is no admirer of the British Empire but that does not discourage the British Council from participating in the festival! That dispassionate approach will be unthinkable for the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.</p> <p>Of course, the view that the British Empire was rapacious will be challenged. The first blow was struck this year by the art critic of <em>The Telegraph</em> in his review of the V&amp;A’s “brave” exhibition, <em>Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London</em>. Rudyard Kipling’s father was “a polymath whose career as an artist, designer, teacher, journalist, and colonial servant flourished during the British Raj”.</p> <p>Alastair Sooke laments that not long ago “empire” wasn’t a dirty word but a source of pride, but not today. He says “British imperialism has become associated with jingoism, racism and exploitation of indigenous people for profit that lots of us find shameful.” He wonders whether this tendency has gone too far and the British Empire has been poisoned by political correctness!</p> <p><em>The Telegraph</em> review ascribes this “bellyaching and guilt in part to Britain’s current diminished stature and lack of self-confidence on the international stage”. Some in Britain support this art critic but many more are likely to agree with Tharoor’s criticism of the British Empire.</p> <p>But Tharoor would fail to convince an Indian immigrant, a technologist-tycoon Kartar Lalvani whose health food supplement advertisements cannot be missed in Britain. During his 50 years in Britain Lalvani was pained to see that Indians failed to acknowledge their cultural, political and economic debt to Britain. He wrote a book, <em>The Making of India</em>, to set the record straight. This volume by the native informer got extensive coverage in the British newspapers.</p> <p>Lalvani has spoken when some newly empowered Indian thinkers seem to justify Churchill’s grim forecast about the Indian leaders ruining their independent nation. These thinkers hold Nehru and others responsible for all the ills of the nation. They claim that India’s wasted years ended only when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 1.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Daily Mail</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>Reimagine!</strong></h2> <p>The British Empire is not a fresh issue. <em>Reimagine</em>, the topic picked by the Arts Council England is a theme with great potential for a vigorous debate. In fact, the entire British project for reimagining India has already been dated since India is changing at the speed of light! Britain is belatedly trying to catch up with the modern India when India is being pulled back towards the medieval times! <span class="mag-quote-center">In fact, the entire British project for reimagining India has already been dated since India is changing at the speed of light!</span></p> <p>India is undergoing a transformation that is more radical than what has hit Britain. Culture’s vital role in international relations is acknowledged. But culture has got so entwined with politics in India that a large section of Indians fears the end of the very idea of India envisioned by the nation’s founding fathers.</p> <p>The governments of different hues came and went but this is the first time in 70 years that Indians are dreading the promised <em>transformation </em>that has caught the imagination of the Prime Minister Modi’s followers and the vigilante gangs violently enforcing their code of conduct in the states ruled by his party.</p> <p>The earlier imagined India of the rolling saints was an imperfect reflection of the reality. Now when Britain seeks to correct its perception through a literature festival and the science museum, it can’t keep pace with the changing reality. </p> <p>Britain is trying to project a modern throbbing self-confident nation that innovates, that generates wealth as well as world-class art, fashion goods, and literature and that has inherited civilizational values. </p> <p>However, it will be an incomplete image of India if the scenographers and designers skip some features of the contemporary scene. These are a polarised society, cow vigilantes, anti-Romeo and anti-love jihad squads, honour-killings, religious reconversion campaigns, sectarian strife, a tide of intolerance, an outbreak of contrived nationalism and religiosity, populism in politics, degraded public discourse, a frightened cringing media serving fake news, manufactured consent and manufactured dissent.</p> <h2><strong>This minefield</strong></h2> <p>All this is a rich material for an artist, a cartoonist, a film-maker and a writer who are ready to risk their limbs and are not afraid of mob violence. But this minefield is a no-go area for two friendly governments wanting to boost bilateral trade and investments. Cultural exchanges have a limit. Would India commission a British documentary on the Red Light District of Mumbai? Would the British Council sponsor an India tour by the tattooed pink-faced football hooligans pissing from the upper stands while watching a match in a Delhi stadium? Never. <span class="mag-quote-center">The new rulers in New Delhi are not favourably inclined towards Nehru and Akbar.</span></p> <p>Friendly relations between nations demand caring for each other’s sensitivities, ignoring principles. The British High Commissioner must have sent a secret cable to London cautioning against playing Nehru’s historic midnight speech in Parliament during the seventieth year of Indian independence. The diplomat might have also suggested that no reference be made to Akbar the Great in any presentation on India’s heritage. The new rulers in New Delhi are not favourably inclined towards Nehru and Akbar.</p> <p>Her Majesty’s Government is alert just in case someone demands the expulsion of Beefeaters from the Tower of London as their presence hurts the Hindu psyche! A religious group may seek permission to install a giant marble replica of the sacred Indian cow at the Trafalgar Square arguing that it would promote multiculturalism and attract tourists.</p> <p>With the spotlight only on sugar and spice and all things nice, at the end of the year of culture, India shall remain what it has always been, an <em>Imagined India.</em></p><p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Bollywood in london_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Bollywood in london_0.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Author's own portfolio.</span></span></span><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/trump-modi-hover-over-jaipur-literature-festival">Trump &amp; Modi hover over Jaipur Literature Festival</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/long-live-empire">Long live Empire!</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/writers-get-bouquets-not-brickbats">Writers get bouquets, not brickbats</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/l-k-sharma/modi-at-wembley-empire-strikes-back">Modi at Wembley – the empire strikes back</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia uk UK India Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Science L K Sharma Fri, 19 May 2017 11:47:39 +0000 L K Sharma 111033 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Conversion of a Hindu priest in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/conversion-of-hindu-priest-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If religious passions are inflamed, it is election time. This is what every regular visitor to India has come to know.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30606350.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30606350.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Narendra Modi (left), Governor of Uttar Pradesh and newly appointed Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath (right) greet the crowd during Yogi Adityanath's swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on March 19, 2017. Xinhua/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>India is a happening place. It has just witnessed the rare event of a Hindu priest becoming the Chief Minister of its politically most influential state of Uttar Pradesh (U. P.). Ajay Singh Bisht became Yogi Adityanath and after the death of his “spiritual father” became the head of his religious establishment. </p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned hard to win the state assembly elections for his party and then ensured that the state is ruled by a monk in saffron clothes who converts Christians to Hinduism and delivers anti-Muslim speeches. </p> <p>In the ancient Hindu tradition, the priests preached and the rulers ruled. The division of labour is clearly marked; based on the accident of birth or by the virtue of the person’s conduct. The priest enjoyed a status higher than that of the king and was respected by the ruler as his Guru and adviser. But a priest would never be the king. </p> <p>The ancient Hindu traditions notwithstanding, Yogi Adityanath is following the footsteps of some Hindu priests who began to participate in politics in order to challenge Nehru immediately after the independence. They were upset as Nehru talked to millions of his countrymen about the need to develop a scientific temper and march towards modernity. He called dams and other development projects, temples of modern India. Nehru was the prime target of the Hindu right wing political formations that attracted many heads of the Hindu religious establishments. Of course, they could not mount a significant challenge during all these decades and no serious setback was caused to the nation’s secular ethos.</p> <p>The new U. P.&nbsp; Chief Minister who transformed himself from an ordinary mortal into a Yogi took to politics like duck to water and has been winning parliamentary elections for years.</p> <p>This priest’s fiery speeches and hateful rhetoric promoted the consolidation of the Hindu votes in the 2014 parliamentary elections and the latest state assembly elections. </p> <p>For the same reason, the new Chief Minister has caused unease among those who see this as an initial step in the grand plan for eventually turning India into a majoritarian state, called <em>Hindu Rashtra. </em></p> <p>The Yogi’s selection also indicates that Prime Minister Modi does not want to take any risk in 2019 when he would seek a second term. He has figured out that he cannot win without the consolidation of the Hindu votes and without a promise to end the appeasement of the Muslims. Some Muslims may vote for him out of fear. His party sent a strong political message when it did not select even one Muslim candidate in the state elections. Modi’s devotees have heartily welcomed the selection of the Yogi. One commentator applauded Modi for staging the third disruptive event after the surgical strike against Pakistan and de-monetisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****</p> <p>A Yogi becomes a Commissar! But Hindus pray for a commissar to become a Yogi, a more evolved being. Many Hindus would say that this militant-monk, this fire-brand BJP leader who spreads hate is no Yogi. </p> <p>If Adityanath looks up the meanings of the Sanskrit words <em>yoga</em> and <em>yogi</em>, he would give up his divisive politics and uphold the principle of unity in diversity. Yoga signifies union, balance and moderation. In New York, “Hot Yoga” is a brand but a true Yogi cannot go about exposing himself to criminal cases and fuelling violence against a community. </p> <p>But all that does not matter because the Prime Minister is behind the Yogi and the media is suffused with comments applauding Modi’s astuteness. Before the state’s Chief Minister was selected, the Yogi’s followers went around shouting the slogan that those who want to live in the state must hail their Yogi! Modi saw the Yogi’s potential. This Yogi also runs a Hindu youth organisation, independent of the BJP.</p> <p>The Hindu card matters in elections but its effectiveness rises and falls from time to time. Even in the recent surcharged sectarian atmosphere, the BJP would not have got such an overwhelming majority had it projected this Hindu monk as the chief ministerial candidate. </p> <p>In his poll campaign, Modi used the themes of development and Hindutva (Hinduness) in the right proportions. Thus the selection of the monk after winning the election has been described by a commentator as “bait and switch”.</p> <p>Hinduism marks a clear distinction between the spiritual and temporal power. So is an ancient religion transforming contemporary politics or the ruling party’s politics modifying Hinduism?</p> <p>This reporter, steeped in the Hindu tradition, was horrified when first he saw the Knights of Armour glorified in Christian churches or read about a Pope of a bygone era who issued a clarion call for the destruction of the non-Christians. </p> <p>Of course, like the Christian churches of the yore, several Hindu temples and self-appointed Hindu saints are very wealthy, owning large sums of cash, gold and real estate. </p> <p>And if Great Britain learns from the largest democracy, the Conservative Party could groom the Vicar of Bray to be the next Prime Minister!</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****</p> <p>But Yogi’s selection has upset some of Modi’s followers. They were mesmerised by Modi’s development dreams. Now they advise Modi to be like Nehru or at least discipline the “foul-mouthed fanatics” in his party. These innocent columnists driven by their hatred of the Congress regime never understand where Modi came from.</p> <p>They ignored Modi playing the religion card during his election campaign in U.P. Modi gathered more votes for his party by saying that the state government should provide equal patronage to the Hindu crematorium and Muslim grave yard. The implied political charge of Muslim appeasement against the state government was clear.</p> <p>They say a person charged with inciting sectarian violence and facing criminal cases ought not to have been chosen, especially since Modi had made a lot of noise about decriminalising politics.</p> <p>But Modi will dismiss with contempt this tiny section of his devotees displeased with him over the Yogi Adityanath affair. Their newspaper articles cannot shake Modi’s self-confidence. Hypothetically, today if Modi were to declare that in 50 days, he would make the sun rise in the west, hordes of his devotees in India, UK and America would hail him through the social media.</p> <p>With appropriate gestures, he might explain how this New India to be transformed by his New Politics would help the poor. Also the New Sun God would stop appeasing the people of the Eastern India, infiltrators into the sacred nation from across the border! Tweets will blame the Congress Governments of the past for obstructing the change in solar trajectory!</p> <p>After all, Modi is no ordinary man. He got a massive mandate by the people of India. In a democracy, that is the end of the argument.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****</p> <p>However, since arguments are still allowed in India, a Yogi becoming a ruler may lead to vigorous debate. Some Modi devotees may be looking for a verse in the sacred texts of Hinduism that sanctions the wielding of political power by a Yogi! </p> <p>The Hinduism texts do contain contradictory statements, leaving scope for argumentation. A Vedic hymn questions even the Divine’s ability to know everything. That would be considered heretical in some other religions.</p> <p>Are Hindus more spiritual than the westerners? Is the concept of monkhood different in Hinduism and Buddhism? If some Buddhist monks turned violent, why can’t the Hindu monks do the same? Why do the Jain monks refrain from hurting even the insects in the air and on the ground? Did Gandhi weaken the nation by preaching non-violence? Isn’t muscular Hinduism needed to fight the Islamic fundamentalism, as Yogi Adityanath keeps saying. </p> <p>The Hinduism experts have to seek answers to such questions while political analysts may tell us whether the Yogi was chosen because he belongs to a dominant caste. Could a Hindu priest belonging to the small Brahmin community have been chosen in his place? </p> <p>The academics joining the fray will invite hostile reaction of the kind that seeks to intimidate those historians and political scientists criticising sectarian rhetoric in India. The American scholars of Hinduism are more vulnerable as some recent events have shown. But they will be rewarded if they cite a sacred text justifying the Yogi becoming the king! </p> <p>The view that the Hindu tradition marks a distinction between the spiritual and temporal power will be contested through cyber posts and You Tube videos. The Hollywood Hindus have been encouraged by the resurgence of Hindu nationalism in India now ruled by the “Emperor of Hindu Hearts”. They run a rapid response team to rubbish any criticism of Modi. Even devout Hindus committed to the nation’s secular Constitution are called “sickular” and “fake Hindus”. </p> <p>Someone well-versed in the sacred literature of Hinduism rarely questions the political Hindus. One exception was the late Ramu Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, a teacher of philosophy. After the BJP’s movement to build a temple to Lord Ram at a place where Ram was born, Ramu Gandhi said in New Delhi that as per the Hindu tradition, the place where a baby is born is considered “impure” and thus a temple cannot be built there. </p> <p>Ramu Gandhi’s argument did not convince the pious Hindus who demolished the mosque that was said to have been built in that place. Years ago, Ramu Gandhi got away with it, today a philosopher would hesitate to challenge a mob! </p> <p>The Ram Temple issue has been hibernating. With the Yogi as the Chief Minister, the BJP will push it onto the front-burner. Modi has taken off his mask, at least temporarily. In the parliamentary election in 2019, Modi wishes to use the Yogi. So religious polarisation will be a continuing crusade.</p> <p>If religious passions are inflamed, it is election time. This is what every regular visitor to India has come to know.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/modi-marches-on-amid-hope-and-fear">Modi marches on amid hope and fear</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Sun, 26 Mar 2017 17:25:05 +0000 L K Sharma 109687 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Modi marches on amid hope and fear https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/modi-marches-on-amid-hope-and-fear <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Modi can get away with anything now. His public adores muscular Hinduism, majoritarianism, politicised nationalism and a neo-liberal development model which gives subsidized big corporates big incentives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503094.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503094.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>BJP supporters celebrate Holi around a Narendra Modi photograph after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results are announced.NurPhoto/SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Any foreign correspondent who came to India to cover the state elections must stay on to report on this land of miracles. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being called ‘Magic Man’ after he won the largest state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) for his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP.</p> <p>The voters gave an overwhelming mandate to Modi who was not a candidate. He was elected to Parliament in the 2014 elections from UP’s world-famous temple town of Varanasi, but he did not leave this election campaign to the state-level leaders. The Prime Minister kept going from New Delhi and addressing public rallies in UP. He camped there for three days, visiting temples and holding road shows that dominated the TV screens.</p> <p>Modi attacked political opponents in blunt words that were lapped up by his listeners. He conveyed messages to the poor. He appealed to the Hindus by blaming the State Government for its appeasement of the Muslims.</p> <p>Modi faced a formidable challenge because his de-monetisation move had caused hardship to millions of poor apart from inconveniencing the rich. It had led to the closure of thousands of small industrial units. But Modi called it a sacrifice for the nation and his voters seem to have agreed. <span class="mag-quote-center">Modi called it a sacrifice for the nation and his voters seem to have agreed.</span></p> <p>The UP voters don’t care if Modi’s irresistible rise frightens the defenders of democracy, fighters for free speech and soldiers of secularism. Some of the BJP leaders and its student wing question the concept of free speech in the TV studios and through their street violence.</p> <h2><strong>When free speech invites violence</strong></h2> <p>Modi has been facing protests by the liberals, intellectuals, writers and artists, and a major section of the student community who are deeply disturbed by the atmosphere of intolerance in which free speech invites violence. The section of the media not beholden to the Modi Government or the corporates reminds the nation about Hitler’s Germany. Talking of Hitler seems a bit far-fetched at this juncture even though some fascist tendencies keep coming to the fore. The UP elections however, did display both the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian democracy. <span class="mag-quote-center">Talking of Hitler seems a bit far-fetched at this juncture even though some fascist tendencies keep coming to the fore.</span></p> <p>The marginal sections feel empowered and gain developmental benefits because elections are held regularly. The latest massive exercise was conducted peacefully. Hate speech will subside after the elections. Of course, the nation is yet to diminish the role of money and muscle power and a large number of candidates facing criminal cases continue to win elections.</p> <p>It was no ordinary victory for Modi. His party had not ruled the state for more than two decades. Thus when the BJP dislodged the young socialist chief minister of the state, it seemed like a magical trick. Derided by significant sections, Modi acquired in popular imagination the status of the Super Man.</p> <p>The “Modi wave” delivered more striking results in the poll than even the earlier “wave of Lord Ram” that had swept UP following the BJP’s campaign to build a Ram temple in place of a mosque in the same UP. Religious polarisation was witnessed then, but even the temple campaign could not lead to the consolidation of the Hindu votes to this extent. This comparison has been made in the media and till going to the press, the Hindus based in America or the UK have not taken umbrage at the belittling of Lord Ram compared to Modi.</p> <h2><strong>Modi Plus</strong></h2> <p>The product that Modi sold so successfully to the voters of UP can best be described as Modi Plus. He offered something to every one. If that required ideological compromises or shaking hands with the enemies of yesteryear, so be it. While Modi’s latest feat is most impressive, he is not new to divining an effective political strategy. No one can beat him as a hidden persuader. He won a Gujarat state election by attacking the then military ruler of Pakistan by calling him “Mian” Musharraf. <span class="mag-quote-center">No one can beat him as a hidden persuader.</span></p> <p>Modi wins over masses by appearing in multiple personas, pleasing rival sections of the voters at the same time. Depending on the need of the hour and the audience and the district, he appears as a leader committed to development or as a leader pitted against the Muslims in order to remain the “Emperor of Hindu Hearts”!</p> <p>As this writer wrote in this journal two years ago: “Lord Shiva is one God who assimilates in his person all contradictions/ Modi did the same… Modi has a divine trait. God is perceived by the devotees as per their feelings, says a Hindi poet.” During the UP poll campaign too, the people saw the Modi as they wanted to see. Modi’s core constituency fed on the anti-minorities rhetoric had no alternative. The sectarian Hindus felt elated that his party did not field a single Muslim candidate in the election. Many more Hindu voters felt attracted by Modi when he launched veiled attacks against the state government for appeasing the Muslims at the cost of the Hindus!</p> <p>Modi went on to attract other voters in large numbers by selling development dreams. The poor felt that he would fix the rich as he claimed to have done through de-monetisation! The rich corporates felt that once Modi’s party ruled UP, the state Government will shower them with plenty of incentives and subsidies as Modi had done while running the state of Gujarat. <span class="mag-quote-center">Modi wins over masses by appearing in multiple personas, pleasing rival sections of the voters at the same time.</span></p> <p>Many wavering voters were swayed by Modi’s oratory and cheap digs at his opponents. In small towns, the people derive comfort and entertainment from the oratory of the religious preachers in temple compounds and the lizard-oil sellers on the footpath. Thus political rallies are always a big draw in India. </p> <p>The ingredients of Modi’s magic potion are not hard to detect if his poll campaign is analysed. Modi knows his Indians better than any mass psychologist. He deftly exploits the social and economic fault lines to expand the social base of his party whose appeal was restricted to the middle-class trading community and upper castes. </p> <p>The UP campaign also tapped the fault line of economic rivalry. Statements were made to fuel antagonism based on religion, caste, sub-castes and class. No communist leader seeks to fuel class conflict in such a blatant way. But Modi wanted to appear as pro-poor. If the political opponent belonged to one sub-caste, the BJP hugged the leaders of rival sub-castes. <span class="mag-quote-center">No communist leader seeks to fuel class conflict in such a blatant way.</span></p> <h2><strong>BJP transformed</strong></h2> <p>Narendra Modi set out to transform India and he has already transformed the BJP. His victory in 2014 and now in the UP state elections show how effectively he has enlarged the social base of his party. He has expanded the area of the BJP’s influence. It has established itself in areas it has never reached before.</p> <p>The campaign control rooms of the BJP could perhaps beat Google in their access to the data related to the voters, the party’s campaigners and the opponents. Just count the tweets, videos, social media likes in favour of the BJP.&nbsp; </p> <p>The Gujaratis excel in their organizing ability. The institutions of Gujarat can run massive relief operation at a very short notice, a temple can organise a feast for 10,000 people in a day! This efficiency saves lives and serves the people well in times of drought, floods or earthquakes. But one also recalls that the groups who went to torch homes and shops during communal riots in Ahmedabad had computerised lists of the owners and their religious affiliation.&nbsp;</p> <p>Add this organizing power to the charisma of the leader while analysing Modi’s winning formula. BJP runs an ideologically-fired huge cadre and a team of voluntary and hired experts who operate with what is known as “western” efficiency. It can be marked out in an “oriental” atmosphere in which many district offices of the rival parties come to life only during the election season. It is the same with the activists of the non-BJP parties.</p> <p>So one cannot question Modi’s claim about “hard work” even though he used this phrase to deride the Harvard economists including Amartya Sen who had the temerity to criticise the Prime Minister’s de-monetisation scheme.</p> <h2><strong>The idea of India</strong></h2> <p>One wonders about the sheer enormity of Modi’s achievement and its consequences for the nation. This transformation of the political scenario signifies changes that will last far beyond the term of the new state government. </p> <p>By wresting the politically most influential state from his opponents, Modi emerges as a leader powerful enough to modify the “idea of India”, a long-term objective of his party and its mentor, RSS, who hate the Nehruvian ethos. </p> <p>Detracting from India’s first Prime Minister who kept the communal forces at bay has been Modi’s top priority. Since his party had no heroes, he was quick to co-opt some Congress leaders even though they were opposed to the ideology of Modi’s parent party. A cartoonist describes this trick as collecting stolen idols.<span class="mag-quote-center"> A cartoonist describes this trick as collecting stolen idols.</span></p> <p>As part of the anti-Nehru crusade, the Modi Government has tinkered with the institutions named after Nehru and inspired his Hindu fans living in America to unleash an anti-Nehru campaign. No nation seeks to demolish its heroes in this fashion.</p> <p>Modi, who punctuates his cheap digs against his political opponents with a rare dignified Prime Ministerial statement (Trump can learn from him), is today in a position to get away with anything. He is bathed in public adoration that demonstrates the growing appeal of muscular Hinduism, majoritarianism, politicised nationalism and a neo-liberal development model under which the big corporates get large subsidies and big incentives. </p> <p>His new pro-poor rhetoric has robbed his opponents of their main political weapon. His flaunting of the welfare measures does not frighten either the capitalists or the conservative economists who ignore the distributive justice and the concept of public goods. The pro-poor rhetoric does not obstruct the speedy privatisation in the critical sectors of health, housing and education. <span class="mag-quote-center">His new pro-poor rhetoric has robbed his opponents of their main political weapon.</span></p> <h2><strong>The 2019 campaign</strong></h2> <p>The BJP challenges secularism by raising the bogey of Muslim appeasement. When its storm-troopers make most atrocious sectarian statements, the Prime Minister remains silent.</p> <p>The parties wedded to secularism hesitate to confront him on this score as they have been intimidated by the BJP’s appeal to Hindu sensibilities. They refrain from offering an effective counter-narrative. <span class="mag-quote-center">The pro-poor rhetoric does not obstruct the speedy privatisation in the critical sectors of health, housing and education. </span></p> <p>The secular political formations will find it hard to cleanse society of the communal poison infused in recent years. The sectarian card yields political dividends at certain times. But BJP tones down its communal rhetoric when it sees that it is not working. &nbsp;The BJP will continue to play the Hindu card, unless a truly Hindu leader emerges to unleash a cultural revolution that challenges bigotry and fake nationalism. </p> <p>Modi’s supporters now feel confident that the people will reward their leader with yet another term as the Prime Minister and all opposition will be crushed. So Modi is justified in starting a campaign for his re-election as the Prime Minister in 2019. In the near term, the BJP is desperate to retain its control over the municipalities in Delhi that are to go to the polls soon. The state government is run by a new opposition party called AAP and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal frequently complains that the Prime Minister does not allow him to function. He is one leader who replies to Modi in Modi’s language. </p> <p>Power even in the local bodies matters to Modi. And he would like to clip the Delhi Chief Minister’s wings. He will help his party in every way possible even if he does not take time off from his Prime Ministerial duties to lead the BJP’s municipal poll campaign!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503121.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503121.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>BJP gets majority in Uttar Pradesh. Kolkata, India, March 11, 2017. NurPhoto/SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/will-real-modi-stand-up">Will the real Modi stand up? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/another-arrested-revolution-in-east">Another arrested revolution in the East</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openglobalrights/zahir-janmohamed/modi-and-trump-voting-strongmen-voting-hate">Modi and Trump—voting strongmen, voting hate</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:12:45 +0000 L K Sharma 109535 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Trump & Modi hover over Jaipur Literature Festival https://www.opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/trump-modi-hover-over-jaipur-literature-festival <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Since both Trump and Modi excite hearts rather than minds, they ought to be invited to the next Jaipur Literature Festival.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/2.15622883.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/2.15622883.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Jaipur Literary Festival audience.Deepak Sharma/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It was yet another victory for Trump. The reports of America’s decline are exaggerated. The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) proved it. POTUS – President of the United States – matters. Donald Trump got mentioned in several sessions. Hovering as a spectre over a literary festival in a distant land is a great achievement, beyond the President of Mongolia and the Supreme Leader of North Korea.</p> <p>If Donald Trump did not tweet about the Jaipur Literature Festival, it was because he was too busy with his inauguration. India got ignored because the good women of this civilisation did not join the international march against the new POTUS.</p> <p>At JLF, all references to Trump were critical and every scathing remark about him was greeted with derisive laughter by the audience. But Trump derives oxygen of publicity from critical comments. These energise his cultish constituency. His fans, like the devotees of all cult heads, are ever ready with an abusive and intimidating response to the leader’s critics. A quick response team goes into battle on the social media.</p> <p>Soon after moving into the White House, Trump phoned the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow populist leader, and invited him to visit the White House. Trump could hardly complain to Modi against those in Jaipur who misjudged him. They were mainly Americans, Britons and Non Resident Indians.</p> <h2><strong>A big nuisance</strong></h2> <p>Political leaders get implicated in literary conversations because the ills of the world are felt most acutely by the sensitive souls. Poets and playwrights spot the emerging dystopia even while politicians falsify a given situation as per their set partisan agenda. That is why the politicians in power consider the writers and poets to be a big nuisance.</p> <p>A democratic leader lets the writers speak even if she is unable to build a nation of their dreams. Another kind of leader, whether elected or unelected, unleashes on writers and other dissenters either the oppressive state machinery or his party’s storm-troopers. The use of the non-state actors is a preferred option because it protects his own “democratic” credentials and no questions are asked by some US-based Freedom Forum established during the cold war.</p> <p>The prominent Indian writers who had retuned their awards protesting against rising intolerance and intimidation of writers and rationalists were not invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival this time but some of those who came pointed a finger at the ills afflicting the contemporary India. A famous poet from the Hindi film world “barked” and celebrated his “freedom to bark”. So what if he cannot bite he said, acknowledging the failure of poetry to influence politics! He knows we are not in the romantic age and poets are no longer unacknowledged legislators of the world. <span class="mag-quote-center">Hovering as a spectre over a literary festival in a distant land is a great achievement, beyond the President of Mongolia and the Supreme Leader of North Korea. </span></p><h2><strong>“Terrible inauguration”</strong></h2> <p>The attack on Trump began at the opening session of the festival. American poet-performer Anne Waldman, in her keynote address, referred to the “terrible inauguration” in Washington DC. She went further than Meryl Streep, shouting in solidarity with her sisters, daughters, children and all women marching towards Washington to protest against the impending inauguration of Trump as President.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/15932480064_cf0b571f43_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/15932480064_cf0b571f43_z.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anne Waldman reading, 2015. Flickr/kellywritershouse. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>That was just the beginning. Trump kept coming in for dishonourable mention and those making snide remarks included eminent speakers and moderators. A British writer said he would not even utter the name of the new American President. He didn’t have to. </p><p>American writer Paul Beatty went further in an interview saying there is a reason that people picked this guy (Trump). “He is an apparition, but he is both real and unreal, and people see something in him.”</p> <p>A Jaipur newspaper quoted a state minister belonging to Modi’s party. The eight-column headline said “PM Modi has some divine power: Kataria”. No devotee of Trump has gone that far.</p> <p>Another English daily carried a long opinion piece arguing that both Modi and Trump are textbook populists. The writer said that Modi matched all the characteristics of a populist leader as defined by Princeton Professor Jan-Werner Muller in his book “What is Populism?”</p> <p>Both leaders are polarising figures and both do not sit idle for a moment. They tweet and they tweet. They are not afraid of making politically incorrect remarks and very simple statements. They take on the elites fond of articulating complex thoughts. Modi and Trump know what an American columnist said: In tough times, people want someone who can make a compelling pitch and inspire a sense of urgency. Integrity and intelligence are not what the voters are after.</p> <p>Apart from the stray comments by individual speakers, the entire final session of the festival referred to Trump as it was titled: “Debate: We are living in a Post-Truth World”. It was a topical subject but the debate only proved what some writers have been saying: “There is no space left for a real public discourse.”</p> <p>The organisers had framed the issue mainly in the context of Trump and Brexit since lies were used in the two campaigns. As the debate progressed, the spectre of Narendra Modi came to haunt it. Since Prime Minister Modi has been blamed for not being truthful while electioneering and while selling his demonetisation decision, his supporters suspect words such “Post-Truth World”.</p> <p>In India, the list of “provocative” words keeps expanding. Politicians hijack words and phrases to make them seductive or repellent. The frame of reference matters. In contemporary India, anyone uttering the words “intolerant” or “inclusive” or “secular” is branded as a critic of Modi.</p> <h2><strong>Slippery slope</strong></h2> <p>Trump is cited most by those commenting on the post-truth world. Of course, the argument about the rise of passion as the prime instrument of winning power has been validated in the recent years in India, America and Europe.</p> <p>Thus the debate in the JLF reflected the polarisation between the supporters of Modi who saw the slippery slope. If you light a verbal fire around Trump, it will soon reach Modi, they feared. And it did. One speaker devalued the very term “post-truth”. He detected in it a conspiracy by the liberal media. He told the British critics that what Trump does is not their business. He wanted the audience to pay respect to the wise voters of America. He pointed out with satisfaction that women of India did not join the global protest against Trump! He was not upset by the attack on a fellow journalist launched by Trump at his press conference. </p> <p>Since the expression “post-truth” is not as simple as “lies”, there was considerable scope for philosophical musings. What is truth, it was asked and no one was prepared to wait for an answer. The meditation on the nature of the truth involved words such as “my truth”, “your truth”. A writer found it necessary to quote Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”</p> <p>In a literary festival, Trump could have even been lauded for his power of imagination and for creating fiction to fight a political battle! Emotion-based politics is closer to literature than fact-based rhetoric. A professor of literature would say that literature is important precisely because it is not bound by facts. “It is important because it is not bound up in issues of law, science, medicine or business.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-12574870.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-12574870.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Entering the Jaipur Literary Festival.Manish Swarup/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It is said that one can gain more understanding about the human heart from Shakespeare than from Freud. Myron Magnet asks in an essay: "Can anyone think that the studies of Margaret Mead or Alfred Kinsey tell us anything nearly as true as Ovid or Turgenev?" </p><h2><strong>Conclusion</strong></h2> <p>Since both Trump and Modi excite hearts rather than minds, they ought to be invited to the next Jaipur Literature Festival. Modi’s book of poems could be among the scores of books that are released at JLF. </p> <p>It will fit into JLF’s intellectual agenda since the organisers say that the festival should not just be a bubble in which the liberals talk to liberals. Going by this policy, this time they invited two leaders of the RSS, a right-wing cultural organisation that mentors the ruling party. Modi was groomed by the RSS from a young age.</p> <p>Participation by Trump and Modi will fit into JLF’s commercial agenda also. It will gain significant sponsors as the American Embassy and the Indian Ministry of Finance. </p> <p>If the Modi Government accepts the suggestion made at JLF by a noted TV journalist, it would set up a Ministry for History. That ministry could sponsor presentations by two non-Marxist historians. Like the truth, there is also “My History vs. Your History.” That may be a topic for the next JLF. Rival historians can then come and fight outside the Groves of Academe!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/writers-get-bouquets-not-brickbats">Writers get bouquets, not brickbats</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/litfest-expresses-india%E2%80%99s-genes">A lit-fest expresses India’s genes</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia United States India L K Sharma Sun, 29 Jan 2017 17:14:49 +0000 L K Sharma 108432 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Another arrested revolution in the East https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/another-arrested-revolution-in-east <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Donald Trump ought to thank Modi for showing the way to electoral success. More and more leaders are convinced that perpetual confrontation pays in politics. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 13.25.21.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 13.25.21.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screen shot of Yes Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey Appleby demonstrates the use of leading questions to skew an opinion survey.</span></span></span>Fidel Castro is dead but a leader determined to unleash a cultural revolution has risen in democratic India. On one dramatic night, an elected Prime Minister announces his decision to purge India of financial corruption and people the nation with honest citizens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in one fell swoop, killed 86 per cent of the currency notes in circulation as the legal tender. Thus began the great run on the banks to exchange the old notes with the new ones that remain scarce even after a month. The nation is reeling under the impact of a cash crunch rare in the history of currencies. </p> <p>The demonetisation causes daily chaos in front of banks. More than 80 &nbsp;people either collapsed in the long queues or committed suicide when not able to feed the family. For a nation that subsists largely on cash transactions, the decision has brought untold misery to the common man. <span class="mag-quote-center">For a nation that subsists largely on cash transactions, the decision has brought untold misery to the common man.</span></p> <p>The Government leaders called it as the Prime Minister’s “surgical strike” against black (unaccounted) money. A judge called it “carpet bombing” because suddenly 86 per cent of the currency in circulation was withdrawn. The political opposition doubted the intentions of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister dubbed his critics <em>hoarders of black money</em>. </p> <p>Millions of man hours have been lost; thousands of small industrial units have closed and their workers had to flee to their villages. The people’s confidence in the national currency has diminished in the face of ever-changing official notifications. Some basic questions have been raised about the violation of property rights, the legality of the government’s decision, the Prime Minister running a presidential form of Government, the diminution of the role of Parliament and of the Central Bank and the collapse of the informal sector of the economy.</p> <p>An imaginative observer visiting India today would see a nation of currency traders and rumour-mongers. For a month now the national conversation has only been about cash.&nbsp; Modi’s critics focus on the human misery caused by demonetisation. A few economists warn against a decline in the economic growth rate. Psychiatrists see their workload increasing in coming months.</p> <h2><strong>Golden future after 50 days</strong></h2> <p>The Prime Minister has sought to keep the suffering people’s hope alive by promising a golden future after 50 days. The good people of India must sacrifice for a good cause and suffer “temporary pain, for ultimate gain”. The concept of ‘sacrifice” that has become less appealing in todays’s aspirational India, is being marketed as part of the ruling BJP’s political strategy.</p> <p>Modi is moved to tears in public and still sees signs of his biggest political gamble succeeding. His own app used for a public opinion poll showed that his decision to create a corruption-free India enjoys overwhelming support. This self-conducted poll provoked some to float on the social media <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA">the inimitable scene from the British TV comedy</a> “Yes Prime Minister” in which two top bureaucrats discuss how a public opinion poll can be manipulated to bring the desired results. <span class="mag-quote-center">His own app used for a public opinion poll showed that his decision to create a corruption-free India enjoys overwhelming support.</span></p> <p>Media reports also suggest that Modi’s surgical strike against black money enjoys popular support though no one is sure how long this will last. The rich and the poor, the honest and the dishonest – tell TV reporters that Modi has done a good thing. No one says that dishonesty is the best policy. “For a good cause, I am prepared to stand in the queue for the new notes for a few hours.” This is a set response.</p> <p>A reporter found that one person lauding Modi’s anti-corruption campaign went on to chat about his collecting rent from his tenants in cash and evading taxes! His auto-rickshaw driver told him that Modi had done a very good thing. When the driver abruptly turned into a side lane, the reporter was puzzled. The driver explained that it was to evade a traffic policeman since he had no driving license. </p> <p>The poor, unable to meet their daily needs are helpless but still patient. The Government has launched a massive campaign to wean them away from cash transactions and to switch to digital payments through mobiles and plastic cards! The digital nirvana will elude a vast majority for some years. </p> <p>Those with unaccounted money are stricken with fear and anxiety as the official agencies are busy raiding their hidden treasures. A big cop-and-robbers chase is on as millions of Indians have devised innovative methods to frustrate the government’s effort to extinguish the unaccounted currency notes. A large amount of untaxed money has been inducted into the banking channels through ghost accounts. </p> <p>Ignoring the daily disruption of Parliament over the disastrous implementation of the demonetisation scheme, the Prime Minister attacks the opposition for his public. Deploying rhetoric, he appears as a valiant pro-poor fighter facing an onslaught by the “powerful forces out to destroy him”! The entire political establishment is in a temper as two crucial state-level elections are to be held soon.</p> <p>The Prime Minister has emerged as a powerful leader and some magazines will portray him as Emperor Modi. Demonetisation was his decision, dutifully rubber-stamped by his Cabinet. Modi loves to be in the spotlight. It is all about Narendra Modi and Mr. Modi wants to have it that way. Policies must be personified. </p> <p>The recent elections in some parts of the world have shown that a political leader who lacks theatrical experience and the ability to sell snake oil or used cars cannot go very far. In this era of post-truth politics, telling lies and making politically incorrect and provocative statements makes a politician popular. Donald Trump ought to thank Modi for showing the way to electoral success. More and more leaders are convinced that perpetual confrontation pays in politics. </p> <h2><strong>Aspirational India</strong></h2> <p>The media has extensively covered the cash crunch causing human misery and economic setback but the social and cultural dimensions of this ongoing revolution call for further scrutiny. Modi is seeking to reverse some recent trends in the history of this young nation. Economic liberalisation made people greedier, fuelled the demand for luxury goods and popularised vulgar displays of wealth. The stigma of corruption traditionally associated with money is ignored as the rich persons have become role models for the younger generation of the aspirational India.</p> <p>Modi’s rise in politics has increased political and social disharmony. Political, religious, social and cultural divisions have been exacerbated in recent times. As a star campaigner for his party BJP, Modi tells a public rally that because of demonetisation, “the poor sleep in peace while the rich wander around at night looking for the sleeping pills.” This after weeks of TV reports from urban and rural centres that demonetisation has hit the poor badly. But the people at the rally waving the party flags to cheer the leader.</p> <p>The Prime Minister then calls upon the poor not to return the money that the rich deposited into their accounts for redeeming the old currency notes. Those with unaccounted cash co-opted the poor with bank accounts with no money. The poor obliged because they were promised in return a small part of the deposited funds!</p> <p>Latent class antipathy is being fuelled. The poor are being encouraged to vent their anger against the “filthy” rich who have been made the new “Other” in a political confrontation. Anyone leading a nation of the poor has to deflect the criticism that his policies are designed to help the rich. He has to appear pro-poor even if his poll campaign was financed by the rich and his policies in the Government have helped the rich. <span class="mag-quote-center">Anyone leading a nation of the poor has to deflect the criticism that his policies are designed to help the rich.</span></p> <p>Right now it appears to be an electoral necessity to turn the dishonest rich into a hate object. Every political campaign needs “the other” against whom the voters can be mobilised. Many people vote for a leader who they think would “fix” a particular community or “fix” the national economy or “fix” the corrupt people. Modi has gone further than any communist leader in telling the poor to revolt against the filthy rich. The Marxists in India have been called sterile who just profess revolutionary fervour and in the new aspirational India even they have stopped abusing the rich.</p> <p>In India it is child’s play to start a clash between two religious communities but it is not that easy to organise violent riots against the rich. The vigilante groups associated with the&nbsp; BJP’s extended political family know it well. A rhetorical attack on the filthy rich in public speeches is safe. But to stone a corrupt rich person caught with a huge pile of unaccounted cash is not like attacking a beef-eater or a girl dancing in a skimpy dress. No one has tried to organise a protest in front of the house of a tax-evader featured daily in the well-publicised police raids.</p> <p>The mansions are unlikely to be stormed also because the poor in India generally prefer to co-exist with the rich. They tend to blame their fate rather than the exploitative rich for their plight. A Gandhian Congress leader once told this writer how difficult it was for his party to free the poor villagers from the clutches of the money-lenders. The oppressed would reject their help and side with the oppressor. </p> <p>The poor do harbour latent antipathy towards the rich. That is why they lent support to Modi’s campaign against the wealthy tax-evaders. They did not mind standing in long queues and returning home from the bank without any cash because they see that Modi is teaching a lesson to the “immoral rich people”. As a lawyer pointed out, a poor person feels glad to see a wealthy man in trouble. His typical response: “So what if I have lost one eye, he (the rich man) has lost both his eyes.”</p> <p>If the poor bank account-holders heed Prime Minister Modi’s advice and revolt against those who trusted them with their money, a social conflict will break out on a scale that no authority will be able to control. </p> <p>Modi’s tirade against the dishonest rich, meant to prove his pro-poor credentials, is not what was expected from him by the wealthiest business leaders who helped Modi win the elections. Nor did they expect that he would unleash the “inspector Raj”, reverse economic liberalisation and dampen the demand for their goods. The rich business leaders may be saying “You too Brutus”. None of them has dared to say that publicly. If anything, some corporate leaders have gone on record praising Modi’s decision.</p> <h2><strong>Previous attempts at cultural revolution</strong></h2> <p>Will the current campaign make the people more honest? Will this campaign to change the people succeed? An unintended consequence is quite significant. Corruption has sucked into its net a much larger section of society, including the rich and the co-opted poor. The rich recruited the poor to stand in long queues to exchange old notes them. They recruited many bank managers. The ghost bank accounts proliferated. The scrutiny of millions of new tax cases opens up a sea of opportunities for the corrupt officials.</p> <p>The bureaucrats enjoying more discretionary powers will be more tempted to demand bribes. Already the new notes with a higher denomination of Rs 2000 have been used for bribing Government officials and for stocking in the hidden vaults of the illegal money exchangers in the past few days. A cartoon shows Modi wondering whether he should now demonetise the new Rs. 2000 note. </p> <p>If the anti-corruption campaign is to be seen as an attempt to reform the political culture, two key elements are missing. Political parties are not accountable for the donations they get for fighting elections. A TV anchor remarked that if it is a war against corruption, the next election campaign will see no helicopters flying with leaders. They will be forced to share taxi rides with their opponents and will have to address joint rallies in order to save money. There is no move to introduce a system of state funding of election campaigns and banning all direct private donations, a major cause of corruption. <span class="mag-quote-center">Corruption has sucked into its net a much larger section of society, including the rich and the co-opted poor. </span></p> <p>Prime Minister Modi’s earlier bid to unleash another cultural revolution met with a very limited success. He launched a cleanliness campaign with fanfare but the people have not refrained from littering public places or defecating and urinating in the open. The municipalities have not deployed men and machines needed to demolish the mountains of rubbish.</p> <p>Some undesirable kind of cultural revolutions were unleashed by the followers of Prime Minister Modi. They tried moral policing and chased away loving couples from public places. They tried reconverting those who had abandoned Hinduism for another faith. They raided beer bars. They prescribed what not to eat. They told girls what not to wear. They told the universities what not to teach. They told writers what not to write. They told reporters what not to report and newspapers what not to publish. They told cine-goers what films not to see.</p> <p>Chroniclers of revolutions must come to India to observe the ongoing as-yet peaceful revolution with political, economic, social and cultural dimensions. </p> <p>Those hoping for the success of this major experiment in social engineering may be disappointed. The official campaign against the corrupt is not going to suppress greed or reform the corrupt. The governments in the past tried but failed to curb black-marketing, hoarding and money-laundering. Society’s attitude towards money is unlikely to change.</p> <p>The economic consequences will be recorded when definitive data is available about the damage to the informal sector, fall in the GDP, setback to major industries and the decline in consumer confidence. The economic argument cannot be clinched because economists are divided and even the Nobel Laureates who paint a grim picture are derided by the Modi camp.</p> <p>The political fall-out will be known when the results of the coming elections in two important states are announced. A more definitive outcome may be recorded more than two years from now when Modi will once again seek to win the parliamentary elections.</p> <p>Prime Minister Modi has a secure political future for more than two years. He is not going to be upset even if the demonetisation fails.&nbsp; He has already identified the “powerful forces” that he is fighting, risking his office and life. With his superb ability to communicate with the masses, he will come up with another new narrative. Narendra Modi likes to think big and administer shocks to his political opponents. </p> <p>The disruptive war against unaccounted for cash is just the first step. As pointed out by the experts, the racketeers keep only a very small percentage of their untaxed wealth in cash and most of it is kept in land and property and gold and diamonds and in banks abroad. One expects the anti-corruption campaign to expand its scope in the coming weeks. However, it is likely that historians will be recording yet another arrested revolution.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/trump-diminishes-democracy">Trump diminishes democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/change-people">Change the people</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openglobalrights/zahir-janmohamed/modi-and-trump-voting-strongmen-voting-hate">Modi and Trump—voting strongmen, voting hate</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Understanding the rise of Trump L K Sharma Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:22:31 +0000 L K Sharma 107634 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A flashpoint in South Asia? https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/flashpoint-in-south-asia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“You question India’s territorial integrity, I will question Pakistan’s. You interfere in our internal affairs, we will interfere in yours.” </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26055209_2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26055209_2.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 2016.Pakistan's Army Chief General addresses a seminar on 'Prospects of Peace And Prosperity In Balochistan.'Anjum Naveed/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Pakistan and India are engaged in a war of words at the highest level. Unusually provocative statements have been made by the two Prime Ministers. The area of contest and conflict has been widened. The TV channels in the two countries beat the war drums every night.</p> <p>Pakistan queered the pitch when it saw India failing to deal with the Kashmiris protesting against the killing of a terrorist. Pakistan’s Prime Minister dedicated his nation’s Independence Day to Kashmir’s freedom from India! Provoked, India stooped to Pakistan’s level, engaging in a tit-for-tat game. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could hardly allow himself to be seen as a wimp. He made references to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to some other Pakistani territories and to the human rights violations in Balochistan. </p> <p>A dignified silence was not an option for the Indian Prime Minister. Not when a wave of hyper-nationalism has been set off by his party and its extended political family. By referring to Balochistan, Prime Minister Modi signalled: You question India’s territorial integrity, I will question Pakistan’s. You interfere in our internal affairs, we will interfere in yours. </p> <p>Modi’s fans were elated. They saw it as a fitting riposte to Pakistan! The ruling BJP saw aggressive patriotism fetching it more votes in the coming state-level elections. The jingoistic utterances by the ruling party leaders and by the TV channels energise the BJP support base: &nbsp;but these make the restoration of normalcy in the troubled Kashmir a bit more difficult.</p> <p>Pakistan feels encouraged to provoke New Delhi because of its close ties with China and its successful use of Islamic terrorism against India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It sees an opportunity in the upsurge of sectarian sentiments in India. Will Pakistan be deterred from organising more terror strikes in Kashmir as a result of the Indian Prime Minister opening the Balochitsan front? This remains to be seen.</p> <p>For different reasons, India’s new approach also touches India’s ties with China, Iran and Afghanistan. China has stakes in Balochistan because of the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Iran and Afghanistan have problems with the vision of a Great Balochistan.</p> <p>The world always made a distinction between India and Pakistan, even though because of the Cold War, India’s moral standing or its democratic credentials did not earn India any bonus. India’s new pragmatic foreign policy practitioners may argue that morality does not pay. In one more sphere, India now mirrors Pakistan.</p> <p>The Modi Government’s capacity to make peace overtures to Pakistan as also its ability to deal with the separatists in Kashmir are at a low point. Both have been constricted by the outbreak of hyper-nationalism in India. Domestic politics should not influence the conduct of foreign policy but it does.</p> <p>There is a concerted campaign to fuel jingoism in India as a winning political strategy. The vigilante groups intimidate the “anti-national elements”. Those discussing Rabindranath Tagore’s criticism of nationalism are called unpatriotic intellectuals. </p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>A fashion for aggressive patriotism</strong></h2> <p>Displaying aggressive patriotism has become fashionable. Those who consider it disgusting hesitate to express their views lest they get abused on the road. Some vigilante groups have ruled what is nationalism and they track those not following their diktat. A visiting foreign correspondent would get the impression that two rival tribes inhabit India, the nationalists and the anti-nationals.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Some political outfits in India, flaunting aggressive patriotism, have been opposing visits by Pakistani musicians, singers and film actors. India’s public diplomacy campaign is not helped when its defence minister calls Pakistan, “Hell”. </p> <p>When a former woman MP on her return from Pakistan says Pakistan is no Hell, a “patriotic” person filed a sedition case against her! The ideological followers of the Indian Prime Minister routinely ask his critics to migrate to Pakistan. Vigilante groups intimidate the “anti-nationals” with impunity.</p> <p>Taking a cue from the Prime Minister, Indian TV channels suddenly discovered the Pakistani territory called Balochistan. They began showing Al Jazeera’s archival footage of the Pakistani forces committing atrocities against the civilians there. One TV channel blatantly boasts of its “patriotic coverage” and attacks the rivals for the lack of it. Every channel carries interviews with the exiled Baloch separatist leaders who express their gratitude to Modi. </p> <p>Some critics call Modi’s Pakistan policy inconsistent. This was the same Modi who had invited the Pakistani Prime Minister to his inauguration. He let a Pakistani team visit the sensitive Pathankot air base that was attacked by Pakistani terrorists. Also, in a surprise move, Modi joined the Pakistani Prime Minister at his home in celebrating a family function. </p> <p>After this fruitless endeavour to be seen in South Asia as an emerging statesman, Modi returned to his default position. As the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had won a state election by deriding “Mia Musharraf” of Pakistan. He had relentlessly attacked the weak-kneed Manmohan Singh Government.</p> <p>India’s “muscular” response may or may not restrain the official Pakistan; it will adversely affect the way Pakistanis see India. That the good will they harbour towards Indians does not influence Pakistan’s official policy is another matter. The state has always used Islamic terrorism to harm India by a thousand cuts and yet wars and war-mongering by Pakistan failed to vitiate the people-to-people relations. </p> <p>Every Pakistani visiting India and every Indian visiting Pakistan would testify to a reservoir of mutual good will. Despite Pakistani military dictators orienting their nation towards the Islam of the Arabic nations, the people of Pakistan continue to cherish their South Asian ethos. India must not lose an advantage in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of a neighbouring country.</p> <p>&nbsp;The Pakistani rulers through their history text-books have tried for years to alienate the young from India and fuel anti-India sentiments. This process will now be helped by the aggressive rhetoric coming from India’s political leaders. </p> <h2><strong>Early consequences</strong></h2> <p>New Delhi’s new approach has already led to some consequences. The Balochi dissidents living in Pakistan face increased violence from the Pakistani forces. Pakistan says that Modi’s statement proved that India was creating trouble in Balochistan.</p> <p>How will the Indian Prime Minister follow up the Balochistan issue? Opposing the separatists in Kashmir and supporting them in Balochistan will be a complex exercise. </p> <p>Modi has raised the expectations of the Baloch freedom-fighters. The Baloch exiles, who thank Modi from Europe and America, have come to expect more than just statements. Their gratitude will last as long as the war of words between India and Pakistan continues. The Baloch freedom-fighters have for decades seen the powerful nations using or misusing the issue of “human rights violations”.</p> <p>If the Indo-Pak equation happens to improve, where will it leave Balochistan? How will the Baloch leaders, persecuted by Pakistan, feel if Modi were to stop making statements on their plight? Some of them may then be reminded of the phrase “thrown to the wolves”.</p> <p>Modi’s activism will partly depend on the signals from a US that has always overlooked the human rights violations in Balochistan and the killing of eminent opposition leaders in Pakistan. Is America, in its own national interests, ready to make a departure in this regard? China’s role in Pakistan and specifically in Balochistan is another factor being examined by the foreign policy experts.</p> <p>Normally, such a significant, though symbolic, change in India’s stance would have sparked a vigorous debate. In the current atmosphere, an Indian diplomat is unlikely to give a frank opinion in official meetings. This makes any rational discussion difficult. </p> <p>Some commentators did refer to India giving up its high moral ground etc. but the weak notes of dissent were drowned in the loud applauding noise emanating from the TV studios. The Opposition leaders do not wish to be called “pro-Pakistan”. In the present political scenario, public perception is influenced by fiction.</p> <h2><strong>Face-saving formulae</strong></h2> <p>India has in the past had a distinctive conflict-resolution policy. &nbsp;It ignored some provocations by Pakistan and carried on the path of development. Consequently, India emerged as a growing economic power. Now there is rethinking on that Pakistan policy, as past leaders have to be discredited.</p> <p>The current wave of hyper-nationalism has made a meaningful diplomatic engagement with Pakistan difficult. However, given the erratic nature of Indo-Pak relations, usually such spells do not last. At times, some wise counsel prevails in New Delhi and Islamabad. At times, a third powerful country forces the two sides to break the impasse. Pakistan may find it necessary to follow up its hostile rhetoric with friendly messages! </p> <p>Modi will then have to find a face-saving formula because he leads a democracy. Pakistan can take a U-turn without any risk. The Modi fans will have to justify the Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan for a South Asian summit, if that takes place. They will have to justify it should New Delhi invite the Pakistani Prime Minister to watch a cricket match in India!</p> <p>&nbsp;The Modi Government’s inconsistent Pakistan policy makes the dangerous rhetoric less credible. Had it not been so, foreign TV reporters would have rushed to this region once described as the most dangerous in the world. This has not happened because these two nuclear-armed nations are still not considered quite mad. </p> <p>In the crucial coming weeks, one will know whether a meaningful Indo-Pak dialogue will be resumed or new fronts of contest will be opened. Will war-mongering be followed by friendly gestures and invitations for talks? Perhaps the charade will go on because the alternative is too horrendous for the world. It looks like a flashpoint but then it may not be one!</p> <p>The world as well as Modi’s critics and fans at home will watch the impact of his audacious move to give a new twist to India’s Pakistan policy. If a nation abandons a foreign policy tempered with ethics, it must have the capacity to succeed in the world of realpolitik. The euphoric reaction being worked up in India to Modi’s muscular approach will last as long as the new policy shows some success.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> Pakistan </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia Pakistan India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics L K Sharma Tue, 30 Aug 2016 11:11:13 +0000 L K Sharma 105006 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Trump diminishes democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/trump-diminishes-democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How the Americans vote in their presidential election should be only their business. But it cannot be so.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26268976.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26268976.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Lynden, Wash. Elaine Thompson / Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>No military coup has taken place in recent weeks. No elected prime minister has been beheaded. No nation has suspended its constitution. And yet a debate rages on the dangers facing the democratic order. The irresistible rise of one Donald Trump in US politics has made a commentator call the ongoing presidential election campaign, “dystopian”.</p> <p>It is not the Chinese or Russian journals that are out to malign American democracy. The mainstream American media is full of damning opinion pieces. Take just two latest headlines. <em>America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny</em>. <em>Donald Trump and the Authoritarian Temptation</em>. </p> <p>What did Trump do? He gathered incredible support in his race for the Republican nomination by fuelling popular passion against liberal values. He demonised the Mexicans and Muslims and projected himself as a leader who could ignore laws and wield unrestricted power to propel America towards its manifest destiny – a process, according to him, subverted by the “liberal elite”. This billionaire businessman promises to undo the damage done by the previous occupants of the White House!</p> <p>His promises cannot be subjected to a rational debate. It is difficult to argue with the voters who use their democratic right to be illiberal! With uncivil attacks on his opponents and the promise of a new order in which he would vanquish Muslim terrorists and Mexican rapists, Trump mesmerised a large section frustrated by economic hardship. He infused a kind of religious fervour among his followers and intensified the desire for change even among those who do not speak his lingo. As it happens, his likely opponent in the Presidential race, Hillary Clinton, represents continuity, not change! </p> <p>The rise of Trump has shocked those Americans who cherish democracy and fear that President Trump would undermine the Constitution or persecute a minority. Andrew Sullivan sees America becoming a breeding ground for tyranny. He cites a line from Plato’s <em>Republic</em>: ”… tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” </p> <p>He explains that when democracy is ripened, a tyrant makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. He offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. As the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.</p> <p>Sullivan describes the angry televised face of Trump and the frenzied Trump rallies where he called his opponents names and condoned physical violence as a response to political disagreement. He sees in Trump a demagogic, tyrannical character plucked directly out of Plato’s <em>Republic</em>.</p> <p>He points out that many contend that American democracy is actually in retreat, close to being destroyed by the vastly more unequal economy of the last quarter century and the ability of the very rich to purchase political influence.</p> <p>Whether or not, “Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism” will push him into the White House, it has unleashed a process. &nbsp;Sullivan says neo-Fascist moments first transform the terms of the debate, create a new moment based on untramelled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally. “The interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned”.</p> <h2><strong>Knock-on effects </strong></h2> <p>This is also relevant in the context of some other democratic countries where politicians generate hate and fear during an election season causing anxiety to the liberals. Trump is just a more extreme representative of his class. </p> <p>Trump’s election campaign is being watched with great interest all around the world. The social media is suffused with satirical comments and outright disgust with his tactics. But there is a section that justifies his demonising the minorities. In India atrocious statements against the minorities come from a few ruling party leaders. Some have pointed out that these were harmless compared to Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks!&nbsp; </p> <p>The Trump election campaign that has discredited democracy will have side effects in other countries. In college debates, the opponents of democracy can now present a strong case. If America has to renew its campaign to spread democracy, it has to first set an example itself of being a democratic haven. </p> <p>America has ceased to be a role model as not all presidents have been knights who fought for democratic values. Questions were raised on the way George Bush defeated Al Gore. But in the past undemocratic action was accompanied by sophisticated arguments. Trump is as foreign to political correctness as a coal mine to light. That is the reason for his appeal and for his shock value. </p> <p>Frustrated citizens at times are attracted to an “outsider” as a potential leader. And such an outsider dumps the norms and sophistication cherished by traditional politicians.</p> <p>More people around the world know about the offensive remarks made by Trump who tweets. That is why this election campaign has undermined America’s plan to promote democracy abroad, through persuasion or by force. If Trump becomes the President, America’s public diplomacy campaigns will become even less credible. </p> <p>The next President would have to re-examine the import of democracy in America’s foreign policy. During the cold war, the US saw convergence between the promotion of democracy abroad and its strategic interests. Later, the Arab Spring did not deliver the desired results in terms of US interests. Wisely, successive US administrations always spared two strategic partner countries – Saudi Arabia and Pakistan from applying their missionary zeal to the spread of democracy.</p> <h2><strong>The world catches a cold</strong></h2> <p>What has happened in American politics is not an isolated development. In several parts of the world dangers to democracy are being highlighted by activists or by affected parties. India is witnessing a “save democracy” campaign launched by the main opposition party. The rise of the Far Right in Europe has caused anxiety. Many of the “Arab Spring” enthusiasts now protest against the illiberal forces gaining ground through the democratic process that was ushered in with external help.</p> <p>Demonising “the other” has become a tried and tested technique used during election campaigns. The rise of identity politics and the infusion of religion into politics make empty rhetoric and slogan-mongering effective and diminish the value of reasoned debates. The volunteers and paid workers deployed for a trolling campaign on the social media ensure that the leader’s opponents become hate objects.</p> <p>If Trump wins, some democratic leaders in other parts of the world will get a ready-made blueprint for electoral success. Not that they are novices at using Trump’s techniques to gather mass support. In some cases, the leader encourages his senior party colleagues to do the dirty work in order to galvanise his support base. This way he cannot be charged with bigotry. </p> <p>A survey in America reports a higher negative impression of Muslim Americans during an election year. This reminds a commentator of an observation by Michael Cook, a historian of religions, who has drawn a link between elections and religious riots in India. According to Cook, “the Hindu nationalist politicians believe that communal riots can get out the Hindu vote for them…Under the right conditions the communal riot is a winning (electoral) strategy.” </p> <p>A poll campaign is also marked by the projection of the candidate as a messiah gifted with the sinews of steel. This superman alone can save the nation threatened by enemies! Considering the problems the nations face, a saviour is in great demand in every election.</p> <p>Empowered by demagoguery, Trump has gone much further than the divisive leaders elsewhere making inflammatory speeches during poll campaigns. His extremism wins public and media attention and pays dividends. The TV has turned politicians into performers who know that the more abuses they hurl and the louder they shout, the more popular they will get. </p> <p>Many Americans wonder how so many of their fellow citizens can support a man like Trump. If Trump wins they would feel as if they have lost their country. And if Trump wins, one would see American poll experts advising their clients abroad on how to use the Trump technique to win elections! </p> <p>How the Americans vote in their Presidential election should be only their business but it cannot be so because when America sneezes the world catches cold!</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> <div class="field-item even"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia India United States Culture Democracy and government International politics L K Sharma Sun, 08 May 2016 16:50:22 +0000 L K Sharma 101922 at https://www.opendemocracy.net India falters in battle of ideas with Pakistan https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/india-falters-in-battle-of-ideas-with-pakistan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The religious extremists in Pakistan love any outbreak of sectarian violence in India because that makes their task easier. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/fahmida-riaz.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/fahmida-riaz.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fahmida Riaz lamented “Turned out you were just like us…” </span></span></span>A violent campaign to enforce “nationalism” in India has followed the rise of aggressive Hindu nationalism. The polarisation along religious lines and the defaming of the opposition leaders as sympathisers of the anti-national students and terrorists herald the coming state elections. The consolidation of Hindu votes is the tried and tested electoral strategy of the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>The minorities – religious as well as ideological -- are being targeted.&nbsp; The pockets in which the ruling BJP’s ideology failed to acquire influence have become a hunting ground for violent foot soldiers who feel assured of protection by their leaders in the Government. </p> <p>A leftist university student is arrested for alleged sedition. He is beaten up by lawyers while being taken to court by the police. India’s home minister cites a fake tweet to associate this research scholar with a Pakistani terrorist. Doctored videos are telecast in order to strengthen the charge of sedition against this student. His crime was that he was present in a meeting where some unknown and untraceable persons had raised anti-India slogans! Some universities are seething with unrest because of the Government’s plan to curb dissent. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">There is no official move to challenge the principle of secularism. Government leaders promote majoritarianism by calling their political rivals “pseudo-secularists” and attacking them for “appeasing” Muslims.</span></p> <p>Released from the jail as a result of an interim bail, the student addresses his fellow students. His stinging criticism of the Prime Minister provokes a political activist to paste posters in Delhi offering a reward for killing this student. Far away from Delhi, a political worker announces a reward for cutting off the student’s tongue!</p> <p>This outbreak of pseudo-nationalism was preceded by violence against some writers and Muslims. The anti-Muslim rhetoric is seeping into unexpected quarters.</p> <p>Of course, the Hindu nationalist Government has never said it wants to turn India into a theocratic state. There is no official move to challenge the principle of secularism. Government leaders promote majoritarianism by calling their political rivals “pseudo-secularists” and attacking them for “appeasing” Muslims. Some of these leaders make inflammatory statements aimed at disturbing social harmony. The Government takes a lenient view. </p> <p>While secularism remains safe in the sacred book of Constitution, the level of religious hatred has gone up. Any one “insulting” any Hindu God or Goddess is threatened. A Muslim group burns vehicles if its religious sentiments are hurt. Bands of ultra-nationalists call dissenters traitors and ask all “anti-national” people to go to Pakistan!</p> <p>The vigilante groups want every one to demonstrate his or her devotion to the nation. Apart from the Government and the police, strangers have become ultra sensitive on the issue of patriotism. An argumentative citizen walking on the road would not know when he violates the sedition law dating back to British rule. </p> <h2><strong>“How do I rank relative to India?”</strong></h2> <p>It is a surrealistic situation. India’s most demonstrative nationalistic Government has ironically created identity-related insecurity for India. It has given comfort to Pakistan troubled by the question: “How do I rank relative to India?”</p> <p>The Prime Minister once mobilised voters in the Gujarat State elections by relentlessly attacking Pakistan and the weak-kneed Congress Government. Today, his Government has handed to Pakistan an advantage in the war of ideas.</p> <p>Pakistan fought wars with India to grab land. India engaged its neighbor in a virtual battlefield to prove that the idea of a secular democracy was far superior to the idea of a military-run theocracy. This battle of ideas began during the freedom movement when the Hindu and Muslim leaders of the Congress Party opposed the demand for a separate nation based on religion. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">In India an essential prong of the strategy to curb “anti-nationalism” is to constantly contrast the sacrifices being made by the soldiers defending the nation with the “seditious” behavior of the dissenting students.</span></p> <p>This legacy enhanced the identity crisis of the territory carved out of India. The military ruler Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, who deposed a left-leaning elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and hanged him later, tried to solve this problem by turning Pakistan towards the Muslim monarchies of the middle-east. </p> <p>Gen. Zia used religious extremists as allies to suppress the liberal and democratic elements in his young nation. He passed laws in order to distance Pakistan from the Indian Islam and to orient it towards a purer and uniform version of the faith. He used religious extremism to give Pakistan a sharper Islamic identity. </p> <p>India, as a secular democracy, saw itself to be as different from Pakistan as light from a coal mine. Pakistan’s military rulers nourished the roots of theocracy, India’s elected leaders strengthened secularism, a principle enshrined in the Constitution.</p> <p>The use and misuse of the sedition law and the leftist-bashing by mobs in India reminds one of the Pakistan Government hunting down communists and enforcing the blasphemy laws. If the Government or the judiciary delayed the process, it was completed by the lynch mobs and individual killers. Young men with opinions felt terrorised in Pakistan. As a street-fighting activist in the UK, Tariq Ali in his youth feared that his life would be threatened if he went to his native Pakistan.</p> <p>In India an essential prong of the strategy to curb “anti-nationalism” is to constantly contrast the sacrifices being made by the soldiers defending the nation with the “seditious” behavior of the dissenting students. It shocked even a serving army officer who wrote an anonymous newspaper article warning against this false dichotomy and pseudo nationalism.&nbsp; However, this binary goes down well with many people and the BJP is for now sticking to this strategy.</p> <p>A new dangerous dimension was added to the running political war when some retired military officers visited the embattled university to suggest that a tank on the campus would help teach the students to honour the nation! The students of the union affiliated to Modi’s ruling party were present at the function. </p> <p>Security analyst C Uday Bhaskar, a former naval officer, condemned this exercise of pitting the brave soldier against the “ungrateful” student. He regretted that the Indian political establishment used national security in an opportunistic manner. He warned against diluting the apolitical nature of the Indian military. Such attempts have “the potential to introduce a political and ideological tenor into the Indian military through osmosis.” The readers of his article must have recalled the history of Pakistan.</p> <p>A former chief of the army staff promptly joined the BJP and on being elected was made a minister by Modi. He has issued several controversial statements. All this may not have gone unnoticed by the liberal Pakistanis who know what happens when the army gets interested in politics! </p> <p>The Indian Government’s attempts to spread the Hindutva influence in institutions of higher learning has reminded the Pakistani intellectuals of their own Government introducing the text- books designed to make the school-children hate India.</p> <h2><strong>Two Pakistans</strong></h2> <p>There are two Pakistans. One admires the “idea of India”. The demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya by a Hindu mob in 1992 was an attack on the idea of India. A Pakistani academic told an Oxford University seminar that during his visit to Pakistan he found some people regretting the blow administered to inter-religious harmony and others pointing out that India was not really a secular nation! </p> <p>A progressive Pakistani poet, who was forced to take shelter in India in the eighties to protect her from the Zia regime, observed the rise of Hindutva. Fahmida Riaz lamented much to the delight of her Indian audiences: “Turned out you were just like us…” (<em><a href="https://urduwallahs.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/tum-bilkul-hum-jaise-nikle/">Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle</a></em>). <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">“Turned out you were just like us…”</span></p> <p>The religious extremists in Pakistan love any outbreak of sectarian violence in India because that makes their task easier. The liberals there feel concerned when mass hysteria against Pakistan is generated by the Indian TV channels or by some political elements opposing the Indo-Pak cricket matches or cultural and literary events. The liberal Pakistanis want an India that sets an example and shames their rulers who crush dissent. They courageously challenge the idea of theocratic Pakistan. </p> <p>As a secular democratic nation, India provides hope to large sections in the entire sub-continent and wins admiration around the world. In the wake of 9/11, American commentators noted with wonder that no Indian Muslim was found involved in acts of terrorism. The contrast with Pakistan got highlighted. Today one finds a few Muslim young men going and joining the terror outfits abroad.</p> <p>An American daily reprinted an old interview with Osama bin Laden taken much before 9/11. Why don’t you help the Muslims of Kashmir? Osama was asked. He said he did not want to cause any trouble in India. Why did he say this?</p> <p>The idea of India was diminished by the Gujarat sectarian riots. The idea of India got diminished when a Congress Government compromised with the orthodox Muslim leaders in the case of a Muslim woman who wanted justice. It got diminished when a Government failed to curb violence against Sikhs in the wake of the murder of Indira Gandhi. Some other countries have tougher laws against those inciting sectarian violence. In India even the existing laws are not being applied strictly.</p> <p>Questions about secularism in India are raised when the Government of the day compromises with the communal forces or is seen not acting against those spreading the communal virus. The features that make India different from Pakistan are being eroded. &nbsp;India’s USP as a secular democracy gives the country a great advantage in the battlefield of ideas. Its value is understood by the brand managers of the business world! The crusaders of "nationalism" do not care how India is seen by others.</p> <p>The use and misuse of India’s sedition law against the students and opposition political leaders make some wonder whether India will end up as a mirror image of Pakistan. When asked to migrate to Pakistan, a critic of the Modi Government shot back that he won’t need to because “you are turning India into Pakistan”. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!</p> <p>However, this setback may be temporary. The influence of the Hindu nationalists has waxed and waned in the past. So the present Prime Minister will not be able to fulfil his promise to rid the country of the main opposition. India’s voters would not respond to the BJP President’s appeal to keep his party in power for 25 years!</p> <p>The Babri mosque’s destruction by the Hindu nationalists in 1992 and the resulting sectarian violence did pay rich political dividends to Prime Minister Modi’s party. Later the religious card became ineffective. Mobilisation of the Hindu voters proved its power again in the last parliamentary elections. That was because Modi also attracted many secular voters who were fed up with the incompetence of the incumbent Government. After that the religious card failed in the state-level elections in Delhi and Bihar that dented the political prestige of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>At times the Hindu nationalists manage to consolidate the Hindu votes, at times they fail to do it. This is also because of the pluralistic nature of Hinduism and the diversity of the people. That is expected to keep argumentation and dissent alive and the flag of democracy flying.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/nationalism-fever-strikes-india">Nationalism fever strikes India</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> Pakistan </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia Pakistan India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Tue, 08 Mar 2016 15:08:45 +0000 L K Sharma 100426 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Nationalism fever strikes India https://www.opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/nationalism-fever-strikes-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The debate&nbsp;in India&nbsp;about&nbsp;'nationalism' or 'anti-nationalism'&nbsp;is essentially between the pro &amp; anti-Modi forces. But the issues come and go...</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/15463504521_5f43c9017d_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/15463504521_5f43c9017d_z.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Narendra Modi. Global Panorama/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The current great debate in India about being national and anti-national has been called by an eminent film-maker a “great comedy”. The situation does seem bizarre. The “anti-nationals” are being asked to leave the country and go to Pakistan. They in turn say that those waving the flags of patriotism want to destroy the idea of India. </p> <p>Concerned citizens, activists, civil libertarians, constitutional experts, and protesting university students see an unfolding tragedy in the violence perpetrated by the “patriotic” mobs. The mobs undermine the democratic order. They flaunt their commitment to the ruling party’s ideology and bank on police inaction.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Concerned citizens, activists, civil libertarians, constitutional experts, and protesting university students see an unfolding tragedy in the violence perpetrated by the “patriotic” mobs.</span></p> <p>India is never an easy assignment for foreign correspondents sent to this land of contradictions with the brief that what is true about this country, its opposite is also true! This correspondent will find the current situation weird. He may also start wondering what <em>is</em> democracy. After all, he was sent to one of the great democracies of the world!</p> <p>The foreign correspondent rushes to the place where it all began. To Jawaharlal Nehru University, a premier institution of India recognised globally for its scholarship and the culture of debate and dissent. Its website carries Nehru’s words: “A university stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth.” It is one university in which the union elections set an example for the country’s politicians. These are held on the basis of debating skills and without the use of money or muscle power.</p> <p>It is one university in which a student union owing allegiance to the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained on the fringe despite vigorous campaigning over the years to wrest control from the left-leaning organisations. </p> <p>So what happened at this university? Some student organisation held a meeting where capital punishment given to a Pakistan-trained Indian terrorist was questioned. The crowds that perhaps included outsiders raised pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans. A ruling party functionary lodged a police complaint. The police went in and arrested the student union president who had expressed no “anti-national” sentiments at the meeting. He had talked about freedom from poverty and freedom from the sectarian ideology of the ruling establishment.</p> <p>This student leader was charged with sedition! To justify the police case, doctored videos were telecast. False rumours were spread about him. The groups affiliated to the Prime Minister’s party thrashed this young PhD student while he was being taken to court by the police.</p> <p>What followed was the mass hysteria against the “anti-national” elements. The “nationalists” created a hostile atmosphere against the JNU students and demonised the university. The students protested peacefully in defence of the freedom expression and the autonomy of the universities.</p> <p>The foreign correspondent lands in a country that is stricken by a raging fever of pseudo-nationalism and pop-patriotism. What sense can he make of the cries of “kill-kill” against the so-called “anti-national” Indians? He reads about the doctored videos being telecast to support a false charge of sedition against a student leader. He finds some ruling party leaders demanding the closure of the Jawaharlal Nehru University! The correspondent discovers that JNU has for long been targeted by the BJP and its ideological mentor RSS for being a hotbed of the leftists. And since it cannot be purified with a touch of Hindutva, it must be closed down.</p> <p>The visiting journalist reads the disturbing statement made by some British academics on the situation in India. He notes that Prof. Noam Chomsky, along with Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk and 86 other academicians including Indian teachers in America, has condemned “the culture of authoritarian menace that the present government in India has generated”.</p> <p>In short, the foreign correspondent finds the nation in a temper and a disaffected student community. He sees a society seething with hate. He senses confrontation in the air. “Kill-Kill” is the word he hears on the streets and in the TV studios. He reads threats of murder and rape. He studies the editorials calling for the rule of law and for a professional police force and an objective media. </p> <p>He gets about finding answers to several questions. Why is the history of Nazi Germany being recalled in a spate of newspaper articles and speeches? Why are the people protesting against the misuse of the sedition law? Why is the police force letting the political goons beat up the “anti-national” accused being taken to a court of law or the journalists cover the court case? Why have some commentators coined the phrase “goonda nationalism”?</p> <p>Having come prepared to cover religious violence, the foreign correspondent finds that this time the confrontation is not about the desecration of a Hindu temple or the Holy Koran or about a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim or some one killing a cow or eating beef. This time it is about nationalism, an issue with which the enlightened west is only too familiar.</p><h2>Nationalism, patriotism</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/3804276750_541036e6f6_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/3804276750_541036e6f6_z.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Patriotism in India. Varun Khurana/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Nationalism has been critically analysed by Indian thinkers who cherished humanism and alerted against the dangers of nationalism. Rabindranath Tagore said “patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity”. Tagore wrote that the logic of the Nation will never heed the voice of truth and goodness. He said the fierce self-idolatory of nation-worship is not the goal of human history. The German history as well as Tagore’s views on nationalism is cited extensively by those criticising the mobs wanting to issue certificates of patriotism. One commentator said Tagore would have been called “anti-national” today. Another pointed out that by these standards, the Apple chief in America would be arrested for sedition for not cooperating with the FBI! A police officer in Jammu and Kashmir said that were they to arrest people for shouting “Freedom for Kashmir” or for raising the Pakistani flag, they would be filing several cases every week!</span></p> <p>The foreign correspondent finds that some Indians are ready to kill human-beings in order to protect the lives of cows. He reads about the mobs asking the citizens to sing the national anthem, salute Mother India and fly the national flag. Those defying the orders are asked to go to Pakistan or face punishment at home.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-left">When a society is in a state of frenzy, words acquire different meaning. “Intolerance” became a word of abuse directed against the Prime Minister of India. “Freedom of expression” signifies anti-nationalism.</span></p> <p>The correspondent reads the hundreds of death threats sent through the cyber space to students and journalists and to the members of their families. The self-proclaimed nationalists feel empowered with false courage – a gift of the social media! </p> <p>Apart from these cowards hiding behind the giant internet servers, some brave Indians thrashing “anti-national” individuals do not mind their faces being shown on the TV. They get garlanded and honoured publicly for their “courage”. The media-savvy Delhi Police turns a blind eye because Facebook flaunts a photo of this character with the country’s home minister. </p> <p>When a society is in a state of frenzy, words acquire different meaning. “Intolerance” became a word of abuse directed against the Prime Minister of India. “Freedom of expression” signifies anti-nationalism.</p> <p>India’s woman education minister was perhaps inspired by the vigilante groups who created mayhem on the streets waving the national flags tied to sticks five to six feet long. Her ministry ordered the Government universities to fly the national flag! </p> <p>An eminent public intellectual welcomed the order but raised a critical question: “Why 207-feet high?” Since India invented the number zero, a 200-feet-high flag would deepen the sense of patriotism, he wrote. The cyber bullies are sure to be angered by his qualified dissent. The height matters. How dare this ivory-tower man reduce it by full seven feet!</p> <p>Earlier, a couple of writers were killed physically and one “killed” the writer in himself and abandoned his vocation in response to threats to his life. Protests by writers, artists and scientists had followed and they were demonised for talking about “intolerance”. The pro-Modi political activists took to streets and the TV studios to pour venom against the writers protesting against intolerance. </p> <p>The debate on intolerance had hardly subsided when the current campaign against the “anti-national” forces was launched. No holds are barred. Death threats are shouted, student and journalists are physically attacked and a father is asked to shoot down his “anti-national” daughter. These threats are printed, aired on the TV and appear on the social media in the posts by the patriotic Indians!</p> <p>The foreign correspondent observes a hysterical campaign to protect the honour of Mother India and to denounce the “anti-nationals” who are asked to leave India along with the beef-eaters. He gets to see why a sizeable section is crying for a democratic India.</p> <p>The recent events in India demonstrate that the State doesn’t have to directly intervene to suspend civil liberties. In any case, the Constitution prevents the authority from making any blatant move. When democracy constrained the US Government from fighting terrorism in a certain way, some illegal services were outsourced to the non-state actors. In the current situation, it is not the Government but the non-state actors who have unleashed a reign of terror.</p> <p>The foreign correspondent, trained in old-fashioned journalism, is surprised to find India’s visual media fanning the flames of pseudo-nationalism and declaring any one a criminal. Most screaming anchors imitate a popular Irish-American TV talk show host of America. </p> <p>A rare TV journalist whose channel is not controlled by any one running other businesses ultimately could not bear it any more. He produces a programme on the dangers to democracy posed by the so-called free media that chases popularity ratings by debasing public discourse through cock-fights in the studio. Ravish Kumar did not spare himself while alerting the TV viewers that the vigilante groups seen thrashing the “anti-national” student on false charges could come to their homes one day! He used darkness on the small screen to illumine minds. This programme must be seen to understand how the “free” media can help subvert democracy. Journalism students may get to know of the havoc the visual media is playing in India.</p> <p>Of course, following the ethics of journalism, the foreign correspondent strikes a balance and says that a glass that is half empty is a glass half full. He reports that India continues to be a functioning democracy. The duly elected national government is in place and so is the Constitution. The highly professional army has never had a rogue colonel. Elections are conducted regularly. Political rallies are held peacefully. The opposition leaders give fiery speeches. Courts function. The press is free. Film censorship is challenged quite often. And of course, there are no mid-night knocks.</p> <p>But a balanced report does not always tell the whole story. At times, a writer, not a journalist, is better able to tell the truth. What is happening in India today needs to be explained by V. S. Naipaul in his luminous prose. He understands mass frenzy and he knows all about the political leaders of the Third World.</p><h2>The genie of sectarianism</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/3820791613_18a55008c6_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/3820791613_18a55008c6_z.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>India's birthday. Varun Khurana/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>To put it simply, it was intolerance yesterday and nationalism today. The issues come and go. These are revived or abandoned, depending on the political calculations. The pot has to be kept boiling if the electorate is to be polarised and vote banks protected or acquired.</span></p> <p>The great battle in India is essentially between the pro-Modi and anti-Modi forces. The former consist of Modi’s ideological soldiers plus those who are not the Hindutva votaries. They had flocked to him during the last parliamentary elections because they were deeply disappointed by the previous Government. </p> <p>This latter group is also concerned about the venom injected into the society. But many of this non-Hindutva group still believe that the Prime Minister will one day speak against the unruly elements in his political family determined to polarise the nation. They believe that like Lord Shiva, Mr. Modi will swallow the poison to save the creation. The body-politic will be detoxified and cleansed. India will stop generating hate and start making aircrafts.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">To put it simply, it was intolerance yesterday and nationalism today. The issues come and go.</span></p> <p>More and more people are coming to the conclusion that this is unlikely to happen. They say the genie of sectarianism cannot to be pushed back into the bottle easily. In the current atmosphere, these nay-sayers have to take care and protect themselves. </p> <p>These days TV’s political reportage ends with a thematically appropriate Bollywood song. So this piece concludes with: <em>yeh kahaan aa gaye hum</em>? Oh where, oh where have we come? — a thought that is troubling the concerned Indians.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/long-live-empire">Long live Empire!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/india-roller-coastering-democracy">India: roller-coastering democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/en-liang-khong/twitter-embed-test"> How not to counter Modimania </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/change-people">Change the people</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Fri, 26 Feb 2016 15:52:56 +0000 L K Sharma 100123 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The hugging Prime Minister fails Zuckerberg https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/hugging-prime-minister-fails-zuckerberg <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>India, according to the Facebook Director, would have been better off had it remained under British rule. Coming from an American, it was a bit ironical.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Prime_Minister_Narendra_Modi_and_the_Facebook_Chairman_and_CEO_Mark_Zuckerberg_at_Facebook_HQ_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Prime_Minister_Narendra_Modi_and_the_Facebook_Chairman_and_CEO_Mark_Zuckerberg_at_Facebook_HQ_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>India's Prime Minister and Facebook CEO at Facebook HQ, November 2015. Wikicommons/ Narendra Modi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>India’s decision to uphold the principle of net neutrality and outlaw Facebook’s Free Basics service, suffused with symbolism and irony, has highlighted the emerging digital empires and features of neocolonialism. </p> <p>“Free Basics” are two words that are unpacked differently by different sections. The critics point out that these do not mean what the FB wants these to mean. To put simply, this controversial service offers free data usage but only to the websites prescribed by this social networking site. </p> <p>The two most seductive words “free” and “basics” failed to work their magic in India despite Facebook’s massive advertising campaign. India’s telecom regulators ruled that such a service violates the principle of net neutrality and disallowed any discriminatory pricing for accessing data. So the Free Basics service was wound up and India’s poor, in whose name Facebook had campaigned, did not protest.</p> <p>The adverse decision momentarily unhinged a Facebook Director Marc Andreessen. He denounced India’s ban on Free Basics, and smelt the outdated anti-colonialism in India’s stand. He called it “another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian Government against its own citizens”. Mr. Andreessen tweeted: “Denying world’s poorest free partial connectivity, when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong”. </p> <p>The country, according to him, would have been better off had it remained under British rule. Coming from an American, it was a bit ironical. Mr. Andreessen only fanned the dying embers of anti-colonialism. Unwittingly, he drew public attention to the link between imperialism and neo-imperialism or corporate imperialism.</p> <p>His Tweet caused a cyber storm and many ordinary users of Facebook and other netizens took to Twitter and started responding to the FB Director. “Being colonized was good for India and we should let FB do so”, wrote one. “Facebook clearly see themselves as the new East India Company, the colonial saviours of poor brown India”. References to the East India Company came up in many posts. One compared the Facebook’s scheme to an offer of a cooking gas cylinder given free with the condition that only one prescribed dish can be cooked!</p> <p>Had Mr. Andreessen read <em>The Tempest</em> in his school, he would have asked his cyber critics to admit: “You gave me language, and my profit on’t / Is, I know how to curse.” He could have asked them, “who gave you the means to curse?” He could have quoted <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/long-live-empire">Niall Ferguson</a> in his support. But being a pragmatic businessman, Mr. Andreessen promptly withdrew his offensive tweets on India and praised the country where FB promises digital nirvana. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Even post-colonialism scholars have joined the fray.</span></p> <p>However, the damage to Facebook’s image was done. Neither Mr. Andreessen’s second thoughts nor Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s distancing himself from the FB Director’s tweets gave any relief to the Public Relations machine of this corporate giant whose financial clout is bigger than the combined GDP of some small nations.</p> <p>In India, the protracted public consultations before the regulator’s ruling involved the policy wonks, pro-reform economists, activists and the Indian techies upscaling their innovative start-ups. These young men and women know the way the American corporations spread their tentacles. They warned against any move to let India become a “digital colony” for foreign interests to rig the rules and keep the native businessmen from flourishing.</p> <p>Thanks to Mr. Andreessen, the net neutrality debate continues after the regulator’s decision. Even post-colonialism scholars have joined the fray. Prof. Deepika Bahri, who teaches English in the US, told <em>The Atlantic</em> that it is hard to ignore the family resemblances and recognisable DNA of colonialism. She listed the similarities as </p> <p>1. Ride in like a savior </p> <p>2. Bandy about words like equality, democracy, basic rights.</p> <p>3. Mask the long-term profit motive. </p> <p>4. Justify the logic of partial discrimination as better than nothing. </p> <p>5. Partner with local elites and vested interests.</p> <p>6. Accuse the critics of ingratitude.</p> <p>Her arguments perhaps made the magazine entitle the report “Facebook and the New Colonialism: Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.”</p> <p>The net neutrality debate has thrown up several related issues such as the abuse of the social networking platform, dangers of a monopoly, danger of social and political manipulation on a mass scale, manufacturing consent, and the need to provide unrestricted internet access to the poor as a public good.</p> <h2><strong>Gift horses and mouths </strong></h2> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/23657120625_73941db8a4_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Credit: Flickr/Raul Ramirez. Some rights reserved."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/23657120625_73941db8a4_z.jpg" alt="Credit: Flickr/Raul Ramirez. Some rights reserved." title="Credit: Flickr/Raul Ramirez. Some rights reserved." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Credit: Flickr/Raul Ramirez. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>What attracted much hostile attention is the massive advertising campaign that Facebook launched in order to influence the consultative process initiated by the telecom regulator. The corporation merrily spent millions of dollars on the campaign that covered billboards, the print and TV media. This was to mobilise the poor of India against any move by the Government to deny them a free gift by Facebook! <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">Long-distance digital patriotism is already having some impact on domestic politics in some countries.</span></p> <p>A wag remarked that these million of dollars misspent on a futile ad campaign could have been used to try and buy influence at a personal level! But bribing is not allowed by US law. The American companies complain that while their purse strings are tied, their European rivals secure orders in the Third World through unethical means!</p> <p>Facebook did not stop at the massive ad campaign. It provided a template email in favour of Free Basics to be sent to the regulator by millions of its users in order to impress the regulator with the power of numbers! The regulator was not amused. Initially, by mistake that template was made available to the Facebook users in America also!</p> <p>This intense and widespread campaign horrified even those who had not followed closely the net neutrality debate. Suppose a social networking site, commanding the following of millions of Indians, launches a lobbying campaign on the eve of an election in favour of economic policies advocated by a political party. Or for mobilising public opinion in favour of building a place of worship on a disputed site! So the issue of the misuse of the social networking platform entered the debate. Long-distance digital patriotism is already having some impact on domestic politics in some countries.</p> <p>While there was irony in an American praising the British Empire, the Facebook fiasco shows that foreign corporations have yet to learn how India works and how it does not work. The winding up of Free Basics has a symbolic significance also. It sends the signal that India cannot be taken for granted. </p> <h2><strong>Resistance and delay</strong></h2> <p>Mr. Andreessen had not expected that India would dare to do this to Facebook. He may have also banked on the fact that India, not being China, would give a free run to Facebook!&nbsp; China blocks sites. China has given a head start to its own versions of the digital services provided by the American giants. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">China has given a head start to its own versions of the digital services provided by the American giants.</span> It made some American corporations part with their source codes for security reasons. Mark Zuckerberg keeps chasing the Chinese leaders to get a toehold in the largest market of internet users but Facebook and many other sites get blocked at will. No Chinese leader would think of tweeting because Twitter is not allowed!</p> <p>France shows some token resistance to the American digital corporations in order to safeguard its financial and cultural interests. Barring China every country is careful while dealing with the hegemon. India’s record is very liberal. India spared the Union Carbide chief executive after the Bhopal gas tragedy. Can India ever think of abducting David Hadley, the American wanted for a crime in India?</p> <p>In the telecom sector, unlike China, India is not using specific technical standards as non-tariff barriers. This has immensely helped foreign businesses interests in India. In fact, India’s plan to develop and set technical standards has not made much headway. </p> <p>Moreover, the Government’s policies are being tweaked to accommodate the foreign business interests. And here was a formidable American business entity called Facebook. India’s cabinet ministers and bureaucrats are conscious of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s energetic campaign to woo foreign firms. The telecom ministry for long refrained from expressing any opinion on net neutrality and asked the questioners to wait for the regulator’s decision. </p> <h2><strong>Surprise surprise</strong></h2> <p>The decision did cause some surprise at home but perhaps Zuckerberg was even less prepared for it. He may have felt that the expensive ad campaign and email messages would do the job. Besides, last September in America, didn’t the Indian Prime Minister <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/27/mark-zuckerberg-narendra-modi-facebook-india">publicly hug him</a> with warmth that would have melted the Arctic snow? </p> <p>Zuckerberg had once visited India for spiritual solace. He must have heard of a hugging God woman of India granting the wishes of those whom she hugged. Alas, in the case of Zuckerberg, the hugging Indian Prime Minister failed! Zuckerberg has to now visit India for material solace. He knows India is the second largest potential market of internet users in the world! </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/hri"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/smallhribanner.jpg" alt="" /></a></p> <p>More from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/hri">Human Rights and the Internet</a> partnership.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/long-live-empire">Long live Empire!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/india-roller-coastering-democracy">India: roller-coastering democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/l-k-sharma/modi-at-wembley-empire-strikes-back">Modi at Wembley – the empire strikes back</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Net neutrality </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia digitaLiberties hri openIndia Net neutrality L K Sharma Fri, 19 Feb 2016 11:38:01 +0000 L K Sharma 99929 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Long live Empire! https://www.opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/long-live-empire <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Indians don’t care whether the statue of Queen Victoria stays put or is consigned to a junkyard. Many agree with Ferguson that the British Empire had some plus points.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/640px-Queen_Victoria_memorial,_Kolkata.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/640px-Queen_Victoria_memorial,_Kolkata.jpg" alt="Queen Victoria statue, Kolkata. " title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Queen Victoria statue, Kolkata. Wikicommons/ Michael Janich. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The British Empire was in the dock but the defence attorney went missing. Economic historian and Empire apologist Niall Ferguson failed to turn up at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Yet another sign of the decline of Great Britain. Not keeping an appointment was simply not done! </p> <p>So the festival crowds had to forego a verbal duel between Ferguson and Shashi Tharoor, author-politician. Tharoor was recently applauded by millions who saw him on You Tube unmasking the ugly face of the British Empire during an Oxford Union debate. He demanded token reparation for the destruction of a prosperous India and of Indian lives. Niall Ferguson, on the other hand, never tires of listing the benefits of British rule, translating a Hindi booklet <em>British Raj ke Fayed</em> that was distributed among the colonial Indians. Ferguson also believes that “the empire is more necessary in the twenty-first century than ever before”.</p> <p>William Dalrymple, writer and co-director of the festival, had looked forward to a “dust up” between Ferguson and Tharoor. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">William Dalrymple, writer and co-director of the festival, had looked forward to a “dust up” between Ferguson and Tharoor.</span>Dalrymple leaves no opportunity to highlight the sins of the British Empire. He ensures that Empire runs as one of the underlying themes of the festival. That shows up the ugly side of Great Britain, but Dalrymple is not attacked back home for sullying the image of his country. </p> <p>For the session on Empire, the Jaipur Literature Festival organisers hurriedly found a substitute for Ferguson. They pushed the British Labour MP-cum-author Tristram Hunt onto the stage. So the much-awaited ding-dong battle with Tharoor failed to materialise. Hunt was not there to defend the British Empire. He even dismissed Ferguson’s view that Indians should be grateful that they were ruled by the British and not by other cruel European imperial powers.</p> <p>Who ran the most benevolent Empire cannot be examined since Britain has destroyed thousands of files lest the atrocities are exposed. This was discovered by an American woman historian writing on the suppression of the Mau Mau Rebellion.</p> <p>The British authors who came to Jaipur including Tristram Hunt and Ferdinand Mount do not agree with Ferguson. They want their countrymen to know the real history of the British Empire. They regretted that students are kept ignorant of the horrendous record of the British Empire. The history that is taught skips the brutalities. The textbooks contain accounts of atrocities committed by other imperial powers, they pointed out.</p> <p>The curriculum for English schools has enough material on the glories of the British Empire. In the same way as the Christian Crusaders were portrayed as glorious human beings! </p> <p>Ferguson said at the Hay festival that children should be taught that the “big story” of the last 500 years was the rise of the western domination of the world. Strangely, in the face of such criticism, the Conservative Government in 2010 urged Niall Ferguson to rewrite the curriculum for English schools! Some British historians were outraged by the choice of an apologist for imperialism. One said: ‘It is another revision of empire – getting empire back by the back door”. </p> <p>Ferguson’s visit to India would have been timely in the context of the great debate on intolerance in India. Ferguson has been charged with Islamophobia and for making up Roman history in his newspaper article on the Paris terrorist attacks. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Ferguson has been charged with Islamophobia and for making up Roman history in his newspaper article on the Paris terrorist attacks.</span>Ferguson’s main argument: Europe, as was Rome before, is in the process of decaying because it has “allowed its defences to crumble and opened its gates to the outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith”. </p> <p>Ferguson wrote that most European Muslims do not subscribe to the values of equality between sexes and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of all sexual proclivities. A fellow historian said Ferguson was calling for intolerance against all because some might be intolerant.</p> <p>As to European values being universal, Ferguson could have been reminded of his 2013 statement that John Maynard Keynes did not care about the future of society because he was gay and had no children. He later apologised for his remarks that linked an approach to economic policy to sexual orientation. Ferguson admitted he had forgotten that the British economist’s wife, a Russian ballerina, had miscarried. Had Ferguson come to India, he would have learnt that a childless politician gets more votes for that reason. </p> <p>Some fellow academics may call him a frivolous historian, but Ferguson is sought after by American universities and think tanks. In the US, Ferguson has been busy trying to ensure that what happened to Britain should not happen to America. He wants the American hegemony to last for ever and for ever. Perhaps he dreads a time when Britain is protected not by the US troops resident in his country but by the Chinese army. </p> <p>While Ferguson voted with his feet, most of his countrymen remain in the UK to demonstrate their pride in Britain’s history. On the eve of Ferguson’s listed speaking engagement in Jaipur, in an official public opinion poll in Britain, 44 per cent of the UK public said they were proud of Britain’s history of colonialism. That must have boosted Ferguson’s morale. </p> <p>Even some sections of Labour have imperialism in their genes. It got reflected in one of the party conferences when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. It got reflected in Blair’s foreign policy when before the Iraq war, he offered himself as the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subedar-major">Subedar-Major</a> in the US project of global reconstruction and humanitarian aid. &nbsp;</p> <p>Ferguson has been criticised in British academic circles for passing off an ideology in the name of history. A layman cannot judge a complex debate but any one can check the facts presented by this history professor dignified by his association with American universities. This reporter wondered whether in Jaipur Ferguson would present a flawed account of India’s economic history in order to justify the British Empire. Ferguson had done so in America while promoting his book on Empire. </p> <p>The year was 2003 and the place was Politics and Prose, a famous bookshop in Washington DC. &nbsp;Ferguson made a shocking comment on the Indian economy before the arrival of the British. During the question-answer session, an Indian journalist pointed out that the strength of the economy of the pre-British India has been documented well by British as well as Indian historians. Ferguson said: “I’m sorry; I’m not an expert in India’s economic history.” It validated the view that for writing on Europe, you need scholarship; for writing on India, you need prejudice. </p> <p>That book promotion tour also took Niall Ferguson to the Council on Foreign Relations where he advised America how to keep its Empire going. The US must not make the mistake that the British made in Iraq, he said. America must stay there for a very long time. An American in the meeting quipped that here was a Greek advising the new Rome! Another listener was reminded of the folk tale in which a fox that lost its tail tells a fellow creature to get its tail cut in order to look beautiful!</p> <p>Americans are good paymasters but they would not let Ferguson demolish what he calls “the American creation myth of a struggle against a wicked empire for national liberation”. In 2003 he noticed that unlike the Jamaicans, Americans were not wishing back George the III (the British monarch) to replace George the II (their elected President).</p> <p>In the council meeting, Ferguson also pointed out that the strategy of educating Indians in British universities did not work in Britain’s favour because these Indians became nationalists. He said Gandhi studied in Oxford University! <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">He said Gandhi studied in Oxford University! </span></p> <p>Niall Ferguson’s praise of Empire would have caused no protests in India because his subject is not the Mogul Empire! Some in India perhaps appreciate his recent writing on the Paris attacks in which a few British commentators saw a trace of Islamophobia. &nbsp;Colonialism, unlike the cow, can be discussed peacefully. &nbsp;</p> <p>Advocacy of the British Empire provokes no Indian political formation. There is one whose leaders had kept away from the freedom movement since they considered a different Empire to be the real evil. And the political party that fought for freedom was told by Gandhi not to fear or hate and to fight the sin, not the sinner. </p> <p>A constituent of the Third Force till very recently believed that the Indira Gandhi Government was worse than the British Government! The party withdrew this statement because it entered into an alliance with Indira Gandhi’s Congress. Ferguson could flaunt that piece of paper at his next Empire talk in the United States where he lives.</p> <p>India also has elderly Macaulay’s children who pay annual visits to Oxford and Cambridge. The young Indians care neither for the British Empire nor contemporary Britain. Instead of dreaming of the rising spires of the English countryside, they covet the UCLA T-shirts and head for a former British colony, bypassing Great Britain. </p> <p>The Indian academics see Ferguson as a “popular” historian made for the TV and are never provoked by him. He could have thus gone about merrily projecting the British Empire as a force for global good. At a literary festival, he could have even cited V. S.&nbsp; Naipaul’s portrayal of post-colonial chaos in the newly independent Afro-Caribbean countries. Ferguson gleefully talks of a public opinion poll ordered by the Government of Jamaica at the beginning of this century. It asked the people whether they thought Jamaica would be better off if it was still run by Britain. As many as 53 per cent of Jamaicans replied in the affirmative! <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">As many as 53 per cent of Jamaicans replied in the affirmative!</span></p> <p>At the literature festival, Tharoor spoke eloquently, marshalling facts and figures about the brutalities and mass killings and economic devastation caused by the British Empire. He said when some British administrators sought help from London for fighting the famine in India, Churchill inquired whether Gandhi had not died of hunger.</p> <p>The argumentative Indians loved the way Tharoor performs. However, generally they want bygones to be bygones. Their indifference to history is captured by an old Bollywood lyric that says if Alexander and Porus fought a war so what do we do. &nbsp;Indians don’t care whether the statue of Queen Victoria stays on the road-crossing or is consigned to a junkyard and whether a road named after a Mogul Emperor is given a new name! They don’t bother if a political party seeks to divide the dead or rewrite history. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Generally they want bygones to be bygones. </span></p> <p>Many Indians even agree with Ferguson that the British Empire had some plus points. Nirad Chaudhuri praised it in the dedication of one of his books. Ferguson has pinned his hope not on the revival of the British Empire but on the continuation of what he calls the American Empire. He would be glad to notice that despite having been bitten once, India has rid itself of the fear of the foreigners who come as traders end up as the rulers of the country.</p> <p>When Niall Ferguson comes to next year’s Jaipur Literature festival, he must visit an Indian village temple of a dead white male who is worshipped till today. He is offered cigarettes so that he can smoke in peace in his grave. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/02/13/henry-kissinger-sage-or-pariah/kissinger-was-a-courtier-to-atrocity">See here</a> for Todd Gitlin in debate with Niall Ferguson over Henry Kissinger in the <em>New York Times.</em>..</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/writers-get-bouquets-not-brickbats">Writers get bouquets, not brickbats</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/litfest-expresses-india%E2%80%99s-genes">A lit-fest expresses India’s genes</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/subaltern-can-speak">The subaltern can speak</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality International politics L K Sharma Sat, 13 Feb 2016 16:24:03 +0000 L K Sharma 99771 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Writers get bouquets, not brickbats https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/writers-get-bouquets-not-brickbats <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The business model of the Jaipur Literature Festival will be studied as a case study, the two writer-directors having successfully yoked together the rival Hindu Goddesses of wealth and wisdom.&nbsp; </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Margaret Atwood.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Margaret Atwood.JPG" alt="Margaret Atwood at the Jaipur literature festival." title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Margaret Atwood at the Jaipur Literature Festival. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Jaipur Literature Festival passed off peacefully! &nbsp;The formulaic beginning, used for surcharged political rallies in India, is appropriate for this literary meet because of the ongoing furious debate on the freedom of expression and rising intolerance. </p> <p>For five days, Jaipur saw a large gathering of writers many of whom have been damned as anti-national subversives by the political activists loyal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>The campaign against writers began when dozens of them returned their literary awards in protest against violence against writers. One of them had been killed by a mob. A rationalist thinker met the same fate. Another writer felt so disturbed by threats that he “killed” the writer in himself, declaring that he was abandoning his cherished vocation for ever. Some citizens became the victims of prejudices against a particular religious community or caste. Some vigilante groups started dictating what to eat, what to wear and whom to marry.</p> <p>While reports of violence continued, several political leaders and others denied that there was any intolerance. Those talking of intolerance were charged with sullying India’s image. To utter the word “intolerance” is to get categorised as “anti-Modi”.&nbsp; He or she faced a verbal onslaught and in some cases, physical or financial harm. No one has been spared, not even the most popular film stars. Senior members of Mr. Modi’s ruling party keep hitting out at the writers and warning them to “keep off politics”. The cyber army deployed against the writers uses stronger words. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">The wave of spontaneous, un-coordinated protests by writers with no shared ideology was seen by the leaders of Mr. Modi’s party as a conspiracy to defame the Government. It was described as “manufactured dissent”.</span></p> <p>The wave of spontaneous, un-coordinated protests by writers with no shared ideology was seen by the leaders of Mr. Modi’s party as a conspiracy to defame the Government. It was described as “manufactured dissent”. The writers were called the agents of an opposition party.&nbsp; Some were blamed for not having protested when individual freedom was curtailed in the past during the Congress regime even though they had protested. In every TV discussion, the question “where were you when…?” was raised. A speaker hit back by ridiculing this question. Where were you when Sita was abducted by Ravan, the demon-king, he asked.</p> <p>The tirade against the protesting writers had gone on for weeks when the Jaipur Literature Festival was held. The speakers belonging to this maligned community must have breathed a sigh of relief that no one obstructed their entry into the festival. The festival was held amid heightened security. The police presence was large. Some entry cards had to have photographs this year. Fortunately, the mischief-mongers who insult writers did not turn up outside the venue. In the festival, no speaker was jeered; no one’s face was painted black. Lovers of literature do not do such things but nothing prevents a determined group to sneak into such events and snoop on their target!</p> <p>Ironically, it helped that Rajasthan is ruled by Narendra Modi’s own party. The State Government wanted the show to go on and made it clear that it was fully behind the festival. Generally, if the Government gives the right signals, the mischief-mongers can be kept at bay. </p> <p>The Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ms. Vasundhara Raje Scindia, is far from a typical member of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. Coming from a feudal family and being a public school product, she combines tradition with modernity. As a book lover, she could discuss <em>Lolita</em> or the <em>Gita</em>. She inaugurated the festival after a warm handshake with Margaret Atwood. She declared that she felt privileged to be able to personally greet the Canadian author. For a moment, it seemed as if all recent trespasses by the writers are forgiven. And lest his opponents in the party blame her for hobnobbing with the anti-national elements, she listed the economic benefits of the event that brings shoppers and tourists to Jaipur from all over the world!</p> <p>The writers may have been pleased even more by the large responsive audiences who applauded attacks on the rising intolerance. One film director who finds his creativity constrained by the fear of mobs and police cases said democracy was a joke and freedom of expression was a joke.&nbsp; </p> <p>A TV reporter called him brave for making such a daring statement after knowing what two eminent film actors had to go through because of their milder remarks about intolerance. The organisers were fair and had invited even those who would criticise the protesting writers. These included a Hindi film star and a bureaucrat according to whom, by commenting on intolerance, a famous film star had diminished India’s brand image!</p> <p>But unlike in the TV studios where the anchor incites adversarial debates, in the festival the speakers were willing to listen. Dialogue won over rhetoric. The writers got an opportunity to explain their roles. A Hindi writer said just as birds get the wind of a coming earthquake, writers are able to record advance warnings about the developing fault lines.</p> <p>Eloquent statements were made about social concerns getting reflected in prose and poetry with reference to a range of protest literature. The Progressive Writers’ Movement generated a lot of literature on the themes of poverty, inequality and oppression that provoke writers. Returning an award in protest is a tradition that was followed by Tagore against the British. One of the writers said apart from expressing their disagreement in words and returning awards, what can they do to fight intolerance?&nbsp; The discussion was timely since powerful political elements are seeking to demolish the credibility of writers. </p> <p>Surprisingly, this time there was no literary spat. No Hindu God came in for a critical analysis and no one recited the Vedic hymn that questions the Supreme Being’s ability to know everything. Still those engaged in the crusade against writers on behalf of the ruling party should have come to the festival to take notes on the ignoble personal lives of some major English writers. They would have got ammunition. There was enough provocation for a moral vigilante group to disturb some sessions. Much was said in favour of the same-sex relationship. British writer Stephen Fry certainly went back convinced that India is still a tolerant nation because every time he used an unprintable word, the women and men in the audience cheered him. The dirty words were used in a proper context – while speaking on his literary hero -- Oscar Wilde.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Stephen Fry at the ZEE JLF.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Stephen Fry at the ZEE JLF.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Stephen Fry at the Jaipur Literature Festival. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p>The literature festival provided some more positive signs. French economist Thomas Piketty who unmasked the true face of Capitalism in his bestseller and warned India against growing economic inequality was treated like a rock star. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">French economist Thomas Piketty who… warned India against growing economic inequality was treated like a rock star.</span> His two sessions heard complex economic arguments about growth and inequality and from the cheering audiences one could guess which side they are on. The loudest response came to his criticism of the privatisation in the health and education sectors. This may disappoint the economists supporting Mr. Modi. It is said that the Indian middle class does not care about inequality if it grows in the process of development. Those cheering the French economist were young men and women belonging to the middle class.</p> <p>Prime Minister Modi may have noticed that the literature festival included a discussion on two of his favourite projects: Clean up India and Make in India! Some themes and speakers mystified the purists who sought an answer to the age-old question: What is Literature? But it is all for a good cause. The sponsors make the enjoyment of pure literature on such a massive scale possible. And they expect something in return. The festival casts its net wider and wider in the belief that those who come for one thing may stay on for another. The business model of the festival will be studied as a case study by the management schools. The two writer-directors have been able to yoke together the rival Hindu Goddesses of wealth and wisdom.&nbsp; </p> <p>One can give only a few glimpses of a festival that runs six simultaneous sessions for five days and is attended by a crowd that can fill the Wembley Stadium. The freedom of speech was just one of the dominant themes but because of it one returns from this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival with the hope that it will not be easy to tamper drastically with the idea of India.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Mon, 01 Feb 2016 23:51:42 +0000 L K Sharma 99493 at https://www.opendemocracy.net