openIndia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/5915/all cached version 14/12/2018 13:17:43 en 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 Authoritarian populism and popular struggles in Modi’s India https://www.opendemocracy.net/alf-gunvald-nilsen/authoritarian-populism-and-popular-struggles-in-modi-s-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the pattern of authoritarianism taking over Indian politics since 2014, social movements, activists, and dissidents find themselves at the receiving end of increasingly brazen forms of repression.<strong></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements"><img alt="open Movements" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" width="460px" /></a><br /><b>The <i><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements">openMovements</a></i> series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.</b></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/500209/9. Alf Nilsen, Creative Commons-Copyleft, Narendra Modi.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/9. Alf Nilsen, Creative Commons-Copyleft, Narendra Modi.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'>Nahrendra Modi. Copyleft. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>During the summer months of 2018, the term “<a href="https://thewire.in/rights/me-too-urban-naxal">urban Naxals</a>” began circulating in the Indian public sphere. Coined by third-rate film-maker and Hindu nationalist hatemonger Vivek Agnihotri in his extraordinarily cringeworthy book <i>Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam</i>, the neologism is intended to designate city-based supporters of the Maoist rebels that have been waging a stubborn guerilla war against the Indian state since the late 1960s. </p> <p>The story that goes along with the term is that India’s big cities are infested with leftist and left-liberal intellectuals and activists who provide the Maoist insurgents in the so-called <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/india-maoist-rebels-explainer-170426132812114.html">Red Corridor</a> with a treasonous infrastructure of ideological and practical support. As such, they are enemies of the state, and should be rooted out in the name of the security and prosperity of the Indian nation. “Urban Naxals stay in cities and have luxurious lives, their children are well-educated,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed <a href="https://www.livemint.com/Politics/awDGReUkD6G5w0MkhwuBKO/Urban-Naxals-remote-controlling-Naxalism-in-Chhattisgarh.html">in a speech</a> recently, “but they remote control the lives of <i>Adivasi </i>(tribal) children and destroy their lives.”<span class="mag-quote-center"> “Urban Naxals stay in cities and have luxurious lives, their children are well-educated,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in a speech recently, “but they remote control the lives of <i>Adivasi </i>(tribal) children and destroy their lives.”</span></p> <p><a href="https://thewire.in/rights/metoourbannaxal-india-twitter-activists-arrest">It is easy enough to pick apart the term and the story that goes along with it</a> – indeed, its substantive content is based on little more than a wafer-thin combination of fanciful delusions and malign conjecture. However, the fact that a term like this circulates widely in India’s public sphere and is used and thereby authorized by the premier of the republic is ripe with consequence. </p> <p>This became amply clear in late August this year, when, in a nationwide sweep, the Pune Police raided the homs of several human rights activists and arrested five of them – Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. All were accused of nurturing links to Maoist rebels, and <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/combative-bjp-endorses-arrest-of-urban-naxals/articleshow/65737378.cms">the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed</a> that they were involved in gunrunning, aiding the insurgents, and plotting to kill the Prime Minister. </p> <p>Crucially, these arrests and the way which they were justified by the powers that be fits into <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/india/2018-05-30/indias-authoritarian-streak">a more pronounced pattern of authoritarianism in Indian politics</a> since Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in 2014, in which social movements, activists, and dissidents find themselves at the receiving end of increasingly brazen forms of repression. To understand how this perilous conjuncture has come about, we have to consider the wider logic of Modi’s political project.</p> <h2><b>Authoritarian populism and the enemy within</b></h2> <p>Writing in 1980s Britain, cultural theorist Stuart Hall coined the term 'authoritarian populism' to refer to a particular kind of conservative politics. Authoritarian populism, he argued, was characterised by the construction of a contradiction between the common people and elites, which is then used to justify the imposition of repressive measures by the state. </p> <p>According to Hall, such a contradiction was constructed in part by depicting specific groups as an ominous enemy within – that is, as a threat to and an enemy of the interests of the putative people. This enemy – typically political dissidents and minority groups – is in turn made the target of repression and punitive discipline, all in the name of a supposed common national interest. In this process, conservative forces tighten their grip on society and the body politic, to the detriment, obviously, of democratic life.</p> <p><a href="https://thewire.in/politics/an-authoritarian-india-is-beginning-to-emerge">As I have argued elsewhere</a>, 1980s Britain and contemporary India are of course very different contexts, but Hall’s insights are nevertheless useful in terms of understanding the BJP’s current agenda and the toll it is taking on Indian democracy. Modi and the BJP are part of <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3144-india-liberal-democracy-and-the-extreme-right">a Hindu nationalist movement with roots stretching back to the 1920s</a>. This movement consists of a wide spectrum of organizations that operates with <a href="https://thewire.in/164714/hinduising-democracy-vhp-manjari-katju/">the goal of making India a Hindu nation</a>. Until recently, its support base was comprised largely of India’s upper castes and middle classes, who sought to defend their interests against political assertion by Dalits and lower caste groups. However, these groups are not numerically significant enough in Indian society to underpin dominance in the electoral arena. This is why Modi and the BJP opted for <a href="https://theconversation.com/modis-bjp-in-massive-election-win-and-that-threatens-to-be-a-disaster-for-india-26774">unseating the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the 2014 general elections</a> on the basis of <a href="http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article8314.html">a national cross-class and cross-caste consensus</a>. </p> <p>This consensus was constructed on the back of a campaign that portrayed Modi as a man of action who would bring development to the common people. In peddling this message, Modi and the BJP were tapping into the frustrated ambitions of many ordinary Indians who had failed to reap the benefits of economic growth under the UPA regime. It was also a message suffused with a specific kind of anti-elitism: as someone who had risen from humble beginnings, Modi was depicted as being quintessentially different from the scions of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the Congress dynasty – he knew the realities on the ground, and could therefore bring <i>achhe din</i> (good days) to the average Indian man and woman. <span class="mag-quote-center">Modi was pictured as being quintessentially different from the scions of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the Congress dynasty – he knew the realities on the ground, and could therefore bring <i>achhe din</i> (good days) to the average Indian man and woman.</span></p> <p>The Modi narrative, however, was never only about <i>achhe din aane waale hain</i> (good days are coming) – it was also about drawing a line between true Indians and their enemies, and rallying popular support for a crackdown on those enemies. It is here, in particular, that the BJP regime creates the enemy within that it needs in order for the current incarnation of Hindutva to thrive. That enemy, of course, is the political dissident – the activist, the public intellectual, the student, the lawyer and the journalist who dares to question and challenge a government that is acting in the interest of the people. The enemy within is accused of being “anti-national” and subjected to harassment, silencing and – as evidenced most recently by the attempt on student activist Umar Khalid’s life, and before that by the killings of scholar-activists M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and journalist Gauri Lankesh<span style="text-decoration: underline;"> </span>– murderous violence.</p> <p>It is also crucial to acknowledge that this coercive dynamic does not only take the form of repression against social movements, activists and dissidents. As has become increasingly clear after the 2014 elections, it also takes aim at vulnerable groups and minorities, such as Muslims and Dalits, through the majoritarian cultural politics that has crystallized around issues such as cow-protection, inter-religious love and religious reconversion. As with the policing of activism and dissent, the making of a cultural and religious Other is a profoundly violent affair: in fact, more than 96% of all vigilante attacks on Muslims and Dalits over the past eight years have taken place since Modi came to power. In other words, political coercion and cultural nationalism are joined at the hip in BJP’s authoritarian populism.</p> <h2><b>Counterhegemony and counternarratives </b></h2> <p>In the spring of 2019 – most likely in late April or early May – India will go to the polls again, and there is a real chance that Modi and the BJP will secure a second term in office. Such an outcome would no doubt provide the party with an opportunity to continue the slow-motion suffocation of the world’s largest democracy that it set in train in 2014. It is therefore imperative that progressive oppositional forces challenge the narrative that Modi and his followers have been touting, in which movements, activists, and dissidents are stigmatized as anti-national enemies within. Counterhegemony, in short, needs a counternarrative about the forms of activism that are currently in the crosshairs of the Modi regime. </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/500209/9. Alf Nilsen, Photo by the author, Adivasi Protest in India.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/9. Alf Nilsen, Photo by the author, Adivasi Protest in India.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'>Adivasi protest in India. Alf Nilsen. All rights reserved,</span></span></span>Such a counternarrative, I believe, should be grounded in the adamant insistence that there is nothing anti-national about dissent, activism, and popular struggle. On the contrary, the counterhegemonic narrative should run, oppositional collective action has always been at the heart of <a href="http://ppesydney.net/indias-tryst-destiny-70/">the making and remaking of the modern Indian nation</a>, and to the extent that Indian democracy has substantive meaning and real implications for poor and oppressed groups, this is directly related to activism which has challenged ruling elites – both past and present. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><p>This dynamic has played itself out both at the level of the national polity as a whole, and at the level of local communities. India, of course, won its freedom through popular struggle, and crucially, that struggle was not animated by a singular and uniform idea of what the postcolonial state should look like. On the contrary, the three decades from 1920 to the late 1940s witnessed fierce struggles between the interests and visions of Indian elites and the claims and aspirations of exploited and excluded groups, such as landless workers and the urban poor. </p> <p>In other words, dissent and opposition played an integral part in making the democracy which is currently under siege by the authoritarian populism of the BJP. And to the extent that the compass of this democracy has been widened during the seven decades that have passed since independence, this is similarly a result of the collective action of movements from below – for example, Dalit struggles and the women’s movement. <span class="mag-quote-center">In short, counterhegemony must, first and foremost, assert the legitimacy of contention against the attempt by authoritarian forces to legitimize coercion. </span></p> <p>At the local level, my own research has revealed how Indian democracy is often made real precisely <i>because</i> of social movements and <i>despite</i> the workings of the state. For example, in my recent book <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/adivasis-and-the-state/BE39C350686378694D2E65D3ECAADCCD"><i>Adivasis and the State</i></a>, I show how poor Adivasi (tribal/indigenous) groups in rural western India have been brutally oppressed by local state personnel, who would use the powers vested in them in relation to law enforcement and their role in dispensing crucial public services, to impose illicit demands for bribes. This everyday tyranny has been enforced with violence, threats and coercion and prevented the collective articulation of rights-based claims and demands on the state. <a href="http://ppesydney.net/adivasis-and-the-state/">As I detail in my book</a>, it was organizing and mobilizing from below by local social movements that changed these equations. These movements aggregated Adivasi grievances into rights-based claims and demands. In pursuing these claims they carved out a space in which democratic transactions could take place, and fostered the emergence of <a href="https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/blog/political-modernity-in-the-postcolony-some-reflections-from-india-s-adivasi-heartland.html">insurgent forms of citizenship</a>. </p> <p>In short, counterhegemony must, first and foremost, assert the legitimacy of contention against the attempt by authoritarian forces to legitimize coercion. </p> <h2><b>Deepening democracy beyond 2019</b></h2> <p>But counterhegemony must be about more than just counternarratives in defense of constitutional democracy. The refusal to align with majoritarian coercion has to be coupled with an agenda that can drive further processes of democratic deepening. And such an agenda must work to widen the cracks and fissures that have begun to appear in Modi’s attempt to construct a Hindu nationalist hegemony. </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/500209/9. Alf Nilsen, Creative Commons- Copyleft, Dalit women protesting in front of Ambedkar&#039;s statue.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/9. Alf Nilsen, Creative Commons- Copyleft, Dalit women protesting in front of Ambedkar&#039;s statue.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'>Dalit women protesting in front of Ambedkar's statue.Copyleft. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>These cracks and fissures are evident in a series of setbacks in the electoral arena – for example, in the Karnataka State elections and in several important by-elections, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Moreover, multiple challenges have arisen outside the parliamentary sphere, in the form of new popular movements that contest Modi’s legitimacy. Key among these are the new forms of Dalit radicalism that have erupted in Gujarat and other parts of the Hindi heartland, as well as the recent agitations by small and marginal farmers, landless labourers and Adivasis in response to the deepening of the crisis in India’s countryside. In the face of such fragilities, the need of the hour is to consolidate scattered forms of resistance and multiple social forces around radical claims for redistribution and recognition. <span class="mag-quote-center">In the face of such fragilities, the need of the hour is to consolidate scattered forms of resistance and multiple social forces around radical claims for redistribution and recognition. </span></p> <p>It is precisely through such claims that opposition to Modi and the BJP becomes more than a defensive rallying around civil and political rights – it is through such claims that a genuinely counterhegemonic offensive, capable of deepening democracy, can be moulded. </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/od-partnerships/openmovements"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner-small_1.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p>More from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements">openMovements</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="/simin-fadaee-geoffrey-pleyers/new-repertoire-of-repression-and-how-movements-resist">The new repertoire of repression and how movements resist. Introduction.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/rui-hou/booming-industry-of-chinese-state-internet-control">The booming industry of Chinese state internet control</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/sarah-pickard/state-control-and-repression-of-dissent-in-britain-through-legislation-and-policing-me">Spies, kettling and repression - how British policing became militarised</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/jannis-grimm/policing-research-shifting-tides-for-middle-east-studies-after-arab-spring">Authoritarian Middle East regimes don&#039;t like academics – ask Matthew Hedges</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/nadim-mirshak/rethinking-resistance-in-post-uprisings-egypt"> Rethinking resistance in post-uprisings Egypt</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/anh-susann-pham-thi/vietnam-how-to-circumvent-state-repression">Vietnam: how to circumvent state repression </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 India openmovements Alf Gunvald Nilsen Thu, 22 Nov 2018 17:09:21 +0000 Alf Gunvald Nilsen 120686 at https://www.opendemocracy.net #MetooIndia: the future is female. Or is it really? https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/agneya-singh/metooindia-future-is-female-or-is-it-really <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The burgeoning movement has spilled forth beyond the confines of the film and entertainment industry. But how far will it 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/500209/1024px-thumbnail_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/1024px-thumbnail_0.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" width="460" height="377" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Actor Nana Patekar (second from left) presenting the Silver Peacock award for Best Actor (Female) at the 45th International Film Festival of India, 2014. Wikicommons/ Ministry of information and Broadcasting. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Women are a force to be reckoned with. That is the take-away from the #MeTooIndia juggernaut convulsing the subcontinent of late. ‘The List’ of perpetrators or casualties, depending on your take, encompasses a veritable who’s who of the male elite.&nbsp;</p><p>The Indian edition of the global #MeToo phenomenon blossomed with the formidable beauty of a Venus flytrap early this October of 2018, with a decade-old case of sexual abuse that occurred in the Indian film industry of Bollywood. This alleged incident was freshly recounted in harrowing detail by actor Tanushree Dutta in an interview with the entertainment portal&nbsp;<em>Zoom TV.</em>&nbsp;Dutta alleged that she was inappropriately touched and groped by her famous co-actor Nana Patekar on the film set of a Bollywood production entitled&nbsp;<em>Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss&nbsp;</em>back in 2008. After she repulsed his advances, Dutta claims that Patekar called goons belonging to the&nbsp;<em>Maharashtra Navnirman Sena</em>, a regional political outfit, who in turn trashed her car. Indeed video footage exists depicting this vandalism. Not unlike the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the west, this incident served as the catalyst for the #MeToo movement in India.&nbsp;</p><p>Now, Pandora’s box has been ripped wide open, and women from all walks of life have taken to social media with aplomb to name and shame their abusers. Not surprisingly, a whole slate of male directors and actors have joined Nana Patekar in the proverbial hall of shame. Meanwhile the burgeoning #MeToo movement has spilled forth beyond the confines of the film and entertainment industry. The list of accused now includes journalists, writers, artists, executives, musicians, politicians and so on… in fact it appears to be growing daily with a frequency that is both alarming and yet intriguing.&nbsp;</p><p>All those salacious details and jaw-dropping disclosures; no wonder I haven’t been able to keep up with my weekly Netflix queue these days. As the adage goes, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’, and in the case of the enfolding #MeToo allegations, it is all the more compelling. The nature and gravity of abuse run the gamut from the occasional grope and let go to persistent molestation and rape. Indeed the success story of #MeToo is seemingly no small victory for the feminist movement in India. The sexual abuse and harassment of women is an issue that has never received this kind of national attention in India save for the&nbsp;<em>Nirbhaya</em>&nbsp;incident in 2012 where a young medical student was brutally gangraped on a moving bus in the capital of New Delhi. The #MeTooIndia movement has certainly been a watershed moment in the discourse of women’s rights in the workplace.</p><p>Outing Indian politician and eminent journalist MJ Akbar as a predator has been key to this. No less than 16 women have reported multiple incidents of harassment mainly within the context of the workplace involving Akbar. There is a consistent motif at play: MJ Akbar repeatedly misused his power as an authority figure in several news outlets during his venerated career as an editor to molest women that were junior to him and, not surprisingly, dazzled by his celebrity. A privileged and powerful misogynist, MJ Akbar is the quintessential target of #MeToo. He is India’s parallel to Bill Cosby and his fall has been no less disgraceful.&nbsp;</p><p>Journalist Priya Ramani was the first woman to open the floodgates against MJ Akbar by calling Akbar, ‘as talented a predator as you were a writer.’ Ramani’s tweet resulted in quite the twitter storm as more and more women survivors came out into the open with their own stories of abuse at the hands of MJ Akbar. Wielding the ‘Me-Too’ hash tag these women shone like modern day Joan of Arcs and captured headlines across India with the inexorability of the perfect storm; revenge is sweet. MJ Akbar, who, was until recently Minister of State for External Affairs in the Narendra Modi-led cabinet, filed a defamation suit against Priya Ramani, but was forced to resign nonetheless.</p><p>Smash the patriarchy! Yes, #MeToo has captured the imagination of India. The future is female. Or is it really? Talking this through with a female colleague who, like me, works on the more tasteful side of the Indian film industry – I couldn’t help saying, India is no Beverly Hills and while #MeToo social media grandstanding is the new cool; the reality on the ground remains as bleak as it ever was. Women are brutalized and raped, tortured and murdered every single day in India; the statistics can’t even be kept up-to-date. The majority of these women live in secluded rural areas that are way beyond the ambit of #MeToo. We almost never hear these stories.&nbsp;</p><p>Will that change with #MeToo? I expressed these doubts and fears to my colleague who nodded before saying, “I feel empowered because of #MeToo and, yes, it’s currently restricted to urban women but it will trickle down.” I refrained from pointing out that trickle down theories had been criticized as ineffective by just about every credible source in economics; was feminism really that different? In a recent poll by the National Health Survey of India, 52% of women said it was acceptable for a man to beat his wife as opposed to the 42% of men that thought so too. Patriarchy is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. Will the urban-centered India edition of #MeToo succeed in crossing over to the rural majority?&nbsp;</p><p>I have my doubts and as this movement gathers momentum and steals the limelight, I am left to wonder to myself: is this the revolution or is it the counter-revolution? &nbsp;&nbsp;</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 class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/metoo-movement-rumbles-on-in-india">#MeToo movement rumbles on in 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> </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 Agneya Singh Mon, 05 Nov 2018 06:38:29 +0000 Agneya Singh 120455 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 Faultlines in India's parliamentary democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/rahul-machaiah/faultlines-in-indias-parliamentary-democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The executive is hardly accountable to the legislature, legislators lack tangible power, so notions of the consent of the governed and the will of the people are a farce. </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-Barack_Obama_addressing_Joint_session_of_both_houses_at_Parliament_of_India.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/640px-Barack_Obama_addressing_Joint_session_of_both_houses_at_Parliament_of_India.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'>Barack Obama addressed the Members of Parliament at a Joint Session of both houses at the Parliament of India, 2010. Wikicommons/ Government of India. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Democracy is a form of government understood to revolve around the consent of the governed. In a parliamentary democracy, this principle is enshrined by enabling citizens to elect legislators, who then go on to appoint the executive, consisting of a council of ministers headed by the Prime Minister or Chief Minister. This system essentially requires the executive to be accountable to the legislature which is presumed to reflect the will of the people. </p> <p>While the framers of the Constitution in their wisdom felt that the parliamentary democracy model was the one best suited to India, I believe that on close examination the current system does not embody the consent of the governed even when this is calculated with a significantly low threshold.</p> <p>When a political party enjoys a brute majority, the first casualty is the accountability of the executive to the legislature. This is because the opposition and other political parties have no way of keeping the executive in check by preventing the passing of bills, etc. The 'anti -defection law' in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution has reduced legislators to mere numbers as they are bound by the whip issued by the party. In other words, a legislator is forced to toe the line of his or her party's leadership even though he or she holds a different opinion. </p> <p>Voting against the wishes of the party puts him or her at risk of disqualification. This raises an important question: Is the legislator accountable to the electorate and obligated to represent their views or is the legislator just a party minion? Political parties have increasingly emerged as extra-constitutional authorities dictating terms to constitutional functionaries such as legislators.</p> <p>Governance, the implementation of policies and infrastructure development in one's locality or constituency, have considerable significance for citizens. While this may seem appropriate in the context of the separation of powers, it is ironic that legislators who supposedly reflect the will of the people lack authority with regard to the issues which matter most to the citizens. At best, legislators may use the Local Area Development Funds( Rs 2 crore in case of MLAs and Rs 5 crore in case of MPs, per annum),&nbsp;lobby with the government, or raise issues in the Parliament or Legislature. In reality, decisions pertaining to these issues are left to the discretion of the government, and legislators (especially those who do not belong to the ruling party or are independent) are helpless. </p> <p>People are hence hesitant to vote for independent candidates despite the better credentials they often enjoy. The current Lok Sabha has only three independent members. There are also instances of legislators of the ruling party wielding unauthorised powers by interfering in the functions of the executive, such as transfers and the appointment of public servants, the awarding of infrastructure development contracts, etc. Either way, the functioning does not facilitate good governance and transparency.</p> <h2><strong>The role of legislator</strong></h2> <p>This leads us to the question: what exactly is the role of a legislator? While the Constitution suggests that it is primarily law making and keeping the executive under check by raising questions and issues, as stated earlier,&nbsp;the legislators have been reduced to mere ciphers. And with regard to questions raised in the Parliament or legislature, it has to be borne in mind that this is not very effective as assurances given to legislators by ministers are seldom met. </p> <p>For instance, ABP News reported in 2017 that the Central Government had met only 30 per cent of the assurances it had given in the Indian Parliament. This only reflects the fact that the executive is hardly accountable to the legislature and when coupled with legislators lacking tangible power, the notions of the consent of the governed and the will of the people are a farce. </p> <p>Private member's bills are an important feature of our parliamentary democracy and it is unfortunate that only 15 such bills have been passed in the history of the Parliament. Reports prepared by PRS Legislative Research suggest that most of the bills are not even discussed in the Parliament. This further diminishes the identity and role of a legislator.</p> <p>The assessment of the performance of a legislator is tricky for citizens as well as organizations which seek to enlighten citizens, due to the lack of autonomy and authority vested in them with regard to issues which concern the citizens of their constituencies. </p> <p>In contrast, the citizens of a country like the United States of America are in a position to assess the performance of the legislators by analysing his or her voting pattern on issues which concern the citizens, not necessarily adopting the party's stance. </p> <p>Unfortunately in India, assessment of the performance of legislators is confined to parameters such as infrastructure development in the constituency and the quality of civic amenities, while being oblivious to the fact that these are the functions of government and local self-governing units, and not of a legislator.</p> <h2><strong>Presidential system</strong></h2> <p>Despite being a parliamentary democracy, the current trend suggests that we are functioning along the lines of a presidential system, in which people vote, bearing in mind who they want as the Prime Minister or Chief Minister. This will inevitably lead to a concentration of power in the prime minister/ chief minister and a few other ministers. </p> <p>Things get further complicated in a quasi-federal country like ours when voting in state elections is influenced by factors such as which party the Prime Minister belongs to rather than factors such as quality of the candidates and the credentials of aspirants for the Chief Minister's position.</p> <p>The safeguards meant for a parliamentary democracy will not prove effective against this trend. We must either acknowledge the faultline and strive towards getting the Constitution amended to establish a system of government which truly embodies the consent of the governed and the will of the people, or remain oblivious to the fact that legislators do not and cannot represent the will of the people.</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"> 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 Democracy and government International politics Rahul Machaiah Wed, 19 Sep 2018 16:51:48 +0000 Rahul Machaiah 119733 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 A recipe for injustice: India’s new trafficking bill expands a troubled rescue, rehabilitation, and repatriation framework https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/kimberly-walters-vibhuti-ramachandran/recipe-for-injustice-india-s-new-trafficking-bil <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>India’s proposed trafficking in persons bill replicates the flaws of the existing framework. It must be re-written if it is to better the lives of the women it purports to help.</p> </div> </div> </div> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555228/3105266511_0d2ab89a7c_o.jpg" width="100%" /> <p class="image-caption" style="margin-top:0px;padding-top:0px;">carlos/Flickr. <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/clneira/3105266511/in/photolist-5JpixM-8m3Bov-jyB7oj-bh3fEX-3ACBS-dS9BNz-86pfZq-6pqDz9-cjXDYh-4F3ksg-5BmiMm-bG8WvR-7vStdT-pWwVtb-HaX8u4-nWKFML-MoFbh-aDY44b-oYR2Dz-MqZdJ7-bUqDho-4nFuZk-ij7gi2-9bxC3K-boZN4Z-5FjVfY-31DjLD-4p22di-bmQ7kW-j6pCtf-7WRWam-fLtafw-PJWkr-dGayG4-7y3uGs-nFqQZQ-8cTKG4-25m9CuH-e2GEVU-8Bg7q-dSD4WB-72VjtL-6mZMh9-eJ83sU-9hFxVW-dYKk5C-eWt44-9Cm6uU-nxmkMg-bnx8Hi">CC (by-nc-nd)</a></p> <p>The proposed Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill of 2018 (the bill) is driven by anti-trafficking activists’ desires to shape a comprehensive legislation on human trafficking – a laudable goal, given that existing anti-trafficking law and procedures generate an array of harms. We describe these harms below by elaborating on efforts to address sex trafficking under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1986 (ITPA). We argue that the bill serves to extend rather than redesign the present, flawed anti-trafficking infrastructure. It will create additional complications through vagueness and overlap. Consequently, we recommend that the bill be jettisoned and that the ills of existing legislation (especially the ITPA) be remedied rather than ignored.&nbsp; </p> <h2>Flawed foundations: Ills of the ITPA </h2> <p>Despite its nomenclature, the ITPA is primarily an anti-prostitution rather than anti-trafficking law. It centres on housing those ‘recovered’ from prostitution in protective homes, thereby removing them rather than curbing exploitative practices within the sex industry. Yet, many experience this very form of intervention as an extended mode of trafficking. Women and girls report that at each point of encounter with the ITPA apparatus, they are met with a strong and sometimes violent disregard for their rights and needs. </p> <p>This disregard begins with the practice of rescue. The ITPA gives Special Police officers the power to ‘remove’ persons from prostitution at their discretion. It neither specifies that these persons must have been trafficked, nor that they must consent to being removed. <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2126796">Seshu and Ahmed (2012)</a>, <a href="https://www.sangram.org/resources/RAIDED-E-Book.pdf">Pai, Seshu, and Murthy (2018)</a>, and <a href="http://www.epw.in/journal/2016/44-45/humanitarian-trafficking.html">Walters (2016</a>) each found that police teams in various locales regularly force rescue upon women who do not consider themselves to be trafficked or who do not wish to leave their work. A study by the National Human Rights Commission has detailed violent, insensitive and inappropriate police conduct during raids and critiqued the focus on removing women from brothels, while their earnings, possessions, and even their children are left behind (Sen and Nair 2004 (Vol. II): 403-404).</p> <p>Hyderabadi sex workers report that during large anti-trafficking raids on train stations, the police sometimes choose arbitrarily which sex workers to process as victims of trafficking and which to charge as sex traffickers in a bid to rapidly amass concrete numbers of trafficking convictions (Walters n.d.). Not all rescues are forced. Observing rescue operations conducted in New Delhi’s G.B. Road, Ramachandran (2017) <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/vibhuti-ramachandran/critical-reflections-on-raid-and-rescue-operations-in-new-delhi">found</a> that some NGO staff do attempt to differentiate between adult women who wish to leave brothels and those who do not. It is however very difficult to make this essential distinction, which the ITPA does not even consider, in the rush of a rescue operation. </p> <p>After rescue, the system of ‘protective custody’ or shelter-based detention further controverts the will of those rescued, infantilising them in the process. The ITPA mandates that, once rescued, not only underage girls but also adult women be locked in state-run or licensed protective homes. They remain there while the court ascertains their “age, character, and antecedents”, verifies the suitability of their families or guardians to “take charge of them”, and initiates the lengthy process of repatriating them. Regardless of their consent, they cannot be released until then. To appeal against such an order by a judicial magistrate, inmates or their families must approach an appellate court, for which they seldom have resources.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The ITPA mandates that once rescued, not only underage girls but also adult women be locked in state-run or licensed protective homes.</p> <p>Rescued women spend their time waiting for release in the carceral spaces of the protective homes managed by Women and Child departments of different states. Care offered to the inmates is indifferent at best and abusive at worst. Some shelters do not provide the inmates adequate nutrition, sanitation, or even anti-retroviral and diabetic medications. Shelter staff treat them as <a href="http://sunithakrishnan.blogspot.com/2014/">dangerous</a> and <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/25-women-rescued-in-trafficking-cases-escape/articleshow/19657168.cms">belligerent</a> <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/kimberly-walters-neil-howard/interview-forced-rescue-and-humanitarian-trafficking">adversaries</a> or as <a href="http://www.epw.in/journal/2016/44-45/who-would-live-cage.html">shamefully immoral</a> (Das 2016; Krishnan 2014; Times of India 2013).</p> <p>Inmates cannot support, care for, or readily communicate with their family members. Protective custody also severely limits women’s capacity to earn (Ramachandran 2015). The rehabilitation programmes offered with the help of NGOs miscalculate the socio-economic realities of women’s lives (Walters 2016). Many rescued women in Mumbai said they could not afford to learn new skills; their priority was rather to earn (Ramachandran 2015). Moreover, pursuing supposedly ‘indecent’ career opportunities as dancers or actresses was not supported. Rehabilitation programmes thus remain unattractive even to those who wish to leave the sex trade. </p> <p>Rescued women experience inordinate bureaucratic delays to their release (Ramachandran 2015, Walters n.d.) and are offered scant legal counsel to hasten the process. As their stay in shelter homes lengthens from the prescribed three weeks into several months, many inmates fall into depression; some of them attempt to escape, to riot, or even to commit suicide (Walters 2016). Bangladeshi women and girls in Indian shelters often find themselves in a seemingly interminable legal limbo (Ramachandran 2015). Rescued minors experience even longer stays in shelters while their age is determined through bone ossification tests at government hospitals.</p> <p>Once home, information circulated by traffickers, the police escorting them home, or even some NGOs sometimes causes women to be turned out by their landlords, shunned in their villages, and estranged from their families. Many people designated as victims of trafficking eventually return to the same situations from which they were initially rescued. This is unsurprising given that many are the unwilling objects rather than the agentive subjects of anti-trafficking interventions. Rescue and rehabilitation that deny freedom and agency to an adult woman who has committed no crime violate her basic rights and should be eschewed. Indeed, legal scholars have long questioned the constitutionality of the ITPA procedures (Baxi 1988: 65; Muralidhar 1996: 293-294). </p> <h2>Building on flawed foundations: the new bill offers more of the same</h2> <p>The bill lacks any mention of sexual exploitation, yet builds upon the same model of rescue, rehabilitation, and repatriation established by the ITPA. It does nothing to redress the rights violations authorised by the ITPA. Rather than ameliorating the endemic problem of forced rescues, the bill states that it is not the purported victim but rather an anti-trafficking police officer or unit that should decide whether rescue is necessary. Without mention of consent, Section 16(1) further states that these police units “may remove such person from any place or premises and produce him before the Magistrate or Child Welfare Committee”.</p> <p>The bill repeatedly mentions instances “where the person rescued is a victim” implying that some persons rescued will in fact not be victims, thereby condoning indiscriminate rescue. There is no mandate that the magistrate consider the desires of the purported victim. And while a rescued person may apply for release, this is presumed to be involuntary, predisposing enforcement personnel to disregard the rescued person’s agency. </p> <p>The bill opts out of the progressive legal approach of labour legislation such as the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 (BLSAA). This encompasses all forms of forced and underpaid labour and prescribes that bonded labour be set free, rather than detained in ‘protective custody’ as in the ITPA. The bill instead favours the ITPA’s approach, rooted in moral anxieties around ‘fallen’ women and the perceived need to detain and reform them.</p> <p>Its extension of the ITPA’s shelter home framework to other forms of human trafficking is perplexing. Are all categories of trafficked persons, including bonded labour or those subjected to forced surrogacy or forced marriage, now also to be subjected to similar punitive conditions in the name of paternalist protection? Further, how are law enforcers to determine who is to be considered bonded labour and set free under the BLSAA, and who is to be sent to shelters as victims of trafficking?</p> <h2>Plagued by vagueness</h2> <p>The bill is vague and confusing, rendering it impracticable and unenforceable. For example, it prescribes that rescued individuals be sent to rehabilitation homes and protection homes, without specifying how these homes would function, who would run them, or how long those rescued are to stay in them. Are these protection homes the same as the ITPA’s protective homes (given the difference in nomenclature)? Are they to follow the same carceral post-rescue procedures governing those institutions? The bill does not clarify.</p> <p>The purpose of protection and rehabilitation homes under the bill being to “enable the immediate and long-term sustainable rehabilitation of victims” (Sec 11 (3) (ii)), Sec 17 (4) empowers the magistrate to place a victim in a rehabilitation home for a “reasonable period.” These provisions do not specify how much time is to be spent in these homes. That is left to the magistrate’s discretion, thus exacerbating the rampant problem of judicial delay.</p> <p>The bill specifies that the inter-state repatriation of victims be completed within three months and inter-country repatriation within six months (Sec 26 (4)). This specific repatriation timeline is a strength of the bill; however, the relationship between victims’ stay in the homes and their repatriation remains unclear. The bill does not define repatriation. As currently envisaged and implemented in anti-trafficking interventions, it is a myopic approach which presumes all rescued persons wish to return to their home and family. In truth, many do not, given contexts of abusive homes, dire poverty, or remote areas with scant employment options. </p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The bill presumes all rescued persons wish to return to their home and family. In truth, many do not.</p> <p>The lack of legal aid while in protective custody inhibits women rescued under the ITPA from negotiating their release. Ramachandran found in her ethnographic research that the impoverished families of women in protective homes scramble to hire lawyers to appeal to the Sessions Court against the magistrate’s orders. Some women seek assistance from the accused in these cases. This increases their financial burden and risk of being exploited, as the accused (even if not involved in trafficking them), expect the women to return the favour by working for them. The bill requires the state-level anti-trafficking committee to liaise with local NGOs to provide legal aid, among other forms of assistance (Sec 12 (3) (iii)). However, it does not specify when and where, how often, and by whom legal aid will be provided, nor for what purposes. This is a missed opportunity. </p> <p>Last, but not least, the bill mentions various forms of victim compensation, which is a strength. However, it does not lay out specific procedures for their disbursement. Ramachandran (2015) found that even when anti-trafficking NGOs help women pursue compensation ordered by courts, it is mired in bureaucratic delays with victims and their families having to run between courts and the Legal Services Authority. The bill should have streamlined this process and identified state agencies responsible for disbursement, so survivors of trafficking are spared from running pillar to post. </p> <h2>Conclusion</h2> <p>The bill has some strengths such as the specification of a timeline for release and victim compensation. However, a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill should remedy the ills of existing procedures and offer more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Rescue and rehabilitation may help some trafficked persons, but others may prefer remaining in and reconfiguring their situations. Victims must have a choice about staying in protection homes, participating in rehabilitation programmes, and returning to their families.</p> <p>The ITPA is moralistic and paternalistic in spirit and its implementation is mired in bureaucratic state practices. With its vaguely worded provisions, its disregard for the choices and preferences of trafficked persons, and its replication of the ITPA framework, the bill is unfortunately rife with similar ingredients of injustice and will further befuddle and burden an already beleaguered system.</p> <p>It must be abandoned. We echo Kotiswaran (2016) in advocating that the bill must think beyond trafficking as a crime and that a comprehensive solution to the wide-spread problem of forced and exploitative labour requires an equally wide-ranging movement for safe migration and labour rights – especially for improved wages across all sectors. If India is to take leadership in developing truly comprehensive and progressive solutions to human trafficking, it must avoid the pitfalls of the Trafficking of Persons Bill, 2018.</p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Baxi, Upendra (1988), Beyond Prostitutional Platitudes, in S.C. Bhatia, ed. <em>Social Audit of Immoral Traffic Prevention Act,</em> University of Delhi, 61-66.</p> <p>Das, Barnali (2016): ‘“Who Would Like to Live in This Cage?” Voices From a Shelter Home in Assam,’ <em>Economic and Political Weekly</em>, <a href="http://www.epw.in/journal/2016/44-45">51(44-45).</a></p> <p>Kotiswaran, Prabha (2016): “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/prabha-kotiswaran/empty-gestures-critique-of-india-s-new-trafficking-bill">Empty Gestures: A Critique of India’s New Trafficking Bill</a>”, Open Democracy, 22, June.</p> <p>Krishnan, Sunitha, &quot;<a href="http://sunithakrishnan.blogspot.in/2014/">State Connivance or Apathy?</a>&quot;, 12 October 2014, Sunitha Krishnan Blogspot.</p> <p>Muralidhar, S. (1999), The Case of the Agra Protective Home, in Amita Dhanda and Archana Parashar, eds., <em>Engendering Law: Essays in Honor of Lotika Sarkar</em>, Lucknow: Eastern Book Company</p> <p>Pai, Aarthi, Meena Seshu and Laxmi Murthy (2018): “Raided: How Anti-Trafficking Strategies Increase Sex Workers’ Vulnerability to Exploitative Practices,” India: Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha.</p> <p>Ramachandran, Vibhuti (2015): “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/vibhuti-ramachandran/rescued-but-not-released-%E2%80%98protective-custody%E2%80%99-of-sex-workers-in-i">Rescued but not Released: the “protective custody” of sex workers in India</a>”, Open Democracy, August 18.</p> <p>Ramachandran, Vibhuti (2017): “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/vibhuti-ramachandran/critical-reflections-on-raid-and-rescue-operations-in-new-delhi">Critical Reflections on Raid and Rescue Operations in New Delhi</a>”, Open Democracy, 2017, November 25.</p> <p>Seshu, Meena and Aziza Ahmed (2012): “‘<a href="http://www.antitraffickingreview.org/index.php/atrjournal/article/view/28/48">We Have the Right Not to be “Rescued” …’: When Anti-Trafficking Programmes Undermine the Health and Well-Being of Sex Workers</a>”, <em>Anti-Trafficking Review</em>, No 1, pp 149–65 </p> <p>Sen, Sankar and P.M. Nair (2004): “A report on trafficking in women and children in India” 2001-2003: Volumes 1 and 2. New Delhi: Institute of Social Sciences, National Human Rights Commission, &amp; UNIFEM</p> <p>Walters, Kimberly (2016): “Humanitarian Trafficking: The Violence of Rescue and the (Mis)calculation of Rehabilitation,” <em>Economic and Political Weekly</em> LI(44 &amp; 45):55–61. </p> <p>Times of India, &quot;<a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/25-women-rescued-in-trafficking-cases-escape/articleshow/19657168.cms">25 Women rescued in trafficking cases escape</a>&quot;, 21 April 2013.</p> <p>Walters, Kimberly (2017): “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/kimberly-waters/rescued-from-rights-misogyny-of-anti-trafficking">Rescued from Rights: The Misogyny of Anti-trafficking</a>”, Open Democracy, 25 November.</p> <p>Walters, Kimberly (n.d.). “Moral Security: Anti-Trafficking and the Humanitarian State in South India.” Unpublished manuscript.</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="/beyondslavery/prabha-kotiswaran/criminal-law-as-sledgehammer-paternalist-politics-of-india-s-2018-tr">The criminal law as sledgehammer: the paternalist politics of India’s 2018 Trafficking Bill</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/vibhuti-ramachandran/rescued-but-not-released-%E2%80%98protective-custody%E2%80%99-of-sex-workers-in-i">Rescued but not released: the ‘protective custody’ of sex workers in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/prabha-kotiswaran/neoabolitionism-s-last-laugh-india-must-rethink-trafficking">Neoabolitionism’s last laugh: India must rethink trafficking</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/prabha-kotiswaran/empty-gestures-critique-of-india-s-new-trafficking-bill">Empty gestures: a critique of India’s new trafficking bill</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/kimberly-walters-neil-howard/interview-forced-rescue-and-humanitarian-trafficking">Interview: forced rescue and humanitarian trafficking</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/kimberly-waters/rescued-from-rights-misogyny-of-anti-trafficking">Rescued from rights: the misogyny of anti-trafficking</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/kimberly-walters/beyond-raid-and-rescue-time-to-acknowledge-damage-being-done">Beyond ‘raid and rescue’: time to acknowledge the damage being done</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <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> BeyondSlavery BeyondSlavery openIndia Vibhuti Ramachandran Kimberly Walters Mon, 30 Jul 2018 07:00:00 +0000 Kimberly Walters and Vibhuti Ramachandran 119052 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Harvesting hope: the permaculture movement in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/simin-fadaee/harvesting-hope-permaculture-movement-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The major transformative potential of permaculture in India lies in its ability to make small-scale farmers self-sufficient. Hence, it offers viable solutions to the very deep crisis farmers are facing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements"><img alt="open Movements" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" width="460px" /></a><br /><b>The <i><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements">openMovements</a></i> series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.</b></p><p>&nbsp;</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_0761.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0761.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'>Farmers using permaculture in the state of Telangana, India. Here an activist has gathered farmers on her permaculture farm and is talking to them. All photographs belong to the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On the first of June 2018, thousands of Indian farmers started <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/06/indian-farmers-protesting-180604194005599.html">a 10-day protest</a> demanding farm loan waivers and higher prices for their products. This large-scale protest followed a <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/long-march-india-farmers-forces-government-act-180314124401687.html">long march</a> by 40,000 farmers to Mumbai in March. India’s farming sector – which employs&nbsp; most of the country’s labour force – has been in crisis for decades. A significant indicator has been the dramatic increase of farmers suicides which first entered the headlines in the 1990s. According to a <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/over-12000-farmer-suicides-per-year-centre-tells-supreme-court/articleshow/58486441.cms">government report</a> which was released in 2017, since 2013 over 12,000 suicides have been reported every year. </p> <p>At root, the agrarian crisis in India has a number of causes. While <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/31/suicides-of-nearly-60000-indian-farmers-linked-to-climate-change-study-claims">climate change</a> and its consequent effects on Indian agriculture has played a role, activists and opponents of the government’s agricultural policies see the Green Revolution which started in the 1970s and the transformation of Indian agriculture into large scale corporate industrial agriculture as the main reason behind India’s agricultural crisis. Prominent environmental and alter-globalisation activist Vandana Shiva, for example, has referred to <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/farmers-suicides-nothing-but-genocide-says-vandana-shiva/article3130684.ece">farmer suicides as a genocide</a>, and has accused the WTO and the government’s agricultural policies of destroying small-scale farmers. Among a number of movements, civil society organisations and campaigns addressing the agrarian crisis and the effects of industrial agriculture in India, the permaculture movement is fast gaining ground among subsistence farmers and proponents of alternative agriculture. If expanded, they think it would be able to counter many of the discontents of Indian farmers. </p> <h2><b>Permaculture: a concrete and viable alternative</b></h2> <p>The term ‘permaculture’ was first coined by the Australian biologist Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren in the 1970s. It combines “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture” and advocates the three ethics of people care, earth care and fair share. Based on farming practices, and particularly influenced by the Japanese natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka combined with a number of scientific findings in agriculture, permaculture provides a set of <a href="https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/">principles</a> which offer practical guidance on how to build functioning and sustainable alternatives that bring together the needs of humans and nature. </p> <p>Permacultures help build resiliency among small-scale farmers and facilitate the creation of self-regenerative systems and communities with regard to energy, food, shelter and other needs, in harmony with nature. Permaculture principles are applicable in diverse environments and on different scales, from densely populated urban settlements to farms and rural areas. In other words, the principles are seen as universal, although the methods that materialize from them vary significantly according to context. Therefore, permaculture is culturally rooted and to a large extent its practice is based on local knowledge, customs and resources. </p> <p>Since its inception, permaculture has grown into a global movement and is practiced by various communities <a href="https://permacultureglobal.org/projects?page=1">around the world</a>. In the following section I briefly explain the history of the movement in India, introducing the actors and sites of their engagement before taking an overview of its transformative potential.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <h2><b>Building the movement in India</b></h2> <p>Permaculture was introduced into India by Bill Mollison, who visited the country in 1986 and regularly returned thereafter to hold permaculture workshops for farmers. In the course of these workshops, small-scale farmers could learn rainwater harvesting, biomass generation, recycling organic waste, composting, soil conservation and many more techniques which would help them remain or become self-subsistent. </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_0780.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0780.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>With the support of an Indian NGO, <a href="http://ddsindia.com/www/default.asp">Deccan Development Society</a>, the first permaculture demonstration farm was established in Andhra Pradesh situated on the south-eastern part of India and became a learning education site for alternative agricultural practices. The permaculture Association of India was formed in 1989. Within this framework Indian permaculture experts started to conduct practice-oriented workshops for farmers and relevant NGOs in different parts of India. Over the years permaculture has gradually expanded and today a number of organisations and farms promote principles and ethics of permaculture throughout the country. </p><p>The Hyderabad-based <a href="http://permacultureindia.org/">Aranya Agricultural Alternatives</a> has been one of the most active proponents of permaculture in the country. The organisation hosted the first <a href="http://www.npcindia2016.org/">National Permaculture Convergence</a> in 2016 which brought together more than 1,000 farmers, academics and practitioners of alternative agriculture from across the country. It provided an inclusive forum not only for practitioners of permaculture but for those interested in various fields of sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, natural resource management, health and nutrition and sustainable living. </p> <p>This event gave the movement momentum, attracted many to the philosophy and practice of permaculture while connecting those who were already practicing and working with permaculture in one way or another. Moreover, it provided the base for the emergence of Indian permaculture network.&nbsp; In 2017 Aranya Agricultural Alternatives hosted the <a href="http://ipcindia2017.org/">13<sup>th</sup> International Permaculture Conference and Convergence</a> in India under the theme “Towards Healthy Societies”. This event brought together a large number of national and international delegates including 450 local farmers. The first ever permaculture teacher training course in India and an extended 20-day permaculture design course preceded the event. </p> <h2><b>Actors and sites of engagement </b></h2> <p>Four kinds of actors are involved in the permaculture movement. The first group is comprised of individuals working for agrarian-oriented NGOs who provide permaculture training for farmers through courses and workshops, by establishing permaculture demonstration sites or by assisting farmers on their own farms. Although many of these NGOs might not exclusively identify as permaculture NGOs they actively or passively engage with permaculture principles in their work. </p> <p>Another group of actors involved in the permaculture movement are individuals with non-farming background who have settled and/or work on small farms implementing a permaculture design. Some have transformed barren land to a food forest – a low maintenance and sustainable food production method based on forest ecosystems – or are in the process of transforming already existing farms to permaculture sites. In most cases they actively engage with their communities and the farmers in their area by providing assistance and supervision to the farmers based on their needs. Their farms function as demonstration sites for farmers and for those who would like to develop their land into a productive and resilient system.</p> <p>The third group is comprised of traditional farmers who have successfully transformed their lands or are transforming them into permaculture farms and have become advocates of permaculture in their own area and community, helping others in permaculture practice. Those more active have become leaders of their communities and have mobilised large numbers of fellow farmers against pesticides, monocropping and other unsustainable and harmful agricultural practices. Some of the farmers have connected with India’s growing organic sector and sell their products in local organic markets.</p> <p>The last group of actors are urbanites who do not have access to large swathes of land. This group practices permaculture in their urban gardens, kitchen gardens and rooftops and grows a significant amount of vegetables for daily use. Moreover, urban permaculture encompasses community organising in neighbourhoods, encouraging composting, water harvesting and waste management as well as transforming common and public land into sites of food production if not necessarily permaculture sites. </p> <p>Promotion and facilitation of permaculture design for buildings and private urban gardens is another task these actors encourage. Very often they work with landscape designers and architects who use natural materials in buildings. &nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, urban permaculture is strongly involved with permaculture education at schools and universities. Through workshops and seminars different issues and problems related to alternative agriculture, health and malnutrition are discussed. </p> <p>In their attempt to develop sustainable and healthy communities which are in harmony with nature, permaculture practitioners are joined by many other actors such as activists of organic or local food who would not necessarily identify with permaculture. They take part in similar events and gatherings, and may be involved in the same local struggles. Yet those who exclusively distinguish themselves as permaculture practitioners refer to two aspects of permaculture which makes it stand out from others. First, permaculture practitioners admire the holistic approach permaculture offers to life which is interwoven with the three ethics of people care, earth care and fair share. Second, for many who are in search of alternatives to the status quo, permaculture is practice-based and solution-oriented. This makes it a “flexible design system which can be practiced on different scales, by different people, with different needs and in different ecosystems” as one of the practitioners explained.</p> <h2><b>Transformative potential</b></h2> <p>The major transformative potential of permaculture in India lies in its ability to make small-scale farmers self-sufficient. Hence, it offers viable solutions to the very deep crisis farmers are facing in a country where more than 80% of agricultural holdings are under 2 ha.</p><p>In many ways permaculture incorporates several elements of India’s traditional farming methods which prevailed until the Green Revolution and were geared towards self-sufficiency rather than largescale production. Therefore, it is not difficult for many farmers to relate to it. Furthermore, a thorough permaculture farm meets farmers’ needs with regard to food, soil fertility, input costs and income. Permaculture farms offer food throughout the year, reduce waste and pests and keep the soil healthy and productive. As permaculture provides solutions for any environments many farmers from dry and unproductive areas have shown interest in permaculture techniques. Permaculture favours simple farming technologies and methods and therefore, farmers can avoid becoming dependent on loans and machines. </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_8957.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_8957.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Instead, these nature-inspired techniques can be implemented by everyone and can be adapted to farmers’ particular environments and needs. In other words, permaculture aims at creating resiliency and autonomy for farmers by decreasing their cost and dependency on any external factor from seeds to pesticides and machines, and this has been the main attraction for many farmers. </p><p>Moreover, for many young and educated Indians, many of whom who have left (or are leaving) their jobs in the corporate sector to contribute to the growing permaculture movement, permaculture has become a life project which gives their personal lives meaning. Frustrated with the ever-growing consumer culture, socio-economic disparities and increasing malnutrition and health problems in their country, permaculture provides them with an alternative project which is not only self-fulfilling but also helps them contribute to the transformation of their communities in line with the ethical values of people care, earth care and fair share. These provide the foundations for a more sustainable and just society.&nbsp; </p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox-inner"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;"><b>How to cite:</b></span><br />Fadaee S. (2018) Harvesting hope: the permaculture movement in India, Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 29 July. https://opendemocracy.net/simin-fadaee/harvesting-hope-permaculture-movement-in-india</div><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements"><img style="width: 460px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" /></a> </div><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/od-partnerships/openmovements"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner-small_1.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p>More from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements">openMovements</a> partnership.</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"> 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"> Economics </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 Transformation India Civil society Economics Ideas International politics openmovements Simin Fadaee Sun, 29 Jul 2018 18:08:26 +0000 Simin Fadaee 119053 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 How students in India are resisting the Hindu-right's attacks on universities https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/ananya-wilson-bhattacharya/how-students-in-india-are-resisting-hindu-rights-attacks-on-uni <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In India, student protests have escalated under the current far-right, Hindu-supremacist government and been characterised by open ideological warfare.</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-35987561.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35987561.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'>April 13, 2018 - Kolkata, West Bengal, India - All India Students' Association (AISA) and All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA)protest against the brutal rape at Kathua and Unnao. Saikat Paul/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>At a time when Narendra Modi's Hindu supremacist leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India is moving towards full-fledged fascism with its <a href="http://www.southasiasolidarity.org/2018/04/22/un-human-rights-commission-urged-to-act-after-40000-sign-petition/">rampant attacks on Muslims, Dalits, and critics of the regime</a>, the question of what it means to be a citizen in India today is complex, and the answers frightening. </p> <p>But on a recent visit to India, I had the opportunity to interview several student activists about the main issues currently facing students across the country as a result of the changes implemented in universities by the government. How are students challenging the regime?&nbsp; </p> <p>The fundamental change they told me about was a nationwide move towards so-called <a href="http://cpiml.org/commentary/modi-governments-intensifying-assaults-on-premier-institutes-of-higher-education/">‘greater autonomy’ for universities</a>, which has affected 60 institutions so far, and is set to continue. This essentially involves cuts to government funding of universities much like the austerity UK students have been experiencing on a wide scale since 2010. Under the pretext of 'autonomy' a host of measures are being imposed which are likely to transform, and even threaten, well-known universities with a progressive reputation like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. </p> <p>JNU has a long history of left-wing activism, primarily due to the strong presence of AISA (All India Students Association), the student wing of the CPIML (Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist), in the university. Chintu Kumari, a student there and a leading member of AISA, told me about the resistance to the dismantling of the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), which was set up in the late 1990s and includes representatives from different political organisations across the university. </p> <p>What made GSCASH so effective, Chintu explains, is that it worked on a number of different levels: not only did the body serve as a support system for survivors of gender violence and sexual harassment, it also held well-attended, public talks which aimed to raise awareness of the complexities of sexual harassment, and give students a much-needed clearer understanding of how it could operate. </p> <p>But these initiatives have faced hostility from JNU’s recently appointed pro-BJP Vice Chancellor, who is also a member of the BJP’s parent organisation, <a href="http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/casolari.pdf">the openly fascist RSS</a>. Last year, the Vice Chancellor replaced GSCASH with an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), which has been framed as a resource for victims of harassment to report their experiences. In reality, however, the ICC is neither effective in this respect, nor does it cater towards students’ needs on any wider level. The members are solely appointed by the Vice Chancellor and are thus all affiliated to the BJP and/or the RSS – organisations with <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/RSS-chief-Mohan-Bhagwats-remark-on-rape-has-to-be-understood-in-entirety-BJP/articleshow/17894925.cms">a blatantly patriarchal ideology</a>. Chintu describes the ICC as a ‘puppet body’ for the Vice Chancellor, a way for him to maintain maximum control over the students’ response to harassment. </p> <p>But the students are not taking this lying down. Two days before I spoke to Chintu, a major protest - in which <a href="http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2018/mar/23/delhi-police-fires-water-cannons-lathicharge-at-jawaharlal-nehru-university-students-1791509.html">the police used water cannon and baton charges to attack and disperse the students</a> – took place at JNU around a range of related changes which are severely affecting students’ lives.</p> <p>Beyond these structural changes, individual cases of harassment involving university staff are rife. Chintu tells me about the shocking scandal around Atul Johari, a professor of life sciences with close links to the BJP. Recently, nine female students – all in the final year of their PhD – filed a joint complaint against him for sexual harassment. All these students were members of the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), the student organisation affiliated with the BJP – indicating that this abuse of power in universities takes place within such Hindu rightwing circles as well as across political divides. </p> <h2><strong>‘Saffronisation’</strong></h2> <p>The ‘saffronisation’ of education – the imposition of the BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ ideology upon the syllabus – is another phenomenon which is negatively impacting on student experiences across the country. Chintu tells me how this has particularly affected arts and humanities students, ­­­­­­as their fields of study are often deprioritised and – more importantly – seen as a threat to this ideology. One example of this is an entrance exam for an MPhil course at JNU, which included a question on the <a href="https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/bigotry-and-islamophobia-in-bhansalis-padmaavat-by-rana-ayyub-1808938">recent, highly controversial feature film, <em>Padmaavat</em></a>. The film openly embodies Hindutva values through its denunciation of marriages between Hindus and Muslims, amounting to blatant Islamophobia. Students were asked to give their opinion on this film – a clear indication that they were being judged on their political leanings rather than their aptitude and passion for their subject.</p> <p>Another key aspect of the move towards so-called 'autonomy' is the government’s attempt to undermine the hard-won system of 'reservations', which reserves places at top universities like JNU for students from deprived and underprivileged sections of society, including Dalits, Adivasis and oppressed caste students, and those from remote and backward regions. <a href="http://cpiml.org/commentary/modi-governments-intensifying-assaults-on-premier-institutes-of-higher-education/">Only 20.75% of places were reserved at JNU in 2017-18, compared with the constitutionally mandated 50%.</a> It is no surprise that most of the student activists at the forefront of the current wave of resistance are from these backgrounds, and many are the first in their families to go to university. </p> <p>JNU is, of course, not the only university in which tensions are running high between student activists and RSS-backed administration. Sunny Kumar, a student activist who is also currently teaching at Delhi University (DU), told me about the cuts there. ‘The best institutions in India today are government funded,’ he tells me. But this funding is rapidly decreasing. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, government funding towards DU has dropped from 90-95% to only 70% in the guise of granting the university more freedom. </p> <p>But the situation at DU is not entirely negative. AISA, the most prominent Left students' organisation on campus, organises, among other things, study groups on Marx and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagat_Singh">Bhagat Singh</a>, the Indian Marxist and atheist revolutionary hanged by the British. At a time when the government is desperately trying to prevent students’ access to such progressive thinkers in fear that this will mobilise them politically, this type of activity is a crucial aspect of resistance and self-empowerment. </p> <p>However, at DU too, AISA does not simply function on this educational level. Practical gains have been made especially around gender issues. Last Valentine’s Day saw them organise the ‘Love without Fear’ protest, which challenged <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/a-muslim-and-a-hindu-thought-they-could-be-a-couple-then-came-the-love-jihad-hit-list/2018/04/26/257010be-2d1b-11e8-8dc9-3b51e028b845_story.html?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.2fcbd4fdd2de">the government’s Islamophobic ‘Love Jihad’ ideology</a>, and the physical attacks on couples openly expressing affection – all-too commonplace in university settings – have been significantly curbed since AISA gained prominence in DU’s last students’ union election. </p> <p>Talking to these students leads me to think about the connections between student experiences and the wider political climate in India and the UK. The issues faced by students, namely those stemming from austerity and neoliberalism, have been festering for several years now in the UK too – the crucial distinction is that, in India, they have escalated under the current far-right, Hindu-supremacist government and been characterised by open ideological warfare.</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 Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya Sat, 26 May 2018 18:05:45 +0000 Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya 118086 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Indian Supreme Court curbs one of the world’s most powerful anti-discrimination laws https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/ananya-wilson/indian-supreme-court-curbs-one-of-world-s-most-powerful-anti-discrimination- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The vitriolic anger directed at the PoA might mean that Indian society is not entirely ready to face the depth of its own ingrained prejudice.</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-35838739_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35838739_1.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'>Candle light vigil to protest death of Dalit protestor during Bharat Bandh,Kolkata, West Bengal, India, April 4, 2018. Saikat Paul/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On April 2, 2018 violent protests under the banner ‘Bharath Bandh,’ (‘Shut Down India,’) broke out across northern and central India, resulting in the closure of public transport systems, schools and shops. Ten people lost their lives, dozens were injured and hundreds of protestors were arrested. The agitations were a response to an unanticipated judgement by the Indian Supreme Court, which curbed the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA), one of the most powerful anti-discrimination laws in the world.</p> <p>First introduced in 1989, the PoA declared verbal, physical or ritual violence against India’s former untouchable community (Dalits / Scheduled Castes) and tribal population (Adivasis / Scheduled Tribes) criminal acts. </p> <p>The law outlined strict punishments for such offenses, stating, for example, that anyone who causes ‘physical harm or mental agony’ to members of the aforementioned groups ‘shall be punishable with imprisonment for a minimum of six months and up to five years’. In addition the PoA introduced a number of exceptionally stringent stipulations: a blanket ban on <a href="https://www.oecd.org/site/adboecdanti-corruptioninitiative/46814340.pdf">‘anticipatory bail’</a>;<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> the immediate arrest of accused parties; and the possibility of prosecuting public servants guilty of ‘neglecting their duties’. As a result of these harsh punitive measures and the unprecedented agency the law awarded Dalits and Adivasis, the Prevention of Atrocities Act has always been a highly controversial piece of legislation. </p> <p>P.S. Krishnan, former Secretary to Union Ministry of Welfare and original author of the PoA, emphasised that ‘since its inception someone has always been trying to abolish this law’. Now, the recent Supreme Court judgement, issued on March 20, has significantly weakened, or entirely scrapped, many of its exceptional features. In particular, it reinstituted anticipatory bail and stated that in the future cases could not be registered without a preliminary police inquiry, <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/sc-st-atrocities-act-in-nda-two-different-views-on-supreme-court-order-5107946/">in order to prevent</a> what the court deemed, the <a href="http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-bjp-s-up-mla-welcomes-supreme-court-verdict-on-scst-act-says-centre-s-review-plea-politically-motivated-2601355">‘rampant misuse’</a> of the act.</p> <p>A. K. Goel and U. U. Lalit, the judges behind the Supreme Court verdict, justified the new provisions by pronouncing 15-16% of the complaints filed under the act ‘false’ accusations. Dalits and Adivasis were said to register untruthful or invented cases against innocent upper caste members in attempts to procure financial and social advantages. As such the judges warned that the act may be reinforcing ‘casteism’ rather than alleviating inter-caste conflict to pave the way for a more equal social order. </p> <p>‘Let me be honest, as soon as we even see a case filed under this atrocities act, we tend to assume that it is fake,’ a high-ranking official in the Rajasthani police force candidly disclosed. ‘I know that means we might be biased,’ he continued, ‘but so many of these investigations get filed away as false after the police inquiry that we don’t really have a reason to take the accusations seriously any more,’ </p> <p>Yet, my own ethnographic research on the implementation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act in Rajasthan – a state that in 2016 ranked third in the country for <a href="https://thewire.in/caste/ncrb-crimes-against-dalits-women">crimes against Dalits</a> and Adivasis according to the <a href="http://ncrb.gov.in/">National Crimes Record Bureau</a> (NCRB) – tells a different story. Surveying and tracing 40 cases filed under this law, I found that the phenomenon of the ‘false’ case is highly complex, politically charged and can rarely be reduced to straightforward categories of intentional deception or pure veracity.</p> <h2><strong>Village dispute </strong></h2> <p>Take a dispute in a village two hours north of the city of Udaipur. The controversy had arisen between the Dalit community and members of the numerically and financially dominant caste group (Rajputs). One Dalit family had wanted to add a balcony to their newly built house. However, the Rajput dominated village council decreed that construction of the balcony must be stopped. Drawing on outlawed ideas of impurity and untouchability, the council expressed concern that if water fell from the balcony onto pedestrians passing underneath, these passers-by would become contaminated. </p> <p>When the Dalit family in question refused to comply and built the balcony anyway, the Rajputs staged a social boycott and ostracised the Dalit family from village life. As a reaction to the boycott the Dalit family then filed a case under the dreaded Prevention of Atrocities Act. A police investigation was launched that found the Dalits’ complaint to be legitimate but, soon after, the police officer in charge was suddenly transferred. Following his replacement, the police inquiry was re-opened and the second police report denounced the accusations as ‘baseless’ and ‘untruthful’. </p> <p>A constable at the police station where the case had originally been registered eventually helped to shed light on this seemingly confusing series of events. It turned out that some of the men listed as the main accused in the initial police report (FIR), were distantly related to an influential politician in the district. The accused had contacted the politician, who, in turn, had promptly called the station instructing the officer in charge to halt ‘this ridiculous investigation’ and get rid of the constable who had issued the report in favour of the Dalit complainants. A second investigation then arrived at conclusions more palatable to the politician and his caste-brethren. </p> <p>The circumstances surrounding the aforementioned police investigation are suspect at best. Even if we acknowledge that cases such as this one represent challenges in terms of locating adequate legal evidence to support the claims of the lower caste litigants, the nonchalant manner in which the final police report brushed the complaint off as ‘baseless’ is worrying. The Udaipur case was eventually filed away as ‘false,’ and has gone down in history as yet another instance of legal misuse. Still, a closer analysis of the events should lead us to critically reflect on the claims about case legitimacy made by the Supreme Court. </p> <h2><strong>‘False’ cases</strong></h2> <p>Policy changes emphasising the pervasiveness of the ‘false’ case are often blind to the complex dynamics that cause an allegation to be classified as truthful or fraudulent. They further divert attention from very real experiences of caste-based discrimination that continue to characterise the lives of many Dalits and Adivasis in contemporary India. While article 17 of the Indian constitution officially abolished practices of untouchability in 1950 and the country has introduced affirmative action policies in higher education and government sectors for Adivasis and Dalits, caste prejudice, practices of social exclusion and forms of ritual verbal and physical violence are still alive in many parts of the country. Horrific crimes like the 2006 <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/Because-Khairlanji-is-not-just-another-murder-story/article16140401.ece">Khairlanji murders</a> in Maharashtra that cost <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/maharashtra-khairlanji-dalit-rape-murder-una-vemula-caste-system-discrimination-3055056/">a Dalit family their lives</a> and the 2015 <a href="http://www.frontline.in/social-issues/murder-for-land/article7297927.ece">Dangawas massacre</a> in the <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Jats-crush-3-dalits-under-tractors-in-Rajasthan/articleshow/47304040.cms">Nagaur district of Rajasthan</a> suggest that caste-related atrocities are unlikely to disappear in the near future. Nevertheless, the new Supreme Court ruling creates the illusion that the tables have turned and that historically privileged groups now find themselves at the mercy of legal schemes perpetrated by the greedy and marginalised.&nbsp; </p> <p>While isolated instances of such misuse undoubtedly occur, the far more disconcerting issue is that the in-transparency of criminal investigations makes it exceedingly difficult for courts to discern when and how manipulation of legal procedure has transpired. As cases filed under the PoA unfold, the realities of affected individuals and communities regularly come into conflict with the goals of caste-based interest networks or public institutions like the police. Additionally, sufficient and admissible legal evidence can be difficult to obtain for the socio-economically weak. </p> <h2><strong>‘Not a virgin’</strong></h2> <p>This was particularly evident during a criminal investigation for a gang rape case involving a 16 year-old Dalit girl in the state capital Jaipur. After examining the severely bruised and injured victim, the doctor on the case issued a startling medical testimony. The report concluded that the girl was ‘not a virgin.’ However, it continued, there was ‘no proof de-virginisation was the result of rape.’ Considering the state of the victim, her age and the fact that one of the four accused men openly admitted to the assault, the physician’s inference was disquieting. When I expressed astonishment, a local activist affirmed my misgivings. ‘This one boy’s father is the sarpanch (village head) in our neighbouring village, they paid off the doctor, so now there is no evidence,‘ she said with a defeated shrug of her shoulders. &nbsp;</p> <p>While India’s police force is often (and frequently rightfully) blamed for being corrupt and settling criminal investigations in favour of the party offering the bigger cheque, this story from Jaipur highlights the many pillars of legal evidence, which are routinely tampered with to undermine inquiries, secure acquittals or ensure that victims never proceed with case registration. </p> <p>At times even responsible police officers can become entangled in opaque, caste-based power networks. The organisational pyramid of the Indian police, a system whereby higher-ranking police officers are recruited through a different scheme than the constables posted at the police stations, also contributes to legal in-transparency. An immense communication gap exists between the police officers who see criminal investigations unfold and those who make policy recommendations based on the resulting reports. Hence, those holding influential positions within the police force and even judges usually lack a true understanding of the dynamics within a community that can turn a truthful account into a false case.</p> <h2><strong>Imperfect translations</strong></h2> <p>When the Supreme Court declared that more than a quarter of cases registered under the PoA are based on untruthful accusations, instances like the ones I encountered form part of the statistic: cases that somewhere along the line become part of political agendas, cases that involve evidence tampering and cases where witnesses are bought off. When doctors are bribed into falsifying reports and the police are repeatedly caught at a crossroads of civil and political interests, legal evidence can be impossible to come by. &nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, the truth or falsity of cases under the PoA is defined by a multifaceted set of social relationships and power dynamics that often remain hidden from the eyes of the law and of lawmakers. Goel and Lalit’s judgement ignores a myriad of administrative and political issues in India contributing to a situation where experienced realities of violence and discrimination often fail to translate into a sound legal case. This, undoubtedly, is a wider challenge in relation to anti-discrimination law everywhere. It is a problem that arises when complex events are squeezed through imperfect administrative channels: a challenge that arises when culturally specific social and political interactions need to take a standardized form to be judged as law. However, using this imperfect translation process as the basis for amending law seems misguided.</p> <h2><strong>Secretly prevalent attitudes</strong></h2> <p>Accordingly, the Supreme Court’s assessment that measures like the Prevention of Atrocities Act heighten casteist tensions should be taken with a grain of salt. On the one hand, the interminable communal push-and-pull around cases filed by Dalits and Adivasis and the particular vehemence with which the act regularly comes under political scrutiny should be indicator enough that casteist sentiments are alive and well in India. Legislation like the PoA simply shines a light on secretly prevalent attitudes. </p> <p>On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge that the vitriolic anger directed at the PoA might mean that Indian society is not entirely ready to face the depth of its own ingrained prejudice. However, the path to achieving this goal can hardly be paved if lawmakers simply reverse measures that bring these tensions to the forefront. We have to wonder if rather than curtailing a law that has represented a unique opportunity for marginalised communities to take up the fight against their own disadvantage, lawmakers would do better addressing prevalent issues of legal implementation and transparency?</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Section 438 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code allows individuals to request bail in expectation of being accused of a crime. </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 Sandhya Fuchs Sat, 26 May 2018 17:13:42 +0000 Sandhya Fuchs 118082 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 Why the ‘good’ refugee is a bad idea https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/nimmi-kurian/why-good-refugee-is-bad-idea <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An opaque process of separating the ‘good’ Rohingya refugees from the ‘bad’ ones has begun under conditions where only seven and a half thousand out of one million people have national verification cards. </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-32814449.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-32814449.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'>Indian Muslim mass protest rally during a protest against the persecution of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority in Kolkata, India, September 11, 2017. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There is something surreal about the photo-op of a smiling&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/15/first-rohingya-refugees-repatriated-to-myanmar-despite-un-safety-fears">Rohingya refugee family</a>&nbsp;heading back to conflict-torn Myanmar. In a similar case of mixed signals,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/myanmar-minister-visits-rohingya-camp/article23505181.ece">Myanmar’s social welfare minister Win Myat Aye’s visit</a>&nbsp;in April to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh spoke a language of resettlement but its message was a deeply unsettling one. </p> <p>He announced that his country would take back only those Rohingya refugees who could furnish a proof of residency in Myanmar. In the complex game of political signals all nations play, this was as clear a warning shot as any, of trouble ahead. But one wonders how many in the Indian policy establishment heard it at all, given its increasing tone-deafness to both nuance and subtext.</p> <p>Could this misplaced complacency arise from the fact that Myanmar’s securitised narrative on the Rohingya issue is a lot similar to that of the Indian state? If this is indeed the case, what Delhi has deluded itself into believing is that a shared language translates into a shared understanding. If anything, Myanmar’s securitised narrative on the Rohingya issue will potentially affect India’s interests in damaging ways. For instance,&nbsp;the verification process will no doubt involve an opaque process of separating the ‘good’ refugees from the ‘bad’ ones. </p> <p>This means that, as and when the full-fledged repatriation takes place from Bangladesh to Myanmar, several thousands of the one million refugees will not make the cut. What is also sobering is that&nbsp;their right of return is seriously jeopardised by the fact that only an estimated&nbsp;<a href="https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/foreign-affairs/2017/10/04/myanmar-proposes-taking-back-verified-rohingya/">7,548 out of the one million Rohingya</a>&nbsp;in Myanmar’s Rakhine state hold national verification cards. </p> <p>When you add to this the fact that the fleeing millions did not exactly have the time to pack their bags with the necessary documentary proof, what are the chances of their right to return in a land where they are totally unwelcome?&nbsp;What this will mean is that a sizeable stateless population will remain next door to India in a heightened state of vulnerability and faced with the prospect of an indeterminate wait.&nbsp;Where will they end up?&nbsp;Could India become&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dont-want-india-to-become-the-refugee-capital-of-the-world-govt-to-sc/article22608096.ece">‘the refugee capital of the world’</a>&nbsp;by its own acts of omission?&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Framing the challenge<br /></strong></h2> <p>How Indian diplomacy addresses this crisis of credibility and governance will depend a lot on how it chooses to frame the problem. Ironically, while the Centre categorically defines the Rohingya as the problem, this could well be a case of not knowing what the problem is. India’s Rohingya narrative appears to be caught in a double vision, suspended between political opportunism and a squandered opportunity.&nbsp;</p> <p>One would have thought that given its experience of&nbsp;historically managing complex population movements in South Asia, India would have been a shaper of the&nbsp;larger global discourse on refugee protection&nbsp;from the point of view of the Global South. But it has curiously chosen not to&nbsp;shine a light on&nbsp;the reality of such ‘mixed flows’ and to&nbsp;lend&nbsp;intellectual and political heft to&nbsp;non-western approaches and experiences.</p> <p>Ironically, it is its own policy fetters that prevent India from&nbsp;utilising&nbsp;the array of intellectual and political tools at its disposal to respond to the regional crisis that the Rohingya issue represents. Part of this inaction is due to its own fixation with the opportunistic logic of seeing the Rohingya issue as an ‘internal’ issue. Intriguingly, it has cited economic costs as a factor while making a case for deportation of the 40,000 Rohingya refugees from India. In its&nbsp;<a href="http://www.livelaw.in/continuance-rohingyas-india-illegal-serious-threat-security-centre-read-affidavit/">affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court</a>&nbsp;in September 2017, the Centre argued for deportation citing ‘diversion of national resources’. It is an incredible argument for the world’s fifth-largest economy to make, given that even in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.unhcr.org/3ebf9bab0.pdf">1971 when India hosted 10 million</a>&nbsp;refugees, it did not make such an argument despite the fact that its economy was then virtually on the verge of collapse. </p> <p>Back then, among the measures it adopted to cope with the financial burden, was the rather innovative postal tax called the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.rhcourtney-collector.com/refugeerelief.html">Refugee Relief Tax</a>&nbsp;priced at 5 paise that it levied to help raise revenues. What any talk of economic costs at this juncture will certainly do is to bring serious credibility costs for India.&nbsp;</p> <p>What India could do instead is to begin a regional conversation to unpack the definition of the refugee to include the diverse categories of those seeking protection. It could help draw up a list of the most vulnerable such as women-at-risk, unaccompanied children, environmental migrants and victims of trafficking among others. It is only by rendering the displaced millions more visible in this fashion that the state, be it in India, Myanmar or Bangladesh, can be held to account to provide protection. And the more diversified this list is, the more it will be in India’s interests as well as those of the returnees. Doing so can also help India strike the much-needed&nbsp;<a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/national-interest-and-human-rights-we-need-to-strike-a-balance-sc-on-rohingya-refugees-4889042/">‘balance between human rights and national interest’</a>&nbsp;that the Supreme Court had referred to in one of its hearings on the Rohingya issue. </p> <p>But if India instead chooses to peddle the good refugee/bad refugee categorisation that all refugees are potential terrorists, it will only end up swelling the ranks of the stateless in the region. Reducing the&nbsp;Rohingya narrative to a single-issue debate fixated only on the security dimension would ironically end up creating an even more intractable security nightmare not just for India but for the region.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If India is willing to imaginatively reframe the Rohingya narrative in the coming days, it could tick several political boxes at once: from offsetting centrifugal forces, strengthening regional stability to salvaging its own image as a leader with the influence and incentives necessary to shape the discourse on rights and responsibilities.&nbsp;</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="/can-europe-make-it/ali-bilgi/decolonising-migrant-resistance-from-refugeeswelcome-to-these-walls-mus">Decolonising migrant resistance: from #Refugeeswelcome to ‘These Walls Must Fall’</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/zrinka-bralo/amnesty-not-apology">Amnesty, not apology </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"> Myanmar </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 Myanmar India Conflict Democracy and government International politics Nimmi Kurian Mon, 30 Apr 2018 13:36:09 +0000 Nimmi Kurian 117575 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 Islamophobia gastronomica - on the food police, rural populism and killing https://www.opendemocracy.net/openIndia/raj-patel/islamophobia-gastronomica-on-food-police-rural-populism-and-killing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Khan’s killing was an act of adjudication over citizenship, culture, gender and life, in a form that’s becoming increasingly widespread in the US, India and through parts of Europe.</p> </div> </div> </div> <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/500209/6947061876_2f52a85f26_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/6947061876_2f52a85f26_z.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" width="460" height="450" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Holy Cow Container, India, 2012. Flickr/ Rod Waddington. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is the fifth article in a series on ‘confronting authoritarian populism and the rural world’, linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (</em><a href="http://www.iss.nl/erpi"><em>ERPI</em></a><em>). The article opening the series can be read&nbsp;</em><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p>Food cultures have become a battleground for authoritarian populism. Moral panics around food have fanned violence with impunity. Gastronomic Islamophobia is becoming commonplace because it rests on framing the relationship between the self, state, food, nature, and rural society. Any resistance to it must be equally comprehensive.</p> <h2><strong>Listening out for a license to kill</strong></h2> <p>“There are two sides to this<em>”,</em> said Gulab Chand Kataria, the Home Minister of Rajasthan. He was responding to the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/world/asia/india-cow-mob-hindu-vigilantes.html">mob lynching</a> of Pehlu Khan, a 55 year old man who had purchased some dairy cows in Alwar, in the north-west Indian state of Rajasthan. Khan and others were transporting the cows to Jaisinghpur in neighbouring Haryana in a truck, when a mob stopped them and, with cellphones out to record the dispensation of justice, beat him to death with iron rods and bricks. No arrests have been made. </p> <p>On one side, a man was murdered. On the other, Minister Kataria offered, the killers had a point: “They know that one cannot smuggle cows out of Rajasthan,” the Home Minister said. “A law is in place.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Superficially, this equivocation sounds like Donald Trump’s remarks after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville VA, when he offered that “<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/trump-defends-white-nationalist-protesters-some-very-fine-people-on-both-sides/537012/">there were some very fine people on both sides</a>.” Whether from Kataria or Trump, even-handedness serves both as a wispy rebuke of, and a pat on the back for, supremacists of different stripes. In the rare moments where state authoritarians are equable, mobs receive their license to kill. </p> <p>But while Trump and Kataria share an uncharacteristic ambivalence in their pronouncements in the wake of a murder, Khan’s death shows something more. His killing was an act of adjudication over citizenship, culture, gender and life, in a form that’s becoming increasingly widespread. In the US, India and through parts of Europe, populism is lived through an Islamophobic gastronomy. </p> <h2><strong>Islamophobic populism and sacred cows</strong></h2> <p>In Northern Italy, the Mayor of Cittadella and member of the Northern League has banned kebabs, on the grounds that “<a href="http://www.dw.com/en/italian-towns-kebab-ban-enrages-migrant-community/a-15300614">this food is certainly not part of our tradition and of our identity</a>”. At 30,000 feet, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/30/diet-coke-islamophobia-united-airlines">a headscarf-wearing Muslim chaplain was denied an unopened can of diet coke</a> because the flight attendant thought she’d use the can – possibly together with a tube of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwyMcV9emmc">Mentos</a> – as a weapon. From undercover sleuthing on the BBC’s Rogue Restaurants series that <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20180223100934/http:/www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00cwgzh">conflates citizenship status with food hygiene</a>, to the possibility of purchasing pork-fat-dipped <a href="https://www.ammoland.com/2013/06/peace-through-pork-jihawg-defensive-ammunition/">Jihawg bullets</a>, populist gastronomy thrives. <span class="mag-quote-center">From undercover sleuthing on the BBC’s Rogue Restaurants series that conflates citizenship status with food hygiene, to the possibility of purchasing pork-fat-dipped Jihawg bullets, populist gastronomy thrives. </span></p><p>In India it is given its authoritarian bent by a Hindu supremacist government. Consider the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq. Although he died at the hands of a mob, it was <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34409354">the meat in Akhlaq’s fridge that killed him</a>. Toward the end of 2016, at a temple in north western Uttar Pradhesh, a Hindu priest accused the Muslim Akhlaq family of eating beef. Around 100 villagers pulled father and son from the house and beat them with bricks. Akhlaq died and his son Danish was recently discharged from intensive care after multiple brain surgeries. The Senior Superintendent of Police moved swiftly. The meat was rushed to the local forensics lab. Turns out it was <a href="http://www.firstpost.com/india/what-next-in-dadri-lynching-case-meat-found-in-akhlaqs-fridge-was-mutton-not-beef-2461780.html">sheep, not cow</a>. </p> <p>Several Indian states have banned beef, on the grounds that Hindu sensibilities might be offended by the killing of cows. Yet death is necessarily an intimate of living reverence. What happens to sacred cows when they die? Hinduism offers conflicting answers for <a href="https://theconversation.com/hinduism-and-its-complicated-history-with-cows-and-people-who-eat-them-80586">what happens to their souls</a>. Their bodies’ fate is more quotidian. <a href="http://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/circulars/livestock_poultry.PDF">India is the world’s largest exporter in the combined category of beef/buffalo</a>. The work of turning dead cows into <a href="https://theconversation.com/cow-economics-are-killing-indias-working-class-79274">leather employs 2.5 million people</a>, mainly <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/20/violent-clashes-cow-protection-vigilantes-low-caste-india">Dalit Hindus</a> and Muslims.&nbsp; It is this leather that wraps the balls used in India’s <a href="https://www.hindustantimes.com/cricket/indian-premier-league-valuation-rises-to-usd-5-3-billion/story-Pxh61UiEcLRggcmz0ehfVI.html">$5bn cricket industry</a>. Hindutva involves a re-purposing of religious texts and superstitions in the national interest. Killing follows.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Under Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu supremacy, the main targets of this policy were India’s Muslims, who were thrown to Modi’s supporters to be dealt with as they saw fit. Modi made a comment about it two weeks later, saying that the killing “was sad and unwarranted, but <a href="http://thewire.in/2015/10/14/modi-accuses-opposition-of-polarising-india-by-raising-bogey-of-communalism-13171/">what is the central government’s relation with these incidents</a>?”</p> <h2><strong>Moral panics, socio-ecological order and food policing the crisis</strong></h2> <p><a href="http://www.iss.nl/erpi">The Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative</a> recognizes that populism both happens <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con">somewhere</a> and is an attempt to <em>make </em>somewhere. As Jacques Rancière suggests, populism serves “simply to draw the image of a certain people”. For every imagined community, there’s an imagined geography, ecology and gastronomy. One of the central cultural vectors of authoritarian populism is the original link between rural and urban politics: food. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative recognizes that populism both happens somewhere and is an attempt to <em>make </em>somewhere.&nbsp; </span></p><p>The people who figure in populism don’t just live some<em>where</em>, they eat some<em>thing, </em>and in so doing, enter relationships of life and death with an ecological order. European liberal democracy adjudicates these relationships through rules on what can and can’t be eaten and killed, and who is licensed or unlicensed to do the killing. Populism in America’s <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman/sacrifice-zones-in-rural-and-non-metro-usa-fertile-soil-for-authoritarian-populism">sacrifice zones</a> has these relationships too: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/21/who-is-dana-loesch-nra-defender-florida-shooting">as Dana Loesch draws it</a> “Coastals (on the US East and West Coast) think they understand firearms because they watched a TV movie about Columbine …Flyovers (the states in between) get a deer rifle for their thirteenth birthday.” Hindutva adjudicates who can kill and eat, and what can be killed and eaten too.</p> <p>You can trace these orders through their moments of crisis. As <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con">the first in this series of posts observes</a>, one tool to do that is the “moral panic”, a term used by Stuart Hall and his comrades in their seminal study <em>Policing the Crisis</em>. For them, the moral panic around mugging was an optic through which they could look into the hegemonic crisis of 1970s Britain. Moral panic became an “index of the disintegration of the social order.” Think of our current moment as “food policing the crisis.” Social panic around food and hygiene is always a concern about order, a signal of crisis. Authoritarian populism fixes the moral panic in rural northern India through the police and its cognates in the Hindu priesthood. </p> <p>Neoliberalism’s secular boundaries between self, society and nature have never been enforced with total success, in post-Independence India or anywhere else. Insofar as the technologies of coercion, nitrogen-fixing, monoculture and marketing were able to secure the consent of key segments of rural India through increased incomes from their land, this might have been smoothed over. No more. Populism emerges at a moment of ecological state-shift.</p> <p>The soil on which Indian rural life depends is dying: <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-3-319-19168-3_15.pdf">44% of the country suffers land degradation</a>. Khan and Akhlaq’s killings happened in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336437/">zones of high soil salinity</a>, a consequence of the country’s <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03066150.2012.719224">Long Green Revolution</a>. Amid the ecocide of industrial agriculture, Hindutva invents a tradition that offers an alternative. It’s a different way of parsing relationships with other beings in the web of life, and one that offers salvation in ways that neoliberalism cannot, in conditions neoliberalism created. Rural populism in northern India is nourished by capitalism’s infertile soil.&nbsp; <span class="mag-quote-center">The soil is dying…Rural populism in northern India is nourished by capitalism’s infertile soil.</span></p> <p>The state is doing its part, of course, to abet this salvation. The Indian government has cow shelters, and is in the process of acting as a guardian through <a href="https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/40-million-cows-to-get-aadhaar-like-number-at-cost-of-rs-50-crore-in-1st-phase/story-9f50M1CkgBoCSym5SR1VzL.html">an $8bn bovine biometric identification scheme</a> yet more Orwellian than the one that <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3060959">already registers its human citizens</a>. But the state is merely the embodiment of the people. Hence the license, indeed the imperative, for citizens to police the crisis themselves. </p> <p>Such are the seductions of this politics that even the <a href="https://onlinelibrarystatic.wiley.com/store/10.1111/joac.12146/asset/joac12146.pdf?v=1&amp;t=jdz3zamt&amp;s=9a051c98c47a051749be3b94d2715f7fd6ae85b9">Bharatiya Kisan Union</a>, a member of La Via Campesina in Northern India, have participated in it. If <a href="https://onlinelibrarystatic.wiley.com/store/10.1111/joac.12146/asset/joac12146.pdf?v=1&amp;t=jdz3zamt&amp;s=9a051c98c47a051749be3b94d2715f7fd6ae85b9">Ramakumar’s analysis</a> is correct, fissures in the BKU’s prior solidarity between Hindu and Muslim emerged through class tension, flaws within the organization’s processes, and rural-urban tensions. The concrete example: urban Muslims’ ownership of a meat-processing plant as an inciting influence behind BKU’s participation in the <a href="http://www.epw.in/search/site/Muzaffarnagar">Muzaffarnagar riots.</a> </p> <h2><strong>Renegotiating relations with humans and nature</strong></h2> <p>As Achin Vanaik observes, for emancipatory rural politics to succeed, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/achin-vanaik/hindu-authoritarianism-and-agrarian-distress">“we need to fight against more than communalism”</a>. Communalism offers a way of parsing the crisis, of living through it in moments like the panic around cow killing. One doesn’t solve that by insisting that, to the contrary, killing people is bad and killing cows is OK.</p> <p>Authoritarian populism has its political ecology, one that threads humans’ relationships with other species. A response to this crisis will involve far more than a demand for different religions to get along. Confronting authoritarian populism will need, centrally, to offer a far more comprehensive renegotiation of human relations to one another and the web of life. <span class="mag-quote-center">A response to this crisis will involve far more than a demand for different religions to get along.</span></p> <p>Rural populism recognizes the <a href="http://www.bascompte.net/content/publications/nature11018.pdf">state-shifts that capitalism</a> has wrought. Emancipatory politics will need to reweave those relations, undoing the supremacies and patriarchies that such populism rests upon. This will require in the words of Donna Haraway, learning "to revoice life and death in our terms" and not accepting "the rationalist dichotomy that rules most ethical dispute". The forms of that revoicing are precisely the tasks, and stakes, of emancipatory rural politics. </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>The <strong>Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative</strong> (<a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/research/networks/emancipatory-rural-politics-initiative-erpi">ERPI)</a> was launched during 2017 as a response to the rise of <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693">authoritarian populism</a> in different parts of the world. Our focus is on the rural origins and consequences of authoritarian populism, as well as the forms of resistance and variety of alternatives that are emerging.<br />&nbsp;<br />In March 2018, a major <a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/events/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world-2018-03-17">ERPI event </a>will be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, bringing together around 300 researchers and activists from across five continents. ERPI small grant holders will present research insights and debates will focus on mobilizing alternatives, generating new research-activist networks across the world.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />&nbsp;<br />You can also follow updates from ERPI on <a href="https://twitter.com/TheErpi">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/TheERPI/">Facebook.</a></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="/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"> Confronting authoritarian populism: the rural dimension</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/achin-vanaik/hindu-authoritarianism-and-agrarian-distress">Hindu authoritarianism and agrarian distress</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/amber-huff-salima-tasdemir-patrick-huff/why-defendafrin-confronting-authoritarian-populism-with-radi">Why #DefendAfrin? Confronting authoritarian populism with radical democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/marc-edelman/sacrifice-zones-in-rural-and-non-metro-usa-fertile-soil-for-authoritarian-populism">Sacrifice zones in rural and non-metro USA: fertile soil for authoritarian populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wendy-wolford-sergio-sauer/authoritarian-elitism-and-popular-movements-in-brazil">Authoritarian elitism and popular movements in Brazil</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/benjamin-white-laksmi-savitri-devi-adriyanti-hanny-wijaya-ciptaningrat-larastiti-abdul-rahman/demise">The demise of emancipatory peasant politics? Indonesian fascism and the rise of Islamic populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/khin-zaw-win/how-populism-directed-against-minorities-is-used-to-prop-up-myanmar-s-democratic-reviva">How populism directed against minorities is used to prop up Myanmar’s ‘Democratic’ revival</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <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 Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World Raj Patel Mon, 26 Feb 2018 06:37:11 +0000 Raj Patel 116312 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sri Lanka local elections: the return of Rajapaksa https://www.opendemocracy.net/andreas-johansson/sri-lanka-local-elections-return-of-rajapaksa <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After his recent win, Mahinda Rajapaksa urged his voters not to attack the losing side, saying: “No matter what they did to us we must set an example”.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&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-34936024.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34936024.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa greets supporters after landslide victory in the Local Government Election, February 12, 2018. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Sri Lanka celebrates its seventieth year of independence in 2018 in a country where ethnicity has been a deadly factor, and local elections can turn violent. This year’s election, held on 10 February, however, has been one of the <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb06_1517933601CH.php">most peaceful </a>the country has known. The turnout was over 75%, which shows that people <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb10_1518277196CH.php">are keen</a> on exercising their right to vote. </p><p>The current government attributes the nonviolent character of the election to a new election system. As Prime Minister <a href="https://twitter.com/RW_UNP">Ranil Wickremesinghe</a>, of the United National Party (UNP), <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb10_1518275980CH.php">explained</a>: "the reason is that the most competitive and conflicting preferential voting system that was in the previous elections is not seen in the new system we introduced.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I have just cast my vote in today’s local elections. I urge all voting today, to do so peacefully and respectfully. <a href="https://t.co/9bX3DrCprA">pic.twitter.com/9bX3DrCprA</a></p>&mdash; Ranil Wickremesinghe (@RW_UNP) <a href="https://twitter.com/RW_UNP/status/962202759473721345?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 10, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>Wickremesinghe added that introducing the new election system would give the current administration <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb10_1518275980CH.php">an advantage</a> in the upcoming general election. Sri Lanka suffered from a protracted civil war between 1983 and 2009, so a peaceful election is certainly a welcome blessing to the fledgling democracy. However, there are signs that the results of the local election will not turn out to favor the ruling power in the end.</p> <h2><strong>Rajapaksa’s comeback </strong></h2> <p>Local elections in Sri Lanka might not have the same impact as the parliamentary or presidential elections, but the victory of former <a href="https://twitter.com/PresRajapaksa">President Mahinda Rajapaksa</a> means that he is back in politics full speed ahead and poised to regain political power.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Thank you to all who supported the vision of the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SriLanka?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SriLanka</a> Podujana Peramuna at the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LGPolls2018?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LGPolls2018</a>. Your voices have been heard. It’s clear that our country needs a change. <a href="https://t.co/k3hdKGhRkQ">pic.twitter.com/k3hdKGhRkQ</a></p>&mdash; Mahinda Rajapaksa (@PresRajapaksa) <a href="https://twitter.com/PresRajapaksa/status/962646411790749696?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 11, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>Rajapaksa lost the presidency in 2015 when the challenger <a href="https://twitter.com/MaithripalaS">Maithripala Sirisena</a> won 51% of the votes. Reportedly, minorities like the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30738671)">Tamil and Muslim communities</a> of Sri Lanka secured his victory. Sirisena, who now represents the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), joined forces with Wickremesinghe (UNP). Together since 2015 they have politically dominated Sri Lanka. Even though Rajapaksa’s presidency was filled with allegations of corruption and nepotism, he has never lost his popularity among the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35505995">Sinhala community</a>. </p> <p>Rajapaksa is back under a new political banner after leaving his former party, the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP). Now, with the support of his brothers and former members of the SLFP, he leads <a href="http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180211/news/landslide-for-slpp-in-south-north-goes-to-itak-281688.html">Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna</a>. It seems that Rajapaksa has taken his revenge on both the UNP and SLFP by winning the recent election. After the election, he stated that the current government should <a href="https://twitter.com/newsradiolk/status/962933578333122560">dissolve parliament</a> and call for re-elections. &nbsp;</p> <p>Given this background, there is no question that Rajapaksa has little intention of giving up his desire to become a prominent figure in the country’s political affairs once again. Knowing that there are potential clashes between supporters, Rajapaksa has <a href="http://colombogazette.com/2018/02/11/joint-opposition-claims-landslide-win-at-lg-elections/">urged his voters</a> not to attack the losing side. He says: “No matter what they did to us we must set an example”.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Tamil and Muslim distress </strong></h2> <p>The local election <a href="http://adaderana.lk/local-authorities-election-2018/">clearly shows</a> that the Tamil community in the North and East do not vote for the Sinhala major parties. The Tamil nationalist party, the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), earned major victories in the councils in the north and to some extent in the east where the majority of the Tamil population resides. During the civil war, the Tamil guerilla movement Liberation Army of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its allies, operated in these areas. LTTE does not exist any more but its spirit <a href="http://www.amnestypress.se/artiklar/reportage/26190/firande-sorg-och-lokalval-i-splittrat-sri-lanka/">lives on</a> in the north. </p> <p>The Tamil community is reportedly under stress: <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35249088">reports of torture</a> still keep coming in. Another big issue for the Tamil minority is land grabbing and resettlement. The Sinhala-dominated army is taking land from displaced Tamils and using it <a href="http://tamildiplomat.com/sri-lankan-government-fails-promises-resettlement-demilitarization-reconciliation/">to expand</a> their own estates. So old problems have persisted under the current presidency, with the result that the Tamil community does not place much trust in Sinhalese leadership in general. &nbsp;</p> <p>Another minority community that has been affected by land-grabbing is the Muslim community. This was confirmed to me when I talked to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem back in 2013. Hakeem told me that land-grabbing was the most important question for his community: </p> <blockquote><p><em>“An important issue is land : land distribution (…) is a very crucial factor which dominates our political tension as well. (…) in particular because livelihoods depend on land as far as every community is concerned”.</em></p></blockquote> <p>Another thing that might worry Muslims in Sri Lanka after Rajapaksa’s success is that Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist movements might receive a boost. Under the last Rajapaksa rule, Mahinda’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, was associated with the hardline Buddhist organization <a href="https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/gotabhaya-rajapaksa-and-his-bala-sena/">Bodu Bala Sena</a> (BBS) – an organization that has an anti-Islamic agenda and sees Sri Lanka as a holy land for Buddhism. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>2020</strong></h2> <p>2020, when the next presidential election will be held, is the year to look out for. Due to tenure regulations, Mahinda Rajapaksa will be unable to contest the current presidency. But in this year’s election Rajapaksa has showed that he is still popular. Perhaps one of his brothers will become a presidential candidate. The UNP might drop their support for President Sirisena and present their own candidate. </p> <p>So President Sirisena is likely to face problems no matter who he faces in 2020. While the major Sinhalese parties are competing for power, the two minorities will be struggling with their own concerns. </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sri Lanka </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"> Economics </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 Sri Lanka Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics Andreas Johansson Thu, 15 Feb 2018 11:49:42 +0000 Andreas Johansson 116141 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The myth of the Indian ‘New Middle Class’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/asiya-islam/myth-of-indian-new-middle-class <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Families in Modi’s India are caught in a spiral of working class conditions in jobs pretending to be middle class, with their requirement for degrees and skills training. </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-34609554.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34609554.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'>Alain Berset, president of the Swiss Confederation, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2018. Xu Jinquan/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>At the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed by a big turnout at the plenary session and introduced by WEF founder, Klaus Schwab, as the leader of a country that is the <a href="https://livestream.com/accounts/1909571/events/7959969/videos/169093788/player?autoPlay=false&amp;mute=false&amp;width=&amp;height=">“bright image of dynamism, of optimism”</a>. For his part, Modi spoke of a vision of shared future that overcomes the fault lines of inequality, poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities. </p> <p>Ahead of the visit, Modi encouraged the presentation of India as the centre of attraction for the entire world. Closely on the heels of Modi’s platforming of India as a rising global force, NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India, ironically headed by Modi) published a report on <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/india-facing-problem-of-severe-under-employment-says-niti/article19570289.ece">severe underemployment in the country</a>, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017 published findings on the <a href="https://www.dailyo.in/politics/modi-demographic-dividend-aser-education-slap-davos-skill-india-rte/story/1/21919.html">failures of various programmes for education and vocational training of Indian youth</a>, and the World Bank released data showing that <a href="http://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/oxfam-india-wealth-report-income-inequality-richests-poor/story/268541.html">the richest 1% in India now own 73% of its wealth</a>. In short, not the best prospects for India. </p> <p>Modi, on the other hand, <a href="http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-pm-modi-interview-with-zee-news-top-10-key-takeaways-2576913">continues to insist</a>, “If someone opens a 'pakoda' [fried snacks] shop in front of your office, does that not count as employment? The person's daily earning of Rs 200 will never come into any books or accounts. The truth is massive people are being employed.”&nbsp; PM Modi’s celebration of informal and precarious work as gainful employment is <a href="https://thewire.in/216400/no-prime-minister-earning-rs-200-a-day-selling-pakodas-employment/">rightly being criticised</a>. But what of the much-touted formal jobs generated as a result of encouraging foreign direct investment and privatisation post-1990? </p> <h2><strong><em>Pakoda</em></strong><strong> employment</strong></h2> <p>Unfortunately, the conditions of <em>pakoda </em>employment – informal, underpaid and precarious employment – are not limited to selling snacks and <em>chai </em>on the street side. As much as Modi would like to insist on India’s growth story, these conditions characterise the majority of employment in the country, including formal employment in services, the biggest sector of the Indian economy and the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.in/malvinder-mohan-singh/the-rise-of-the-services-sector-is-redefining-india-s-growth-nar_a_21445764/">fastest growing</a> service sector in the world. </p> <p>The numbers that demonstrate the success of the deregulation of the Indian economy – high GDP growth rate, increasing per capita income, rapid growth of services – carefully mask the exploitation and everyday struggles of common people, even those <em>privileged </em>enough to be employed. </p> <p>The idea that privatisation and foreign investment in the market has led to a surge of employment opportunities for the youth, <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fast-food-chains-in-india-cultivate-untapped-workforce-women-1482674401">particularly</a><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fast-food-chains-in-india-cultivate-untapped-workforce-women-1482674401"> women</a>, is popular (because if there are any bastions of women’s empowerment, they’re American multi-nationals, right?!) Perhaps the popularity of this idea is not so surprising. Dressed smartly in uniforms, young professional women in the gleaming malls and cafes of Indian cities may give an impression of upward mobility. But the smiles, the English greetings, and the lattes cover up conditions that are not so dissimilar from the informal self-employment that Modi speaks of as gainful employment.</p> <p>This hidden-away reality became obvious as I conducted research with young women workers in cafes and malls in affluent South Delhi in 2017. On an average, these young women earn Rs.8000 (USD 125) per month; income that their families heavily rely upon for everyday living expenses. To earn this salary, all of them work overtime, which they are never compensated for, often seven days a week, rather than their contractual 6 days a week. And even if calculated for just 25 days of work per month, their wages do not meet the minimum wage for the state of Delhi. </p> <h2><strong>Trapped</strong></h2> <p>Early in 2017, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/aap-govts-minimum-wages-too-little-and-inadequate-delhi-high-court/articleshow/58646166.cms">increased the minimum wage</a> by approximately one-third to Rs.13,350 (USD 210), Rs.14,968 (USD 235), and Rs.16,182 (USD 254) for unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled workers respectively. Commenting on the employers’ plea against this move, the Delhi High Court noted – “Is it possible to sustain an individual on Rs 13,000? Average cost of commute for an individual per day is around Rs 100 which comes to Rs 3,000 in a month. Where do you eat? One has to eat. That would also cost Rs 50 per day. The amount of Rs 13,000 is too little. It's inadequate.” </p> <p>These workers’ emotional labour, which is far from acknowledged, hides their utter physical exhaustion, which is often made visible on the swollen feet that have to get a night’s rest before starting all over again the next day. The limits of their earnings are made manifest in their inability to use the metro because the maximum fare has now been increased to Rs.60 (USD 1), in the impossibility of getting their degree certificates because they still haven’t paid the full fees, and in their negotiations with landlords for leeway in payment of rent on their Rs.5000 (USD 78) per month one-bedroom flats. And these are conditions that these workers cannot think of escaping since alternatives are few and far in between. </p> <p>As the <a href="https://scroll.in/article/815500/is-this-even-legal-what-is-modi-is-doing-in-a-reliance-jio-ad-ask-twitter-users">Prime Minister’s image appears on Reliance Jio advertisements</a> across the country offering low cost data services, young people get access to smartphones and 4G sims, but not to good quality education, housing, or infrastructure. Much as we’d like to believe, and the government would like us to believe, that these one-off purchases are signs of an upwardly mobile new middle class, reality counters this presumption. They are, rather, families caught in a spiral of working class conditions in jobs pretending to be middle class with their requirement for degrees and skills training. </p> <h2><strong>Formal employment </strong></h2> <p>The government’s investment in employability training for youth is not matched by the creation of secure and fairly paid work. Many complain about being trained in computers and English speaking at low-cost government centres or NGOs, only to end up in work that does not require these skills at all. As one of my research respondents put it, “They ask for education, BA, MA…but they’re not willing to spend the money, that’s the government. They put suits and ties on workers but if you ask them, you find out how bad their financial situations are.” </p> <p>It is then no surprise that these young women, as well as men in their families, express a desire for ‘government jobs’, even preparing to sit exams while working seven days a week. <a href="http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reviews-essays/india-struggle-knowledge/2">In 2015, 2.5 million people applied for 600 Class IV government jobs in the state of Uttar Pradesh</a>. The cry for government jobs may be dismissed as a historical affliction or just nostalgia but it is actually indicative of the lack of secure employment that can offer stability. A Class IV government job (lowest category of permanent employment) would pay twice the salary that my research respondents currently earn, with nothing to say of access to job security, provident fund, and pension. </p> <p>While informal employment is often considered to be the problem marring India (and rightly so), we also need to pay more attention to the conditions of formal employment that the country is generating and hopes to generate more of in the future. It needs to be reiterated that the underpayment, exploitation, and precariousness that young women workers have described characterise jobs that are actually on the better end of the employment situation in the country. These jobs would be categorised as formal, regular, salaried employment but the experience is far removed from that categorisation. </p> <p>As underemployment and exploitation pervade the vast majority of employment opportunities in the country, including in emerging gleaming globalised urban spaces, one needs to ask – what kind of economic and social future are we looking towards? The need for sustainable, secure, and fairly paid work is urgent. Rather than touting informal and poorly paid formal work as gainful employment, the government needs to consider India’s longterm social and economic prospects for the disgruntled majority of its population.</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/500209/8390775831_d072dd62a2_b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/8390775831_d072dd62a2_b.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'>Employees operate the telephones at the Touch Solutions Ltd call centre in New Delhi. Flickr/©ILO/Benoit Marquet. 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-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"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </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 Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics Asiya Islam Mon, 12 Feb 2018 10:56:41 +0000 Asiya Islam 116068 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hindu authoritarianism and agrarian distress https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/achin-vanaik/hindu-authoritarianism-and-agrarian-distress <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To defeat populist-nationalist forms of communal authoritarianism in India, we have to fight against more than just communalism.</p> </div> </div> </div> <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/Jignesh_Mevani_Social_activist.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Jignesh_Mevani_Social_activist.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="613" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jignesh Mevani, who is insisting on going beyond identity politics, demanding not just land redistribution but jobs for all the poor, in 2016. Wikicommons/ Gazal world. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is the second article in a series on ‘confronting authoritarian populism and the rural world’, linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (</em><a href="http://www.iss.nl/erpi"><em>ERPI</em></a><em>). The opening article can be read </em><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p>Far right political forces have burgeoned throughout the world, but only in India does a far right party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hold governmental power on its own. Nor anywhere else is there a far-right force, with obvious fascist characteristics, that has existed now for over 90 years.</p> <p>The BJP is the electoral wing of the group called the Sangh Parivar, with well over a hundred affiliates, including cultural, religious, student, women and federated trade union fronts, whose original parent body is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). </p> <p>The Sangh is fully committed to the project of establishing a <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/09/india-modi-bjp-cow-vigilantism-judiciary-corruption">Hindu state/nation</a> as the ‘true’ embodiment of nationalism. The scale and depth of its implantation in the pores of civil society is unmatched. Across India, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resident_set_size">RSS</a> has over 56,000 branches and an estimated membership between five to six million.</p> <h2><strong>The rise of globalized neoliberalism: national histories and specificities</strong></h2> <p>How this came to pass certainly involves global developments, such as the rise and spread of a neoliberalism that has had devastating economic consequences, as well as creating new and more powerful forms of social disorientation and alienation. </p> <p>In such circumstances, people seek psychological refuge in clinging to ‘unchangeable’ ascribed identities of ethnicity, religion, race, caste and nation, either separately or in combination. Exclusivist and <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693">authoritarian populist</a> nationalisms take hold. </p> <p>However, the effect of neoliberal globalization is always mediated by national histories and specificities. In India, this has resulted in the rise of the Sangh and its expanding ideology of <em>Hindutva</em> or Hindu nationalism with its foundational hatred of Islam and Muslims, who constitute 14% of the country’s population. </p> <p>Today the BJP has replaced the Congress party (now in serious decline) as the only national party in electoral terms, while in the competitive struggle to establish hegemony, compared to all other forces, <em>Hindutva </em>is in the lead although still well short of its ultimate goal. </p> <p>Given this reality, the struggle to defeat communalism must necessarily fight on all fronts – cultural, political, ideological and economic. And it is the economic front, especially in the agrarian sector, which is currently the Sangh’s weak spot.</p> <h2><strong>Agrarian crises and distress</strong></h2> <p>Agriculture contributes only 14% of GDP and only 40% of all rural output with micro-, small, and medium enterprises of all sorts (services, manufacturing, construction) counting for the rest. But even here output growth far outstrips employment growth. </p> <p>Two-thirds of the total population is from rural India with one-quarter being landless. Here there is a strong overlap between lower classes and lower castes: for example, a near majority of Dalits are landless but a majority of landless are not Dalits. This situation calls out for cross-caste/class alliances. Yet the main Dalit organisations and parties focus on affirmative action and identity politics. Only very recently has a young lawyer and Dalit leader, <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other.../jignesh-mevani-face.../article19435937.ece">Jignesh Mevani,</a> emerged, who is insisting on going beyond identity politics, demanding not just land redistribution but jobs for all the poor. This pleases neither upper caste farmers nor urban dwellers, while disturbing existing Dalit leaders. </p> <p>Around 80% of all the landholdings of Indian farmers are small or marginal. Even the 20% of rich and medium-sized farmers feel disempowered, although they dominate rural politics, providing leadership for many, though not all, rural struggles, such as low caste mobilizations against upper caste atrocities and discrimination. </p> <p>Over two-and-a-half decades Indian agriculture has suffered a serious decline. The <a href="http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/reaping-distress/article8870098.ece">key trends</a> are rising costs of inputs despite some subsidies, growing indebtedness (52% of all farmers are in debt), increasing subdivision of land, declining output prices from global competition and greater corporatization of value chains between farm and retail. </p> <p>Agriculture growth is not only insufficient, it is also jobless, while land acquisition for defence, infrastructure projects, real estate and industrial corridors has created uprisings against the government’s pro-urban bias. </p> <h2><strong>Agrarian mobilizations</strong></h2> <p>Agrarian mobilizations have been against land acquisition, for jobs/support prices/debt relief and amenities. In the last 25 years around 300,000 farmers <a href="http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/21/special-articles/lives-debt.html">committed suicide</a> with around 270,000 doing so in the last 15 years. </p> <p>Apart from the struggles against caste oppression most others have been led by the rich peasantry whose distress has led many to look for exit in due course and certainly for their progeny. According to the <a href="http://www.asercentre.org/Keywords/p/315.html">2017 Annual Status of Education Report</a> only 1.2% of youth from whatever backgrounds are willing to work in agriculture. It is no surprise, then, that such upper caste farmers’ movements are now demanding reserved places for themselves in secure government jobs. </p> <p>A big contrast to the 1990s when reservation was extended to the middle castes (around 50% of the population and also called Other Backward Classes or OBCs) as well as to Dalits (15%) and Tribals (8%), provoking an angry upper caste reaction.</p> <p>Does this mean that the hegemonic ambitions of <em>Hindutva</em> forces and their anti-democratic project are being seriously challenged by such agrarian discontent? </p> <p>Things are not so straightforward. The agrarian bourgeoisie comes mainly from the upper non-Brahmin castes and from the upper echelons of the OBCs. Most are not opposed to <em>Hindutva</em> ideology; indeed the main social base for the Sangh is from these castes. Indeed, recently there has been a substantial <em>Hindutva</em>-isation of OBCs, as well as some in-roads into Dalits and Tribals.&nbsp; </p> <p>The promise of cultural upward mobility as a result of joining the broader Hindu fold has served as a psychological balm of sorts. But this rural bourgeoisie feels it has lost out at the apex of society to its urban industrial, service sector and financial counterparts. </p> <h2><strong>Challenges ahead</strong></h2> <p>What lessons can be drawn? A major focus of the struggle against rising Hindu authoritarian populism must be opposition to neoliberal economic policies. Yet all but the Left parties are wedded to a neoliberal position. </p> <p>A new programme must be worked out for environmentally sustainable development to meet employment, health and welfare needs for the vast majority. The Left and other progressive forces must also link the struggles of lower castes, women, tribals in all their variety, to the class struggles of all the working poor, perhaps especially in rural areas. </p> <p>To defeat populist-nationalist forms of communal authoritarianism we have to fight against more than just communalism! </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>The <strong>Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative</strong> (<a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/research/networks/emancipatory-rural-politics-initiative-erpi">ERPI)</a> was launched during 2017 as a response to the rise of <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693">authoritarian populism</a> in different parts of the world. Our focus is on the rural origins and consequences of authoritarian populism, as well as the forms of resistance and variety of alternatives that are emerging.<br />&nbsp;<br />In March 2018, a major <a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/events/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world-2018-03-17">ERPI event </a>will be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, bringing together around 300 researchers and activists from across five continents. ERPI small grant holders will present research insights and debates will focus on mobilizing alternatives, generating new research-activist networks across the world.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />&nbsp;<br />You can also follow updates from ERPI on <a href="https://twitter.com/TheErpi">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/TheERPI/">Facebook.</a></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="/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"> Confronting authoritarian populism: the rural dimension</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/amber-huff-salima-tasdemir-patrick-huff/why-defendafrin-confronting-authoritarian-populism-with-radi">Why #DefendAfrin? Confronting authoritarian populism with radical democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/marc-edelman/sacrifice-zones-in-rural-and-non-metro-usa-fertile-soil-for-authoritarian-populism">Sacrifice zones in rural and non-metro USA: fertile soil for authoritarian populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openIndia/raj-patel/islamophobia-gastronomica-on-food-police-rural-populism-and-killing">Islamophobia gastronomica - on the food police, rural populism and killing</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wendy-wolford-sergio-sauer/authoritarian-elitism-and-popular-movements-in-brazil">Authoritarian elitism and popular movements in Brazil</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/benjamin-white-laksmi-savitri-devi-adriyanti-hanny-wijaya-ciptaningrat-larastiti-abdul-rahman/demise">The demise of emancipatory peasant politics? Indonesian fascism and the rise of Islamic populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/khin-zaw-win/how-populism-directed-against-minorities-is-used-to-prop-up-myanmar-s-democratic-reviva">How populism directed against minorities is used to prop up Myanmar’s ‘Democratic’ revival</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"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </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 Conflict Democracy and government Equality International politics Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World Achin Vanaik Mon, 05 Feb 2018 08:39:59 +0000 Achin Vanaik 115943 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Modi government and the muzzling of the Indian media https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/nissim-mannathukkaren/more-damaging-development-has-been-role-of-mainstream-media-in-face- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The more damaging development has been the role of the mainstream media in the face of the government attempts to muzzle it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <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/PA-33533666_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-33533666_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'>Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the crowd on National Unity Day, October 31, 2017. Hindustan Times/ Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></em></p><p><em>Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.</em></p> <p>— M. K. Gandhi</p> <p>Generally, the death of a judge, in what seem to be mysterious circumstances, while presiding over a case against the second most powerful person in the country, and the closest associate of the head of the government, would be make prime-time television in a democracy. Similarly, the allegations of corruption against the family of the same person would have garnered media attention. But recent events in India prove otherwise. </p><p>On November 20, and 21, the Indian publication <a href="http://www.caravanmagazine.in/vantage/shocking-details-emerge-in-death-of-judge-presiding-over-sohrabuddin-trial-family-breaks-silence"><em>The</em> <em>Caravan</em> broke a story</a> of the death of 48-year old Justice B. H. Loya, involved in the case (of alleged extra-judicial killing) against the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling party. This was after a purported attempt to bribe him by the Chief Justice of a High Court, for a favorable verdict in the case, with an amount of Rs. 100 crore ($ 15.3 million). The report contained testimonies of the family of the judge. </p> <p>Despite the explosive nature of the story and its potentially unprecedented implications for Indian democracy (in independent India’s history, to my knowledge, there is no instance of a judge being assassinated) <a href="https://scroll.in/article/858771/the-daily-fix-a-shocking-silence-hangs-over-allegations-about-the-death-of-sohrabuddin-case-judge">there was a stunned silence in the mainstream and big media</a>, especially, the English-language television channels that have a disproportionate influence in the setting of the political agenda. As one media commentator <a href="http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/silence-english-media-worrying-caravan-editor-loyas-suspicious-death-72040">put it</a>, “it seems that two deaths need to be investigated: that of Judge Loya, and that of the Indian media.”&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>After a week, while a <a href="https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/from-nagpur-to-latur-retracing-last-few-hours-of-justice-loya-1780039">couple of big media</a> outlets <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/cbi-judge-bh-loya-death-amit-shah-sohrabuddin-case-nothing-suspicious-say-two-bombay-hc-judges-4956115/">reported on the story</a> (and which contradicted the <em>Caravan</em> report), they seemed to throw up more <a href="https://scroll.in/article/859391/new-reports-tell-us-more-about-sohrabuddin-judges-death-and-bring-up-fresh-questions">questions</a> than <a href="https://thewire.in/200269/judge-loya-death-questions/">answers</a>. Any conclusion about the death of the judge, especially when the family has raised serious questions, cannot be derived from media investigations and reports. It can only be settled by a high-level judicial probe which should also consider the bribery allegation. Not only is that not forthcoming, there is no demand for it from the media or the political firmament which is also curiously silent.</p> <p>Almost as a trailer for the judge story, in October, the Indian news website, <em>The Wire</em>, <a href="https://thewire.in/185512/amit-shah-narendra-modi-jay-shah-bjp/">broke the story</a> of how the business turnover of a company owned by Jay Amit Shah increased by 16, 000 times in the year following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jay Amit Shah is the son of Amit Shah. </p> <p>The story began trending on twitter and social media. It naturally raised question marks about the fairytale surge in Mr. Shah’s business revenues as well as loans (seemingly, without adequate collateral), the abrupt shutting down of the business (that too just before the controversial <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/opinion/in-india-black-money-makes-for-bad-policy.html">demonetization of high-valued</a> Indian currency notes) due to losses in the same year as the galloping revenues, another of Mr. Shah’s businesses involved in stock trading getting a loan from a public-sector undertaking to set up a wind energy plant, etc. </p> <p>Instead of dispelling the cloud hanging over these questions by ordering an inquiry, the Government of India came down with its full might on scotching them. It chose to depute a senior minister to respond, who said: “<a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/amit-shahs-son-slaps-rs-100-crore-defamation-suit-on-a-website/articleshow/60994676.cms">We reject all allegations</a> against Jay Shah.” Mr. Shah filed a Rs. 100 crore ($ 15.3 million) defamation suit against <em>The Wire.</em> The Indian government also initially gave permission to the <a href="http://www.firstpost.com/india/tushar-mehta-to-represent-jay-amit-shah-what-the-service-rules-say-about-an-asgs-role-4131913.html">Additional Solicitor General of India</a>, the third highest law officer of the government, to represent Mr. Shah.</p> <p>What was curious in all this was that Mr. Jay Shah is a private citizen, and there was clear conflict of interest in the government defending a private citizen, especially, the son of the ruling party president. A court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, barred <em>The Wire</em> from <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/ahmedabad-court-injunction-the-wire-barred-from-writing-on-jay-shah-to-protect-his-right-to-live-with-dignity-4897414/">publishing any more reports</a> on Mr. Shah’s businesses without even hearing the arguments of the news website.</p> <p>Much of Narendra Modi’s legitimacy among the Indian public comes from the perception that, unlike most of the political class, <a href="http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/india-today-mood-of-the-nation-poll-10-big-takeaways/1/1028161.html">he is personally beyond reproach</a> when it comes to financial corruption. Moreover, it was he who <a href="http://www.dnaindia.com/india/live-updates-pm-modi-bengaluru-inaugurates-pravasi-bharatiya-divas-dr-antonio-costa-indian-diaspora-2290283">declared a war on corruption</a>, the most emphatic example of which, the government claims, is the demonetization exercise. </p> <p>But Mr. Modi’s <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/rahul-gandhi-on-jay-shah-case-will-not-speak-on-shah-zada-nor-will-let-others-4899065/">silence on the corruption story</a> finally exposed the hollowness of the government’s <a href="http://www.firstpost.com/business/3-years-of-narendra-modi-govt-clean-money-portal-chidambaram-raids-timed-well-but-whats-come-of-black-money-battle-3451420.html">crusade against corruption</a>, which in any case, has so far amounted to nothing more than targeted attacks against <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/cbi-raids-chidambaram-and-son-kartis-chennai-residences/articleshow/58691908.cms">rival politicians</a>.</p> <p>In politics, perceptions play a huge role. This is the first time that Mr. Modi’s carefully crafted image as incorruptible and as a crusader against corruption has taken a considerable beating. WhatsApp messages, tweets and Facebook posts were rife with jokes about Mr. Shah’s businesses, and Mr. Modi’s silence. </p> <p>As examples from history show, when jokes start circulating about a powerful leader, cracks in political legitimacy begin to appear. And in another first, the monthly average of retweets of the Congress party’s prime ministerial contender, <a href="http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/one-chart-that-shows-how-rahul-gandhi-is-challenging-narendra-modi-on-twitter/story-0ybIrE0J9ZrD7CnDdwfEFO.html">Rahul Gandhi’s tweets&nbsp; overtook</a> that of Mr. Modi.</p> <h2><strong>Muzzled media</strong></h2> <p>But the more damaging development has been the role of the mainstream media in the face of government attempts to muzzle it. Just as in the judge story, there was silence about the corruption story in the media. Even when there was coverage, it was more about the defamation case filed by Mr. Shah <a href="https://www.newslaundry.com/2017/10/09/amit-shah-rs-100-crore-defamation-media-blackout-times-of-india-hindu-indian-express-aaj-tak-ndtv">rather than the merits of story itself</a>. The rare television channel that has sometimes been critical of the Modi government and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/opinion/india-freedom-of-press-narendra-modi.html">faced its wrath</a> for doing so, succumbed, <a href="https://scroll.in/latest/854478/ndtvs-sreenivasan-jain-says-channels-decision-to-take-down-his-story-on-jay-shah-is-unfortunate">pulling down reportage</a> about the Shah story.</p> <p>This is an extraordinary level of submissiveness displayed by the media. This must also be read in the context of the largest democracy’s abysmal ranking in the World Press Freedom Index. Last year, India ranked <a href="https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2016">133 out of 18o countries</a>. And this year, it has <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/poll-is-freedom-of-the-press-under-threat-in-india/article18371922.ece">declined to 136</a>. Recently, the main mode of intimidation against journalists doing investigative stories has been through <a href="http://www.caravanmagazine.in/vantage/jay-shah-sue-wire-responses-investigative-journalism-india">Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs)</a>, like the one filed by Mr. Shah.</p> <p>Journalists face severe challenges, including physical violence and threat to life, in carrying out their work. According to an independent media report, there were <a href="http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/the-india-freedom-report-january-2016-april-2017-10080">54 attacks on journalists</a> (and seven murders) between January 2016 and April 2017, the majority being perpetrated by law-makers and law-enforcers. Four journalists were killed in 2015, and there were 142 attacks in 2014-15.&nbsp; </p><p>Rohini Singh, who did investigations into the Jay Shah story, recounted the threats she faced while and after doing the story. According to her, this was not the case when she did similar stories on the previous <a href="http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/oct/09/i-am-not-brave-im-just-a-journalist-rohini-singh-responds-to-jay-shahs-lawsuit-threat-1669019.html">Congress-led regime.</a></p> <p>So, the emerging “manufacture of consent” in favor of the ruling government does not happen only through active participation, or self-censorship on criticism by the media, but also as a result of the egregious threats that the media personnel face.</p> <p><a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/leezamangaldas/2017/07/17/how-a-meme-of-indian-pm-modi-with-puppy-ears-provoked-police-complaints-in-india/#1018a6616570">Jokes making fun of Mr. Modi</a>, or <a href="http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/the-india-freedom-report-january-2016-april-2017-10080">Facebook posts</a> of lay citizens, and <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/tamil/bjp-objects-to-gst-references-in-vijay-starrer-mersal-everything-that-has-happened-so-far-4900071/">films criticizing his government</a> are met with police complaints, legal cases, and threats by the ruling party and its larger ideological family. BJP-led state governments have also introduced draconian bills to curb free speech. </p> <p>India’s democracy is at a critical juncture. After the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-33269607">Emergency</a> declared by the Congress government in 1975 which legally curbed press freedoms, we have not witnessed such levels of abnegation of free speech. (The otherwise-activist Indian judiciary too has maintained a deafening silence on the judge’s death.) It would not be wrong to consider this present conjuncture as marking a deterioration in that regard.&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><h2><strong>“Anti-national activity”</strong></h2> <p>While all governments, in varying degrees, try to muzzle free speech or physically intimidate journalists, what is radically different under the Modi dispensation is the wider climate of intolerance fostered by the combustible combination of religion and nationalism aided by state power. </p> <p>This has led to unprecedented attacks against religious minorities on accusations like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/opinion/indias-turn-toward-intolerance.html">possessing/eating beef</a> or the killings of those who are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/world/asia/gauri-lankesh-india-dead.html">critics of the government</a>. Dissent and criticism of government has been construed as an anti-national activity clearly demonstrated by the <a href="http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/the-india-freedom-report-january-2016-april-2017-10080">40 sedition cases filed in 2016.</a> A film “wrongly” depicting a mythical Hindu queen has caused a nation-wide storm including a <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/20/indian-ruling-party-member-offers-bounty-for-the-beheading-of-bollywoods-biggest-female-stars/?utm_term=.cee9b2028fe6">death threat to its makers and actors.</a></p> <p>The Press Freedom Index Report is clear about the reasons for India’s drop in the ranking: “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media.”&nbsp;</p> <p>When the largest democracy in the world, and the oldest one in the Global South, displays authoritarian tendencies betraying the promise of its founding fathers, it has implications beyond 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-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 Nissim Mannathukkaren Sun, 03 Dec 2017 13:51:21 +0000 Nissim Mannathukkaren 115035 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 Patriotic education is textbook propaganda https://www.opendemocracy.net/david-mountain/patriotic-education-is-textbook-propaganda <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Resistance is vital if we are to spare children from the mind-numbing diet of national superiority and state allegiance that governments around the world are trying to feed them.</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/Army-2015_2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Army-2015_2.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'>A soft opening for Russia's Patriot Park, 2015. Wikicommons/Government-ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Something strange is happening in Indian universities. A few days ago, the Ministry for Human Resources called for ‘<a href="http://www.hindustantimes.com/editorials/nda-govt-s-priority-must-be-quality-of-education-not-patriotic-rock-music/story-0mHmNtFlvCKoG4HzGkNdzN.html">patriotic rock music</a>’ to be performed at the nation’s campuses. In July, the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of the country’s largest, asked that a tank be displayed on site to spark ‘<a href="http://www.firstpost.com/india/whats-behind-jnu-v-c-jagadesh-kumars-call-for-army-tank-on-campus-need-to-intimidate-unarmed-enemy-who-questions-state-3853125.html">patriotic inspiration</a>’ in students. A recently-passed law requires all state-funded universities to fly the national flag ‘<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-35602161">to evoke nationalistic sentiments</a>.’ And in March this year, students protesting the ABVP, the country’s powerful right-wing student association, were branded ‘anti-national’ traitors and <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/20/asia/india-universities-nationalism-abvp/index.html">pelted with stones</a>.</p> <p>The Indian government, under their Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is aggressively pushing a programme of ‘patriotic education’ upon the country. What we see happening in higher education is just part of their plan to raise a generation of highly patriotic citizens. In schools, the government hopes to introduce mandatory singing of the national anthem, compulsory hoisting of the country’s flag, a greater focus on the lives of national heroes, and even military lessons, in order to ‘<a href="http://www.timesnow.tv/india/video/soon-lessons-on-patriotism/53157">instil patriotism and nationalism in the curriculum</a>.’ As the head of Veterans India <a href="http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/vc-asks-for-a-tank-in-jnu-to-instil-love-for-army/articleshow/59729693.cms">ominously declared</a> in July this year: ‘We will create a situation where people will love the nation. And if they don’t, we will force them to love it.’ <span class="mag-quote-center">“People will love the nation. And if they don’t, we will force them to love it.”</span></p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>Young Army Initiatives</strong></h2> <p>Patriotic education is by no means unique to India. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has explicitly stated that ‘love of country’ should be <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/01/national/media-national/political-turning-point-japans-youth/#.WJyYtW-LSHs, accessed 09/02/17">a goal of education</a>. Likewise, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for China’s education system to be infused with ‘<a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-4844006/Sour-note-China-bans-parodies-national-anthem.html">patriotic spirit</a>.’ In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is currently pushing through (as ‘urgent’) a law that would force all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to <a href="http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/02/07/1670018/duterte-approves-mandatory-rotc">take part in military training</a>, ‘to instil nationalism, patriotism and discipline among the Filipino youth.’</p> <p>Since 2005, Russian children have been subject to the State Programme for the Patriotic Education of Citizens, which has quadrupled the country’s spending on patriotic projects in a bid to make national pride the ‘<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-38315892">spiritual backbone</a>’ of Russia. Central to this has been the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-young-army-yunarmia-patriotism-youth-military-skills/">Young Army</a> initiative, a ‘military and patriotic’ venture teaching military skills to children as young as ten. Alternatively, the country’s youth can visit Patriot Park, Russia’s ‘<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/16/vladimir-putin-opens-russian-military-disneyland-patriot-park">military Disneyland’</a>, which President Vladimir Putin has designated ‘an important element in our system of military-patriotic work with young people.’</p> <p>Even in relatively free and democratic countries we can find the philosophy of patriotic education in action. In the UK, for example, teachers have been threatened with losing their jobs and even being barred from their profession if they ‘<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/trojan-horse-schools-teachers-to-be-barred-for-not-protecting-british-values-9621914.html">fail to protect British values in their schools</a>’. And in the USA, it is stipulated in the country’s stringent <a href="https://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf">Flag Code</a> that the stars and stripes ‘should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.’ In October this year, a private college in Missouri launched a <a href="http://time.com/4997528/college-of-the-ozarks-military-patriotism-class/?utm_campaign=time&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;xid=time_socialflow_twitter">mandatory patriotism class</a> for all freshmen. </p> <h2><strong>Why?</strong></h2> <p>Patriotic education is clearly popular among governments. But why? Consider these few simple observations. Firstly, patriotism is a mercurial and loosely defined sentiment, encapsulating wildly different ideas to different people – just look at the USA, where patriots for and against President Trump are arguing over whether patriotism means loyalty or dissent. This means that national pride can easily be moulded to support various beliefs and ideologies. Secondly, most if not all of the governments championing patriotic education are at pains to equate themselves with the country. As one Chinese citizen put it, ‘loving the country equals loving the Party.’ Lastly, and quite simply: children are impressionable. They tend to believe what their teachers tell them.</p> <p>Put these observations together and it doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest an ulterior motive behind these education campaigns. Could it be, as critics of the Chinese education system <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/09/02/thousands-protest-hong-kongs-moral-and-national-education-push/">have charged</a>, that these governments are engaged in patriotic ‘brainwashing’, employing national pride to inculcate in children obedience and unwavering loyalty to the state and its leaders?</p> <p>If this seems outlandish, consider the effect that such ‘education’ is already having. <a href="http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2771&amp;context=etd">Research has shown</a> that the longer a Chinese individual stays in state education, the more likely they are to support the Communist Party. In this way Beijing has avoided another Tiananmen-style protest, as a large proportion of the country’s youth, pumped up with national superiority, no longer look to ‘the West’ with envy. In Russia, the classroom obsession with national pride and foreign enemies has helped distract the public from the cocktail of economic and social ills – such as shrinking real wages, rising poverty and high inflation – that are plaguing the country. And in India, the deteriorating and polarising political climate has forged an extremely patriotic body of students<em> </em>that profess unswerving loyalty to Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. So let’s call patriotic education by its proper name: propaganda.<span class="mag-quote-center"> So let’s call patriotic education by its proper name: propaganda.</span>Patriotic education can be resisted, and has been on several occasions. In 2010, public opposition to an education bill in Slovakia, which would have forced every classroom to display the national flag and coat of arms, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8577338.stm">forced President Ivan Gasparovic to veto</a> the measures. The creeping patriotism infiltrating Japan’s education system has been met with considerable opposition from the country’s teachers, who, angry at being disciplined or even suspended for refusing to sing the national anthem in school, have <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/06/world/la-fg-japan-anthem-20110206">launched dozens of lawsuits</a> against education authorities. Perhaps the biggest pushback occurred in Hong Kong in 2012, when attempts by the Chinese government to extend its patriotic education to the city drew <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-19529867">tens of thousands of protestors</a> into the streets, eventually forcing Beijing to back down.</p><p>Resistance such as this is vital if we are to spare children from the mind-numbing diet of national superiority and state allegiance that governments around the world are trying to feed them. No country can consider itself free from this danger: as patriotism is found in every country, so too is the potential for its manipulation and abuse. We ought to ask ourselves: who has the most to gain from a generation of die-hard patriots – the people saluting the flag, or the power that waves it? It’s a lesson we could all do with learning.</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 will be 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/programme-2017">programme</a> for more details).</p> </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> </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? North-Africa West-Asia openIndia uk Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics World Forum for Democracy 2017 David Mountain Wed, 01 Nov 2017 17:16:28 +0000 David Mountain 114397 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The social and political roots of exploitation in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/neil-howard-ravi-srivastava/social-and-political-roots-of-exploitation-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is it that allows severe labour rights abuses to flourish in India? The answer is more complicated than poverty alone.</p> </div> </div> </div> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_ttwlg6KGGc?rel=0&amp;showinfo=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p>I'm <strong>Ravi Srivastava</strong>. I teach development economics in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, and I've been working on problems related to labour, labour migration, bonded labour, and forced labour for about four decades.</p> <p><strong>Neil Howard (oD): Thank you very much Ravi, that makes you particularly well-placed to answer the first question. In your view, what structures are there particularly within Indian society that help perpetuate exploitation? I’m especially curious about how those intersect with global structures of coercive capitalism and nation states.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> At least during the last four decades, while I've been looking at the situation, there have been forms of unfreedom, forced labour, bonded labour, trafficking etc. This is primarily because the Indian economy has shifted from being more agrarian and rural to more urban. Forms of agrarian bondage have become much less as a result, but forms of non-agrarian bondage in general have increased.</p> <p>Rice mills, brick kilns, construction, quarries, mines, garments – the forms of recruitment in these and other sectors necessitate bondage or debt bondage. Then, of course, you have a lot of trafficking and other things involving recruitment of workers across state lines, for example for domestic work. Migrant child labour which is involved in a number of sectors, such as embroidery, textiles, cotton seed picking, and so on. </p> <p>The nature of the problem has changed and this is because the demand for various kinds of unfree labour and cheap labour has also changed. Many of these people are located in the informal sector, and many of these are working within longer value chains. So you must understand, the problem of bonded labour or forced labour has to be located within the nature of the demand for such labour. And the demand for such labour has changed with the nature of the requirement of capital.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So as capitalism has deepened and neoliberalised the Indian subcontinent over the last many decades, the forms of unfreedom required for labour, if you will, have also changed.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. We typically think of capitalism, and particularly today's global capitalism, as requiring flexible and in some sense also free labour. But what we find is that capitalism is able to extract more from labour if it is unfree to varying degrees. Unfreedom and flexibility co-exist, going against the classic definition of the kind of labour which capitalism requires.</p> <p><strong>Neil: So in contrast to the classic liberal and also Marxist understanding of capitalism, actually, what you are saying is that unfreedom can exist within capitalist modes of production.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. We talk about free labour as being in some sense the requirement of capitalism, but capitalism is able to locate itself much more easily with unfree labour. The nature or form of that unfree labour depends on the way capitalism interacts with local social structures, and how it is able to, for example, make use of child labour, women's labour, or family labour. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): For audiences that are not familiar with the subcontinental context, could you speak a bit more about what these domestic structures look like?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Domestic structures are important in the Indian case for two reasons. One, we have a caste structure, and the caste structure means that there's an in-built hierarchy of rights and entitlements. People who are lower in the caste structure are seen as having lower entitlements, lower rights than people who are higher up in the caste structure. Also, women are generally less free, less mobile than men. Now, it is very easy to build a labour structure on the premise of unfree labour if that unfree labour happens to be from lower castes, because automatically they are less visible. And this is how many sectors have evolved.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">In some sectors it is much easier to build the labour and recruitment process around families, and to mobilises the whole family for a season with advances or with debt.</p> <p>Their exploitation, their status of unfreedom is something that has wider social acceptance. It is less questioned. With women, while the movement of single women tends to be more difficult, it becomes easy in certain settings. In some tribal settings, for example, such movement can be negotiated more easily by recruiters. Elsewhere the movement of single women is more of a problem, such as when a labour process involves the composite exploitation of men, women, and children. We see this in brick kilns, quarries, and the construction industry, for example. In such cases it is much easier to build the labour and recruitment process around families, and to mobilises the whole family for a season with advances or with debt. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): And would it be fair to say then that structures like gender, caste, or race help define which category of personhood is ultimately worth less and therefore more exploitable?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. The thing is that capital is generally able to negotiate and find spaces around these social structures. And it finds it easier to negotiate these degrees of unfreedom around hierarchies which already exists within society, and that is why you see a compatibility between these hierarchies and the ways they evolve into capital-labour relations.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): Thank you, that's very clear. Moving on a little bit, who would you give the blame to, so to speak? Who is responsible for the increase in neo-bondage that we have seen over the past few decades, and for unfreedom to have perpetuated itself even as capitalism has deepened?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> I think the responsibility has to be fixed at several levels. Globalisation has, in general, involved race to the bottom. Capital finds labour to be more flexible than other imports, and therefore takes the cost of other imports as a given and tries to flexibilise and reduce the cost of labour. Because this operates across country frontiers it becomes more difficult for capital in any one country to renegotiate the price of labour upwards. That's number one.</p> <p>Number two, development strategies and states are not able to negotiate with global capital. If you want to build capitalism in any particular country there is more than one way of doing it. Improving productivity by moving the technological frontier, for example, is clearly a way which is available to capital. </p> <p>Most states work with global capitalism by reducing the cost of labour, thereby encouraging these forms of capital-labour relationships. The state comes in the way of any labour mobilisation or labour collectivisation. Labour union bargaining is acted against, and this means that one of the core rights of labourers – the formation of labour associations for negotiation – has become something which is virtually dispensed with in countries like India.</p> <p>It's a very serious situation. You now have a lot of disorganised labour outbursts. It's like putting a lid onto a pressure cooker and then when the pressure builds up, you have this whole thing popping up. But you don't have sustained and much more organised labour movements that can bargain with capital and get a better deal for themselves. </p> <img width="100%" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u563152/8724979358_eceff316c0_o.jpg" /><span class="image-caption">Mary Crandall/Flickr.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/57340921@N03/8724979358/">(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)</a></span> <p><strong>Neil (oD): Then is the India context, you would very much place considerable burden of blame on the state.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> On the state and of course on capital itself. What capitalists are doing is looking at it very short term – aiming at the bottom is really looking at the short term. The way out is to pay labour its due and build up the productivity of the firm itself. And that is something which capital does not try to do. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So it's a particularly predatory form of capitalism.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely it's a predatory form of capitalism. A form of primitive capital accumulation, which one didn't expect to see in the twenty-first century. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): In terms of potential responses, you mentioned the importance of collective organisation. What are your thoughts on the prospects of new unions forming, or older unions adopting non-traditional approaches?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> It is incumbent on all forms of labour organisations to grow into new forms of communication and organisation, building up solidarities not just within nation states but across nation states. This is not something which only new trade union organisations or collectives should do, but also old unions. Unless they adapt and look at new forms of organisation, I don't think we'll be able to achieve very much.</p><p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8vT5KkRx4t8?rel=0&amp;showinfo=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> </p><p><strong>Neil (oD): In terms of potential responses, I’d like to also ask you about basic income. This is a particularly pertinent and, at time, tense debate in India. I'm wondering what your views are on basic income as a potential pillar for the deocommodification of labour.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> So you have to look at basic income either as a concept or as an instrument. As a concept, basic income is very important for countries like India, but as a tool of cash transfer, it's not so important. The reason is if you have something like this in an economy like that found in India, it will quickly be devalued. It would be intentionally devalued. And it would replace all the existing forms of social protection that currently exist.</p> <p>Universal targeting is something which is absolutely fine as a concept, but as an operational issue you have to basically target those who require a floor level of income. How does the principle of universalism coexist with operational constraints? I think these are the kinds of debates that have to take place, otherwise in India there's a risk of misappropriation.</p> <p>If you look at the debates around UBI in the last four months, it has been grasped very rapidly by exactly those same constituencies who oppose social protections and social security over the last several years. They are very eager to grasp this as a way of abandoning existing social protection systems. That is a great danger and one has to look at this very carefully. But as a concept, remember, to say that everybody is entitled to a level of basic income is very important.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): If I am understanding you correctly, there seems to be a polarisation in the debate in India, as there has been in countries like Switzerland, between the idea of some form of universality that is rights based and acknowledges the equality of human personhood, and the fear that ultimately the right will capture this idea like a Trojan horse for destroying what little already exists.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. Very hard-earned levels of social protections which have been achieved through decades of struggle are at risk.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): Can I ask you a final question with regards to these struggle-won protections. In an ideal world, so with a different government – a much more redistributive government – what would you like to see form the basis of a universal protection floor in India?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> I’ve written about this quite extensively, and I argue the approach needs to be built up on the concept of rights. And we have a concept of rights which is well accepted: the right to housing, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education. So what you are looking at is basic entitlements to people, who cannot otherwise afford such entitlements through the market.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Basic income has been grasped very rapidly by exactly those same constituencies who oppose social protections and social security.</p> <p>This is why in different areas you would have to have different approaches. The problem with UBI as it is, is that many of these entitlements, for example housing, cannot be reduced to an income stream. Housing is an asset. Now, all countries in the West developed systems of social housing in the 60, 70s, and 80s. So the concept of UBI perhaps has more relevance in Western countries, where there are large formal economies and systems exist to provide things like social housing. The debate becomes different there than it becomes here. And here we still have to look at specific kinds of rights and entitlements and we have to look at social protection of UBI within the gamut of these rights.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So things like housing would have to be provided outside of and alongside UBI?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> The moment you put health, education and housing within this complex of UBI, without assumptions of how they would be provided for, there would actually be no UBI. Health, for example, can be huge in relation to any level of UBI. Private education can be multiple times the cost of public education, so if education is not publicly provided, no notion of UBI will be able to deal with it, and so on. </p> <p>So you have to look at it as a broad concept. And you have to look at all these levels of provision. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): That makes sense. One last question then, with regards to the international efforts around the ‘decent work agenda’ and the framing of SDG 8 and SDG 8.7. What are your views on the prospect of achieving SDG 8, or on the push towards it over the next 12-13 years?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> The useful thing about the sustainable development goals generally, as compared to the millennium development goals, is that the focus is on equitable and sustainable growth. If we look globally at the prerequisites for sustainable and equitable growth, we would also be looking at employment-led growth. And if we could actually achieve employment-led growth and more equitable growth, we would provide the basis for dealing with SDG 8.7. </p> <p>SDG 8.7 cannot be dealt with as a goal in itself. It is linked with the broader social and economic growth that the SDGs actually set upon themselves. We have to work recursively. In the short-term, what are the regulatory mechanisms we can have for 8.7? What are the ways that we can advance the battle against exploited workers? But at the same time, we must recognise that these goals can only be met if longer-term goals of equitable development are achieved.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So if I can paraphrase, we can't solve the problem of severely indecent work outside of the problem of work more broadly.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. At the same time recognising that we need to focus on these forms of exploitation.</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="/beyondslavery/daniel-m-gge/403-million-slaves-four-reasons-to-question-new-global-estimates-of-moder">40.3 million slaves? 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Jon Brew/Flickr.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/yaatra/272974080/in/photolist-q84FE-pBq3ve-5Q6iWv-kszwU4-9KxaxB-awhNn9-seGpV5-myYjq-gdeEjv-r32GyN-SkYNoW-SVQm24-nLVNKf-cWXCH5-REuXkY-Ub11HY-eZSjmD-5UkxUC-arCYFv-iN7qzU-puUqnM-UL6NaF-7C97mJ-pH7iqT-mPAwDi-rbwaQM-oXvYzC-RDnYyQ-SJv66x-gdfTN3-SkYZpJ-btUav4-YDMaUL-Xb73yS-r67jBi-dFdjHV-bAzeE1-ghDWZ4-zdDZB1-hSeaXe-Uyyxkz-7BhhVA-7Bhh7C-7Bhhdm-dQ59Rx-w3nHNq-7pffG6-bjtuVB-qnreYx-bjtrnK">(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)</a></span></p><p>I am <strong>Gopinath K. Parakuni</strong> and am with Cividep India, an NGO based in Bangalore, India, that focuses on workers' rights and corporate accountability. We undertake a range of activities in support of workers, which include supporting the formation of trade unions in sectors with little union organisation, worker education, research on working conditions, dialogue with brands and suppliers on remedying violation of fundamental rights at work, and capacity building on international mechanisms like the UNGP, OECD Guidelines and ILO conventions. The most satisfying work, of course, is helping workers have their own voice in the form of trade unions or other social organisations.</p> <p><strong>Neil Howard (oD): What brought you to this struggle?</strong></p> <p><strong>Gopinath:</strong> I was a student at university when the internal national emergency was declared in 1975 by the then Indian government curtailing democratic rights. Students all over India participated in the struggle to restore democracy, answering the call of the legendary socialist leader Jaya Prakash Narayan who led the movement for 'complete revolution'. It’s now known more as the 'JP Movement'.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The labour movement will gain strength if it eventually becomes the vanguard of the broader movement for democracy and secularism, equity and justice.</p> <p>Despite all the talk of development and some let up in extreme poverty, working people in India are still deprived of basic rights in workplaces. Legal protections for labour benefit only a minuscule part of the working population and this needs to change. Powerful worker organisation is an important necessity for any such change. We believe that we are contributing in a small way to this endless struggle.</p> <p><strong>Neil: What are some of the major challenges you face in your work?</strong></p> <p><strong>Gopinath:</strong> </p> <ol> <li>Workers in global supply chains are paid poverty level wages.</li> <li>The hostility of management and the unhelpful attitude of brands make it difficult for workers to organise.</li> <li>Central trade unions have yet to make serious efforts to organised the unorganised. </li> <li>Some pseudo-intellectuals calling themselves trade unions try to establish their own hegemony, though they are funded and supported by NGOs that depend upon solidarity grants from abroad. </li> <li>Governments are also suspicious of organising efforts and government agencies often collude with managements.</li> <li>Brands largely give only lip service to labour rights and human rights and do pretty little in earnest to change matters. </li> </ol> <p><strong>Neil: What prospects do you see for the labour movement in India?</strong></p> <p><strong>Gopinath:</strong> In the short run labour will be under tremendous pressure, as can be seen in the attempts of the ruling powers to undermine labour legislation and labour rights. We expect reorganisation of the working people in the broader context of political mobilisation to defeat right-wing forces that seek to divide the country on the basis of religious beliefs. The labour movement will gain strength if it eventually becomes the vanguard of the broader movement for democracy and secularism, equity and justice.</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="/beyondslavery/neil-howard-mohan-mani/collective-bargaining-in-globalised-south">Collective bargaining in the Global(ised) South</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/genevieve-lebaron/can-world-end-forced-labour-by-2030">Can the world end forced labour by 2030?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/collected-activists-and-academics/no-easy-answers-for-ending-forced-labour-in-india">No easy answers for ending forced labour in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/alf-gunvald-nilsen/adivasis-in-india-modernday-slaves-or-modernday-workers">Adivasis in India: modern-day slaves or modern-day workers?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/jayaseelan-raj/women-strike-back-protest-of-pembillai-orumai-tea-workers">The women strike back: the protest of Pembillai Orumai tea workers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <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> BeyondSlavery BeyondSlavery openIndia Gopinath K. Parakuni Neil Howard Mon, 16 Oct 2017 07:00:00 +0000 Neil Howard and Gopinath K. Parakuni 113000 at https://www.opendemocracy.net