Sunday, April 19, 2015

Janata Paivar clones Hurriyat structures

By Swapan Dasgupta

That the Hurriyat Conference is merely a platform and not a political party is often insufficiently appreciated. It incorporates parties such as the Muslim League—whose leading stalwarts had a march last week with a generous display of Pakistani flags—and other organisations whose ideas of a proposed Islamic state in Kashmir are even more frightening. That these parties work in tandem to pursue a separatist agenda and combat a common foe—the Indian state—is what distinguishes them from other parties in Jammu and Kashmir for whom autonomy is more a priority than separatism. 

It may seem terribly unfair and even cruel to draw any analogy between the Hurriyat Conference and the yet-to-be-named political party that has brought disparate elements of the Janata parivar—minus the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha—together under a common banner and, maybe, a common election symbol. Of course, the new party with Mulayam Singh Yadav as the titular head, isn’t a separatist outfit. Its innate commitment to the Indian Constitution cannot and should not ever be questioned. Nor can it be denied that at least three of the parties that offered themselves for the merger—the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Janata Dal (United) of Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, and the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav—claim to be the inheritors of Ram Manohar Lohia’s political legacy. The INLD of Om Prakash Chauthala upholds the family legacy of Devi Lal and the Janata Dal (Secular) of H.D. Deve Gowda has no identifiable inheritance, apart from its commitment to its leader and his family. 

What is also clear is that apart from the RJD and JD(U) that was engaged in a bitter turf battle in Bihar, the other constituents of the unified Janata parivar have distinct geographical spheres of influence and unquestioned leaders. In other words, apart from Bihar where the unity of the RJD and JD(U) leads to an automatic arithmetic surge in political influence, the coming together of the Janata parivar will not make any difference to ground realities in most of India. 
In Parliament, particularly the Rajya Sabha, however, the unity will create an impression of a third force after the Congress and BJP. 

In short, what we are witnessing is not so much the creation of a new political party but the creation of a political confederation. Mulayam Singh may well be the nominal head of the party on account of his seniority, although it is well worth asking why Lalu Yadav can’t claim this honour since they became chief ministers of their respective states in 1990. The Chief Minister of UP may even use his good offices to ensure that the merger process in Bihar is not too troublesome. But apart from changes in the letterhead, the party flag and the election symbol, the new party will be, for all practical purposes, crafted on exactly the same organisational lines as the Hurriyat Conference. Its real basis for unity is opposition to the BJP and the immediate provocation for the merger is the Bihar Assembly election scheduled for October-November this year. 

Bihar is in fact the only state where the details of the confederal arrangement are yet to be satisfactorily worked out. On paper, Nitish Kumar is the Chief Minister and the JD(U) has many more MLAs than the RJD. In addition, Lalu Yadav has been statutorily ruled out from accepting any Constitutional post for the next few year on account of his conviction in the fodder scam scandal. Yet, the awkward reality is that as of today the RJD has a bigger and socially distinct following in the state. Nitish Kumar suffers from two disabilities. First, his personal popularity has taken a big knock on account of his abrupt separation from the BJP in 2013 and his patch-up with the man he painted as Bihar’s arch villain. Additionally, the manner in which Jitan Ram Manjhi was appointed and then turfed out of the Chief Ministership has proved socially damaging to Nitish. 

The real issue that has to be sorted is: who gets the upper hand in Bihar? By right Lalu is the senior partner on account of both experience and electoral clout. But will Nitish agree to play second-fiddle to Lalu? Recall that it was Nitish and George Fernandes’ unwillingness to countenance Lalu’s flights of whimsy that led to the Samata Party breakaway in the mid-1990s. Nitish didn’t prevail because he upstaged Lalu within the erstwhile Janata parivar. He became a leader of consequence and Chief Minister because he entered into an alliance with the BJP. It was the BJP that propelled Nitish as the alternative to ‘Jungle Raj’ Lalu. And today, the BJP is on the other side. 

Politics is never static and events shape the flow and pattern of alignments. The Janata parivar merger is essentially a psychological arrangement aimed at showing India that a cluster of states can effectively mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Modi. The belief is that a Bihar victory can propel other local leaders such as Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee to be associated with a confederal arrangement that ensures a measure of coordinated opposition to the BJP and complete local autonomy for the participants. 

It’s a model that could work, although in the past it hasn’t worked. But whether it will meaningfully take off in the first place will depend on a satisfactory resolution of the leadership tussle involving Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav in Bihar. Will Lalu be content delivering votes to make Nitish Kumar the Chief Minister? The Janata parivar model has no scope for rival claimants for the same political space. 

Sunday Pioneer, April 18, 2015

Of Netaji, Nehru and our flights into 'history'

By Swapan Dasgupta

For a long time, both students and an unsuspecting public in India have been barraged by a tern favoured by the so-called 'enlightened': scientific history. It has always been difficult to fathom the real meaning of this verbose expression since human behaviour isn't either uniform or verifiable. However, 'scientific temper' in understanding history matters little in the Indian context where, thanks to the profound influence of the Ramayan and Mahabharat, a rich and complex tradition of narrative story- telling has shaped the popular imagination. And this narrative, needless to add, isn't always shaped by what really happened but what was perceived to have happened. The imagined reality was in turn shaped and re-shaped over the generations. 

The recent controversy over the surveillance mounted by the Intelligence Bureau on the family members of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose between 1948 and 1968 has seen an explosion of imagined history. There have been many indignant responses to the revelation, few of which have brought credit to the way we as a nation are inclined to view our complex past. 

For a start, the intrusive snooping operation has been seen as evidence that  Jawaharlal Nehru--and, indeed, his ministerial colleagues over the years--were petty, vindictive and harboured a grudge against a leader who had an alternative vision of how to win freedom. These allegations in turn have prompted the admirers of India's first Prime Minister to respond with a sense of outrage. Some Congress leaders have questioned the gumption of those who dared question the democratic credentials of Nehru and the post-1947 Congress leadership. Others have conveniently brushed aside the evidence to argue that it was not the lofty and idealistic Nehru but the more hard-nosed politicians such as Sardar Patel and Dr B.C. Roy who had scant respect for democratic niceties. 

What has made the controversy even more compelling and contemporary is that the de-classified files suggest that the India's political rulers had a nagging doubt of the veracity of reports of Netaji's death in a air crash in Taipei just days after the Japanese surrender in August 1945. If Nehru was anxious to know from the Indian Embassy in Japan if Netaji's nephew visited the Renkoji Temple ( where Netaji's ashes are said to be stored), it would seen that he too wanted to know the family's real feelings on the question of Bose's death. 

Nehru's curiosity may well have been genuine and not governed by anything sinister. However, this letter has reopened speculation over Netaji's movements after the Japanese surrender. The theory that Netaji did indeed make his way to the Soviet Union and was held captive by Stalin has refused to die. After this recent disclosure, the theory that Netaji had a post-INA life has acquired fresh currency, particularly now that there is evidence that the IB was coordinating its efforts with British intelligence after 1947. Surely, or so the argument goes, Nehru's government and the British authorities must have had a common political purpose in ensuring that Netaji never came back to India, alive. 

The story, as it has unfolded over the years, is undeniably gripping and it is understandable that many Indians are convinced that there was an international plot--one linking India, Britain, Soviet Union and the US--to prevent the real truth about Netaji's disappearance from ever emerging. Certainly, the Government's silly suggestion that the de-classification of the remaining files would affect friendly ties with foreign powers has bolstered conspiracy theories. 

It is unlikely that India will ever get definitive answers even if all the remaining files are opened to public scrutiny. What may emerge at best are opinions and stray intelligence reports of reported sightings of Netaji in different parts of the globe. Intelligence reports are of uneven veracity and range from real insights to plain bazar gossip. Releasing these to a curious nation won't necessarily stop people believing the worst but without their availability, a speculative view of recent history is certain to run riot. 

Prime Minister Modi has a choice: to be transparent and allow the controversy to play out or needlessly inherit the political disrepute that comes with mindless secrecy. The Netaji controversy can either become history or remain mythological. 

Sunday Times of India, April 18, 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

A fur coat and a shawl

By Swapan Dasgupta


Some months ago, a prominent journalist posted a photograph on Facebook of Indira Gandhi visiting a Government of India-run emporium in New York. There was no mention of the date on which the photograph was clicked but it must have been sometime in the mid-1960s when she was either a Minister in the Lal Bahadur Shastri government or had just become Prime Minister. 


The photograph, retrieved from a private collection, wasn’t posted to make any larger political point. It was intended as a piece of nostalgia, at best to showcase a time when India promoted its wares by renting upmarket retail space in major cities. Remember, the large India Tea House in London’s Oxford Street functioned till the mid-1970s. What I found significant about the photograph was that the elegant Mrs Gandhi was wearing a fur coat—a symbol of considerable opulence.  


Those were the days before animal rights campaigners made it completely unacceptable to flaunt real fur in public. Hence, the very refined daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru wasn’t violating any social taboo by attending a public event in a fur coat—perish the thought that it was some tacky imitation apparel. The significance was that at a time the Indian government was forever going begging bowl in hand to the US to make up for the country’s food deficit, Indira Gandhi didn’t feel any trace of embarrassment displaying her fur coat. She certainly looked good but was that show of personal riches appropriate? After all, she wasn’t a private citizen. 


Such questions weren’t, so far as I am aware, asked in those days. Maybe Indians weren’t exposed to such photographs or didn’t quite realise the value of what the Indian leader was wearing. Or, maybe, insolence and undue questioning wasn’t a part of the game in those days. The flamboyant socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia was perhaps the only exception. After the elaborate funeral of Jawaharlal Nehru, he noted slyly that Nehru had left his ashes to the country and his jewels to his daughter—a comment that was then debunked as tasteless. 


Perhaps there was another reason for the silence too. India’s tribe of opinion-makers were extremely large-hearted when it came to the indulgences of both Panditji and his daughter—although as a rule Indira Gandhi was far more circumspect. Neither the memoirs of retired diplomats nor the surviving files of the Ministry of External Affairs which are available for public scrutiny record, for example, Nehru’s partiality for good Burgundy wines—the exquisite Grands Echezeaux was said to be a favourite—and the extraordinary lengths which Indian Ambassadors went to make the lunches and dinners he hosted overseas a grand success. 


True, all of this happened in a different age when there was insufficient scrutiny of public expenditure and no Comptroller and Auditor General reports to worry about. However, I also get a distinct feeling that the lifestyles and the personal diplomacy of the “dynasty” were governed by an extraordinary measure of entitlement. The Nehrus and Gandhi were always allowed an extra degree of latitude that was deemed unsuitable for lesser public figures. 


Today, Nehru’s former official residence houses a museum and library created in his honour. Ideally, Teen Murti House—which used to be residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army till Independence—should have been the permanent residence of all serving Prime Ministers. However, after Nehru’s death in May 1964, Indira Gandhi, who held no official position then, unilaterally announced that it would become a shrine to her late father. 


It is said that she couldn’t countenance the idea of anyone else, and certainly not Shastri, living in a house that was a fitting successor to Allahabad’s grand Anand Bhavan. What is particularly interesting is that no one of any consequence protested against this imperious takeover of a building. Indeed, as long as Congress governments were at the helm in Delhi, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library came to be seen as part of a family fiefdom. 


The history of dynastic entitlement comes to mind in the context of a contrived controversy last Sunday that fell flat within a few hours. During the course of the European leg of his foreign visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was photographed draped in a brown check shawl while alighting from the aircraft. As every item of clothing Modi wears is now the subject of microscopic scrutiny since his personalised pinstripes were captured by the cameras on Republic Day, this shawl too was duly scrutinised—and not only by the purveyors of fashion. 


Without waiting for any verification, a relentless Modi baiter proclaimed that the shawl was a Louis Vuitton product using its trademark “Damier Ebene canvas pattern.” Within minutes, Twitter handles were full of snide comments of Modi’s latest fashion statement. The Modi baiters went to town questioning the Prime Minister’s wisdom in not showcasing Indian handloom until the French company clarified that it didn’t make shawls. 


No doubt Modi’s shawl bore an uncanny resemblance to the colour pattern on Louis Vuitton bags and to that extent this could well have been an honest misrepresentation. After all, not too many people may be aware that some shawl makers in Kashmir are also in the business of borrowing designs. However, to my mind the mistake wasn’t entirely innocent. Underpinning the snide comments was a question: how dare this Johnny-come-lately flaunt a designer label that is beyond the reach of most people? Another section that gratuitously advised Modi to be partial to Indian handloom, was making an aesthetic judgment. To them, the Prime Minister was a parvenu, a social upstart who was guided by brand names and the price tag. For both sections, Modi is an interloper who has usurped a role that belongs to those who are entitled to drink decent Burgundy and even show off a fur coat. 


The belief in entitlements and class-based condescension define an outlook and a particular brand of political ‘modernity’. Modi assaults both. 

Asian Age, April 17, 2015 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Indians cheated of own history

By Swapan Dasgupta


There are two reasons why the revelation of the Intelligence Bureau’s monitoring and mail surveillance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s family members for 20 years may escalate into a political slugfest. 


First, the disclosure in India Today of the contents of a few archival files has the potential of tarnishing the credentials of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a pristine-pure democrat committed to the most enlightened governance conceived of by both man and God. This perception is plain ridiculous but, as was evident from the reactions of some Congress stalwarts to the disclosures, is a facet of contemporary political posturing. 


To honour Nehru or any of the other stalwarts of the freedom movement and post-Independence India does not mean they were gods. Like many politicians they too had their bouts of scheming, chicanery and worse. This includes Mahatma Gandhi whose conduct after Subhas Bose defeated his preferred candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya for the Congress President’s post in 1939 was, to say the least, dishonourable and very un-saintly. It includes Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, a hard-nosed administrator who believed that effective decision-making also involved knowing exactly what was happening in the country. Naturally, that also meant putting the elaborate intelligence apparatus created by the Raj to full use in serving a post-colonial dispensation. 


It is entirely possible that it was Sardar Patel, as India’s first Home Minister, who gave the green signal to the IB to continue tracking the activities of the Bose family—a practice initiated by the British and which probably dates back to Netaji’s election as Mayor of Calcutta in 1923. However, it seems implausible that Nehru, as Prime Minister, wasn’t a party to this decision. Like many others, including West Bengal’s redoubtable Chief Minister Dr B.C. Roy, Nehru was concerned over how the Netaji legacy would play out politically. Whether this political wariness should have extended to intrusive surveillance is, of course, another matter altogether. Yet, in arriving at a moral judgment, it is important to not be guided entirely by the standards of ethical behaviour that govern public life in the more self-assured India of the 21st century. The threats and challenges facing the Republic at birth were very dissimilar and far more daunting than anything that prevails today. 


The second possible conclusion from our belated knowledge of the surveillance is a little more serious. Although Netaji’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose had emerged as a potential rallying point of anti-Congress forces in West Bengal after 1948 and till his death in February 1950, his sons were politically of little consequence. The surveillance, therefore, makes sense if there were indeed doubts in the highest levels of government over the authenticity of Netaji’s death in an air crash in Taipei shortly after the Japanese surrender in August 1945. To have had such doubts weren’t entirely misplaced since the evidence of his death isn’t entirely conclusive. The suggestion that Netaji faked his own death—using the services of trusted accomplices—and managed to somehow make his way to either the Soviet Union (as he intended) or elsewhere may sound fanciful. However, given Netaji’s inclination to take audacious gambles—like the escape from Calcutta in 1940 and the submarine journey from Europe to Japan in 1942—this possibility will always remain alive. 


To my mind, the mystery surrounding Netaji’s ‘death’ in Taipei is unlikely to be resolved satisfactorily in the light of presently available evidence. The intrepid Anuj Dhar in his book India’s Biggest Cover-up has quite diligently collated all the available evidence and pointed to the absence of any conclusive evidence. He has also suggested possible alternatives, such as Netaji disappearing inside Stalin’s Soviet Union and emerging as a sadhu in Faizabad in the 1960s. But these theories too suffer from the lack of clinching corroborative evidence and leave the Netaji mystery tantalisingly alive. 


It is not unlikely that the Nehru government was equally befuddled and wanted to be doubly sure that Netaji’s extended family didn’t know something that the government should also be aware of. That, in fact, could well be the most innocent explanation for the IB surveillance and its extraordinary interest in all letters to Netaji’s paternal house on Elgin Road and Sarat Bose’s residence in neighbouring Woodburn Park. One of central purposes of intelligence gathering is to ensure that a government is not caught entirely by surprise. To that extent, the snooping was understandable. 


However, while a lot of political dust can be raised over the public disclosure of an undercover operation that finally ended in 1968, it has no larger value unless the exercise prompts additional insights into either Netaji’s apparent ‘death’ or the official thinking on the subject. India Today’s disclosures have acquired contemporary relevance and bred renewed interest in the subject because it coincided with the government’s refusal to transfer a few remaining files on Netaji to the National Archives for public scrutiny. The reason for this refusal—that it would affect India’s relations with a foreign power—has served to energise theories of Netaji’s post-August 1945 life, either in Stalin’s Gulag or inside India. 


The questions may never be satisfactorily answered. But the element of conjecture is enhanced by the fact that people genuinely believe that the remaining classified files contain explosive information that doesn’t suit government to percolate into the public domain. The speculation is certain to persist and, indeed, acquire bizarre dimensions, if the remaining classified files aren’t de-classified. The Modi government can’t be held responsible for whatever was done by predecessor regimes. Neither for that matter does the present British government carry the can for things that may or may not have happened seven decades ago. And the Soviet Union no longer exists. The theory of foreign relations being adversely affected seems a meaningless fig-leaf for bureaucratic obfuscation. 


There are different ways of honouring national heroes and pictures on banknotes or statues are by no means the only expressions. The Netaji mystery may or may not come closer to a satisfactory resolution with the release of the files. But without their disclosure Indian will be right to feel cheated of their own history. 

Sunday Pioneer, April 12, 2015





Monday, April 6, 2015

Media should wake up

By Swapan Dasgupta

Opinion polls, especially those conducted at moments when there is no election in sight, can be very instructive. Apart from being a snapshot of a moment uncluttered by those considerations (like community, caste and candidates) that prevail during the election season, they are a guide to a country's unprompted mood. The India Today-Cicero Mood of the Nation poll that was released last week, based on a national survey done in the first half of March, was, quite predictably, flaunted by its media sponsor as a “wake up call” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The alarm clock analogy has been terribly overused in the media, to the point where it has lost resonance. But only up to a point. The poll findings were indeed a “wake up call”, but not one that should cut short Modi's sleep. If anything, the findings suggested that it is the media, particularly the hyperactive English-language media that should cut short its sweet dreams and smell the coffee.


Let's look at the findings. Contrary to the impression conveyed by the editorial class that the Prime Minister and his Government had lost its way and is in a state of befuddlement, the findings of Mood of the Nation poll showed that in the event of a snap election-an unlikely possibility-the NDA would probably retain its 300-seat tally in the Lok Sabha. The BJP could slip marginally, with Uttar Pradesh contributing most to the slide, but it would probably be within a whisker of its absolute majority. More to the point, the BJP, both singly and in alliance, would probably secure a slightly higher percentage of votes compared to the general election of 2014. To put it bluntly, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the Indian voter is regretting its decision to put Modi in the political hot seat. The wave of disappointment and disillusionment that the media has detected, is probably confined to the watering hole of the Press Club.


Second, it would seem that media reports of a country emotionally torn apart by a wave of communal polarisation, doesn't correspond to people's real life experiences. The majority of Indians don't seem to feel that religious differences have suddenly become paramount. This doesn't imply that India has been overwhelmed by a perspective that in shorthand is often described as the “RSS view.” The poll quite clearly indicated that what is called the “RSS view” isn't shared by a majority of the electorate. In other words, while they don't approve of polarisation along communal lines, they don't also believe that such a division has happened in India. The conclusion that the media has been playing with fire and exaggerating the importance of small events is inescapable.


The great detachment of the media from the prevailing consensus is further reinforced by a third conclusion: The majority approval for steps to prevent all religious conversions. Does this imply that India is becoming intolerant and showing scant respect for Article 25 of the Constitution? The answer, it would seem is a little more complex. Read with the disinclination to embrace the so-called RSS mindset, it suggests that the activities of those who believe in “harvesting souls” and even those who want individuals to change their ways of worship are viewed with general distaste. In a principally religious country, people like to have their faith insulated from outside interference. The findings reflected India's unequivocal belief in the right to retain one's faith-be it to multiple deities, to Islam or to Jesus Christ. This is as much a lesson to evangelists as much as it is to the ghar wapsi brigade.


However, the poll did show that the Prime Minister's personal popularity has registered a little dip. Although this isn't as yet a cause for political concern since Modi enjoys a popular approval higher than that enjoyed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a similar point in his prime ministership, it does indicate the yearning for some big changes. The Government's approval rating is very high but it is balanced by a feeling that there have been few discernible changes in people's daily lives. This can be explained by the fact that an economic turnaround takes time to manifest itself. Indeed, I believe that the results of the various 'ease of business' measures will probably begin to be visible between Diwali and Christmas this year.


For Modi and his Government, the real political challenge is to keep people's spirits up till then. This isn't easy, not least because people are often inclined to get impatient. But the Prime Minister shouldn't allow any room for panic. The final point that the poll revealed was that the attempts of the media and Opposition parties to make a big deal about the changes to the Land Acquisition Act haven't struck a chord. Despite the apparent outward turbulence, the mood of the nation is still calm and expectant. There is a yearning for a better India and a hope that this can happen. But that is not a 'sexy' story  for a media that has never overcome its loathing for Modi to pursue.

Sunday Pioneer, April 5, 2015

Saturday, April 4, 2015

We are all kar sevaks now (Archives)

Following article is taken from Indian Express Jan 4,1992 

                   WE ARE ALL 'KAR SEVAKS' NOW
                                       by Swapan Dasgupta
                                       (Indian Express Jan 4, 1992)

It is unlikely the American academic who coined the evocative phrase
'secession of the successful' had Indian society even remotely in mind. 
After the Dec 6 happenings in Ayodhya, however there is no better description 
for the relentless war being waged by a beleaguered political elite
against its own people. In the past three weeks or so, even as a leaderless
nation attempted to come to terms with its past, present and future, the
upholders of status quo have launched a vicious counter-offensive at the
very core of nationhood.

The magnitude and intensity of the assault are understandable. Whatever
may have been the calculations of the Sangh parivar on the morning of that
fateful Sunday, impatient and angry kar sevaks took matters into their
own hands and forced a new agenda on India. Hindu nationalism was always
an underlying political concern. On Dec 6, Hindutva became a state of
mind, the unifying ethos of an ancient nation groping for a modern identity.
The ramifications of this revolutionary break have not been sufficiently
grasped. With characteristic shortsightedness, disoriented secularists
persist in viewing the explosion as an ephemeral burst on fanaticism -
"the face of lumpenised India" - which is quite alien to the spiritual
and metaphysical concerns of Hinduism.

The assessment is partially right and horribly wrong. In many places, the
riots turned out to be the occasion for settling scores and expressing
latent anti-Hindu or anti-Muslim prejudices. But the breakdown of law and
order was momentary, and despite continuing tension in many areas, the country
has rapidly returned to normalcy. Change and violence are not necessarily

What has, however, altered beyond recognition is the self-image of Hindus.
The kar sevaks did not merely demolish the symbol of alien arrogance,
they simultaneously overturned the ingrained Hindu mindset of defeatism,
masquerading as moral superiority. Gandhiji had initiated the process by
harnessing Hindu passivity to a satyagraha against colonialism, which
literally guilt-tripped the British into leaving India. Unfortunately,
the transfer of power was not accompanied by a corresponding social 
resurgence and Jawaharlal Nehru's socialistic trust merely succeeded in
transposing a set of "modern" values on a people still burdened by a
mental servitude.

What is pejoratively labelled "pseudo-secularism" was not merely
minority appeasement. That is only a small aspect of the perversion.
The central thrust of Nehruvian consensus lay in consciously disavowing
Hindu pride. It purposely prevented Hindu society from overcoming the
burden of centuries of subordination. India's post-independence
development was flawed because culture nationalism was kept out of the 
purview of nationhood, and Hindu renaissance detached from the
political agenda.

On Dec 6, Hindu society was confronted with its own audacity. Initial
confusion soon gave way to bellicosity once it became painfully clear
that the remaining obstacle to national fulfillment was a political
establishment completely out of sync with the prevailing mood. The gap
between state and civil society has further increased with constant
secularist shenanigans aimed at rubbishing India to its own people.
The pious platitudes on Doordarshan, the self-flagellation by 
deracinated intellectuals and left wing McCartyism have merely
reinforced popular unease with a regime which would rather abolish
the people rather than elect a new one.

Involuntarily removed from the political arena, even L. K. Advani seems
to have underestimated the extent of Hindu disquiet. His depression
at the breakdown of the Sangh parivar's discipline and his lament at 
not being able to abide by the assurances given to the Supreme court
suggest an unfortunate reluctance to come to terms with the great leap
forward in Hindu consciousness. It is no longer a question of the RSS.
BJP or even the Sangh parivar in its entirety. At stake is the future
of Hindu parivar of which the sants and the RSS are but a small component.
Veer Savarkar grasped this distinction as early as in 1923. "Hindutva", he
wrote, "is not a word but a history. Not only the religious and spiritual
history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded
with the other cognate term, Hinduism... Hinduism is only a derivative,
a fraction, a part of Hindutva... Failure to distinguish between these two
concepts has given rise to much misunderstanding".

History, a RSS leader told me at Ayodhya, on that decisive Sunday, "does not
merely happen; it is also made to happen". Circumstances have forced India
to break with its own degrading lack of self-esteem. It can fritter away
the oppurtunity through lack of leadership and mindless populism, thereby
precipitating savage secularist reaction.

Alternatively, it can overcome residual squeamishness and prepare to face
the future with certitude. After December 6, there is little scope for
dithering. Metaphorically, we are all kar sevaks now.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Christians are being used, not persecuted

By Swapan Dasgupta 

The most comic fallout of Jagdish Bhagwati’s interview to NDTV about the spuriousness of the brouhaha over persecution of Christians in India may yet happen if his great economist rival Amartya Sen decides to publicly assert the opposite. So far the outgoing chancellor of the controversy-gripped Nalanda University has chosen to remain silent. But I am sure that the pressure on him to stand up and repeat Pastor Martin Niemoller’s “First they came for the Jews…” must, presumably, be intense.

Let’s be clear on one point: the opponents of Narendra Modi have smelt blood and seem determined to pursue their single-minded campaign to suggest that a majoritarian madness has gripped India. Earlier, and particularly during the 2014 general election, this campaign had seen the outpourings of anguish on the part of intellectuals and a small section of the media. On his part, 

Mr Modi had (and has) provided absolutely no ammunition to substantiate the fear that the multi-religious character of India would be jeopardised by the exit of a Congress-led government. True, there was a pre-existing Hindu-Muslim faultline that manifested itself in the minority community staying away from the BJP. However, in the first 11 months of the Modi government, the concerns have been on the relative inadequacy of Muslim political representation rather than the security of the community. Even on this count, there was consternation among professional secularists that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party managed to forge a coalition in Jammu and Kashmir.

Under the circumstances, the so-called fear that is said to have gripped the Christian community following some small incidents has come as a surprise. What is even more unexpected is that these have become the occasion for a number of prominent Indian Christians to agonise over the community’s future in India. First there was the retired police officer Julio Rebeiro who asked whether he had become an alien in his own country. Subsequently, former Navy Chief 

Adm. Sushil Kumar (Retd.) expressed a fear that the “communal virus” could affect the camaraderie of the armed forces — a grave concern in view of the fact that the armed forces have always been well and truly insulated from all political schisms. Finally, various functionaries of reputed Christian education institutions have added their voices to the campaign over Christian persecution. Indeed, there is now every possibility that international Christian voices could be added to the list of those who question the ability of the Modi government to maintain religious harmony.

I don’t think it will be exaggeration to suggest that the charge of Christian vulnerability has been greeted with a sense of disbelief in most of India. While the BJP’s political opponents may delight over any discomfiture felt by the government, particularly anything that shifts attention from the main agenda of economic reconstruction, the use of the tiny Christian community as a vanguard of any anti-Modi movement has been greeted with a measure of exasperation. Was Mr Rebeiro, it is being asked, ever rewarded or discriminated on the strength of his religious faith? On what basis has Adm. Kumar suggested that the “communal virus” could also affect the well-being of the armed forces? Did he ever face discrimination because he was a Christian?

The fact that neither Mr Rebeiro nor Adm. Kumar have been able to give satisfactory explanations as to why they have suddenly gone public with their fears over the citizenship rights of Christians has, in turn, prompted a number of conspiracy theories. There are accusations flying all over social media that the churches have taken a conscious decision to target the Modi government politically, first by attributing political motives to every incident involving a church building or individual Christians and, second, by enlarging its significance to suggest that an entire community is under attack. If this understanding of the “church agenda” is correct, it would follow that the third phase of the campaign would lie in making common cause with all the anti-Modi forces in the country. 

We saw a small trailer of the third phase in the last day of campaigning for the Delhi Assembly poll when a small (but lavishly reported) demonstration of Christians became the signal for all members of the community to come out and vote against the BJP two days later.

Whatever the real motivations of the clergy of various Christian denominations, there is no doubt that it has succeeded in putting Christians at the centre of a previously non-existent political divide. The political storm has served to resurrect subterranean schisms over religious conversions and the global links of the churches. Whether unwittingly or otherwise, Christian activism may even have prompted a large measure of countervailing reaction, much to the delight of a cynical media that seems intent on keeping the cauldron of communal politics boiling. Making Christians more aware of their religious self-identity may be a legitimate exercise on the part of community leaders. But when this results in non-Christians seeing Christians as being removed from the mainstream, the results can be self-defeating. Unless, of course, the avowed aim is to sharpen the sense of differences.

A very dangerous game is being played by a handful whose idea of harmony is at variance with the consensual view of composite Indian citizenship. In the short term, and thanks in no small measure to this unwarranted desire to cry wolf, we are likely to see a sharp focus on the entire issue of religious conversions — an issue that has been troubling Hindu communities in southern India. The government may feel that the emerging truth of the Ranaghat nun rape will cool passions. Unfortunately, I get an uncomfortable feeling that in the battle between propaganda and truth, the latter may become a casualty. We are not witnessing a religious conflict. These are just the opening shots of a political battle, using Christians as a human shield.

Asian Age/ Deccan Chronicle, April 3, 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Move afoot to sully India's reputation

By Swapan Dasgupta 

Last week, at a conference organised in Delhi to showcase the buoyancy in Indian markets, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor struck a slightly discordant note. Referring to reports of attacks on churches and the alleged harassment of minorities, he said that such incidents would affect India’s attempts to woo investments from Europe and the Arab countries.

Tharoor is right to be distressed over any incident, however small, that conveys an impression that India is intolerant towards its religious minorities. He would even be right in suggesting that economic growth presupposes a large measure of social harmony. However, Tharoor was treading on dangerous ground by extending his argument to suggest that European and Arab countries have a special interest in ensuring the safety and security of India’s minorities. Ensuring the civil liberties of Indian citizens of all faiths is enshrined in the Constitution and is the duty of all governments in India. Yes, violations do take place-and religious minorities aren’t the only people who are affected-and correcting the distortions is the responsibility of both the State and civil society. But this is an internal matter of India and beyond the scope of other sovereign governments unless, of course, they happen to be directly affected by any adverse fallout.

The isolated thefts and vandalism in churches and the criminal assault of a nun in West Bengal are unfortunate, even shameful. However, these incidents don’t warrant internationalisation and certainly don’t necessitate India being at the receiving end of a gratuitous sermon by a visiting President of the US. In the past, and under successive governments of different political complexions, India has always protested against other countries meddling in its internal affairs. It is, therefore, unbecoming of a Congress MP with a rich background in international affairs to link incidents such as thefts in churches, the criminal assault on a nun and perhaps even the beef ban in Haryana and Maharashtra to religious sensitivities in West Asia and Europe.

At the possible risk of being unfair, it may well be argued that Tharoor’s intervention wasn’t entirely innocent. Over the past three months, there has been a concerted campaign by India’s Opposition parties, the English language media and some members of the Christian clergy to exaggerate the significance of crimes directed at churches and individual Christians. A fire caused by an electrical short-circuit, a bout of window breaking by a handful of louts and the assault on a nun by ordinary criminals lured by the large amounts of cash kept in a seminary have been quite consciously painted as part of a larger design to harass and intimidate India’s Christians.

It has been claimed that these incidents are the direct consequence of the Ghar Wapsi programme launched by Hindu evangelists and the tacit encouragement of ‘majoritarian’ impulses by the Narendra Modi Government. Despite forcefully reaffirming India’s unflinching commitment to religious pluralism in the course of his parliamentary interventions, Prime Minister Modi has been mercilessly pilloried by the upholders of cosmopolitan sensibilities for leading India up the garden path of Hindu obscurantism. The pattern isn’t new. It is fashionable today to posit the ‘intolerant’ Modi against the ‘large-hearted’ Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, those with longer memories will recall that the very same forces who are suggesting the imminent arrival of Hindu fascism launched savage attacks on Vajpayee for his alleged encouragement of the people who murdered the Australian missionary Graham Staines in Odisha, unsettled some improvised churches in the Dangs district of Gujarat and allegedly attacked a Christian shrine in Bengaluru. Quite systematically, an attempt was made to suggest that religious minorities would be unsafe under any dispensation that had the BJP at its helm.

The pattern is being repeated in today’s India. The charges of Hindu intolerance are just a precursor to a larger political intervention aimed at suggesting that there is a hidden agenda of the Modi Government that has nothing to do with improving the material well-being of Indians. The aim is also to tarnish India’s social record in the international community and, in the process, call into question the ethical viability of its economic programme.

That this psychological warfare is based on the premise that everything must be done to undermine the Modi regime is quite obvious. But what is the basis of this fear? Why, for example, were such issues never raised during the two terms of the UPA regime? Yes, there has been some change in ground realities but this change doesn’t correspond to stereotypes of cowering Christians and alienated Muslims. Under the UPA, the evangelical excesses of those committed to ‘harvesting souls’ were overlooked. In large tracts of southern India, there was a show of unwarranted indulgence towards those committed to debunking the ‘false’ ancestral faiths of people and showing them the ‘true faith’. These resulted in social tensions and a sense of disquiet among people who were otherwise content keeping their faith separate from public life. Today, these misgivings have manifested themselves in a determination to tell generously-funded religious predators to keep off. The benign political environment for large scale religious conversions no longer exists.

Does the new mood constitute an attack on people’s civil liberties? The answer is a definite ‘Yes’ if the right to change faith is placed on top of the agenda. However, if equal importance is attached to the right of people and communities to retain their faith, the tables are turned. When poachers suddenly assume the role of gamekeepers, there is bound to be some disorientation. India’s Christians aren’t becoming strangers in their own country. Those who believe that only one mode of worship should prevail over all else, are encountering the resistance of those who believe in a plurality of gods and faiths. The rest is all rhetoric, propaganda and hyped-up politics. Resistance of those who believe in a plurality of gods and faiths. The rest is all rhetoric, propaganda and hyped-up politics.

Sunday Pioneer, March 30, 2015

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