Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tango with the Dragon

India is in a tough neighbourhood - from the very moment of independence, it has been locked in a definitional struggle with Pakistan, has fought and lost a border war with China, and has to contend with Nepal and Sri Lanka snuggling up to their (India's) one-time conquerors, the Chinese. In addition, Chinese military aid - not only in terms of small arms and armour but also technology transfers of missile systems and nuclear weapons - to Pakistan has effectively created a cordon in the North. China has, in the past, threatened India with the possibility of opening a second front during India's conflicts with Pakistan in 1965, 1971, and during Kargil in 1999. Furthermore, the flow of increasingly sophisticated weapons to the Maoist Naxals spread over 180 districts and ten states has kept India preoccupied with their internal problems. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 weakened India's position further, but the recent overthrow of the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan has given India renewed hope to salvage the geopolitics of South Asia in its favour. Nonetheless, South Asia remains one of the most dangerous places in the world - in 2008 alone, there were 280 violations of the Indian border by Chinese troops, and in the small and mountainous terrain of Kashmir, Islam, unresolved border issues, and three nuclear powers with four wars between them come together.

India's problems with China stem from the Chinese invasion of India in 1962 and the resulting annexation of Aksai Chin (38,000 sq. kms). Since then, India has had an inferiority complex regarding the Chinese, which feeds well into the great Han chauvinism. India's economic and military weakness coupled with the utter lack of resolve to address that has left India kow-towing to Beijing (In an utter disregard for etiquette, Beijing summoned the Indian Ambassador at 02 00 to protest against Tibetan demonstrations in India ahead of the Olympic Games). That India needs to strengthen its border defences, its deterrent capability (nuclear as well as conventional), and its economy (which would buy it influence in the world) is obvious, and Indian leaders should be mindful that soft power is meaningless unless backed by hard power. However, beyond the sabre-rattling and hard power, what options are open to India?


One of the most contentious issues between India and China has been the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his people on the Indian soil. The Chinese see in the Dalai Lama not a venerable saintly figure but a dangerous politician. They perceive the Dalai Lama as the figurehead for future Western interference in Tibet, and suspect that the trouble in Tibet just before the Olympic Games in 2008 was inspired by the Dalai Lama. India on its part tries to mollycoddle China by assuring it that its soil wouldn't be allowed to be used for any anti-China activities. Yet the suspicions remain. China is unnerved by the tremendous popularity the Dalai Lama enjoys in Tibet even to this day despite his exile for half-a-century. In the 1980s, when his representatives were allowed by the Chinese authorities to visit Tibet, the hearty welcome they received rattled the Chinese leadership. The Chinese attitude towards the Dalai Lama and his people hardened quite a bit after that. No effort is spared by China to browbeat countries that extend an invitation to the Dalai Lama to revoke it. Very recently it pressurised Sri Lanka into withdrawing its invitation to him, and Barack Obama of the United States and Kevin Rudd of Australia have refused to meet him when he visits their respective countries.

The reality of the matter is that this is a lost cause. Within Tibet, any hint of opposition is met with skull-crushing force (as was witnessed in March 1959 and March 2008 just before the Olympics). Outside Tibet, Tibetans are largely a forgotten community except by the occasional celebrity (Richard Gere, for instance) who is probably in the twilight of his/her own career too. It was heartening to see protests worldwide on the eve of the Olympic Games, and equally disappointing to see how the Indian Government, upon receiving a strong protest from the Chinese, moved to disallow public demonstrations and denied Tibetans media space. In any case, even supporting the Tibetan cause with weapons and other war-making materiel is unrealistic against the ruthless Chinese state machinery - if aid of such sort is given to the Tibetans by any country, it must be in a completely dissociated manner and only at the request of a majority of Tibet's Government in exile as the consequences could be severe for the Tibetans.

India has a choice - it can keep playing the Tibet card, which would keep the sores in Indo-Chinese relations fresh and would invite Chinese retaliation elsewhere: the United Nations Security Council, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, trans-regional groupings, Pakistan. On the other hand, it can take a realpolitik view of its own interests and abandon Tibet in exchange for Chinese cooperation on the diplomatic front and the recognition of Sikkim as an integral part of India. China would also have to stop supplying arms to the Naxals (this in itself will not solve the problem - arms will flow from elsewhere but the supply will most definitely be reduced. If cooperation on this issue is not forthcoming, India can strongly consider providing arms and training to the Uighur tribes; Ronald Reagan has already stirred the hornet's nest by arming the Taliban, and a few more Uighur will not add to the instability in the world, but it will add to China's woes). Both, Indian aloofness from the Tibetan cause and China's new-found desire to cooperate with India are easily verifiable. Although not much in itself, this would be a good confidence-building measure.


Another reality Indians need to face is that short of war, Aksai Chin is lost forever. The Chinese will not suddenly give it up out of the goodness of their heart, nor will they succumb to pressure. Nearly 50 years after the war, it would take a brave government to come forward and admit to its double mistake - one of taking it, and another stubbornly insisting that it rightfully belongs to them. In any case, China actually believes that they have a right to Aksai Chin. Besides, the loss of face would be tremendous if China were seen to be yielding to Indian diplomatic pressure, which they have no need to do owing to their military, economic, and diplomatic strength anyway.

It would be equally hard for India to give up its claims to what they have strenuously argued as their territory. Furthermore, the publication of the White Papers detailing the talks between the Indians and the Chinese in the late 1950s and early 1960s has made the discussions public knowledge. It may be easy in a country like China to suppress information, but in India, the land of loose lips, it is almost a certainty that news about fresh negotiations and either side's bargaining chips will get out. For reasons of prestige if nothing else, neither side can be seen to give in. In addition, it is unlikely the Chinese will ever give up their claim to Aksai Chin - for them the region serves as the strategic link between Tibet and Sinkiang. The Indian discovery of illegal Chinese presence in the area in 1957 was due to road-building activity. In fact, Chou Enlai offered to make a quiet exchange during his negotiations: give up Aksai Chin and China would give up its claims on Arunachal Pradesh. For India, naturally, this sounded a little disingenuous as both pieces of land belonged to them. However, the price of military weakness, since the Indians did not learn in 712, 1192, 1757, or 1962, is loss of territory. Today, India can only offer to give China what it already has - Aksai Chin in exchange for dropping claims on Arunachal Pradesh and remaining neutral on Kashmir in exchange for recognition of the transfer of the trans-Karakoram tract from Pakistan to China in 1963. It is not sure if the Chinese would even bite: they refuse to talk about Aksai Chin any more. For them it is a settled fact. Typical Indian cravenness has meant that even their own leadership stopped talking about it. Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988, Narasimha Rao in 1993 and Vajpayee in 2003. No clear official position has been heard from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Aksai Chin after the meetings despite the fact that there is a unanimous Parliament resolution of 1962 on getting that territory back. In the never-ending game of brinkmanship, India might, for its part, consider shelling parts of the Sinkiang-Tibet highway every once in a while with mortar fire, making its use uncertain.


The key issue between India and China is really Pakistan. Chinese support for Pakistan has already done tremendous damage not only to India but to the world. In the most heinous of terrorist acts, China transferred missile technology and blueprints of a nuclear device (China's fourth test) to AQ Khan and Pakistan. Apart from this, Pakistan has received other strategic aid from China. If Pakistan is a threat to India (or Israel), it is in large part due to China (while the US looked on - refer to my post, Lessons in Hegemony, of August 30, 2009). Although the damage has already been done, India must try to do some damage control - with nuclear weapons in unstable countries, the world hardly has a choice. India needs to raise an international ruckus on the AQ Khan network and use all guile, startegy, and bargaining chips available (which may not be much) to raise the profile of the AQ Khan network. Obama claims to want to reduce the threat of nculear weapons; he even won a Nobel Prize for this "call to action." India needs to call him to action on AQ Khan. This cannot be done without the cooperation of China, the 900-pound gorilla in the United Nations Security Council. If India can play its cards right for once (to be fair, Indira Gandhi's world tour to raise support for action in East Pakistan was masterful), the cost of sticking by Pakistan can be raised significantly. And if India and China can have meaningful dialogue with each other on Aksai Chin and Tibet, China's need to play big brother to Pakistan will be considerably reduced - after all, China cosied up to Pakistan as India cosied up to the Soviet Union as the Cold War moved into the Third World. China has no intrinsic interest in being friendly to Pakistan.

The counter to this, if China refuses to, as the Americans say, play ball, is to focus determinedly on a Look East Policy (refer to my post, India's (Don't) Look East Policy, of March 13, 2009). Closer relations with Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and Australia would be a start - just as the Chinese have moved to encircle India with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal, India must adopt what Israel calls a "Periphery + 1" policy (go beyond the ring of enemy states encircling you to find allies behind enemy lines). In the 1950s, this was a real opportunity but was squandered away by Indian foreign policy obtuseness. To borrow a sentence the Chinese themselves like to use often, Beijing must be made to under stand that India will no longer “stand idly by” if China continues to counter and encircle India with impunity.

There are many other avenues for cooperation between India and China - trade will be an enormous factor, particularly as the world economy shifts its centre of gravity back towards the East. China is already India's largest trading partner, surpassing the US this year. India exports some important raw materials to China, such as steel. It is only in the interest of both countries, which still have a long way to go in terms of standards of living of their citizens, to work towards cooperation and let half-century old animosities die. Development of relations with China is a reality. The same goes for China where India is concerned. It is high time, however, India came off its schizophrenic stubbornness-obsequiousness behaviour and demonstrate that it is a strong state that won't be pushed around, but is at the same time willing to look for 21st century solutions in the 21st century.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

That "I" Word...

The world is living in multiple centuries. I do not mean that Africa is forty years behind South Asia which is fifteen years behind Southeast Asia which is ten years behind Europe materially. Nor do I mean that different people use different calendars - for Christians, it is 2009 AD, while for Muslims, it is 1420 AH. Hindus have multiple calendars, depending on too many things to consider for the sake of our sanity. What I mean is, that in many ways, many parts of the world are living in the Age of the French Revolution. Populism, autocracy, nationalism, religion, and a sense of Romanticism, of purpose, and of destiny mark this developmental stage in the history of nations. Two regions that seem particularly inflicted with this fever are the Middle East and South Asia (my rather circumscribed understanding of the planet includes only Asia, Europe, and North Africa, with North America being the alien presence - hence, apologies if you feel your region has been left out of my equation). Whether it be an inferiority complex stemming from colonial subjugation or from an incomplete nationalist project, that dreaded "I" word, identity, is still a matter of public discourse and politics.

[DIVERSION 1: Essentialising is usually used in a pejorative sense, at least in the West. Although the dictionary definition of the word merely states that it is the expression of core properties of a subject, critics have argued that it reduces the subject to those core properties alone (although Indian Marxists don't think this applies to their more 'nuanced' categorisations of the Right). Well, yes, if the actor is an imbecile who cannot recognise individual characteristics which may go against the collective image. To reject an essentialising statement is, however, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Science is based on educated generalisation - statistics depends on it. And yet scientists and their research survive. Similarly, there is no denying that Europe has a Christian identity, even if it is secular by law today. The Middle East, barring Israel, has a strong Islamic flavour, no matter what the differences between Shia and Sunni are. Africans are usually dark-skinned. This in no way negates the African-ness of white settlers who have been in Africa for two or three centuries, but they are in the minority. Essentialising does not mean that, because the average height of the Dutch is 179 cms, a Dutch midget would be in danger of having his/her citizenship revoked. It is time that scholars quit their immature hostility to the idea of essentials.]

There can be no denying that India has a strong Hindu component to its identity. In every history ever written, be it by Muslims or by Christian missionaries, no one claims that Islam, Christianity, or Judaism are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. No scholar has ever claimed that Moses parted the Saraswati, or that Jesus gave a sermon under a banyan tree or that Muhammad received the angel Gabriel in the Udaygiri caves. Despite this essentialising of Indians, no one in their right mind would deny that there are Muslims or Christians in India, nor would any sane person claim that APJ Abdul Kalam, Mansoor Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, Irfan Khan, Irfan Pathan, or for that matter, Leander Paes, Diana Hayden, or Amartya Sen are not Indian. Oddly enough, today, claiming a Hindu identity is not only seen as backward but also immediately marks one as part of the Saffron Brigade. As former Managing Director of Procter & Gamble Gurcharan Das revealed in his latest book, "The Difficulty of Being Good," his desire to read the Mahabharata prompted one of his friends, a favoured civil servant of Indira Gandhi's, to ask him if he had gone saffron. Das wondered why no eyebrows were raised when he had read Western epics like the Iliad or the Divine Comedy. In part, this is due to a highly successful public relations campaign mounted by the Communists and the Congress. Another ingredient to this mix is a latent Macaulayism that exists till date among Indian elites - the language of elitism is unabashedly English to this day in India. Of course, it would be asinine to legislate against this and only a Party desperately grabbing at straws (like the BJP in Haryana promising to ban Western pop music in defence of Indian culture) would try to do so. Only a free market of ideas and commerce should dictate the rise and fall of languages and culture. Thus, although there is nothing inherently lamentable about the domination of the English language in India, particularly among the intelligentsia, the Indian fetish for all things foreign creates an implicit bias in thinking - Chaucer is more familiar to this class than Kalidasa and Shakespeare, rather than Vishakhadatta, Shudraka, or Bhasa provides the framework for future literary endeavours, and not because of literary merit. Das quotes V S Sukthankarand I feel the need to as well: “The Mahabharata is the content of our collective unconscious .... We must therefore grasp this great book with both hands and face it squarely. Then we shall recognize that it is our past which has prolonged itself into the present. We are it."

I am really not a good Indian. I have never been a pucca Hindu either. I had abandoned these categories as I had abandoned the memories of the Great War and I was equally happy with the Aeneid, the Mahabharata, or the Hezar-o-yek Shab. In the backdrop of the Shah Bano case, the temple controversies in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, and the Mandal Commission, however, I was made keenly aware of not only of my Hindu identity but my brahmin identity. Congress and its allies seemed to say, "Look, we don't care what you are. You qualify as a Hindu brahmin by birth and on that basis we are going to deny you many things other have easy and even free access to." Thus began my exploration of the tenets of Hinduism, my investigation into the caste system, Hindu law, and philosophy. What it meant to be a Hindu (in modern India), practically, was made abundantly clear to me by the sychophantic and obsequious Congress regime. A nation-state fraught with as many difficulties as India cannot afford so many divisions and categories of people. There are already too many visible differences in language without compounding them with religious and caste considerations. By advocating sectionalisation, the Congress is pushing the country to the brink of disintegration. Today, as Das found out, it has become a mindset - read the Divine Comedy and you are secular; read the Mudrarakshasa and you are clearly a saffron fascist, never mind that the Divine Comedy (or the Iliad for that matter) also involved divine creatures and locations. Gurcharan Das, and probably millions of others, myself included, probably do not want to choose between religions. We celebrate Eid as easily as Ganesh Chaturthi. We enjoy Abu Muslih bin Abdallah Shirazi as much as Nakkirar, and we are as interested in the Sharia as we are in shruti, smriti, and aachaar. Yet unless one is willing to exorcise one's Hindu self, one is forced into a saffron strait-jacket.

National interest is another strange thing - the ridiculously facile political scene in India has made the choices highly reductive. One the one hand, you have an ineffectual foreign policy (wedded stubbornly to a pro-Arab sentiment in the hopes that it will protect oil supplies and put pressure on Pakistan) and a system and level of taxation even highway robbers would be hesitant to apply (59% of the tax revenue is from indirect taxes such as excise, customs, cess, sales tax, VAT, entry tax, etc.), and a focus on rural money sinks (giving massive subsidies - no tax, free electricity and water, etc. - and loans and writing them off just before elections, with no outlay for education, irrigation, pollution control, or land reform). On the other hand, again, if you are a saffron-tinged fascist, you can opt for a cogent foreign policy based on realpolitik and logical defence outlays, lower and lesser taxes to encourage business, huge private-public partnerships in sorely needed infrastructural projects, and more privatisation of Public Sector Units. The latter set of policies, which most people with any faith in market capitalism would choose, were those of the BJP Government 1998-2004. The common wisdom would have one believe that voting for defence (only an alpha fool would argue it is not required given 26/11, the Naxal terror, and almost daily Chinese incursions into Indian territory), infrastructure, and an incetive-based economy makes you a Hindu fundamentalist. In effect, according to the (pseudo)secular Front, every choice one makes can and must be boiled down to religion.

Personally, I am rather lukewarm on nationalism. It does not seem necessary to repeat the European experience (though, strictly
speaking, if modified from its European form, it ceases to be nationalism unless we allow for more valencies) and I am yet to find any state that deserves my undying devotion. I am a 'nationalist' of many states - India, Israel, Italy, France, Russia, Denmark, Egypt, Iran - because I find something wonderful about each of them. They are better than some states, worse than others. Being an Indian (or any other nationality) is like being on a team. Michael Ballack loved Bayern Munich and played to the best of his ability for them. Today, however, he belongs to Chelsea and he will play hard for them. That, though, is irrelavant. Civilisational glory, whatever that means, is not something we participate in. Not one nationalist (alive) contributed to the building of Persepolis or the writing of the Ainkurunooru. It is highly unlikely that anyone remembers compiling the Pirkei Avot or designing the Pyramids. Admittedly, some civilisations have much to boast of but what of it? Would it not be a better use of time to read up on these achievements than boast of them as signs of one's personal superiority? More critically, are the Pyramids really any less or more of a wonder than Angkor Wat? National glory is a simpler beast to tackle - it is more tangible, for one. It is the collective public relations boost a state experiences if many of its citizens win international laurels. Even in this, unless one is part of the football team that won the Championship or the person who won the Nobel Prize, one is only deluding oneself, aggrandising oneself, and living vicarious through others to forget any shortcomings in the immediate proximity.

The political climate, however, forces me to be an Indian nationalist and a Hindu brahmin. I have to be Hindu because I like the ancient Indian philosophy and the epics, and I have to be an Indian nationalist because Hindus vote for the BJP which is a nationalist party. I am unwilling to relinquish either identity, even if I don't invest in them as much as some might. Perception may be dictated by others, but identity is an individual choice and naturally, the two are intertwined. It is in manipulating this link that there seems to be an effort to subvert an apathetic (to insular and parochial arguments) individual through guilt and horror of association with brutes and beasts (inevitably, all Right-wing movements share a lineage with German National Socialism - Godwin's Law is true! Ironically, Leftist movements have nothing in common with Josef Stalin or Mao Tse-tung). Although I believe in collective identity, I also believe that it is only a part of me, and not necessarily the most important part. Is it any wonder then, that more and more people seem drawn towards "tough love" against minorities? That the smallest demand (not so small nowadays after years of being pandered to) results in a violent backlash? It is, after all, on their behalf, for the sake of their vote banks, that the Third Front and Congress so abasedly engage in this propaganda war. If anything is wrong with India's public religious sphere, it is solely the Hand and the Elephant that are to blame. Goebbels is supposed to have said that if you repeat a lie a thousand times, it becomes the truth. In India, the results bear him out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Vote for Genocide

...The mobs carried iron rods, knives, clubs, and combustible material, including kerosene. They used voters' lists, allegedly provided, by the Congress Party politicians themselves, to identify houses and business establishments owned by---The mobs swarmed into---neighborhoods, arbitrarily killing any---they could find. Their shops and houses were ransacked and burned. In other incidents, armed mobs stopped buses and trains, in and around Delhi, pulling out---passengers to be lynched or doused with kerosene and burnt...

...Before they could realize what was happening, a huge mob broke down the door of their house and dragged all the men folk out. Before their eyes, their husbands were torched to death, women sexually abused and houses set on fire...

...I saw with my own eyes my husband being taken out and then set on fire. After all the men in the house were set afire, the mob then targeted the women who were hiding. They were dragged out and sexually abused. I saw one of my relatives being raped. And the mob did not spare me and molested me...

You may think that I am talking about the Godhra riots, and it would be no fault of yours. Because, in India, violence is only committed by the Sangh Parivar against Muslims - or so the English news media would have you believe. The statements above describe what happened a full 18 years before Godhra in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. According to official sources, some
2,733 Sikhs were massacred in what can only be called a pogrom though H. S. Phoolka, a high court lawyer who has been representing the riot victims and is a representative of the November 1984 carnage justice committee, claims that the figure is closer to 4,000. In New Delhi alone, about 600 cases of arson, killing and rioting were registered (The Jain-Aggarwal committee had recommended about a thousand), but police closed half of them, ostensibly for lack of evidence. Police complicity was also alleged (investigated by the Kapoor-Mittal committee). Hundred were rendered homeless, and thousands fled the North, where the riots were concentrated. The anti-Sikh riots were the worst religious riots in India since independence in 1947. In May 2009, a petition filed by advocate MS Butalia said that hundreds of anti-Sikh riot cases were still pending in the court, 25 years after the fact. Several members of Parliament belonging to the Congress Party have been accused in these cases - HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Das Shastri, and Jagdish Tytler. The Nanavati Commission (2004!), in addition to finding evidence against these MPs, also held the then police commissioner SC Tandon directly responsible for the riots.

[DIVERSION 1: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told a court in September 2009 that witnesses who deposed against former union minister Jagdish Tytler for his alleged role in a 1984 anti-Sikh riot case are unreliable and made false statements to implicate him. "During investigation, only two persons came forward to depose against Tytler and both Surinder and Jasbir Singh are unreliable. They have made false statements to implicate Tytler," Additional Public Prosecutor Sanjay Kumar contended before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Rakesh Pandit. Kumar further contended that Surinder, who died recently, gave contradictory versions of the 1984 incident allegedly involving Tytler.

The CBI, which had on April 2 sought to close the case against Tytler claiming there was no sufficient evidence against him, had questioned the jurisdiction of a magisterial court and sought the matter to be transferred to a sessions court. The agency claimed as the matter involved the offence of murder, it should be transferred to the sessions court. The court, however, was not convinced with CBI's arguments and decided to hear the closure report]

The anti-Sikh pogrom broke out after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Indian National Congress had been assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for Operation Blue Star, in which Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple (one of Sikhism's four most sacred sites) to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (As a side note, it is interesting to remember that Bhindranwale was Indira Gandhi's man against the Shiromani Akali Dal and he had actively campaigned for the Congress Party in the 1979 general elections). The excessive and perhaps not properly planned use of force by the Army resulted in more casualties than were strictly necessary. For example, the attack was timed to coincide with an annual Sikh festival. Further, although Lt. Gen. Sinha had advised against the tactics of the Operation, the Government replaced him with Gen. Arun Vaidya and went ahead anyway (it was indeed possible to execute the mission with more care as Operations Black Thunder I & II proved). The official casualty figures were 83 dead and 248 wounded for the Indian Army and 492 dead and 86 wounded for the Sikhs (unofficial figures stand at about 500 Army and 5,000 Sikh dead and wounded). Brahma Chellaney, the only journalist who managed to stay behind despite the media blackout, telexed 780 militants and civilians and 400 troops killed in fierce gunbattles. Chellaney also reported that “several” (later confirmed at eight to ten) suspected Sikh militants had been shot with their hands tied.

In response to the riots, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a statement at Boat Club in New Delhi
on 19 November 1984, on the birthday of Indira Gandhi, "Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little." Indeed! It was only in 1998 that Sonia Gandhi expressed regret (but stopped short of an apology) for the happenings of 1984, perfectly timed, of course, for the general elections barely a month ahead. The reality of the sentiment is made clearer by the statements of some of the victims: "I made desperate attempts to locate my husband, but there was no news. Today, I cannot even claim compensation as I don't have any evidence or certificate showing that my husband is dead," said one Sail Kaur, who had lost 12 members of her family in the violence. Seventy-year-old Mitha Singh was able to get a compensation of Rs. 350,000 in 1999 only after several rounds of the city court. Singh lost his only son who was burnt alive in their factory that day. For Gurdeep Singh, memories of his mother are still strong. Even after 25 years there is no news of his mother, Vimlesh Kaur, who disappeared after the riots.

These terrible events have long been forgotten in India because it is more convenient to pick on someone like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose public relations skills are appalling if not non-existent. The Godhra Affair has been in the spotlight of the "secularist" press for the past seven years. The violence was sparked off by a Muslim mob of more than 500 stopping and storming the Sabarmati Express on its return from Ayodhya. The assailants burned 59 Hindus passengers, mostly women, children and seniors, alive. In immediate retaliation, riots erupted across Gujarat in which 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed. Police firing claimed the lives of 93 Muslims and 77 Hindus (this militates against the notion of police complicity). Thousands of Hindus and Muslims were preemptively arrested.

The Indian Supreme Court, strongly critical of the state government's investigation and prosecution of those accused of violence during the riots, directed police to review about 2,000 of the 4,000 riot related cases that had been closed citing lack of evidence or leads. Following this direction, police identified nearly 1,600 cases for reinvestigation, arrested 640 accused and launched investigations against 40 police officers for their failures. After a local court dismissed the case against her assailants, Bilkis Bano appealed to the Supreme Court through the National Human Rights Commission. The Supreme Court granted the motion and transferred the case out of Gujarat - charges were filed in a Mumbai court against nineteen people as well as six police officials and a government doctor over their role in the initial investigations. In January 2008, eleven men were sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape and murders and a policeman was convicted of falsifying evidence. Eight people, including a VHP leader and a member of the BJP, were convicted for the murder of seven members of a family and the rape of two minor girls in the village of Eral in Panchmahal district.

The Nanavati Commission of 2008 exonerated the Gujarat Government, given evidence of the acquisition of 140 litres of petrol hours before the arrival of the train and the storage of the said petrol at the alleged key conspirator's, Razzak Kurkur, guest house. This was further corroborated by forensic evidence showing fuel was poured on the train compartment before being burnt. The alleged mastermind was said to be the cleric Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji and a dismissed CRPF officer by the name of Nanumiyan, from Assam, who had instigated the Muslim crowds. Furthermore, two Kashmiris, Gulamnabi and Ali Mohammed, were in the same guesthouse for a fortnight prior to the event speaking about the Kashmir liberation movement. The CPM and the Congress party both came out railing against the exoneration of the Gujarat government by the commission citing the timing of the report (with general elections months away) as evidence of unfairness. Congress spokesperson Veerappa Moily commented at the strange absolvement of the Gujarat government for complacency for the carnage. He also said the report reinforced communal prejudices. In 2005, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was denied a visa to the United States upon the strong lobbying of "secularist" groups.

Without getting into tit-for-tat arguments or into a spiralling blame game, a few things are clear from an examination of these two cases of violence against religious minorities: (1) Muslims are more important than Sikhs, (2) the Congress can do no wrong, (3) when in doubt, it is convenient and safe to blame the Sangh Parivar, (4) Congress MPs are above the law, (5) justice means the subordination of every community's interests to those of the Muslim community. If the law were applied equally to all sections of society, this discrepancy in the way Sikh cases have been handled in the aftermath of the 1984 riots as compared to the Muslim cases in the aftermath of Godhra would not have existed. Further, there has been constant pressure on the Central Government to 'mete out justice' in the Godhra Affair but no such pressure exists in the case of the anti-Sikh riots. In fact, the Government has worked quite hard against publicising the events of 1984 - in the case of the film Amu, a story about a 21-year old Indian-American who visits India only to get flashbacks of the 1984 riots she had been made to forget in America, the censor board refused to pass the film. The Board cleared it only with six politically motivated cuts, including a 10-minute cut and the removal of all verbal references to the riots. Says Ellora Puri, a Political Scientist at the Punjab University in Chandigarh, "Indian social commentators - media, cinema, writers or academia - have been fairly amnesiac about the 1984 Sikh killings."

This is not the only thing India's social commentators have been amnesiac about - the Emergency (June 25, 1975 - March 21, 1977)
is another dark chapter in Indian history that had best not be disturbed. Other than the rampant corruption in Indira Gandhi's regime, she was also accused of sanctioning (1) Wanton detention of innocent people by police without charge or notification of families, (2) Abuse and torture of detainees and political prisoners, (3) Use of public and private media institutions, like the national television network Doordarshan, for propaganda, (4) Forced vasectomy of thousands of men under the infamous family planning initiative, and (5) Arbitrary destruction of the slum and low-income housing in the Turkmen Gate and Jama Masjid area of old Delhi. It is not easy to find exactly how many people perished during the 21 months of Congress dictatorship, and given Indian policy on the declassification of documents and opening of archives, we may never know. However, a glimpse of life in Emergency Rule India can be had from TV Eachara Varier's heart-rending memoir, Memories Of a Father.

This is the Party we are asked to vote for, the Party that will save us from the Hindutva brigade - it is like the Soviets telling the Poles in 1939 that they will save them from the Germans! These are the double standards we are meant to acquiese to or we are communalists, fascists, and Hindu fundamentalists (regarding the inaccuracy of these terms, refer to my post, Lotus Blooming, of August 23, 2009). In terms of damage to the people, to communities, and to the individual, in terms of damage to institutions and to the rule of law, the Congress Party has done more and more thoroughly than any BJP Government can ever do - and we are still restricting the topic to domestic affairs. There is an expression in Konkani - when someone is angry beyond comprehension, one says that one is so angry that it feels like one's liver is being boiled. I find it very apt in this instance. But then again, are we not complicit too? I do not remember anyone, whether it be Human Rights organisations, Lok Ayukt, or other political parties, raising these issues.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

зараза (zaraza) - Marxists, the Indian Edition

There used to be a time when being labelled as a Marxist was the death knell. Many of us have lived through McCarthy's America and not many of us liked it, primarily because the assumptions and inferences drawn from the accusations were preposterous and unsubstantiated. But what if the accusations and implications were true? How would we have looked upon the McCarthy era then? Well, it will be difficult to find out now in America, but transpose the situation to India, and in the typical fashion of the subcontinent, complicate things a bit. Imagine a situation in which Marxists were indeed the fifth column, weakening law and order and the state at every turn. In other words, think of the very situation Senator Joseph McCarthy was (ostensibly) worried about or trying to pre-empt.

The Communist movement in India is still quite strong. Despite the failure of the Soviet Union, Indian Communist leaders have started talking about an Indian strain of communism just as Mao had interpreted Marx to suit Chinese needs. Marxists also have a commanding presence in Indian academia and media - GS Gandhi, then a columnist for the Pioneer, described Mao Tse-tung as "a great revolutionary, an able strategist, a poet and a philosopher," and called him "above all a soldier-saint who led his country to salvation." Harkishen Singh Surjeet, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) until 2005, regularly posed with portraits of Lenin and Stalin much like one would expect of Fidel Castro. Marxist (or sympathetic to Marxist) presence exists in many of India's leading newspapers and magazines. British journalist Premen Addy warned in the London Review of Books not to take certain journals such as the Economic and Political Weekly and Frontline as voices of genuine radical dissent after Frontline columnist and CPI-M leader EMS Namboodiripad described Mahatma Gandhi as a Hindu fundamentalist. Addy wrote, "should the country's Communist Parties achieve exclusive power at the national level, neither journal is likely to promote the right of dissent it enjoys in India today."

Marx thought none too highly of religion, and Hinduism was no different for him. Predictably, Marx thought that Hinduism was the ideology of an oppressive and outworn society, and he did not accept the notion that India was a country properly speaking, merely a stretch of land with a meek conglomerate of people passively waiting for the next conqueror. Marx's Indian sychophants have stayed true to this view - they reject the very concept of India as a national unit. In a 1993 interview with Le Monde, Romila Thapar cheerfully predicted that India would not be able to stay togehter for much longer. CPI-M leaders Jyothi Basu and Ashok Mitra had declared around the same time, in the aftermath of the Ayodhya controversy, that if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the centre, West Bengal would secede from the Union, and that India was never the solution anyway.

In every conflict, they have stood on the anti-Indian side - betraying the Quit India activists to the British, supporting the Pakistan scheme in 1945-47, supporting the separatist Razakar militia in Hyderabad State in 1948, and siding with China in 1961-62. In fact, just before war broke out in 1962, the Communists had declared that China's Chairman was India's Chairman. The CPI's official stand was pro-China, and many of the leaders ( B. T. Ranadive, P. Sundarayya, P. C. Joshi, Basavapunnaiah, Jyoti Basu, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet) openly called the conflict as one between a socialist state and a capitalist state. The Naxalite problem in India was started by Maoist elements in the Indian Communist Party. In 1967 a peasant uprising broke out in Naxalbari, in northern West Bengal. The insurgency was led by hardline district-level CPI-M leaders Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal. The hardliners within CPI-M saw the Naxalbari uprising as the spark that would ignite the Indian revolution. The Communist Party of China hailed the Naxalbari movement, and more pro-naxal elements split from the CPI, particularly in Andhra Pradesh.

The uncompromising opposition by Marxists in India to Gandhi's "cherished Hindu convictions" meant that communsits were cut off in a considerable measure from the mainstream of patriotic struggle. While in other Third World countriess, Marxists have supported cultural anti-colonialism and encouraged national pride, Indian Marxists are generally opposed to anti-colonial dvelopments in the cultural sphere. The knee-jerk anti-Western bias the CPI-M and its followers still exhibit has hampered the smooth running of the State machinery on many occasions, the most recent being refuelling rights for the United States Air Force on their way to the Persian Gulf, the friendly visit by an American warship to Madras, and the much talked about nuclear deal between India and the US.

Needless to say, every corner of the country they have touched has wilted away. Amulya Gandhi was forced to admit in 1998, "The Marxist rule of the last two decades has been an unmitigated disaster for West Bengal. Marxism has ensured that West Bengal will become an industrial desert. By blocking investment, both indigenous and foreign, the red trade unions have ensured that the number of unemployed remains high, providing endless supplies of revolutionary cadres from the ranks of the lumpen proletariat." At the academic level, many Indian Marxists have managed to portray themselves to the international academic and journalism communities as privileged commentators on Hindu communalism. It is ironic and deeply disturbing, not to mention the questions it raises about Western academia, that a movement which still swears by Lenin and Stalin (the Maoists chose to abandon Parliamentary procedure and take to the jungles as Naxal rebels) is hailed in Western universities as a guardian of civil polity against the encroaching barbarism of Hindu revivalism. However, the unreserved admiration of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao is not noteworthy.

The postmodern form of Marxism, quite popular in academia, denies the very notion of objective knowledge. It assumes that knowledge is conditioned by one's social belonging, insisting that all research in the social sciences has a political agenda. Implied is that once one has identified a scholar as a representative of the wrong interest group, his/her arguments are ipso facto wrong. This feeble pseudo-intellectual trick has worked with the Indian Right because, unfortunately, the idea of a Right-wing intellectual is a bit of a misnomer in India. Marxists have occupied and held the public sphere without challenge for at least the past 35 years and it is near impossible to assail them today. Marxist control of the English news media in India and key instituitons such as the Indian Council of Historical Research and the National Council of Educational Research Training have given them a disproprtionate voice and influence on Indian self-perception and image in the world. Interestingly, a standard Soviet work, A History of India, by K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, G. Kotovsky (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979) has been far more sympathetic to the Indian perspective than homegrown Marxists. In the words of a wise Roman,

"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vilifying MS Golwalkar

I am not a fan of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar - I am at a loss to think of anything good Guruji has done. But, call me a liberal if you want, even a condemned man deserves a defence, especially when the attacks on him are by completely ignorant pseudo-secular elements who know less about pluralism than they do about fornication. Golwalkar has been made out to be a Prophet of hate based one one or two select quotes taken from his early work, We, Our Nationhood Defined:

From this standpoint, sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizen's rights.

Now, clearly, it is entirely irrelevant that Golwalkar himself repudiated this work later on (and even withdrew the book from print in 1948), as is the fact that this was no better than could have been expected under Islamic law even in more liberal regimes such as the Ottoman Empire. Or for that matter, depending upon occasional mood swings, no better than Jews in Christian Europe could expect (I will refrain from mentioning how life was under communism, in the glorious People's Republic of China or Eastern Europe). However, this statement, and others like it from this work, have been used repeatedly to vilify Golwalkar. It might also strike the unbiased reader here that anyone who expects the thoughts of a person to remain unchanged throughout his life either has a political axe to grind or is mind bogglingly obtuse.

So what else did Golwalkar say or write in the thirty-six years he lived after the publication of the book that would damn him
forever? Though Golwalkar's published speeches and writings run into many hundreds of pages, only a few dozen of these pages deal with Islam. His image in the seclarist press was that of an anti-Muslim fanatic, yet the interest he took in the 'Muslim problem' was very limited and never motivated him to a serious study of the subject. As a result, his interviewers usually forced the subject and most of quotations of Golwalkar's on Islam are from interviews, published as appendices in his books, Bunch of Thoughts and Spotlights or as a separate pamphlet, Guruji and the Muslim Problem. His utterances invariably revolved around the alleged Muslim disloyalty to India. Golwalkar routinely referred to Muslims as foreigners who used India as a sarai. This is not entirely unprovoked given, for example, Muhammad Iqbal's poem Shikwa in which he writes, No matter if my idiom is Indian,my spirit is that of Hijaz. Or the poet Hali's famous couplet which read,

راستے ہندوستان , ای گلستان بخزن ؛ بہت دیں رہ چکے ہم تیرے بدیشی مہمان
(Farewell, O Hindustan, a garden in which autumn never comes, We, your foreign guests, have lived here long enough).

In his 678-page book, Vichaardhaara, Golwalkar devotes barely 15 pages to a discussion of Muslims in India. His objections are purely of a nationalist nature and not religious. His concerns were of Muslim loyalty to the state they now live under. As examples, he cited numerous incidents in history when Muslim generals betrayed HIndu kings, one of the most famous such event being at the Battle of Talikota on January 23, 1565 when two Muslim generals withdrew their forces from battle, reducing Rama Raya's army by 150,000 men. Golwalkar was indeed not fond of Muslims by any stretch of the imagination - the Partition and the electoral success of the seccessionist Muslim League had embittered him, particularly when millions of Muslims opted to stay behind in India despite the creation of Pakistan. Golwalkar always worried of a fifth column now that Muslims in India had organised and understood the value and power of their vote.

Unexpectedly though, Golwalkar supported the Gandhian and secularist view that the Hindu-Muslim conflict in 1921-47 culminating in the Partition was purely a British machination unrelated to the political doctrine of Islam. Golwalkar opined that if India reconquered Pakistan, the Hindu-Muslim problem would not continue because Hindus and Muslims had lived in one land, albeit with a few problems, for hundreds of years - the problem was the British policy of divide and rule. Once the British were ejected from the subcontinent, there would be no one to rake up mischief. As he wrote in Vichaardhaara, "the Muslims must realise that we are all one people and it is the same blood that courses in all our veins. They are not Arabs or Turks or Mongols. They are only Hindu converts." (Spotlights, 43) This does not mean that Golwalkar wanted to reconvert Muslims - Hinduism has never sought converts, and Golwalkar was no different. "Indianisation does not mean making all people Hindus. Let us realise and believe that we are all children of the soil coming from the same stock, that our great forefathers were one, and that our aspirations are also one. That is all, I believe, the meaning of Indianisation...The main reason for Hindu-Muslim tension is that the Indian Muslim is yet to identify himself fully with India, its people and its culture (Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told an audience of Indian Muslims in Delhi in 2005 that they should be Indians first and Muslims second). Golwalkar's position that Islam is not the problem but Muslims is contrary to the traditional Hindu criticism of the followers of Muhammad. For Golwalkar, Muslims who cause trouble in India are necessarily Pakistani agents - thus Indian Muslims are not a problem.

This sentiment is not restricted to merely events of long ago. On a burning social and political issue like the Uniform Civil Code, Golwalkar's thoughts are surprising: A reformist's attitude is all right. But a mechanical leveller's attitude would not be correct. Let the Muslims evolve their own laws. I will be happy when they arrive at the conclusion that polygamy is not good for them, but I would not like to force my views on them. Implied is that Golwalkar had no quarrel with any class, community or sect wanting to maintain its identity so long as that identity does not detract from its patriotic feeling (Anderson and Damle, Brotherhood in Saffron, p.83). "Let Muslims be more devout Muslims. We will help them to be more devout" he wrote in Spotlights (p.48).

So why do I not like Guruji? He does not appear, contrary to what the "secular" brigade have been screaming, the next genocidal dictator. I am not fond of Golwalkar because he was an anti-intellectual - despite teaching at a university as a biology professor, every time he would see an RSS man reading, he would ask them if they had nothing sueful to do for the Sangh. Although many RSS members are today doctors and engineers, it is not because of their belief in intellectual pursuits but because of the status such degrees bring to the holder in India. Golwalkar was dismissive of the humanities and valued only practical and functional academic interests such as the sciences. Thus, he did not encourage disciplines that stressed critical and multi-dimensional thinking and deeply distrusted anyone who had such a background. He felt that too much focus on cerebral activities divorced people from ground realities and paralysed their ability to act. Following his lead, many RSS people have rhetorically asked, "What good was ever done by intellectuals?" This attitude also stems in part from the droves of Marxist intellectuals whom the RSS see as traitors. These intellectuals dominate Indian cultural life quite easily because there has been no challenge for control of the public space by the RSS or any Hindu unit. Sadly, although most communities have representation in India - Muslims, Christians, scheduled castes - it is Hindus, the majority, who remain unrepresented. What is worse, given some of the crass outbursts of some of the lower levels of the RSS or VHP, defending Hinduism has become a malodorus activity. If there is no viable opposition to multiple personal laws, the Haj subsidy, and Marxist attempts to take over temples, it is because the space for Hindu interests has been occupied by an ineffective and lethargic organisation who remain out of politics for the most part. Sant Kabir expressed it best in his doha:

घी के तो दर्शन भले
खाना भला न तेल
दाना तो दुश्मन भला
मुरख का क्या मेल

Monday, September 21, 2009

We, The (Secular?) People of India...

Aristotle would probably never have been in the proper frame of mind to write Categories had he lived in India, for India has made a pig's breakfast of many Western categories. Take nationalism, for instance - India is disunited by language and religion, deriving no cohesive identity of even an imagined nation as has been the general experience. Religion and science is another blurred boundary for Indians as prominent scientists still refer to horoscopes and have quirky superstitions about solar eclipses. India has yet another distinctive accolade that defies just about any other human experience - an oppression of the majority in a democratic state.

The rise of an angry Hindu politics over the past two decades has been the direct result of the denial of rights by the Indian Government to the 80.5%-majority Hindu population in relation to other religious denominations. These discriminatory policies (some of them Constitutional) have been a major bone of contention for Hindus. If India claims to be secular (stated explicitly in the preamble to the Constitution), then let it completely disregard religious classification. On the other hand, if it wishes to hold on to religious communalism (not recommended by this author), let it legally define areas in which religious law can take precedence over secular law and apply it equally and fairly to all communities. The record in India, as it stands today, is of allowing all sorts of liberties and financial incentives for any religious group except Hindus, thereby denying the majority population rights that are granted to every other religious group in the country. Of course, it is sometimes pointed out that not all Hindus think of themselves as Hindus (or are apathetic to their classification as Hindus) but legally, if the Government of India has seen it fit to use religion as a category of consideration for disbursing its bounty and applied it universally to all non-Hindu groups (without regard to whether they consider themselves as Muslims or Christians or some other denomination), then it should be equally applied to Hindus as well. At the risk of pondering over the obvious, let us look more closely at some of these discriminatory laws - this state of affairs is largely unknown outside of India because the Western press takes the easy option of accessing the Indian English press rather than refer to vernacular presses (even within India, more people than one would think are unaware because of the highly successful infiltration of anti-Hindu elements into top positions in Indian social life).

* * * * *
Article 25: (1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.

Explanation I.—The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.
Explanation II.—In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.
* * * * *

A law promising the freedom of religion is not, in principle, problematic. However, the aggressive proselytisation by some religions causes social fractures in a community. The right to propagate a religion was added to this Article by the Constituent Assembly under strong pressure from Christian groups in India as well as the United States. The right to peddle one's religion is an unequal right because Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jews, Buddhists and Jains do not seek converts while Christianity and Islam do and giving both these groups the right to do so is like giving wolves and sheep the right to eat one another. Some countries have banned proselytising (Islamic countries, for example), claiming that conversion causes social instability and breakdown of order. In the Indian experience, this has indeed been true with converts to Islam and Christianity as the new initiates are told to shun their old ways, including interaction with the local community. Anthropologists like Joseph Troisi and Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf have studied the impact of Christianity and Islam on tribal societies and concluded that it does indeed lead to separatism within the community as common rituals and customs are suddenly discarded by one group.

Of course, not all tribes experience such difficulties. Tribes encountering Buddhism or Hinduism have learned to coexist with their new neighbours and even on occasion of conversion to the different faith, they have remained integrated within the fabric of their own communities, the Khowas of Kameng being a good example and standing in stark contrast with the Nishis of Subansiri. In the latter case, the disruptions were severe enough that the state government of Arunachal Pradesh enacted in 1978 their Freedom of Religion Act which allows people to freely practice their religion and convert if they wish to but bans missionary work in the state. This law, like many others in India, has a record of being more honoured in the breach than the observed.

* * * * *
Article 26: Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right—

(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;
(b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion;
(c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
(d) to administer such property in accordance with law.
* * * * *

This Article, again sounding universal, is used discriminatorily against Hindus. The state has tried time and again to usurp Hindu
temples, ashrams, and charities citing corruption as the reason. Somehow, this does not seem to apply to institutions of other religions. For example, no state government has yet acted against the wakf boards guilty of stealing over 400,000 acres of land. As Outlook magazine reported, "It is collectively the biggest land scam in India's history. a national resource that should have been developed for the welfare of the community, as it is meant to. Instead, this resource has been mortgaged, sold and encroached upon with the connivance of the very institutions and individuals responsible for safeguarding it. This is an investigation into a systemic rot. The Wakf boards in most states of India are repositories of corruption, in league with land sharks and builders. They continue to get away with the daylight robbery of their own community because, whenever there is any demand for scrutiny, they crudely take cover behind the 'Islam in danger' sentiment." In 1990, however, in response to the Kerala High Court verdict that only Hindus who believe in God or temple worship should be allowed to stand as candidates in elections of temple boards, the state government amended the 1950 Travancore-Cochin Religious Institutions Act to define Hindus as anyone born into or converted to Hinduism and therefore eligible for election to the Devaswom Boards - in direct violation of Article 26 that guaranteed religious groups the right to manage their own affairs. Subsequently, the Boards were filled with Marxist stooges of the CPI-M. As Congress spokesman Karunalaran said to reporters, Those who have no faith in temples could destroy them from within if they were given the right to run them."

The claim that temple funds were being misused and therefore the government had to step in is utter nonsense, for anyone in any country know that government involvement in a venture does not ensure the lack of corruption but facilitates it. Public Sector Units across India are rife with nepotism and corruption and yet the CPI-M is quiet on that front. The real reason for absorbing the temples is that temple trusts have large reservoirs of money from donations given by the millions of pilgrims that visit every year. The temples in question have a revenue of at least six billion rupees and assets of around two and a half tonnes of gold. Upon appeal, the Supreme Court decided in favour of the communists, arguing that the property of the temples was that of the deity and management rights are not hereditary to brahmins. In essence, one may own one's house but the government will tell one how to run it.

In the interest of fairness, it must be pointed out that according to the six schools of Hinduism, one can be a monist, monotheist, henotheist, polytheist, or even atheist and be a Hindu. Thus, a Marxist may well have the right to be a member of the Devaswom Board. Common sense would dictate, however, that those inimical to the intent of an organisation should probably not run it or
even be allowed to join. After all, one does not see the CPI-M extend an invitation to Ratan Tata to be a member of their Politburo.

This situation is not unique to Kerala - in the 1983 case of Kashi Vishvanath Temple vs. Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court declared, "The Hindus are not a denomination, section, or sect under the Constitution. They cannot under Article 26 claim the fundamental right to maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes, to manage their own affairs in matters of religion, to own and acquire movable property, and to administer such property in accordance with law." It does not get much clearer than this.

* * * * *
Article 30: (1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

44th Amendment (1978):

(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.
(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
* * * * *

In principle, this law protects communities from being assimilated or subsumed into others, and as a result, hundreds of institutions based on language and religion have sprouted up all across India, keeping many communities that might have otherwise died off vibrant. In implementation though, this right is denied Hindus. Take for example the attempt by the communist government of West Bengal to take over the Ramakrishna Mission schools in 1980. The Ashram finally tried to reclassify itself as a non-Hindu organisation (an effort defeated by its own board) to escape from the clutches of the state government. Although the Supreme Court finally saved the Ramakrishna Ashram schools from being nationalised, it was not under Article 30 but under an old Bengal state law. The implication of this is that Hindu organisations are not protected under Article 30, even though the Article makes no distinction between Hindus and non-Hindus. A further consequence of this law is that if anybody wants to run a school that imparts Islamic or Christian theology, the Central and State Governments will be giving it grants and meeting much if not all of the school's expenses. However, if the school imparts Hindu education, such as an invocation to Saraswati (the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge), the school would have to look for funds elsewhere. Furthermore, all private schools and institutions have to reserve seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes but not minority institutions. Private institutions need to obtain permission of the Chief Educational Officer before appointing outsiders and can be de-recognised by the state if any of its rules are violated. Minority institutions cannot be de-recognised and are under no obligations in hiring from the authorities. And most seriously, Hindu institutions have no fundamental right to compensation upon cumpulsory acquisition of its property and assets by the state that minority insttituions do. Very few people have challenged this state of affairs, not even the BJP - AB Vajpayee, the longest serving Member of Parliament, is yet to speak on the issue. However, former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Jagmohan, has urged the Centre to look at the "unhealthy and unwholesome implications of Article 30." To be fair, some figures in minority communities have also spoken out against Article 30, stating that the special privileges enjoyed by the minorities should be extended to the majority as well.

* * * * *
Article 370: (1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,—

(a) the provisions of article 238 shall not apply in relation to the State of Jammu and Kashmir;
(b) the power of Parliament to make laws for the said State shall be limited to—
(i) those matters in the Union List and the Concurrent List which, in consultation with the Government of the State, are declared by the President to correspond to matters specified in the Instrument of Accession governing the accession of the State to the Dominion of India as the matters with respect to which the Dominion Legislature may make laws for that State; and
(ii) such other matters in the said Lists as, with the concurrence of the Government of the State, the President may by order specify.

Article 371A: (1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,—

(a) no Act of Parliament in respect of—
(i) religious or social practices of the Nagas,
(ii) Naga customary law and procedure,
(iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law,
(iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources, shall apply to the State of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides;
(2) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, for a period of ten years from the date of the formation of the State of Nagaland or for such further period as the Governor may, on the recommendation of the regional council, by public notification specify in this behalf,—
(c) no Act of the Legislature of Nagaland shall apply to Tuensang district unless the Governor, on the recommendation of the regional council, by public notification so directs and the Governor in giving such direction with respect to any such Act may direct that the Act shall in its application to the Tuensang district or any part thereof have effect subject to such exceptions or modifications as the Governor may specify on the recommendation of the regional council
(d) the Governor may make regulations for the peace, progress and good Government of the Tuensang district and any regulations so made may repeal or amend with retrospective effect, if necessary, any Act of Parliament or any other law which is for the time being applicable to that district.

Article 371G: Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,—

(a) no Act of Parliament in respect of—
(i) religious or social practices of the Mizos,
(ii) Mizo customary law and procedure,
(iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary law,
(iv) ownership and transfer of land, shall apply to the State of Mizoram unless the Legislative Assembly of the State of Mizoram by a resolution so decides
* * * * *

The above provisions of the constitution do not, prima facie, sound like discrimination against Hindus. However, the import of these provisions is that the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, and Mizoram are not subject to Indian laws unless their state legislature ratifies them. It also happens that these states are three of the eight states (Nagaland, Mizoram, Jammu & Kashmir, Lakshadweep, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, and Meghalaya) in which Hindus are in a minority (Mizoram - 3.55%, Nagaland - 7.7%, Jammu & Kashmir - 29.63%) and the dominant religion is either Islam or Christianity. In the other five, the religion is either animistic, Sikhism, or related closely to Hindusim (such as Maibaism in Manipur). The result of this law is that, in Kashmir for example, non-Kashmiris cannot purchase land, get loans or grants from state institutions, or vote in the state. To be fair, this law was passed by Maharaja Hari Singh before independence, but it has meant that over 100,000 Hindu and Sikh refugees from what is now Pakistan were not given state citizenship and treated as refugees rather than as countrymen. Today, the law helps maintain the Muslim majority of the state, particularly after the exodus of large numbers of Kashmiri brahmins from the state in 1989 and 1990.

Other Forms of Discrimination


Since 1995, the Government has been busily setting up the National Minorities Development & Finance Corporation and its state chapters. With initial seed money of Rs. 5 billion (Rs. 8.5 billion by the end of 2008), the Corporation seeks to advance the interests of minorities by giving them loans, micro-credit, create avenues for self-employment, educational opportunities, and assist them with other ventures. This is undoubtedly a noble aim, but why is it limited only to minorities? Should the Government not aspire to do this for all its citizens equally? There is no mention of all this aid being disbursed on a need-basis; the only criterion for eligibility is that you must be a Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, or Parsi. The priority within the minority segment of the population will be based on economic status, with anyone below double the poverty line being given the highest priority. So in essence, if you were a Hindu making less than Rs. 20,000 per annum, you would not receive aid whereas a minority making Rs. 40,000 per annum would.


The Minorities Commissions produce reports from time to time which cannot be suppressed from Parliament due to the statutory status of these Commissions. The demands in some of these reports is nothing short of brazen – one report asked that 1985 be designated the Year of Minorities and Weaker Sections, while another report demanded that no proof of nationality should be required from Muslims upon appointment to a job (this was in context of around ten million Bangladeshi refugees flooding into India as a result of the atrocities committed by the troops from West Pakistan in 1971 in what was then East Pakistan, many of whom did not wish to return and stayed on as illegal immigrants).

Lack of a Uniform Civil Code

The lack of a Uniform Civil Code is the ultimate marker of inequality. By law, Hindus (and the cluster of religions deemed Hindu-esque) and governed by a set of secular laws (the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956) while Muslims fall under the jurisdiction of the Muslim Personal Law (Sharia) Act, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act of 1939, the Wakf Act of 1913, and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986 (Shah Bano Amendment). Christians are granted their own marriage customs but their
divorces fall under the Indian Divorce Act (1869). A little known fact is that the Constitution of India states quite explicitly in Article 44 that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” It is one of the great mysteries of India, right up there with the Rope Trick, why the overwhelming majority of Indians are completely accepting of successive Indian governments violating the Constitution of the land and brand the one regime that did want to follow the Constitution (the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1998-2004) as communal and fascist. Over the years, there have been cases in which Hindu men converted to Islam solely to practice bigamy. This situation has been deplored by the Islamic clergy while they simultaneously sanction Muslim polygamy on a daily basis. A Uniform Civil Code is not a demand by Hindus or Parsis or Sikhs but a fundamental tenet of secularism, which though promised by the Constitution, is today a sectarian and communal issue.


It is no googly that religion and politics are thoroughly intertwined in India. One ugly institution that creates inertia and resists any shift from the deplorable status quo is the phenomenon of vote banks. Not only do politicians in power pander to segments of the population to enhance their re-electability, they also re-draw district boundaries such that these segments get local majorities. The Moplahs of the Malabar Coast rioted in the 1960s, demanding the creation of Malappuram. This is not an isolated case, and Muslims have consistently received such indulgences over the years, first from the Raj, and then from the state and central governments of India.

Pilgrimage subsidies

In 2007 the Haj subsidy paid by the Indian government was Rs. 595 crores, and for 2008 it was Rs. 700 crores. Since 1994 the round trip cost to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has been fixed at Rs. 12,000 per pilgrim, and the government has footed the rest of the bill. In 2007 this difference came to Rs. 47,454 per passenger and the subsidy per person was Rs. 120,000 in 2009. In contrast, pilgrims to Lake Manasarovar in Tibet are given a paltry Rs. 3,250, if you get it - the Indian Government is known to be habitually late in giving out subsidies to pilgrims going to Manasarovar.

Secularism, a bad word

The state of secularism in India is quite dismal. However, anyone daring to point that out is at once labelled communalist and
categorised with the saffron brigade, a convenient marker that allows the media and India watchers to blatantly disregard without even considering the content of their criticism. The reach of the pseudo-secularists is quite impressive – in November 2008, soon after the Presidential elections in the United States, when President-elect Barack Obama appointed Sonal Shah to his transition team, prominent Indian-Americans were mobilised to protest her alleged RSS-VHP links. The same group lobbied the US Government to deny Narendra Modi a visa to visit the United States due to the Godhra riots (It is small matter that Kutubuddin Ansari, the poster boy of the Godhra riots with his folded hands and tearful expression, has returned to Ahmedabad after being unable to cope with the backwardness and minimal employment opportunities of West Bengal – even he is willing to ‘risk’ his life and live in a state run by a ‘communal and fascist’ government than one run by ‘progressives’ and Leftists). True secularists in India, more concerned with gaining the approval of the mainstream English press than issues, have the worst publicity machine known to man, and the country is paying for it dearly. At the very mention of secularism in India, one can hear Voltaire and Condorcet turning in their graves.

The Indian Constitution can be found HERE.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Echoes of Gokhale

We have talked about the Partition. Now let us talk about Independence. Gopal Krishna Gokhale is not a name you hear too often in the Indian public sphere. And why should you? After all, he was not as exciting as the fiery Bal Gangadhar Tilak or Bhagat Singh. Nor was he the implacable force MK Gandhi became after the Round Table Conference in 1930-1931. He did not even ask for purna swaraj, settling instead for dominion status within the British Empire. How can this man be a hero for the new, resurgent India, brimming with confidence after their rise from the economic doldrums experienced under a socialist Congress? All too often, it happens that the quietest voices impart the greatest wisdom.

I don't know too much about Gokhale - there was never time in class after the hagiography of Gandhi that we
were fed. A quick search on Google will also confirm that there exist very few books indeed on Gokhale written with academic rigour as compared to Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi, Tilak, or Bhagat Singh. However, recent happenings have made me go back to what little I know of Gokhale's message and reappraise his work. The banning of books, the latest being Jaswant Singh's Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence, in Gujarat is not a new phenomenon in India. There are a multitude of reasons for this, none of which I find convincing. There was Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses that caused a furore, and there was MF Hussain's nude Saraswati. Understanding Islam through Hadis by Ram Swarup, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India; The Epic of Shivaji by James Laine, Islam - A Concept of Political World Invasion by RV Bhasin, Lajja by Taslima Nasreen, Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert, and The Polyester Pince by Hamish McDonald are but a few of the books banned by some states in India or nationally. Admittedly, some of these works may make us cringe at their arguments or implications, but that is not reason enough to ban them. Some deal with sensitive issues like religion while others like Wolpert's Nine Hours to Rama merely point out the lapses in Gandhi's security on that fateful day in 1948.

In a truly free society, ideas should not be suppressed regardless of their content. Indian politicians have argued that Western standards of liberal discourse to not apply to highly emotive issues such as religion. That is quite disingenuous, particularly in India. With official literacy figures at barely 62%, it is unlikely that the average Indian would have cultivated a habit of reading some fairly sophisticated literature or history. The issue can be highly emotive only if educated people choose to make it so. Thus, the onus for riots and disturbances is shifted upon the intelligentsia of a group, be they Muslims, Rajputs, Marxists, brahmins, women, or homosexuals. If that is the case, why is it that the aggrieved leadership respond to the challenge with a another book arguing just the opposite, or easier, a scathing review? After all, if books like Jaswant's and Rushdie's are read by people of a certain economic and social class, they would be best addressed in their own medium?

The fact of the matter is that the supposedly afflicted intelligentsia is playing a different game. Since it is easy to rile the unlettered
masses into action (Jim Hacker has a wonderful quote in Yes Prime Minister: Ordinary people are stupid), politicians publicise an interpretation of a book that is extremely skewed and champion against it, thereby ensuring the continued support of the particular vote bank that is now aggravated. In the case of Jaswant Singh vs. the BJP (at least the Advani-led faction, if the media is to be believed), that is exactly what happened. Jaswant Singh's (JS) book portrayed Sardar Patel in a less than flattering light just before the Assembly elections in Gujarat. Narendra Modi, whether he cared about JS' argument or not, knew that the opposition would use the 'slanderous' accusations levelled at Patel against him in their election campaign if he did not act on it. The people of Gujarat would see this as Modi failing to protect their honour. Their icon had been attacked, that too by an outsider (JS is a Rajput from Rajasthan). Indians seem to be high-strung divas when it comes to their icons, be they religious, political, or from the world of entertainment and sports. They cannot seem to realise that their heroes most definitely made mistakes as all humans are prone to do once in a while. The average Indian, it seems, cannot bear to see his demi-gods with warts and all. Perhaps a tad politically incorrect, but maybe the British were right when they called their Indian subjects effeminate.

The last sentence of the previous paragraph is, I confess, highly unfair. The cause for this sort of reaction is largely due to the high illiteracy in India. When the British left, literacy hovered around 12%. Today, it has risen 50 percentage points after 62 years of independence. To put things into perspective, Sri Lanka has attained 92% literacy despite a civil war and China is at 91% despite the Big Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Without being equipped by the proper intellectuals tools for life in a democracy, such ignorance of civil liberties and due process is bound to persist. Even educated people seem to harbour illogical reactions. Consider the following case: in a TV reality show presently running, the participant is strapped to a polygraph machine and asked various questions. In a recent episode, a woman was asked if she would ever consider being unfaithful to her husband. As polygraph machines measure stress and not veracity, the needle jumped and the crowd howled and clapped. The reaction, judging by letters to newspapers nationwide, was a plea to ban the show as it was obscene and violated the honour of the woman. Now please note that the participant had willingly signed up (it is difficult to get on the show) knowing full well that the questions would hardly be about her favourite colour. Further, given the viewer ratings, there was a significantly large group of people who enjoyed the show and did not think it to be a problem. This sort of black-and-white thinking (by those who wished to ban the show) is the result of a deficient education. So not only is literacy important, the ability to think critically is equally important. Again, this is not to say that ome things may be in poor taste and the great dumbing down of life (by pandering to the lowest common denominator) throws up such incidents. But this is no reason to ban things - subjectong taste to censorship is an express route
to Orwellian Hell!

There is, of course, the diminishing marginal utility of good education. Of what use is a good education if there is no outlet for it? Corruption and nepotism counters the positive effects of a good education. A quick look at the people in power and the contenders for power leave one thoroughly disillusioned - in what dark and twisted world can Mohammad Shahabuddin and Shibu Soren (to name just two) be Members of Parliament? Convicted murderers running the county...can we truly claim to not be a failed state? We are just a little bit ahead of civil war-ravaged Africa. In this situation many people turn inwards, looking at values and concepts rather than practicality - it is their way of dulling the evereyday reality. Others leave the country for greener pastures - why should they waste their lives being unappreciated and working for a near-hopeless cause? The few who remain withdraw from civic life. They are usually urban, upper-middle class voters with good jobs who stop voting and are resigned to bribing their way through everything. One can blame the genetically apatehtic but I personally find it difficult to blame a learned apathy that took 60 years in the making. How else does one react to a murder case dragging on for 21 years (Sayed Modi, eight-time national badminton champion, was gunned down in 1988. The Courts finally declared a verdict last week)? What options do we have when the judiciary is 124 years and over THIRTY MILLION cases backlogged?

And so we come back to Gokhale. More than a freedom activist, he was a social reformer. He warned Gandhi that Indians were not ready for independence because democracy (Gokhale did not even consider other forms of government) required an educated and civic-minded public. Democracy has an inherent danger of being corrupted and devolving to populism or majoritarianism. This is the flaw in the system, and the only thing that can rectify it is a liberal education. Unless children are exposed unreservedly to Aristotle, al Farabi, Maimonides, Spinoza, Hobbes, Mill, Voltaire, and Burke right alongside Bhaskaracharya, Adishankaracharya, and Vivekananada, unless they read from the Torah as well as the Gita, unless they can talk about Valmiki, Virgil, Dante, Goethe, Dostoevsky, and Rushdie in the same breath, they are not ready for life in a democracy. Obviously this is an ideal but it nonetheless points in the right direction. The politicisation of education in India has been a great disservice to the nation. Romila Thapar, Mushirul Hasan, Irfan Habib, Asghar Ali Engineer, Gyanendra Pandey, and others with their own brand of 'secular' axes to grind have crippled the Humanities in India. They have included sub-alterns, peasants, Muslims, women, communists, and Dalits in their national narratives - they have included everything except any sense of reality or even partial truth. Gokhale was right in 1915 - India was not ready for independence. By 1947, India may have been ready for independence but certainly not for democracy.