Normalising Narendra Modi

Nehru, Gandhi and the Neheru-Gandhis(N,G & N-Gs) are probably the most criticised leaders in India in the circle of the hindu nationalists. I am forced to use the word “hindu” nationalists” here in absence of a non-offensive and/or self-described word to mean someone who supports the ideals of the BJP, RSS and their sister organisations. Evidently, Narendra Modi has described himself as a hindu nationalist, but that seem to have been in more rue than glee. Notwithstanding the widely differing visions, works of the N, G and N-Gs, the HNs can hardly agree with them on anything. Pick any book of slightly right-wing ideals, and you are most like to have Nehru’s patriotism in suspect, his vision discredited. This makes sense though, since the politics of the HNs positions itself as an alternative to the N,G & N-Gs. However, the N,G & N-G do have a stellar stand in Indian politics, in terms of the sheer number of terms they have headed the govt. of this country but also the way they have shaped the country’s economic progress and global recognition. I admit both of these are interdependent and highly controversial, but both illustrate BJP’s quintessential conundrum – it is the fame of these N, G & NGs which Hindu nationalists defame they need to match.

It began with Atal Bihari Bajpayee. Around the time he trumped the then Iron man (IM-I) L. K. Advani for this un-vetted secularism, an anecdote circulated. That Nehru once remarked, “he has prime ministerial timber” after listening to Bajpayee in the parliament,  was something that caught the string of the unthinking middle class. I am not sure, if Nehru waxed poetry in his speeches, or found the especially slow-flow of words particularly prime ministerial, we even don’t know if the younger AB Bajpayee also spoke in slow-mow, but it was Nehru’s tacit and a rather prescient approval of AB Bajpayee to adorn “his(?)”  throne which placed him in public imagination. You could find out, it wouldn’t be a Hindu nationalist to circulate that anecdote.

Ram Chandra Guha does not claim to be a Hindu nationalist. It was he who would start the same normalization of another Iron man (IM-II), Modi. In his unashamed ogling published in “The Hindu” he says, “There is something of Indira Gandhi in Narendra Modi”. Perhaps that was not enough. Not perfect enough for an “Iron Man” to be compared to a female leader (although an Iron lady herself). So we get Tavleen Singh, famed for her gossip column in Indian express who says, “Modi is the first major political leader since Jawaharlal Nehru who has articulated a clear economic vision.” It would be interesting to dissect this heap of praise, but to do that to a line of a journalist who has deep respect and warmth for Advani despite her disliking of his politics and rath yatra, because he called her after reading her book and because she had travelled with him in 1977 would be a waste of time. (By the way, people were killed in massive numbers because of that yatra and politics.)

But notice here the insinuation of political legitimacy and competency of the BJP leaders by banking on the public memory of the long-serving former Prime ministers of India. It is a hollow assurance these columnists tender to the people of India based on completely hypothetical correlation. The nature of political expediency is such that a party that opposed political dynasty in democracy needs to prove its royal blood. 

However absolute Narendra Modi’s accomplishments in Gujrat’s economy be, it is a wonder how people who claim to be liberal and apololitical otherwise, notwithstanding the contradiction in terms, completely ignore Gujrat riot. With interactions of various actors in this extended Hindu Nationalist family, over past 10 years suggest me four ways they could rationalize Gujarat riot of 2002.

  1. Not True: They simply refuse to accept that Gujarat riot happened. In the next few years after the riot, this was a major stand of the expatiate Gujaratis, and a lot of them continue to hold major English dailies responsible for spreading the “misinformation” about Gujarat 2002. They position themselves as alternative news-source, claiming themselves more authentic than the rest since they hail from Gujarat, and eloquently brand every other voice “pseudo-secularists”, communists or congress conspirators. It is important to remember that, much of the vernacular media during the period did not report the large-scale loss of lives and properties of the muslims nor it did report the of the magnitude of the carnage. This probably had created a cognitive dissonance in the mind of this group of people, for which they could be initially forgiven. But after 13 years of the pogrom, it is simple blind faith, ignorance and prejudice.
  2. True, but not Modi: Some acknowledge the Gujarat riot, even the disproportionate loss to the Muslims. These people however squarely exonerate Modi of being responsible for it.  If Modi was the Chief Minister during the riot of 2002, he is also the Chief Minister during the next 10 years of peaceful growth, they argue. L.K.Advani is among the leading voices in this argument. However, this argument is very informative in itself because what it proves is that if a govt. is interested it could administer relative peace for as along as it wants. If CM Modi did it for 10 years in Gujarat now, CM Mayawati could do it in one of the most volatile states regarding communal riots. And if govt. does want not peace, Gujrat 2002 results. Fractions of this group of people like to see the riot as a consequence of Godhra train burning. Lets put the facts aside, and ask if the disproportionate loss of lives, properties, honor and home of only a particular community far from the site of burning can happen spontaneously?
  3. Can we move on?: Gujarat riot-2002 is not fiction; Narendra Modi is in the center of it. As facts emerged, documentaries, sting operations, court, CBI investigations vacillate between almost trying Modi and his ministers/officers and giving clean chits, it is increasingly difficult for some people deny all of it. Instead they ask can we move on now, focus instead on growth and development, clean governance for a change? Yes, we should, but there is a probable killer among us, in fact not among but above us, hoping to rule us tomorrow. How comfortable you would be to know that your boss had got few people killed for whatever reason? Or that, your spouse is a killer? How much of a development-freak you would be to move on, if your neighbours, members of your community, yourself were victims?
  4. We did it!!: There is a fourth category of Modi supporters. They acknowledge the massacre, the rapes, the loots with all its enormity, celebrate it and are grateful to Modi for it.

Most of us are not blind to deny any violence did occur, nor bigoted enough to celebrate such things. Even if we were, we cannot be publicly so. But it is the idea that we should move on, whoever be responsible, so empathetically argued by the extended family, does not, result in a new socio-economic reality. The fact about development is almost like the cliché, “all that glitters are not gold”. Multilane roads, flyovers, sky-scrappers and Memorials (lets keep Maya in loop too) are easier to build than a more equitable, pluralistic society. Infrastructural investment in a short time can give you a “vikash purush” (development man) but it takes years of societal investment to have vikashita janata (developed citizenry). Modi had 20 years to do that, still Gujrat carries some worst human development indices. But again, Jyoti Basu also had 27 years.

In a zerosum game of electoral politics, a thousand different reasons to support Modi do lead to coronation of an alleged mass murderer as Prime ministerial candidate of a major national party. The effect of which would be far-reaching.

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Mamata Proves Mayawati Right

Had Mamata Banerjee not walked out of the TV recoding due to be televised, we would have never known what she was talking about when she blamed the audience to be Maoists. In the last part of the program that continued without her, rallying the popular theme of an intolerant head-of-state, none of the audience came forward to defend her, or to provide an alternate view. In the state where popular opinion is deeply divided along party lines, and that of basically the two dominant parties (CPI (M), the opposition and the TMC-the party in govt.), none of the participants of the program spoke TMC tongue. To cement her suspicion, even after she questioned the reference only to Jadavpur university students, no one from any other universities come forward and identified. Except for one man, who was from IIM-Calcutta.

So were they all Maoists?

“You don’t look like a Maoist to me”, said Sagarika Ghose to the last person to question before a railed Mamata walked out. So what does a Maoist look like, Sagarika? Not like Arundhati Roy or Binayka Sen, I suppose? How about Soni Sori?

The audiences probably were not Maoists, who came to defend the right to expression, dissent and drink (totally anti-Maoist!!), to question about lack of women’s safety . But these would be exactly the same audience (and I don’t mean the same individuals), if Mayawati was to accept such platform in those numerous TV debates that sprung up against her, and in which Mayawati never appeared nor she sent any representative. The problem with these audiences is the lack of an opinion. Under their garish English and vociferous ideals, there is an utter lack of opinion, which  has followed its natural course of being. The questions they wield, the opinions they display and conclusions they draw reek of the breath of their parents views and seethe tone of tv/newspaper they follow. With their unflinching attachment to institutions, they can not appreciate a shift in popular narrative of a leader, development, growth and governance. As few columnists belatedly find there were areas other than parks and memorials where Mayawati made radical contributions, as newspapers find one or two dalit/obc/muslim columnists once in a blue moon, an audience, at least a part of who looked beyond NCERT textbooks for their education and newspapers for their opinion, is awaited. Till that time, leaders like Mayawati, Ram Bilas Paswan, Laloo Yadav, A Raja and some unfortunate Mamata Banarjee would only be answerable to the legistative assembly, and the court of law where as Arun jaitly, Sushma Swaraj, Arwind Kejriwal and Digvijaya Singh will adorn the TV channels.

P.S- I do condemn any dissent labelled Maoists or anti-national.

Caste through Democracy part-I

We must begin with an education of democracy. Without assuming democracy can be of just one form and can be summed up only thus, let’s define it as a process where all citizens participate in decision making and are influenced, equally. Because, most large democracies are representative democracies following an aggregation of choices/voices/votes, representation is crucial to uphold equality. It is just a form of governance to begin with, it does not do away with preexisting social groupings and social hierarchies. So it seeks to dismantle the later, at least in the functioning of the democracy.

The best way to appreciate it for educated people is to imagine the democracy as a set comprising of different types of elements in many different subsets. If there were no bias on how the elements are distributed inside the set, whatever be the proportion of different types in the set, that would be found in all the different subsets. Ideally! Like atoms of different noble gases in a closed system (having many open systems inside).This ideal situation is a democratic society free of any structural discrimination (the bias), and the different subsets represent public spheres like educational institutions, judiciary, government, scientific establishment and so on. This bias or structural discrimination does not have to be informed or conscious and negative always, it can just be the reinforcement of inherited privileges over generations. All these are what democracy aims to counter by striving to a) achieve adequate representation b) providing equal opportunities. Although, in popular discourse, both are used interchangeably, etymologically I think, they call for equality at different levels.

If we project the data of representation caste-wise, lets say, in govt. jobs, educational institutions and private sectors, into the above mentioned sets in a venn diagram, the ratio would be in favor of caste-hindus beyond reasonable acceptance in those subsets which can be definitely called power-centers and towards SC/ST and OBC in subsets of negligible importance. So it tells us then, in those power-centers which are basically democratic institutions, the voices of these ill-represented castes/social groups are least heard/considered to fit the way we would like it in democracy. That is why there is constitutional provision is to make adequate representation. This has be to be along caste/social groups because, although economic disparity can be displayed on that venn diagram just as well, adequate representation on economic well-being (or lack of it) doesn’t change that disparity as the newly represented, drawn from lesser economic standing, can be now no longer be classified as before owing to the economic privileges that come with it. Caste/religion, however is static.

A mechanism to ensure that objective is to enable people of those under-represented caste/social groups to participate different areas of democracy. Unless there is some rigidity in the mechanism in terms of its commitment to certain ratios, the unevenness that was the origin of this redressal will make it ineffective. Since democracy’s utopia is ‘there would not be any requirement for such redressal, that there would be no bias’, it  ensures the objective( of equal representation) is met through this mechanism, universally implemented wherever the representation is improportional. We have called it reservation.

The way reservation is perceived by people needs a “didactic inversion” like above, especially because most of us are introduced to reservation in the context of admission to colleges or employment when our personal interests are at stake and which leaves us feeling deprived either for ourselves or for our friends and family. This psyche- I dare say, becomes a fixture in analyzing issues which have ramifications not just at population level but also from and to countless generations. Instead an understanding on reservation must being with the education of democracy and unless our conceptualizations of democracy are widely unlike, we could not have much disagreement on the requirement and the mode of this mechanism-reservation.

Reservation, thus understood, is not a mechanism to uplift the poor, but certainly it can be fine tuned to bring representation from even the least represented groups within the under-represented groups. It is also not a mechanism to target the deserving, since it is not the individuals but the community/group/caste which requires it or not.

update: thanks Geetanjali for pointing out some typo.

Sharp Contrast

Indian express on a Dalit MP

Thirumavalavan is unlike the average Tamil politician.Even while addressing the lowest strata of society, this bachelor is always in black trousers with his shirt neatly tucked in.Besides his acerbic speeches, he writes extensively on caste issues and Lankan conflict. He maintains a blog that has links to his speeches hosted on YouTube. He has also acted in two movies, one incidentally as a Lankan militant.

It is called “subtle racism casteism of lowered expectations”.

Times of India on a Brahmin MP

The 36-year-old AICC secretary, who has also studied law, sailed through. “People told me to specify my community, Brahmin and all. But I never went on that approach. I advocated equal access to resources and maintained complete transparency. I think that worked,” says Meenakshi, who is part of Rahul’s core team.

Well, you know sweetie, just drop your caste name slyly enough on the front-page of a national newspaper and you wouldn’t have to  ‘specify’ it ever again. Besides, when did Brahmins ever have to specify their caste (isn’t it always all too apparent)? For them, always merit, transparency and all those self-righteous stuff works !!  Surprisingly, for others the same stuff don’t!!!

u pdate: some offending texts from original post are deleted.

Perspectives: Obama Moment

Obama certainly transformed political discourse throughout the world. In India, his election to the White house-the “Obama moment”, has become a comforting wish. For some, Obama represents a fresh breath in politics. His message of “Change” became an instant hit in the media, among youngsters. His unblemished rectitude, unquestionable academic career and previously-held university faculty position awestruck many. Many Indians and observers of India look forward to such a messiah, who would transform politics (for them), someone who would cleanse the political system(of politics and politicians-which they so hate). And they stop there, they look to Ratan Tata, Narayan Murthy with hope. It seems the elaborate resume and clean image of Prime Minister Manmohan Sing failed to precipitate ‘Obama moment’. I have serious doubt if these people understand what democracy is. Continue reading