The Significance of being Lalu Yadav

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Twice in his lifetime, Lalu Prasad Yadav has made history by taking on, and vanquishing the Bharatiya Janata Party, from its juggernaut roll. In 1990, he arrested L.K. Advani leading the  so-called Rath Yatra meant to liberate the Ayodhya temple. In 2015, he has stopped the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine from winning in the state of Bihar. Much decried by the secular liberals, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s one year has been marred by increasing intolerance and institutionalized mediocrity — whether it be in the quality of its central ministers, its appointees to educational institutions or in administration and governance. Its threat has been magnified by its continued successes in the states even after the 2014 general elections that brought it to power at the Center.

As in 1990, when the Rath Yatra seemed to know no fear and advanced across the country as few mass movements have in recent decades, the communal onslaught was stopped not by the ‘secular left’ or the the Congress — a party that swears by secularism but has followed a policy of balanced communalism for as long as one can remember. Though they were much relieved, as they are now, the same set of secular liberals deride the caste politics, as they perceive the politics of Lalu Yadav, and Mulayam Singh Yadav or Kanshiram and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, to be. Ironic as it is, the reason for this is not far to seek. Continue reading “The Significance of being Lalu Yadav”

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Indian writer’s on warpath: Emphasising the threats to a liberal society

(The background to this post is the return of literary awards by many Indian writers, to protest against the killings of some writers and increasing attacks on minorities over issues like eating beef.)

Thomas Mann’s observation that “a person lives not only his own life, but also that of his contemporaries”, applies to everyone, but perhaps even more to writers and poets because they feel and speak for us even when we are not able to put into words our deepest feelings, and sometimes are not even conscious of them until a poet or a story writer tells us.

Writers respond to what goes on around them and to the mood of the times. As thinkers, they occasionally express ideas and views that do not always find acceptance. This brings writers into conflict with the powers that be.

Books are banned and even pulped — as in the case of Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism. Authors are physically attacked and even killed for their writings. Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding for many years because of death threats. In conditions where writing is stifled, the form evolves and morphs to find expression. Continue reading “Indian writer’s on warpath: Emphasising the threats to a liberal society”

And in such myriad ways your memories come to me, as night falls

faiz-by-sunil-janah(written on 20th November 2015, the 30th death anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a poet much loved in Pakistan and India)

(Picture by Sunil Janah)

21 November 1984. Faiz Ahmed Faiz came to me in an obituary in the newspaper, The Tribune, when I was a curious high school student preparing for a general knowledge quiz.

1987. Faiz reappeared in a communist march, with his tarana, “Hum mehnatkash jagwalon se jab apna hissa maangeygain,” the equivalent of the Internationale in Hindustani – on my lips.

Faiz came to me a year later, in a small booklet published by some radical outfit that is long gone.

Faiz came to me in his collected poems, “Saare Sukhan Hamare” (“All words are ours”). I made a long trip to old Delhi’s Daryaganj in DTC buses to Raj Kamal Prakashan to procure the newly-published book at the then royal price of Rs 100. It was that difficult and that expensive to buy it. The book still accompanies me, along with the “Diwan-e-Ghalib”, a quarter of a century later.

Faiz’s quatrain, “Raat yoon teri khoyi hui yaad aayi” (“And in such ways your lost memories came as night fell”) became my first painting that I created inspired by a poem.

“Raat yun dil mein teri khoyi hui yaad aayi,
Jaise viraane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaye,

Jaise sehraaon mein haule se chale baad-e-naseem,
Jaise beemaar ko be-wajhe qaraar aa jaaye.” Continue reading “And in such myriad ways your memories come to me, as night falls”

Kanshiram- Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan: A Review

9780670085095Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan Published by Penguin India 2014

Dalit politics in the late 20th century India owes its rise to the vision and work one man–Kanshiram.

The bedrock for this movement was laid in the mid-20th century by its tallest leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Despite his brilliance and lifelong commitment to the cause of the dalits, Dr Ambedkar had been largely forgotten in the national consciousness till the rise of the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) and then the Bahujan Samaj Party- both creations of one man, Kanshiram.

Born in a Ramdasia Sikh family in Punjab, Kanshiram was named after a local baba who apparently predicted that he would grow up to be a big leader. He grew up more or less unaffected by the stigma that his caste was subjected to in most of the country.

Kanshiram’s eyes opened to the reality of caste oppression when he was employed with a government research laboratory in Pune. Spurred by the extant Dalit movement, primarily led by the Mahars in Maharashtra, he went on to dedicate his life to the cause that he took upon himself. He decided not to marry or have any relations with his family. His encounters with his family back in Punjab were sporadic, and interspersed over many years. For a long time, his parents and siblings did not know his whereabouts.

There is limited first-hand information about Kanshiram–he left behind no autobiography or work except a very short pamphlet titled “The Chamcha Age.” Badri Narayan has collected the facts of Kanshiram’s life from accounts of some of his associates and later, with the BSP’s emergence as a major political force in the late 1980s, from the media. Continue reading “Kanshiram- Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan: A Review”

The Agenda of the Gita

Left liberals are likely to denounce the BJP’s support for the Karnataka government’s introduction of Gita classes in schools as an attempt at stifling minority rights and invoke on the separation of the state and the church. The BJP’s agenda, however, goes far beyond just a communal agenda. To decipher that, one has to trace the agenda behind the Gita itself.

The Gita has, in popular belief, symbolized the rejuvenation of Hinduism after a thousand years of Buddhist domination. It was the book that apparently struck the last nail on Buddhist thought by a thirty-something Adi Sankracharya. Sankara advocated the advaita–in other words, a form of subjective idealism. In simple words, what it means is that there is only one entity in the universe, the Brahma. The rest is an illusion. Thus, he reconciled all the contradictions in the world by proclaiming that everything is an illusion, or Maya. A person needs to realize this supposed unity and unless one is able to do so, one remains entangled in the web of illusions, or mayajaal.

The Gita attempted to do the same–reconcile contradictions. It attempted to justify violence in the name of morality. It ordained the caste system, and showed women “their place.” In other words, The Gita is the chariot of Brahmanism and what can be called the ideology of racism ensconced within Brahmanism.

Continue reading “The Agenda of the Gita”

When Faiz and Mahfouz walked together

Three months ago, I had a strange dream.

I am in Cairo, walking with an Egyptian man (his face wasn’t revealed to me). We are walking along a bridge that connects two buildings. The two of us discuss Faiz, and suddenly, we see a misty figure in a gray suit. I point out to my friend, ‘See, there goes Faiz”. Both of us look at him, wonder-struck. We keep walking.

I mention to my friend that Naguib Mahfouz also wrote poetry. My friend looks up at dark clouds in the sky and recites a couple of lines, implying that these are by Mahfouz:

The skies wear

A widow’s shroud

The dream returned to my memory today as I watched the surcharged demonstrations on the streets of Cairo. Not even in my dreams, though, could I have imagined the Egyptian people would be out on the streets, trying to rip apart the dark shrouds from the country’s skies. It seems Faiz and Mahfouz are really together on the streets today.

A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links

Arundhati Roy reports from her rendezvous with the Maoists:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered.

Continue reading “A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links”

Running away from Gandhi

Mahatama Gandhi’s posthumous adulation is in sharp contrast to the treatment that he received during his lifetime and even for many decades after his death. The Rashtriya Swayemsewak Sangh (RSS) criticized him for his perceived closeness to the Muslims, Muslims saw him as one who popularized Hindu symbolism in Indian politics, progressive Muslims opposed his support for the Khilafat movement and the communists opposed his advocacy of class collaboration. Even his closest followers like Pandit Nehru did not share his vision best laid out in Hind Swaraj[pdf].

Indeed, Gandhi’s politics was contradictory and invited criticism from many sides. His ‘non- violence’ has found support internationally- Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King and more recently Obama‘s reiteration of the Mahatma’s message as being pertinent for our times. There seems to be a fatigue on part of his Indian critics, though. A section of Left nationalists like Bipan Chandra 1, Prof. PC Joshi2 and the communist ideologue Mohit Sen have come to admire Gandhi’s political vision, mainstream communists, particularly the CPI(M), ignore him. The RSS and other Hindutva outfits, except for an occasional outburst, too ignore him. Though this is in sharp contrast to earlier times. Golwalkar, for example, had commented thus on Gandhi (without naming him, though)3 :
Continue reading “Running away from Gandhi”

Mayawati’s Iconoclasm and the statues

There is much self- righteous indignation in the media and others over the statues being installed by Mayawati all over the state of Uttar Pradesh. According to them, it is ‘clear’ to everyone with some common sense that spending Rs 1000 crores on the statues is a blatant misuse of public money.

What is missing in such ‘common sense’ perceptions is that Mayawati along with Kanshi Ram, like all innovators and path breakers, has been an iconoclast of the highest order. Between the two of them, they have created for the first time in Indian history a successful party representing some of the poorest and socially ostracized masses of the country. Like it or not, it is an unprecedented achievement. This has been done by technique and strategies that have made no sense to many because their politics is of a very different nature.

For instance, a party that claims to represent the socially oppressed, the BSP has never indicated any kind of social reform or advanced any social and economic programme for the Dalits. It’s party organization structure unique- it is neither cadre based nor does it have a hierarchy to accommodate aspiring next rung leaders. It has consciously abstained from agitation politics to focus only on creating a political machinery intent on winning elections.1 Indeed, were it not for its operation within a democratic setup, the single mindedness of its leaders is reminiscent of Lenin’s insistence on capturing state power.
Continue reading “Mayawati’s Iconoclasm and the statues”

Breaking News: Firing in Vienna, riots in Jalandhar

While we were still watching television, the future arrived with the idiot box’s own version of twitter, called ‘breaking news’. In this Age, speed is God. Everything, but particularly truth and exactitude, can be sacrificed to propitiate Hurry, the God. Often though, such news turns out to be as much broken as it is breaking.

A case in point is the incident in Vienna, Austria last month where two priests of the Guru Ravi Das sect were fired upon. Within hours riots broke out in the Jalandhar city in Punjab. The media, both print and  electronic variously, and mistakenly, termed it as a clash between two rival Sikh sects, an attack on a Sikh guru or a Sikh priest and Sikh gurudwara without realizing that the Ravi Dasi gurus and gurudwaras are not Sikh institutions. It also showed how much the media is  tied to religious categories and is so little aware not only of a minority religion but also of contemporary ‘low’ caste movements and sects.
Continue reading “Breaking News: Firing in Vienna, riots in Jalandhar”

2009 Elections- Relieved but not enthused

I am relieved that the UPA is back, and that the NDA has slightly declined. This is, however, not to say that one is enthused. The loss of the Left, BSP and the Lalu Janata Dal means that the UPA/INC’s gain has been mainly at the expense of the secular groups that have supported it anyway. The Left’s loss also means that there is no major opposition to the neo- liberal model expounded by Manmohan Singh, at least at the national level. It leaves the field open for the Congress’s autocratic ways. It needs to be remembered that the Congress party has fielded a record number of crorepatis and criminals in the 2009 general elections.

Continue reading “2009 Elections- Relieved but not enthused”

“An MP is not an MLA”

My dear old friend K. Elangovan is contesting the elections from South Chennai constituency. Twice a president of the JNU student union in the early 1990s, he is a committed liberal from the Left who identifies himself with the PC Joshi tradition within the Indian Left. He is very insistent on stating that the purpose of the MPs is to frame laws, and not make promises about building roads and lay sewage drains.

Continue reading ““An MP is not an MLA””

In Praise of Sonia Gandhi

Hindutva and the Upcoming Indian Elections

The Hindutva movement has effectively used the same tactics- that Gramsci called ‘war of position’ and the ‘war of movement’ to advance its political agenda. Mrs Gandhi, in her own manner, has returned to that strategy. She has extended the possibilities of Gandhism today in context of rabid communal discourse of the sangh parivar.

***
Twenty five years ago, for the first time since Indian independence, a political party came to power at the center by whipping up a mass communal hysteria. That party was the Congress and its leader was Rajiv Gandhi, who commented that the “earth shakes when a big tree falls”, as if the anti- Sikh pogrom was the most natural phenomenon. He was soon to backtrack from such a frontal communal posture towards balanced communalism. He let open the locks of the Babri Masjid and simultaneously supported the Muslim Law Bill. In both cases, he provided a shot in the arm to the regressive sections among the Hindus and the Muslims.

The BJP- a relatively minor political entity in the 1984 elections, had been long gestating in various garbs for over six decades. It was quick to learn the technique from the Congress’s 1984 performance and catapulted itself to seize power at the center by whipping up a frenzy of mass hysteria leading to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Rajiv Gandhi was no longer on the scene by then, and it was left to PV Narasimha Rao to be remembered for the infamy of 6th December 1992. Nowadays, it is also often overlooked that the destruction of the Babri Masjid provided a larger fillip to Muslim fundamentalism in South Asia- in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Continue reading “In Praise of Sonia Gandhi”

Deepak Chopra’s Plainspeak on Mumbai Attacks

It was pleasantly surprising to hear Deepak Chopra do some plain speak in context of the Mumbai attacks. It was surprising not only because till now I’ve had a somewhat cynical view of the person as yet one more peddler of Eastern mysticism to the West but also because it was right there on CNN. I don’t think he’s going to be back at CNN for a long time, at least not to speak on a topic like this.

What we have seen in Mumbai has been brewing for a long time, and the war on terrorism and the attack on Iraq compounded the situation. What we call “collateral damage” and going after the wrong people actually turns moderates into extremists, and that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay. Now the worst thing that could happen is there’s a backlash on the Muslims from the fundamental Hindus in India, which then will perpetuate the problem. Inflammation will create more inflammation.

Continue reading “Deepak Chopra’s Plainspeak on Mumbai Attacks”

Welcome, Barack Hope Obama

Listening to the first debate between presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, it was very evident that it was a contest between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The two disagreed on the approach towards taxation and the American economy, but on every foreign policy issue, Obama agreed wholeheartedly with McCain, except the war in Iraq, which has become a drain on US economy. The other thing that stuck out was, of course, the color of Obama’s skin. Continue reading “Welcome, Barack Hope Obama”

How Kashmir is Being Won

Watching this video, I was reminded of a conversation with a major in the Indian army whom I met at a friend’s place in Delhi, recounting how he killed a Kashmiri driver during a routine check because he was incensed at the driver’s Muslim name and how this was listed as yet another “encounter” death. That was about eight or nine years ago at the height of the BJP’s rule at the center. Gruesome as it was listening to his slow- motion account of that “encounter”, what struck me at that time was that the man felt no shame or remorse. Instead there was a sense of bravado. That was the first such “encounter” he had had and remembered it as one would remember a first love.

This major went on to join the elite Black Cat commando force set up to counter terrorism. Among other things, I remember him remarking how the unit was “cleansed” of Sikhs and Muslims, apparently because they could not be trusted for matters of such key importance. This is, of course, anecdotal, though the list of the chiefs of the NSG at wikipedia lends credence to his claim.
Watch the video.
Continue reading “How Kashmir is Being Won”

Has the Good Doctor finally found his feet?

When I look at the composition of the opportunistic group opposed to us, it is clear to me that the clash today is between two alternative visions of India’s future. The one vision represented by the UPA and our allies seeks to project India as a self confident and united nation moving forward to gain its rightful place in the comity of nations, making full use of the opportunities offered by a globalised world, operating on the frontiers of modern science and technology and using modern science and technology as important instruments of national economic and social development. The opposite vision is of a motley crowd opposed to us who have come together to share the spoils of office to promote their sectional, sectarian and parochial interests.

Manmohan Singh’s speech after the trust vote is quite eloquent, and reflects the mood of a combative person coming into his own, after all he has just won the trust vote by quite an impressive margin given the developments last few days. There is little to differ from the intentions of the words in the speech. It is the manner in which the whole showdown was conducted and the context in which the speech had to be made at all that is questionable and where the eloquence of the words fails ground reality.
Continue reading “Has the Good Doctor finally found his feet?”

Nuclear Deal and the Tragic End of an Experiment

Prakash Karat’s obduracy has finally been matched by that of Manmohan Singh. While some may claim that the latter has now matured into a politician, it is important to remember that Singh has always been a deft politician of the values that he represents- that of the neo- liberal Right. There is nothing new in this, except that he has now chosen to go break altogether with the Left, his firmest supporters for the past four years.

Continue reading “Nuclear Deal and the Tragic End of an Experiment”

When US Planned to attack Saudi Arabia

David Harvey, in his A Brief History of Neo- liberalism points to an interesting bit of history, when the United States contemplated attacking Saudi Arabia during the oil crisis of 1973.

The OPEC oil price hike that came with the oil embargo of 1973 placed vast amounts of financial power at the disposal of the oil-producing states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi. We now know from British intelligence reports that the US was actively preparing to invade these countries in 1973 in order to restore the flow of oil and bring down oil prices. We also know that Continue reading “When US Planned to attack Saudi Arabia”