Category Archives: Politics

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.

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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.

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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 :
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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.
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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.
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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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

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.
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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.
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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.

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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

Football in the time of Cholera

The BBC has a report on the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s World Cup victory over Holland, in the backdrop of the oppression let loose by the military junta at that time:

“When they played a game over the speakers, it was very contradictory – because the executioners, those who tortured us, and us the victims both cried ‘Goal Argentina!’” he said.

And we know that they took prisoners out when there were distractions caused by the World Cup and shot them,” he said.

Why BJP govt will succeed in Karnataka

34 000 Hindu temples told to perform worship for BJP govt in Karnataka
This means that all the 34,000 temples that come under the muzrai department will have to toe the government line. Defending his move, Chetty said that as the state was facing a crisis, divine blessings were necessary to maintain peace. He hinted that divine intervention was also being sought to help the young BJP government tide over the fertilizer crisis.

Once the media briefing was over the minister offered ‘prasada’ (laddu) to the reporters like he did on the day of his swearing in.

Each government-run temple in the state gets a minimum tasdik (annual grant) of Rs 6,000. Prior to JD(S)-BJP coalition government, tasdik amount varied from Re 1 to Rs 50,000. Taking special interest in temple issues, Yeddyurappa, who was a finance minister in the coalition set up, earmarked Rs 21.48 crore as tasdik amount in the 2007-08 budgets as against Rs 6.12 crore in 2006-07.

In Bangalore urban district alone there are 1,016 muzrai temples.

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A Politician called Manmohan Singh

One of the ‘selling points’ for the neo- liberal reforms initiated during Narasimha Rao’s years of prime minister- ship was that these reforms were worked out and led by a non- politician- Dr Manmohan Singh. Indeed, his continued projection as a non- politician- and specifically as a professional economist- has been seen to provide a legitimacy for the neo- liberal offensive, though sometimes it has been used by his political opponents to attack his credentials in holding a political post.

Both of these perspectives are flawed, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Manmohan Singh’s professional background as a technocrat cannot be reason enough to see him as a non- politician.
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The Age of the American Empire

Unlike European powers, US imperialism has sought to create and maintain its hegemony via puppet regimes or via local elites (see the post below with an extract from David Harvey’s interview), leading to an impression that it is not a colonial power like, say, England or France that ruled their colonies directly and more visibly.

Howard Zinn, well known as the author of the path breaking A People’s History of the United States, unfolds the imperial nature of the American Empire in extensive detail in his latest book, A People’s History of American Empire, in a graphic adaptation format published last month.

I was conscious, like everyone, of the British Empire and the other imperial powers of Europe, but the United States was not seen in the same way. When, after the war, I went to college under the G.I. Bill of Rights and took courses in U.S. history, I usually found a chapter in the history texts called “The Age of Imperialism.” It invariably referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines that followed. It seemed that American imperialism lasted only a relatively few years. There was no overarching view of U.S. expansion that might lead to the idea of a more far-ranging empire — or period — of “imperialism.”

– Howard Zinn in Empire or Humanity

Tomdispatch has an illustrated autobiography of Zinn that his fans may like to read (it too is wonderfully illustrated in the comic book format.)

A short video Empire and Humanity from the site.