The Argumentative Economist

Amartya Sen’s new book “The Argumentative Indian” is reviewed by Sunil Khilani, Soumya Bhattacharya, Pankaj Mishra and John Walsh.

No big admirer of Pankaj Mishra otherwise, I found his review to be the only meaningful one, actually trying to engage with the economist’s book, though somewhat rhetorical towards the end.

Sunil Khilani is as wry as he was in his somewhat weak defence of Nehru in “The Idea of India”. Soumya Bhattacharya seems to be too much in awe of Sen to present us comprehensively with either what Sen says in the book or stops short of saying. John Walsh offers only a slightly more informative, but still less argumentative review.

A pdf file of Sen’s lecture refering to his book is available at the Indian Planning Commision site.

Having said that, one only needs to reiterate the necessity for this Reader- the self- proclaimed student of another passionately argumentative Sen, to read the book too.

I may be wrong and perhaps need to read more of A. Sen, but I do have a gnawing feeling that he tends to tread delicately (diplomatically?) between liberalism and the Left- between Mill and Marx, the two of the three influences on him that he mentioned in his Nobel speech. This is not to berate the man, but perhaps what he is articulating is nothing more than an academic variation of ‘The Third Way’ charted by Anthony Giddens, Manuel Castells and of course, in political terms most obviously by Tony Blair.

PS:
Manmohan Singh’s speech at the release of Sen’s book.

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Sunil Dutt- A Secularist and a Humanist

I find it tough to believe that a person can be liked by all. Sunil Dutt, who passed away last week in India was perhaps one of the very few. Despite being the victim of Partition, he rose above it, was part of the secular leaning Bombay filmdom, married a Muslim actress of iconic status, Nargis. Sunil Dutt was a secular Punjabi Brahmin, however oxymoronish that may sound today.A friend tells me that one of the reasons that he remained secular was because of he adored his mother Kulwanti Devi, who asked him to forget the Partition. I am not sure if this explains it all, but frankly I really dont know the reason. His cousin brother Subir Dutt, a notable Urdu poet, was himself married to one of the sisters of Sahir Ludhianvi. And a few years ago, when I thought that the defining aim of my life was to write a definitive biography of Sahir, I planned to see Subir Dutt. He had edited a journal, whose name I forget, that was dedicated to Urdu poets and writers. I had seen many of those at Punjab Book Center in the eighties, when I used to frequent the bookshop in Chandigarh. Sunil Dutt was close to Faiz too, as the numerous pictures of Faiz at Sunil Dutt’s house at a site dedicated to Faiz indicates.

I personally felt a lot of warmth for Sunil Dutt, though it was naive on his part to set out on a padyatra during the height of terrorism in eighties and nineties. But he did- and that naivete amidst those senseless days probably defined the man in an age of catastrophe and crisis. I felt, like many others who stand by Nehruvian-Left secularism, a pain when he had to grovel before the Shiv Sena chief. But I guess we all understood his position- and it endeared him to us. It was a moment of intense pride when he resigned from the Congress during the Narasimha days in protest against what he felt was the Party’s softness towards Hindutva.

I dont think he was considered a great man during his lifetime. Neither will he be remembered as one. Despite a few years of impeccable success as a film actor, his life was one of struggle- and amidst that his tenacity to stand up for humanist and secular ideals was, to say the least, exemplary.

Review of: Indian Nationalism: A Study in Evolution by Sitanshu Das

Indian Nationalism: A Study in Evolution
By Sitanshu Das
Har- Anand Publications, New Delhi 1999. Pages: 291 Price Rs. 325/-

The historian Bipan Chandra has shown, nearly three decades back, that the economic critique of imperialism by Naoroji, Ranade and others formed the bedrock of Indian nationalism. An essentially anti- imperialist movement led to the formation of a national state- though not really a nation in the West European sense.

The author of the book under review, however, has a different opinion and views nationalism from a religio- cultural angle. According to Sitanshu Das, the defining element of Indian nationalism was essentially anti- Muslim. His study on nationalism is confined to the 19th century Bengal, Maharashtra and the Punjab. In all the three places he thinks that nationalism had a unifying anti- Muslim thread.

According to him, the ‘Bengal Renaissance’ is a myth and there were other contending streams of nationalism that Bengal produced in the immediate aftermath of the British rule. These were expressed in religious terms and were essentially anti- Muslim. The Hindus of Bengal had welcomed the initial British rule as it gave them some freedom that had been “stifled” under Muslim rule.

He holds the basis of nationalism in Maharashtra to be the “nationalism” of Shivaji. Before the coming of Ranade and Tilak, the Chitpavan Brahmins- as inheritors of the Peshwa dynasty (despite its degenerate rule) saw themselves as the natural nationalist leaders. Their nationalism was also essentially anti- Muslim.

The author’s understanding of nationalism in Punjab is equally superficial. In the Punjab, he feels, the question was essentially between the Muslims on the one hand, and the Hindus and Sikhs on the other. Sikhs were the defenders of the Hindu faith. Guru Gobind Singh practically represented Hindu nationalism. Till the 19th century, the Hindus sought the protection of the Sikhs. The British created a separate Sikh identity and the latter sided with the British government after the Anglo- Sikh wars. Modern nationalism, therefore, came to be represented by the emergence of the Arya Samaj under Lala Lajpat Rai.

Das opines that Nehru and Bose were wrong to read a syncretic tradition in the medieval age and instead it was Vivekananda who represented the best stream of Indian nationalism. Hindu resistance to Muslim rule was present throughout the medieval period. Vivekananda revived this “tradition” in a package of militant nationalism (the discerning reader may be reminded here of what Hobsbawm once termed as the “invention of tradition”).

The author’s basis for understanding 19th century Indian history in general and nationalism in particular is flawed on a number of counts.

Das views Indian history in terms of religious identity and confines himself only to the “high tradition”. His work belongs to what has been termed by Sumit Sarkar as the “older kind of work on nationalism focused on politics inspired or manipulated from the top” and one that is a rather unreliable guide to what the rank and file of the common people actually thought and felt.

The writer assumes an a priori notion of nationalism as an ever-present phenomenon, while today there is more or less a consensus that nationalism emerged only in the early 19th century Europe (see Raymond Williams’s excellent summary in his compendium Keywords).

Das also fails to locate Indian nationalism in the context of current debates on nationalism, significantly the works of Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawn. The author is blissfully unaware not only of these, but also the excellent work done by Sudipto Kaviraj and Partha Chatterjee in this decade and the Marxist and subaltern schools previously. Sumit Sarkar’s extremely relevant essay on Ram Mohan Roy is not even mentioned. The least one could have expected on a work on India nationalism is a discussion, if not a critique on some of the issues raised by these historians.

Sumit Sarkar has recently observed, rather self critically, that even in the context of the modern Indian history written as late as the early 1980s (including his own work Modern India, 1983): “The common sense or textbook understanding of late colonial Indian history, for instance, is still in large part grounded on the assumption that the entire meaningful world of political action and discourse can be comprehended through categories of imperialism, nationalism and communalism… Such an assumption involves an uncritical acceptance of holistic ideological claims of ‘Indian nationalism’ and ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim communalism’ “. (See his “Identity and Difference: Caste in the Formation of Ideologies of Nationalism and Hindutva” in Writing Social History, 1997). Das, woefully, continues to sell his wares in an even older and long defunct paradigm that comes close to articulate the unifactory projects of Hindutva and Indian nationalism. Incidentally, if not intentionally, this well suits the Sangh Parivar’s current offensive for saffronizataion of history.

The author’s attempt at writing the history of Indian nationalism can be described as belonging to a school of historiography that is at best outdated and at worst discredited.

Hobsbawm notes in his Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (1990) that nationalism is a complex business. He quotes the French historian Renan as saying: “Getting its history wrong is part of being a nation”.

Whether India is or was ever a nation, will it ever be a nation or whether it is a nation in the making or in the unmaking, whether it a cultural unity or a civilizational unity or whether India has to be discovered or invented- these are questions that are at the center of the debate and contest today not only in academics but also significantly at the political level. As far as the work under review is concerned, it does not attempt to raise or answer any of these and trace their evolution. It does, however, qualify the first part of Renan’s observation- it magnificently manages to get its history wrong.

13th Oct 1999
Published: The Tribune 05 Dec 1999

Review of: The Sena Story by Vaibhav Purandare

Authorised Biography of the Shiv Sena
The Sena Story
By Vaibhav Purandare
Business Publications Inc, Mumbai 1999 Pages 462, Price Rs. 250

The Shiv Sena’s emergence is a specific instance of a worldwide trend- the swamping and infringing of the metropolitan core by people from outside and the organised resistance to the immigrants. In case of the Shiv Sena, especially during its formative years, its championing of the Marathi manoos was rooted in the fact that most of the white- collar and even blue- collar jobs were denied to the local populace.

This is the focus of the early part of the book where the author has relied on two rigorously academic studies done by Mary Katzenstein (1979) and Dipankar Gupta (1982). Besides there are a number of interviews with aging socialist and communist leaders who once strode the city and who provide a number of incisive though critical insights into the early years of the Shiv Sena.

The Shiv Sena filled the vacuum created by the dismantling of the Left- led Samyukta Maharashtra movement after the main demands were met and a separate state of Maharashtra with Bombay as the capital was created and nobody was left to speak for the Marathi manoos. Later, according to the author, the city centric Sena struck a responsive chord in rural Maharashtra because of Sharad Pawar’s joining the Congress in 1986. Pawar’s co- option into the Congress left the traditionally anti- Congress backward castes with no choice but to support the Sena, which had been trying to make inroads under Chaggan Bhujbal.

Mrinal Gore, the veteran socialist leader from Bombay, however contends that the Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray have, despite their aggressive advocacy of jobs for the Maharashtrians, actually restricted their vision and have duped the working class Marathi youth.

She observes: “(Thackeray’s) appeal was to youngsters whose reasoning faculty wasn’t fully developed. He told them outsiders were taking away their jobs and suggested quick fix solution…another reason he caught the fancy of youngsters was that he told them not to read and increase their corpus of knowledge. He pooh- poohed all social, political and economic theories and told the youth these were useless. Thus, he kept the vision of the youngsters confined to the Marathi issue…he stunted the intellectual and cultural growth of Marathi youth”.

As the book progresses, the author chooses to increasingly rely on newspaper reports and journalistic flamboyance that he possesses in abundance.

The result is a book that, after the first few chapters, reads something between a racy potboiler and an American corporate success story. It could have been a good study of the Shiv Sena. That it is not so is indeed regrettable since there have been few studies of the Sena in recent years unlike that of the Sangh Parivar. Purandare has missed a chance to step into this void, since at a number of places he is incisive and there are flashes of serious journalism. Instead he has turned it into what is at best a narrative of the rise of the Sena (as the word “story” in the title indicates) and at worst into a hagiographic account of the Sena and its supremo Bal Thackeray.

He asserts: “The Left wing critics of the Sena always maintained that class exploitation and not ethnic competition deprived the Maharashtrians of economic strength, but the middle class Maharashtrian found the Sena’s position more convincing.” And what was the Sena’ position? Its position was to drive out the non- Maharashtrians by advocating reservation for the local Marathi speaking populace- so far, so good.

But it went beyond that. It resorted to strong- arm tactics and street smart justice. It resorted to intimidation, murder and outright terror, first against the South Indians, then the Communists, then Muslims and, by way of variety, against liberal individuals like AK Hangal and Dilip Kumar. Purandare recounts a number of such incidents, yet, all this does not diminish his enthusiasm either for the Sena or for Raman Fielding (as Rushdie characterized Bal Thackeray in The Moor’s Last Sigh).

The author’s celebration of what should actually have been a lament for the de- cosmopolitanization of Bombay is misplaced. That indeed is sad and a cause for concern.

Published: The Tribune 10 Oct 1999

Review of: The Concerned Indian’s Guide to Communalism Edited by K.N. Panikkar

The Concerned Indian’s Guide to Communalism
Edited By K.N. Panikkar
Viking Penguin India, New Delhi
Price Rs. 395/- (HB) Pages 252 + xxxvii

The volume under review is a collection of 6 essays by well- known academics and writers. It seeks to understand and rebut the communal offensive that has taken a new dimension after the installation of the BJP government last year. The BJP has faced a slight handicap of having to work within a coalition of 18 parties. However, the communalist drive has been marked by the unwarranted explosion of nuclear bombs, the offensive against the minority Christian community, attempts to replace the school syllabi in BJP ruled states and the jingoistic hype accompanying the Kargil intrusions.

Sumit Sarkar provides a historical backdrop to the attacks on the Christian community and points out that conversions are generally not a one step jump. Historically, these have often taken long periods of interaction between communities before conversions actually take place. There are different reasons for conversions, including the advocacy of social and economic demands of the people by missionaries.

During the Indigo revolt in the last century in Bengal, Christian missionaries took up demands of Hindu planters and even went to jail. This particular event, interestingly, has been well recorded in a Bengali folk song that recounts the efforts of a Rev Long during the revolt.

He also points out the close association of the Church with Liberation Theology during the last few decades especially in the Third World countries where the Church has identified itself with the aspirations of the downtrodden. That the Hindutva attacks on Christians have been concentrated in Orissa and Gujrat, where the Christian population consists primarily of tribals and the poor, is indicative of the Sangh Parivar’s real intentions.

Similar movements from the Right are active all over the world. Jayati Ghosh looks at the global economic situation and links the current social unrest to the changes in the distribution of economic growth that are increasingly loaded against those who are already poor and deprived. Between 1960 and 1991, the income share of 85 percent of the world’s population actually fell, as the income share of the richest 20 percent rose from 70 percent to 85 percent, while that of the poorest 20 percent fell from 2.3 percent to 1.4 percent.

In India, from 1993-94 to 1997, the percent share of the population below the poverty line increased from 37.3 percent to 38.5 percent in the rural sector and 32.4 to 34 percent in the urban sector. Employment in the total organized sector increased by less than 1 percent between 1990-97.

These increasing disparities provide the objective conditions for the growth of ethnic and religion based unrest. Why and how such movements originate, however, are specific to the history and political conditions in each country.

In a scintillating essay on the attempts by communalists to use history, Romilla Thapar critiques the viewing of Indian history in terms of two monolithic communities identified by religion. Historical works before the 19th century, including those in Sanskrit and local languages, used a variety of terms like Turushka, Tajika, Yavana, Shaka and mleccha to refer to those who today would be referred to by the blanket term of Muslims.

It was in the 19th century that the two communities were described as not only monolithic but were also projected as static over many centuries. That people in India have multiple identities (like those of caste, language, religion etc) was completely ignored. This well served the British colonial interests.

The anti- Babri Masjid movement in the eighties threw up a host of women leaders like Uma Bharati and Ritambra. This was really surprising since the RSS, fountainhead of the Parivar, has been a typically patriarchal organization known for its conservatism. Tanika Sarkar has written earlier on the gender dimension of the movement. The essay included in this volume updates her studies on the same theme in the late nineties.

She finds that there has been a shift in the role of the women’s organizations linked to the Parivar. These have now been relegated into the background after the attainment of state power. Women’s issues per se had never been important for these organizations, but now not only the membership has plummetted, these organizations have withdrawn from active politics and even reduced their meetings and the social space that they occupied at the height of the movement.

Sarkar points out that while mainstream Left movement has been either stagnant or declining, Leftist women’s organizations have continued to grow and have strongly implanted bases among working class and poor sections. These have a combined strength of over 50 lakhs, while the Sangh related organizations have barely crossed thousands, besides having been confined to the upper class, upper caste sections.

Siddharth Vardarajan, senior editor with a Delhi newspaper, writes on the use of the media in general and that of the newspapers in particular in propagating communalism. Modern media have contributed in fostering communal hysteria and the construction of the “Other” in the enemy image (the Sikhs in the eighties, then Muslims and finally the Christians in the last one year). He points out that most of the media is controlled by large businesses. Most of the editorial staff comes from the same social base that has also been at the forefront of Hindu communalism. The Sangh Parivar has proved to be an expert in handling “pseudo- events” in the media and raking up emotive non- issues.

In one of the finest essays in the collection, Rajeev Dhawan focuses not so much on communalism as on secularism with respect to the Indian constitution. He points out that it will be near impossible to come up with a document like this in our times. The constitution adopted in 1950, even though in the immediate aftermath of one of the bloodiest events in the sub- continent (the Partition) is full of compromises and adjustments on part of all the parties.

He points out, however, that a number of desirable progressive measures were relegated to the Directive Principles instead of Fundamental Rights. Overall, he feels that the Indian Constitution provides the bedrock for Indian secularism, ambiguous though it is in many senses. He also points out that communalism can no longer be attributed to the colonial condition, it is also a condition of post- colonialism.

The title of the book is well thought of, and so are Ram Rehman’s photographs on the cover. The work comes as a most welcome addition to existing literature on the one of the most acute problems of our times, and one which is going to be around for a long time to come. The incisive academic analysis of the contributors, buttressed with their deep social concern is evident in each of the essays. That is an assurance against the prophets of doom as well as ammunition in the intellectual armoury against communalism.

10 August 1999
Published: The Tribune 22 Aug 1999

Review of: India Caught in Transition Trap by Avijit Pathak

India Caught in Transition Trap

Indian Modernity: Contradictions, Paradoxes and Possibilities
By Dr. Avijit Pathak
Gyan Publishing House, 1998 Pp 243, Rs. 325/-

From Nehru’s famous midnight speech that India was “awakening to freedom”, we have come a long way when every morning newspapers tell us that far from awakening we are still going through an agonizing nightmare.

Similarly, Nehru’s vision that “dams are the temples of modern India” has been replaced by ideas that question the very relevance of the dams built in the country after independence on the one hand, and on the other hand consist in placing a Ram temple at the center of Indian nationhood.

Analysts are seeking to understand and explain this increasing divergence from the idea of modern India that Nehru and the nationalist elite envisaged and the actual direction that events have taken during the last half a century. Primarily, two opposing camps can be identified in this venture.

One of them seeks to question the very relevance of modernity for India. Since “unlike as in Europe, modernity came to India as primarily an external proposal as a theory and an external agenda as practice” (Sudipto Kaviraj, “The Unhappy Conciousness”, 1995), the political elite that came to power in 1947 tried to thrust Western notions and institutions down the unwilling throat of an India that was so unlike the Europe where these institutions were born. Proponents of this line of thought urge to find an Indian “essentialism” and “exceptionism”. Some of them trace, if not derive, their ideas from Gandhi, who, they affirm, not only took on British colonialism in the political terrain but extended his critique to a civilizational crusade.

“Railways, lawyers and doctors have impoverished the country, so much so that we shall be ruined…Hospitals are institutions for propagating sins…hatred against the English ought to be transferred to their civilization…”, he urged. Gandhi went on to create his own notion of a future India without industry, without railways, without hospitals and without cities.

Those who claim to derive from such ideas are not Gandhi- capped village workers, but academicians and university dons both in India and abroad. They have raised neo- Gandhism to almost a fashionable intellectual trend. Adherents include Ashish Nandy, Bhiku Parikh, T.N. Madan and Vandana Shiva and their collaborators. Grass- root workers trying to appropriate this aspect of Gandhi’s thought include Sunderlal Bahuguna and Medha Patkar. This group can be termed as the anti- modernist group.

Partha Chatterjee and certain adherents of the subaltern school claim to oppose what they term as Gandhi’s homogenizing project. They belong to that sect of the subalterns that has been heavily influenced by the post modernist approach that celebrates “fragments” and “parts”, in contrast to the “universalism” and the “whole” that they accuse European Renaissance of fostering and the Indian nationalist elite of furthering. Not only the ruling elite, but the communists also get a bashing from them. The prescription for India’s rejuvenation from this school lies in strengthening the “fragmented responses to the universalism of modernity”, as Partha Chatterjee remarked in his influential work, “The Nation and its Fragments”, 1993.

The modernists, on the other hand, contest that the problems created or exacerbated during the last 50 years of modern development suffer not from modernization, but precisely from its incompletion and insufficiency. The task, therefore, lies in strengthening modernity. While the liberalizers, on the one hand argue for integrating with the Western dominated global markets, the Left calls for radicalization of the process and a more equitable distribution of the gains of modern development to the poorer sections. Both, liberalizers and the leftists, from the point of modernity, belong to the same camp.

Achin Vanaik (“Communalism Contested”, 1997) has emerged as the most serious and articulate proponent for those who would rather put their eggs in the modernity basket. Sunil Khilani (“The Idea of India”, 1997) has also produced a somewhat milder defence of Nehru’s modernizing project.

“To have modernity or not to have modernity”, therefore is the central issue that the two warring camps are fighting for. In this contest between the two powerful armies of intellectuals and practitioners, Avijit Pathak, the author of the book under review finds himself at the crossroads. In fact, his intention is to even pave a third way. But he is not sure.

He recognizes that while modernity does offer bountiful gains, it is also not free from its “discontents”. The title of the book seems to suggest that while he accepts the desirability of modernity, he also recognizes that it is not a fatalistc state. Its realization does not necessarily lie in transplanting the European grown modern institutions on an India that is not a “clean sheet” of paper. (Mao once described China’s backwardness in capitalism as an advantage as it would be easier for socialism to be implanted on the “clean sheet” that China supposedly was). Still, modernity, the title seems to suggests, holds a number of “possibilities” of transmutation.

“The idea of emancipation was closely linked with the agenda of modernity”, he avers, ” Emancipation of man from the tyranny of tradition. But then, it is no longer possible to deny that modernity itself may prove to be a trap. Its mega- structures, bureaucracy and irresistible technology often deny man’s authentic autonomy. Because the story of modernity is not simply the story of well- fed, well- clothed men; it is also the story of intense agony- loss of self and communication and relatedness. The fact is that even when Bacon and Decartes shape my mind, my heart cannot escape Gandhi and Ramakrishna. This is my ambiguity, my contradiction… despite this ambiguity I am becoming more and more inclined to those who critique modernity”. This, however, contradicts what the title indicates.

The result is that while the author has brilliantly managed to bring issues to the fore, he falters in the way of providing answers. His prescription of forging a dialogic between modernity and spirituality, resulting in his call for “spiritualization of economics” and other such contrived jargon fails to lead the reader anywhere. It is, at its best, eclecticism and at worst, a forced marriage of unconnected or even contradictory points of view.

The central, and in view of the present reviewer, critical weakness of the book lies in the near complete indifference of the writer to counter contending schools of thought. Thus there is no attempt to examine, for example, Vanaik’s spirited defence of modernity. Vanaik’s case shows the strong critical trend within modernity. The author at best acknowledges this viewpoint with a dismissive nod, and at worst betrays an attitude that refuses to engage in a dialogue with critical modernity. This is indeed strange since the need to engage in a “dialogic” is the author’s leit motif.

The author has an uncanny ability to come up with penetrating insights and in intellectually echoing the tensions inherent in contemporary society. Yet, his approach lacks the “confident restlessness” that Iqbal once spoke of. Instead his flights of inquiry are rather doubtful and apprehensive. All the same, the restlessness is to be unabashedly welcome.

One can discern a similar contradiction- if not a dilemma- in Gandhi. It lay in the fact that while Gandhi decried the railways, he made use of the railways more than anyone else. While he idealized an ascetic living, his friend G.D. Birla ruefully grumbled that people did not realize how expensive it was to keep Gandhi in poverty. Finally, Gandhi’s dilemma lay in the fact that it was the champion of modernity- Jawaharlal Nehru, and not any a Gandhian, whom he nominated to “speak my language when I am no more”. This was nothing but Gandhi’s acceptance of modernity in his own manner.

It was also no co- incidence that it was the late P.C. Joshi who paid back modernity’s compliment to Gandhi, when he first called Gandhi as the father of the nation. Joshi was then the general secretary of the CPI and Gandhi’s unrelenting critic.

4 February, 1999
Published: The Tribune 14 Feb 1999

Review of Everyone Loves a Good Drought by P Sainath

Everyone Loves A Good Drought
By P.Sainath
Penguin India 1996, Price : Rs 295/- Pages: 470
ISBN: 0-14-025984-8

Palagummi Sainath is a bitter man.

On a Times of India fellowship in the year 1992, Sainath has toured some of the poorest districts in the country to know how the poorest of the poor citizens of free India live.

Exist might be a better word.

The book under review is a collection of reports that the author filed during his tours. Some of the reports kicked up controversies and in a few cases even led to some action on the part of the authorities. It is another matter that these were a drop in the ocean, and provide only an academic satisfaction in the otherwise grim scenario.

Sainath’s main findings can be summarized in one word- apathy. Apathy towards the victims of rural poverty in the country. Around this core, he weaves the stories about real people who generally lie hidden in the great piles of statistical data. In a way, he has given names to poverty. His stories are provocative, jarring and shocking to the point of being macabre.

The selection of the districts which the author chose to study were the 2 poorest districts each in the 5 poorest states of the country- Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. According to the author, there was near unanimity among the experts regarding their dubious status. Seeing the problem of poverty as a process rather than an event (in the form of outbreaks of epidemics or the infamous ‘sale’ of children in Orissa in the mid- eighties), formed the bigger challenge. The process, it turns out is a ruthless, grinding one and one that is full of amazing contradictions.

There is a story of the farmer who earns more money by selling water than by agriculture. A super hi- tech project in one of the most backward regions- Godda in Bihar, creates jobs for not more than 1300 people- many of them from outside the region, at the cost of Rs. 65 lakhs per job ! Meanwhile, the foreign consultant has been involved in transactions worth Rs. 645 crores, out of the total outlay of Rs. 966 crores. In the same district, loans have been given to members of a tribe to purchase cows, in some cases two cows per family, little realizing that the tribe does not consume milk products at all, and instead consumes beef in large quantity. At the end of the benign exercise, the cows ended up in the dinner plates of the lucky recipients, and the latter in a life long debt trap.

Sainath discovers that while there are schools without buildings and teachers, there are schools with buildings and teachers too. Except that while the ‘buildings’ are used for storing fodder and tendu leaves and the teachers teach non- existent students. There is a teacher who has not visited the school where he is ‘teaching’ for years, while drawing his salary all the time.

Then there is the case of the residents of a village called Chikpaar. The village was first acquired in 1968 for the MiG jet fighter project for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 1968, the 400- 500 families were evicted on an “angry monsoon night” . They moved to another location (on the land they owned themselves) and resettled there. Nostalgically, they named the new village as Chikpaar.

In 1987, the families were evicted again for the Kolab multi- purpose project. The villagers again resettled at another place.

However, ‘development’ has chased them to their new place of residence and the residents have received eviction notices for the third time. Needless to say, the displaced persons were either paid a pittance as compensation and in many cases, the money took years to come by.

On the state of the Sekupani village in Gumla, Bihar, a government official himself demands from the author: “What if residents of Malabar Hill in Bombay have to evacuate each time the navy has an exercise ? And are paid Rs. 1.50 a day for their pains ? This is happening here because the people are adivasis. Since this is a backward, cut- off region.”

An adivasi artist, Pema Fatiah is discovered by a bureaucrat and goes on to win laurels for his murals. But that is about all that he earns, after his recognition, come the hordes of SPs, DSPs , SDMs and tehsildars who force paintings out of him free of cost, with a flunky or a havaldar looking over his shoulders all the while he paints.

There are stories upon stories like these- Sainath has captured an entire landscape of people for whom everyone from global agencies downwards to the mohalla politician and bureaucrat has a concern. Often this concern either gets diverted to the pockets of the local strongmen or lands up for the wrong cause, like in the case of the tribes gifted cow in a loan mela. Sainath has, in a fabulous sweep, captured this entire net of linkages in his stories, often peppered with ironic insights.

The book under review can be seen to be operating at a number of levels.

First and foremost is the actual state of affairs in which the poorest in India survive. These are tales of poignant misery, and at the same time of admirable courage. At another level, it is about the needs and aspirations of the “insulted and the humiliated”, to borrow a phase from Dostoyvesky. It is about policies, schemes and programs launched with great fanfare and soon left to take their own wayward course, making a mockery of the intended aims.

At another level, these are stories about the idocity of what has been termed as development. There are dams that have displaced people who will never benefits from the dams anyway. There are dams that are under perpetual construction, with the contractors assured of a perpetual source of income. There are missile ranges which displace village after village like Chikpaar, with the villagers and adivasis losing not only their land but also the very world they belong to. They form the multitudes migrating to big cities, ending up as virtual slaves of contractors in an alien world.

Finally the book is a scathing indictment of the elite in this country. What Dr. K.N. Raj termed as the “two Indias” pithily and epigrammatically comes out in the present work. No debates on the pros and cons of liberalization or Nehruism can substitute for the reasons for such grueling poverty. If the tales in the book sound other- worldly or chillingly macabre, it is because the Indian elite, specially the middle class, which has been reared on this very ‘development’, or in other words on the heads and shoulders of the poor in India, has come a long way from the victims of this ‘development’.

Sainath has given words to the adivasi in Govind Nihalani’s film Aakrosh (the role was played by Om Puri), whose tongue has been cut off and despite being the victim, is actually hauled up in jail.

Palagummi Sainath has reasons to be bitter.

NTC, 15 Aug 1997

Review of: The Ardent Pilgrim: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Mohammed Iqbal by Iqbal Singh

IqbalThe Ardent Pilgrim: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Mohammed Iqbal
By Iqbal Singh
Oxford University Press, 1997
Pages: 183, Price Rs. 295/-

In the Great Trinity of Urdu poetry, that is, of Mirza Ghalib, Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Iqbal forms a crucial link between the poetry of Ghalib and Faiz. This is both at the level of time as well as in the space of ideas, that is, from the mysticism of Ghalib to the thundering declaration of communism in the verse of Faiz.

The book under review is one of the latest to be published after the celebration of Iqbal’s birth centenary in 1977. Though largely still largely ignored in this country, some of the books on Iqbal to hit the market in recent years have been Khushwant Singh’s translation of Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa, Rafiq Zakaria’s Iqbal: Poet and the Politician and Ish Kumar’s Ghalib and Iqbal. Iqbal Singh’s revised edition of the book he wrote in 1951 comes as a welcome addition to the contemporary literature on Iqbal.

The strength of the present work lies in the tracing of the philosophical ideas of Iqbal. The son of a tailor, Iqbal won fame early in life while still a student of Government College, Lahore. At this stage his poetry was under the heavy influence of Sufi mysticism. It was only when he travelled abroad later in life to study at London and Heidelberg that he underwent a metamorphosis. Specially in Germany, he was thunderstruck, as it were by the considerable body of philosophical thought he encountered. Specially notable is the impact of Hegel, Bergson and Nietzche. Later in life he was to spurn the entire idealist tradition in Western philosophy. It was in London, too, that he started writing in Persian, which afforded him a more versatile form as well as sophistication for his ideas to find expression. Indeed, all the great writers in Urdu, have like Ghalib, either written extensively in Persian or like Faiz, made extensive use of Persian expressions. In the case of Iqbal, however, this switchover to Persian for some of his most mature poetry was to be a great loss for the development of the Urdu language.

It was at this crucial period of his stay in Germany that Iqbal was to be faced with serious misgivings regarding nationalism. It was the decade before the First Word War and the undercurrent of the conflicts between the European nations were already present. These rivalries were based on greed- and Iqbal was repulsed by these developments. The culmination of these into the First World War was to confirm his misgivings. Iqbal’s response to come to terms with the question of nationalism led him not towards socialist internationalism, but, on account of his psychological make up and instinct, towards early Islam, which for him had subsumed various tribal loyalties into a powerful spiritual movement. The Bolshevik Revolution was yet to take place and the ideas inspired by Bolshevism were yet to sway the intelligentsia.

He quoted with proud approval the well known remark of the famous Arab conqueror, Tarik, who, when he led his forces from Africa across to the coast of Andalusia, asked his soldiers to burn the boats in which they had crossed and cheered his homesick followers with the declaration:

Every country is our country because it is the country of our God.

Iqbals’ self perception as the harbinger of Islamic revivalism was beginning to show its contours. His entire life subsequently, and his poetry too, was to be directed towards this goal.

The militant mood of the young Muslim intelligentsia that was asserting itself at the time of the Khilafat movement was reflected in the Al Hilal, the paper edited by Maulana Azad. Iqbal remained politically unmoved, but his writings now began to have a definite and pronounced anti- modern and anti- Western bias.

The alternative that Iqbal now started espousing was that of pan- Islamism, and in the development of this doctrine, he was considerably influenced by the ideas of Saiyad Jamal-ud- din Afgani whose lectures and travels in the 19th century across the Muslim world had deeply influenced the intelligentsia in the respective countries. This positive ideal, as opposed to Iqbal’s denouement of nationalism, became his leit motif and became the cornerstone of his poetry.

This was also the time of the progressive disintegration of the Ottoman hegemony and it was soon after Italy grabbed Tripoli from the Turks that Iqbal’s anger found its vent in Shikwa where he blamed Allah for the misfortunes of the Muslims on earth. The poem was read and recited all over the country. In it the Muslim intelligentsia found its words. Iqbal now attained popularity and above all came to be recognised as the most eloquent voice of Muslims in the country. With his brilliant academic background- in philosophy (Cambridge), philosophy and poetics (Heidelberg) and a bar at law , also from England, his firm grounding in Arabic and Persian, his inborn gift as a poet and finally his insatiable intellectual thirst and prowess all ensured that he would be among the towering and most eloquent personalities that modern India was to throw up in the first half of this century. He was the poet- philosopher, if ever there was one in this country.

Iqbal now went through a process of catharsis and self- purification starting with Asrar-e- Khudi . Influenced by Rumi, he turned away from the Sufi mysticism of Hafiz and western idealist influences, essentially the Greek influences on Islamic thought between 9th and 13th century. This logically led to his repudiating Sufism in general and the Hafiz tradition in particular.

As part of his critique of Sufism, he began to stress on the development of the ego or self. While Sufism emphasised the need to merge the self into the whole, Iqbal took a diametrically opposed stand- that of the development of the ego. Thence:

Tu shab afridi, charag afreedam
Sayal afridi, ayagh afreedam
Man aanam ke az sang aina saazam
Man aanam ke az zahar naushina saazam

(God, You created the night, I made the lamp
You created the earth, I made earthen pot out of it
It is me who created the mirror out of stone
It is me who made elixir out of poison)

In tracing the evolution of Iqbal’s thought, Singh also devotes considerable space to link his evolution to the specific social, political and cultural development in the early twentieth century. Peppered with insights and keen observations accumulated over half a century, Singh is at the very best, his treatment of the subject scholarly and his critical faculty acute. His zest for the subject finds expression in the book- which is impassioned and dispassionate at the same time.

This said, there is at least one point that the present reviewer feels that Singh falls short of “brimming over”. In th enature of things, the philosophy of Iqbal overwhelmingly overshadows his poetry and the author too has concentrated more on the philosophy of Iqbal at the expense of his poetry .

This leads to two problems. One, the poetic milieu in which Iqbal’s poetry arose is at best understated, and at worst ignored. Specially, Iqbal’s inheritance from Ghalib is completely left unmentioned- besides that of contemporary poets. The second result is that while Iqbal emerges as a poet of Islamic Revivalism (which undoubtedly he was, just as Vivekanand was for Hindu Revivalism), he was also the poet who captured the hearts and minds of the non- Muslim intelligentsia as well, specially after the strongly leftward turn that came over in the 1930s. The intrinsic humanistic appeal, specially relevant for the “awakening Asia” , and which transcended Islam, fails to emerge.

That, unfortunately, continues to be a major cause for Iqbal’s relative ignorance this side of the border. This ignorance also reflects what MN Roy had in 1939 in his small but illuminating book The Historical Role of Islam had observed- the Hindus are perhaps the only people, who despite the advent of Muslims in India, never tried to understand and learn from the revolution of Islam, unlike the Europeans, whose Renaissance was borne from the encounter with Islam.

Published: The Tribune July 1997

Review of Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags

KHAKI SHORTS AND SAFFRON FLAGS: A Critique of the Hindu Right

By Tapan Basu,Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarcar, Sambuddha Sen
Orient Longman. 1993. Rs:35/-

1991 marked a turning point in setting the agenda for political debate in the country. The Left was completely paralysed following the dismantling of the socialist bloc resulting in the unprecedented crisis in socialist theory. The Congress too backtracked its steps from its Left linkages, in the process dumping Nehruism, and despite the switchover to the fashionable “free -market” economy, it failed to project a new vision.

The vacuum that was subsequently generated was sought to be filled up by the backward caste based Mandal movement and the upper caste, Right wing Hindutva movement. For the first time after partition, mainstream Indian politics came to be focussed around previously peripheral ideologies

The book under review is a penetrating analysis of the Hindutva movement, its origins from a local RSS unit to a multi- headed hydra of menacing dimensions and the organisational and ideological structures within which it functions.

The book bears the stamp of two prominent historians Sumit and Tanika Sarkar and is distinguished by a meticulous exploration of the history of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). With the historical insight it offers, it becomes easier to understand a massive movement of our times, which promises to lead us into the Hindu Rashtra, even though the whole movement has been built around a hoary, imagined past fed by myths.

“At the heart of Hindutva lies the myth of a continuous thousand year old struggle of Hindus against Muslims as the structuring principle of Indian society and, point out the authors, “the myth of the Muslim invader and Hindu resistance has also been employed to prove that Hindutva represents the true, native nationalism”. The usurpation of the term “nationalism” is quite understandable as it is but natural for majority communalism to pass off as nationalism; more so since there has been an overlapping of nationalist and communal politics in the country.

The authors, however, have chosen to study not communalism as attempted in other works (like Bipan Chandra’s Communalism in Modern India and Gyan Pandey’s Construction of Communalism in Colonial India) but to study the ideological and organisational aspect of the Hindutva movement, which comes into its own with V.D.Savarkar’s definition of the Hindu in 1923 as a person who regards the land of Bharatvarsha from Indus to the seas as his Fatherland as well as his Holy land -that is, the cradle of land of his religion. By implication religions like Islam and Christianity are always suspect, and Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Thoughts added communism to the list.

The other implication is that only those who ascribe to the Hindutva concept have a right to comment and debate on what “rightfully” belongs only to the self styled Hindutva “nationalists.”

Sketch of RSS History

The RSS originated and continues to have its headquarters in Poona, the bastion of the Chitpavana Brahmins. “The centrally of Maharashtra In the formation of the ideology and organisation of Hindutva in the mid -1920’s might appear rather surprising, as Muslims were a small minority and hardly active, and there had been no major riots in the region during the early 1920’8. But Maharashtra had witnessed a powerful anti -Brahmin movement of backward castes from the 1870:8 onwards when Jyotiba Phule had founded his Satyashodhak Samaj.

By the 1920’8, the Dalits too had star1ed organising themselves under Ambedkar. Hindutva in 1925 and in 1990-91; was an upper caste bid to restore a slipping hegemony: RSS’s self -image of its own history makes this abundantly clear. There was, in addition, the distrust felt for the new Gandhlan C.ongress on the part of a section of the predominantly Chitpavan Brahmin Tilakites. It is symptomatic that B.S.Monje, an old associate of Tilak, was one of the five who founded what became the RSS on Vijaya Dashami day, 1925″ {pg 10-11).

The upper caste character of the Hindutva movement, perhaps explains why the Samajwadi Party- Bahujan Samaj Party (a backward caste- lower caste front), has taken a hard anti -Hindutva stance.

The RSS remained a local affair till 1927 when it shot into prominence following the role it played in the Nagpur riot in 1927. The riot was followed by a rapid spread of RSS organisation in and around Nagpur. 1927 was also the year when the national movement was being revived but the RSS remained completely aloof from it. The Civil Disobedience Movement which followed it and by far remains the greatest single movement within the Indian nationalist struggle, marking a new highpoint in its radicalisation as well as spread, too saw the RSS not only out of step with the mainstream but also completely isolated.

But the RSS as yet did not want to make “a demonstrative break with the nationalist mainstream”. Therefore, Hedgewar invited Gandhi to his camp at Wardha in 1934 as a symbolic gesture, but the latter remained ever suspicious of the organisation. “In the wake of the 1946 riots a member of Gandhiji’s entourage praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by the RSS workers at Wagah, a major refugee transit camp in Punjab.

“…But don’t forget”, answered Gandhiji, “even so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini”. He went on to characterise the RSS as a ‘communal body with a totalitarian outlook’ and categorically declared that ‘the way to national independence does not lie through akhadas… if they are meant as a preparation for self -defence in Hindu -Muslim conflicts, they are foredoomed to failure. Muslims can play the same game, and such preparations, overt or covert, do cause suspicion and irritation. They can provide no remedy:’

By the end of the thirties communalisation had already reached its peak and while the Muslim League began clamouring for Pakistan and the Hindu Right within the Congress was asserting itself, the RSS aligned with the North Indian based Hindu Mahasabha and started penetrating the Hindi heartland and the Punjab. The relations between the two however remained fickle especially after Golwalkar took over from Hedgewar. The RSS continued to remain primarily a “cultural” organisation, which frustrated more politically inclined elements like Godse who finally joined the Mahasabha. Between 1937 -40, the RSS grew rapidly from a cadre strength of 40,oob to 1lakh. The recruiting ground remained the same upper caste, middle class trading and services strata.

In Punjab the once militantly reformist Arya Samaj had prepared a fertile ground for the dissemination of the RSS version of Hinduisation. Still the spreading out of Maharashtra necessitated changes in the rituals of the RSS, for instance Hedgewar abandoned the worship of Hanuman, changed the language of prayer to Sanskrit, and generally toned down the insistence on rituals.

“In the 1940’s, the RSS had gone through a particularly aggressive phase in theoretical formulations and activities alike; demonstratively aloof from the 1942 quit India upsurge, violently active during the 1946-47 communal riots, suspected by many of complicity in the murder of Gandhi. “Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar as the supreme leader of the RSS in 1940, enunciated his thoughts in We, or Our Nationhood Defined and A Bunch of Thoughts, brought out the fascist inspiration behind the RSS. Besides expressing his fascination for the Nazis, he makes no bones about his sinister conception of nationalism. He elaborates, “…Being anti -British was equated with nationalism. This reactionary view has had disastrous effects upon the entire course of independence struggle, its leaders and the common people”.

No wonder, therefore, that the RSS neither participated in the genuine strugg le for independence nor did it ever have to face the British onslaught, to which the Congress, and specially the Communists, had to face repeatedly.

After the assassination of Gandhi in 1948, there was a widespread revulsion against the RSS and the organisation was banned 5 days after the assassination. Its immediate response was to plead for revoking the ban. This was to be repeated in 1975 when it was banned again. In contrast to this, the CPI opened up jail fronts to continue its struggle, even though misdirected, against the State, when it was banned after the Telengana movement.

The organisational structure of the RSS has always remained totalitarian with the leader nominating his successor, both at the local as well as the national level. A strongly patriarchal set-up regulates the militant complex, with suppression of debate and the imposition of a simplistic, typically RSS, world- view imposed on the cadres who are normally recruited at the tender age of 12-14 years. By its own admission and in the words of its important ideologue K.R. Malkani, the RSS does not encourage “doubting Thomases”. It remains one of the few exclusively male organisations.

It was only later that the RSS grew its other faces (much like the Ravana!) -the BJS, BJP, V HP, BMS and the ABVP with first the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and then the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) being its political mouthpieces, even though it did not fight shy of playing hide and seek with the Congress specially during the 1984 elections. In 1981 , however, it entered the extra -parliamentary phase of numerous yatras with the emergence of the VHP as the spearhead.

Emergence of the VHP

The V HP stage marks a qualitatively higher stage in the development of the Hindutva movement, cashing in on the new high- tech means of mass mobillsation. “Unlike earlier periods of acute communal tension (in the 1890’s, the 1920’s, the 40’s, or the 60’s) it (the Hindutva) is inseparably identified with a concrete organisational complex. Earlier, communalisation did depend on organisational inspiration as well, but the VHP has made itself co -extensive with the phenomenon of mass communalism.

This is done through staking out a new and a very large claim. The movement it leads is supposed not only to represent the vanguard, the politically aware elite within the Hindu society (this would have been, roughly, the earlier RSS claim); it asserts that it already includes the whole of Hindu society as it stands here and now, and that an exact correspondence exists between its own field and the boundaries of an admittedly varied, pluralistic, differentiated Hindu world.”

While earlier Hindu communal revivalist movements like those in the late 19th century set out for transformation both within the religion as well as society, the VHP movement rules out the need for any such reform within either itself or the Hindu society at large.

As an RSS pamphlet proclaims “Sangh samaj me sanghatan nahin, samaj ka sanghatan hai” (the Sangh is not an organisation in society, it is the organisation of society). Thus, no internal transformation is required. This “already acquired” unity in the Hindu society is sought to be suggested by invoking prominent Hindu personalities and hiding their differences and diversities. For instance Tagore, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar- all distant and even antagonistic individuals are presented as belonging to one great lineage, standing in opposition to the absence of any comparable “nationalist” Muslims.

The VHP movement being a mass movement has its own paradoxes and contradictions for instance in the perception of the movement by a sophisticated central leadership and the local activists, which the authors have brought out very well. Similarly, the unprecedented mobilisation of young women in the movement has its own fallout -leading to the emergence of a new phenomenon.

‘Within an as yet limited social and geographical scope, then, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement seems to have effected major breakthroughs in women’s self activisation… So far, the fetishised sacred or love object to be recuperated had been a feminine figure- the cow, the abducted Hindu woman, the motherland. Here, however, the occupied Janmabhoomi belongs specifically to a male deity, and women are being pressed into action to liberate and restore it to him, to bring back honour to Ram’s army… The reversal of roles equips the communal woman with a new self powering image. She has stepped out of a purely iconic status to take up an active position as a militant.”

Caste remains by far the biggest obstacle for the Hindutva movement. The sophisticated jugglery of the leadership notwithstanding, a slogan that came up at a VHP rally is illustrative of the anti- lower caste bias; “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nanin bhangi hai”.

However, “The BJP has several ways of tackling this social dilemma. Once the militant moment of its movement was over, and the anti-Mandal storm subsided, it reverts to its ritual gestures towards Harijan welfare -notably in U.P It also preserves its ascendancy over lower castes without undertaking any meaningful reforms in their status through a monopoly over ground -level intellectual leadership.

Even where it has no direct bases among lower castes, it exerts an ideological influence through teachers and priests. Mitra Sen Yadav, the CPI ex -MP from Faizabad, made to us the important observation that harijans and OBC’s have not so far thrown up their own intellectual leaders”. Perhaps, the measures Laloo Yadav has taken in Bihar by installing Harijan priests is a reflection of the need for such a leadership desired by the emergent backward caste- lower caste movement in the UP- Bihar belt.

Having dwelt on the upper caste/ class composition of Hindutva, the authors do not overlook the fact observe that there has been a considerable change in its character over the years. “In the 50’s there was a tremendous boom in both the numbers and prosperity of this upper caste/class formation which was bred in great part by the upsurge in consumerism, fuelled by imported screwdriver technology and facilitated by soft bank loans and government aided small scale industrial projects. Predictably, this has led to a widespread and rapid social mobility.

Simultaneously, the base for a huge civil and military bureaucracy has grown, spanning urban as well as semi -rural areas in north India. It was (and remains) a class that was committed to an unfettered growth of consumer capitalism and to a strong state that could manage the political crisis of the country and the economic discontents arising from the boom in private enterprise.

For a time, this class found its representative, indeed its self-image, in the person and politics of Rajiv Gandhi. His political ineptitude, in addition to the internal crisis within the Congress paved the way for Hindutva- with its aggressive right wing world -view embodied in a seemingly coherent ideology, its emphasis on a strong organisation together with the projection of itself as an untried party to acquire the allegiance of this class”.

Emphatic words these, but the authors make no bones about the danger that the movement portends for the nation. It indeed is time for hard secularism to speak out.

01-Feb- 1994
NTC

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Review of: ANATOMY OF A CONFRONTATION: THE- BABRI- MASJID- RAMJANMABHUMI Edited by S. Gopal

ANATOMY OF A CONFRONTATION: THE- BABRI- MASJID- RAMJANMABHUMI
Edited By S.GOPAL Penguin (India); Rs 75/-

The Babri-Masjid- Ramjanmabhumi issue, like so many others, has invited two opposite view points -one for the masjid and the other against it. Unfortunately , even enlightened secular opinion has tended to jump to conclusions with preconceived notions and subjective prejudices rather than trying to understand the problem and then make an effective intervention. The result has been that despite the strength of secularism in the country, communalism has made a definite and consolidated advance since Independence.

The book under review is a refreshing effort in comprehending the problem. The contributors to the book make it sufficiently clear that, not only are they trying to interpret the world in order to change it, but also trying to change it by interpreting it. The galaxy of contributors includes Prof. Romilla Thaper, Asgar Ali Engineer, Prof. Mushir-ul -Hasan, A.K. Bagchi and others. The book has been edited by S.Gopal, well known as the biographer of Jawaharlal Nehru and S.RadhaKrishnan.

The book, rather the collection of essays, begins with an introduction by S. Gopal who introduces the rest of the essays and then goes on to trace the rise of communalism immediately before and after 1947 He points out the serious lapses on the part of the Indian national leadership in meeting the challenge of communalism. As he points out Nehru himself, unequalled though he was in his commitment to secularism, was responsible for giving ground to communal forces.

Weaknesses on his own part helped to defeat the objective of various legislative and constitutional provisions enacted to confront communalism. In 1948 he committed the resolve of the government in banning communal parties, but never actually implemented it.

Were it so, it would have been much difficult for communal ‘groups like the Jana Sangh(BJP), Akali Dal and the Muslim League to gain credibility. Then again, he allowed cow-protection to be included in the Directive Principles of state policy while ensuring that nothing of the sort was actually put into practice. Further in order to assuage the wounds of Indian Muslims, he refrained from promulgating a common civil law despite the resulting inequality of Muslim women before law. Nehru erred in making a distinction between majority and minority communalisms.

Prof. K.N. Pannikar in his essay ‘A Historical Overview’ offers a critique of the RSS-VHP stance on the issue, noting that the glorious accounts of Ayodhya being a highly developed historical place is refuted by archaeological facts according to which Ayodhya began to be inhabited only around 7th century B.C. and it was much later that it developed into an urban settlement. Probably what happened, he argues, is that King Vikramaditya renamed the more developed town of Saket in order to gain prestige by drawing upon the Suryavanshi line. This also explains the local myth of Ayodhya having been re-discovered by the King, after it had been lost.

Panikkar draws attention to the claims that a Rama temple, that too his birthplace, was destroyed by Babur in 1528. It is interesting, he notes, that such a “major event” was not recorded either by contemporary Persian literature nor even by a Ramabhakt like Goswami Tulsidas. It was much later that such a claim went on record (1870) -that too by an English writer. The claim was related to the confrontation over the nearfy Hanumangarhi temple in 1855. Under the liberal Shia rulers of Awadh a large number of temples was constructed by powerful Hindu ministers This enraged orthodox Muslims who, under one Shah Ghulam Hussain, claimed that the temple of Hanumangarhi had supplanted an earlier mosque. The Bairagi occupants of the temple fought a pitched battle with the Muslims and defeated them. They even occupied the Babri Masjid, but after their victory they withdraw to their abode.

During the course of the subsequent legal enquiry, no Hindu even mentioned the existence of a temple at the Babri masjid. The claim originated later, probably ”as an attempt to check mate the Muslim claims”.

Sushil Srivastva traces the evolution of the ruling British viewpoint over the issue and concludes that under the pretext of lawlessness and misgovernment they could force the Nawab to relinquish his authority and increasingly give the British a greater say in internal matters of the state. Hence they were interested in keeping the pot simmering. A.G. Noorani throws on light the ‘Legal Aspects to the Issue”.

Prof. Mushir-ul-Hasan writes about “Shared codes and competing Symbols” between the Hindus and the Muslims and repeats the old cliche about communalism being a modern phenomenon. Aditya Mukherjee too writes on the critical role of the colonial state in giving birth to and legitimising communal parties. Amiya Bagchi makes a comprehensive study of “Predatory Commercialisation and Communalism in India” and shows how the phenomenon of Communalism, specially communal rioting, is intimately related to local socio-economic hierarchies. His explanation of riots like the first communal riot of 1893 (in Calcutta) is particularly invigorating.

The best pieces of the book are, however, contributed by Neeladri BhattaCharya, Romilla Thapar and Asgar Ali Engineer.

Popular conceptions of the past,” Bhattacharya points out, “are often informed and structured by myths. In these conceptions, myths are true histories, we cannot dismiss such myths, we cannot counterpoise history to myth. These are different modes of knowledge…if fabulous stories circulate and light up the popular imagination, we cannot merely demonstrate the fabulous character of such stories, we must know why they circulate, why they play on popular imagination.”

This is a most crucial question of our times Even if there is no real historical basis for communal ideology “myths” do refer to reality .They do provide an insight into the mode of living and thinking of the people who originate and believe in those myths. The mixture of history and myths is typified by the RSS- VHP propaganda -it satisfies both the modernist as well as the more backward sections. As the writer points out, “it is a strategy necessary in the modem age when all types of minds have to be united”.

This strange admixture of history and myth is not all. Also central to the RSS-VHP propaganda is the theme of the so called ‘weaknesses’ of the Hindus Among the ‘weaknesses’ cited are disunity, unmanliness, patience, generosity and tolerance These virtues are identified as the cause of present ills.

This framework idealises masculinity -a specific form of masculinity Anger and aggression are identified as the qualities of man-hood, tolerance and patience are feminine, manliness symbolises strength and femininity weakness. To overcome their weaknesses Hindus had to give up their femininity and assert masculinity”. This also finds reflection in Rama being increasingly portrayed as an aggressive god, but since even then he cannot provide the personit;cation of the aggressive, fiery Hindu -Shiva is increasingly looked upto (‘Angry Hindu, why Not?’ and other pamphlets).

In her fascinating study on’ A Historical Perspective on the story of Rama, ‘ Romilla Thaper delves into the plethora of the versions of Rama’s story the variations in the different versions “are for specific reasons and constitute a defate whose parameters change with historical change.” Each major version reflects a substantial change in both how the role of the story was perceived and in the acceptance of each of these versions by their audience as the authentic one Unlike sacred religious texts, Rama’s story was refashioned time and again sometimes to convert it into a religious text and sometimes for other purposes.

Prof. Thapar goes on to summarise the different versions of Ramayana It is indeed surprising to find the variations -contrast the role of Sita as Rama’s sister In one and as the incarnation of Shakti in another -confronting Ravana instead of being a passive hostage. In another she turns out to be Ravana’s daughter. According to one version Ayodhya lies in North Vietnam and the Kingdom of Ravana in South Vietnam. The recent attempts to force down one version of the Ramayana is doing injustice to these versions -but ‘Syndicated’ Hinduism is doing precisely that.

Besides the use of Rama’s story later on in the ideological conflicts between various Indian schools of thought, it has been used for popular mobilisation of peasants. Prof. Thapar illustrates this point by referring to the Baba Ram Chander -led struggle in UP early this century (Nehru refers to this movement in his Autobiography) in which Rama and Sita symbolised the peasants Interestingly, Baba Rama Chander did not indulge in nostalgia by idealising a past ‘Ram- rajya’.

Published: NTC, 01- Feb- 1992 Edited by the late Mohit Sen