Bushfire after Katrina

18- year old Jabbor Gibson: I dont care if I get blamed for it,
as long as I saved my people.

The outpouring of angst is clearly evident over the mis- handling in the aftermath of the New Orleans destruction. The liberal press specially the NYT has accused the US federal administration of ineptness. Others have focussed on the underlying causes of the hurricane and its aftermath, these include the ecological changes, increasing expansion of human settlements across the world and the expenditure on Iraq.

Here is Ross Gelbsplan writing in the Boston Globe:

Unfortunately, very few people in America know the real name of Hurricane Katrina because the coal and oil industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public in doubt about the issue.

The reason is simple: To allow the climate to stabilize requires humanity to cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent. That, of course, threatens the survival of one of the largest commercial enterprises in history.

In 1995, public utility hearings in Minnesota found that the coal industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists who were public dissenters on global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations and lobbying campaign.

In 2000, big oil and big coal scored their biggest electoral victory yet when President George W. Bush was elected president — and subsequently took suggestions from the industry for his climate and energy policies.

As the pace of climate change accelerates, many researchers fear we have already entered a period of irreversible runaway climate change.

Against this background, the ignorance of the American public about global warming stands out as an indictment of the US media.

Maureen Dowd minces no words in NYT again (The United States of Shame):

Not only was the money depleted by the Bush folly in Iraq; 30 percent of the National Guard and about half its equipment are in Iraq.

Ron Fournier of The Associated Press reported that the Army Corps of Engineers asked for $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New Orleans last year. The White House carved it to about $40 million. But President Bush and Congress agreed to a $286.4 billion pork-filled highway bill with 6,000 pet projects, including a $231 million bridge for a small, uninhabited Alaskan island.

All this is in the background of reports that indicate the stagnation for the majority of the Americans:

This week’s census report showed that income inequality was near all-time highs in 2004, with 50.1 percent of income going to the top 20 percent of households. And additional census data obtained by the Economic Policy Institute show that only the top 5 percent of households experienced real income gains in 2004. Incomes for the other 95 percent of households were flat or falling.

Neither have the overwhelmingly African- American faces in New Orleans been ignored. The racial overtones of the human disaster have again brought into focus the soft underbelly of the ‘civilized’ world.

Even Dan Belz, writing in the Washington Post ostensibly points to the “practical limitations” of the conservative administration but admits:

One Democrat whose boss was in contact with the administration as problems mounted in Louisiana said it seemed clear that the White House had no on-the-ground network within the African American community that could have alerted the president to the deepening crisis in a more timely way.

The novelist Anne Rice writes ruminates on the magic of the city that now resembles a ghost town and fulminates on the treatement meted out to it:

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us “Sin City,” and turned your backs.

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.

And in a mayhem like this one, rumors seem to be afloat as Eugene Robinson observed in what he calls ‘Third World Scenes‘:

Mullen has a schoolteacher’s kindly demeanor, so it was jarring to hear him say he suspected that the levee breaks had somehow been engineered to keep the wealthy French Quarter and Garden District dry at the expense of poor black neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward — a suspicion I heard from many other black survivors. And it was surprising to hear Mullen’s gentle voice turn bitter as he described the scene at the convention center, when helicopters bringing food didn’t even land and the soldiers “just pushed the food out like we were in the Third World. That’s what made people go off. They just pushed it at us.”

On the way out, I literally stumbled into the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was just finishing a visit to the airport. He looked genuinely shaken. The line he used for the television cameras was practiced — “This looks like the hold of a slave ship” — but there was no way to practice the horror in his eyes.

And to the ‘innocent’ question that Condolezza Rice asked: Who could have foreseen it?, here is Mike Davis writing in 2004:

Poor, Black, and Left Behind

By Mike Davis

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond’s version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less — mainly Black — were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

 

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city’s poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean’s daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the “large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods” who wanted to evacuate but couldn’t.

 

Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

 

In the event, Ivan the Terrible spared New Orleans, but official callousness toward poor Black folk endures.

 

Over the last generation, City Hall and its entourage of powerful developers have relentlessly attempted to push the poorest segment of the population — blamed for the city’s high crime rates — across the Mississippi river. Historic Black public-housing projects have been razed to make room for upper-income townhouses and a Wal-Mart. In other housing projects, residents are routinely evicted for offenses as trivial as their children’s curfew violations. The ultimate goal seems to be a tourist theme-park New Orleans — one big Garden District — with chronic poverty hidden away in bayous, trailer parks and prisons outside the city limits.

 

One of the many episodes during this crisis has been this story (from BoingBoing) of 18-year old Jabbor Gibson driving an abandoned bus for 7 hours to Nola and rescuing about a 100 people to the dome.

Authorities eventually allowed the renegade passengers inside the dome. But the 18-year-old who ensured their safety could find himself in a world of trouble for stealing the school bus. “I dont care if I get blamed for it ,” Gibson said, “as long as I saved my people.”

The keyword, of course, is “my people”.

technorati Tags:

United States’s Achievement in the Mid East- a theocratic Iraq

The United States’ achievement(you may need to register at the NYT site to access the article) in the Middle East- an Islamic Iraq. Contrafactual ‘historians’ may like to envisage an alternative scenario where the US wins in Vietnam…only to install a Viet Cong government !

…Indeed, under the constitution now completed, Islam will reign as the official state religion and as a main source of Iraqi law. Clerics will in all likelihood have seats on the Supreme Court, where they will be empowered to examine legislation to make sure it does not conflict with Islam. They will be given an opportunity to apply Islamic law in family disputes over matters like divorce and inheritance. Those provisions have raised concerns here, especially among Iraqi women and secular leaders, who fear that they are laying the groundwork for a full-blown Islamic state.

Within the US, the US Army seems to be doubling its efforts to ‘catch them young’, as the Sheehan protest shows signs of converting into a longer protest, though it is not a movement as yet, Karen Houppert reports on the tactics of the US Army as indicated in the US Army Recruitment Command:

To make sure they are the first folks to contact students about their future plans, Army recruiters are ordered to approach tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders–repeatedly. Army officials spell out the rules of engagement: Recruiters are told to dig in deep at their assigned high schools, to offer their services as assistant football coaches–or basketball coaches or track coaches or wrestling coaches or baseball coaches (interestingly, not softball coaches or volleyball coaches)–to “offer to be a chaperon [sic] or escort for homecoming activities and coronations” (though not thespian ones), to “Deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month,” to participate visibly in Hispanic Heritage and Black History Month activities, to “get involved with local Boy Scout troops” (Girl Scouts aren’t mentioned)…

A Year On, India is still not shining

Is India surrounded by failed states, as a headline in The Times of India proclaimed last week? How about the state of affairs in its own boundaries? Prem Shankar Jha comments.

we now have six-hour power cuts in Mumbai, a city that used to pride itself on the reliability of its power supply, and 14-hour power cuts in Delhi. There is absolutely no place in the entire country where water is safe to drink. Every river is polluted and there is an indescribable accumulation of filth beside every road or rail track. The well-to-do get around these problems by drinking bottled water, deploying generators in their homes and factories, and installing reverse osmosis water purification systems. They go to sophisticated and horridly expensive private hospitals and send their children to schools that costs per month what the average Indian earns in a year. It is the poor who are bearing the brunt of this collapse.

As anarchy deepens, the strong and the organised are using their power to increase their share of the cake. The weak are driven, inexorably, to the wall. This is happening on a scale so vast that it is difficult to take in all at once. But just take a few examples: in real terms, the price of cars, television sets, microwave ovens, refrigerators and other household electrical appliances has fallen by at least a quarter in the past six years; of personal computers and peripherals by half; of cameras, especially the new digital variety, by still more. Everyone’s income is therefore stretching a good way further than it did half a decade ago. But wait a minute, who is this ‘everyone’? Answer: India’s new and burgeoning middle class. For the poor, all these are far out of reach, just the way it was.

On the contrary, what they can afford is getting dearer every day, whether it is the ‘pugree’ on a shack in a shanty town, the cost of a bus or rail pass, the price of a gas cylinder, a shirt, or fruits and vegetables. There are so few new jobs being created that people will accept almost any salary to get one. As a result, entry-level salaries in all but the privileged new managerial class have remained static in nominal terms while prices have continued their remorseless rise.

A year after the UPA/Congress came to power, it seems to be continuing the NDA/ BJP policies and except for the communal tensions and jingoism which seem to have come down, there is little that it seems to be doing differently.

May Allah forgive the BBC

Ziauddin Sardar, on an asignment for the BBC, meets heads of states in some of the Muslim countries- Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey and discovers the different trends in politics and Islam in those countries. Pakistan, he avers, can be rescued from fanatic Islam not by the military but by popular movements that negate both the military as well as the Islamic fundamentalists.

If Pakistan poses a threat to the rest of the world it does not come from these people, or from Qazi and his conservatives. It lies elsewhere, and the west just cannot see it. The most obnoxious religious zealots in the country wear the uniform of the military, and what happened after my interview with Musharraf was a perfect illustration of the army’s mentality. General Sultan, who had been sitting behind the president taking notes throughout, called us over and proceeded to review the interview line by line. “Can you cut this sentence out?” he asked. “And that sentence; and this word in the sentence after that?” The producer and I looked at each other in amazement.The army has the habit of controlling everything. The richest, most politically active and most zealot-ridden institution in Pakistan, it helped create the Taliban and the jihadi madrasas, and it propped up the religious opposition. It was the former military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, who enshrined the sharia in law. Those who think Pakistan’s military rulers will rescue them from extremism are barking up the wrong tree.

What is most surprising to a visitor from the west is that, despite the military, an alternative, progressive interpretation of Islam is gaining strength. This is the force that can lead Pakistan out of its darkness; these are the people – not Musharraf and his supporters – who need our backing in the fight against extremism.

Sardar however does not go beyond interviewing General Musharaff and Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the leader of the Jamaat e Islaami, and hence what he seems to say appears to be no more than a personal wishful thinking, albeit a desired one.

In the same paper, John O’Farrel writes on why Tony Blair’s comment that the al- Qaeda and the IRA are fundamentally different. Besides the fact that Tony Blair is a god fearing Christian with Catholic influence in his family, Blair seems to have gone further and read the Koran and listened to discussions within moderate Islam. Hence it proves that the ‘Thatcher in trousers’, as Hobsbawm derisively referred to Blair, is far more enlightened than President Bush to take on the Islamic fundmentalists. He points to the similarities between Gary Adams and Blair as well.

Although five years older, Gerry Adams has some things in common with Blair. Both are essentially pragmatists, and have moved their respective organisations to powerful positions through ditching shibboleths. Dissidents have been isolated and marginalised.Both men are children of the Sixties, but neither were ’68ers. IRA veterans use the revealing term “theological republicanism” to describe those dissidents who opposed “electoralism” and viewed “armed struggle” as the purest means to their ends. These diehards were to Adams what “old Labour” was to Blair. While both can be charming, they can be ruthless when faced with obstruction.

In war, Blair has been an advocate of what the IRA might, for its purposes, have called the “tactical use of armed struggle”. His Chicago speech of 1999 laid down rules for “internationalist” military intervention. “War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress,” he argued, “but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators.”

Morality may be the motive, but ultimately the use of violence is based on whether it will work. According to this theory, the amount of force needed is part of the moral calculation – placing just enough pressure on the Serbs, for example, to withdraw from Kosovo, rather than occupying Belgrade. Likewise, the combination of ruthlessness and incompetence that created the Omagh atrocity probably would not have happened on Adams’s watch.

Both men are religious. Adams is a regular communicant and Blair is inching towards the faith of his mother and his wife. Also, Blair’s understanding of theology in an essentially atheist political culture may give him an insight into the sheer inflexibility of al-Qaeda. Middle Britain gets confused by fundamentalism, be it Christians picketing the BBC or suicide bombers from Leeds.

Blair has made a point of reading the Koran and has listened to British Islam. He understands the nuances of faith and appreciates that the line between the personal consolations of faith and the violent expression of sectarian superiority is fine but deep. Marx called religion “the heart of a heartless world”. Salafism views sharia as this world’s heart transplant. Blair understands the nature of this ambition, and therefore the violence “without limits” required to achieve it.

If Blair had believed that the IRA could not be brought onside, he would not have spent so much effort since 1997. He believed that Irish republicanism could be dealt with because he understood it. For exactly the same reason, he will not deal with al-Qaeda.

It was O’Farrel himself who once referred to Bush as the global village idiot, and while one liked the column of political satire that O’Farrel wrote till recently for The Guardian, this piece of wisdom is slightly more difficult to digest.

Unless O’Farrel actually meant this piece to be a continuation of his weekly column…

And as if continuing on the same theme, Hanif Kureishi, the son of an English mother and liberal, more Buddhist than Islamist father, describes the discomfort that he felt listening to clerics haranguing their British- born 30 something audiences in mosques in England.

The mosques I visited, in Whitechapel and Shepherd’s Bush, were nothing like any church I’d attended. The scenes, to me, were extraordinary, and I was eager to capture them in my novel. There would be passionate orators haranguing a group of people sitting on the floor. One demagogue would replace another, of course, but the “preaching” went on continuously, as listeners of all races came and went.

…. Sometimes I would be invited to the homes of these young “fundamentalists”. One of them had a similar background to my own: his mother was English, his father a Muslim, and he’d been brought up in a quiet suburb. Now he was married to a woman from Yemen who spoke no English. Bringing us tea, she came into the room backwards, and bent over too, out of respect for the men. The men would talk to me of “going to train” in various places, but they seemed so weedy and polite, I couldn’t believe they’d want to kill anyone.

….I found these sessions so intellectually stultifying and claustrophobic that at the end I’d rush into the nearest pub and drink rapidly, wanting to reassure myself I was still in England. It is not only in the mosques but also in so-called “faith” schools that such ideas are propagated. The Blair government, while attempting to rid us of radical clerics, has pledged to set up more of these schools, as though a “moderate” closed system is completely different to an “extreme” one. This might suit Blair and Bush. A benighted, ignorant enemy, incapable of independent thought, and terrified of criticism, is easily patronised.

The Zapatista Story

in the words of Subcomandante Marcos himself, published on the 14th of July, surprisingly this is the only article that I found that remembered 14th July, none of the newspapers and sites that I read (and there are many) carried any memory of the 14th of July. That the statement released by the Zapatista Army reads like a story is an indiicator of how story and history, of how struggle and literature are tied up in each others’ arms in Latin America.

This is our simple word which seeks to touch the hearts of humble and simple people like ourselves, but people who are also, like ourselves, dignified and rebel. This is our simple word for recounting what our path has been and where we are now, in order to explain how we see the world and our country, in order to say what we are thinking of doing and how we are thinking of doing it, and in order to invite other persons to walk with us in something very great which is called Mexico and something greater which is called the world. This is our simple word in order to inform all honest and noble hearts what it is we want in Mexico and the world. This is our simple word, because it is our idea to call on those who are like us and to join together with them, everywhere they are living and struggling.

And he goes on to recount the struggle of the Indian people in Mexico, ending with a cliched, but nevertheless a resounding, defiant call:

This is our word which we declare:In the world, we are going to join together more with the resistance struggles against neoliberalism and for humanity.

And we are going to support, even if it’s but little, those struggles.

And we are going to exchange, with mutual respect, experiences, histories, ideas, dreams.

In Mexico, we are going to travel all over the country, through the ruins left by the neoliberal wars and through those resistances which, entrenched, are flourishing in those ruins.

We are going to seek, and to find, those who love these lands and these skies even as much as we do.

We are going to seek, from La Realidad to Tijuana, those who want to organize, struggle and build what may perhaps be the last hope this Nation – which has been going on at least since the time when an eagle alighted on a nopal in order to devour a snake – has of not dying.

We are going for democracy, liberty and justice for those of us who have been denied it.

We are going with another politics, for a program of the left and for a new Constitution.

A Laboratory of Islam

Irfan Hussain writing in The Dawn reminds us that it was General Zia who assured early in his rule that Pakistan would be the laboratory of Islam. This seems to be further strenghtened by some of the laws being passed in NWFP.

Even before this latest manifestation of religious zeal, we had witnessed a series of Talibanesque decisions emanating from Peshawar. Women patients requiring X-rays could not be scanned by male technicians; advertizing posters with women were banned; and video shops were shut down. All these draconian measures were enforced with varying degrees of enthusiasm by civil servants and policemen. Now these (and far fiercer) edicts will be rammed down the populace’s throats by an authority whose decisions cannot be challenged in any court.In Nathiagali, I recently met an old friend who has served as a senior government officer in the NWFP for many years. According to him, the rule of the mullahs has been an unmitigated disaster for his province. No development activities are going on, corruption is rampant, and ordinary people are miserable. And yet, he continued, the MMA will probably get re-elected in the next polls because the opposition parties are in such disarray.

This is on the lines of the situation in Saudi Arabia and the Taliban ruled Afganistan.

As readers are aware, the Saudi religious police routinely beat up or jail anybody seen on the streets at prayer times, and cane women who are showing an inch or two of ankle. In a recent demonstration of religious fervour, they pushed back girls fleeing a blazing hostel into the flames because they were not adequately covered. Several girls died as a result.When in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban went a step further, and decreed that men whose beards were not of a certain length would be punished. Their treatment of women aroused the anger of the civilized world. Not content with brutalizing the living, they destroyed ancient statues for not conforming to their code.

Ayaz Amir, as usual, is more shrill, but does sum up the frustrations of the somewhat right of center inteligentsia (generally modernists with an Army background):

Bin Ladenism, which is a peculiar distillation of Wahabi Islam, and the terrorism which has come to be its favourite tool, are no answers to American domination or Muslim weakness. In fact, Bin Ladenism, with its narrow interpretation of Islam, is itself a reflection of Muslim weakness because it shows a preoccupation with the very elements which constitute the core of Muslim backwardness: a romantic attachment to a glorified past, an emphasis on literalism, and a comprehensive failure to understand what makes the modern world tick.

The answer to Muslim decadence lies in a political renaissance: a replacement of autocracy with democracy. Of course this is easier said than done but if we can’t achieve it there being nothing on the horizon to suggest that we easily can ‘we should at least understand that terrorism such as that in London is no answer to anything. In fact, far from liberating anything, it only makes the Muslim predicament worse by lending strength to the false doctrine of a ‘clash of civilizations’.

While ‘bin Ladenism’ is a descendant of Wahabism, the mutation seems to be in that while Wahabism was a social- poiltical movement, ‘bin Ladenism’ is essentially a political movement marked by anti- Westernism in general and anti- Americanism in particular. At its core is the former, for it was the US administration that propped up the Mujahideen in Afganistan for many years.

The Certainity of Compassion

Ariel Dorfman, the Argentine born writer, weans nostagically in the aftermath of the London bombings. He recollects his childhood experiences in post- war England, and a woman giving him her quota of the chocolates (chocolates were rationed in post- war England):

That old woman gave me more than a small bar of chocolate as the sun set on Hyde Park. She provided a glimpse into how she and her people had survived the years of terror, the bombs from above, the streets in rubble, the sirens in the night, how I myself would survive many decades afterward the coup in Chile and its terrible aftermath. I may not have understood it immediately back then, but now what doubt can there be, she is telling me all these years later, that woman who cannot possibly be alive today, she is assuring me from her London devastated by sorrow and blood, that when death calls, all we have is one another and our acts of sheer, deliberate solidarity, all we have is the certainty of our compassion.

A Desi Christopher Hitchens

The news about Sudheendra Kulkarni’s resignation as National Secretary of the BJP and Political Secretary to Party President LK Advani, surprised me as The Tribune story indicates that he made a move from the Left to the Right.This seems to be borne out by a Rediff story couple of years ago.

He was a BTech from IIT, Bombay. The year 1980. It reminded me of another IIT graduate from the same batch- Tejinder Sandhu, who joined the IPF and whom I met when he had left the IPF. He had taken to drinking, and then I heard that he joined a college in a small town in Amritsar district as a college lecturer. I liked him a lot, and he gave me his copy of the 5th volume of the Selected Works of Mao.

About him, perhaps sometimes else. But Sudheendra Kulkarni’s about turn has of course, kind of saddended me. I was not aware of his Left roots.

Russia- Light at the End of the Tunnel?

One of the greatest modern- day disasters has been that of the former Soviet Union. The former super power now has probably one of the poorest living standards and has seen perhaps for the first time in a century, a real decline in population- contrary to world wide trends.Now it seems that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel- if one were to go by yet another book on the misfortunes of Russia. You will need to have a login id for the NYT to read this review of “Kremlin Rising”.

Like many other observers, the writers seem to feel that Putin is the man who will deliver- he seems to be in the image of the patriarch, bringing about “managed democracy”. That he happens to be in the image of the former czar, in line with the personality cults of Lenin and Stalin is a point often made about him. A man of strong and decisive actions- like the one during the Chechnya hostage crisis, he surely seems to have reined in some of the mafia operatives, though not the overall system, which is weaning towards a controlled form of capitalism. Though at least this article argues that Russia today resembles Iran, a democratic election returning a conservative dark horse to power.

A significant change has also been the decline of the voice of the left and nationalist groups during the last few years and their reduced popularity.

What is obviously missing in the review and probably also the book is the role of the IMF and the “free world” in leading the transition to near disaster. A better account is provided by a lesser known book by the historian Roy Medvedev, “Post- Soviet Russia” published a few years back. Unfortunately I did not get down to review this very impressive and the only Marxist analysis of post- Soviet Russia that I have read.

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: 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 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

technorati tags:

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