Category Archives: Delhi Durbar

Why the Tamil struggle for Jallikattu is historic

[ Firstpost, 19 Jan 2017]

jallikattu-poster

All over Tamil Nadu, tens of thousands of people, largely not under any political party banner, have assembled in protest. The most widely broadcasted protests are from Marina beach. That massive protest at Marina beach is actually very small compared to ones happening in other parts of Tamil Nadu including Madurai, Erode, Salem and Coimbatore. And its not only big cities but small towns and villages, where such protests are taking place – thus uniting the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu in its demand “We want Jallikattu”, which is both a cultural demand and a political demand. Thousands of people had assembled from last night in protests, but “national media” didn’t live-telecast this since this was not Delhi and hence didn’t matter to the “nation”. As the day progressed on 18th January, young people from all walks of life spilled on to the streets, from students to IT professionals to farmers, including many, many women. As we speak, this has become too big for “national media” to ignore, and since this is not Kashmir from where independent media and telecom connectivity can be blacked out at will, “national media” wants to explain to the ‘rest of India’, why are Tamils angry and why are they protesting? While they ask that, they are quick to add that the protests are apolitical. Nothing could be farther from truth. The protests are not partisan but are intensely political – uniting the Tamil national polity in a united voice. More things unite Kashmir and Kanyakumari than the Delhi establishment would like to admit.

In its limited imagination, the non-Tamil media is likening this to Tahrir Square of Cairo. If they had more local grounding and less of an imaginary that is inspired by Anglo-American talking points, they would have reached back into the not so distant Tamil past. They could have looked closely at the site the protesters chose. The Marina beach is not an ordinary spot. It houses the memorial to C.N.Annadurai, the giant of Tamil politics, the biggest votary of Tamil pride, a staunch oppose of Hindi imposition and one of the fathers of federalism in the Indian Union. If they had tried to understand Tamil Nadu from the Tamil stand point and not from the Delhi stand point, they would have found that the present protests, in their spontaneity, intensity and popularity come close to the anti Hindi imposition protests of 1965 when Union government tried to forcibly shove Hindi down the throats of non Hindi citizens of the Indian Union. While protests happened in various states, Tamils took the lead. The response from New Delhi was swift and central forces killed nearly 400 Tamil protesters that year. In 1967, the Congress was voted out and never again has any Delhi headquartered party ever held power in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu branches of Delhi –headquartered parties failed miserably in 1965 and are failing miserably now in representing the Tamil sentiment for their priorities are ideologies are decided elsewhere, without an eye to Tamil interest. Since 1967, Tamils have politically opted for their own representatives and not Tamil agents of Delhi interests. It is because Tamil Nadu stood up against Hindi imposition that all non Hindi states have been able to protect their cultural and linguistic turf against homogenization ordered from Delhi, that is designed to benefit a certain ethno-linguistic group that holds huge sway on power in Delhi. Even today, with the Jallikattu protests, Tamils have opened the space for the rest of us to assert of cultural rights against whims and fancies of Union government agencies about animals and humans that imagine the Indian Union as a bloated form of the NCR. The way the Union government has been criticized by the Tamil protesters on the ground show that they understand this political dynamic very well.

The huge presence of women for a “male sport” shows that this issue goes beyond the particulars of Jallikattu and stems from something bigger and wider. This has been joined by Non Resident Tamils around the world ( in USA, Ireland, Mexico, Thailand, South Korea, Uktaine, Russia, Malaysia and elsewhere) as well as the Tamil social media space where unlike in NOIDA, Whatsapp messages about bovine animals are being used to unite people and not dividing them. The Jallikattu protests show that against the cosmo-liberal stereotype of “Indian young people”, there are young people,, millions of them, to whom roots matter, identity matters, culture matters and they do not aspire to lose their Tamil-ness to make the cut in the Delhi-Mumbai idea of Indianness. These are the people, who know English very well but have chosen to respond in Tamil to Delhi media questions posed to them in English. If this appears odd, remember the number of times Delhi-based English media carries responses in Hindi without any translation. Try to think why that is not considered odd, when a majority of the citizens of the Indian Union do not understand Hindi.

In the protests, a recurring theme is that the Tamil interests have been marginalized in the Indian Union. Tamil culture is older than the Indian Union and all its institutions and self-respect is a very important part of that culture. The situation that Tamil Nadu now doesn’t have control over its own maritime trade, foreign relations or for that matter most aspects of Tamil internal affairs is hardly two centuries old. The Tamil political memory and historical consciousness goes far beyond that and is a living thing that influences politics of here and now. Thus, whenever the Union government has destroyed state rights, the Tamils have been at the forefront of protesting it – a strain of politics that has recently widened to include of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, who has been regularly voicing concerns about the destruction of the federal structure. Tamils gave up their autonomous rights over their land, resources and people, when they signed up for the Indian Union. Any giving up of rights have to come with concomitant compensatory benefits. That has not happened. While Tamil Nadu produces a huge amount of revenue, much of that is siphoned off by the Union government through its constitutional powers and through the discriminatory schemes of Delhi, it gets much less money (so-called “central funds” which originate from resources based in states) than the amount that Delhi makes from resources in Tamil Nadu. In short, Tamil Nadu’s resources are used to subsidize Union government schemes outside Tamil Nadu. During the Eelam Tamil genocide, the Union government explicitly sided with the Sri Lankan government, thus making clear that Tamil Nadu’s sentiments matter little to Delhi even when it comes to genocide of Tamils elsewhere. Thus it is only natural that many Tamils that many Tamils have a feeling that they are getting cheated in this deal called the Indian Union.

At this juncture, it doesn’t help when the so-called “national opinion” brands makes fun of Tamils as irrational or barbarous people who love to be cruel to their animals. If at all, it is quite duplicitous, since Delhi doesn’t mind the revenue that is extracted from Tamil Nadu while using its institutions like the Animal Welfare Board of India to undercut Tamil cultural practices. That is the tragedy of a centralized administration where bureaucrats from high female foeticide states get to decide the women’s rights policies of socially progressive states like Tamil Nadu. Whether Jallikattu is right or wrong, should it be discontinued or continued or continued with modifications, is an out and out Tamil affair. That the Animal Welfare Board of India, which doesn’t exactly reflect Tamil opinion, gets to decide on this shows how Tamils are infantilized as being incapable of deciding their own affairs, including their own cultural practices or for that matter, animal welfare issues. This stems from the two long lists called the Union and Concurrent lists of the Constitution of India that gives almost unfettered right to distant people from Union government agencies over the lives and issues of people of various states. It is this false federalism, in which state rights have been completely disrespected, are the source of most of the problems and solutions to this are achievable within the ambit of the Indian constitution by large scale move of subjects from Union and Concurrent lists to the State list in keeping with the federal democratic spirit of the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946, to which most elected lawmakers of the time agreed, only to turn their back on it after 1947. Yes, reforms are needed and they can take many shapes. The ambit of the Supreme Court can be limited to Union and concurrent list subjects with state based apex courts becoming the highest authority on state subjects. This along with a move of most subjects to the State list can realize the full federal democratic potential of the Union of India. Otherwise, such deep-rooted political grievances promote alienation and make their presence felt in some way or the other, in not so palatable ways.

The defence of Jallikattu on the basis of practice and culture has been likened to the defence of Sati. That so many have learnt to instinctively make this Sati argument in fact has a long past in British imperial pedagogy’s imprint of brown colonized lands. As my friend Ritinkar Das Bhaumik said, “we should stop drawing parallels to Sati. We already have one group that sees an analogy between cattle and women. We don’t need others.” While deciding to hang Afzal Guru, in spite of many grounds of reasonable doubt about the case, the Supreme Court of India said, “The collective conscience of the society will be satisfied only if the death penalty is awarded to Afzal Guru.” If “collective conscience” of the society has already been admitted by the Supreme Court to be a decider in handing out judgements, what prevents it from listening to the “collective conscience” of Tamils regarding Jallikattu that is on display in the protests all over their land today?

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আমাদের সংস্কৃতি, আমাদের দেশ, এবং আমাদের সংগ্রামে আজ অবধি গড়ে তোলা যা যা আছে

জুলাই মাসের প্রথম দিকটি মণিপুরের ইম্ফল এলাকায় চলল টানা গণ-আন্দোলন। গণ-আন্দোলনের প্রত্যুত্তরে ভারতে রাষ্ট্র-যন্ত্র মণিপুর বা কাশ্মীর গোছের এলাকায় যা করতে অভ্যস্ত, তাই করলো। অর্থাৎ কারফিউ জারি করলো, নিরস্ত্র আন্দোলনকারীদের সশস্ত্র রাষ্ট্র-শক্তি বেধড়ক মার দিলো দিনের পর দিন, একজন তরুণ আন্দোলনকারী যার নাম রবিনহুড, তাকে গুলি করে পুলিশ হত্যাও করলো। মণিপুরের এই আন্দোলনের একদম সামনের সারিতে রয়েছে হাজার হাজার রাজনৈতিক চেতনা-সম্পন্ন স্কুল ছাত্র-ছাত্রী। তারা পুলিশের মার খেয়েও নিজেদের জাতির ও সংস্কৃতির অস্তিত্ব-রক্ষার দাবি, অর্থাৎ ‘ইনার লাইন পারমিট’ প্রচলনের দাবি নিয়ে আন্দোলন চালিয়ে যাচ্ছে। যখন ‘ইন্ডিয়া’র ‘কুল ও ট্রেন্ডি’ টিনেজারেরা তাদের ‘এস্পিরেসনাল’ বাপ-মায়ের সুশিক্ষায় ‘পার্সোনাল স্পেইস’, ‘টিম ইন্ডিয়া’ এবং মল-মাল্টিপ্লেক্সে বিভোর থেকে তাদের সমাজ-সচেতনতার পরিচয় দিচ্ছে, ঠিক তখুনই তাদের মণিপুরী ভাই-বোনেরা জানান দিচ্ছে যে তারা অন্য ধাতু দিয়ে গড়া। মণিপুরী কিশোর-সমাজের এই রাজনৈতিক ভাবে পরিপক্ক ও বিস্ফোরক আন্দোলন নিয়ে আমাদের কিসুই আসে যায় না কারণ, এক, মণিপুরে যে কিছু ঘটছে, সেটাই আমাদের ভাবনার মধ্যে নেই, দুই, ‘ইনার লাইন পারমিট’ জিনিসটি কি, তা আমরা জানিনা, তিন, এতে ভারতীয়ত্বের কোন নামগন্ধ নেই, তেরঙ্গা দ্বিচারিতাও নেই, মোমবাতি নেই, সেলফি তোলার সুযোগ নেই। অতয়েব আমরা এতে নেই। তবু একটু খোঁজ নেওয়াই যাক না, কেসটা কি।  কারণ স্কুল-ছাত্র রবিনহুডকে খুন করা হলো যে ‘আইনরক্ষা’র নাম, সে আইন তো আমার-আপনার সম্মতিতে তৈরী বলেই বৈধতা দাবি করে।

ইনার লাইন পারমিট বা আই.এল.পি হলো অরুণাচল প্রদেশ, নাগাল্যান্ড (ডিমাপুর বাদে) এবং মিজোরামে ঢোকার জন্য এইসব এলাকার বাইরের ভারতীয় নাগরিকদের জন্য আবশ্যিক একটি সরকারী ছাড়পত্র। এই আন্দোলন মণিপুরেও আই.এল.পি প্রবর্তনের দাবিতে, যার নেতৃত্বে রয়েছে জয়েন্ট  কমিটি অন আই.এল.পি সিস্টেম নামক দোল-নিরপেক্ষ নাগরিক-রাজনৈতিক জোট। আজকে যে অঞ্চল ‘উত্তর-পূর্ব্ব’ নামে পরিচিত, উনবিংশ শতাব্দীর দ্বিতীয় ভাগে ফিরিঙ্গিরা এই এলাকার স্বাধীন রাজ্যগুলিকে দখল করছিল এবং তাদের তৈরী ইন্ডিয়া-র মধ্যে সেগুলিকে জুড়ে দিচ্ছিল নানা অসৎ উছিলায়। যেহেতু এই এলাকায় স্বাধীন অসম-কে দখল করে  সেখানে চা সমেত নানা ব্যবসা শুরু করলো ফিরিঙ্গিরা, তাদের এই ধান্দাকে সুরক্ষিত করতে তারা আনলো আই.এল.পি।  এর ফলে অসমকে ঘিরে থাকা এলাকার (অর্থাৎ আজকের অরুণাচল প্রদেশ, নাগাল্যান্ড ও মিজোরাম) মধ্যে বাইরের কেউ শুধু অনুমতি সাপেক্ষে ঢুকতে পারতো। ওই এলাকার মানুষজন মোটামুটি স্বায়ত্ত-শাসন-ই চালাত ( যা ছিল বাংলা বা বিহারের মতো সোজাসুজি ভাবে ফিরিঙ্গি-শাসিত এলাকায় কল্পনাতীত), দিল্লী বা লন্ডনের নাক গলানো ছিল নগন্য। বদলে ওই এলাকার রাজ্য তথা জন-গোষ্ঠীগুলিও অসমে ঢুকে পড়ত না এবং ফিরিঙ্গি সরকারের জন্য নিরাপত্তা খাতে খরচা ও মাথাব্যথা কমে গেছিল।  এর ফলে অসমে অর্থনৈতিক মুনাফা প্রকল্পে ফিরিঙ্গিরা সম্পূর্ণ মনোনিবেশ করতে পেরেছিল। এই এলাকারগুলির ‘স্বরাজ’ অবলুপ্ত হলো ১৯৪৭-এ দিল্লী-রাজ শুরু হবার পর থেকে। ১৯৪৯-এ মণিপুরের অনির্বাচিত মহারাজা-কে শিলং-এ গৃহ-বন্দী করে, ভারতীয় বাহিনীর কুচকাওয়াজের মাধ্যমে ভীতি প্রদর্শন করিয়ে ভারতের মধ্যে মনিপুর-কে জুড়ে দেবার চুক্তিপত্রে একপ্রকার তার পূর্ণ সম্মতি ছাড়াই সই আদায় করা হয়। অথচ এই সময়ে মণিপুরে জনগণের দ্বারা অবাধ গণতান্ত্রিক পদ্ধতিতে নির্বাচিত একটি সার্বভৌম সরকার বর্তমান ছিল, যারা কিনা সম্পূর্ণ-ভাবে মনিপুরের আলাদা অস্তিত্ব বজায় রাখার পক্ষপাতি ছিল। সেই  নির্বাচনে ভারত-পন্থী কংগ্রেসীরা লড়েছিল কিন্তু সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠতা পায়নি। প্রজা শান্তি দলের নেতৃত্বে, কংগ্রেসকে পর্যদুস্ত করে গড়ে উঠেছিল সেই মণিপুর সরকার – মহারাজা ছিল স্রেফ আনুষ্ঠানিক প্রধান।যেহেতু নেহরুর ভারত ছিল প্রবলভাবে গণতান্ত্রিক, তাই তারা মনিপুরকে জুড়ে নেবার সাথেই সাথেই মনিপুর-বাসীদের নির্বাচিত নিজস্ব সরকারকে বরখাস্ত করে দেয় ! আফ্স্পার মাধ্যমে মিলিটারি শাসনের প্রেক্ষাপটে ভারতীয় পৃষ্ঠপোষকতায় গড়ে ওঠা এই নয়া গনত্রন্ত্র এগিয়ে চলেছে অপ্রতিরোধ্য গতিতে, ‘এনকাউন্টার’ খুনের নিরালা পরিবেশে খাকি উর্দির কঠিন নজরদারিতে।

মণিপুরে আগে থেকে আই.এল.পি নেই কারণ এই রাজ্য কখুনো ফিরিঙ্গী শাসনাধীন ছিল না। যে সময়ে ফিরিঙ্গিরা এই এলাকায় তাদের দখলদারি ও শাসন বাড়িয়ে তুলছিল, মণিপুরের  সার্বভৌম মহারাজারা ছলে-বলে-কৌশলে ফিরিঙ্গিদের ‘ইন্ডিয়া’ উপনিবেশ থেকে নিজেদের আলাদা করে রাখতে পেরেছিল, পেরেছিল নিজেদের বহু-শতাব্দীর রাজনৈতিক স্বাতন্ত্র। মনিপুরীদের নিজভুমে বাইরের কে প্রবেশ করবে-না করবে, এটা ঠিক করার প্রায় নিরঙ্কুশ অধিকার-ও ছিল মনিপুরি-দের। ফলে মনিপুরের জন-গোষ্ঠীগুলোর ক্ষমতাগত ও সাংস্কৃতিক অস্তিত্বগুলিও মুছে যায়নি। কিন্তু ১৯৪৯-এ ইন্ডিয়া-তে জুড়ে যাওয়ার ফলে, মণিপুরীদের এই বাইরের লোকের ঢোকাকে নিয়ন্ত্রণ করার স্বাধিকার আর রইলো না। তাই এই আই.এল.পি প্রবর্তনের দাবীর মূলে আছে মনিপুরের নিজস্ব জনগষ্ঠিগুলির নিজেদের পারম্পরিক আবাদভুমি তথা জন্মভূমিকে নিজেদের জন্য রক্ষা করার স্বাভাবিক বাসনা। তার কারণ, ইন্ডিয়ার মধ্যে বিলয়ের ফলে বাইরে থেকে আসা বিশাল সংখ্যক মানুষের ভিড়ে নিজভূমে পরবাসী হয়ে যাবার আশঙ্কাটা একদমই অমূলক নয়। উত্তর প্রদেশের জনসংখ্যা মণিপুরের থেকে ৭৫ গুণ বেশি। ইতিমধ্যেই ইম্ফল উপত্যকায় মণিপুরী ও বহিরাগতের সংখ্যা প্রায় কাছাকাছি হয়ে দাঁড়িয়েছে। কিন্তু কাশ্মীর থেকে কন্যা-কুমারী, আমরা সকলে ভারতীয়, এই বহুল-প্রচারিত স্লোগানটা কি সত্যি নয়? আমরা সকলে এক জাতীয় হই বা না হই, যেটা একদম নিশ্চিত সেটা হলে যে আমরা সকলে একই রাষ্ট্রে সহ-নাগরিক। নতুন দিল্লীর কিশোর-যুব সমাজের যেমন নিরাপদ-ভাবে নির্ভয়ে জীবন কাটানোর স্বাধীনতা আছে,  মণিপুরী কিশোর-যুবসমাজের একই-রকম স্বাধীনতা নেই। কেন তাদের সে স্বাধীনতা নেই, তা নিয়ে তুলনামূলক আলোচনা করলে ভারতীয় রাষ্ট্রের চরিত্র সম্বন্ধে কিছু অপ্রিয় সত্যপ্রকাশ অনিবার্য হয়ে উঠবে।  ওদিকে না যাওয়াই ভালো। পাঠকদের শুধু এটা লক্ষ্য করতে বলি যে দেখবেন ভারতের ‘জাতীয়’ মিডিয়া দিল্লীতে মনিপুরি যুবদের উপর হয়রানির ঘটনা নিয়ে যতটা প্রচার করে,আসল মনিপুরের মণিপুরী যুবসমাজদের জীবনের  দৈনিক ত্রাস ও লাঞ্চনাকে নিয়ে তার সিকিভাগ-ও করে না। করা সম্ভব না। দোকান বন্ধ হয়ে যাবে।

সাম্প্রতিক অতীতেও নিজভূম নিয়ে ব্যাপক অর্থে স্বতন্ত্র ছিল, এমন জাতি-গোষ্ঠীর পক্ষে হঠাত করে কোন বৃহত্তর ব্যবস্থার মধ্যে ‘ক্ষুদ্র’ স্থান পাওয়া বা নিজভূমে সংখ্যালঘুতে পরিণত হওয়াকে খুব সহজ-ভাবে নেওয়া সম্ভব না।  এমনটাই স্বাভাবিক। ভারত-রাষ্ট্রের মধ্যে নানা জাতীয়তার মধ্যে বহিরাগত জনস্রোতের ফলে নিজভূমে সংখ্যালঘু হয়ে পড়ার বাস্তব উদ্বেগ-কে ভারতের সংবিধান সাধারনতঃ কোন স্বীকৃতি দেয় না। কিন্তু তাই বলে উদ্বেগ-গুলি উবে যায় না, বিশেষতঃ যখন কাশ্মীর  থেকে কন্যাকুমারী অবধি বিস্তীর্ণ ভূখন্ডের বিভিন্ন এলাকায় মধ্যে অর্থনৈতিক অবস্থা, কাজের সুযোগ, জনসংখ্যা বৃদ্ধির হার ইত্যাদি বিশাল তারতম্য আছে। অন্গামী জাফু ফিজো, প্রবাদ-প্রতিম নাগা জননেতা, ১৯৫১তে বৃহৎ জনসংখ্যার রাষ্ট্র ভারতের মধ্যে নাগাদের নিজস্ব আবাদ-ভূমির সন্ত্রস্ত অবস্থার প্রসঙ্গে বলেছিলেন ,’আমরা খুব সহজেই ডুবে যেতে পারি, হারিয়ে যেতে পারি : আমাদের সংস্কৃতি, আমাদের সভ্যতা, আমাদের প্রতিষ্ঠান, আমাদের দেশ, এবং আমাদের সংগ্রামে আজ অবধি গড়ে তোলা যা যা আছে, সব ধ্বংস হয়ে যাবে এবং তাতে মানবসমাজের সামান্যতম উপকার-ও হবে না’। কেউ নিজেদের পারম্পরিক আবাদভূমিতে প্রান্তিক হয়ে উঠতে চায় না। আজ বৃহৎ জাতীয়তার সামনে  ক্ষুদ্র জাতীয়তার ক্রমশঃ বিলীন হয়ে যাবার সংকটময় সময়ে  হয়তো কোথাও ফিজোর ঘোষণায় নিহিত বহুত্ববাদী ধারণা, অর্থাৎ সকল জাতীয়তার ও জাতি-গোষ্টির নিজ এলাকায় নিজেদের মত বাঁচার অধিকার নিয়ে আরো গভীরভাবে চিন্তা করার দরকার আছে। বাংলায় বা তামিলনাডুতে কি যথাক্রমে বাঙ্গালীরা বা তামিলরা সংখ্যালঘু হয়ে যাবার কথা কল্পনাতেও আনতে পারে? তা কি কখুনো মঙ্গলময় হতে পারে? এমন যদি কখুনো ঘটে, তার প্রতিক্রিয়ায় কি ধরনের শক্তির উন্মেষ ঘটবে, আমাদের কোন ধারণা আছে ? কোন জাতি-কে এমন ভাবে কোণঠাসা করা অনুচিত। তাই মণিপুরে আই.এল.পি দাবি এক ন্যায্য দাবী।

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ভারত ও ঢাকার মাঝখানে – অনিকেত প্রান্তর

গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের শেখ হাসিনা সাথে ভারতীয় সংঘ-রাষ্ট্রের নরেন্দ্র মোদীর চুক্তির ফলে নিরসন হলো ছিটমহল অধ্যায়, যদিও এর মধ্যেই অন্য রাষ্ট্র  বেছে নেওয়ায়ে সংখ্যালঘু ঘর ইতিমধ্যেই ঘর জ্বলেছে এক রাষ্ট্রে । অদ্ভূত জিনিস এই ধর্ম, রাষ্ট্র ও নাগরিকত্বের টানাপড়েন-গুলি।  আর এসব  এলোমেলো করে দেওয়া সেই অদ্ভূত শব্দটি – ‘জন্মভূমি’। বাংলাদেশের অন্তর্গত ‘ভারতীয়’ ছিটমহলে ‘ভারতীয়’ নাগরিক শিশু পাশের গ্রামে (অর্থাৎ বাংলাদেশে) গিয়ে শিখেছে যে তার প্রধানমন্ত্রী হলো শেখ হাসিনা। সর্বার্থেই ছিট-মহল গুলি প্রান্তিক, এমনকি রাষ্ট্রও তাদের থেকে আনুগত্য দাবি করে না। ভারতের নাগরিক নিজেকে ভারতীয় মনে করে কিনা, তেরঙ্গা দেখে সটান হয় কিনা, গান্ধী দেখে শ্রদ্ধা দেখানোর ভাব করে কিনা, ক্রিকেটে পাকিস্থান-ঘেন্না করে কিনা, ছিটমহলবাসীদের ক্ষেত্রে ভারতের তাও এসে যেত না। আজকালকার রাষ্ট্র-ভিত্তিক বিশ্ব-চরাচর-কল্পনার দিনে  দিনে এর চেয়ে হতোছেদা আর কি করে করা যেতে পারে। যাই হোক, আশা করা যায় যে এখান থেকে দুই দেশের বাচ্চারা ঠিক ঠিক পতাকা দেখে ঠিক ঠিক সটান হতে শিখবে।

ভারতের প্রধানমন্ত্রী, যিনি ঘুণাক্ষরেও সোসিয়াল মিডিয়া-তে হিন্দি ছাড়া কোন দেশী ভাষায় তার প্রজাদের বার্তা পাঠান না, এ হেন পাক্কা ভারতীয় জাতীয়তাবাদী পূর্ব্ববাংলা সফরকালে সস্তা চমক দিয়ে সেখানকার বাঙ্গালীর মন জয় করার জন্য টুইট করলেন বাংলায়। একজন পশ্চিম-বঙ্গবাসী হিসেবে এটা  কতটা অপমানজনক যে ভারতের প্রধানমন্ত্রী বাঙ্গালী হিসেবে আমাদের সেটুকু স্বীকৃতিও দেয় না, যতটা কিনা পূর্ব্ব-বঙ্গবাসীদের দেয়। আকাশ খুব অন্ধকার।  আমরা একটু নিজেদের ভাঙ্গা সিঁড়দারাটার দিকে চেয়ে দেখি, একটু লজ্জা পাই, একটু ক্ষুব্ধ হই, একটু আত্মসম্মান সঞ্চয় করি । স্বীকৃতি দিক না দিক, দিল্লি বাংলা ও অন্যান্য রাজ্যের থেকে করের টাকা নিয়ে খয়রাতি করে আসবে বিদেশে একটি বিশেষ ভাষা-কে ‘ভারতের  মুখ’হিসেবে ফোকাস দেওয়ার জন্য। এবার-ও নরেন্দ্রভাই-এর ঢাকা সফরকালে ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের একটি বিভাগের শ্রীবৃদ্ধি ঘটেছে নতুন দিল্লির সরকার বাহাদুরের কল্যানে। বাঙালি, তামিল, অহমিয়া, তেলুগু, কন্নড়-ভাষী মানুষেরা এটা জেনে প্রীত হবেন যে তাদের ভাষা-সংস্কৃতির প্রতিনিধিত্ব করার দায়িত্ব-টা হিন্দী আপনাদের না জানিয়েই নিয়ে নিয়েছেন আর সাথে নিয়েছে আপনাদের করের টাকা।  বলাই-বাহূল্য, নতুন দিল্লীর খয়রাতি পাওয়া ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের বিভাগটির নাম হিন্দী। আর এই সব খয়রাতি করে অনেকে ভেবেছেন ওরা হেব্বি খুশি।  ওরা কিন্তু অনেকেই বেশ রেগে আছেন।

কলকাতার হো চি মিন সরনীর নাম অনেকেই শুনে থাকবেন।  কেউ কেউ হয়তো জানবেন যে এই রাস্তার আগের নাম ছিল হ্যারিংটন স্ট্রীট। কে এই হ্যারিংটন? ইনি ফিরিঙ্গি কোম্পানির আমলে নিজামত বা সদর আদালত-এর প্রধান বিচারক ছিলেন।  ১৮২৩ সালের  ২৮ জুন তিনি লিখিত মন্তব্য করেন যে সতীদাহ প্রথা যদি তখুনি নিষিদ্ধ করে দেওয়া হয়, তাহলেও এই নিষিদ্ধকরণের বিরুধ্যে তেমন কোন রাজনৈতিক আন্দোলন তিনি আশা করেন না। অর্থাৎ জনগণ সে অর্থে সতিদাহর পক্ষে ছিল না। সতী-দাহ প্রথা নিষিদ্ধ হয় এর ছয় বছর পরে, ১৮২৯ -এ। নানা বিরুদ্ধতা উপেক্ষা সত্তেও সতিদাহ নিষিদ্ধকরণের যে প্রকাশ্য নায়কদের কথা আমাদের চিরকাল জেনে এসেছি, কিন্তু নেপথ্য নায়ক যে জনগণ, তাদেরকে স্বীকার করে নেন হ্যারিংটন। ফলে নায়কদের উচ্চতা একটু কমে, তাদের সংগ্রাম একটু ফ্যাকাশে হয়। তবুও সেটাই বাস্তব।  হ্যারিংটন-এর নামের জায়গায় হো চি মিন  দিয়ে সেটা ভোলা যায় না।  তবে হো চি মিন নামকরণের ছিল আরেকটি উদ্দেশ্য, এবং সেটি কিন্তু গর্ব করার মতো। এই রাস্তাতেই মার্কিন কনসুলেট। ভিয়েতনাম-এ মহিলা-শিশু-বৃদ্ধ নির্বিশেষে মানুষকে হত্যা করার যে নৃশংস খেলায় মেতেছিল মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্র, এটা ছিল তার-ই বিরুধ্যে কলকাতার নিজের মত করে প্রতিবাদ। একটু লজ্জা দেওয়া, একটু বিড়ম্বনায় ফেলা। কলকাতার মার্কিন দূতাবাসকে আজ-ও হো চি মিন-এর নাম স্মরণ করতে হয়, না চাইলেও। নৃশংসতার প্রতিবাদ হিসেবে লজ্জা দেওয়ার মতো নাম পরিবর্তনের দাবি কিন্তু বেশ ছোয়াঁচে।  নিষ্পাপ শিশু ফেলানি-কে ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের বি-এস-এফ বাহিনী গুলি করে হত্যা করে দুই বাংলার সীমান্তে। গরীবের মেয়ে ফেলানির দেহ লটকে সীমান্তের কাঁটাতারে লটকে থাকে বেশ কিছু সময়। আর বিঁধে থাকে ‘অনুভূতিগুলো’। এই কাঁটা-তার-এ ঝুলে থাকা শিশুর ছবিটি ভারতের ‘স্বাধীন’ ও ‘মুক্ত’ সংবাদ-মাধ্যম খুব বেশি প্রচার না করলেও, সারা বিশ্ব জেনে গেছিল ফেলানিকে এবং তাকে খুন করা উর্ধি-ধারী বাহিনীকে, যাদের মাইনে  আমি আপনি দিই। বাঙ্গালীর দ্বিতীয় বৃহত্তম শহর ঢাকায় উঠেছিল প্রতিবাদের ঝড়, দাবি উঠেছিল সেখানকার ভারতীয় দুতাবাসের সামনের রাস্তার নাম বদলে  ফেলানির নামে করে দেবার জন্য। তারপর যা হবার, তাই হয়েছে।  গরিব মানুষের মেয়ের মৃত্যু নিয়ে প্রতিবাদ বেশিদিন টিকে থাকে না – ঘটনা হয়ে যায় সংখ্যা । ফেলানি ঝুলে ছিল যে কাঁটা-তারে, দুই বাংলার মধ্যে সে কাঁটা-তার বানিয়েছে দিল্লী। এতে ওপার থেকে অনুপ্রবেশ কমেছে কিনা, তার কোন খবর নেই , তবে এই কাঁটা-তার লাগানোর বরাত পেয়ে যে ঠিকাদার-রা কাজ করেছেন, তারা যাদের ঠিকাদার হবার নিয়োগ দিয়েছেন, তাদের যে পকেট ভালই ভরেছে, সেটা বলাই বাহুল্য। সেটাও আমার আপনার টাকা। তবে এটা যেহেতু ‘জাতীয় সুরক্ষা’র প্রশ্ন, বেশি হিসেব চাইবেন না। বেশি হিসেব চাইলে আপনাকে সিধা করার মত নানা কালা কানুন ভারতে মজুত আছে – অশোক-স্তম্ভের সিংহ-গুলি শুধু দাঁড়িয়ে থাকে না, কামড়ে রক্ত-ও বার করে।

ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের প্রধানমন্ত্রী নরেন্দ্র মোদী সম্প্রতি পূর্ব্ব বাংলা ঘুরে এসে বললেন যে ছিট-মহল বিনিময়ের ঘটনা হলো বার্লিনের প্রাচীরের পতনের মতই ‘ঐতিহাসিক’। এই ‘ঐতিহাসিক’ ধারণাটা আমি কখুনই ঠিক বুঝে উঠতে পারিনি। কোনটা ঐতিহাসিক, কোনটা নয়, কেই বা সেসব ঠিক করে দেয়।  তবে এটুকু জানি, যে দুই গরীব বাস্তুহারা টইটুম্বুর  বাংলার মধ্যে যে ‘অনিকেত প্রান্তর’, তার মাঝে কাঁটা-তার বসিয়ে আর যাই হোক, বার্লিনের প্রাচীর পতন হয় না। সীমান্ত-বাসী মানুষের ভাষা যারা বোঝে না, তাদের গায়ে উর্দি পরিয়ে, হাতে বন্দুক ধরিয়ে ধর্ষণ করানোকে, মন-মর্জি মতো মারামারি ও জিনিস-পত্র হাতানোকে, হতদরিদ্র মানুষ খুন করানোকে ‘সুরক্ষা’র নাম দেওয়া পাপ। এই পাপ কিন্তু আমাদের পয়সায় মাইনে পাওয়া-রা কিন্তু করে এপার বাংলার মানুষজনের সঙ্গেও।  এমন পাপ মা দূর্গা কখুনো মাফ করবেন কিনা জানিনা।

যখন এই দিল্লী-ঢাকা শীর্ষ দেওয়া-নেওয়া হচ্ছিল, পাশে থাকা থেকে সাথে থাকার সুললিত বাণী দেওয়া হচ্ছিল, ঠিক তখুনই হাসিনা সরকারের প্রবাস কল্যাণমন্ত্রী মোশারফ হোসেন ফরিদপুরে তার বহুদিনকার চেনা একটি প্রথিত্জসা সংখ্যালঘু পরিবারের বসতবাড়ি জোর করে হাতিয়ে নেবার সব রকম ব্যবস্থা সম্পন্ন করেছেন। একদিন হয়তো সেই নিপীড়িত পরিবারের একজন ‘এপারে’ চলে আসবে। পশ্চিম-বঙ্গের বাঙ্গালীদের সংস্কৃতিক নিজস্বতাকে যারা স্বীকৃতি দেয় না, তাদের কোলেই খুঁজতে হবে নতুন আশ্রয় ও পরিচয়। তারপর তার এই নতুন প্রভু তার নিজের রাজনীতির খেলার অংশ হিসেবে দেখাবেন ‘নাগরিকত্বের’ লোভ। তাই দেখে পূর্ব্ব বাংলার কেউ কেউ বলবেন যে এমন ঘোষণা হলো অনধিকার-চর্চা। ঘর-পালানো মানুষটা কি আজ-ও ‘ওপারের’?  পূর্ব্ব বাংলার ভিটে ছেড়ে পালিয়ে আসা বাঙ্গালী হিন্দু ঠিক কোন মুহুর্তে ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ হয়ে যায় এবং দেশ নিয়ে কিছু বলার অধিকার হারায়? পালানোর দিন ? বর্ডার পেরোলে ? ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ নাগরিকত্ব পেলে? দুই পুরুষ পরে? নাকি এসবের অনেক আগে, ‘ভুল’ ধর্মে জন্মমুহুর্তে? আমি জানি না।

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বোর্ড, শিক্ষা, আদর্শ – দিল্লী আমাদের ভবিষ্যত লুটছে

আমি যখন ডাক্তারী পড়তাম, একটা কথা বেশ চালু ছিল।এই যে পৃথিবীতে ডাক্তারদের বাজার কখুনোই কমবে না।  কারণ জনসংখ্যা বাড়তেই থাকবে, ফলে রোগীর সংখ্যাও বাড়তেই থাকবে। এই যুক্তিটি জন-সংখ্যার সাথে যুক্ত অনেক কিছুর ক্ষেত্রেই খাটে – যদি না ভয়ানক গোলমেলে কিছু ঘটে।  ঠিক তেমনই কিছু একটা ঘটছে আমাদের এই পশ্চিমবঙ্গের শিক্ষা-ক্ষেত্রে। এবং আমরা উদাসীন।  একটু খুলে বলি।

শত্রুর মুখে ছাই দিয়ে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের জনসংখ্যা দিন কে দিন বাড়ছে, স্কুল পড়ুয়ার সংখ্যা বাড়ছে আর এসবের মধ্যেই এই বছর মাধ্যমিক পরীক্ষার্থীর সংখ্যা কমে গেছে ! ভাবা যায়? তাও সামান্য, নয় – নয় নয় করে প্রায় ১৫ হাজার। একই সাথে অবশ্য এ বাংলায় প্রতি বছর বেড়ে চলেছে দিল্লীর নানা বোর্ডের পরীক্ষার্থী সংখ্যা। পর্ষদ কর্তারা বেহায়া হয়ে অদ্ভূত সব কারণ দিচ্ছেন। কলকাতা শহরে পশ্চিমবঙ্গ মধ্যশিক্ষা পর্ষদের পরিচালিত মাধ্যমিক পরীক্ষা দেওয়া ছাত্র-ছাত্রীর সংখ্যা এতই কমে গেছে যে নানা রকম অজুহাতের শাক দিয়ে পচে যাওয়া মাছ থেকে দুর্গন্ধ আটকানো যাচ্ছে না একেবারেই। এ কেমন করে হলো? এবং এমন চলতে থাকলে, ক্ষতি কি? ক্লাস টেন পাশ করাই তো মোদ্দা কথা – মাধ্যমিক হোক বা সিবিএসই /আইসিএসই। ব্যাপারটা এত সহজ নয়।

শিক্ষা নাগরিক গঠন করে। তাই একজন স্কুল-পড়ুয়াকে কি শেখানো হবে, সেটা গুরুত্তপূর্ণ। আমাদের বাংলাদেশের জাতি ও সমাজের ভবিষ্যত এই ‘কি শেখানো হবে’র আদর্শের উপ নির্ভরশীল। একেই বলে সিলেবাস। মাধ্যমিক ও দিল্লী থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাস এক নয়। পার্থক্য আছে।  এই পার্থক্য মানের তারতম্যের প্রশ্ন না , ভিন্নতার প্রশ্ন। ভারতীয় যুক্তরাষ্ট্রে এতগুলি রাজ্য বোর্ড, তাদের সিলেবাসের ভিন্নতা আছে কারণ এই এলাকার মধ্যে বিশাল বৈচিত্র ও ভিন্নতা রয়েছে। তাই সিলেবাসকে যদি হতে হয় বাস্তবমুখী ও ছাত্রের আপন পরিবেশের সাথে নিবিড় সম্পর্কযুক্ত, রাজ্য বোর্ড ছাড়া তার গতি নেই।  আর যদি ছাত্রটিকে তার পারিপার্শিকতা থেকে বিছিন্ন করে, তার বাঙালিত্বকে ছেঁটে দিল্লি-নির্দেশিত এক কল্পিত ভারতীয়ত্তর জোব্বা পড়ানোই হয় সিলেবাসের লক্ষ্য, তাহলে দিল্লির বোর্ড-গুলির জুড়ি মেলা ভার। যা শুরু হয়েছিল সৈন্য বাহিনী ও বদলির চাকরির লোকেদের সুবিদার্থে তথা মিশনারী কিছু প্রচেষ্টায়, সেই গোষ্ঠী-গুলির দ্বারা পরিচালিত বোর্ড-গুলি এখুন কেন্দ্রীয়-সরকারী নীতির মদতে এক-কালের শক্তিশালী ও খ্যাতিমান রাজ্য বোর্ড-গুলিকে পরিকল্পনা-মাফিক মুমূর্ষু করে তুলছে – শিক্ষার বানিজ্যিকরন তথা নাগরিকদের বৈচিত্র হরণের দ্বিমুখী উদ্দেশ্যে।  তার ফল ভয়ানক।

বাংলার বোর্ডে ইংরাজি, বাংলা বা হিন্দী মাধ্যমে পড়া ছাত্রটি জানতে পারে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ভূগোলের খুঁটিনাটি বা বাংলার ধানের খেতে কি কি বোকা লাগে। তার ইতিহাস শিক্ষা স্রেফ দিল্লির  প্রাচীন ও বর্তমান সম্রাটদের গুনগাথায় সীমিত থাকে না। ভবিষ্যতে, জলে আর্সেনিক দুষণের প্রভাব দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাসে না ঢুকলেও আমাদের ছেলে-মেয়েদের তা নিয়ে শিক্ষিত হওয়া ছাড়া গত্যন্তর নেই। আমাদের এই বাংলাদেশের বৈশিষ্টগুলিকে বিশেষ-ভাবে অন্তর্ভুক্ত করা ইচ্ছা বা দায়, কোনটাই দিল্লীর নেই। ওদের থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ড-এ  আপনার ছেলে-মেয়ে এই বাংলায় বসে ক্লাস-টেন পাশ করতে পারে এক বর্ণ বাংলা না শিখে। এই বঙ্গদেশের অধিকাংশ দিল্লী-বোর্ড-ওয়ালা ইস্কুলে প্রথম ভাষা হিসেবে বাংলা পড়ার কোন সুযোগ নেই। ভারতীয়ত্বের হাঁড়িকাঠে বাঙালিত্বের বলি দিয়ে যারা গুরগাঁও-বেঙ্গালুরুর দিকে শিশুকাল চেয়ে থাকবে চাতকের মতো, স্বপ্ন দেখবে হিন্দীর দেশের ইংরেজি মরুদ্যানে খেজুর গাছ হবার, আমরা কি সেই সন্তান গড়তে চাই? আত্মঘাতী হবার জন্য এর চেয়ে অনেক সহজ পথ আছে। 

এই বোর্ড-গুলি কার, এবং কাদের প্রাধান্য রক্ষা করতে গঠিত ও পরিচালিত, তা তামিল নাডু বা কর্ণাটকের অনেক শিক্ষাবিদের কাছেই পরিষ্কার।  শুধু এই অধম বাঙালি তার নিজের বোর্ড-এ পড়া ছেলেমেয়েদের ভবিষ্যত অন্ধকার করতে চায়, দিল্লির বোর্ড-গুলির সুবিধা করে দিয়ে।  কি ভাবে ? অনেক ভাবে।  একটা উদাহরণ এরকম।  অনেক  ছাত্র-ছাত্রীর স্বপ্ন পশ্চিমবঙ্গে ডাক্তারি বা ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং পড়ার।  তার জন্য দিতে হয় জয়েন্ট পরীক্ষা। তার সিলেবাস অধুনা বদলানো হয়েছে – যাতে কিনা পশ্চিমবঙ্গের বোর্ড ও দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাসের মধ্যে যে অংশটুকু কমন, প্রশ্ন আসবে শুধু সেখান থেকেই।  অথচ, কেন্দ্র যে আইআইটি বা  অল ইন্ডিয়া প্রি-মেডিকেল পরীক্ষা নেয় , সেখানে কিন্তু কোন কমনের বালাই নেই – একদম সোজাসুজি দিল্লির বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাসকে অনুসরণ করা হয়।  অথচ, যেটুকু সুযোগ আমরা আমাদের ছাত্রদের দিতে পারি, সেখানে আমরা তাদের লেঙ্গি মারছি ‘কমন’ ‘কমন’ খেলায়।  আর বাংলার মেডিকেল কলেজগুলি থেকে যে ডাক্তার বেরুবে, যে কলেজগুলি বাংলার মানুষের টাকায় গড়া, তা কার  স্বার্থে? নিশ্চই কতিপয় কলকাতাবাসী ‘এস্পিরেসনাল’ যুবক-যুবতীর কেরিয়ার গর্তে নয়।  বরং তা বাংলার মানুষের স্বাস্থ্যের স্বার্থে।  আজ-ও বাংলার কনে কনে যে ডাক্তার , তারা অধিকাংশ সেই পশ্চিমবঙ্গ বোর্ড-এই পড়া  .গুরগাঁও-বেঙ্গালুরু-লন্ডনের স্বপ্নে বিভোর আধুনিক শহুরে ভারতীয় দিয়ে এই বাংলার স্বাস্থ্য পরিসেবা চলবে না, তার জন্য চাই সেই বাংলা বোর্ডের ছেলেমেয়েগুলিকে  – যারা জেলাগুলিকে চেনে, বাংলার গ্রাম-মফস্স্বল চেনে, এলাকার ভাষা জানে।  কোথায় আমরা তাদের আরো আরো সামনে আনব – তা না করে আমরা  ‘আধুনিকীকরণের’ নাম বাংলার নিজের বোর্ড-কে ধ্বংস করছি। এ সকলেই জানেন যে পশ্চিমবাংলায় দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ডে পরা শিক্ষার্থীরা তুলনামূলকভাবে  বেশি  শহরকেন্দ্রিক, বেশি বিত্তশালী বর্ণহিন্দু প্রভাবিত। পাশ করলেই বাংলা ছেড়ে ফুরুত হবার স্বপ্নে বিভোর শ্রেনীর ত্যালা মাথায়ে তেল দিয়েই কি আমরা  সোনার বাংলা গড়ার চেষ্টা করছি ?  গুরগাঁও-এর কর্পোরেট হাসপাতালের ডাক্তার গড়ার কোন দায় পশ্চিম-বাংলার মানুষের নেই। বাংলা বোর্ডের সিলেবাস নির্ধারণকারী আধিকারিক যারা, জয়েন্ট এন্ট্রেন্স বর্ডার পদাধিকারী যারা, তাদের সন্তানেরা কোন বোর্ডে পড়েন, সেটা জানা দরকার। নইলে এসব ক্ষেত্রে  অন্য কি কি ধরনের স্বার্থ  কাজ করতে পারে, তা জানা যাবে না।  আমাদের বুঝতে হবে কাদের চক্রান্তে বাংলা বোর্ড ক্রমে পরিনত হচ্ছে দ্বিতীয় শ্রেনীর বোর্ডে, যেখানে বনের জলে ভেসে আসার ঠাই পাবেন।

বাঁকুড়া জেলা স্কুল, বর্ধমানের সিএমএস। সিউরী জেলা স্কুল – এই নামজাদা প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলিকে জোর করে হারিয়ে দিলে শেষ নিরিখে বাংলা হারবে। দিল্লির নামধারী ইস্কুলে দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি সিলেবাস পড়ে শহুরে বাঙালির  বাচ্চারা মানুষ হবে – বাংলার ভবিষ্যত আর যেখানেই হোক, এই উড়ে এসে জুড়ে ব্যবসা করা ইস্কুল্গুলির অলিন্দে খোঁজা অনুচিত। ব্যাপারটিকে যেন আমরা  মাতৃভাষায় শিক্ষার সাথে গুলিয়ে না ফেলি।  পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মধ্যশিক্ষা প্রসদের অনুমোদিত স্কুলগুলির সিলেবাস বাংলা ও ইংরেজি মাধ্যমে অভিন্ন।  আমি পড়েছিলাম সাউথ পয়েন্ট-এ , এক কালের নামজাদা ইস্কুল, পশ্চিমবঙ্গ বোর্ডের মুকুটের একসময়কার মণি।  এখান সময় পাল্টেছে – সেখানেও দিল্লি ও কেন্দ্র ঢুকেছে। শুনি ব্যবসা বেড়েছে। বেনিয়া কেন্দ্রীয়করণের এই প্রকল্পে, বাংলার মাজরা পোকা ও আলুর ধ্বসা রোগে নিয়ে শিক্ষার কোন জায়গা নেই।  তবুও কি আমরা আশা করতে পারি না, আমরা আমাদের বাংলার বোর্ড সেই ভাবে গড়ব , যাতে কিনা শহুরে বাঙ্গালী  ‘মিডিল-কেলাস’-এর গ্লোবাল ও ইন্ডিয়ান পোলাপানের সাথে মফস্স্বলের, গ্রামের, শহরের মধ্যে অন্যত্র শহরের সেইসব ছেলেমেয়েরাও সুযোগ পায় সাফল্যের – যাদের আজ দিল্লি ও তাদের বাঙালি দালালেরা জোর করে হারিয়ে দিচ্ছে।

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গোবিন্দ হালদারের নিষিদ্ধ ফিসফিস

সে যতই দেখনদারী হোক, সম্প্রতি মুখ্যমন্ত্রী মমতা ব্যানার্জীর ওপার বাংলায় যাত্রার ফলে কিছু সম্ভাবনার সৃষ্টি হয়েছে – যার মধ্যে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ হলো তৃতীয় পক্ষের মধ্যস্থতা ছাড়াই একটি জাতির দুই বিভক্ত অংশের একে অপরের দিকে নতুন করে তাকানো। এই বিভক্তির কারণের মধ্যে, তার ঠিক-ভুলের মধ্যে না গিয়েও একটা কথা বলা যায়। দেশভাগ ও তার পরেও ঘটতে থাকা খুন-ধর্ষণ-ধর্মান্তরকরণ-লুঠ-ঘরপোড়ানো-সম্পত্তিদখল ইত্যাদি ভয়ানকের অপরাধের শাস্তি হয়নি, এপারেও – ওপারেও। এই আদি পেপার বোঝা সুদে-আসলে এতই ভারী যে মানুষ সেই বোঝাকে ফেলে দিয়ে ভুলেই গেছে পাপের কথা। প্রায়শ্চিত্ত তো দূরস্থান।

১৯৪৭-এর বাংলা-ভাগের সাথে ব্রিটিশদের দ্বারা উপমহাদেশের শক্তিশালী গোষ্ঠীগুলির হাতে যে ক্ষমতা হস্তান্তর হয়েছিল, আজকের ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন, পাকিস্তান, গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশ এক অর্থে তার-ই ফসল। এই ভাগের সাথে সাথেই ‘আমরা’ কারা ,’বন্ধু’ কারা ’, ‘শত্রু’ কারা- এগুলির নানা মিথ রচনার বীজ পোঁতা হয়, যার থেকে বেরোনো মহীরুহ আজকের দিনে আমাদের মনকে, আমাদের কল্পনাকে একদম আষ্টেপৃষ্ঠে জড়িয়ে ফেলেছে। নতুন রাষ্ট্রের পেটের গভীর থেকে জন্মানো এই কল্পকাহিনীগুলি যে আজ পবিত্র সত্যের স্থান নিয়েছে, তা শুধু গল্পের ভাবের জোরে নয়। সরকারী প্রচার এবং সরকারী বাহিনী, ঘুষ ও শাসানি, আঁচড় ও আদর, পুরস্কার ও থার্ড ডিগ্রী, জন্মবার্ষিকী উদযাপন ও মিথ্যা মামলায় হাজতবাসের এক অসামান্য সংমিশ্রনেই আজকের পবিত্রতা, সংহতি, ‘বিকাশ’, রাষ্ট্রপ্রেমের জন্ম (দেশপ্রেমের নয়)। সাবালক এই সব বিষবৃক্ষের রসালো ফলের আমার দৈনিক কাস্টমার। দেশভাগ পরবর্তী সময়ে, আমাদের স্বকীয় আত্মপরিচিতকে পিটিয়ে পিটিয়ে রাষ্ট্রীয় ছাঁচে ঢোকানো হয়েছে দিল্লী, ইসলামাবাদ ও ঢাকার মাতব্বরদের স্বার্থে। মানুষের আত্মাকে কেটে সাইজ করা হয়েছে রাষ্ট্রীয় স্বার্থ ও রাষ্ট্রীয় সুরক্ষার জুজু দেখিয়ে। এই পাপ বঙ্গোপসাগরের থেকেও গভীর।

আমাদের কল্পনা ও স্মৃতির অগভীরতার কারণে আমরা মনে করি যে এক রাষ্ট্রের প্রতি আনুগত্য বোধয় দৈব নির্ধারিত কোন ‘প্রাকৃতিক’ নিয়ম যা না মানলে আমরা দুনম্বরী বিশ্বাসঘাতক মানুষ। যাদের আনুগত্য, টান ও ভালবাসা রাষ্ট্র-সীমান্ত পেরোলে ঝুপ করে উবে যায় না, তারা বুঝিবা মানসিক বিকারগ্রস্ত এবং রাষ্ট্রের চোখে নেমকহারাম। রোজ এই ধারণাগুলিকে বিনা বাক্যে মেনে দিয়ে আমরা আমাদের এই মর্ত্যলোকে স্বল্প সময়ের জীবনকে করে তুলি ঘৃণাময়, ভীতিময়, কুঁকড়ে থাকা। ১৯৭১-এ কিছু সময়ের জন্য পূর্ব বাংলার মুক্তিসংগ্রামের সময়ে এপার বাংলায় এরকম অনেক তথাকথিত বিকার চোরাগলি ছেড়ে রাজপথে মুখ দেখানোর সাহস ও সুযোগ পেয়েছিল। এ সত্যি যে ১৯৭১-এ ইন্ডিয়ান উনীয়নের নানা এলাকায় পূর্ব বাংলার স্বাধীনতা সংগ্রামের জন্য সমর্থন ও সাহায্য ছিল। কিন্তু পশ্চিম বাংলায় এই সাহায্যের আড়ালে যে আবেগের প্রকাশ ঘটেছিল, তা আজকের ডেটল-ধোয়া ভারত-বাংলাদেশ আন্তর্রাষ্ট্রিক সম্পর্কের পবিত্র গণ্ডির বাইরের এক প্রায়-নিষিদ্ধ জিনিস। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের সাথে পূর্ববঙ্গের যে একাত্তুরে ‘ঘনিষ্টতা’, তার সাথে কর্ণাটকের সাথে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ঘনিষ্টতা বা কর্ণাটকের সাথে পূর্ববঙ্গের ঘনিষ্টতার কোন মিল নেই। এই মিল-অমিলের অঙ্ক মেলাতেই তো ঘনঘন বেজে ওঠে জাতীয় সঙ্গীত, যাতে এরম চিন্তা গুলিয়ে যায় মিলিটারি ব্যান্ডের আওয়াজে। দিল্লি-ও একাত্তরে ভালই জানত এসব ‘নিষিদ্ধ’ প্রেমের কথা – কিন্তু এই প্রেম তখন তার রাষ্ট্রীয় স্বার্থের পক্ষে কাজ করেছিল বলে বাড়তে দিয়েছিল কিছুদিন অন্যদিকে তাকুয়ে, তারপর রাশ টেনে সমঝে দিয়েছিল সময়মত। এই আচরণেরও অন্য উদাহরণ আছে। যেমন তামিল নাদুর বিধানসভায় শ্রীলংকার ইলম তামিলদের সমর্থনে যেসব প্রস্তাব পাশ হয়, তা নিয়ে দিল্লীর নিস্তব্ধতা – যেন দেখেও দেখছে না। যেমন কাবুল ও পেশোওয়ারের মধ্যে যে ঠান্ডা-গরম পাখতুন বন্ধন ও তা নিয়ে আজকে ইসলামাবাদের চাপা ভীতি।

১৯৭১ অবশ্যই অতীত। সেই ‘নিষিদ্ধ’ প্রেম আমরা কবে বন্ধক দিয়েছি বেঙ্গালোর-দিল্লী-নয়ডা-গুরগাঁও স্বপ্নে বিভোর হয়ে। তাই তো আজ, আমরা, এই বাংলায়, দিল্লির থেকে ধার করা চশমায় পূব দিকে তাকাই আর দেখি – গরুপাচারকারীর মুখ, অবৈধ অনুপ্রবেশকারীর মিছিল, হিন্দু বাঙালির শেষ আশ্রয়স্থল হোমল্যান্ডটিকেও জনসংখ্যার বিন্যাসে কেড়ে নেওয়ার দীর্ঘমেয়াদী ষড়যন্ত্র। এই সবই কিছু ঠিক, কিছু ভুল, কিন্তু সেসব ঠিক-ভুলের পরেও মধ্যে লুটোয় দিগন্তজোড়া বাংলাদেশের মাঠ, যে মাঠ শুধু গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের মাঠ নয়, বরং নিখিল বাংলাদেশের মাঠ। সে উত্তরাধিকার আজ প্রায় তামাদি।

বিগতকালের এই যে সম্পর্ক, যার শেষ প্রতিভুদের একজন এই গোবিন্দ হালদার। একরাষ্ট্রের আনুগত্যে বাঁধা আমরা, তাই এ প্রেমের কথা কেউ প্রকাশ্যে স্বীকার পায় না। এ সম্পর্ক – তা ঠিক পরকীয়া নয়, বরং এমন এক প্রেম যার শুরুর পরে প্রেমিক হয়েছে বিভাজিত। আর প্রেমিকার প্রেম থেকে গেছে একইরকম। কিন্ত অন্যের চোখে সে দুই প্রেমিকের প্রেমিকা, এবং কলঙ্কিনী। এমনই এক প্রেমিকা ছিলেন গোবিন্দ হালদার। গত ১৭ জানুয়ারী, ৮৪ বছর বয়সে মারা গেলেন অতি সাধারণ এক হাসপাতালে। অবিভক্ত যশোর জেলার বনগাঁ এলাকায় জন্ম।বনগাঁ ‘পড়ে’ ‘ইন্ডিয়ায়’।আকাশবাণীর জন্য গান লিখেছেন। একাত্তরে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ভূমিকা নিয়েছিল আকাশবাণী কলকাতা। পরে যুদ্ধকালীন স্বাধীন বাংলাদেশ সরকার প্রতিষ্ঠিত হলে তার স্বাধীন বাংলা বেতার কেন্দ্রের জন্য প্রচুর গান লেখেন যা মুক্তিযুদ্ধের সময়ে মুক্তিযোদ্ধাদের ও পূর্ব বাংলার জনগণের মুখের গান, প্রাণের গান হয়ে ওঠে। মোরা একটি ফুল বাঁচাবো বলে যুদ্ধ করি, পূর্ব দিগন্তে সূর্য্য উঠেছে রক্ত লাল, পদ্মা মেঘনা যমুনা তোমার আমার ঠিকানা – এগুলি তার প্রবাদপ্রতিম রচনা। শ্রোতার ভোটে তৈরী বিবিসি রেডিওর সর্বকালের সেরা ১০টি বাংলা গানের তালিকায় তার দুটি গান উপস্থিত। এই লোকটি মারা গেল, কোন বঙ্গশ্রী, পদ্মশ্রী ছাড়াই। আসলে সে ঠিক গান লিখেছিল ‘ভুল’ রাষ্ট্রের জন্য। তাই এপারে তার কল্কে নেই। আমাদের মধ্যেই ছিলেন এতদিন। জানতে চেষ্টাও করিনি, কারণ রাষ্ট্রর ক্ষমতা যত বেড়েছে, তা আমাদের মানুষ হিসেবে ছোট করে দিয়েছে। স্বাধীন বাংলা বেতার কেন্দ্র-ও একাত্তরে গোবিন্দ হালদারের নাম ফলাও করত না – সে ‘ভুল’ রাষ্ট্রের যে। পরে ঋণ শোধের চেষ্টা হয়েছে। গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের প্রধানমন্ত্রী শেখ হাসিনা তার চিকিত্সার খরচ পাঠিয়েছেন, সরকার পুরস্কৃত করেছেন, রাষ্ট্রপতি আব্দুল হামিদ কলকাতায় মৃত্যুপথযাত্রী গোবিন্দ হালদারকে দেখে গেছেন। আমার কাছে একটা ছবি আছে – বৃদ্ধ গোবিন্দ হালদার বাংলাদেশের পতাকা নিজের বুকের কাছে ধরে আছেন। পার্টিশন এলাকার যারা নন, একদেশ-একজাতি-একরাষ্ট্র রাষ্ট্রের গর্বে বলিয়ান যারা, হয়ত ভাগ্যশালী তারা,কিন্তু তাদের কি করে বোঝাব এসব ? হয়ত তারা বুঝবে পরজনমে, রাধা হয়ে। তখুন হয়তো তারা অনুভব করবে গোবিন্দ হালদারদের দেশের ঠিকানা।

কেউ কেউ কিন্তু তলে তলে বোঝে। ঢাকার অভিজিত রায় – খ্যাতিমান মুক্তমনা ব্লগার। ২৬ তারিখে , একুশে বইমেলা থেকে ফেরত আসার সময়ে তাকে রামদা দিয়ে হত্যা করা হলো। তার স্ত্রী রাফিদা আহমেদ বন্যা। দায় নিয়েছে ইসলামী সংগঠন আনসার বাংলা-৭। প্রতিবাদে এ বাংলার কিছু মানুষ ২৭এই কিন্তু জমায়েত করলেন যাদবপুরে। নিষিদ্ধ প্রেম পরিণত হয় নিষিদ্ধ কান্নায়, কাঁটাতার ভেদী শপথে, চোরাগোপ্তা। সব রং তেরঙ্গায় নেই।

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10 interesting facts about the 2014 Indian elections

[ The Friday Times (Lahore), 23 May 2014 ; Kashmir Monitor, 26 May 2014 ]

The results of the 2014 elections of the Indian Union parliament are out. In the subcontinent, this has been one of the most watched elections ever. The neighbouring nation-states of the Indian Union, particularly Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka watched these elections closely – given that these nation-states and their names come up in various degrees and forms in the Indian Union’s domestic political scene. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its charismatic, divisive leader Narendrabhai Modi, are the two big winners of the election – one will be the party in power and the other will be the prime minister of the Indian Union. The ‘Modi wave’ is the phrase that has been used to characterize the nature of the results. Here are 10 pointers about the 2014 verdict, within and beyond the ‘wave’.

  1. This is the first time since partition, or for that matter, first time since the 1937 elections, that any party other than the Congress won an absolutely majority of the total number of seats. In the 543 seat lower house of the Indian Union parliament, the number 272 represents an absolute majority. The BJP has won 282 seats. It has won 31% of the all the votes polled, representing a staggering 12.2 % increase in vote share. Though it is the largest non-Congress party ever, in terms of seat number, in terms of vote share, it was bettered by the Janata Party in 1977, which inflicted a crushing defeat on Indira Gandhi’s Congress, post-emergency.
  2. The BJP has benefitted from much its vote being heavily concentrated in the Hindi-belt of the Indian Union. This has resulted in a high number of seats, compared to the vote share. Indeed, for a party winning a majority of seats, this is the lowest vote share since partition. In terms of vote share increases, the BJP has got about 50% more than its last time. While this is impressive, even more impressive are the results of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the ruling party of Tamil Nadu and the Telengana Rashtra Samithi, the soon-to-be ruling party of Telengana, a new state that was carved out of Andhra Pradesh and its contours similar to the Nizam of Hyderabad’s territories in 1948. Both of these parties doubled their vote shares, a 100% increase over the previous parliamentary election.
  3. This was also the costliest parliamentary election ever, anywhere. That also includes the 2012 US presidential elections, which cost about 2.6 billion US Dollars. By cost, I mean the campaign cost and not the cost of actually organizing the elections. The 2014 Indian Union parliamentary elections saw the candidates and their backers spent 5.2 billion US Dollars. This is a ‘conservative’ estimate arrived at by the respected weekly Outlook. The official spending limit per constituency (as per the Election Commission of India) is 70 lakh Indian Rupees. The joke is not lost on us. Sadly, the joke is at the people’s expense, whose resources have to cough up many times the 5.2 billion dollars to line pockets of entities that invested this astronomical amount in these elections. An important loophole that allows parties to have such huge amounts of unaccounted donations is the rule that parties do not need to divulge the name of donors who pay under 20000 Indian Rupees. Most parties, as a rule, present audit reports, where a huge majority of the fund comes from a large number of small donations from unnamed persons. The Aam Aadmi Party demanded that this rule be changed, so that electoral spending and political funding becomes transparent. BJP and Congress, both opposed it vociferously. The new government is very unlikely to change that. BJP or Congress, certain things remain the same. This is one of them.
  4. Given that the electoral exercise aims to ensure people’s representation, to what extent are the elected legislators ‘representative’ of the general population is an important question. In a year, an inhabitant of the Indian Union earns roughly 70000 Indian Rupees on average (this is the nominal per capita year income). This utterly poor nation-state will be represented by 442 crorepatis among its 543 members of parliament. The total assets of these 442 newly-minted members of parliament is to the tune of 7850 crore Indian Rupees (source: Association for Democratic Reforms). This is the figure arrived from ‘declared’ assets. Modi wave, Congress wave – all waves of recent years has had mostly crorepatis riding the waves. This is the richest parliament ever, in a literal economic sense. As a result, this might well be the poorest parliament ever, in every other sense.
  5. 34% of the members of the 16th Lok Sabha (Indian Union parliament lower house) have declared criminal cases. That is 186 have declared that they have criminal cases against them. Of this186, 112 have cases of very serious nature, like murder, attempt to murder, crimes against women, dacoity, etc. (source: Association for Democratic Reforms). If one were to interview each these 186 proud sons and daughters of Mother India, they would reply that the cases against them are politically motivated, that is, they are false cases. Curiously, most of these cases remain in suspended animation indefinitely. False or not, they do not seem to be too interested in getting their name cleared. The good news is that many members of parliament do not have murder charges against them.
  6. You can actually start walking from Kolkata in West Bengal and reach Chennai in Tamil Nadu and not pass through any constituency won by the BJP. West Bengal, Orissa, Telengana and Tamil Nadu have voted overwhelmingly for political parties that represent provincial interests. The ‘national’ parties are marginal players in these large states. You can walk from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir and reach the eastern end of Bihar or the southern tip of Gujarat and not have to pass through a single non-BJP constituency. If you start from any Congress-won constituency, you don’t get very far unless you step into a non-Congress constituency. This election has seriously punctured the Congress claim of having a ‘nation-wide’ presence. In the Hindi-belt of the Indian Union, the Congress managed to win 7 out of 251 seats. The BJP swept this area, underscoring its reputation as a party of Hindi and Hindustan. The Kishanganj-Goa line that I had referred to in my article in The Friday Times last week has been breached in Karntaka and Assam. Otherwise, the line still is a broad demarcation of the BJP’s core sphere of influence.3 out of 4 seats won by the BJP came from the Hindi belt or Gujarat.
  7. Among major parties, the Trinamool Congress of West Bengal has the largest proportion of female candiadates among their seats won – more than 30%. Uma Soren of the Trinamool Congress is also the poorest winning candidate in this parliament. She has less than 5 lakh Indian Rupees in total assets. 12 out of 60 female members of the just elected parliament, that is 20%, are from West Bengal. This is more than double of proportion of West Bengal population in the Indian Union. Also, this parliament will have more women members of parliament than the last one.
  8. This is the first time in the Indian Union parliament’s lower house that the largest party (BJP) will not have a single Muslim member of parliament. The BJP led pre-poll alliance called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won more than half the seats where the proportion of Muslims among the voters in more than 20%. Unless one assumes that a significant proportion of Muslims in Muslim-heavy constituencies voted for the BJP-led alliance, what comes to light is a partial consolidation of non-Muslim votes. Many of these constituencies are in Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where three, four and even five cornered contests helped the BJP win handsomely.
  9. The combined vote share of the two ‘national’ parties, the BJP and the Congress, is 50.3%. The rest of the votes come from parties that did not win seats in more than 2 states, making them ‘regional’ entities for all practical purposes. The combined vote-share of the 2 big national parties have not significantly changed over 20 years or so, this indicating that the BJP’s gain this time came largely from the Congress’ collapse.
  10. Bahujan Samaj Party, the third largest party of the Indian Union in terms of number of votes, did not win a single seat.

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The 2014 India election review / A question of power

[ The Friday Times (Lahore), 16 May 2014]

When the grand parliamentary elections happen in the Indian Union, certain changes are always visible in the commentary around it. The more systemic critiques are replaced by adulation-with-minor-faults type of views. We hear less of the diseased orchard and more about bad apples. There is a reason. Elections of these kinds are periodic revalidation of the state’s legitimacy itself, much like a car’s license renewal before the expiry date. Any aspersion on the basis of continuity creates deep anxieties. The Indian Union is no exception. What is exceptional is the number of people from which it claims to get its legitimacy from, thus earning the much used, tired epithet of being the ‘world’s largest democracy’. This makes the present elections and all elections to the lower house of the Indian Union parliament the ‘world’s largest democratic exercise’. The reality makes that claim patchy at places – heavens on earth do not need legitimate worldly elections for peace and development. This does not take away the fact that a large majority of the adult citizens living in territories administered by the Indian Union government voted in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

A lot is at stake this time around – depending on the nature of the stake. What started as an exercise in cosmetic beautification of Gujarat’s tarnished reputation by government hired PR agencies after the riots of 2002 slowly grew into a united corporate cheer about Gujarat chief minister Narendrabhai Modi’s governance style. The Ambanis, the Mittals and other such paragons of 101% honest and clean business practices sang frequent paeans to Narendrabhai and the Gujarat that he had made at the biennial investors summit called Vibrant Gujarat. A few years ago, this became the site from where India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, publicly declared Narendrabhai Modi to be the best person to become India’s next prime minister. When such endorsers talk, the endorsed better walk. An ambitious one will run. The rest, as they say, is history. The Bharatiya Janata Party anointed Narendrabhai Modi as its prime ministerial poster-boy. This cut short the octogenarian ambitions of a Sindhi old man who in many ways had politically mentored Narendrabhai. Advani sulked and then relented. What followed was an unprecedented spending spree to create a larger-than-life helmsman image for Narendrabhai. The Indira Congress also spent many crores of Rupees to present its latest Gandhi as the young and youthful future of face of India. As if on cue, Delhi media has sought to make this battle for the parliament of the Indian Union look like a two-horse presidential election. The truth is, between them, the two national parties have won less than 50 per cent votes in three of the last five Lok Sabha elections. This time will only be marginally different. So-called ‘regional parties’, which are mostly presented as spoilsport in the ‘national’ scene, will again be crucial to any government formation at Delhi. What is the scope of these ‘regional’ parties in the global perspective? The West Bengal-centric Trinamool Congress (TMC) got more votes in 2009 Lok Sabha than the victorious Tories got in the UK parliamentary elections of 2010. The Tamil Nadu-centric Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) got more votes than the ruling Conservative party of Canada got in their 2011 federal election. Consider this: Post-Partition, no national party has won an absolute majority of votes, ever. The Indian Union remains and will remain a politically diverse landscape, irrespective of the terrific howls from policywallahs, mediawallahs, academics, defence contractors, security apparatchiks, lobbyists, pimps and other glittering-shady characters of all hues invested hard in the Delhi circuit. This diversity is the greatest hindrance in the smooth entry of global capital as well as cultural homogenization of the Indian Union. Such a rocky and uneven political landscape needs a wave. This time around, even sectors of the deep state has deserted the Indira Congress and put its bet on the ‘Modi wave’.

If you draw an imaginary line from Kishanganj in Bihar to Goa, you can roughly divide the territories of the Indian Union into two parts. The part to the left of this line contains much of Hindi-ized India or greater Hindia. This is where the pull of Hindutva politics is at its strongest. This is also where the politics of social justice powered by parties that organized themselves around lower castes have long kept the BJP in check after the terminal decline of the Indira Congress in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There is a feeling that some of these levees make break in the face of the ‘Modi wave’, which might acquire great strength in the fertile communally divided ground created by the 2013 Muzzafarnagar riots in western Uttar Pradesh . This would mean that stalwart leaders of lower castes like the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, Mayavati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nitish Kumar led Janata Dal (United) will mostly hold on to their core support groups and lose significant portions of their peripheral support to the BJP. That might well be true if the exit polls by CNN-IBN, suggesting an unprecedented sweep of Uttar Predesh and Bihar by the BJP turn out to be correct. This TV channel like many others has seen huge investments from Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited. CMS, an independent media research organization, has reported that in this personality-driven campaign, Narendrabhai Modi got 33.21% of primetime news telecast. Rahul Gandhi got 4.33%. Since the BJP will not get 8 times the number of seats or votes than Indira Congress, the disproportionate coverage that has been given to corporate India’s chosen successor is quite clear. The top 10 list of persona who were given most primetime media coverage did not contain a single person from the southern part of the Indian Union. It is not accidental that the south is not the BJP’s strongest territory. The urban Hindi-heartland bias of Delhi-centric media is rather shameful. More worrisome are its implications.

The urban Hindustan has thrown up the newest and probably the promising kid on the block of these elections, the Aam Aadmi Party.(AAP) Formed about one and a half years ago, upset all known political equations by decimating the Indira Congress and stopping the BJP in its tracks in the Delhi provincial elections. This time around, its charismatic leader Arvind Kejriwal has successfully projected himself as the most vocal critique of Narendrabhai Modi. He has challenged Narendrabhai in Benares, a seat that the BJP held in the last parliament and where AAP had no prior organization whatsoever. Thus every vote that Arvind Kejriwal gets is a vote won or transferred from others. The difference between the votes Narendrabhai will get above and beyond what the BJP’S ageing brahmin top dog Murli Manohar Joshi got in Benares can be attributed to the ‘Modi wave’. That is the relevant comparison. We shall see who will win but the AAP through its shrewd manoevering and its no nonsense stance on corruption has captured the imagination of a significant section of the urban youth. It really is trying to capture the historical political space of the Indira Congress and wants to position itself as the ‘national’ opposition and alternative to the BJP next time around. That is a tall order, especially given that the AAP’s stated list of enemies includes not only the BJP but also the Indira Congress, the Gandhis, the Ambanis and the newest Gujarati ‘110% honest’ millionaires, the Adanis.

On the morning of May 12th, I stood at the voting line in the Chetla area of Kolkata, the capital of Bengal. As a Bengali, my interests are most focused here. In almost all seats of Bengal, BJP is not among the top 2 forces in contention. This is broadly true for most of the regions east of my earlier stated Kishanganj-Goa line. Here the non-Congress non-BJP forces more or less hold on to their spheres of influence thought there is a huge increase in the visibility of the Modi campaign. This will surely reflect as a general bump in the percentage of BJP votes, but on the whole, in the south and the east of the Indian Union, what we have may at best be called a ‘Modi trickle’. In many places, event that hint of saffron ghairat is absent. This is not odd for a multinational super-state like the Indian Union but these elections will probably underline that fact quite clearly.

These elections kept Muslims in particular focus all through the campaign. This started at first as a part of the old Indira Congress and Samajwadi Party tactics of buying Muslim votes by fear-mongering. Among many Muslims, there is deep distrust and suspicion of a Modi government, if not outright fear. But if fear alone is able to herd a people together to the arms of the cynical fear-mongerer doubling up as protector, it is unfortunate for the community and its politics. AAP aimed to change this narrative at many places. When asked my Muslim community leaders about what could AAP do for Muslims, Arvind Kejriwal famously replied that he could not do anything special but will ensure that people from every faith are treated equally under all circumstances. This is in line with what G Shah commented on Kejriwal’s letter to Muslim – ‘As a muslim voice, dare I say that we do not want any special benefits, aka appeasement. Even if the regular / common state welfare mechanisms are made available to everyone (including us) that would be more than enough for everyone (including us).’ The loss of Muslim support might be a significant blow to the Indira Congress, which prides itself as being the sole ‘national’ embodiment of the Indian Union’s secular ethos.

During his campaign, Narendrabhai Modi assailed Mulayam Singh Yadav saying “do you know the meaning of coverting to Gujarat? It means 24-hour electricity in every village and street. You can’t do it. It requires 56-inch chest.” People of the Indian Union will soon come to know the advantages or disadvantages of pectoral girth in poverty alleviation, human rights, civil liberties and a list of other issues that almost always has required a big heart, not a big chest.

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The illegal Bangladeshi – a view from West Bengal

[ Express Tribune (Karachi), 16 May 2014 ; Observer Bangladesh, 17 May 2014 ; Millenium Post, 15 May 2014; Kashmir Observer, 17 May 2014]

The massive victory of Narendrabhai Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recently concluded parliamentary elections of the Indian Union has brought much cheer to Islamo-nationalist political forces in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The cynical calculation behind the jubilation is that the new government will squeeze illegal Bangladeshi migrants who are in the Indian Union. The Awami League government will look like a lame duck in front of an aggressive New Delhi. This would strengthen the Bangladeshi opposition’s case of Awami League being an Indian (read Hindu) stooge. This will politically benefit the opposition. However, it is not to be forgotten that during the last Islamo-nationalist Bangaldesh Nationalist Party government at Dhaka, which partially coincided with the tenure of the BJP-led government at New Delhi, many ‘deals’ happened. There were ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ then too. What are the plans of the new New Delhi government will unfold soon.

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh shares with the Indian Union a border whose drawing, policing and barb-wiring takes into account the concerns of everyone except those who live at the border. This is probably true for nation-state borders in general. The Border Security Force (BSF) of the Indian Union has a distinctly bad reputation for being trigger-happy when it comes to shooting down what it claims as people illegally crossing the border. This makes the BSF a much-hated name in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, a sentiment that is used to the hilt by Islamo-nationalist political forces in their campaigns. The BSF also routinely harasses, rapes, maims and assaults people in the villages of the West Bengal side of the border. This complicates the easy narrative of BSF’s anti-Bangladesh bias. Like all stat-raised band of armed people, these are self-serving forces. The border is a plum posting for the amount of money paid to border security personnel on either side – an ‘illegal’ taxing of ‘illegal’ activities. BSF, with its assaults on both East Bengalis and West Bengalis, seems to be an equal opportunity brutalizer. This is the force entrusted by the Indian Union to keep ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ to enter the territories of the Indian Union.

During elections in the subcontinent, neighbouring nation-states and their inhabitants come alive as proxies for domestic issues and fissures. ‘India’ is one of the fundamental axes around which politics in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal expresses itself. The Indian Union has ‘closet Pakistanis’ and ‘illegal Bangladeshis’.

Narendra Modi, speaking at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally at Srirampur in West Bengal on 27th April, made public his resolve to deport Bangladeshis from India. It is an old BJP charge that most political forces in West Bengal have tried to get Muslim votes by nurturing illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, by getting them government documents to regularize their illegal status. The unsubstantiated underside of this charge is that the West Bengali Muslims look favourably at this development and do not mind this increase in the number of their co-religionists. At the alarmist end of this claim is that West Bengal is staring at an inevitable demographic reversal where Bengali Hindus will soon lose their majority, thus losing their only safe haven (though victims of the 1971 Marichjhapi massacre would say otherwise). That modern yearning for a united Hindu vote (just like monolithic Hinduism) remains unfulfilled. The BJP’s thought that in West Bengal’s multi-cornered fight, a renewed push at the consolidation of some Hindu votes might reap some dividends has turned out to be true as it increased its vote percentage all across West Bengal and has emerged as the second largest party in the Kolkata metropolis – an unprecedented development.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief beneficiary of Muslim Bengali votes, had reacted sharply to Modi’s statement. She characterized it as a ploy to divide Bengalis along religious lines. Banerjee is aware that between a third and a fourth of West Bengal’s electorate are Muslims and were crucial to her dream post-May 16th scenario of calling shots at Delhi. With the BJP’s absolute majority at the centre, such dreams came to a nought. Nonetheless, she had reminded the people that the ‘butcher of Gujarat’ does not have a clean record of ensuring peaceful co-existence between religious communities. Modi’s ‘Bangladeshi’ is a codeword that Banerjee can decode.

Though pre-partition Bengal was very often called Bangladesh, and a dwindling number of West Bengalis continue to say Bangladesh when they mean West Bengal, the term ‘Bangladeshi’ is a relatively recent term. The term owes its present currency to Bangladesh’s dictator Zia-ur-Rahman who used this term effectively in his soft-Islamization programme to counter the politico-cultural capital of Bengali identity, deemed to be a political tool of the Awami League and otherwise polluted by Hindu Bengali influences.

The ‘Bangladeshi’ that Modi wants deport back to East Bengal is a Muslim migrant from East Bengal. He did not cross over or bribe the Border Security Force in order to wage a demographic war against West Bengal’s Hindu majority. He did that because he is pitifully poor in a low-wage country and would have gone to Dubai or Malaysia if he could. East Bengali Hindus have additional reasons to cross over, given the rampant systemic discrimination they face in their homeland, in addition to the general atmosphere of insecurity for religious minorities in that country.

When some professional secularists claim that few, if any, illegal Bangladeshi migrants are present in the Indian Union, they are consciously lying and this does immense damage to their otherwise good causes. It is undeniable that a very large people from East Bengal (whose present political form broadly is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh) have been migrating to the Indian Union, since 1947. While this traffic has seen ups and downs, there are specific high-points. The early migrations are etched in public memory due to their immediate ties to the partition. The widespread rioting in East Bengal in 1950 led to a large second wave. There have been many waves after that. The anti-Hindu riots of 1964 and the 1965 Indo-Pak war saw a huge number of people move out. The events of 1971 took this to another scale altogether, where a genocide, directed towards East Bengalis in general and East Bengali Hindus in particular, produced 10 million refugees of which nearly 1.5 million (mostly East Bengali Hindus and East Pakistani Bihari Muslims) never went back. 1971 marks the peculiar end of the ‘legitimate’ refugee. This partly stems from the false idea that religious minorities are ‘safe’ in ‘secular’ Bangladesh. By 1974, those who had fled during the Bangladesh Liberation war events of 1971, the percentage of Hindus in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh stood at 12.1 %. The 2011 figure was 8.5 %, a staggering 33% decrease in proportional terms. The downward trend continued through every decade since 1971. The Babri demolition of 1992, the 2001 and 2014 anti-Hindu violence were big-spurt in this continuous trickle. Even on 27th April, the day Narendrabhai Modi gave several Hindu temples and homes were ransacked in the Comilla district of Bangladesh.

It can be safely assumed that most of those who fled their homeland ended up in the Indian Union. The long partition continues. 1971 does not represent a change. That partition and refugee narratives tend to centre around 1947 and are mostly from the higher castes, the low-caste heavy later traffic does garner the same prominence in ‘public imagination’ of West Bengal, still dominated by the higher-castes. Namasudras and other lower caste communities of East Bengal have formed the bulk of the post-1971 migration, many settling in 24 Parganas district. The Muslim migration follows similar routes. The shifting demographic reality of 24 Parganas and the consequent insecurity that it evokes among people who recently fled East Bengal to find security in a different demographic reality across the border has resulted in a series of riots in that area. Fringe groups like Hindu Samhati have fished in these troubled waters with some success. Public muscle flexing of certain Muslim groups in that area has not helped matters. Copybook trigger issues like music in religious procession passing through specific routes, encroaching on religious site and trans-community eloping/kidnapping are all present. While political parties are doing their arithmetic carefully, conflagrations in the subcontinent have the power of burning calculation sheets to ashes, with the spoils going to the most cynical players.

In this high-stakes game among the powerful, the unresolved issues of the powerless fester on. Fleeing persecution, insecurity and death, the post-1971 lower caste refugees from East Bengal remain ‘illegal’. For all practical purposes, the Indian Union denies citizenship to those who crossed over from East Bengal after 25th March 1971, the day when major atrocities by the Pakistan army started in Dhaka. The 2003 Citizenship (Amendment) Act took away the possibility of birthright citizenship from the children of many of those who fled persecution in East Bengal. This has created millions of state-less young people who are children of refugees (infiltrators in government-speak) who have lived all their life in the Indian Union. Due to the amendment, many Dalit migrants were been identified as ‘infiltrators’ and deportation proceedings were started. The Matuas, one of the largest low caste groups of primarily East Bengali origin namasudras settled in West Bengal, have been protesting this act, passed incidentally by a BJP-led government. While all political parties want the ‘legal’ Matua vote, they are silent on the citizenship question. The root problem is that they want to duck the issue of distinguishing between the varying motives of those who crossed over. To the Hindutva brigade, this question is a ‘secular’ way of effectively distinguishing between Muslim and Hindu illegal migrants. No one wants to be seen as the one who wants blanket amnesty to Bangladeshi Muslim migrants. Neither does one want to appear insensitive to the plight of human rights refugees. Silent solidarity will be enough for votes. Modi has astutely recognized an opportunity and has set the cat among pigeons by calling for for evaluation of illegal migrants, case by case. He has also gone on to state that all Hindus have a right to seek refuge in the Indian Union. He is silent on why his party’s government passed legislation that took away the possibility of citizenship from the children of lakhs of low caste Hindus of East Bengal.

Ultimately, the persecuted Hindus of East Bengal (refugees and resident) are mere pawns. When Delhi-based Subramaniam Swamy (who has not been included in the cabinet till now by Narendra Modi) outrageously claimed a third of the territory of the Bangladesh to settle illegal Bangladeshis, he does not care about the ramifications of such statements on the situation of Hindu Bengalis presently living in Dhaka and Chittagong, where they are branded Indian fifth-columnists by dint of faith. The 1992 actions of Ramlala’s lovers took its toll on many Hindus in Dhaka and elsewhere. The Hindustani Hindutva brigade couldn’t care less about this type of ‘collateral damage’.

East Bengali Hindu migrants are unfortunate. The prime beneficiaries of partition crafted the Nehru-Liaquat pact of 1950. Many did not move due to the false sense of assurance (including the assurance of the door being permanently open) that came with this largely ceremonial gesture. By this, the Indian Union effectively washed off its hands from the ‘minority problem’ in Pakistan. It did not want the refugees whose refugee status resulted directly from the political agreement and power-hungry moves that created the Indian Union in the way it did. ‘Shutting the door’ has been the Indian Union policy post-1971 (similar to what Pakistan did to stranded Pakistanis in Dhaka), something it cannot implement – one of the natural consequences of claiming full monitoring abilities over an absurd frontier. For decades, the Indian Union has systematically discriminated Eastern frontier refugees (mostly Bengalis) on questions of compensation, entitlement, relief, citizenship, etc. The Indian Union owes reparation to these people, for the Indian Union’s creation and its geographical contours are intimately tied to their migration and impoverishment.

The ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ and associated codeword play is a problem created by a partition that failed as a solution. If division has failed, some measure of integration is necessary. This can take various forms including the possibility of dual or tiered citizenship for all Bangladeshi migrants. Of course, the government at Dhaka has to be a party to it, since migration to the Indian Union has been crucial in the alienation of a huge amount of Hindu-owned property in Bangladesh. Whatever certain private fantasies may be, that a Muslim-free Indian Union or a Hindu-free Bangladesh cannot be a solution is evident on a daily basis in almost minority-free Pakistan. A comprehensive asylum system needs to be instituted, which does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Hindus are not the only human rights victims in Bangladesh. The Ahmadiya Muslims, the Jumma people of the Chittagong Hill tracts and many more are. When any India-based entity like the BJP makes public pronouncements about its sympathy towards victims of human rights victims anywhere, it might do well to make amends for the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, Ahmedabad, Deganga and a lot more. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

 

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Filed under Bengal, Caste, Delhi Durbar, Dhaka, Displacement, Identity, Nation, Partition, Religion

বঙ্গদর্শন

[ Ebela, 4 Nov 2014]
খণ্ডিত বঙ্গের দুই অংশ – ছোট ভাই পশ্চিমবঙ্গ ও বড় ভাই পূর্ব্ববঙ্গ।  এই দুই বঙ্গ মিলেই আবহমানকালের বাংলাদেশ – যদিও ১৯৭১-এর পর তা মূলতঃ পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের জাতিরাষ্ট্রের
‘অফিসিয়াল’ নামে পরিণত হয়েছে। নিজেকে বাংলাদেশ নামে ডাকার অধিকার পশ্চিমবঙ্গের বড় অংশই ছেড়ে দিয়েছে। সেটা দুঃখজনক। নিজের নাম স্বেচ্ছায় কেন কেউ নিজে থেকেই ভুলে যাবে, তা আমার বোধগম্য নয়। তো সে যাই হোক, এতটাই আত্মবিস্মৃত আমরা যে বাংলাদেশ নামটির পুরো অধিকারটাই আমরা তুলে দিয়েছি পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের হাতে। খন্ড-বঙ্গের ছোট খন্ড আমরা।  এই খন্ড ভাব আর ছোট ভাব দুটি প্রায় হারাতে বসেছে আজ দিল্লীর তালে নাচতে গিয়ে। তাই তো আজ পশ্চিমবঙ্গের অধঃপতিত জাতি নাক সিঁটকে বলতে শিখেছে ‘ওরা তো বাংলাদেশি’। আর তোরা হলি ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’। বাঙ্গালী তাহলে বোধহয় বঙ্গোপসাগরের গভীরে বসে মাঝে মাঝে মুণ্ডু তুলে কলকাতার ডাঙ্গা দেখছে – কেকেআর, শাহরুখের নাচ, আটলেটিকো, দিওয়ালি, হোলি, গুরগাঁও তথা আরো হরেক বেঙ্গলী ব্যাপার-স্যাপার। এরই মাঝে বোমা ফাটল বর্ধমানে। আরেক রকমের বেঙ্গলী সকলের টিভিতে এসে উপস্থিত। বাংলাদেশী ! এবার আর গরু-পাচারকারী বা কাঁটাতার পেরোনো বেআইনি হিসেবে নয়। পরিচয় এবার জেহাদি। খবরে তেমনই প্রকাশ।
অথচ চিরকাল ব্যাপারটা এমন ছিল না। পশ্চিমবঙ্গ বুঝত ও জানত যে ‘ওপারে’ যে দেশটি, তার সাথে তার বিশেষ সম্পর্ক। সে সম্পর্কের স্বীকৃতি কোনো আইন বা সংবিধান দেয় না। তাতে কি বা এসে যায়? এসে যায়নি বলেই তো ১৯৭১-এ পূর্ববঙ্গের মুক্তিযুদ্ধের সময় পশ্চিমবঙ্গে  যে বিশেষ সংহতির উন্মাদনা দেখা গেছিল, তাতে অনেক ঐক্য ও অখন্ডতার পূজারীরা ভয়ানক জুজু দেখেছিল। যখন স্লোগান উঠেছিল – এপার বাংলা, অপার বাংলা, জয় বাংলা, জয় বাংলা – তখন অশোকস্তম্ভের ৪ সিংহের ভুরু কুঁচকে গেছিল। পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের এক নকশালপন্থী (হ্যা, ওদিকেও ছিল ও আছে) দল -এর স্লোগানে ছিল অন্যতর কল্পনার বীজ – দুই বাংলার চেকপোস্ট উড়িয়ে দাও, গুঁড়িয়ে দাও। সে  বীজ থেকে যে কোনো চারাগাছ বেরোয়নি আজ অবধি, তা বলাই বাহুল্য। যে কোন দাবি বা স্লোগান একটি বিশেষ সময়ের দলিল। আজ এই স্লোগান উঠলে অবশ্যই শুনতে পাব – চেকপোস্ট উড়িয়ে মরি আর কি। এমনিতেই বিএসএফ দিয়ে ওদের পিলপিল করে আশা রোখা যাচ্ছে না, উড়িয়ে দিলে তো পশ্চিমবঙ্গ-টাই দখল করে নেবে।  ন্যায্য চিন্তা, বিশেষতঃ যখন ১৯৭১-এর পরেও পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের হিন্দু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর
নির্যাতন, সম্পত্তিদখল, দাঙ্গা ইত্যাদি চলেছে প্রায় নিরন্তর – সরকারী/বেসরকারী পৃষ্ঠপোষকতায়। আর হিন্দুদের পূর্ববঙ্গ থেকে পালিয়ে আসাও চলেছে নিরন্তর।  চলছে আজ-ও। তবে তারা নিম্নবর্গের, তারা ব্রাহ্ম্মন-কায়স্থ-বৈদ্য নয়, তাই তাদের আখ্যান পশ্চিমবঙ্গে উপেক্ষিত। তার উপর আছে এক ধরনের মেকি ধর্মনিরপেক্ষতার। ১৯৭১-এর সংহতি থেকে আজকের পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের বাস্তব চিত্র সম্পর্কে সম্পূর্ণ জ্ঞানহীনতা, ইটা ঘটল কি করে? কি করে পশ্চিমবঙ্গ তার ওপর অংশ কে দেখার বিশেষ দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি হারিয়ে ফেলল?  কেন আজ তাকে দিল্লীর থেকে চোখ, ক্রাচ আর দূরবীন ধার করে পুর্ব্ববঙ্গকে দেখতে হয়। কখন আমরা অন্ধ, অশিক্ষিত ও পঙ্গু হয়ে গেলাম? কখন আমরা ‘বৈরী বাংলাদেশী’ নামক চরিত্রের নির্মাণের দিল্লী রেজিমেন্টে নাম লেখালাম?
আজকে বর্ধমানের কল্যাণে আমরা জেনেছি জামাত-এ-ইসলামীর নাম। এর আগের গল্প কেন আমরা এত কম জানি? আসলে আমরা তো ক্রমে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের জেলাগুলিরও নাম ভুলতে শিখেছি, ওপারের খবর কি জানব। বরং দিল্লি-বম্বে-গুরগাঁও-নয়ডার মানচিত্র মুখস্থ করি গিয়ে। সচিন মোদের  ব্রহ্মা, শাহরুখ মোদের বিষ্ণু আর দিল্লীশ্বর হলেন সাক্ষাত মহেশ্বর। মন্দিরে আর জায়গা কই ? কার সন্তান কত অন্যাশে বঙ্গ-ত্যাগ করে দিল্লী-বোম্বাই পৌছেছে, এই যাদের সাফল্যের মাপকাঠি, তারাই ক্ষুব্ধ হয় বাংলাদেশী অনুপ্রবেশ প্রসঙ্গে। অনুপ্রবেশ অবশ্যই সামাজিক-রাজনৈতিক-অর্থনৈতিক অস্থিরতার কারণ হিসেবে দেখা দিতে পারে, কিন্তু বলবে কারা – যারা পশ্চিমবঙ্গ ত্যাগ করে উন্মুখ, তারা ? বাংলাদেশী অনুপ্রবেশকারীদের ব্যাপক অংশ জেহাদ করতে কাঁটাতার পেরোন না, আসেন জীবিকার জন্য। দুবাই বা মালয়শিয়া পাথেয় যোগার করতে পারলে এদিকে আসতেন-ও না। ঠিক যেমন আমলাশোল থেকে ঢাকা যাবার সহজ ব্যবস্থা থাকলে অনাহারে মরার থেকে অনেকেই গার্মেন্ট কারখানায় কাজ করতে বেশি পছন্দ করতেন।
ক্ষুদ্রতর পশ্চিমবঙ্গবাসী হিসেবে বৃহত্তর পূর্ব্ববঙ্গকে বোঝার দায় আমাদের আছে। আজকের পুর্ব্ববঙ্গকে। কবেকার ফেলে আসা ভিটেকে খোঁজা না , সেই ভিটেতে যে ব্যাপক বদল ঘটেছে – সেটাকে বোঝা। আমাদের জানতেই হবে যে শিশু ফালানি খাতুনের গুলিবিদ্ধ মৃতদেহ কেন কাঁটাতারে ঝুলছিল, জানতেই হবে কোন সীমান্তরক্ষী তাকে খুন করলো – তবে জানতে পারব এই পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মধ্যে সীমান্তরক্ষীদের দৈনিক অত্যাচারের কথা।ওদিকের সীমান্ত রক্কাহ করে বাঙ্গালী। স্থানীয় মানুষের মুখের ভাষা বোঝে।  এদিকের কথা আর বললাম না। মার্কিন দূতাবাসের সামনের রাস্তার নাম হোচিমিনের নামাঙ্কিত করে যে দুঃসাহস ও ঘৃণা জানিয়েছিল কলকাতা, সেই দায়তেই জানতে হবে কেন ঢাকার ভারতীয় দূতাবাসের সামনের রাস্তা ফেলানির নামাঙ্কিত করার দাবি ওঠে।  জানতে হবে ওদিকের সুন্দরবনের রামপালে ভারতের এনটিপিসি-র পরিবেশ ধ্বংসকারী বিদ্যুত প্রকল্পে পশ্চিমবঙ্গবাসী দায়হীন কিনা। জানতে হবে সব সাইক্লোন শেষ মুহুর্তে আমাদের কাটিয়ে যখন ওদিকে ঘুরে যায়,তারপর কি হয়? তার জন্য পরের ছুটিতে হিমাচল-কন্তাকুমারি-রাজস্থান-আন্দামান না করে একটু যান-না ওদিকে।
এক শ্রেনীর পশ্চিমবঙ্গীয় ওদিক ঘুরে এসে এক রোমান্টিক স্বর্গের চিত্র আঁকেন। ঢাকায় দুর্গাপুজো দেখে বলেন, সব ঠিক-ই আছে। ফি বছর যে বেশ কিছু দুর্গাপ্রতিমা আক্রান্ত হয় ওদিকে, সেটা বলতে কুন্ঠা কেন? ওদিকের সংবিধানের আগেই রয়েছে একেশ্বরবাদী ইসলামী বাণী।  এদিকে মা দূর্গা সহায় বা জয় শ্রী রাম নেই। এদিকে সংখ্যালঘুদের সম্পত্তিলুঠ হচ্ছে, দেশত্যাগে
বাধ্য করা হচ্ছে, একথা নিন্দুকেও বলতে পারবেন না। এ প্রসঙ্গে ওদিকের লজ্জিত হওয়া উচিত। অতীতের হিন্দু জমিদারের অত্যাচারের শাক দিয়ে আজকের বাস্তবতার মাছ ঢাকা যায়না। আবার ওদিকেই শাহবাগে ৭১-এর চেতনাধারী মূলতঃ মোসলমান বিশাল যুবসমাবেশে ডাক ওঠে ‘সূর্য্য সেনের বাংলায়, জামাত-শিবিরের ঠাই নাই’। সূর্য্য সেনের জন্মদিন উপলক্ষ্যে  ওদিকের খবরের কাগজে একটি ব্যাঙ্কের পাতাজোড়া বিজ্ঞাপন দেখেছি – এদিক কল্পনা করতে পারে?
শরতচন্দ্র বাঙ্গালী ও মোসলমানের মধ্যে ফুটবল খেলিয়ে অনেক গাল খেয়েছেন। আজ কলকাতা নামধারী ফুটবল-দলের সাথে ঢাকা মহমেডান ক্লাবের খেলা হলে উনি বুঝতেন, মোসলমানের টিমটাই বাঙ্গালীর টিম। কলকাতার দলটি বাঙালিও নয়,মোসলমান-ও নয়, এক্কেরে আন্তর্জাতিক – স্রেফ টাকাটা দিল্লি-বম্বের। অন্যের মাতাকে মাতৃজ্ঞানে পুজো করতে বাধ্য হবার মত পরাধীন ওরা নয়, সেটা ‘মাইন্ড’ না করার মত শিরদাঁড়াহীন-ও ওরা নয়। ওরা বাংলার ভবিষ্যৎ বলতে জাতির, ভাষার ভবিষ্যৎ বোঝে – আমরা বুঝি রাজারহাটে কল-সেন্টার।  আমাদের মধ্যে ‘কানেকশান’ সত্যিই আজ কম।  কারণ ওরা বাঙ্গালী, আমরা বং।

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Looking for colours beyond Holi / Are there colours that Holi suppresses?

[ Daily News and Analysis, 19 Mar 2014 ]

There is a high possibility that some of the readers of this column still have colour-stains on their faces and bodies from the festival of colours. Monday, March 17, was Holi. All parts of the Indian Union had a riot with colours – one would have been led to believe. The multi-colour motif of Holi comes in handy as a living manifestation of the much-touted ‘unity in diversity’ trademark of this nation-state. People sprinkled colours on each other. Unsuspecting people who were out and about wearing normal dress regretted that they did so. A lot of bhang-laden Thandai was drunk. A lot of women were taken advantage of. Some desi and many firangi photographers were shooting away to capture the colourful ‘soul of India’ that was on public display on its streets and on private display in the farmhouses of the powerful. That was the day. Or was it?

Sunday, March 16, was Dol-Jatra for tens of millions of inhabitants of Odisha, Assam and Bengal, and yes that too was a riot of colours. ‘Dol’ means a swing and Jatra means journey. Of course, Lord Krishna and Radha are the ones of the swing and the devotees take them around. Phakuwa happened in Assam around the same time. All this is accompanied with much merriment with colours. There is no thandai involved. Not all ‘festivals of colour’ are the same. When someone says, Dol Jatra is Bengal’s version of Holi, it does not sound objectionable. However, if I say, Holi is Delhi’s or Uttar Pradesh’s version of Dol Jatra, it sounds odd. At that, some will say, I am being ‘parochial’. I will be advised not to mix-up up the mainstream with the variant, the standard language with the marginal dialect. I will be shown my place. I will be forced to play along in the ‘national’ festival of colours. Some will say, how does the name matter – it’s a fun occasion after all. It is easy for people to ‘look past’ variations, when the hierarchy of variations favours their cultural world. Others ‘look past’ to be accepted by the ‘mainstream’.

The problem with this idea of a cultural ‘mainstream’ with ‘regional’ variants is that it is a sophisticated name for good old crude majoritarianism. So much for the half-hearted paeans to ‘unity in diversity’. If you thought that the state does not endorse one view over another, think again. In West Bengal, the governor notified that the day after Dol Jatra will also be a holiday in all offices under the Government of West Bengal. In the Central governments list of holidays, there is only mention of Holika Dahan. There is no mention of the name Dol Jatra. The deep ideology of a state is given by these ‘innocuous’ choices, of font-size variations of different languages in Gandhi-chhap currency notes, the automatic language of CRPF or BSF irrespective of their posting in West Bengal or Tamil Nadu and many other instances. Look for such signs. They are everywhere.

There are soft-exports too. The marriage-associated events from the Punjab and the Hindi-heartland are now increasingly part of marriage ceremonies of Bengalis and Kannadigas. The most sublime form of this cultural hierarchy is seen is diasporic communities whose marriages invariably have ‘Sangeet’ and the colour festival is always called ‘Holi’. They are nothing but Indians. The next group who embody this sublime ideology are the upwardly mobile, well-off yuppies who have voluntarily moved to subcontinental cities located outside the province they were born in. Such ethno-cultural flattening does no service to the Hindi-heartland where many cultures are in a state of decay, thanks to metro-centrism Hindianism.

Whose ‘local’ becomes ‘national’ and whose ‘local’ disappears when ideas like ‘all India’ and ‘mainstream’ are evoked? Why is the direction of traffic in this supposedly two-way street so predictable? When was the last time a Tamil marriage/religious/cultural custom went ‘mainstream’ and was picked up in Delhi? Why does the leading contender for prime-ministership focus most in areas where Holi is the uncontested name for the festival of colours. Whether that kind of politics expands the palette in this diverse subcontinent is a different matter.

 

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Lit fests and not so well-lit fests / Not so organic fests

[ Down to Earth, 15-28 Feb 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 5 Apr 2014 ]

My home in Kolkata happens to be very near Kalighat. This is one of the holy Shaktipeeths (centres of divine power) that are spread across the subcontinent where different body parts of Lord Shib’s wife Mother Sati fell. For Bengali Shaktos, the Shaktipeeths, especially those in Bengal and Assam are of immense divine importance. At Kalighat, the reigning goddess is Mother Kali. In my life, I can rarely remember an auspicious occasion where a trip to Mother Kali of Kalighat was not undertaken. Kali, the dark mother holds immense sway over her mortal children.

As I grew up, I have often roamed about in the by-lanes around the temple. The temple lies on the bank of the Adi Ganga, at one time the principal flow channel of the Ganga and now a near-dead, rotting creek. This area with river-bank, shops, inhabitants, ganja-sellers and smaller temples has pulled me towards it time and again. Some of the smaller temples right on the river-bank belonged to goddesses whose names I did not know. In the pantheon of caste-Hindu Bengalis like me, there was an assumed mainstream where Mother Kali and Mother Durga had very important places. It was only by chance that I went to Kalighat once on a weekday afternoon on a chance school holiday due to rains. I was quite taken aback by the huge crowd, a few thousands strong, that had gathered around the temple. But to my astonishment, they were not there for the main temple of Mother Kali but for a very small temple of Mother Bogola. The people had a very intricate set of offerings that looked quite different from what I was used to seeing. And everyone there knew this occasion and at that moment, I was the fool in town, with my pantheon suddenly seeming irrelevant. Due to my very limited immersion in what we call in Bengali as gono-samaj (mass society can be a poor translation of the concept), a divine set had been built in my head that had entirely bypassed what was so near and what was always there. The blindness and illiteracy due to my social locus and ideologies that come with it was very badly exposed. Social alienation creates culturally illiterate beings.

Thankfully, the festivals of Southern West Bengal (where my home is broadly located) gave me many opportunities of unlearning and literacy. And they are not too hard to come by unless one is of the kind whose worlds are not defined by the physical-ecological-social reality they live in but the fantasy worlds they can afford to inhabit. I started attending the mela of Dharma Thakur, whose few sacred sites spread over the two Bengals, and have a distinct character in the kind of rice product that is offered (called hurrum) among other things. There is the 500-year old fish-fair held near the akhara of the seer Raghunath Das Goswami at Debanandapur in my ancestral district of Hooghly. The many Charaker melas that I have been too have been so enriching in its cultural produce that one wishes to be a sponge. The Gajaner mela in Tarakeswar, again in Hooghly district, goes on for 5 days and the cultural action is frenzied. The number of ‘parallel sessions’ (if one were to call the things going on there) is probably more than a thousand and there are no websites to print out the schedule. And that does not matter. The Ganga Sagar Mela is different every time. This mela, the second-largest in the Indian Union, is literally and allegorically an immersion experience. The experience is different in different times of the day, on different days of the mela and in different years. The festival around Salui Puja (worshipping the Sal tree) in Medinipur has tremendous footfall. Further west, in the adibashi areas, I once attended the Chhata Parab on Bhadra Sankranti day. In Malda, the week-long Ramkeli festival is a cultural cauldron that overflows during the summer month of Jaistha. The 2 big Ms associated with this fair is music of the Gaur-Vaishnavite tradition and mangoes that are harvested around this time. While stalls selling wares are an integral part of these festivals, each festival is different in its different parts and substantially different from each other. It is sad that I have to underline this point but I say this remembering my one-time know-all attitude towards these festivals before I had even attended them. What culture can a bunch of brown people produce left to their own devices? To know that, one has to have some humility in admitting cultural illiteracy and suspend ideas of supposed superiority of textual literacy, White man knowledge systems and the artifacts they produce. This unlearning can be harsh, especially when whole self-identities are built around wallowing on these artifacts. But there are too many brown people making too many things for too many centuries to take imported ideas of superiority seriously. One can live without being exposed to this reality and that wont cause any peril. The urbanites of the subcontinent have created a wondrous system by which they can eat rice but not know the rice-type or the growing area, get a house built but not know where the masons live. But of course they know where Indian wines are grown and the life-events of authors they have read, and other details of the lives of sundry characters of their fantasy world. The mindscape of the ‘enlightened’ can be more enlightening to the rest of us than they would want to it be.

The point of mentioning these festivals is not to create a mini catalogue but mention certain characteristics. Most of these festivals have a deep connection with the local ecology – cultural and natural. These are not American Burning Man type of fossil-fuel powered ‘creative’ fantasies (I have always failed to understand what is ‘creative’ about pursuits that require high fossil fuel burning or require pollution intensive factory made accessories). They don’t say ‘free entry’; that I mention that at all is absurd in their context. They don’t ‘say’ anything at all. They happen. They are organic, as opposed to the ‘festivals’ that are primarily thronged by the ‘fashionable’, the ‘articulate’, the ‘backpacker’, the ‘explorer’ and other curious species of the top 5% earning class of the subcontinent. Most of these festivals don’t have the kind of portable artifact quality that is so popular with the rootless, possibly best exemplified both by the Great India Mall and its location (the ‘Sector’ ‘city’ called NOIDA created by destroying many villages like Chhajarsi and Hazipur, now known by more fashionable and presentable names like Sector 63 and Sector 104). Most of them are not part of the ‘Incredible India!’ imagination and hence are largely devoid of white and brown people with cameras. Such a shabby state of affairs, however, has not prevented some of these festivals to go on for centuries, without sponsorship from ill-gotten-big-money supporters.

It was sometime in high school that I started noticing newspaper headlines such as ‘Kolkata’s young heads to the clubs’ (clubs being dancing places with rhythmic music). Many more young people regularly headed (and still do) to the East Bengal club or Mohan Bagan club grounds for football matches. But this was a different club. The idea was to create a fantasy and a false sense of feeling left out, of being in a minority, on not being ‘in’. For the already socially alienated, this pull can be magnetic – particularly because these come without pre-conditions of prior social immersion. If at all, certain kinds of fantasies and ‘enlightenments’ celebrate delinking from one’s immediate social milieu and replacing that with fantasy milieus, typically with White people’s hobbies. If the products of such indoctrination happen to arrive at the Muri Mela of Bankura (a festival where hundreds of varieties of ‘muri’ or puffed rice is produced, exhibited and sold), all they might see is more of the same. However, they do aspire to tell the difference between different red wines. Anything that requires being socially embedded in a largely non-textual cultural milieu (hence Wikipedia doesn’t come in handy), they are like fish out of water, gasping for the cultural familiarity of over-priced chain coffee stores.

It is the season of a new type of festival. Like an epidemic, big-money ‘lit’ fests have spread all over the subcontinent. The sudden-ness of the epidemic reminds me of the time when suddenly, year after year, brown women started winning ‘international’ beauty pageants. That ’arrival’ was meant to signify that browns are beautiful. The present trend probably is meant to convey that now there are enough number of moneyed browns spread all over who can nod knowingly hearing English. ‘Half of Jaipur is here at Google Mughal Tent’ – read a tweet from one of the fests. This tone sounded familiar to that time when I read that youth of my city headed to the clubs, but saw that no one around me did. May be I just belonged to an odd social sector, or may be they never counted me. But I am quite privileged otherwise. I never ever saw a headline saying youth of India head to Ganga Sagar mela on Makar Sankranti. At any rate, it is a greater statistical truth than saying youth of such and such city head to such and such ‘lit’ fest. This non-counting of many and over-counting of some is a predictable and sinister game that is played by the urbanbubbleophiles over and over again till it actually starts sounding true. The believers in such a worldview fear real numbers – the ‘odd’, the stubborn, the smelly. They would much rather ‘weigh’ according to their ‘subjectivities’. The sizeable ‘hip’ throngs within their tents are never ‘masses’; they are assemblages of aficionados. They have individual minds. They can think. They are human. The rest are better kept out until some floor mopping is required.

When real estate dacoits, construction mafias and mining goondas come together for a ‘cause’, one can well imagine the effect. The well lit fests provides a good opportunity for branding and white-washing crimes. Taking prizes from greasy hands, some authors are only too happy to oblige in that project. There they are, on the newspaper –smiling. They write ‘sensitively’, argue ‘provocatively’, and entertain ‘charmingly’. Ill-gotten prize money from the infrastructure mafia can supply powerful batteries for their headlights as they reach into the dark inner recesses of the human condition through their words. All this boils down to a few days of litting, ‘Think’ing, festing and other things that may get you in jail when done to people who have dignity and the courage to speak up.

The need to distinguish oneself from others can be rather acute in certain sectors of the subcontinental bubble urbania. What distinguishes one from the others whose ‘purposeful’ lives are peppered by sampling cultures whose social roots they are alienated from, long drives, coffee-chain hangouts, mall meetups, multiplex evenings and money-powered ‘rebelliousness’. To see oneself purely as a consumer – a seeker of market defined and mass-produced hatke (alternative for the discerning new Indian) ‘experiences’ and ‘thrills’, can be bit of a self turn-off for the brand and ego conscious yuppie. In a society where they want to define taste, no quarters should be given to others to make them appear as vacuous and crude. Hence, there is the search for ‘meaningfulness’ beyond the necessary evil of quotidian parasitism. This is best accomplished while practicing parasitism with a thin veneer of ‘meaningfulness’. Practising White people’s hobbies and engagements, with a bit of Indian elephant motif thrown in, fits the bill perfectly, at home and in the head. The well Lit fests of the rich with the ‘famous’ for the aspirational and the arrived accomplishes multiple functions at the same time. It is apparently ‘meaningful’ to be an onlooker at ill-gotten money sponsored talk-shows with only a few rows of seated brown sahibs and mems separating the top 5% income audience from the gods discussing the intricacies of brown and paler experiences. This ‘refinement’ is so much more substantive than double-refined mustard oil. And then there is the extra benefit of the Question and Answer – that which gives a feeling of participation and contribution, even accomplishment and ‘production’. That should give enough warmth, inject enough meaning and experiential richness to last through a cosmopolitan, urban winter after the show is over. And if any heat was lacking, such festivals and the spotlight it brings on the ‘winners’ and other such losers gives them an opportunity to impress those who hold such characters in awe and worship them. This gives these heroes a perfect pretext and opportunity to sample some fresh, young, fan ‘meat’. Some famous winning authors frequenting these spaces are equally famous for drug binges, for serial hunting of fans half their age, with some of these hapless young ones dying early deaths. Such ‘launches’ bring together publisher and author, writer and fan and above all, potential bedfellows. When infrastructure sleaze hosts ‘intellectual’ posturing, the sleaze-fest is complete. And of course it has to be winter. That is the time when brown and white migratory birds from White lands come down to brown land. They are in much demand – hopping from one gawk-fest to another. They dare not hold it in summer, like the Ramkeli festival. Their armpits might just start smelling like those of the ones outside the gates.

The well lit festivals have as much connection to ground realities as the owners of the palaces have with the local population. The court-like atmosphere, graced by tropic-charred whites turned native and tropic-born natives itching to be white, creates much gaiety and banter. Typically and predictably, the pre-eminent language of these well lit courts is something that most localites would not identify with. That goes for most of the books and the preferred language of the authors. Collectively it represents their fantasy world, as they claim to represent much. It is not as if the writers thronging these places are most sold or most read. The English-speaking spokesperson who has captive white and coconut (brown outside, white inside) ears becomes the chosen voice. He is the authentic insider and quite often a chronicler of the urban ennui and excitement of the parasites. The subcontinent has many authors who have sold more and been read more than all brown Englishwallahs taken together, but no infrastructure mafia wants to honour them by prizes. The loot of people’s money from the Commonwealth games by a famous prize giving company is better utilized elsewhere. Why is it that the Chennai or Kolkata book fair, with more attendance of authors and readers than a desert jamboree can ever manage, will never be covered by corporate media with the same degree of detail, as an event of similar importance. One has to ask, what are these choices meant to convey, why now, for what, for whom, against whom. The benign smile of prize acceptance of some of these first-boys and the fellowship of enthusiastic clappers need to be seen for what they are and what they represent. Why this project of pumping air into the English cat so that it looks like a tiger, to assist it to punch above its weight? Who does it want to scare into submission? Who does it want to provide confidence? Cultures, especially those that come associated with upward mobility, hubris and power, seek to displace others. As Hartosh Singh Bal puts it, ‘English mediates our own social hierarchy.’ The soft hearts of sensitive beneficiaries of cultural-economic hierarchies are too sensitive to probe their complicity in this project. Elsewhere, as Akshay Pathak has shown, the way some well ‘lit’ fests have tried to replicate their foreign idiom of ‘storytelling’ through festivals in less ‘lit’ places like Dantewada shows another aspect of the dark underbelly of the ‘articulate’ beast. Such beasts hunt in packs, as shown by their excellent ‘teamwork’.

This odd idea of non-local ‘exploratory’ tourism cum weekend-thrill is a symptom of a deeper disease. This disease adds layer after layer between the earth and the birds who float atop that earth, with the organizers making sure that the undomesticated and the unrefined stench of the earth does not make its way in to this stratospheric paradise. Such ‘cosmopolitan’ inhabitants who belong nowhere produce nothing. Of course they know about the Sati ‘tradition’ and shur their book and minds with that. These are those who see no intrinsic value in any tradition but partake in its goodies, document it, sample it, sell it to visiting firangs, package it as if they were wares on sale but contribute very little to the richness of the human condition, on a long term basis. If this worldview and lifestyle becomes the dominant one, I shudder to think what kind of a cultural desert the flittering non-traditionalists will produce with their contempt of tradition and rootedness. Given their clout and power, that urban-industrial dream of an atomized society might become true, till every grain looks the same. Individual grains of sand around Jaipur have more heterogeneity and character than this.

Would the dominant idiom and language of these well lit fests survive if Whites paid reparations for colonialism and slavery? Will any of these well lit fests survive even for a year if the world magically becomes becomes crime-free? Something that owes its very survival to dirty money and claims to be a festival of ‘mind-opening’ needs to be exposed. This is true for many other creative pursuits of these times and these classes- they don’t exist without the backing of money, cannot be produced by the poor (hence most human beings) and, if the world could be flattened so that everyone was at mean income, none of these creativities would even exist. These are pursuits for which inequity is a necessary pre-condition. But there is art beyond that, in persisting oral traditions, lores, gods, non-‘cosmopolitan’ ways of everyday creativity and knowledge and earth inspired insurgents like Namdeo Dhasal and Gaddar but that is beyond the well lit faces and enlightened minds of the perfumed ones. It must be painful for the ‘enlightened’ ones to imagine that the world can actually go on without their collective knowledge being at the centre of it. But it does. It always has. And whether you like it or not, and whether you matter or not, it always will.

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Filed under A million Gods, Bahishkrit Samaj, Class, Colony, Culture, Delhi Durbar, Elite, Faith, Knowledge, Sahib, Sex, The perfumed ones, Urbanity

The Goonda first came for the Assamese / Gunday on the loose / The Bollywood Gunday threat against Assam and Bengal

[ Daily News and Analysis, 4 Mar 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 5 Mar 2014 ; Echo of India, 11 Mar 2014 ]

People in the Bengals use the word ‘Goonda’ quite liberally – to refer to anything between a naughty child to the local political thug. But in the eyes of law, who is a Goonda? One of its many legal definitions is to be found in the Control of Disorderly and Dangerous Persons (Goondas) Act (East Bengal Act IV of 1954). There is goonda is someone ‘involved in affray, rowdyism or acts of intimidation or violence in any place private or public so as to cause alarm to the people living or frequenting the neighbourhood’. According to the Uttar Pradesh Control of Goondas Act (U.P. Act No. 8 of 1971, amended by U.P. Act No. 1 of 1985), it is ‘generally reputed to be a person who is desperate and dangerous to the community’. But if film and artist communities in Assam and West Bengal have been protesting mischief and many young people in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh are disgusted at the false and mischievous retelling of its Liberation struggle, then the source of mischief can safely be called a Goonda, at least rhetorically if not legally. When there is more than one such public enemy, in Hindi they are called Gunday. Gunday are backed by deep-pockets whose ulterior projects are more extensive than the specific acts of mischief. More often than not, the Gunday of the real-world are mercenaries for other people’s projects, even part of broader, more sinister projects of which the employed Gunday may not be even aware of. The Gunday are as important as the people who dictate what Gunday does, how they do it, when they do it.

In the reel-world, ‘Gunday’ is a project of Yash Raj Films, a Bollywood centric entertainment behemoth. It is one of greatest flag-bearer of Bollywood Hindi films, that grandest by-product of ‘Indianness’. Some perverse people like me feel that the relationship is inverse – that ‘Indianness’ is a byproduct of Bollywood Hindi films, among other things. It is the thread that connects the browns to browns, with the punitive sedition laws at hand just in case some folks didn’t get the point. Whatever be the tall ‘diversity’ claims of the Indian Union, the cultural landscape after partition has a couple of winners (English being one) and a large set of losers. In the Indian Union, we all know that cultural and political clout of which language has expanded after partition, so much so that not knowing it is seen as a sign of being politically and culturally queer. This advancement comes with the retreat of Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Assamese, etc. as playgrounds of cultural imagination and virtual annihilation of fecund tongues like Maithili, Awadhi, Brajbhasha, etc. It is not accidental that the most successful film industry is of the same language that receives the maximum preferential subsidy for its advancement. The subsidy to English in poor brown-land is a scandal of another scale altogether.

Let me not beat about the bush and come to the point. Gunday is a Bollywood Hindi film. For West Bengal, it was dubbed in Bengali. This make one, get many formula by dubbing into other tongues makes economic sense for the producer. But that also opens the flood-gates for this trend. The film and cultural community in West Bengal has protested against this. If using their mighty economic muscle, Bollywood producers can brow-beat distribution networks and cinema halls into showing such dubbed material, this will be an economic bonanza for Bollywood. Much black money will find greater returns but fledling non-Hindi film industries will fail ruin as they cannot outcompete Bollywood in black money, film volume and the cinema-hall blackmailing strength that comes with it. This desperate aggression was in full display in Assam where Rajni Basumatary’s Assamese film ‘Raag’ which was running quite well was removed by economic goondaism to make way for Gunday. Not too many films are produced in Assamese and when a good one is made with help from the Assam Film Development Corporation, this is the fate. Cultural diversity, even cultural competition, can only flourish in a level economic playing field. No amount of bleating about ‘unity in diversity’ changes that basic fact.

Let me describe a scenario. Dubbing my story and then forcing it down your throat using my economic muscle will slowly silence you. You wont be able to tell your own stories. You will have to adapt my stories. It does not matter if you have a long tradition of telling stories. Soon you may even develop an aesthetic sense for my stories, get alienated from your stories, from your people, look at them with curious eyes of an outsider. In short, I will destroy you cultural roots, replace them with mine and you will finally clap along the way. If that does not make me a Goonda, I don’t know what does.

The acts of some gansters have international manifestations. Gunday has chosen to parrot the official Delhi fiction of Bangladesh being a product of a brief Indo-Pak war. The people of that independent nation did not take that lying down. The producers have apologized. The Assamese can dream on. Pakistan has sought to protect its film industry by trying to restrict ‘Indian’ (read Bollywood) films. The states of the Indian Union have no such power, just like they do not have the power to protest the huge subsidy and preference given to one desi language. Apparently, this language ‘unites’. We know how this unidirectional unity works. No Assamese film will be dubbed in Hindi and released to multiplex audiences in Delhi and Mumbai. Not in this nation state. If slow but sure annihilation of certain cultures is a pre-condition to some kind of a ‘national integration’ project, then that nation is an enemy of those cultures. It is up to the Indian Union to decide what integration project it wants to promote – a predatory one or a harmonious one. It is up to you, the viewer, to ask whether your film ticket is filling a goonda’s pocket.

 

 

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Filed under Bengal, Culture, Delhi Durbar, Dhaka, Hindustan, Kolkata, Language, Nation, Pakistan

Netaji and the politics of legacy and memory

[ Daily News and Analysis, 4 Feb 2014 ;  Millenium Post, 6 Feb 2014 ; Echo of India, 11 Feb 2014 ; Frontier Weekly online, 5 Apr 2014 ]

When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, he ensured that many decades later, all state government and union government employees get a day off on October 2nd every year. When Jawaharlal arrived in a Kashmiri Brahmin family of Allahabad on 14th November, the seed of Children’s Day was born in this brown land. For some curious reason, decades of publicly money funded propaganda has ensured that people are fed stories about unverifiable heartwarming anecdotes about child welfare priorities of the Indian Union’s first Prime Minister, father of the Union’s fourth Prime Minister and grandfather of a subsequent one. What is verifiable though is that the regime of the great do-gooder of children also ruled for long years over the highest number of hungry, starving children among United Nations member states. But then, Henry Kissinger also won a Nobel peace prize. If you have not heard of the ‘National Integration Day’ of 19th November beyond large newspaper ads with beaming faces of people your government wants to remind you at a cost to the public exchequer, you should be ashamed of yourself. The lone child of the great man of Children’s Day fame was born on that day. You should mark your calendars for another version of that auspicious day coming up this year. While you are at it, lose you eyes and take a deep breadth. Imagine your worst enemy. Do you feel any pent up anger? If yes, you may be lacking in the Sadbhavna Quotient (SQ – yes you first heard it here). Then I suggest you make the best of the Sadbhavna Day celebrations that happen on August 20th every year. On this auspicious day, the first prime minister who took over from his mother’s constitutional position without a non-family interregnum was born. The sarkar bahadur at Delhi sends memoranda on unforgetabble days to all central government departments, to do the needful. You better head to the nearest central sarkar bahadur office next time to catch the action. You might even get some chai-biskit to smoothly complement the ‘sadbhavna’ or ‘national integration’ feeling that might be evoked. One tends to get carried away at such holy occasions with free chai, year after year. Browns are, after all, very emotional people.

On 23rd January, a only MP who turned up at the Parliament of India to garland the picture of Subhash Chandra Bose on his birthday was Lal Krishna Advani of the BJP. Some MPs from West Bengal were busy in similar events in their state. The Indira Congress must have been tired from cheering the great rise of the great-grandson of Government of India’s children’s welfare champion Number one. Or they could have been tired of the burden of extra cylinders. Subhash Chandra Bose was also figured in the expanded pantheon that loomed large behind of podium from where the great grandson demanded cylinders. The curious shape of the select pantheon of past presidents of the Indian National Congress (which Indira Congress claims to be the successor of) resembled a 9-headed Ravan with the non-family Gandhi at the centre. Electoral desperation forces many things. Subhash Bose was there too, with the white cap that was snatched from his head by Nehru-Gandhi Congressites after the 1939 Tripuri session of the Congress. The military cap that Netaji put on later is too uncomfortable for those who would want to erase the various other currents and means that was part of the anti-colonial struggle in the subcontinent. Greater awareness of such trends may undercut official narratives and make many question the differences between freedom and brown-mask-government, liberation and transfer of power. That can be very uncomfortable.

This erasure has enabled the sons and grandsons of the Hindu Mahasabha and JanSangh to add past Congress presidents to their sordid pantheon of Hitler-lovers and British informers. In a subcontinent where erasure of public memory and creation of false legacies is a fine art, even the atheist, socialist, anti-communal Bhagat Singh is now wrapped in a saffron turban for 272+ mileage. The lure of power is reflected in the eagerness of liliputs to stand on the shoulder of giants.

But this false bhakti can be easily tested. The Prime Minister’s Office admits that there are 20 secret files relating to Netaji’s disappearance. Can the BJP guarantee that it will publicly disclose uncensored versions of these files if its alliance attains power in 2014? The complicity of all the players of the deep state to this conspiracy of silence and evasion needs to be exposed.

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Filed under Bengal, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Foundational myths, History, Memory

Indianness / strange thoughts on an republican eve

[ Daily News and Analysis, 21 Jan 2014 ; New Age (Dhaka), 26 Jan 2014 ]

26th January is the Republic Day of the Union of India. In spite of the high drama performed by the Aam Aadmi Party in the sanctum sanctorum of power, this week will end with another edition of an annual ritual commemorating the day when representatives of about 12% of the population of the subcontinent decided to frame the constitution in the name of 100%. Thus the Republic of India was born. In this auspicious week, one may ask with some trepidation, what is India? What kind of a question is that, one may ask. One can show the territorial limits of the Union of India in some map, point to it and say, there it is. That kind of an answer oddly makes Cyril Radcliffe the father of the nation.  So let us shift gears to a different question. What makes India and ‘Indianness’? Well, technically, the transfer of power by the British to certain sections of the subcontinental elites, the partition and the constitution framed in the name of the people makes India. But such legal definitions would sadden lovers of a transcendental ‘Indianness’ that is apparently millennia old and permeates through Ganga, Yamuna, Bollywood and Mohenjodaro (remember the weird bearded man?). A variant of this ‘Indianness’ is also to be found in our special ‘Indian genes’ and aloo tikki (aloo came to the subcontinent about 500 years ago from the continent of ‘Indians’ living half-way across the world). More recently, the fervor with which one cheers for a group of male players contracted by a private entity and sponsored by a New-York headquartered company has become a marker of ‘Indianness’ or lack thereof.

The real state of affairs of a human being cannot be ascertained by the perfume one dabs on oneself. It is to be found in the original smell of the armpits, that the perfume is designed to shoo away. The continuous tutelage in ‘Indianness’ that was explicit in mass media earlier (remember Sai Paranjpe’s Ek Chiriya style cartoons with a cute and sly message continuously aired during turbulent times when some chiriyas wanted to fly away?) has now become a monolithic cultural norm, with decades of preferential promotion of a language and a forced monolithic identity finally paying off. With enough rokra, a good, strong dandaa and pervasive indoctrination, orderly and docile queues can be created. Anek anek chiriyas have a stake in this game now.

When a Tamilian goes to New Delhi vis-à-vis Beijing, I am assuming that Beijing feels more alien. That is something undeniable. I am not including the rootless cosmopolitan class of the browns who feel at home at any place that has a chain-coffee outlet. I am talking of the earth, not of the shifting crust. However I am not sure that this even this grade of alienation holds true for the Naga – whose sas-bahoo diet is not imported from Hindustan but from Korea. Korea, thus, is not equally far from all trajectories of ‘Indianness’ – real or imagined. Even for the Tamilian’s supposed closeness in New Delhi, that is too is a project in progress. The non-alienation is less than it was 60 years ago. This is because of a common, constructed mould that has been used to make ‘citizens of a nation-state’ out of human beings. That commonality needs to be continuously manufactured even while proclaiming its transcendental pre-existence as a matter-of-fact. The shape of this mould represents what is the ‘core’ of this ‘Indianness’. Hence, more and more will come to speak a predictable ‘core’ language – the non-core will have to know it to be counted equally. That precisely is the indignity of forced top-down one-ness. One size never fits all. Some come pre-fitted, others have to try hard to fit in, excising parts of their identity.

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Filed under Delhi Durbar, Foundational myths, Identity, Nation

Decentralization 2014 / When the Centre lords over federal aspirations

[ Daily News and Analysis, 7 Jan 2014 ; Millenium Post, 7 Jan 2014 ; Echo of India, 14 Jan 2014 ]

The Gregorian calendar says it is January now, so for a very many people, it is a new year. One near-constant thing about New Year days, birthdays, 100th anniversaries and the like, is that nothing is very different before and after that day. That does not stop us from making New Year resolutions or seminars about the special relevance of some dead man’s centennial. While each one of us may harbor private dreams about the year 2014 of Common Era, it is events and processes happening around us that would actually shape the year. I am tempted to string together some apparently unrelated developments in the last 30 days, to bring out what my private fantasy for 2014 might look like. It also happens to be an important public concern of the present day. I am talking about the battle between centralization and decentralization, between the hollowing and deepening of democracy. This is something that never surfaces as it is, always burrowing under some other agenda. But there it is, always, and always tense.

And it starts at daybreak. 6 am happens at the same moment all over the territory of the Union of India, because the central government had long decided so for the rest of us. However, the sun rises at vastly different moments in different parts of the world and Assam and Gujarat are indeed situated in different parts of the world. Bharat Mata’s children, held tightly together by the constitution, stand widely apart on the bosom of Mata Basundhara. Sadly, things like the sunrise and sunset, human physiological functions like sleeping and waking up and other things that predate man-made rules and nations and will outlive them too, are still not totally subject to the power of the central government. Such a state of affairs, even after 66 years after partition, is not the sign of a strong enough state. The Assam state has decided to delink its time from that of the ‘heart’ of Hindustan, Allahabad of Uttar Pradesh. If Assam has its way, it will no longer wake up according to the time governed by Mother Nature and the Sun god but go to work at a time that best suits Allahabad, the city where Ganga and Yamuna but not the Brahmaputra meet. I do not know what is more ironic – that it took 66 years for Assam to decide to abide by a time that is more in like with its geographical location or the fact that its decision is not enough and that it needs the approval of folks hailing from far-away longitudes. That many parts of the subcontinent had times more in line with their natural location before partition only adds a further layer of irony. If the Assam move succeeds, more areas might want pay more heed to chirpings in their surroundings than the ajaan from Delhi. A new force that has risen from Delhi seemingly wants to sing a different tune – this is the Aam Aadmi Party’s call for decentralization of decision-making power. If the party means what it says, the potentialities are immense. This being an election year with most parties being quite non-committal about joining one of the 2 ‘national’ parties, there is a faint possibility that some new life might be unleashed at the centre. Whether we want people’s opinion to matter in their own lives is a question that any purported democracy has to deal with. A true federal system should be capacious enough to accommodate diversity of needs and aspirations. This is the primary challenge that the subcontinent faces – beyond all the talk of development, growth, discontent and what not.

May be I am making a mountain out of a molehill. These couple of green shoots for the decentralizing ideal can easily be lost among the smoke emitted by the relentless centralizing state. The central cabinet is seriously thinking of starting the River Linking Project that aims to join most major rovers of the Indian Union. This project that will surely drown the land and culture of many a people will be don’t for ‘greater common good’. We know that not an inch of the National Capital Region (NCR) will ever be drowned for any good, however great, however common. Such is the absurdity of central decision-making in this purported powerhouse of information technology and wireless communication that the headquarters of the Coast guard and the Inland Waterway Authority are situated in a place that has absolutely nothing to do with the on-the-ground daily workings of these agencies. That is the heart of the giant that joins the NCR, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and the Amritsar-Kolkata-Delhi Industrial Corridor (AKDIC). The naked power of centralized authority flavours these alphabet soups designed to drown the million discordant sounds from the ground. There can only be so many jobs and boom-towns, only so many rootless techies, academicians, corporates, pimps and their families that can grow up shielded from the discontent from evisceration of identities and selfhoods. But there is only so much alms that can the alphabet soup wallahs and their hip-urban collaborators can part with – so that centralizing can go on seamlessly. But there is a wide world out there that the centre cannot hold. Something must give.

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Filed under Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Federalism

Why Pakistan’s resistance to Bollywood is justified

[ The Express Tribune, 24 Dec 2013 ]

The case in Pakistan regarding the continued certification and commercial screening of films produced in the Indian Union territory has been settled. Mubashir Lucman, Film Producers Association and Cinema Owners Association have come to an agreement that would allow for the equal sharing of screening time between films made locally and those imported from the Union of India. This is a useful opportunity to discuss some issues regarding the commercial import and certification of Bollywood Hindi films in Pakistan.

Let us first understand what are these ‘Indian’ films. We are largely talking of films made in the Hindi language produced via a very cash rich industry setting in Mumbai. For the rootless young people in certain metros of the Indian Union, that is much of what constitutes ‘Indian’ films. But for those who are talking in terms of greater mutual understanding via these films, one needs to realize that much of the Indian Union does not speak Hindi. Additionally, they do produce their own films. The content of such non-Hindi films represent a much greater terrain of the subcontinent than Bollywood Hindi flicks can ever aspire to. To be fair, Bollywood Hindi films never did aspire to that. Thank the gods for that, as with the money power behind Bollywood Hindi films, they might even try to define Tamil-ness or Bengali-ness through a metro-centric Hindi medium. Are they influencing people in Pakistan with an alien commercially produced idiom? If yes, people in Pakistan better take notice.

And those who portray films as some sort of a medium to develop Indo-Pak bonhomie might also do well to look beyond Bollywood. Virulently anti-Pakistan films with a lot of ‘action’ are also a Bollywood Hindi film sub-genre. Yes, that does good business. Go find an Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, Manipuri or a Oriya film in the last fifteen years that has an anti-Pakistan theme. There are none. Are these not ‘Indian’ films? What is it about Bollywood Hindi film idiom that lends itself to making films like Gadar: Ek Prem Katha and LOC Kargil, which unabashedly dehumanize people from Pakistan? The economic muscle of Bollywood ensures that such films receive a wide audience. It is not the specific film that matters. Pakistan can choose to not allow this film or that. But it is the same set of cartels that produce most of the films – the ones that are anti-Pakistan and the ones that are unrelated. This industry understands only money and would not stop from producing the next commercially lucrative anti-Pakistan blockbuster? There is a market for such prejudice in India just like there is a market for anti-Hindu prejudice in Pakistan. Do people from Lahore and Karachi really need to add to the profits of an industry that sees no qualms in showing Pakistanis in bad light?

Most Bollywood Hindi films are set in the cities of Mumbai or New Delhi, and increasingly in cities of the Western World where people from North India live and aspire to flourish. This can be Sydney, London, New York or Chicago (Dhoom 3, an action film released a few days ago and which has already grossed crores of Rupees, is set largely in Chicago). Delhi and Mumbai choses to tell its story and wants people to pay for it. But Karachi is not Delhi and I am sure it has its own stories to tell, stories that are different from the stories of young partying explorers of Mumbai and Goa, stories that are not about aspirational or ‘everyday’ life of Delhi people. Inspite of the Zia years, one can be sure that 15 crore people have stories to tell. If the decision was left to the burgers, they might even start a juloos in support of Hollywood and Bollywood. The culturally illiterate has no investment in their own cultural milieu. That is precisely why their ‘tastes’ shouldn’t be setting agendas. Nor can they be depended on for a revitalization of films culturally rooted in Pakistan (and not cheap Bollywood remakes).

Bollywood Hindi films represent the metro-centric and homogenized ‘idea of India’ in the mind of the new Indians – 20-40 years old, in the top 5% income category, aspirational migrants with Hindi and English being their near exclusive vocabulary. They are concentrated in a few cities but they have the economic might to determine cultural policy. These multiplex consumers with their moneybags have done a great assault to the idea of mass-films, which is why now film profits are not an indication of film popularity. Pakistani film industry is up against an economic behemoth with an agenda of own-cultural expansion. Its production, distribution and broadcasting machines are well oiled. Stupendous amounts of black money from deep pockets bankroll the ‘creative’ explosion that is Bollywood.

The twin attack of a homogenizing national ideology and economic muscle has grave implications on visible public culture. The 19th Kolkata International Film Festival witnessed the extra-ordinary scene of Bollywood Hindi filmstars being feted in a manner as though they represented some pinnacle of human achievement. It was a sad moment – underlining how limited and predictable the cultural horizon of West Bengal’s film industry had become. The lack of self-confidence showed. Film industries that do not have as much black money circulating, have lesser number of casting couches, have lesser number of ageing ‘artists’ and producers targeting young actresses, have lesser number of big crooks financing films and which do not make films in Hindi or India-English, have been relegated to second and third class status. Pakistan has the legal mechanisms to stop the damage that Bollywood has done to films industries elsewhere. It better act soon.

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When Nagas follow the constitution and ruffle the centre / At the margins of homogeneity / When the state of Nagaland upholds the constitution

[ Daily News and Analysis, 9 Dec 2013 ; Millenium Post, 9 Dec 2013 ; Echo of India, 9 Dec 2013 ; Morung Express ; Kashmir Reader, 16 Dec 2013 ; Dhaka Tribune, 17 Dec 2013 ]

The Union of India is not a homogenous union. It never was. What I mean by this is that its constituent parts are not created equal nor does the law of the land treat them equally. There are a host of special provisions that apply to specific constituents only – thereby removing any chance of homogeneity. There is indeed a great deal of homogeneity of law – but that is in ‘mainstream India’. ‘Mainstream India’ has typically been those parts of the Union where the Indian Army is not deployed at present. Naturally, the contour of this ‘mainstream’ has been changing. Places where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in action, there are sweeping powers that the Armed Forces have over the life and liberty of people. The AFSPA has been applied at different times to most of what constitutes the Union of India’s northeast. No points for guessing in which other zone, apart from the northeast, does the AFSPA remain in force. But lets get back to homogeneity.

The non-homogeneity of the law typically remains buried from the mainstream (for definition of mainstream, see above) because most people from the mainstream simply do not have much reason to venture ‘out there’. The converse is actually true. In an over-centralized system, largesse in the form of opportunities, public facilities, institutions, universities, infrastructure, etc are inordinately showered around a zone around New Delhi called the National Capital Region (NCR). Hence, those from ‘out there’ have to trudge to the centre of the ‘mainstream’, whether they like it or not. It is very rare that this non-homogeneity comes into public scrutiny in the mainstream. Except for the big exception – the K exception. The provisions of the constitution of the Union of India that accords special K provisions has been the stick by which religious majoritarian forces have tried to show their super-special Indian-ness. Others have avoided the issue, for their supposed fear of losing religious minority vote-banks. The agreements between them are far deeper, but let us not go there.

Auspicious days have a special value in our lives. So much so that the ‘bad guys’ specially choose such occasions to mar the jubilation. They must be having a particularly twisted mind. 1st December 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the Indian Union declaring the state (in the constituent province sense) of Nagaland. As late as 1936, the British authorities were not entirely sure where to put most of the ‘northeast’ – in the Empire of India or in the soon-to-be-created crown colony of Burma. Indeed, after 1937, some Naga areas ‘fell’ in Burma. Funny, isn’t it, that the land, that inalienable heirloom of ancestors on which a people live and their identity thrives are not the most important truths – but lines drawn without consent and ‘falling’ on people are. Nagas have led the longest struggle (someone’s terrorism, someone’s insurgency, someone’s freedom struggle – we all know the routine disclaimer) against both the post-British Burmese and Indian states. Whether they are post-colonial states (and this doubtful list includes Pakistan too) depends on whom you ask.

More than 50 years ago, the then prime minister of the Union of India, Jawaharlal Nehru said in the Lok Sabha – “ The Nagas are a hard-working and disciplined people, and there is much in their way of life from which others can learn with profit. We have had for many years Nagas in the Indian Army and they have proved to be excellent soldiers. Our policy has always been to give the fullest autonomy and opportunity to self-development to the Naga people, without interfering in any way in their internal affairs or way of life.” The last sentence is critical, as it goes against the usual thrust of policies from New Delhi – typically aimed at creating a homogenized, Hindustan (Hindi-heartland) centric identity. However, the context is important. When the Brahmin from Allahabad was speaking those words, he knew the stakes. A few years before that, certain Naga groups had conducted a plebiscite. The Union of India did not consider any such plebiscite legal and of course there was no question of respecting the verdict of something it considered illegal in the first place. Legality is something. Reality is typically something else. The army was brought in. These pronouncements by Jawaharlal came shortly after his discussions with a group called the Naga People Convention (NPC). They negotiated the subsequent statehood status for Nagaland. Given the prevailing conditions, special provisions for the State of Nagaland were incorporated as Article 371A of the constitution of the Union of India.

Now on the eve of the 50 glorious years of Nagaland’s life as a state of the Union of India, the ruling party of Nagaland called the Naga People’s Front has decided to take Article 371A of the constitution and certain pronouncements by the Petroleum Ministry in the parliament of the Indian Union at face value. The Nagaland state government wants to use all its natural resources on their own and has cited the constitution to say it is constitutional. This is the kind of problem you get into when you have non-pliant provincial governments. New Delhi is not amused at the constitution being thrown at them. This is a crisis, not so much of law breaking, but of law-following. We probably know how this ends. There will be ‘high-level’ ‘meetings’ and ‘consultations’. The otherwise passive position of the Governor of a state (a New Delhi agent and probably predictably a former CBI apparatchik) will become active. The state government will probably back down. The courts will go the ‘right’ way if it comes to that. It will be ‘all peaceful’ on the Northeastern front. And the Union of India will have lost another opportunity to breathe much-needed life-blood into its federal structure.

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The vast reality beyond Narendrabhai and Rahulbaba / The potentialities of ‘regionalism’

[ Daily News and Analysis, 25 Nov 2013 ; Millenium Post, 27 Nov 2013 ; New Age (Dhaka), 28 Nov 2013 ; Echo of India, 29 Nov 2013 ]

If you are one of those who think that English language television channels headquartered in and around Delhi present a reliable picture of the subcontinent, it is time to take a serious reality check. Such and other Delhi-centric views would have you believe that the coming Lok Sabha election of the Indian Union is some sort of a boxing match between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi and that the sentiments of the people are neatly divided between the Indira Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These 2 parties distinguish themselves from others by the influence Delhi-based operators have on their policy and workings. Many ‘think-tanks’ that have sprouted up in Delhi, staffed with well-heeled ‘analysts’ with opaque connections to these 2 parties. Puncture one of these ‘tanks’ and what gushes forth is predictable – a lamentation about how the Indian Union cannot be left to anything but ‘national’ parties. The combined chorus of Delhi-based policywallahs, mediawallahs, academics, defence contractors, security apparatchiks and other glittering-shady characters has one tune – there is no choice beyond the Cong and the BJP. Lobbyists and pimps of all hues have invested hard in parties that are operated from Delhi. Each of these sectors has their own reasons to sing that song – but their combined howl has a terrific effect that has the power to move people. Which is precisely why they do the familiar singing when elections are near.

Let me put this cheerleading for the ‘national’ parties in some perspective. For the longest time, a single ‘national’ party ruled the Indian Union uninterruptedly. Since 1989, governments have essentially formed by a national party with a pound-of-flesh arrangement with some others. The national party makes policy while the coalition ‘partners’ keep mum and take their cut. This arrangement is at the heart of the present United Progressive Alliance (led by the Indira Congress) and the National Democratic Alliance (led by the Bharatiya Janata Party). The National Front and United Front governments were notable exceptions where parties with diverse regional origins came together to form policy. The Indian Union is supposedly a federal union – which is an arrangement in which the constituent units  (the states) and Delhi govern together.

Over the decades since partition of 1947, Delhi has consistently and systematically encroached on the rights of the states, by its ‘directives’, arm-twisting opponents or simply by using super-majorities of the Congress years and now increasingly by the unholy alliance on certain matters between the two nationals, Cong and BJP. Whereas centralization of executive power has made the Indian Union less democratic, it has also made the removal of entrenched elites harder. No wonder most members of parliament own property in Delhi and their progeny increasingly live there. On the other hand, the regional parties have been steadfast in their defense of the principle of federalism – as the recent stances by the Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal and others on the issue of opposing the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) clearly show. It is majorly due to the decline of the national parties that today it is not easy to use the kalo ain called Article 356 to remove a democratically elected state government. Balancing the over-centralization that has occurred over the last few decades needs an agenda for true federalism that can be supplied most muscularly by parties that consider their own state as the ‘centre’. Only such formations can demand exclusive state rights over their own resources and revenue. In the absence of economic autonomy of the states, ad-hocism and pound-of-flesh favouritism will keep some states happy and some states neglected. Delhi will corner disproportionate resources and subsidies anyways.

The continued use of the term ‘regional’ has another goal. This is to paint certain groups as hindrances to the speedy march of the Indian Union. ‘Regional’ has become a bad word. But the reality is that most of us (barring some post-liberalization yuppie urbanites) are not ashamed to be Tamils, Marathis, Bengalis, Oriyas and no other identity, real or imagined, can displace that.

What is the scope of these ‘regional’ parties in the global perspective? The Trinamool Congress got more votes in 2009 Lok Sabha than the victorious Tories got in the UK parliamentary elections of 2010. The DMK got more votes than the ruling Conservative party of Canada got in their 2011 federal election. Consider this. Post-partition, no national party has won an absolute majority of votes, ever. Also consider this. Even if I add up the 2 national parties, they have won less than 50 percent votes in 3 of the last 5 Lok Sabha elections. By concentrating simply on these 2 nationals, we stand to lose sight of the diverse and substantial political currents that represent the subcontinental reality. The Indian Union is a federal union. To make it a more democratic union, Delhi needs to be kept in leash by the states. The over centralized, Delhi-controlled India must die so that the Union of India may live.

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Federalism and the Indian Union / Federal front : Beyond convenience and bluster / The curious case of the federal front

[ Daily News and Analysis, 25 Jun 2013 ; Express Tribune (Karachi), 26 Jun 2013 ; Kashmir Reader, 27 June 2013 ; Kashmir Images, 27 June 2013 ] 

Nitish Kumar’s parting of ways with the BJP surely is a fillip for an incipient formation whose name has been doing the rounds in political circles. With the West Bengal Chief Minister’s call for a ‘federal front’ being met with some enthusiasm in Bihar and Orissa, we face a moment that we have known before. Between the Janata Dal (United), the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal, they represent about 10% of the Lok Sabha seats – not a small factor by any means. The third front is a curious organism in the political scene of the Indian Union. It is a phoenix-like organism that intermittently threatens to rise from the ashes. More often than not, its rise is arrested, not by external factors but in the dishonesty of the initial threat itself.  It is often the butt of jokes from the two so-called ‘national’ parties. But like the materialist Carvaka school of yesteryears that was vilified by the Brahminical orthodoxy for centuries, a consistent ridiculing represents a consistent perception of threat. It is the rise of this front in its various avatars, representing, in part, an aspiration to true federalism that has rendered all but ineffective that most undemocratic ‘national’ tool – Article 356. That elected state governments could be dismissed without a floor test by the centre may seem like a ridiculous idea today but it was not too long ago that the Old Congress and Indira Congress used this tool as a habitual short-cut to unseat opposition ruled state governments. There is much muck behind the copious tears of those who lament the receding relevance of the ‘national’ in politics. Others call it ‘parochial regionalism’ – a curious name for political forces that on average represent more people than most nations seated at the United Nations.The rise of these forces, especially during the heady days of the NT Rama Rao’s conclave, the National Front (Rashtriya Morcha) and the United Front, have left an indelible impact on how politics is done in the Indian Union.

But that was yesterday. Does anything remain today of such a federalist third force beyond convenience and bluster? This is especially odd given that the present parliament represents one of the lowest points for the ‘national’ if one were to combine the seats/votes of the Indira Congress and the BJP. It is not improbable that this number might reduce further in the next parliamentary elections. These 2 parties are thought to represent motherships to which others seek to anchor themselves. In reality, the appendages are nearly as big as the mothership if not bigger.

However, neither governance nor corruption distinguishes the 2 ‘nationals’ from the others. Opposing dynastic politics at Delhi, once the great rallying call for others, has lost steam due to the mini-satrapies that have developed in Chennai, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Lucknow and elsewhere.

Whatever becomes of Mamata’s call for a ‘federal front’, the thrust wont die soon. Which is why the ‘federal front’ concept needs a positive agenda to outgrow its definition in oppositional terms – anti-Congress, anti-BJP. The Anandpur Sahib resolution as adopted in 1978 by the All India Akali Conference is an extremely important document – especially those portions that have implications beyond Punjab and the Sikhs. Made in the backdrop of a Union still reeling from the Emergency (a phenomenon that could not have happened without centralization of power), the Anandpur Sahib resolution made a plea for progressive decentralization and an emphasis on federal principles. Major political forces of the time, including the Dravidian parties, CPI(M) and the Janata Party behemoth endorsed the decentralizing thrust. Ashok Mitra, the now disenchanted former CPI(M) finance minister, tried to organize opposition consensus around fiscal federalism. Now is the time to put on the table the question of fiscal autonomy – that revenues from a state should go directly to the same state without any Delhi middleman. That fiscal issue still remains at the core of the Indian Union’s false federalism and the centre has used its ill-begotten revenue wealth to divide and rule by handing out sops to pliant ‘regional’ forces. A federal front has to distinguish itself not by claiming it can manage the Union better within the present framework. It has to demand powers to be transferred from the Central and concurrent list to the state list. It has to claim back various revenue collection and disbursement powers. It has to revive the spirit of the Sarkaria commission and take it further. It has to have the imagination to offer the tantalizing possibility of a reconceptualized India – a more democratic federal Union. It has to become true its name – that is a political front that takes federalism seriously.

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Close the gap / NEET ways of killing off competition / Nothing ‘national’ about this entrance test / Entrance test and bias

[ Daily News and Analysis, 11 Jun 2013 ; The Telegraph (Kolkata), 26 Jun 2013 ; Millenium Post, 19 Jun 2013 ; Echo of India, 22 Jun 2013 ; Hitavada, 20 Jun 2013 ]

The medical entrance scene in India has changed with the introduction of the undergraduate National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). This was meant to be a single window test. In one go, the NEET has replaced most of medical entrance tests that were prevalent. By qualifying in the NEET, students would be able to compete for a percentage of seats in most medical colleges, throughout the Indian union, by their ‘national’ rank, while their ‘state rank’ would be useful to compete for medical college seats in states where they fulfill domicile requirements. From the very start, the NEET scheme scheme has been mired in controversy, with the initial steadfast refusal of the apparatchiks of the Medical Council of India (MCI) to allow question papers in non-Hindi subcontinental languages. In the non-Hindi states, a majority of students study primarily in their mother tongue. The status of English as the pre-eminent language of the science in the world today is clear – but that didn’t explain why the MCI was fine with Hindi (not really known to have some long-standing language of science heritage) but not with other languages. Finally, the MCI had to buckle under severe pressure exerted by several non-Hindi states like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, etc. The disgraceful compromise was that students can opt for question papers in Telugu, Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil and Bengali (languages corresponding to the states that showed some spine) but those who do opt for the test in the ‘regional’ language will not be eligible for the all-India quota. ‘Regional language’ is not a term that exists anywhere in the constitution of the Indian Union – it is a figment of imagination and is a telling clue to the mindscape of Delhi-based administrators. This term has been used in the information booklet issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), another Delhi based outfit that is in charge of conducting the test. However, if a student took the test in Hindi, they would be eligible for the all-India quota. There have been very few instances where the federal system has been abused to such a grave degree in matters of education. The abject surrender of the states is even more sordid as they finally buckled under the pressure.

The results of the NEET were announced on June 5. The states stood in a pecking order of sorts, in terms of the percentage of students who qualified. Assuming an equal medical seat density throughout the Union ( this is not true), a worse over-all result from a state would mean that more seats in medical colleges of  that state would be bagged by out-of-state individuals while there will not be any corresponding parity. For states, which have a greater then average medical seat density and a low performance in the NEET, this is a double whammy. This has been the case with Maharashtra in the results that were announced.

One may ask, in this India-wide marketplace, it is only ‘merit’ that should matter, isn’t it? This ‘merit’ talk falls flat on its face as we know, that for decades together, private medical colleges have been admitting students who need not demonstrate any more merit than a 50% score at the Class XII examination. They have gone on to become doctors. It shows that the undergraduate medicine course-work is not something that requires top ranks. The ranks have become important as a sieving tool due to the severe dearth of medical seats in a territory as populous as the Indian Union. The problem is compounded by the fact that a MBBS degree is a sure-shot ticket to the top 5% income bracket in the nation. Hence the over-subscription for medical college seats and all the merit talk that comes with it. There is no systematic empirical evidence from the subcontinent that one’s rank in a medical entrance has anything to do with one’s success as a medical practitioner or researcher.

It is useful to ask what are medical entrance exams for. It may not be out of place to take one step back and ask, what are medical colleges for? To answer that, it is important to remind ourselves what it is not for. It is not for providing good exam takers of 12th standard science with a prize in the form of a lucrative career. It is also not for nourishing holy cows like ‘national integration’, filling the medical college seats with the most ‘meritorious’ (with all the dubious assumptions associated with that term) or worsen the already skewed urban rural divide in the density of doctors. At a very basic level, it is to produce trained health workers who would provide healthcare to the multitude and/or advance the understanding of human biology and diseases by research. The way in which the NEET is set up, is a grave challenge to these objectives. The results of the first NEET bear out that bitter truth.

Framed from Delhi, after ‘consultation’ (it has to be one of the most abused terms in a flawed federal system), the NEET syllabus favours those who have undergone their schooling and training in the CBSE/ISC framework, the syllabus being a vital component of that framework.  States  boards with syllabi that differ considerably from the CBSE are at an unfair disadvantage – they have to change or perish, for absolutely no reason. The viability or ‘worth’ of a board of education’s science syllabus then is not in how well it teaches science to the students but incredibly, by how well it has adapted (or not) the basic framework of a Delhi-based boards’ syllabus. Are students studying science at the 12th standard in the CBSE syllabus uniquely equipped with an understanding of the sciences that is unparalleled by the state-boards? Or in other words if the state-boards are being forced to emulate the CBSE (in the name of removing aligning syllabi), is it something worth emulating? By rigorous research work (published in Current Science, 2009) that reviewed the comparative performance of students from different boards, Anil Kumar and Dibakar Chatterjee, scientists at the Indian Institute of Science , showed that  when it comes to science proficiency, CBSE is not numero uno. West Bengal board students did better than CBSE students in all 4 science subjects – Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. Andhra Pradesh does better than CBSE in Mathematics and Physics. By the same metric, Maharashtra is hardly the worst performing state as it was in the NEET. Tellingly, neither West Bengal nor Andhra Pradesh were top performing states in the NEET. Independent non-CBSE excellence has thus become an albatross around their neck. the CBSE ‘pattern’ of syllabus has become the standard, even though research shows it isn’t the best.

At a time when the urban-rural divide in doctor density is a matter of serious concern, the NEET favours a certain breed of to-be-doctors. Within a state, it favours students who study in central syllabi. This means, those segments of society who study in non-state boards will be disproportionately over-represented in the NEET. What are the implications? It means, more seats in medical colleges in states will be occupied by those who are more likely to be urban, non-native speakers of the state’s principal language, from a higher economic class who can afford to send their wards to well-established entrance exam factories in Kota and elsewhere, with feebler roots to the state and so on. Central boards have a lesser penetration in the non-Hindi regions. A recent 2-page advertisement from a Kota-based entrance-exam factory mentioned nearly a score of its clients in the top 50 NEET ranks. Of these 20 odd students, almost all were clearly North-Indian names. The south, on the other hand, has a higher seat density. The implications are not very encouraging as it can be assumed that those who are from a state are more likely to serve in rural outposts of the state as a career-physician. All these speculative points can be debated, but for that we need data. The NEET was conceived without any such data being made publicly available.

The NEET was sold on the point that it minimizes the number of entrance exams. What proportion of students studying science at the 12th standard took multiple medical entrance exams? This data is crucial. This is a very low number. And those of the central board profile likely to be over-represented even in that low number. So this grand scheme forces everyone to change to help an already privileged minority. This puts science education at the higher-secondary level in jeopardy all over as it reduces its goals to professional course entrance examinations. What the whole NEET exercise may be doing is to widen the pipeline that supplies medical manpower for snazzy hospitals that are being opened in metropoles that attract capital. There is a feverish rush of activity in an industry quite ironic for India – medical tourism.

The humble status of central boards to such commanding heights of dictation ( and not necessarily excellence) has happened with a concomitant fall in the status ( and again, not necessarily quality) of state boards. This phenomenon cannot be divorced from the centre-state context of the Indian Union where federalism means what bit of power that the states have can be wrested from them under various ruses. Education was classified as a state subject after partition.  It needed the Emergency under the Indira Congress to push education to the concurrent list by a constitutional amendment. Education, like most other concurrent list subjects has seen the slow ceding of power from state to centre, ‘consultations’ notwithstanding. The long-term implications of such India-wide tests are a future two-tier education system – the CBSE/ISC route for ‘people like us’ and state boards for the rest. As it is now, more students will continue to study in state-boards. In this year of ‘federal front’ talk, the return of education to the state list should be considered seriously for greater common good. For starters, the states which take rural healthcare seriously  should consider quitting the NEET.

Disclaimer: Garga Chatterjee was educated in a state board and was once a ‘topper’ of a state medical entrance examination.

*** DNA version ***

The undergraduate National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) was conceived as a single test by which students would be able to compete for seats in medical and dental colleges all over the Indian Union and also in states where they can prove domicile. Since inception, this scheme has been controversial — Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) initially refusing to allow question papers in non-Hindi subcontinental languages. Under the

compromise formula, those who do choose Telugu, Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil or Bengali would be ineligible for the all-India quota. Hindi comes with total eligibility. Few of Delhi’s interventions have been so blatant.
NEET results were announced on June 5. States varied widely in their performance. Let’s clarify what medical entrance exams are not for. It is not for providing the kid who can answer many questions in a stipulated number of hours after months of training at costly coaching institutes with a lucrative career prospect and possibly a good bargaining chip for dowry or to provide manpower for medical tourism or worsen the already skewed urban rural divide in the density of doctors. It is to produce human resource that would provide health care to the multitude and advance the understanding of human diseases by research. NEET is a grave challenge to these goals.

The syllabus of NEET, framed by the CBSE, favours those who have studied in the CBSE syllabus. State boards with non-CBSE syllabi are at a distinct disadvantage. Are 12th standard students studying science by the CBSE syllabus uniquely good? Research by Kumar and Chatterjee shows that when it comes to high-level science proficiency, state boards like West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are excellent. West Bengal board outperformed the CBSE in all science subjects — Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. Andhra Pradesh outperforms CBSE in Mathematics and Physics. Maharashtra is not the worst performing state as it was in NEET. Neither Bengal nor Andhra Pradesh makes it to the top three states in NEET.

The syllabus issue is important as within a state it also favours those segments of society who study in CBSE — they are likely to be urban, non-native speakers of the state’s principal language, from a higher economic class who can afford to send their wards to Kota- based entrance exam factories, with feebler roots to the state and so on. What are the long-term effects of such individuals occupying more seats?

The USP of the NEET was that it minimizes the number of entrance exams. What proportion of students studying science at the 12th standard took multiple medical entrance exams? This is a very low number. Higher-secondary level science education’s goal must look beyond medical/engineering entrance examinations.
In medical research, the Union is abysmally backwards. This is only to be expected from a system that increasingly produces doctors evermore distant from people’s realities with medical colleges having become assembly line for private hospitals that will be opened in the greater-greater-NCR.

Such NEET ways of killing off the state boards points to a future two-tier education system — the CBSE/ISC route for the elite, uppity and the aspirational and the state boards for the rest. Children of the elite- predominantly do not study in state boards — they too ‘national’ for the ‘lowly’ states. But at the end of the day, education is a state subject. Caesar should claim what is rightfully his and push back the encroaching beast. If equitable healthcare is a goal of medical education, the states should considering quitting the NEET.

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Filed under Acedemia, Delhi Durbar, Education, Elite, Language

Bihar’s just demands / Haq se maango

[ Daily News and Analysis, 2 Apr 2013 ; The Shillong Times, 6 Apr 2013; Millenium Post, 6 Apr 2013]

The recent induction of Narendra Modi to the to the parliamentary board of the Bharariya Janata Party (BJP), added one more chapter to the cold war between Janata Dal (United) and its no-as-secular ally. The BJP has been slowly pushing the envelope and this NDA partner is has been resisiting. When a chief minister of a opposition ruled state makes a visit to the New Delhi Durbar to meet Manmohan Singh, there is reason enough to follow it. When that chief minister in question is Bihar’s Nitish Kumar, one must sit up and take notice. This swift forward move from the backward state’s satrap is partly designed to polish Nitish’s ‘figher for Bihar’ image. Additionally, this also gives a clear signal to its supposed ally in Bihar, the BJP, that his party is not averse to two-timing. The ball is in the BJP’s court as this puts pressure on it to anoint a prime-ministerial candidate agreeable to Nitish’s party, Janata Dal (United). The BJP secretly wishes that New Delhi does not ahead and grant a substantial special package or the coveted ‘backward’ status to Bihar. Any such move from New Delhi will constrict the options in front of the BJP even more. It then has to match the Indira Congress bribe or play distant. The matching bribe may come in the form of a more Nitish-friendly prime-ministerial candidate for the NDA. Additionally, Nitish may simply call any grant from New Delhi inadequate and derive some kind of understanding from the BJP in that front if NDA comes to power. In short, Nitish’s Bihar can have its cake and eat it too. Nitish has played a masterstroke.

Sometimes such politicking overshadows genuine and substantive issues at hand. Case in point is the whole issue of ‘backward’ status or special financial package for Bihar. Bihar is one of the ‘sick’ or BIMARU states of the Union whose mineral wealth has been actively mined for a very long time. The clues to its special, but not unique, situation are to be found in the enthusiasm with which ruling party leaders from two other states – Orissa and West Bengal, have come out in support of Bihar’s plea and have added their own name to the queue.

To many, this might be appear to be an opportunistic gang-up moment to extract as much as one can from a fragile government with thinning numbers in the Lok Sabha and unsure of the reception at the hustings next time. And that is exactly correct. But what is forgotten in this age of short policy memory is that New Delhi shares a major part of blame for the pathetic industrial scenario in these states for decades – not as an innocent bystander but by active policy. The mineral rich states of Orissa, erstwhile Bihar (with Jharkhand) and West Bengal have been devastated for decades by the freight equalization policy of the centre. By this policy, the central governmental would subsidize the transportation cost of minerals from mining zones to anywhere else in the Union. Basic ideas of efficiency and cost considerations were thrown to the wind as the centre decided to create an artificial system by which production factories could now be uncoupled from the mines themselves. The locational and natural advantages of these states were neutralized by subsidizing their deindustrialization. This process went on for 4 decades, from 1952 to 1993. In addition to other factors, the present industrial map of India is based on the policy driven destruction of the competitive advantage of the mineral-rich states.

These eastern-states are textbook cases of what devastation centralist policywallahs can do in a pseudo-federal polity. The begging bowls in the hands of these states are not accidental, as these states have never received any reparation for this punitive central policy. That is long due. If the centre is too broke to give reparations, then a genuine federal solution must be found where states would control mineral revenues found under their soil. It is absurd that coal-producing states often pay more to the centre than non coal-producing states to buy their own coal. Revisiting the central, state and concurrent lists are the need of the hour. There is a limit to New Delhi keeping states at tenterhooks by dangling the carrot of central grants. Local control of revenue will blow the cover of this false sense of importance.

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Floating in the Durbar / Floats in the Delhi Durbar

[ The Friday Times , February 22-28, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 02 ]

Sometime last month, it was the 26th of January in the Indian Union. It was January 26th at many other places but the date has a special significance for the Union of India nation-state. And Delhi has a special significance for the Union of India. I was, in fact, in Delhi that day. Not in that ‘New’ Delhi – built on the land ‘cleared’ by displacing numerous villages, villages that had been there for centuries. Some descendants are still fighting for compensation for the land where present day Lutyens and Baker designed palaces stand. I am told that in some of these palaces, there are crisp-khadi-wearing sages who are busy determining compensation amounts for village-destructions and community-annihilations that are being planned right now. Some say, in the subcontinent, the notion of time is not linear but cyclical. I have an odd feeling that it is more like a downward spiral. By mistake, one may think it is an upward spiral, especially if one just sees a snapshot without a past. For every displaced village there is a trendy and hip urban ‘village’ in Delhi. For the hip, it is a world ‘pregnant’ with opportunities – some bellies need to be torn apart in the process, that’s all.

Since the day is a state holiday in the territory of the Indian Union, I will write and ramble. It’s a chhutti after all. So, I was in Delhi on the 26th. There is this splendid kababi on the road through the Delhi gate of Shahjahanabad. They call themselves Captain’s Kabab and claim to be more than a century old. They earlier had a signboard called Tundey Kabab. That had a different establishment date – again more than a century old. The signboards are very new. They haven’t even thrown away the Tunday Kabab signboard – the date discord is for all to see. But more importantly, the Kabab is there for all to taste. And it is sterling. The powers to be had fenced off the whole stretch of this road till the Red Fort and beyond. This made things hard for me as I had to walk quite a bit to simply reach the opposite side of the street where the Kabab shop is. This went on for a few days to the run up to the 26th. I had been in the same area, in a similar fix around August, the 15th. But then that occasion had brought cheer to my life. Ostensibly to portray that the Union’s diversity goes beyond humans, different kinds of animals are brought to parade on this day, on top of which men sit wearing gaudy military uniforms, ready to defend me. Some of these four-legged beasts used to rest in front of my hotel, taking a break from their patriotic duty. I had seen the mouth of a camel up close and had marveled at the size of its teeth.

For some reason, the morning sun of the 26th of January in Shahjahanabad reminded me of an anecdote that a gender studies scholar had once related to me. She grew up in Allahabad, no less – the city that housed the Nehrus’ and the city which saw its first motor car quite early – also of the Nehrus’. So there was this custom of standing up, with a spine as much erect as one can, when the Indian Union’s ‘national anthem’ is played. This ranked high among the set of ‘values’ to be inculcated in the young and the impressionable. So one day, when she and her sister was near about their father and his friend at a local tea shop, they all heard the ‘national anthem’ – Rabindranath’s words overworked to death for reasons of state. The father and his friend kept on drinking their tea, seated as before. Fresh with patriotic righteousness in such matters, the sisters castigated the elders, making them somewhat squeamish. After high school, she went to university and there she was starting to learn that there are many other in the world beyond the tricolour. But certain old habits die-hard. One day as she lay supine in her hostel bed, the radio decided to dish out Rabindranath’s co-opted verses. Her former tricolour self and her present multi-coloured self reflexively reached an instantaneous compromise – she continued laying on her back but stiffened her spine, stretched the fingers of her feet as much as she could. She lay ‘in attention’. Strange are the ways in which the tricolour evokes an erection. But I digress.

Whether I understood Gandhi wrong or the state read him wrong is an open question but a big attraction of the 26th in this Republic of self-proclaimed non-violence is the parading of its latest guns, tanks and missiles with concomitant cheering by its naturally, culturally, historically and physiologically non-violent Delhi citizenry. After the display of arms and ammunitions have soothed the anxious hearts of the non-violent people, gaudy floats or tableaux from various provinces and some central government agencies capture the road in front of the Red Fort. Lest someone may think that this kind of ‘diversity on display’ is inspired by the similarly annual spectacles organized by Stalin in Red Square (Square, Fort – what does it matter?), one simply has to look into the past of the eternal Republic. Not ‘Vedic  past’ but ‘Durbar past’. During the British rule over the subcontinent, Delhi was, for a few occasions, the venue of a spectacular and costly farce called the Durbar – a symbolic act of collective obeisance to the janaganabhagyavidhata of the time. The armies of the British crown (which continued uninterrupted under the Congressite crown) and the diversity of the spine-less native princes’ procession in front of the King-Emperor or his Viceroy for long provided the template from which today’s spectacle grew. The continuity is telling in more ways than one. A major project of post-partition history and civics in the Indian Union has been to manufacture a discontinuity. It is increasingly successful. Eternal republics have endless resources for such projects.

I was woken up early by the processions and I joined others to watch the annual Republican ritual. My peculiar location helped me get the view for the show that was otherwise ticketed. Lack of sleep does not suit me well. Last night’s food was making its presence felt. Standing by the march-past, I farted. Thankfully, there were lots of patriotic noises to drown me. I made a mental note to myself – radish, cabbage and Bengal grams, within 12 hours of consumption, are incompatible with patriotism. A man learns something every day.

I stood on the street-side as the floats passed one by one. Given my dirty mind, I could not help notice a little piece of ‘heaven’ floating as a float on this earth, right here in Delhi. Oh, the joy! On that float, there were people looking happy. They were looking happy continuously, a rare feat for even the happiest on this earth. They were happy up until the float finished its course. I do not know whether they continued to be happy ever after – those characters on the float. Some party-pooping voice in my head whispered that on this day, there were more people on this float in Delhi than there was on the streets of the capital of the province that this float is supposed to represent. The eternal Republic did not deny the whisper, its ‘independent’ media did not confirm it either. Cutting through the fog of unconfirmed discomforts, a little piece of heaven floated alongside the Red Fort. The atmosphere was gay and many a brown cheeks wore tricolour paint. Such was the glory of that splendid January morning.

One by one came floats from many areas – the affected mirth of one trying to vanquish the affected mirth of the one in front of it. This reminded me of Soviet show-farms but only better. They only managed affected mirth. The republic has managed to introduce the unique spectacle of competitive affected mirth. No kidding.

Then came the tableau of ‘Paschim Bangaal’, written in Devanagari, no less. Thankfully, this one did not have any affected mirth as it was decorated with statues of confirmed dead but famous people and one Subhash Chandra Bose. But that’s not the point. What is this ‘Paschim Bangaal’? Ostensibly, it has something to do with the western half of Bengal after its second partition in 1947. ‘Paschim Bangaal’ is not what a stupendous majority of the people living in that land calls it. The script in which that was written is understood by very few in that land. But to be ‘represented’ and made intelligible (to whom?), Delhi seems to have specific ways to caricature our names, a process to which we have to necessarily submit. The Hindi-Hindu republic is free to call anyone in whatever way it deems fit, and by dint of an ideological veneer lubricated with cold cash, this ‘way’ has now been normalized in the minds of many. Such is the insidious nature of a centralizing uni-lingual nation-state. When Bengalis pronounce other people’s names in their way, it is termed ignorance. When they stick to pronouncing names in their own ways, after being reminded of the correct way, it is termed obstinacy and parochialism. When the Hindi-Hindu mandarins do the same, it becomes a standard, a benchmark – to be emulated and propagated. All peoples have their own ways of making sense of others, except the hegemon who has a unilateral right to not only caricature others but also make sure that such caricatures enjoy the status of ‘official’ and ‘approved’ portrayals. The ideology runs deep. The Tamils or the Bengalees can be caricatured for their dress and pronunciation, but there is no fiddling with the Hindu-Hindi. The core is never caricatured. Or rather, what is not caricatured is a hint to what is the core. It is the sovereign and as Miss Roy points out, sovereign is the one that alone can decide on exceptions. It sits in the Red Fort, it sits in our school syllabi, it sits inside the heads of the subject peoples. To make a core-periphery distinction is unpalatable to some. Some from the periphery are complicit in this show – following to the minutest detail the correct and ‘standard’ way to bend over backwards, how to prostrate at the right moments, so as to have the privilege to strut in front of power.

The core is most comfortable, no doubt, in Delhi, where it all began. After all, what better place to institutionalize inequity and marginalization of ‘misfits’ than a new ‘city’ whose founding is based on the total uprooting of whole rooted communities. Rootedness is something it hates like a plague. This is a mecca of the rootless but even here, true success is only for those who are ready to reach for the stars on the shoulder of others. The state signals its favour for this ilk in no uncertain terms when it awards its badges of honour. The ‘Padma Shri’ for ‘distinguished service in any field’ is the award that is most commonly given away and is typically announced just before the 26th of January every year. Delhi accounts for less than 2 per cent of the population living in the territory of the Indian Union. This year, nearly 20 per cent of the winners of Padma Shri were from Delhi. There is something about Delhi, some believe – as the thick and rich cream generated by distributive injustice is made invisible as such, and transformed into the ‘spirit of Delhi’ and other such curious concepts.

From Delhi’s own float, a rock-star looking character sang –

‘Dilli khushion ka angan

Dilli sadio se raoshan

Dilli kala ka sagar…

Dilli sab ka dil hai yaaro,

Desh ki dharkan Dilli’

So, if you want to be counted, you know what tongue to speak and where to stay. For the rooted, the obstinate and the rest, there is ‘the idea of India’ to suck on.

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Deconstructing elite ‘concern’ and ‘action’ on rape / Shinde’s ‘Common Man’ Approach Is Just Rhetoric / Rape, rapists and politicians / Hope, that foul, deceitful thing

[ Daily News and Analysis, 24 Dec 2012 ; Kashmir Times, Dec 2012 ; Echo of India, 1 Jan 2013 ; Millenium Post, 28 Dec 2012 ]

When powerful people show concern and promise speedy action on injustice, there is a transient moment of home. Given how many times this charade has been played in front of the people, including this time with regards to the Delhi rape and violence incident, it may be useful to take this incident and analyze. This may be a useful exercise in calling out double-speak from the Indian nation state.

Not always does one see a failed presidential candidate come out to defend the ‘sanctity’ of the residential-palace of a successful presidential candidate. On 22nd December, Sushil Kumar Shinde, the home-minister of the Indian Union, tried his best to appear statesmanlike at the press-conference at the Press Information Bureau. Flanked by a couple of other ministers and a smattering of bureaucrats, he announced to the assembled media and through them to ‘people-at-large’ that the government had heard the rape-protestors of New Delhi. The poor should learn something – it is not enough to be displaced, raped, maimed, killed, brutalized for years. It is also important to know how to chant slogans in English and write them in chart-paper. The star-studded press conference was not so much about firefighting – after all, youths holding placards written in English are not a major electoral constituency.  It was more about appearing sensitive to a larger populace. Shinde saheb even tried the ‘common-man’ approach.

He said that he understood the outrage for he too was a father. Oh, the connect! Lesser mortals are lesser in more ways than one. Rare are the moments when people in power include themselves in ‘everyone of us’, as if we are one community. When the ‘common bond of humanity’ ploy is used in such moments – those in the charmed circle in Lutyen’s Delhi and its South Delhi spill-over nod liberally in agreement. One would almost want to believe that Shinde saheb’s daughter would buy a 10 Rupee ticket on a green Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus and travel from Daryaganj to Kapashera border after a hard day’s work, you know, like many, many others. No such luck. Shinde saheb has Z plus security. One of his daughters, Praniti madam, is a MLA. With more police force out to protect his powerful daughter than what would be deployed to protect an average neighbourhood, it is hard to imagine an anxious father of a commoner here. Unless of course she was meeting aspiring legislators of his own party. After all, in the last five years,  Maharashtra, Shinde saheb’s home state, has had the largest number of candidates with declared cases of crimes against women, including rape. Atleast 26 Indira Congress candidates to different legislatures had such cases against them (source: Association for Democratic Reforms). Shinde Saheb may say that all of these cases are politically motivated or ‘law will take its own course’, but surely, as a father, would he take chances? If not, what have the people done to deserve these candidates from his party? That the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party also has numerous such candidates does not help matters, does it? What do Smriti Iraniji and Sushma Swarajji think about the ‘jewels’ that their party has been nominating? Why is the tirade against the bad guy always directed towards an inchoate other or society at large, when there are more tangible alleged-rascals inside the party? There have been calls for ‘fast-track’ legal procedures for such cases. Ostensibly, this fast tracking should also apply to alleged crime committed against women by tricolour and saffron ‘social workers’. Shouldn’t it?

In a statement after meeting the Prime Minister of the Indian Union, Manmohan Singhji, Shinde Saheb stated that “To ensure a strong law to deal with crimes of this nature, the government will take immediate steps for the amendment of the Criminal Law for enhanced and more effective punishment in the rarest of the rare cases of sexual assault such as this”. This is something that has a resonance with a significant section of the protestors where public hanging and castration have been demanded. But there is rape and there is rape. The state has hinted that it might toy with the idea of death penalty or something more severe that the present punishment for ‘rarest of the rare cases’. Is the alleged rape of a 56-year-old woman in Gujarat by a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawan a ‘rarest of rare case’? Does the alleged repeated sexual brutalization of Soni Sori  in the custody of Chhattisgarh police qualify as a ‘rarest of rare case’? Was the alleged gang-rape of a 12 year old mentally challenged deaf and mute girl by 3 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) near their Warangal area camp a ‘ rarest of rare case’? What about the alleged gang-rape in Basirhat, West Bengal by 5 jawans of the Border Security Force (BSF)? Is the alleged rape of a Congolese child a by Indian Army jawan posted as a ‘peace-keepers’ a ‘rarest of rare case’?  Did the forensic evidence of DNA match matter in that case? Did anything matter? Did anything get fast-tracked, or was a clean-chit thrown back on the face of the victim? What about the Kunan Poshpora tragedy of February 23, 1991 – the alleged gang-rape of more than 50 Kashmiri women by jawans of the Indian Army? It has been 22 years. Does ‘morale’ come before justice or does ‘honour’ look different when viewed through tricolour blinders? Or are these not ‘rarest of rare cases’ not ‘rarest of rare’ precisely because they are not rare? I sincerely hope the Delhi youngsters who spectacularly besieged the Raisina Hills only to be lathi-charged back have all this in mind, when they chant, ‘We-want-jus-tice’.

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Filed under Army / police, Class, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Elite, Gender, Nation, Our underbellies, Power, Rights, Scars, Terror, The perfumed ones

This my people / Irom’s Manipur, Pazo Bibi’s Balochistan and Obama’s America – lessons for the Subcontinent

[ The Friday Times (Lahore), December 28 – January 03, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 46 ; Frontier(web), 27 Nov 2012; The NorthEast Today, May 2013 ]

The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.

—Allan Bloom

When there is a festival, it may create an illusion as if the ‘whole world’ is happy at this moment. Or so we like to think. Solitary wails cannot be heard above the sea of laughter. For a certain segment of inhabitants of the Indian Union, the high note of last November was Barrack Obama’s victory in the US presidential elections. He asked for 4 more years. He got it. Resident and non-resident desis watched his victory speech of hope.  USA may or may not have 4 more years of hope, but that November also marked 12 years of hopelessness in a part of this subcontinent. Irom Sharmila Chanu, the Gandhi that Gandhi never was, finished 12 years of her epic fast, protesting the torture perpetrated by the armed wing of the Indian state in Manipur, especially in the cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). And she is not finished, yet. She may get 12 more years. I sincerely hope not.

A major part of the reason why the cries of Manipuri women, as exemplified by Irom Sharmila Chanu, can be ignored is the purported ‘insignificance’ of Manipur in the ‘national’ scene. This ‘national scene’ effectively came into being in the Indian Union after the Republic was proclaimed in 1950. Even before the Indian Union was a Republic, it had managed to dismiss the democratically elected government of Manipur led by the Praja Shanti party. The Congress had fought the elections of Manipur and lost. Manipur, with an elected government and at that point not an integral part of the Union, was annexed by the Union of India, which was still not a Republic. Original sins often create particularly bad ulcers.  Excision is not an option for a ‘modern nation state’. Hence ‘insignificant’ ulcers bleed on as the rest of the body is on pain-killers, reading history and civics dutifully from official textbooks.

The focus on the US presidential election also focused the minds of some desis on to the two other elections happening in the USA at the same time – those to the US Congress and the US Senate. Let us understand a few things carefully. The US Congress is analogous to the Lok Sabha of the Indian Union. But the USA is a nation constituted by a more real commitment to federalism rather than a semantic charade in the name of federalism. Hence its upper house, the US Senate is not analogous to the Rajya Sabha of the Indian Union. In the lower house in both USA and the Indian Union, the numbers of seats are meant to be proportional to the population. This represents that strand of the nation-state that gives precedence to the whole. This whole is ahistorical and is a legal instrument, though much time and money is spent in the Indian Union to create a fictional past of this legal form. The upper house in the USA represents that strand where past compacts and differing trajectories and identities are represented in the form of states. The states form the ‘United’ States of America – hence in the Senate the unit is the state, not the individual citizen. That is why in the US Senate, each state, irrespective of population, has 2 members. This respects diversity of states and acts as a protection against the domination of more populous states and ensures that smaller states are respected and are equal stake-holders of the Union. In the Indian Union, the so-called ‘Rajya Sabha’ is simply a copy of the Lok Sabha, with multiple staggered time offsets. Even in the Rajya Sabha, the seats allotted to each state are roughly proportional to its population – and hence at its core does not represent any different take on the Indian Union. In the Sabha of the Rajyas, the Rajyas are not the unit, making a mockery of the name itself. Manipur has 1 representative in a Rajya Sabha of 245 members. Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura altogether have 7 members in that Rajya Sabha. No group thinks of themselves as ‘lesser people’ for being fewer in number. A federal democratic union is not only for the children of Bharatmata. It is a way of having a joint family with many mothers, for no one’s mata is less important than my mata.

This pattern is replicated all across the subcontinent. When one looks to the west, once sees the autonomy of the Khanate of Kalat being usurped unilaterally as part of the ‘One Unit’ scheme, again by a fresh Pakistan state that itself did not possess a republican constitution. And there too, one sees a festering ulcer that bleeds intermittently. Sweeping powers given to the Frontier Corps do not help. Nor do the extra-judicial killings and torture of young Baloch activists help. Piercing an ulcer with a dirty knife risks a general blood poisoning. Every missing person, every body-less head, every tortured torso that ‘appears’ by the highway in Balochistan makes the lofty pronouncements about human rights made from Islamabad that much more hollow. And even if the Baloch decided to try to democratic path, what can they do in a system where they count for less than a tenth of the seats, in the national assembly. In November, the extra-ordinary powers of the Frontier Corps were extended in Balochistan again. Maintaining ‘law and order’ is the universal answer to all protestations – that same cover that the British used to beat brown people into pulp. If the brutal actions of the Frontier Corps as well as the impunity enjoyed by themselves sounds familiar across the border, it is because their colonial cousins in Khaki also have a similar record of glory. It is this impunity that has broader implications. Live footages of Sarfaraz Shah’s killing or Chongkham Sanjit’s murder will not lead to anyone’s pension being withheld. Behind the scenes, there might well be pats on the backs for the ‘lions’.

It is useful to understand why it is in the best interest of a democratic Union that the Rajya Sabha be constituted on a fundamentally different paradigm than the Lok Sabha, rather than replicating it. In contrast to the ‘whole’ viewpoint, the regions of the Indian Union and Pakistan have diverse pasts, some of which have hardly ever been intertwined with the ‘centre’, however defined. This also means that concerns, aspirations and visions of the future also differ based on a region’s perceived attitude towards a monolithic ‘whole’. A federal democratic union is one that does not discriminate between aspirations and is rather flexible enough to accommodate differing aspirations. Rather than using ‘unity in diversity’ as an anxious mantra of a paranoid monolith, one might want to creatively forge a unity whose first step is the honest assessment of diversity by admitting that the Indian Union or Pakistan are really multi-national nation-states.

Irom Sharmila’s struggle is failing partly because in this fight for dignity of the Manipuri people, the subcontinental constitutions drowns the voice of the victim in the crowd of the apathetic and the indifferent, inside and outside the legislative chambers of Delhi and Islamabad. Violence then becomes a way to be heard above the high decibel ritual chants of the ‘idea of India’ or ‘fortress of Islam’ or ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’. Ideologically vitiated ‘national’ school syllabi and impunity of military forces do not produce unity – it produces a polarization between unity and diverse dignities. There is no unity without the constitutive parts’ dignity. Hindi majoritarianism or Punjabi-Urdu majoritarianism may not appear so to its practitioners but from the vantage of the step-children of the majoritarian nation-state, the world looks very different.  When such questions are raised in the subcontinent, one may see tacit agreement or opposition. As far as the opposition goes, it is important to make a few mental notes. Is the person who opposes the idea for whatever reason, from Delhi/Islamabad/Lahore or broadly from North India / West Punjab? Also, has the concerned person lived most of their adult life in a province different from where his/her grandfather lived. If the answer to either if this is yes, there is a high likelihood that the pattern of response to questions raised in this piece will be of a certain kind. Inherent majorities with the noblest of democratic pretensions end up forming imperious centres in the name of a union. A democratic union of states takes into cognizance the subcontinent as it is, not the subcontinent that delhiwallas and isloo/lahorewallas would want it to be like.

A point often made by legal honchos of the subcontinent is that neither Pakistan nor the Union of India is a union of states in the same way the United States of America is. What they mean is that these nation-states did not come into being due to some agreement or treaty between states. Rather they maintain that the states/provinces are arbitrary legal entities/ instruments created by the respective constitutions for administrative ease. What such a reading aims to do is to delegitimize any expression of aspiration of the states/provinces that may not be in line with the centre. How can an arbitrary legal entity created by central fiat and also alterable by fiat have autonomous will? This legalese collapses in the face of sub-continental reality where states/provinces as they exist today are broadly along ethno-linguistic lines. These entities are along ethno-linguistic lines ( and more are in the pipeline in Seraiki province or Telegana) because ‘administrative’ units can only be arbitrary to a point, irrespective of the total arbitrariness that constitutions permit. The ethno-linguistic ground-swells are real, aspirations to homeland are real, and since the capital cities do not have enough experimental chambers to convert all inhabitants into ‘nothing but Indian’ or ‘nothing but Pakistani’, these are here to stay and do not seem to have any immediate plans of committing suicide. While the specific drawing of the lines may be arbitrary (something that applies to the whole nation-state too), that in no way makes the reality of ethno-linguistic community habitats vanish. A legal stranglehold that denies this reality also ends up denying that the subcontinent existed before the constitutions were drawn up. If the BritIsh didn’t happen to the subcontinent, and if one or more large nation-states had to happen in the subcontinent, such entities would have been due to agreements between different near-sovereign entities. That states/provinces did not have such agency to make such a compact in 1947 is a legacy of British rule. Ironically, such a scenario bequeathed from the British is the bedrock of the post-colonial nation-states of Pakistan and the Indian Union. Both like to call themselves federal, for no one else calls them so.

A creative re-conceptualization of the distribution of representation and power in the Indian Union as well as Pakistan may show that one does not necessarily need to choose between the unity and diversity. Accounting for more than a sixth of humanity and a serious breadth of non-domesticated diversity, that subcontinental experiment is worth doing, irrespective of its outcome. A people’s democratic union is not only feasible but also humane. For far too long, bedtime stories commissioned by the state have been read out in schools and in media outlets, so that our deep metropolitan slumber is not interrupted by real nightmares in rougher parts. But there are just too many truths to spoil the myth.

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Filed under Army / police, Change, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Elite, Federalism, Foundational myths, History, Identity, India, Nation, Pakistan, Plural pasts, Polity, Power, Rights, Terror

Beyond Anglo-trade and Anglo-aid

[ Daily News and Analysis, 12 Nov 2012 ]

Justine Greening, the Tory Secretary of State for International development, announced on November 9th that Britain has decided to stop all financial aid grants to the Indian Union after 2015. No new grant will be given between now and 2015 but programmes that are already underway will be allowed to be completed, latest by 2015. The largest post-partition segment of the erstwhile British domains in South Asia has seen a rate of growth in its gross domestic product (GDP) than has been outstripping ‘mothership’ for quite a few years now. At long last, the proud father can look at the 60-year old young man and say ‘Look at you. How much you have grown. You still don’t look like I looked in my youth, but that is okay. We were made of different stuff. They don’t make them like that anymore.’ As a rite of passage, the father has decided to discontinue the act of pocket money. The confident son, who would not unilaterally protest at the extra cash, has acted adult and all, and has proudly stated that ‘aid is past, trade is future’.

But poverty is the present.  And if we cannot hear the ‘giant sucking sound northwards’ that finance capital creates by investing in ‘emerging markets’, it will be the future. 2011 data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that measured in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, the Indian Union’s share of the world GDP was 5.65 %.  Around the time of the Battle of Palashi (Plassey for the Anglicized) in 1757, the subcontinent accounted for 25% of the world GDP (Angus Maddison’s The World Economy: A millennial perspective). This was slightly more than all of Western Europe’s share (Britain included) taken together. And then Britain happened. The Chinese Empire’s share of the world GDP was over 30% in the 1830s. The timing is crucial. For them too, Britain happened, in the form of the Opium Wars. Drug running and colonial empire building has always been closely linked. Those lamenting the loss to China in 1962 may find macabre solace in knowing that the House of Tata and the House of Birla were pre-eminent in the opium-drug ‘trade’ that wrecked the Chinese economy.

In Britain’s decision, there is political expediency at play. Possibly the government cannot be seen to be showering largesse on a group of people whose public faces never tire to talk about their unfathomably deep appetite for market goods and their ‘arrival’ on the global scene. With huge egos pumped up by ill-begotten wealth, the vulgar trot of the ‘global Indian’ on the ‘international stage’ (from European holidays to the Commonwealth Games) is not appreciated by those Britishers whose social safety net is shrinking. The pompous ambassadors of South Asia have actively connived to supplant the idea of poverty that has been associated with the subcontinent for a long time. The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, with poverty comes the poor, and with that, wily-nily comes the idea that South Delhi types and the bhukha-nanga types might actually be the same type, varnishing aside. Secondly, suggestions of wide-spread hunger also point a causal arrow to stuffed bellies. The ‘global Indian’ wants to party hard and does not want to spoil the party. In Britain, quite a few have stopped partying and they have come to look at the revelers as the erst-while hungry. Some of these even turn ‘anti-imperialist’ crusaders at international for a, asking for an equal per capita cap for carbon emissions for all countries. In their posturing, no one asks whether they plan to follow this notion of distributive justice inside the country too – with a Bandra highrise resident having the same cap for carbon emissions as the Dharavi resident. PR can work wonders. Lutyens Delhi can be spruced up as an anti-imperialist fortress.

The extent of the ‘India loot’ and the ‘China loot’ has been erased from public memory in Britain. Sleepy little towns got cobblestones, streetlights, extensive plumbing. Teenage small town boys without job prospects back home became sahibs and came back with loots. Other continents were won. The loot under-wrote war efforts and reconstruction efforts. Vaults spilled over many times. Traditional loot became systematically incorporated in the modes of life and infrastructural amenities that is rather innocuously now called a ‘higher standard of living’. This forgetting is also aided by the silence of the looted. But it was not too long ago when Dadabhoi Naoroji was crying hoarse over ‘Drain of Wealth’. Have such ideas become unfashionable in a subcontinent where such drain now occurs within, flowing down the highways into the cities. However unfashionable that may be, the descendants of those who were short-changed by the British rule in the subcontinent far outnumber those who benefited from it. If the former was ruling India, it would be asking for reparations. Even if the most modest estimates were true, such reparations would make Britain what it has been for much of its existence – a food-deficient island in the North Sea.

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Filed under Delhi Durbar, Elite, History, India, Jal Jangal Zameen, Memory, Non-barbarians, Power, Scars, The perfumed ones, Under the skin

Why all roads should avoid leading to Delhi

[ Daily News and Analysis, 22 Oct 2012 ]

A Congress-man for much of his life, the President of the provisional government of Free India (Ārzī Hukūmat-e-Āzād Hind) Subhash Chandra Bose’s legendary call ‘Delhi Chalo’ for the Azad Hind Fauj became a legend before such calls became clichés. It was not to direct it towards the urban agglomeration of Delhi (New by then) per se, but as a call to storm the seat of the British colonial administration in the subcontinent. That was to be expected for the British regime of Delhi while bleeding the Subcontinent white also wanted to slip into the shoes of the long line of erstwhile dictatorial rulers from Delhi. The colonial extraction machine needed to be supremely centralized – that is one of the tell-tale hallmarks of an undemocratic set-up. To try to dislodge George VI, Rex Imperator, is something – but now that the browns have taken over for some sixty odd years now, should we continue to view Delhi as the venue to lodge the ultimate protest or to the venue to celebrate the ultimate triumph, as the case may be. This questions needs serious introspection – especially because the Indian state governs a massive number of people, nearly one sixth of humanity, who have many different stories to tell.

Lets take the recent Anna Hazare dharnas. This activist and his band of anti-corruption activists sat on a dharna and hunger strike this summer. The place of choice for the public display of protest was Jantar Mantar- the sanitized ‘democracy footpath’ in New Delhi. This ‘free for all’ stretch of democratic expression under the watchful eyes of the police and plain-clothes intelligence is akin to the sham ‘happy farms’ of USSR minus one important element – none but extreme nitwits were fooled by Moscow. If the anti-corruption protests by Hazare and company is compared to a spectator sport (and I do not want to demean the earnestness of the protestors or suggest that they are anything less than well-meaning), it seems like Delhi is the stadium where it is worth playing, its inhabitants are the people in front of whom it is worth playing. It is possibly tactically smart too – the headquarters of major ‘national media’ (whatever that is) are here, the lush Lutyens bungalows of the men ( and few women) against whom their ire is directed are here. The problem with that is that the media yardstick of success and failure of movements and protests played out in this mode is disproportionately influenced by the daily mood of an urban area that is unrepresentative of the subcontinent at so many levels. For starters, it lacks a robust culture of street-democracy that is so characteristic of many other places. It is also a cosmetic town, with much of its underclass in the erstwhile-slums shoved out of it and chucked trans-Yamuna. The smoothness of that operation and how similar operations are not that easy in Mumbai or Kolkata are important pointers to the political culture and awareness of the cities, and if I may add, the human quality of the cities. That the words ‘Turkoman gate’*1 may mean nothing to today’s Delhi-ites tells us something. It is indeed a ‘New’ Delhi.  If Delhi were a human being, it would be a grotesque caricature – an extremely well-fed fat man, without armpits, buttocks, thighs, skin folds and hair tufts, but reeking with the smell of presume that can be smelled from a mile off.  A state-subsidized veneer of opulence by design affects the self-perception of the populace of significant portions of the city, especially the post-1991 aspirational segment, that includes the elite and uppity, migratory, rootless class. The artificial tweak of the demography of New Delhi by forcible slum ‘clearing’ also affects how issues of poverty and justice come to be viewed in the public square of the city.  It is no surprise that a Delhi-based middle-class turn-out at the Anna Hazare events made it a ‘success’ by Delhi standards. That acute dependence on so economically and geographically unrepresentative a set is a bottle-neck for any party or movement that seriously aspires to speak for more people. This dependence on the Delhi theatre has another disadvantage. Protests and initiatives are forced to play by a set of restrictive rules of the game – a game that the specific ecology of Delhi has helped the powerful hone to perfection for decades now. Malcolm X’s critical words about the August 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom ( and for  rights of African-Americans) come to mind – ‘They controlled it so tight, they told those Negroes what time to hit town, how to come, where to stop, what signs to carry, what song to sing, what speech they could make, and what speech they couldn’t make; and then told them to get out town by sundown.’

Worse things have happened in Delhi. Malcolm X was talking about manipulation but criminal apathy is quite another thing.  In March 2006, a large group of survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster marched on foot from Bhopal to Delhi. This was years before the court verdict on the Bhopal case made shedding crocodile’s tears on camera by national parties fashionable and politically encashable for what its worth. The 2006 Bhopal protest sans young yuppies and cameras resulted in police beating up the protestors, including the inspiring female gas-survivor Ashraf, a senior citizen. 35 children under 12, most of who had walked from Bhopal to Delhi, were taken into police custody. There was a similar dharna this year too – you may have missed it between the toothpaste ad and the show about India’s latest ‘idol’. More likely, it was never ‘on’. Innumerable others have marched to Delhi on other occasions over the years. Most of them, with robust and popular support in the areas they come from, came to a city whose idiom they did not get and the city which in return could care even less. This loss of dignity of some of the most powerful and compassionate actors of grassroots democratic practice just because they are forced to perform in an alien and hostile terrain makes each of us that much more complicit in their blank, dust-lashed look at the end of their Delhi day. And this will happen again. And again. And again.

In early October, the Gandhian local-governance oriented alliance of many grassroots groups called the Ekta Parishad marched from Gwalior to go to Delhi. 48000 adibashis constituted a major part of this march for legal rights over their ancestral lands. This is not the first time the Ekta Parishad organized a march. Because this mass of non-perfumed humanity managed to grab 15 seconds ‘between the breaks’ and could potentially cause some traffic disruption, a minister showed up to cut is short at Agra. In return, they got homilies that may be mistaken for heart-felt solidarity. Tens of thousands of hungry and landless, have marched before and will march again, only to be looked at with derision and suspicion, or most tragically, avoided by using alternative traffic routes. At a deeper level, this is not a Delhi-specific problem – it is Delhi where it is at its worst. The problem lies with the idea of a power centre – any centre.

When Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist-activist was temporarily disappeared from Beijing by the Chinese authorities, the spotlight turned not to Beijing but Hong Kong, an area with a relatively better contemporary culture and tradition of public expression and protest. One suspects, even the famed Chinese capital was watching the protests in Hong Kong about events that were happening in the capital. An imaginative use of the ‘home-turf’ can project democratic aspirations to others, without entering the city of snake and ladders.

Multiple centres that have a spectacular living culture of other kinds of political awareness and practice exist beyond Delhi – Koodankulam comes to mind.  In a nation-state like the Indian Union, the Delhi idiom limits the hues of democratic practice. Multiple centres that have a living culture of other kinds of political awareness and practice exist beyond Delhi. Might India have something to learn from China? Why not  ‘Chalo Bhopal’ or ‘Chalo Lavasa’*2 or ‘Chalo Niyamgiri’*3 for that matter? Durjodhon’s thigh *4 might be right where you are standing at this moment.

Explanatory notes:

*1  Turkoman gate – Refers to the massive eviction of the poor, primarily Muslims, from this area of Delhi in the 1970s.

*2  LavasaA hill-city made from scratch in Maharashtra, famous for flouting environmental norms with impunity.

 *3  Niyamgiri – The hilly spiritual and physical home of the Dongkria Kondh tribe in Orissa, now under threat as the holy mountain contains something that non-tribals consider holier, bauxite.

 *4  Durjodhon’s thigh –  As mentioned in the Indic epic Mahabharat,Durjodhon was the eldest son of a Kandahari princess (Gandhari) married to the mythical blind king of Hastinapur in the Upper Gangetic plain. His mother Gandhari manages to make him invincible using her powers, except his inner thighs – something that is taken advantage of in an ensuing mace-fight. The term is somewhat analogous to the Greek Achille’s heel.

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Filed under Army / police, Change, Class, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Elite, Federalism, India, Jal Jangal Zameen, Media, Polity, Power, Rights, The perfumed ones, Urbanity

A failure of imagination / A moment of Bengali glory?

[ Hindustan Times, 15 Oct 2012 ]

Sometimes moments of apparent glory also underline deeper failures. But very often the big hurrah is the last hurrah. Let me come to the point. For the first time in the post-partition Indian Union, two of the highest constitutional posts, that of the president and the chief justice of the supreme court, have Bengalee occupants. Altamas Kabir, the incumbent chief justice, is a Muslim from Bengal, hailing from one of the most elite Muslim families of the Subcontinent. If your grand-father was awarded a badge of service and loyalty by the British – a  Rai Bahadur or a Khan-Bahadur, it still matters in inexplicable and indeterminate ways, in terms of who you are, where you are and where you can get to. That there is a Bengali chief justice after more than twenty years was not greeted with much enthusiasm in Paschimbanga. There are very few Bengali Muslims from Paschimbanga who rise to such levels. Many possibly did not know he was a Bengali.  Structural disparities also colour attitudes and expectations. Kabir babu was sworn in by Shri Mukherjee. However, none of the two Bengalis are in directly elected posts. Still, this unlikely moment of crowding at the apex comes at a time when Bengal’s shadow on the subcontinent is at its shortest.

However, that is nothing to lament. There are a few good reasons why West Bengal’s shadow over the rest of the Indian Union would not be a good thing, at this point. If it looks to the east, East Bengal (whose geo-political avatar is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh) now matches if not surpasses the West in numerous indices of human well-being. When they were separated during the 2nd partition of Bengal or in the aftermath of 1971, very few would have bet that indices would turn out to be this way. But there they are.

Institutions of West Bengal, which for a long time were peerless in the subcontinent if not beyond, now stand as ghostly reminders of their former selves. In the secondary education front, the ‘Bengal board’ is one which does not regularly update itself, having been reduced to a teeming cesspool of political appointees of the CPI(M). This is something that the Trinamool looks eager to replicate. As pan-Indian boards of education start getting undue advantage due to central government policies, this process of ‘Indianization’ has been happening together with de-‘Bengalizing’ – a process whose full impact will not be evident till it is too late, a process that takes a direct stab at the plural reality of the Subcontinent. In the name of uniformity and simplicity, Bengali language is being denied its position as a medium of public life , education and commerce, under the undemocratic patronage of Hindi, a language that has decimated language diversity in the cow-belt itself. In higher education, the debt ridden state continues to pay less to its academicians vis-à-vis the central institutions, thus causing a Bengali brain-drain of epic proportions. Mukherjee and Kabir, have reached the pinnacle, outside Bengal – a point that should not be lost on the readers. Third-rate central universities pay their academicians more than Presidency University or Calcutta University – institutions that produced the pedagogical foundations of contemporary formal academics for much of the Subcontinent. Autonomy of educational institutions is still a pipe-dream in West Bengal with excellence always losing out to servility to the government of the day – the most recent example being that of the upright Chinmoy Guha, the ex-vice chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University.

In matters of  health, it is the paradise of low-grade unaccountable private health-care mafia. Its institutions of pride like the Calcutta Medical College Hospital being places where only the very poor and the helpless would go. There is a lot of medical traffic from West Bengal to Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, a trend unthinkable a few decades ago.

Cities and towns in West Bengal are more ‘Bengali’ than ever before, indicating a loss of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for non-Bengali migrants from Hindustan and beyond that created a semblance of a cosmopolitan culture for more than a century on the two banks of Bhagirathi-Hooghly. A union centre that discriminates has not helped matters.

On the cultural-linguistic front, excellent Bilingualism thereby which people could interpret that world of Bengali and the world made available by English, is near extinction. Anglophone elites retain nominal Bengali-ness and those whose cultural world is embedded in Bengal increasingly find themselves second class citizens in a scenario where Hindi is the language of political power and English is the language of socio-economic ascendancy. Ashok Mitra and his likes who would at ease write beautifully in both are rare, thus resulting in a collective curtailment in intellectual and interpretative space. In this context one notes the fall in the genre of translation of contemporary world classics in Bengali.

In the political sphere, but for the specific numbers in the present Lok Sabha, Bengal’s general clout has been, for decades, disproportionately small in proportion to its population in the Indian Union. The easy parallelism between ultra-centrism and the Congress system is to blame, but the long rule by the CPI(M) that pawned Bengal’s interests by not claiming the requisite pound of flesh, so that it could engage in ‘doctrinaire’ inner-party posturing has certainly assisted that. West Bengal has been one of the few regions in the Indian Union where long-dispossessed caste groups are still far from power, let alone being an effective power-brokering block as such. For all its ‘progressiveness’, post-partition West Bengal has only been able to produce Mamatas and Buddhadebs, not Mayabatis and Karunanidhis. More than anything else, this democratic deficit seriously cripples West Bengal’s potentialities. Being ruled by middle class / upper-middle class forward castes, its primary concerns are also of those groups – why Bengali IT graduates work in Bangalore and so forth. Its cultural icons are also from that small group, thus resulting in state-sponsored cretinization of the myriad cultures that constitute Bengal.

The same week when two Bengalees ‘reached the top’, a Hindi-film actor eyeing a tax break from West Bengal for a private cricket team entity he ‘owns’ and operates, produced a ‘promotional video’ as the state’s ‘brand ambassador’. Banalities about ‘mishti doi’ aside, this failure of imagination is not accidental. This is the greatest sign of decline. West Bengal has lost the confidence to look inward for inspiration and when it looks outward, it only imports kitsch.

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Filed under Acedemia, Bengal, Caste, Culture, Delhi Durbar, Kolkata, Language

Opposition as sin : symptoms of a decaying federalism

[ Daily News and Analysis, 5 Oct 2012 ; Globeistan, 9 Oct 2012 ]

In the last millennium, Delhi could dismiss elected state governments at will. The yearning to do so still remains, but the once-sharp blades have become blunt. Commanding majorities are a thing of the past. Some deplore this lack of decisive punishment and call it the ‘fracturing’ of the polity.  It is also increased representativeness. Monotheists have never been at peace with the idea of robust polytheism. The post-partition Indian Union is no different.

But Delhi knows other ways to make worshippers of other gods submit or pay tribute to it. These ways, enshrined in the constitution and vigorously cemented by the servility of a whole generation of Congressite politicians to the High Command have to do largely with two things – lists and revenue. The lists of jurisdiction, which mark out what is Caesars’ and what is not his, and what he shares with others, have been one of the choicest methods by which the Delhi imperium has run roughshod over the diverse policy aspirations of different regions of the Subcontinent. Especially brash is the concurrent list where marks out that a province, say, Tamil Nadu, cannot make a law for Tamil Nadu that contravenes what Delhi has in mind for Tamil Nadu. The other big stick is of course the Union centre’s control over taxation, mineral resources and the stupendous amounts of revenue that come with it. From angrez to kangrez, the mastery over revenue collection from the provinces to keep them in a state of permanent dependence is an art that has been passed on like Dronacharya would pass it to Arjun. As a self-respecting person who has elected his/her provincial government, it is not easy to imagine a future with the Article 356 intact. But there it is. However, even in the absence of it, the Union centre is trying to punish provinces for policy pronouncements that are well within the ambit of provincial rights, however moth-eaten they may be.

This was in naked display when Anand Sharma, the Union cabinet Minister in charge of commerce and industry, a prominent jewel among the ones that Sanjay Gandhi, the peerless gem-master, chose. Before the Trinamool Congress parliamentary party walked out of the Union government, the Government of West Bengal was given to understand that the Global Partnership Summit 2013, a high profile investors meet organized jointly by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and the Union Commerce ministry would be organized in Kolkata in winter. After the pullout, suave Commerce minister said “given the strident opposition and a hostile approach to FDI in general, it would not be appropriate to invite corporate leaders of the world and the global investors to Kolkata when the government is totally opposed to FDI.” The said summit, he said, would now take place in Agra. Apart from the politicking aspect of it, it is important to realize the deeply anti-democratic strands inherent in pronouncements of this kind and why this is not a matter of concern for Kolkata alone.

I will not visit the question of relative merits or demerits of FDI in multi-brand retail here. What is important is that in the last election manifesto of the Trinamool, its opposition to it was clearly mentioned. It is not opposed to FDI in general – the right honourable Mr.Sharma knew this even at the moment he was publicly stating otherwise to the press. The world beyond the New Delhi ‘Municipal’ corporation or the India International Centre is very different. The frightening thing is, Sharmaji knows it.

He announced that the new location of the event is Agra, a city in a province ruled by the Samajwadi Party that has assured that it will come to the rescue of the Union government when oxygen supply may be threatened. Importantly, the Samajwadi party is also opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail. In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, two each of the four seats in Agra were won by the BJP and the BSP, SP trailing third in terms of votes. Thus, the top 3 political parties in Agra and Uttar Pradesh have publicly opposed FDI in multi-brand retail. Agra seems to be a curious choice if local opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail is a consideration as Sharmaji suggested. Something does not add up.

If the Trinamool has ignored or even reversed in practice more than one promise it had made in the election manifesto, including political appointments of university administrators and denial, even criminalization, of the right of protest and free expression. It is clear that such hypocritical practice had also extended to FDI in multi-brand retail, no shifting of venue of the proposed meet would have occurred. Ironically, it has received a rap on its knuckle from Delhi for actually standing by its manifesto on this one. Sudhangshu Shekhar Roy, a Trinamool MP, reacted to this asking whether Bengal was a colony of Delhi. Although it is posturing, still words such as these underline the long dysfunctional federalism in the Indian Union.

This is not a matter of West Bengal alone. The constitution of the Indian Union does not mandate penalization of a constituent state, if the party leading the state government takes a certain position on a policy matter of the Union government. Such penalization is unconstitutional. It is the job of the state government to maintain law and order so that private and public life is not disrupted. The centre’s job is not to second-guess the law and order maintenance ability of a state. Using the hypothetical ruffling of sensibilities of corporate mandarins as a basis for retribution against a state government whose policies the centre does not like is Article 356 by other means. How can so-called ‘threat’ perceptions be used to counter rights of opinion as enshrined in the constitution? Is the centre then working on the basis of another, ‘higher’ constitution? Can pesky provincials have a look at it?

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Filed under Bengal, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Federalism, India, Kolkata, Nation, Power

Our roads, their roads / How ‘national’ is the NHAI

[ Echo of India 17 July 2012 ; Hitavada 29 July 2012 ]

In the first 18 years of one’s life, if one manages to escape without getting one’s brain deeply dyed in tricolour, merely by being present and about in Delhi, one cannot but see certain things. The vision tends to be sharper if one is among those millions in the subcontinent, who after 60 years of exhortation and vilification, much to the chagrin of Delhi, are not ‘only Indian’ but continue to be Tamil, Gond, Rarhi, Naga, Bengali, Marathi and so forth. Some even continue to be just from Delhi – just ask those who have been shoved trans-Jamuna or those live in the urban ghettos of Shahjahanabad or Jamia Nagar. Indians in Delhi are unaware that on a road map of India, the Delhi urban agglomerate, officially called the ‘National Capital region’ (‘NCR’ for uppity blokes), has a very special place. It sits at the convergence of a large number of ‘National Highways’ – the densest convergence by far. The density of National Highways is far out of proportion when one considers economic output or population. In a proportional sense, the Indian in Delhi has access to a far higher number of National Highways than their numbers or economic output would command. This throws to the wind all ideas of federalism and distributive justice. The Delhi National Highway ‘node’ is like a Pamir knot on the road-map of the Indian Union, except for the fact that this one is not natural. The rest of the union paid for it and continue to pay for it.

One might see such Pamir knots around other cities like Kolkata and Hyderabad too, but there is a difference. If one looks closely, for these cities, most of the highways that make their knot are state highways, that is, not fully funded by Union government funds. Compare this with Delhi and the difference becomes very clear. This is where the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) enters the scene. What is the NHAI? The powers to be tell us “The National Highways Authority of India was constituted by an act of Parliament, the National Highways Authority of India Act, 1988. It is responsible for the development, maintenance and management of National Highways entrusted to it and for matters connected or incidental thereto. The Authority was operationalized in February, 1995 with the appointment of full time Chairman and other Members.” It also tells us that its vision is “to meet the nation’s need for the provision and maintenance of National Highways network to global standards and to meet user’s expectations in the most time bound and cost effective manner, within the strategic policy framework set by the Government of India and thus promote economic well being and quality of life of the people.” It is headquartered in – surprise, surprise – New Delhi.

Roads are arguably the most important component of infrastructure development in these times. Hence the maintenance of the National Highway network in keeping with ‘global standards’ should indeed be a priority. In the last few days a series of apparently disconnected events concerning the NHAI and roads show the geographical priorities and the biases of such Union government establishments in its true light. Recently, the NHAI approved the widening of National Highway Number 24 into a wide 6 – line structure, which will ensure better connectivity between Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad. The planners also have in mind the burgeoning real estate development in areas like Indirapuram which have developed alongside the NH 24. Again, quite recently, the NHAI swung into action to unclog the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway and also resolve disputes around running it. The proactive stance by the NHAI in securing the clear alignment of the Delhi-Jaipur expressway also shows what such bodies are capable of when Delhi is associated. The amount of micromanagement, eye for details, the agile action, level of maintenance that the National Highways around Delhi have will almost make one think that the Union of India indeed delivers on its word – a ‘global standard’ highway network. If only the NHAI and other Delhi-centric federal government bodies would treat other parts of the Union with the same care and diligence.

The chief minister of West Bengal ( Paschimbanga) Mamata Banerjee on her recent visit to the northern part of the state pointed out the dilapidated conditions in which the  NH 34 and NH 31 exist. The utter disrepair of these ‘national’ highways in West Bengal compared to the snazzy ‘national highways’ around Delhi give away the game. Some highways are national, but some are more national than others. And it is not only Bengal. While the NHAI has decided against raising highway tolls in the Delhi Gurgaon sector, it cites Union Ministry of Road and Transport norms to do annual hikes elsewhere. The people not in the charmed circle of Delhi-centric subsidy do not take it lying down either – as the proposed protests around the NHAI owned Vallarpadam-Kalamassery Road proposed toll hike shows.

An analysis of the amount of NHAI owned roads in the 2 provinces surrounding Delhi – Haryana and Uttar Pradesh- throws up something interesting. Ostensibly roads cover land and connect people. So states with bigger geographical areas ought to have larger stretches of such highways, when other things are comparable. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan -all larger than Uttar Pradesh in area, have lesser amount of National Highways than the Delhi adjoining UP. Similarly for Haryana, it has longer stretches of National Highways than Punjab (larger than Haryana) and Kerala (only slightly smaller than Haryana).

Such things beg the question – who funds the NHAI? The people of the Indian Union do – through buying NHAI bonds and by submitting to taxation of their income, services, businesses and natural resources to the government at Delhi. By what logic is such distributive injustice maintained when Delhi does not pay for itself. The people of the union need to be vigilant and audit road schemes by Delhi centric planners inch by inch. After all, a very small portion of the Indian Union’s population has real estate interest in Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida.

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Unholier than thou – a rice eater’s confessions / All the king’s men

[ The Friday Times (Lahore) July 6-12, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 21 ; Globeistan]

 

As Kolkata was being scalded by a particularly oppressive and damp south Bengal summer, in the middle of the erstwhile Anglo district of the city, a tragedy was unfolding. In the once-greatest city between Aden and Singapore, the Calcutta Race Course maidan, with its turf Club and Derby, had been the ‘pride’ of a certain kind of people of the Orient. On 6th June, on that very ground, Abhishek Pal, a Bengali youth of 22, was running a race to get a police job in spite of his martially-challenged, rice-eating race. He lost consciousness and died shortly thereafter. Such is the trial by fire one needs to overcome to be able to serve Bharatmata. Such is the poverty of Bharatmata’s sons that there will be thousands of Abhisheks running that race again, whatever the heat, whatever the cost. The lay and the non-martial often feel inadequate as they are given an impression that the hearts of the Indian Union’s ‘finest men’ beat in step with its national anthem. The goddess of fate had a curious way to capture the ‘finest’ and ‘darkest’ aspects of the Indian Union’s 65-year old nation-state-hood in that desperate dash that Abhishek Pal made. As his heartbeat became faint, I suspect it also started getting out of tune with the Indian Union’s national anthem. And then it stopped beating altogether.

This was not the first time, nor will it the last time – such is the pull of service, especially in a nation where such a job is one of the few ways to escape the endemic poverty and the cycle of daily humiliation that the impoverished know as life as usual. Abhishek was running to join the police service in Bengal, a force developed by the British along the lines of the Irish constabulary to keep a restive population in check by any means necessary. Like police anywhere, some of its members form that rare set of men who actually take money from sex workers after raping them. In the post-partition era, these means of keeping in check have acquired a vicious edge, as many older people recall with a sense of tragic wistfulness that the British generally aimed below the knees when they shot. Abhishek possibly saw the police in its many avatars as he was growing up. As I sat thinking, a sequence from a Western flick seen two decades ago flashed in my mind. Boss kicks his underling, underling shows rank by slapping his aide, aide comes out and punches a guard, and guard finds a commoner to thrash, who finally takes it out on a dog. Everyone wants to rise up in the chain to bear a lesser number of kicks and slaps, even at the cost of death. The lines to join the police and army grow. So do the number of people who gave the ‘supreme sacrifice’ even before being recruited – 2 youths in Chandauli, UP in July 2009, 2 more youths in Khasa, East Punjab in December 2008. A twisted director could have made a surreal slow-motion shot of the stampede moments that would have surpassed Chariots of Fire. You cannot beat the ending. Fervour, tragedy, action, emotions. There will be more such races and recruitments. We cannot change neighbours, or masters. At recruitments events, those with non-religious tattoos are also rejected. Tattoos represent ties, ties that bind man to man, to thoughts, to life. Hence they are sure signs of a subterranean unknown, a second life. Those without such explicit marks are better – they are tabula rasa, ready to be imprinted with the state, ably represented by the commanding officer.

Qaumparast or not, joining the armed forces forms a far less viable option in the mindscape of the middle-class Bengalee young man. In my whole family, and we are a large family (my grandfather had 6 brothers and 3 sisters), there was not a single person who was in the army. Nor did I know anyone who was in the army among my friends’ families. My overt knowledge of anything that was both ‘Indian’ and ‘Army’ was the Indian National Army of 1940s vintage, which, though headed by a Bengalee, unsurprisingly, had few Bengalee combatants. Once, when I was less than 10 years old, I had asked (I don’t know where the thought had come from) – Ma, Should I join the army? Ma answered in a concerned tone – Are you crazy? I had pushed on – Ma, somebody has to join the army? If not me, who then? Let other people’s sons join, not mine. Thus spake my rice-eating non-martial mother whose martial skills were limited to whacking me with a comb or a rolled newspaper. What can I say – I just had the wrong kind of upbringing. Looking around me, in school and college in West Bengal, I realized that rather than being the exception, I was a very typical specimen. At that point, I did not think that Bengalees, Tamils and many other people of the Subcontintent have very low army sign-up rates. Not knowing this growing up in Calcutta, a few visits to Delhi made me understand what a rice-eating non-martial chicken I was. There, every now and then I would meet someone whose father was in the army, or whose elder brother had returned home from ‘posting’, or someone who was preparing hard to crack the National Defence Academy / Naval Academy exams. This was another social reality, another society actually, with a different set of ‘normal’ expectations – the world of sarfarosh, a lot of talk of ‘dushman’ and ‘tujhe pata nahi mai kaun hu’. Here, being in the army was a part of public culture and imagination. When they said ‘our men in uniform’, the ‘our’ had a different truth-value to it and rightly so. I was in Hindustan or Al-Hind, far away from rice-eating lands. It is in Hindustan ‘over here’ and the Al-Hind ‘over there’ that Fauji and Alpha Bravo Charlie were runaway hits, while we in the Deccan and Bengal ate rice and dreamt other dreams in blissful oblivion. There were testosterone laced recruitment ads on television asking “Do you have it in you?” Another said – Join the Indian army – be a winner for life. I wondered who the losers were. The mirror never lies.

There is a running joke about the Indian Railways. The Railways often declares something to the effect that we should take care of the rail as it is our ‘national property’. One person who took this seriously removed a fan from one railway compartment and left a note ‘I have taken my share of the ‘national property’. When it comes to the Army, Bengalees, Tamils and some others seem to be largely disinterested in their share. Are they genetically non-martial? May be C R Datta, Surya Sen, Bagha Jatin and Bagha Siddiqui could answer that. But I have met none of them. Two of them have been killed long ago.

Who killed Bagha Jatin? Who captured Surya Sen? Which army? Who was it loyal to? Who did it serve by killing Bagha Jatin? Did anything substantially change in that army on that fateful August day in 1947? What did not change was the sense of regimental accomplishment in having been awarded Victoria crosses, barrah khana traditions, fake ‘Sandhurst’isms, subsidized liquor, that peculiar brown-skinned sense of pride of having served the House Saxe-Coburg Gotha and the House of Windsor in Iraq, Egypt, France, Belgium, Burma, Thailand and most poignantly, in the Subcontinent, including Jallianwala Bagh. If some Union of India citizen were to do the same today by making a career out of serving the House of Windsor militarily and then go on to claim loyalty to Bharatmata the next day, what would one say? The crucial difference however lies in the formal idea of loyalty to a state – often confused with the country. Nationalism apart, there is another thing Bengalees call “deshoprem” or love of one’s own land. The definition of land is mostly left to the person. Which is why there can be deshoprem for a 30 square mile area around one’s home. I don’t know if there is a Hindustani word for it – qaumparast does not quite do it, which I reckon is nearer to nationalism. I am sure they too have a word or expression for it – for they too like everyone else came to know their own land before they came to heed their nation-state which tells them what their land ought to be and how much does it extend. Ideologies that reverse this sequence are sociopathic.

Most Bengalees are not into shoes – especially those that cover the whole foot. They are not into shirts either – having given up being topless quite late. I was sent to a ‘proper’ Bengali middle-class Inglish school. Here, while the text was in English, the subtext was unrepentantly and unabashedly Bengali. I never quite liked wearing the black shoes that we were mandated to wear. That was the case with some of my other friends. So in class, especially in the middle and back benches, some of us would get out of our shoes and sit cross legged, in what we call babu style. In giving in to what was second nature, we managed to partially keep the shoe out of us. However, many in the subcontinent take shoes seriously. A friend of mine, a batchmate at the Medical College, Kolkata, recounted this to me. He hailed from one of the laterite-red districts of Bengal, I had visited his very modest home. There I had met his father, an upright man who had briefly worked as a shoeshine to educate his children. My friend went on to join the Indian Army. Years later, he told me of a strange encounter. As one of the ‘finest of men’ in the ‘officer grade’, no less, he was entitled to assisted shoeshine services. This means there was another human being, employed by the Indian Army, among whose job description was to clean and tidy up the shoes of officers and higher-ups. Paying for this, is perhaps, the minimum the citizens of the Union of India can do, to show thankful they were. This particular friend of mine, a rather conscientious fellow who dabbled in left wing student activism in his student days, felt a pang of unease every time his pale shoe was made to glow. No order to stand at ease would cure that. However nothing would surpass the strange feeling he had when his father came visiting where he was stationed. The army shoeshine came forward to shine his shoe in presence of his father. His father had come to see how much his son had risen. ‘As I endured the shoeshine ritual in front of my father, I felt I was falling in my father’s eyes, every passing moment.’ He left his job after the stipulated years of commission, discharged honourably. He did not have ‘it’ in him, I guess, to gather greater honours. Unless one has ‘it’, it is hard to be loyal till death to a white man sitting continents away, then be loyal till death to the constitution of sickly brown people the next day and still be taken seriously. But it was and still is all very serious.

The subcontinent is a land of many gods. There are as many holy cows as there are gods. Looking at the holy officer grade Jersey-Shahiwals, I wondered why are the jawan-grade desi cows so sickly? After all, they give  the milk, plough the land, pull carts and what not. In archaic commie-speak, in a class-divided society, one can imagine a  conversation quite similar to the one I had with my mother. Ma – Shall I become a jawan or a lance-naik? No beta. You will become an officer. Who will then become a jawan then? Other people’s sons of course, otherwise how will my grandson be able to attend a foreign university? All cows are holy but some are holier than others. Nothing joins Pakistan and the Indian Union more than this shared two-tier holiness. Very few like Laxminarayan Ramdas and Asghar Khan have developed mad-cow disease. Thankfully, this virus can cross the Radcliffe. After all, it is not natural to have a sense of visceral belonging to the snowy tracts of Siachen, and a concern that it might be taken away or held on to indefinitely, while we really are steaming like potatoes in Karachi and Kolkata in summer. Our napaak-ness keeps it real.

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Filed under Army / police, Bengal, Class, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Elite, Foundational myths, History, Identity, India, Nation, Our underbellies, Pakistan

Their privacies, our privacies – the case of Abhishek Manu Singhvi

[ The Echo of India, 10 Jun 2012; Globeistan]

Abhishek Manu Singhvi wants to be forgotten, but not in the way his party is forgetting him, by removing this articulate Cantabrigian from its list of people entrusted to talk to the electronic media. His name seems to have disappeared from the official Indira Congress website. The board bearing his name as the top-honcho in the party’s human rights and legal affairs department has been removed. All this is quite ironic for I suspect that his sense of belonging and yearning to be accepted in the party has never been stronger than it is now.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi became news a few weeks ago – garnering spotlight he just did not want. Few people would want that the public be able to freely access a video that allegedly shows one in a sexual encounter. Just when the dust had somewhat settled, the effective blocking and removal of the ‘offending’ content has affecting the TRP ratings of the grainy Internet video. The elite-media has closed ranks for reasons both legal and fraternal and has let the video disappear from public memory. Of course the digital divide helps, given that the primary (if not the only) form in which this voyeuristic material was available was online – thus keeping out the rabble. The otherwise vociferous Indira Congress spokesperson remains muted at present, and possibly for the intermediate future. Lesser mortals will never know when exactly will poor Abhishek Manu be rehabilitated, what forces will line up to make it happen, how do these forces make a call on a thing like this. It is sad that we will never know – it is sad because precisely these forces also make calls on public affairs too, hush up issues more embarrassing – like the nakedness of those who cannot afford basic clothing.

Lesser mortals are lesser in many other ways. Rare are the moments when people of stature appeal to ‘everyone’ opting for the humble ‘we’ to refer to all of us, addressing us, as if we are one community! In a well-articulated statement that essentially said nothing, Abhishek Manu Singhvi did however mention something interesting. In a half-philosophical tone, he called upon society to ponder upon the destabilizing consequences of extreme invasion of privacy in these times, done with technology that any small-town in India already has. He said “promoting or participating in a person’s natural and understandable discomfiture, we must respect privacy issues. Hear, hear.

When the common bond of humanity is used at such moments – those only in the charmed circle nod in liberal agreement. It is a case of the denizens of the fortress calling upon the impoverished city around it , to rise to some idea of ‘common citizenship’, when the chips are down. This statement, almost comically Niemolleresque in spirit, in a strange way underlines the apartheid society that exists in Lutyen’s and South Delhi, engaging in motions and rituals of respecting privacies, oblivious to this vast and hard land. In Bangla, there is a common proverb – “haati kadaye porle byangeo laathi mare” – “when the elephant gets stuck in mud, even the lowly frog does not miss a chance to kick  the giant.” This urge to kick comes from soured dreams, from being the spectator of gold-adorned elephant processions for decades.

There is a reverse voyeurism, one that does not even register in our refined minds as such. That great procession of the dispossessed, under trees, by the urban roadside, Jumna-paar, in the underbellies of Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, teeming with unfulfilled rehabilitation promises act out their lives in public view. This daily debasing, where one’s anger, happiness, cuddling, cooking, making love, illness, even death – cannot be an event protected from public eyes, creates and recreates an army of toads, ready to kick and pounce at the smallest indication of an elephant getting stuck. Call it giving in to prurience, call it whatever. In these rare moments, doctored or not, the esteemed become human, like the rest of us. The non-urban swathes of the Indian Union are being disemboweled daily. Almost like vomit from mangled bowels, people end up in the cities, in splatters and streams, providing endless live footage of the kind no court order can restrict. The million honeymoons on dusty concrete is not a number. It is not even news in a country where an Indian diplomat’s daughter’s 48-hour detention in a New York City police station churned the collective sentiment of those who watch the gory roadside spectacle every day, could careless about the million plus women dehumanized in Indian jails, are mute about the rape and murder of ‘anti-national’ Manorama and think domestic-workers asking for two hundred rupees more are a nuisance.

I support  Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s  right to privacy, not to be harassed, intruded and violated in full piubluc view, even if notionally or in a doctored footage. No one deserves to be dehumanized like that. The question is, as a Congressite human rights honcho ( now official or not), does he support the same right to dignity for other brown people –  the more sunburned kind.

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Filed under Class, Delhi Durbar, Elite, India, Power, Rights, The perfumed ones