Category Archives: Polity

গোলাম আলির গজল সন্ধ্যার নেপথ্য রাজনীতি

গত অক্টোবর মাসে, পূর্ব পঞ্জাবের পাটিয়ালা ঘরানার প্রবাদপ্রতিম গজল গায়ক পাকিস্তানি পাঞ্জাবী নাগরিক গোলাম আলির একটি কনসার্ট অনুষ্ঠিত হবার কথা ছিল মহারাষ্ট্র রাজ্যের রাজধানী মুম্বই শহরে।উগ্র-হিন্দুত্ববাদী শিবসেনা দলের হুমকি ও চাপে সে অনুষ্ঠান বাতিল হয়। ফলে ক্ষমতাসীন বিজেপিকে এনিয়ে কিছুটা বিড়ম্বনায় পড়তে হয়। এই ঘোলা জলে মাছ ধরে নিজেদের  “সহনশীলতা” প্রমাণ করে  বাহবা পাওয়ার প্রচেষ্টায় জুট যায় বেশ কিছু অ-বিজেপি রাজনৈতিক শক্তি। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মুখ্যমন্ত্রী মমতা বন্দোপাধ্যায় তাদের মধ্যে অন্যতম। তিনি গোলাম আলিকে আমন্ত্রণ জানান পশ্চিমবঙ্গে এসে তাঁর অনুষ্ঠান করার জন্য। এই বছরের ১২ জানুয়ারী কলকাতার নেতাজী ইনডোর স্টেডিয়ামে ১৫০০০ শ্রোতার সামনে অনুষ্ঠিত হয় গোলাম আলির গজল সন্ধ্যা। সেদিনের সব ব্যবস্থাপনাকে ব্যক্তিগত ভাবে তদারকি করেন মুখ্যমন্ত্রী মমতা বন্দোপাধ্যায় স্বয়ং। গোলাম আলিকে তিনি সংবর্ধনাও দ্যান। দৃশ্যতই আপ্লূত হয়ে অভিজ্ঞ গায়ক মমতাদেবীর ভূয়সী প্রশংসা করে বলেন, “আমি তাঁর প্রতি কৃতজ্ঞ। তিনি সরস্বতী রূপে আমাদের সকলের উপকার করেছেন”।  

মমতা দেবীর গোলাম আলির অনুষ্ঠানের হোতা হওয়া নানাভাবে ইঙ্গিতময়। সবচেয়ে বড় করে যে সংকেত তিনি দিলেন না হলো এই যে ভারত সংঘরাষ্ট্রের সকল এলাকায় সকল মানুষ পাকিস্তানি সবকিছুকে বয়কট করার প্রশ্নে এককাট্টা নয়, সকল এলাকায় অসহনশীলতা শক্তিগুলির খবরদারিও চলে না । উপমহাদেশের বৃহত্তর রাজনৈতিক পটভূমিতে এটি অবশ্যই একটি সুস্থ ও শুভ লক্ষণ। কিনতু আমরা যদি এই অনুষ্ঠান ও পশ্চিমবঙ্গে সাম্প্রতিক আরো কিছু অনুরূপ ঘটনার খুঁটিনাটি তলিয়ে দেখি, তাহলে দেখব যে ব্যাপারটি অতটা সহজ নয়। বিশেষতঃ পশ্চিমবঙ্গের অভ্যন্তরে  ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ ও  সাম্প্রদায়িক সামাজিক-রাজনৈতিক স্রোতগুলির মধ্যে যে আপাত সহজ বিভাজন আছে, তার প্রেক্ষিতে মমতা দেবীর  কিছু সংকেত ও কিছু চিহ্ন ব্যবহারের রাজনীতি কোন স্রোতগুলিকে পুষ্ট করে, সেটা পরিষ্কার করে বোঝা প্রয়োজন।

কলকাতায় পাকিস্তানি গায়ক গোলাম আলির গজল সন্ধ্যার উদ্যোক্তা ছিল পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সরকার।  কিনতু  পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সরকারের কোন দফতর? পাকিস্তানি গায়কের উর্দু গজলের যে আসলেই কোন  ধর্ম হয়না, তা বোঝাতে এটির উদ্যোক্তা হতেই পারত সংস্কৃতি দফতর বা নিদেনপক্ষে পর্যটন দফতর। উদ্যোক্তা ছিল পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সংখ্যালঘু উন্নয়ন ও অর্থ নিগম। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের “সংখ্যালঘু”-দের মধ্যে ৯০%এরও বেশি হলেন মোসলমান। তাদের সাথে একজন পাকিস্তানি গায়কের কিভাবে কোন ‘বিশেষ’ সম্পর্ক থাকতে পারে, তা পরিষ্কার নয়, যদি না পশ্চিমবঙ্গ সরকার বোঝাতে চান যে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের অন্যান্য জনগণের তুলনায়  গোলাম আলি কোন অর্থে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমানের বেশি কাছের। গোলাম আলির উর্দুও কোন ‘বিশেষ  সম্পর্কে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমানের সাথে তাকে আবদ্ধ করে না কারণ এ রাজ্যের মোসলমানের মধ্যে ৯০%এরও বেশি হলেন বাংলাভাষী, বাঙ্গালী। এই উদ্যোক্তা চয়নের মাধ্যমে যে ভাবে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের জনগণের এক অংশকে স্রেফ তার ধর্মীয় (পড়ুন  মোসলমান ) পরিচিতির মধ্যে সীমিত করা হলো এবং সেই গোদা পরিচিতিটিকে বেশ প্রকট ভাবেই পাকিস্তানের আরেক মোসলমান গায়কের সাথে ‘বিশেষ ভাবে যুক্ত করা হলো, তা ভারত সংঘের রাজনৈতিক আবর্তের সাম্প্রদায়িক ধারায় মোসলমান সম্বন্ধে চালু সবচেয়ে ক্ষতিকারক  স্টিরিওটিপিকাল ধারনাগুলিকেও হাওয়া দেয়। এই ধারণার সংক্ষিপ্ত আকার হলো – মোসলমানদের পাকিস্তানের প্রতি বিশেষ প্রেম আছে। উপমহাদেশের প্রায় সকল রাষ্ট্রেই প্রধান ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘুকে ‘অন্যের মাল’ বা ঘরশত্রু হিসেবে কল্পনা করার একটি সুদীর্ঘ লজ্জাজনক ঐতিহ্য চালু আছে, এমনকি রাজনৈতিক ভাবে যারা ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ অর্থে মন্দের ভালো বলে পরিচিত, তাদের মধ্যেও।

প্রসঙ্গত, মমতা দেবী  এই প্রথমবার  সংখ্যালঘু উন্নয়ন ও অর্থ নিগমের ঢাল ব্যবহার করছেন আধা-রাজনৈতিক স্বার্থে, এমন নয়। এই নিগমেরই অনুস্থানগুলিতে তিনি ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘু, প্রধানত মোসলমানদের জন্য বিশেষ প্রকল্প ঘোষণা করতে করেছেন। নানা বিশেষের মধ্যে একটি বিশেষ ছিল বড়ই দৃষ্টিকটু। সেটি ছিল পশ্চিমবঙ্গে একটি বিরাট নজরুল কেন্দ্র স্থাপনার ঘোষণা (যেটি ইতিমধ্যে রাজারহাটে নজরুলতীর্থ নামে  চালু হয়ে গেছে)। নিখিল বাংলাদেশে মোসলমান ঘরে জন্মানো ব্যক্তিত্ব খুব কম ছিলেন বা আছেন যাদের প্রতিপত্তি ও যশ হিন্দু-মোসলমানের ধার ধারে না, যদিও ১৯৭১ পরবর্তী কালে (এবং কিছুটা তার পূর্ব্বেও) নজরুলকে গনপ্রজান্তন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের জাতীয় কবি বানিয়ে আলতো করে নজরুলকে ‘বিশেষ’ ভাবে পূর্ব্ব-বাংলার করে গড়ে তোলা হয়েছে। এই ‘বিশেষ’ এর মধ্যে ধর্মের ছাপ অনস্বীকার্য্য এবং মমতা দেবীর রকম-সকম দেখে মনে হয়, তিনিও বোধহয় নজরুলের এই ভ্রান্ত চরিত্রায়নে আস্থা রাখেন, অন্ততঃ রাজনৈতিক স্বার্থে।  একটি সংখ্যালঘু উন্নয়ন মঞ্চকে ব্যবহার করে মমতা দেবীর নজরুল সংক্রান্ত ঘোষণা আবার করে দেখিয়ে দেয় পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমান কি শুনতে চায়, সেই সম্বন্ধে তাঁর ঠিক বা বেঠিক ধারণা।

২০১৫র মে মাসে, মমতা দেবীর সরকার প্রখ্যাত উর্দু কবি আল্লামা ইকবালের নাতি ওয়ালিদ ইকবালকে কলকাতায় ডাকেন সরকারী সাহায্যে চলা পশ্চিমবঙ্গ উর্দু অকাদেমির বার্ষিক সম্মেলন উপলক্ষ্যে। সুদূর লাহৌর থেকে এসে তিনি তাঁর দীর্ঘদিন আগে প্রয়াত ঠাকুর্দার সম্মানার্থে দেওয়া একটি পুরস্কার গ্রহণ করেন।  আবারও, কোন উর্দু কবিকে সম্মান দেওয়ার ব্যাপারে আপত্তির কিই বা থাকতে পারে? আপত্তির কিছুই নেই।  সমস্যা হলো, তৃনমূল দল যেভাবে উর্দু ও মোসলমানকে যুক্ত করে ফেলে সেটা নিয়ে , যার পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে আল্লামা ইকবালের নাতিকে এনে সেই ব্যাপারটিকে বিশাল সংখ্যক হোর্ডিং-এর সাহায্যে কলকাতার মোসলমান প্রধান এলাকাগুলিতে প্রচার করার পিছনের রাজনৈতিক হিসেব-নিকেশ ও ধারণা নিয়ে। তৃণমূল দলের ২০১১সালের ঘোষণাপত্রে তারা যেভাবে মাদ্রাসা ও উর্দু স্কুলের ব্যাপারটি সহজেই একসাথে বলেছে, তা থেকেই  ধারণা পাওয়া যায় তারা মোসলমান ও উর্দু, এই দুটি ব্যাপারকে কি ভাবে দেখে। ঘোষণাপত্রে তারা প্রকট-ভাবে গুলিয়ে ফেলে মোসলমান ও উর্দু, আর তাদের অনুষ্ঠান-সম্মান্প্রদানের মধ্যে অন্তর্নিহিত থাকে  উর্দু ও পাকিস্তানকে গুলিয়ে ফেলার, এবং পরিশেষে আভাস থাকে মোসলমান ও পাকিস্তানকে গুলিয়ে ফেলার। শেষের ভ্রান্তিটিই সবচেয়ে বিপদজনক।

পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ৯০% মোসলমান  বাংলাভাষী। আল্লামা ইকবাল  বা উর্দু বা গোলাম আলি পশ্চিমবঙ্গের  হিন্দু  বাঙ্গালীর থেকে যত দুরে, ততটাই দুরের সেখানকার মোসলমান বাঙ্গালীর থেকেও। অথচ তৃনমূল দলের মোসলমান নেতৃত্ত্বের মধ্যে আনুপাতিক হারে বাংলাভাষীদের প্রতিনিধিত্ব বেশ কম। তৃণমূলের জন্মসুত্রে মোসলমান সাংসদ-দের মধ্যে ৪০% হলেন উর্দুভাষী, যেখানে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমানদের মধ্যে তারা ১০%ও না। এদেরকে নেতৃত্বে রাখার একটা সুবিধে হলো, জনভিত্তিহীন নেতাদের বসিয়ে একাধারে যেমন দলের মোসলমানদের মধ্য থেকে স্বতন্ত্র জননেতা তৈরীকে আটকানো যায়, আবার একই সাথে এই নেতাদের মোসলমানত্ব ভাঙ্গিয়ে  সংখ্যালঘু প্রতিনিধিত্বের দায়টিও সারা হয়। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ২৫%জনগণ হলেন মোসলমান বাঙ্গালী। সেই বর্গ থেকে উঠে আসা স্বতন্র জননেতা যে শর্তে দর কষাকষি করবেন, যে ভাবে নিজেদের রাজনৈতিক প্রভাবের মাধ্যমে ক্ষমতার ভাগ-বাটোয়ারার অন্য বিন্যাস তৈরীর সম্ভাবনা ধারণ করবেন, তা প্রাতিষ্ঠানিক রাজনীতির মধ্যে আজকে বর্তমান কায়েমী স্বার্থগুলির স্থিতিশীলতার পক্ষে বিপদ। দেশ-ভাগ পুর্ব্ববর্তি সময়ে শের-এ-বাংলা ঠিক এটিই করেছিলেন কৃষক-প্রজা পার্টির আমলে, সামন্তপ্রভু নিয়ন্ত্রিত কংগ্রেস ও সামন্ত্রপ্রভু নিয়ন্ত্রিত  মুসলিম লীগের ‘শরিফজাদা’ নেতৃত্বের বাড়া ভাতে ছাই দিয়ে। ৭১-ও এক অর্থে এই আপাত বাঙ্গালী  ছুপা  ‘উচ্চকুল্শীল“ উর্দুপ্রেমীদের ক্ষমতা থেকে উচ্ছেদের আরেকটি ধাপ। দুঃখের বিষয়, পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমান ৪৭-এর পর থেকে কোন ফজলুল হক-কে পায়নি। তাই কলকাতায় উর্দু-পাকিস্তান আপ্যায়ন করে মোসলমান -মোসলমান খেলা করা সম্ভব।  গোলাম আলীর গজল সন্ধ্যাকে বুঝতে হবে সেই পরিপ্রেক্ষিতেও । সম্প্রতি পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মালদা জেলার কালিয়াচকে প্রায় লক্ষাধিক মোসলমান জনতা এক জমায়েত করে সুদূর উত্তর প্রদেশের এক অখ্যাত হিন্দু সাম্প্রদায়িক নেতার হজরত মহম্মদের প্রতি অবমাননাকর বক্তব্যের প্রতিবাদে। জমায়েতটি সহিংস হয়ে ওঠে এবং বেশ কিছু গাড়ি জ্বালায় এবং হিন্দু দোকান ভাঙ্গচুর করে। এই দুরের ঘটনার উপর ভিত্তি করে, সামাজিক মাধ্যমে ঘৃণার প্রচার যেভাবে এতগুলি মানুষকে এককাট্টা করলো এক সহিংস প্রতিবাদে, তা চিন্তার বিষয় কারণ রাজনৈতিক দল বহির্ভূত  এত বড় হিংসাত্বক জমায়েত প্রাতিষ্ঠানিক রাজনৈতিক সংগঠনের অক্ষমতা ও মাঠস্তরে অনুপস্থিতিকেই প্রমাণ করে । যে কোন গোষ্ঠীর উপর ভিন্নতা আরোপ করতে করতে তা এক সময় ফ্র্যন্কেনস্টাইন দৈত্যে পরিণত হতেই পারে।  বরং পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মোসলমান বাঙ্গালীর আর্থ-সামাজিক ক্ষমতায়নের যে রাজনীতি, তা গজল সন্ধ্যা ও নজরুল তীর্থের চমকের মাধ্যমে সম্ভব না। কারণ তার চাহিদাগুলি বিশাল-সংখ্যক হিন্দু বাঙ্গালির থেকে আলাদা নয় – যথা  খাদ্য নিরাপত্তা, কর্মসংস্থান, শিক্ষা, স্বাস্থ্য, ইত্যাদি। এই পথটি কন্টকময় ও  লম্বা – অনেক বিরোধিতাও আসবে আশরাফ মোসলমান ও সবর্ণ হিন্দু কায়েমী স্বার্থে ঘা লাগলে। কিনতু সে কঠিন পথের কোন সহজ  বিকল্প নেই।

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বাম্বু ও বিষ্ণু

যে জাতি মাতৃভাষার অধিকার ও সম্মান রক্ষা করতে মানভূমে, ঢাকায়, বরাক উপতক্যায় বারবার রাস্তায় নেমেছে, মার খেয়েছে, মৃত্যুবরণ করেছে, এমনকি দেশ স্বাধীন করেছে, সে জাতির মুখের ভাষার প্রশ্ন যে রাজনৈতিক প্রশ্ন হয়ে ওঠে, সে আর আশ্চর্য কি। তবে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে সাম্প্রতিক কালের যে বিতর্ক দানা বেঁধেছে মুখ্যমন্ত্রীর মুখের ভাষা নিয়ে, তা ঠিক ভাষার অধিকার নিয়ে নয়, সর্বসমক্ষে শালীনতা বজায় রাখার দায়িত্বজ্ঞান নিয়ে। সে কথায় একটু পরে আসব। প্রথমেই বলি আমার নিজের কুল-গরিমা নিয়ে। আমার পিতৃকুল হুগলী জেলার পাটুলিগ্রামের অনেক বহুকালের (মানে বহু শতকের) বাসিন্দা এবং এই ‘দেশ’-এর সঙ্গে এই প্রজন্মেও আমাদের সম্পর্ক বেশ গভীর। আমরা রাঢী ব্রাহ্মণ এবং কৌলিন্যপ্রাপ্ত (অর্থাৎ কুলীন)। আমার পূর্বপুরুষেরা বিবাহ-সুত্রে ফুলিয়া মেল প্রাপ্ত হন। অর্থাৎ হিন্দু-প্রধান পশ্চিমবঙ্গের সামাজিক বিন্যাসে আমরা একদম যাকে বলে টপ-ক্লাস। আমাদের কুলের একজন রায় বাহাদুর ছিলেন, যা কারণে অকারণে (যেমন এখুন) আমরা টুক করে জানিয়ে দিই (ইংরেজিতে যাকে বলে নেমড্রপিং)। এর থেকে একটা জিনিস পরিষ্কার। তা হলো যাকে কিনা কিছু পন্ডিত এক বিশেষ ধরণের ‘সাবল্টার্ন’ বলেন, এবং আমাদের ‘নিজেদের’ মধ্যে চর্চায় বলি ‘ছোটলোক’ (প্রকাশ্যে বলি অন্ত্যজ, ব্রাত্যজন ইত্যাদি ), আমরা আর যাই হই, তা নই। আমার এই কুলেরই আমার প্রিয় এক জ্ঞাতি জ্যাঠামশাই আমাদের পৈতের পরের বছর দুর্গাপূজার সময় এক সংস্কৃত মন্ত্র শেখান। এটি আচমন মন্ত্র। কোনো অস্ট্রিক ব্যাপার স্যাপার নাই। মন্ত্রটি এরকম – ‘ওঁ বিষ্ণু তদ্‌বিষ্ণোঃ পরমং পদং সদা পশ্যন্তি সূরয়ঃ। দিবীব চক্ষুরাততম্‌।। ওঁ বিষ্ণু ওঁ বিষ্ণু ওঁ বিষ্ণু।’ কুলীন টু কুলীন জ্ঞান ট্রান্সফার হিসেবে আমার রসিক জ্যাঠা ফাজিল ভাইপো-কে এর মানে বলেন। ‘ওঁ বিষ্ণু’ অর্থাৎ একটি বাঁশ , তদ্‌বিষ্ণোঃ অর্থাৎ সেই বাঁশ, পরমং পদং সদা পশ্যন্তি অর্থাৎ পরের পশ্চাতে সদা প্রবেশ করাইবে, ইত্যাদি ইত্যাদি। বলাই বাহূল্য, আসল মানেটা তাই ছিল না। সেই অর্জিনাল-এ বিষ্ণুর বঙ্গায়ন হয়ে বাঁশ হয় নাই। আমাদের পাটুলিগ্রাম তথা জিরাট-বলাগড় এলাকায় বাঁশঝার বেশ ঘন। তাই হয়তো বিষ্ণু যখন হিন্দুস্তান থেকে বাঁশঝার নিবিড় এই বাংলাদেশে আসেন আমাদের হাত ঘুরে, একটু অদলবদল হয়ে যায় আর কি। ইয়ার্কি মারছি বলে রাখলাম – বিশেষতঃ বোষ্টমদের প্রতি এই ক্ষমাপ্রার্থনা। আমরা শাক্তরা একটু ইয়ে হই। এবার ফিরি রাজনীতি, ভাষা ও শালীনতা প্রসঙ্গে।

পাটুলিগ্রামে যা বাঁশ, লন্ডনে তাই ব্যাম্বু, আর এই দুইয়ের মাঝামাঝি জল্পাইগুড়িতে মুখ্যমন্ত্রীর কাছে তাই হয় ‘বাম্বু’। এতে বেশ একটা ‘বিতর্ক’ হয়েছে। এক দল বলছেন, রামঃ, বঙ্গেশ্বরীর মুখের এই ভাষার ছিরি? একদম ‘ঝি-ক্লাস’। কোটি টাকার আঁকিয়ে ও গল্প-কবিতার বই লিখিয়ের আড়ালে এই তাহলে স্বরূপ? আরেকদল বলছেন, আমাদের এই বাংলাদেশের লক্ষলক্ষ মানুষের মুখের ভাষা এরকমই। যিনি জননেত্রী তার ভাষাও যে হবে গণমানুষের মতো, নন্দনে বসে মার্কেজ পড়নেওয়ালাদের মত নয়, তা বলাই বাহূল্য। দুই পক্ষকেই বলি, ভাবের ঘরে চুরি করে কি লাভ? বাম্বু দেওয়ার কথা শুনে আকাশ থেকে পড়া, প্রবল ভাবে শ্রেণী-ঘৃনা উগরে দেওয়া মুখ্যমন্ত্রীর শব্দচয়নকে সমালচনার উছিলায়, এগুলি ভন্ডামি ও ন্যক্কারজনক। একই সাথে, যারা এমন ভাব করছেন যে কিছুই হয়নি, ভাষা তো ভাষাই, শব্দ তো শব্দই, মানুষে তো এমন করেই কথা বলে গোছের অজুহাত দেখিয়ে বাম্বুর খুঁটি দিয়ে নেত্রীর সাথে জনগনের হৃদয়ের সম্পর্কের গভীরতা মাপছেন, তাদেরকে বলি যে বাংলার গণমানুষকে অপমান করবেন না।

এটা ঠিক যে সব শব্দই সমানভাবে একটি ভাষার সম্পদ – বেশি সম্পদ বা কম সম্পদ নয় । ভাষা জীবন পায় তার ব্যবহারে। সেই ব্যবহারের একটা প্রেক্ষিত আছে। ঠিক যেমন আমরা মাষ্টারমশাই-এর সামনে সিগারেট খাইনা ( যারা উচ্চতর লিবার্টি চেতনার ভারে কুঁজো হয়ে গেছে, তাদের কথা বাদ দিলাম ), ঠিক তেমনই মা-বাপের সামনে কিছু ধরণের শব্দ প্রয়োগ করিনা যা কিনা ইয়ার-বন্ধুদের সাথে চলে। ব্যক্তিগত জীবন ও যাপনকে উলঙ্গ ভাবে মেলে ধরা যাদের জীবনাদর্শ, তারা এই স্থান-কাল-পত্র বুঝে শব্দ প্রয়োগের মধ্যে দ্বিচারিতা দেখতে পারেন। তাদেরকে অনুরোধ, যে ধরনের গণমানুষের কথা বলে বাম্বুর সামনে পর্দা টানা হচ্ছে, সেই রকম ভাষা তারা পথে যেতে-আসতে রোজ ব্যবহার করে দেখুন। গণমানুষ বলবেন ‘মুখ সামলে’। এই গণমানুষ ‘গালমন্দ’ বোঝেন, আবার বোঝেন কারুর মুখের কথা সুন্দর। তাই জনগনের ঘাড়ে বন্দুক রেখে বুলেট বা বাম্বু, কিছুই ছোঁড়া অনুচিত। জলের লাইনে ‘ঝি’-দের ঝগড়ার ভাষা টুকুই যারা শুনেছেন কিন্তু শীত-গ্রীষ্ম-বর্ষা রোজ সক্কাল সক্কাল উঠে কিছুক্ষণের কর্পোরেশনের জলের সাপ্লাই-এর জন্য একাধিক বালতি নিয়ে অপেক্ষা করা যাদের জীবন-যাপনের অংশ নয়, তাদেরকে বলি – এরা গান গায়, ভালবাসে,ঘুম পাড়ানিয়া গান শোনায় শিশুদের। আপনারা যাদের লোকসঙ্গীত বিশ্ববাজারে বেচে খান ও ফান্ড আনান, এরা সেই ‘লোক’। গালি দেওয়া বা বাম্বু দেওয়া, একটিও সহজাত নয়। হয় তা পরিস্থিতির সামনে একটি প্রত্যুত্তর, চরম হতাশার প্রকাশ কিংবা জিঘাংসার উদগিরণ। আমি অবশ্যি কলকাত্তাই সেই ভদ্দরলোক শ্রেণীকে এসব গালি-চরিত থেকে বাদ দিলাম, যাদের কাছে f-ওয়ালা ৪ বর্ণের ইংরেজি গালি হলো কুল (অর্থাত নব্য কৌলিন্যের চিহ্ন) কিন্তু বাংলা গালি হলো চীপ ও ভালগার। তারা অন্য গ্রহের বাসিন্দা। তাদের দূর থেকে প্রণাম।

বাম্বু দেওয়া বা বাম্বুর দ্বারা তাড়া খাওয়া, এ যদি রাজনীতির ভাষা হয়, তাহলে আমি বলব এ ভাষা অশালীন হোক না হোক, চরম হিংস্র তো বটেই। রাজনীতি যখন এলাকা দখল বা এলাকা ধরে রাখার খেলায় পরিনত হয়, সেই প্রতিহিংসার রাজনীতিতে বাম্বু এক প্রতিশোধমূলক একক। প্রধানমন্ত্রী তার মন্ত্রিসভার আরেক মন্ত্রী সাধ্বী নিরঞ্জন জ্যোতির কুকথার বলেছেন যে নিরঞ্জন গ্রামাঞ্চলের মানুষ। গ্রামাঞ্চলের মানুষ উঠতে বসতে সাম্প্রদায়িক বিষ ছড়ান না, বাংলার তৃণমূল স্তরের মানুষ বাম্বুর চিন্তায় আচ্ছন্ন থাকেন না। তারা চাকরি চান, নিরাপত্তা চান, বাম্বু দিতে চান না, নিতে তো নয়-ই। বাঁশকে কেন্দ্র করে রাজনৈতিক সংগ্রাম কল্পনা আমাদের বাংলাদেশে বেশ পুরনো। বাঁশেরকেল্লার মধ্যে যতটা ছিল ‘সাবল্টার্ন’ ততটা ছিল হিংস্র সাম্প্রদায়িক মৌলবাদ। প্রধানমন্ত্রী তার মন্ত্রিসভার আরেক মন্ত্রী সাধ্বী নিরঞ্জন জ্যোতির কুকথার সাফাইতে বলেছেন যে নিরঞ্জন গ্রামাঞ্চলের মানুষ। গ্রামাঞ্চলের মানুষ উঠতে বসতে সাম্প্রদায়িকতার বিষ ছড়ান না, বাংলার তৃণমূল স্তরের মানুষ বাম্বুর চিন্তায় আচ্ছন্ন থাকেন না। তারা চাকরি চান, নিরাপত্তা চান, বাম্বু দিতে চান না, নিতে তো নয়-ই। রাজনৈতিক দল একটি তাঁবুর মত, তা দাঁড় করিয়ে রাখতে বাঁশ লাগে। বাঁশ যেন বাংলার রাজনীতিতে স্থায়ী কাঠামোর কাজ করে, সচল না হয়। নইলে তাঁবু-ও ভেঙ্গে পড়বে। তাঁবুর ব্যাপারীরা বাঁশ সচল করার আগে আশা করি একটু ভাববেন। কারণ ফেইসবুকে সেদিন দেখি এক জায়গায় লেখা , ‘সময় থাকতে পিওর হন,নইলে বাম্বু দেবে জনগণ’।

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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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Quitting Modi’s India / Fleeing from Narendra Modi and other urban liberal maladies

[ Daily News & Analysis, 12 May 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 15 May 2014]

Soon after May 16th, the nature of the Union government due to be formed at New Delhi should be clear. While a coalition of parties led by Narendrabhai Modi is the most talked about scenario, the possibility of a non-Gandhi, non-saffron helmswoman buoyed up by political forces outside the Delhi establishment cannot be ruled out. Some well-heeled liberal types, half-jokingly (you never know), have declared a desire to leave the country, if Modi eventually happens, while looks increasingly likely. U.R.Ananthamurthy and Kamaal Khan are the most famous among this species.

This joking about fleeing a place whose emerging reality you do not like is another clichéd Anglo-American import. This unoriginal venting style was copied from those who disliked the George W. Bush regime in USA. Many of them wanted to move to Canada if Bush won again (he did). Other Bush-haters jokingly wanted the Eastern and Western coasts of USA (where Bush had less support) to secede. The ‘liberated’ brown person’s international imagination has predictable import locations. Beyond the joke, the difference is that most residents of the subcontinent do not have the means to move anywhere. The emigration ‘joke’ only highlights the disconnect of this class from the masses.

The problem is that the Modi-hate of urbane left-liberal types does not stop at Narendrabhai. Their hate list is long and includes hundreds of millions who didn’t vote for the BJP. These objects of urban liberal disgust includes those who are most comfortable in dhoti, lungi or saree, women wearing sindoor, namaji Muslims, ritual fasting Hindus, people who scratch themselves publicly, people who have not heard of white thinkers of the last two centuries and don’t need their ‘eyes opened’ by intellectual mumbo-jumbo, people who think family and community are important, people who can clearly reply to the question ‘where are you from, which community do you belong to’, people who create and recreate culture rather than using fancy technology to ‘document’ it, people with faith in gods, goddesses and other divine beings, people who are able to express their innermost feelings with ease without book-learned western conceptual crutches, people whose self-identity would not be in peril if white colonizers never appeared in the subcontinent, young people who don’t say ‘ohmygod’ in sitcom accents, people who love and dream in their mother-tongue and who sing their children generationally handed-down lullabies. And so on. Ashis Nandy has taught us to take people’s categories seriously. That talisman also helps distinguish between people and their parasites.

Thus those who don’t attend any political rallies (too many people, too much sweat), do not know the name of their local councilor, anglicized ‘aspirational’ migrants who do not care to change their domicile when they move to another city (and neither visit their parental home to vote), those who love to paint most brown people as dehati and ‘uneducated’, and hence unfit for the kind of decision-making that electoral politics requires – these are the people who capture inordinate public discourse space due to their privileges. In their view, the ‘uneducated’ cannot see through propaganda and can be instigated easily. These parasites, after reading tome after tome, will tell you that they get it – how power works and the sort and if others got it too, it would all be so nice. If they could, they would elect the people themselves, replacing the rural and ‘uneducated’, with their own English-big word correctly reared kind. They do not care about data, but they are masters at abstractions- fitting the world into their warped book-derived worldview. They hate the masses, wish the masses were not as they are and spend lifetimes trying to shut the masses out of their lives. When such people capture positions from where they can infect others, like academia and media, social justice is at stake. Long well-fed by the dole that the Indira Congressite governments at the centre reserved for the professor/activist nomenklatura and other managers of such Delhi-based government-subsidized ‘liberal’ fortresses, there is a feeling that the party might end. The emigration ‘joke’ is a part of that anxiety.

The advantage of ‘book-read’ ideologies is that they offer excellent excuses for holding both wine glasses and radical positions. Those with a penchant for theorizing the world before they can jump in do that by constantly cleaning their local socio-political infections in their private homes with imported soaps. Nothing is more sacred than pure ideology. Their engagement with the people – zero. Thankfully, that’s what most people think of them as – zero. Common people’s lives are at the cross-roads of caste-class-language-religion flows. To them ‘fascism’ and ‘neoliberalism’ are not smart words to be said at the right time but things with real-life consequences. To the non-religious, post-casteist, cosmopolitan left-liberal urbanite, these are ‘concepts’ which coexist perfectly well with their sixth pay commission salaries and ‘refined’ sensibilities.

Some of them even fancy themselves as the cutting edge of the fight against Modi, fascism and all that. As my friend Uday Chandra succinctly puts it, ‘the electoral fight against Modi and his politics begins and ends in the regions and localities where the likes of Mayawati, Laloo, and Mamata emerge from. Upon their unpretentious and all-too-mortal shoulders the hopes of millions of Indians rest. Don’t let your academic or activist friends or nandu-sabka-bandhus tell you otherwise. If things were left to the urban and the urbane, we’d be fed to the wolves long ago’.

There is much to be concerned about a strong, stable government that defends extra-judicial killings of young women, is unapologetic about large-scale killings under its watch, pimps out natural resources to those who help light up the government’s ‘vibrant’ mask and shares the Delhi-Mumbai Indian vision of the urbane. The fight against such powers and such governments will continue to come from the rooted, with family values and communitarian ethos. The rustic and the fantastic, not urban liberal smart talkers have always carried on the real struggles for a just world.

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Next time, electing a sarkar from Great Nicobar

[ Daily News and Analysis, 29 Apr 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 22 May 2014 ; Millenium Post, 2 May 2014 ; Echo of India, 7 May 2014]

At the very outset, I should make my position on certain things very clear. I believe that there are many, many ways of being human – none of them being ‘better’ or ‘worse’, ‘progressive’ or ‘regressive’, ‘forward’ or ‘backward’ than others. There is no rank order of ‘civilizations’, cultures, millenia and the like. For that matter, I am not sure what ‘civilization’ means, unless you define it by a set of arbitrary parameters and ascribe those parameters some kind of inherently positive value, just because you fancy them. This line of thought may be particularly irritating to those who, after their unfortunate birth in brown-land, were born-again when exposed to White people’s worldviews. But the irritation of such dwijas (twice born) is irrelevant. They would have been altogether irrelevant if a deep democracy were able to function in the subcontinent. I hope such a time comes soon, before the dwijas are able to stamp out all diversity and cultural rootedness from this world. I hope they are soon kicked off the centre-stage that they have occupied for too long, by keeping the people out by sheer power. Till such time, before the story of the hunt is rewritten and the lions still lurk, some will continue to make hay. But let me get back to the many many ways to being human.

Now that we have the clap-trap about ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ humans out of the way, let me come to the ongoing elections to the Indian Union parliament. Using the principle of one-man one-vote, this exercise seeks to present an opportunity to the people to determine and influence the nature of the power that will rule over them. But that is not all. This exercise also relegitimizes (kind of like license renewal) the structure and apparatus that imposes itself on the people. Thus power structures seek legitimacy by offering a pre-determined amount of decision-making power. It does not give all powers to the people. For example, the people who are supposedly the only sovereign in this schema cannot alter the ‘basic structure’ of the Indian Union constitution, even when fundamental rights of the individual are protected.

The crucial part of such schemes is that they are all-pervasive. The intense focus of resources and energy by modern nation-states on maintaining and defining territorial limits is not accidental. Within that zone, it is supreme. Which is precisely why territories where such monarchic supremacy is not established are sources of unending paranoia for the powers-to-be. The smokescreen of people’s welfare is used to unleash the non-pretentious forces of a nation-state – money and military. In places where people don’t live, powers dangle the notion of ‘strategic importance’.

We are born from our mother’s womb. We are born where our mother lay pregnant with us. When we are born, we are as human anyone else. This is before there is consciousness of the state, constitution, Gandhi, Nehru, tricolor, New Delhi, etc. Is it a pre-condition of being human that these notions have to be built up within our heads for an individual to be considered fully human? Clearly not. Our bloodlines and human consciousness predates all flags and constitutions and gods willing, will outlive them too. So one has a right to be fully human and not be impinged upon, counted, exercised power upon, demanded loyalty from by institutions like the nation. One has a right to exist in the land one was born upon, to mingle in the society into which one is born or welcomed, live a glorious life among one’s kins and so on. Institutions that place themselves as mediators of these rights, without being called to mediate, are inhuman and anti-social in a very fundamental sense. They may well be legal, depending on how many guns back up the self-imposed mediator. Legality is different from justness– only the people can create the latter. No paper document written in their name can.

Whether one votes or not votes or boycotts it, all of these positions are vis-à-vis the voting process and the state that sponsors it. The all pervasiveness of such schemes means that you will be counted, not matter what – you will be classified, even if you don’t belong. Lack of ‘consciousness’ is not an option and in any case, irrelevant. Institutions that intensively survey uninhabited islands, wrap the remains of the dead in distinct flags, ‘teach’ loyalty through school syllabi do face a problem when they face people who regard the state as alien. Some of the indigenous peoples of Andaman and Nicobar Islands like the Shompen are such aliens. But they are ‘Indian’ citizens, irrespective. Are they proud of Gandhi? Do they respect the tricolour? Do they have a stake in Siachen and Sir Creek, given what happens there is done in their name too? Do they believe in ‘unity in diversity – given that their numbers have sharply dwindled ever since they were ‘claimed’ as ‘Indians’? It is from the perspective of the Shompen people of the Great Nicobar island that the all pervasive state starts looking not so pervasive – a hint that there is an outside, even when high resolution maps and detailed anthropological surveys have been done. This ‘outside’ consciousness is an extremely dangerous thing. Hence, when the Shompen people voted in Indian Union elections for the first time, whatever that act means, there was a sigh of relief at the deepest heart of the state. A portal to an outside, however small, was technically sealed. There is an outside and there will always be an outside. It comes with every child who is born. Hence there is a persistent and dangerous glimmer. To live without certain indoctrinations makes a dynamite of a people, even if they don’t ‘know’ it. The distance from birth-rights to full-citizenship is a journey that requires surrender of rights, without consent or with indoctrination that there is no outside.

I remember a 4-panel cartoon. At first, a bear stands in a jungle. Then some trees are cleared, encroachers arrive. The bear looks on. Finally, everything is ‘clean’ and someone is taken aback that there is a bear in the midst of ‘civilization’ and asks where it came from. The bear was always there. I am sure they created a ‘sanctuary’ for the bear thereafter. May be it will start speaking Hindi and English and straighten up its spine when the band plays Jana-Gana-Mana. With enough ‘aspiration’, it might go on to sing ‘the world will live as one’. There wont be any bears left any more. Such is progress in a world without outsides.

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AAP is too much of a wild card for the deep state

[ Daily News and Analysis, 2 Apr 2014 ; New Age (Dhaka), 26 Apr 2014 ]

Not everyone starts at the top. Some do. This is very true for politics. Similarly, not everyone starts out cynically. Some do. This again holds true for the kind of politics that has benefits in terms of holding power – financial, controlling other people’s lives or both. Not everyone needs to control the whole world to feel like a dictator. In the subcontinent, dictators and wanna-be dictators come in all sizes, big and small, from the local area tough to the president-style prime minister in waiting. They support each other by being involved in a complex pyramid of power. What binds them together, across apparently different ideologies, is the notion that certain individuals are more important than people. It takes an immense amount of narcissism to think that most people are worthless or fools. The ‘people’ can be tactically utilized, but they should never be empowered in the sense that they could question power hierarchies that maintain this relationship of the powerful individuals lording over the people, sometimes even in the form of the most benevolent despot. The people variously are a ‘bag of potatoes, ‘disunited, non-martial Hindus’, ‘ignorant and superstitious masses’ and a host of things that are irritating to the small or big wanna-be dictator a.k.a. the people’s most ‘earnest’ well-wisher or to the ‘enlightened’ narcissist.

The government is not like a bicycle, a neutral piece of machinery that can be driven by anyone towards any end. There is the deep-state to contend with. Unelected bureaucrats, big business, planners, policy wonks, academics, military and security men, mediawallahs, contractors and pimps in collusion with narcissitic inviduals with some network among the people form the deep-state. The deep-state is a reflection of the collective interest of such individuals. It is also by requirement and design a system of preserving the continued disempowerment of the people. While they swear by the constitution, they decide when to suspend the applicability of its humane sections. This makes them the real sovereign, the decider of exceptions. In the jails, a great deal of care is taken to see to it that inmates don’t have anything like a wire or long pieces of cloth or other things by which they could commit suicide. At the same time, deaths by ‘encounters’, torture in jail or in police custody are also ordered and implemented. It is the deep-state’s interest that binds these two apparently contradictory things. This sovereign decides the time and place or illegality.

But can the people not organize themselves, into parties, take over government and change all of that? Theoretically yes but one of the many ways that path is made nearly impossible is by power centralization. If a gram-panchayat or any other level of administration could decide on their own issues and no one from above could veto that, then we could be seeing real democratic gains. Centralization loves to accord greater ‘wisdom’ and ‘power’ to those who are ‘above’, keeping those below in strict control like a kid who is allowed to suck on lollypops of certain approved flavours and even that can be snatched away at will.

But the people are hardly a ‘bag of potatoes’ or passive victims. Otherwise such a large police and military establishment would not be required. And they have used every means necessary, including the electoral means, to throw up challenges to power. When a genuine broad-based democratic challenge appears and gains critical-mass, the deep-state brings forth its greatest weapon – that of co-option of individuals who come to represent people’s resistance. It is a measure of the depth of the deep-state. Having personally had some opportunities to sit-in as an unnoticed (who knows) guest in ante-chambers of the deep state, one thing is clear. The goings-on in there and the whole scene have a seductive charm to it. Even those who grew up viewing such things cynically also slowly crumble. The trappings of power make them want to suspend their commitment to the people and believe in the special value of the unbridled power, that there is real accomplishment lurking, that there really, really is no alternative, but this. This isn’t simple cooption, but seduction at a visceral level, for wanting to let go of long held albatrosses of people’s interests around one’s neck, and feel curiously light and accomplished and important. They want to fit-in. The deep-state is more than welcoming.

But not everyone can be co-opted. Many sons and daughters of this hard land have not simply been brave but good souls in a way that matters, of overcoming seduction that is even soothing and designed to not give guilt to those who give in. Stuff of greatness is born out of those who cannot be co-opted. They don’t need monuments for their acts sustain human liberty when monuments crumble.

The magnitude of difference between the characteristics of an at-least nominally democratic constitutional state and the deep state, is a measure of transparency and democratic functioning. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is yet another expression of people’s unending hope for dignity and rights. Whether the AAP is up to that challenge is another matter. It too has some characters who are stuck waste-deep in the existing power establishment. Whether they will chose to rise or sink into seduction, only time will tell. But one thing is clear. The deep-state is not sure about AAP. It has not found a way to fully co-opt it. It is still too much of a wildcard.

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David versus Goliath in Benares

[ Express Tribune, 7 Apr 2014 ; Kashmir Times, 8 Apr 2014 ; Daily Peoples Times, 8 Apr 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 21 Apr 2014; Millenium Post, 22 Apr 2014]

As the Congress(I) looks sure to reap what it sowed, the possibilities for the Bharatiya Janata Party looked exceedingly certain in almost a walk-over game. It was just a few months ago when there was an air of everything having been settled. A corruption-ridden second term government of the Indira Congress was looking increasingly out of touch with people’s issues and aspirations. And a ‘saviour’ has descended from Gujarat –a ‘saviour’ whose public image was curated by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s slick PR machine to appear in stark contrast with the Nehru-Gandhi scion. It was but a matter of time. It still is a matter of time. Much is still quite settled. But the air has cleared a bit and faces of the demi-gods don’t appear as divine anymore. The man from Gujarat still stands tall and is way ahead in the battle. However, political currents in the last few months have ensured that at the end, the winner of the battle can claim political power, legislative power, administrative power, even the power to subvert habeas corpus and other things sacred to human dignity but it cannot claim ethical and moral power with full-throated confidence. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party has ensured that.

Touted initially as a ‘electronic media creation’ that would vanish as soon as the cameras turned elsewhere, the Aam Aadmi Party has continued to punch way above it popular weight even after much of corporate media turned hostile overnight over the party’s decision to deny the Walmarts and Tescos of the world to set up shop in Delhi. This party, which cannot claim numerical parity with either of the 2 behemoths of the political scene of the Indian Union, has been able to go strength to strength with these two in the game of political agenda-setting. This is partly due to the base it has been able to create for itself in crucial urban sectors of Hindi-Hindustan (and not in many urban centres of the Indian Union). Anything in Hindi-Hindustan is able to claim top slot in the ‘national’ agenda – such is the nature of politics in this republic. But that is not all. The Aam Aadmi Party has been able to edge past its rivals in the universe of political morals and ethics by disclosing the hitherto undisclosable donor lists to party funds, naming the hitherto unnamable individuals and families who hold the political system in an unholy grip, forcing others to respond, retaliate, ignore and thus expose themselves. The subcontinent has a special place for this sort of thing, even if ethical giants were really acting all the way. Even if silenced by fear or state violence, people in the subcontinent have shown that they have respect for those who speak truth to power. Which is precisely why other agendas for respect garnering have to be generated – ‘strong’ leadership, teaching ‘them’ a lesson and content-less slogans of the ‘India first’ type. Such respect-generation is coupled with hope-production by false promises for job-creation and material prosperity that will be ushered in by the same corporates who help fund advertisements of the ‘strongman’ in widely circulated dailies, TV channels, cell phones and websites.

Arvind Kejriwal, ex-Chief Minister of Delhi and the public face of the Aam Aadmi Party, will be challenging Narendrabhai Modi, the chief-minister of Gujarat and prime-ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, in Benares in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This holy city, which is also the site of the controversial mosque that Aurangzeb Alamgir built after destroying the erstwhile Vishwanath temple, is all set for a David verses Goliath battle. And Goliath will win. When Arvind Kejriwal entered Benares for his inaugural political rally, he was pelted with rotten eggs and black ink was thrown on him. The kickback that is given by the saviour’s favourite banias in exchange of mining rights, ports, agricultural lands, tax breaks, mega-subsidies and natural resources finds it way into the petrol of the campaign helicopter, the liquor consumed by the black-ink and egg throwers, the danda that holds the jhanda. Kejriwal is astute enough to know that focus on Benares will garner publicity helping people know about the political agenda of a credible opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially when the Indira Congress is in retreat. An atheist turned believer, he can publicly pull off a call upon non-sectarian divine powers to intervene on the side of the ‘aam aadmi’. Call them publicity stunts, call them what you will but the egg and ink smeared Kejriwal has ensured that in spite of a ‘chhappan inch’ chest, immaculately clean dresses and ‘Har Har’ chants, the winner this time cannot rise above the fray. The owner of the 56-inch chest will invariably see his height diminished when the duel with Kejriwal progresses, when he reacts to the Aam Aadmi challenge. The ironman may stand tall but his rusty core will not be hidden either. That is serious political currency for the Aam Aadmi Party, which really is preparing for the election after this one.

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The Aam Aadmi phenomenon

[ Millenium Post, 9 Mar 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 11 Mar 2014 ; Daily Peoples Time, 12 Mar 2014 ]

While the big winner of the forthcoming general elections of the Indian Union may be the Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will have achieved something grander – a shift in the political discourse around people’s everyday issues. With Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal taking the fight against the ‘Gujarat model’ straight to the Aam Gujaratis, the party has raised the stakes in what is now clearly a very dangerous game. The AAP may or may not be successful in stemming the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in urban areas of the North and the West of the Indian Union. But in taking the fight against Modi to the Hindu-Chhote-Sardar’s hometurf, he has managed to do what the party of babalogs and dole-funded Delhi-based ‘secular’ talk shops have never been able to do. Perhaps it is conviction, perhaps it is spontaneity, perhaps it is calculation and most probably it is all of the above and much more. But the AAP has made the BJP nervous and it is showing. The way it also has clashed with the AAP in Delhi and attacked them elsewhere shows that they care deeply. The established political class fears one thing more than the present AAP organization – its potential contagion effect. Politics of the poor and the deprived thrives on hope. AAP peddles that as if on steroids. Hence a politics centred on the issues of the excluded majority always has an ‘escape velocity’ potential under those who are both clever and honest. And there are many of them in the subcontinent. This is the thrust that AAP potentially represents for many and those whose reliance on Reliance is crucial for their business do not under-estimate the AAP’s potential threat.

President’s rule over any territory in the Indian Union is always an useful opportunity to study the deep consensus that exists underneath the apparently partisan bickering that is staged for public consumption and political career advancement. During such rules, the police and the administration work according to the ‘common minimum programme’ that is common to the major factions of the subcontinental ruling class. Thanks to sanitized civics books that are designed to instill state-friendly common-sense among common-folk, some people living in urban middle class bubbles might mistakenly think that this ‘common minimum programme’ is the constitution itself. The power of the deep state is seen not in how effectively it rules by its constitution, but how selective can it be in upholding the ‘rule of law’. That which can make exceptions is the true sovereign in this land – it is not the people, it is not the state, it is the deep state. Which is why a Delhi Police, apparently not under any partisan control states that 13 AAP activists and 10 BJP supporters were injured in clashes in Delhi, and decides to detain AAP supporters. In detaining the AAP supporters, the Delhi Police was upholding the rule of law. In not detaining the people who injured the 13 AAP activists, it was upholding the rule of a deeper law, that one which is not the constitution, but the one that decides when the constitution is to be invoked at convenience. The lady of justice in this latter more powerful rule of law is not blind. She sees everything but has blindspots that conveniently guard those who are committed to the preservation of the deep state. The alacrity with which the Election commission takes notice of AAP’s violations is less astonishing than the speed with which corporate media houses are rushing to report these notices as headlines and ‘breaking news’. Equally astonishing is Arvind Kejriwal’s unconditional apology on AAP Delhi’s militant protest and his stern cell to stop all such protests. No such call from those who injured the 13 AAP activists and have been periodically attacking AAP offices elsewhere. These are exceptional times.

The AAP by its evolution has not been effectively contained by the deep-state. It surely wants to make it one of these others – whose periodic musical chair games makes sure it does not matter who loses, but the Delhi-Mumbai based elite illuminati and their retinue of policy wonks, security apparatchiks, immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, bureaucrats, professors, defence folks, hanger-ons, childhood friends, civil society wallahs, media-wallahs, suppliers, contractors, importers, lobbyists and pimps always wins. There is a tiny bit of possibility that the AAP may not be easily incorportable in this way of life. Since this way of life and loot is not negotiable, the AAP is an headache, small now, but potentially a recurrent migraine. Big corporates, including foreign corporates, and Delhi-Mumbai elute interests would ideally want to coopt AAP into their model of business-as-usual. The AAP is not totally immune to this threat from the grand-daddies of vested interests of the subcontinent. Even the powerful want to sleep in peace.

It is in parts of its line-up that one sees a possibility that such co-option, even if it is being tried at this moment, will not be a cakewalk. While many suspiciously looks at AAP as a motley crowd of over-ambitious jholawalas, the reality that the party is pitching a big tent in which there are a spectrum of forces and interests jostling for space and do represent a curious collection. These include victims of police brutalities to RTI activists to single-generation knowledge-industry millionaires to veterans of people’s struggles to aam aadmi, who are actually very khaas in being veterans of quotidian aam existence but distinguish themselves by their outspokenness and conviction in the AAP experiment. The AAP Lok Sabha candidate list includes Medha Patkar, the grand dame of non-party people’s movements, leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, honest to the core and deeply committed to issues of the poor and the marginalized. And incorruptible. Dayamani Barla, the indefatigable fighter from Jharkhand who led the movement for preservation of the adivasi forest rights against the mining giant Arcelor-Mittal, had joined AAP and might contest too. SP Udayakumar of the Koodankulam anti-nuclear movement has joined. In all their ‘anti’-ness, they collectively represent a humane approach to politics that has been altogether missing for a long time in the electoral arena. The people’s right to knowledge and governmental transparency has bloomed many RTI activists, many of whom have joined AAP. Among them, Raja Muzaffar Bhat is their candidate from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. In the subcontinent, forgotten atrocities form the underbelly of this apparently calm land. This is the land of 1984, Delhi and Bhopal. HS Phoolka, the tireless warrior for 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims’ justice is an AAP candidate. So is Rachna Dhingra, a person who gave up a luxurious life in the USA to start working among the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy and fights for their rights to this date, living in Bhopal. Today the parliament has more supporters of Dow Chemicals/Union Carbide in its power corridors than those who want justice for the Bhopal gas victims. AAP represents a threat to this state of affairs. The list of illustrious people in the AAP candidate list goes on – Mukul Tripathi, Jiyalal, Lingraj, Baba Hardev Singh, Sarah Joseph. Typically the state has co-opted such people by felicitations, with politicians standing beside them to be seen as patrons of such people. Just as they patronize goons. Different charades for different stages. It has attracted a fairly impressive set of tycoons and technocrats to its fold, especially those who fit the bill of being ‘self-made’ single generation millionaires. This class is averse to dynasticism and might have a certain kind of idealism that makes them resonate with AAP’s staunch anti-dynastic stance. If one suspends cynicism at some risk, one cannot also discount that some of them may be looking for redemption, at some point of their careers. Everyone wants redemption, at some level. Some of these types used to flock to the BJP before that ‘party with a difference’ simply introduced different dynasties, big and small. They also perceive themselves as non-receivers of the special favours from the political establishment, which makes them stand for clean and ‘fair’ business practises as opposed to crony capitalism and outright loot of state resources. There are civil society activists, academics, grassroots workers and quite a few aam aadmis and aurats. There is however a serious concern that its candidate list does not reflect the caste demographics of the land. While numerical representativeness is not enough, it is a start. A move away from that to faces more often than not from urban and higher caste backgrounds is a point of concern. Many from the left have pilloried the AAP for not coming clean on structural issues. If any group is most seriously concerned about AAP, it is the left of all hues, as the AAP seems to have struck an emotive cord with the people around pet issues that the left-wingers thought was their home ground. The AAP is clearly pushing the envelope on common people’s issues and that is broadly reflected in its choice of candidates. The AAP has learned from the past that small, localized movements, however spirited and however much they enjoy people’s support, ultimately suffer from a problem of failing to be scaled up to a size that matters, in an electoral and hence legislative sense. Part of the AAP leadership clearly wants to wed the politics of people’s movements to a pragmatic large-scale alternative that cannot be wished away. They have partially succeeded. The AAP is also limited by its perception of being a North-India party, with the name itself being distinctly Hindustani. A comprehensive commitment to making the Union into a truly federal one, which also is in line with the party’s focus on decentralization, should go a long way in clearing some air on that front.

At one level, AAP is like Gandhi’s Swaraj or Jinnah’s Pakistan. In the imagination of the people, it is whatever one thinks it to be, the harbinger of good rule. But what is good for one sector of the population may not be so for other sectors. It cannot be all things to all people at the same time. The long-range future of AAP, if it at all has one, will depend on which of these collective fantasies it will ally itself most closely to. Given its big tent character, there will be tussles and splits for sure. And that is not necessarily bad.

Like any populist political formation, the AAP has a demagoguish potential. The only real insurance against that is democratic control of a political formation. Similarly a state that runs rogue can only be restrained by democratic control. Some of AAP’s Lok Sabha candidates have been at the receiving end of the some of the most brutal acts by rogue state. The politics of changing the nature of politics is a means to changing the nature of the state – initially to convert a rogue state into a state having some rogue sections. This is no easy job as rogueness is not simply a character fault. It comes with wielding unaccountable and undemocratic power at any level. Unaccountable power that is beyond democratic control is the mother of all corruptions. One does not need to abuse this power. It is abusive to the people by its very existence. Many faces of the present AAP Lok Sabha line up understand that only too well. But they are not alone in understanding that. Those in power, including those who were victims of extraordinary abuse during the Panditain’s emergency regime are also aware of this. Awareness of abuse is not enough. Conviction is equally important. There is a difference between pimps and anti-trafficking activists. Both are ‘aware’ of the abuse. One thrives because of abuse, the other wants to end it. One can transform into the other – as the trajectories of many of those from the JP movement shows. Any political formation that wants claims to be difference in this age has to ponder deeply what is it beyond ‘personal honesty’ that will sustain politics, what is it beyond leadership that will sustain such politics. After all, the Patna University Student Union leader who later went to jail for the fodder scam was the same man who the Indira Congress locked up during the emergency. The AAP’s fielding of a few good men and women can be a start but not a long-range solution. If times can change people, what is it that will ensure that gains from one time idealism are not wasted. The AAP has pointed to greater and greater democratic control of political institutions at all levels, with an eye towards decentralization. If it is serious about this democratic decentralization, which in the political scene translates into a call for true federalism in the Indian Union and greater non-alienable powers to the bottom of the pyramid, then it may be onto something. Even if the AAP experiment fails, if it is successful in making democratic decentralization a key issue, just like it has done successfully with corruption, it would have made a greatly positive contribution to this Union.

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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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Pakistan elections : The provincial turn / Punjab’s winner, Pakistan’s ruler

[ Daily News and Analysis, 13 May 2013; Kashmir Reader, 2 Jul 2013 ]

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan held its elections on 11th May. The results till now have unequivocally pointed to the big winner of the election – the party of the Sharif brothers, the Pakistan Muslim League (Noon). They will possibly come very close to majority – there is a slim possibility of an outright majority too. In any case, the significant number of free-floating independents will ensure the majority for PML(N). There is no doubt that they will form the next federal government in Pakistan. Mian Nawaz of Raiwind is back in the saddle again. Having been removed in a coup and sent to exile after brokering a ‘abstinence from politics’ agreement, this is no small achievement for Mian Nawaz Sharif. The other big achievement is of broader import – this is the first time in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that an elected government has completed a full-term followed by an election that is all set to return a different party to power. While there have been major irregularities in Karachi city, in addition to the significant boycotts in parts of Balochistan, no electoral party has come out and claimed that the elections over-all were completely illegitimate. One can hope that there will be a peaceful transition of government. The continuance of any representative institution is a hit, however small, to the clout of undemocratic institutions like the armed forces.

There is certain narrative in the Indian Union about the ‘intrinsically undemocratic’ character of Pakistan’s polity. This is based on the long periods of army rule that Pakistan has endured. What is glossed over in such smug ideas is that the people of Pakistan have removed armed dictatorships through mass movements – not once, not twice, but thrice. That is even more true for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The Indian Union was formed by a transfer of power in 1947. A lengthy dictatorship was averted in the 70s not due to some internal mass movement that laid siege to the Indira Congress government. The dictatorship, also known as the Emergency, was a calculated move on the part of the Panditain. It is the holding of the 1977 elections that turned out to be an unfortunate gamble for her. If anything, one needs to learn from across the Radcliffe line the ABCs of removing dictatorships.

However embedded in these results is another phenomenon. To understand that, one needs to know that  Punjab province (West Punjab) has 148 seats in the national assembly, out of a total of 272. This simply means that it is possible for a party to dominate the province of Punjab and go on to form the federal government. This is precisely what has happened in Pakistan. The PML-N, the party that will form the next governmental, is a marginal or inconsequential factor in the 3 other major provinces – Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. During the early results, Mian Nawaz stepped out of his palace to declare that ‘The Nation has given me another chance to serve it.” He would have been accurate, if West Punjab was the nation it was talking about. The imminent party-of-power PML-N is simply a non-factor in Sindh, the second largest province. The erstwhile government party, the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) has essentially been reduced to a party of rural Sindh while the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) ambition could not expand beyond the towns of Sindh. The PPPP’s decline shows that families, even those with ‘martyrs’,  cannot indefinitely bank on the reverence for the dead. The MQM might as well change its name back to Mojahir Qaumi Movement. The absence of the muttahid nation is written all over the results and is the embedded subtext of the election, veiled by the numerical dominance of Punjab province. Significant parts of Balochistan went to the elections in a Kashmir-like situation with wide-spread election boycotts by forces fighting for an independent Balochistan. Worse still, the Pakistani state does not have a National Conference. Thus the representativeness of results from that province is questionable. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the campaign saw the killing of scores of leaders and activists of the secular- Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party by righteous soldiers of religion. Parties perceived to be soft on the Taliban, urbane (Imran Khan’s PTI) or traditional (JUI-F) have excelled. Terror works.

The results show that the political field of Pakistan is now dominated by a collection of regionally strong currents. An analogous scenario in the Indian Union would be if say, a mainly north-India based party like the BJP, could win a majority in parliament if it happened to completely dominate the region. The over-centralized government at Delhi is ill-equipped to deal with such an eventuality. Fortunately, Pakistan is well prepared – having already democratized its constitution by transferring a lot of power to the provincial governments. In spite of ‘elder brother’ attitudes, the Indian Union has a thing or two to learn from Pakistan.

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Bad moon rising / A dangerous connivance /

[ The Hindu, 6 Apr 2013 ; The Friday Times (Lahore), April 19-25, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 10 ; Kashmir Monitor, 25 Apr 2013 ; Himalayan Mirror (Gangtok), 12 Apr 2013 ; Himalayan Mail (Jammu), 7 Apr 2013; South Asia Citizen’s Web, 23 Apr 2013 ]

Many in West Bengal are looking to the Shahbag protests in Dhaka with a lot of hope and solidarity – as an important and necessary step that would usher in a rollback of the creeping communalism that has afflicted the People’s Republic of Bangladesh since 1975. 1971 is still fresh in the mind of many Bengalees from the West, when a massive relief and solidarity effort was under taken on that side of the border to reach out to a large mass of humanity trying to escape a situation that has been described variously – from ‘civil war’ to ‘genocide’. The then leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami in East Bengal and its students wing organized murder and rape squads, at times in collaboration with the armed forces. The specific crimes include mass-murder, rape as a weapon of war, arson and forced conversions. They escaped prosecution due to the by generals who used them to cast an Islamic veneer of legitimacy over their illegal capture of power. They were gradually rehabilitated until the present Awami League led government came to power – whose manifesto among other things, promised the trial of war criminals. Thus started the proceedings against them in the War Crimes tribunal. The Shahbag protests have demanded maximum punishment for the guilty.

In West Bengal, a few meetings and assemblies have happened around Shahbag. However, to the shock and dismay of many, the largest of these assemblies was a massive rally held in central Kolkata’s Shahid Minar on 30th March, explicitly against the Shahbag protests and in support of the war criminals convicted by the tribunal. Various Muslim groups including the All India Milli Council, All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, West Bengal Sunnat Al Jamat Committee, Association of Protection of Civil Rights, Milli Ittehad Parishad, West Bengal Madrasa Students Union, Ashikane Rasul Committee, All India Minority Association, All Bengla Muslim Think Tank, All India Muslim Majlish E Mushawarat, Aminia Jamiat E Muttakin Committee, Ulama Parishad, Magribi Bangla Anzumane Wayejin, Bangiya Imama Parishad and All Bengal Imam Muazzin Assiciation convened the meeting. People had also arrived in buses and trucks from distant districts of West Bengal like Murshidabad and Nadia, in additional to those from the adjoining districts of North and South 24 Parganas, Haora and Hooghly, among others. Students of madrassas and the newly minted Aliah Madrassa University were conspicuous at the gathering.

They rallied because ‘Islam is in danger’ in Bangladesh. Never mind that that post-1947, that part of the world through all its forms ( East Bengal, East Pakistan, People’s Republic of Bangladesh) has seen a continuous drop in the population percentage of religious minorities, in every census since 1951.This rallying cry is not new. It was heard in 1952 when the mother language movement of was in full swing, in 1954 when the United Front led by Fazlul Haq and Maulana Bhashani challenged the Muslim League, in 1969 when the Awami League made its 6 demands and in 1971 when Bengalees fought for independence and now in the context of Shahbag in 2013 – basically during every secular movement for rights and justice. One of the main accused in the war-crimes trial, Golam Aazam (also the leader of the Jamaat in East Pakistan in 1971), had used this old trick in the hat when he has stated in 1971 “the supporters of the so-called Bangladesh Movement are the enemies of Islam, Pakistan, and Muslims”. Replace ‘Bangladesh’ with ‘Shahbag’ and ‘Pakistan’ with ‘Bangladesh’ and you have the same logic. Terming the struggle in Bangladesh to be one between Islam and Shaitan (Satan), it was announced at the meeting that they would cleanse West Bengal of those who were trying to support the present Prime-minister of Bangladesh and the war-crime trial effort. It was also threatened that those political forces that support Shahbag would ‘beaten with broom-sticks’ if they came to ask for votes from Muslims. Just like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, Sheikh Hasina will also be kept out of Kolkata – they added. They also supported the anti-Shahbag ‘movement’ in Bangladesh. The last assertion is especially worrisome as this anti-Shahbag movement has let loose its fury on the religious minorities of Bangladesh. This has resulted in a wave of violent attacks on Hindus, Buddhists and secular individuals, with wanton burning and destruction of Hindu and Buddhist homes, businesses and places of worship. Amnesty International communiqué mentioned attacks on over 40 Hindu temples as of 6th March. The number is over 100 now and still rising.

Given the recent trends of politics in West Bengal, this large gathering and its pronouncements are not shocking. The writing has been in the wall for a while. A collapse in the Muslim vote of the Left Front is an important factor in its recent demise after more than three decades of uninterrupted rule. Various Muslim divines like Twaha Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif, have explicitly pointed that out as a point of threat to the present government. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a continued slice of this vote. The present government has tried to hand out sops to build a class of Muslim ‘community leaders’ who eat of its hand by its unprecedented move to giving monthly stipends to imams and muezzins. Very recently, it has been decided that such a cash scheme might be worked out for Muslim widows too. Given that it is beyond the ability of the debt-ridden, vision-poor government to solve the problems that are common to the poor, it has cynically chosen to woo a section of the marginalized on the basis of religion using handouts. These are excellent as speech-making points masquerading as empathy and social justice. This is dangerous politics to say the least. It sets into motion currents and gives fillip to forces whose trajectories are beyond the control of the present political groups. The Left Front’s political fortune has not improved after its humiliating defeat. It has cynically chosen not too oppose this communal turn to West Bengal’s politics, for it too, believes that silently waiting for the incumbent to falter is a better roadmap to power. The damage that is doing to the political culture of the state in immense and may well be irreparable. The incumbent’s connivance and the opposition’s silence are largely due to decades of erosion in the culture of democratic political contestation through grassroots organizing. Both the incumbent and the oppostition parties deal with West Bengal’s sizeable minority population primarily via intermediaries, often doing away with any pretense of political ideology while indulging in such transactions.

For their part, organizations owing allegiance to a particular brand of political Islam ala Moududi, have used this disconnect to the hilt. An emerging bloc of divines and ex-student leaders of certain organizations have used the students that they can amass at short notice to launch specific protests, aimed in getting a leverage in terms of policy. Sadly, this blackmailing is hardly aimed at uplifting the living standards of West Bengal Muslims in this world. Rather, its string of victories started with successfully driving out the famous persecuted humanist writer Taslima Nasreen during the Left Front regime. The most recent example was the governmental pressure that was exerted on their direction to keep Salman Rushdie out of a proposed event in Kolkata, after he successfully did such events in Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. This slowly pushing of the envelope fits into a sequence of events that are increasingly stifling the freedom of expression. At the same time, its double-standards are explicit. On March 21st, a medium-sized group consisting of little-magazine publishers, human rights workers, theatre artists, womens’ organizations and peace activists had announced that they would march in solidarity with the Shahbag protests and express their support to the Bangladesh government’s war crimes trial initiative by marching to the deputy high-commission of Bangladesh. Even after prior intimation, the rally was not allowed to move by the police due to ‘orders’ and some of the marchers were detained. The same police provided security cover to pro-Jamaat-e-Islami organizations as they conducted a rally submitted a month earlier and again later when they submitted a memorandum to the same deputy high commission demanding acquittal of convicted war criminals. Last year, it issued a circular to public libraries to stock a sectarian daily even before its first issue had been published! The role of the state is explicit in these actions – it possibly thinks that it can play this game of brinksmanship with finesse. The flight of cultural capital from the self-styled cultural capital of India is but a natural corollary of such unholy alliances with the political class playing tactical spectators and tactical facilitators to apologists for one the largest mass-murders in the last century .

The recent bye-election to Jangipur, a Muslim majority constituency carried certain signals. Prompted by the elevation of Mr.Mukherjee to Presidency, this election saw the combined vote of the 2 main parties fall from 95% in 2009 to 78% in 2012. The major beneficiaries were the Welfare Party of India, a thinly veiled front organization of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Social Democratic Party of India, an even more radical group of a similar ilk. Such groups are armed with a programme of ‘tactical pluralism’, quite akin to the tactical defence of Taslima’s freedom of speech by majoritarian communal political forces in the Indian union. The rallying against Shahbag has blown the cover of faux pluralism. There was another significant beneficiary and predictable in the same election, the BJP. Communal tension has been on the rise in recent years – there has been serious disturbance by West Bengal standards in Deganga and Noliakhali. The majoritarian forces smell a subterranean polarization of the polity. Mouthing banalities about Bengal’s ‘intrinsically’ plural culture is quite useless – culture is a living entity, that is always in flux, created and recreated every moment. It is being recreated by the victimization discourse by fringe groups like Hindu Samhati. It is being recreated in certain religious congregations in parts of West Bengal of Aila where unalloyed poison produced by divines like Tarek Monawar Hossain from Bangladesh is played on loud-speakers. Thanks to technology, such vitriol produced in a milieu of free-style majoritarian muscle flexing in Bangladesh easily finds its way to a place where the demographic realities are different. Hence the popularity and consequent defence of one of the convicted war criminals, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who in his post-71 avatar had become something of a superstar in the Bengali waz-mahfil (Islamic religious discourse congregation) circuit. What are the effects of the subterranean cultural exchange of this kind? The rally is a partial clue. A defence of Sayedee and claiming him to be innocent, as was repeatedly done in that rally, is like perpetrating Holocaust-denialism.

Just a day after the anti-Shahbag rally in Kolkata, almost as a divine reminder of starker realities beyond the defense of Islam, nearly 45 lakh unemployed youth, Hindus and Muslims, sat for the appointment as primary school teachers recruitment examination for 35000 empty posts. Roughly 1 in 128 will succeed. There is no employment exchange worth its name, including the ‘minority’ employment exchange set up by the incumbents, which would absorb the unsuccessful 44 lakh. West Bengal is one of the few states that have petitioned for a relaxation of the minimum qualifications for primary school teachers in the Sarva Shiksha Abhijan scheme, as stated in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009. There is a rot at the base with every community affected. It has been long in the making. The promotion of religious education is hardly the way to empowerment and livelihood generation for minorities, especially in a state where they have been grossly under-represented in the all white-collar services. There are no short cut solutions to this.

Majority and minority communalism in West Bengal, though not generally overt, can be found easily by scratching the surface. A combination of circumstances can awaken it. Will more such circumstances arise, or will more responsible politics prevent a potential communal unraveling of West Bengal? Bengal’s past experience with communal politics is distinctly bitter, both in the west and the east.  The west lives with half-sleeping demons. In the east, the demons never really slept, and have been in and out of power.

 

 

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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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Action, inaction, defection and the FDI saga / When parties come before people / Holding democracy to a whip / Why the ant-defection law must be abolished / Anti-defection law

[ Daily News and Analysis, 9 Dec 2012 ; Millenium Post, 12 Dec 2012 ; Echo of India, 14 Dec 2012]

In the FDI debate that happened in the Lok Sabha, a particularly painful moment saw ‘Netaji’ Mulayam Singh Yadav take the name of Ram Manohar Lohia. He talked about Lohia and Gandhi. Even as he made tired statements to the effect that he opposed FDI in multi-brand retail in principle, it was getting ample clear to everyone that he and his party would walk out when the moment of truth would in the form of voting. Paralysis and hypocrisy are two conditions where one’s action is not in line with publicly expressed wish. At any rate, they are not among the desirable characteristics of ‘peoples representatives.’ Some old Samajwadis in his contingent might have wanted to defect and vote their conscience to avoid the ignominy of being associated with either of the two conditions.. But that would effectively end the parliamentary career of such people. So they followed their ‘Netaji’ out of the house. Avoidance of trouble is preferable to happiness. The Anti-Defection law drawn up by party bosses have ensured that no Samajwadi Party member of parliament or for that matter, any member of parliament of any party cannot vote in accordance with what he/she deems right. One has to slavishly follow the party diktat or lose the their membership of the parliament, unless at least a third of the MPs of a party find their spine.

It may not be a totally idle exercise to think how the FDI vote would have turned out if the anti-defections law was not in place, given the murmurs of discontent that exist even within the Indira Congress. The anti-defection law is supposedly a counter against horse-trading. In the period from 1985 to 2009, only 19 members of parliament have been disqualified for violating the party whip. The party leaderships don’t have faith on people winning on their ticket, partly because they know on what flimsy self-serving ground such an assemblage of champions is created in the first place. The leaderships also know that enticements of greater value may sway legislators – irrespective of the publicly stated reason of coming together as party – Gandhian socialism, Indian nationalism, Hindutva, OBC rights or whatever. At a deeper level, these are signs of crisis in the very nature of the political class – namely, the absence of inner party democracy and ideology based politics. That crisis has only deepened. Hence the need of the anti-defection law to make parliamentarians falls in line with high command dictates. This form of quasi-Stalinist centralism somehow has a long afterlife in those nations (India, Bangladesh, Kenya) where freedom of expression is also under constant threat from the government of the day. I have a feeling that it is not accidental. UK, France, Canada, Germany and USA have no such anti defection law for their legislators.

It is important to understand what a member of parliament represents. One is not simply a ‘proxy’ for the people but a representative of the changing wishes of the people of one’s constituency. That is to say, things change and so do people’s wishes, above and beyond the programme of the party on whose ticket one was elected. Party programme cannot be the sole guide if parliamentary democracy is to be a living entity. In a first past the post system, many MPs do not win by majority but by plurality. Parties command all the representative abilities of a MP by issuing whips. This is when democracy takes a beating at the hand of partycracy.

Parties are important tools of organizing opinion and force multiplication, especially across larger geographical spaces. Do people vote for a party or a candidate or both? The answer is variable. Candidates use parties and parties in turn use candidates. The Mohammedan MPs of the BJP are a fine example of this symbiotic relationship. In some cases, parties change candidates and win. In other cases, some people win, irrespective of their party affiliation at the time. Clearly parties are not the last word in a democracy. The individual representatives matter too.

In the presence of  party-whips, voting records of individual MPs are a monotonous copy of party stances, or worse still a continuous testimony to the nature of cynical machinations that the party-head has executed. The anti-defection laws were purportedly drawn up to avoid Matsyanyay – the condition where the big fish eat the small fish. In has resulted in a system where even the minimally conscientious fish is too scared to make its opinion known by voting one’s own opinion. The anti-defection law does not penalize anyone, even the leadership, when it deviates from stated party programme. With the rise and rise of parties that have dynastic or persona-based leaderships, a different Matsyanyay is at play. Only the top fish needs to be ‘managed.’ The top issues the whip and the rest of the shoal falls in line. This surely cannot be a good sign for an aspiring democracy representing such variegated shades as the subcontinent. The anti defection law only solidifies the false majorities of parties in a first past the post system.  It must go. Without it, there will be problems of a different kind. But nothing justifies making people representatives secondary to parties in an aspiring democracy.

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Unholy winds from Jangipur / Disturbing signals from Jangipur

[ Echo of India, 27 Oct 2012 ; The Daily Star (Dhaka) 19 Nov 2012 ]

It used to be said, what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. That was a different Bengal and a different idea of ‘India’. If the recent by-election results from Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency of West Bengal is any indication of how Bengal might start thinking tomorrow, that would indicate no small shift in the political landscape of post-partition West Bengal as we have known it. So, what has happened?

After Pranab Mukherjee was made the President of the Indian Union, the Jangipur seat fell vacant. The Indira Congress had declared that Abhijit Mukherjee, the President’s son and MLA from Nalhati, would be their candidate for the seat. In the post-schism scenario between UPA and Trinamool, the latter in an apparent gesture towards the president, decided not to contest the seat. This was astute, as this put the Trinamool in a win-win situation. A triangular contest might have caused a CPI(M) victory, inspite of Trinamul participation. A CPI(M) victory in Trinamul’s absence would not have been so damaging. The Indira Congress candidate won the seat by the slimmest of margins, 2526 to be exact. His father had won the seat by a margin of 1,28,000. There are no indications that there is a sudden ground-swell of support for the CPI(M). In fact, its own vote percentage came down by nearly 2 percent since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Indira Congress vote was down by a staggering 15%. A rather damaging revelation is that a significant portion of Abhijit Mukherjee’s ‘lead’ came from booths were opposition polling agents were allegedly not allowed. So the established parties, both of which can be considered secular, together polled about 95% of the votes during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This time, their combined total is about 78 %. Where did all those votes go?

They went to what are parties which have not had much traction in West Bengal politics and are distinguished by their sectarian appeal to voters, however concealed they may be in the language of generality. The demographic status of the Jangipur constituency is relevant. It is in the district of Murshidabad, with about two-thirds of the voters being from the Mohammedan community. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has for long tried to develop a base in such areas with a significant Mohameddan population by playing on real or perceived insecurities of the Hindu population. Typically this has involved playing up the issue of illegal immigration from East Bengal, but this time around, that was not really important. Curiously, the BJP partly benefited from a portion of the Muslim vote which swung away from the Indira Congress due to the central government’s decision of forcible acquiring vast swathes of land at Ahiron, Murshidabad to set up the much touted second campus of the Aligarh Muslim University. Something else also helped the BJP. This was the entry of two parties into the fray, namely the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and the Welfare Party of India (WPI). Much like the BJP, these are outfits that are formally secular, but are implicitly sectarian. Like the BJP’s non-Hindy faces, the Mukhtar Abbas Naqvis and Shahnawaz Hussains, these groups also have show-piece non-Mohameddans. The SDPI is for all practical purposes an extended arm of the Popular Front of India, a sectarian organization whose members have been implicated in creating communally charged scenarios in Kerala. The WPI is a newer outfit, created in 2011 by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. Between the SDPI and the WPI, they polled  66311 votes (  8 percent ). The BJP received 85,857 votes (about 11 percent). In 2009, the BJP polled less than 2.5% of the votes.

It is well known that in a communally polarized polity, the poles feed each other. In the process, people’s issues that cut across sectarian lines, take a backseat. The question is, whether this result happened due to the peculiar characteristics of this election in this constituency or this has the potential to become a broader phenomenon in West Bengal in the days to come. It is true that the land dispossession of farmers and a non-local Indira Congress candidate helped the opposition. But the principal opposition party, the CPI(M), could not reap its benefits. The Trinamool too has its own vote, however small, in the area. In the event of its non-contestation, it is clear that all of it did not transfer to the Indira Congress. Part of this vote went to the BJP, SDPI and WPI. Significantly, it is suspected that ‘town’ Hindus have voted for the BJP in significant numbers.

It is now generally agreed that among the reasons behind the CPI(M)’s demise from power in West Bengal, a collapse in their Muslim vote was a significant one. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a more permanent slice of this vote. This has resulted in a slew of largely cosmetic measures like giving monthly stipends to imams, opening minority employment exchanges, building a gigantic Haj house, vaguely promising reservations, inaugurating trains that go from Bengal to Ajmer and the like. This rather public posturing, especially things like the imam stipends, have ruffled feathers in sections of the majority community. West Bengal’s veneer of secular politics is not something that has a very long past – both Shyama Prasad’s Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League had strong bases in various parts of Western Bengal. Those strands of political thought have not found legitimate expression for sometime and hence generally have not shown up in voting numbers. But they exist nonetheless. BJP’s performance in Jangipur could be replicated in other areas – it depends on how large is the majority community that has not taken well to the Trinamool’s courtship of minorities. In a scenario where the CPI(M) can only oppose the substance of the courtship but not the courtship itself, it is unlikely that the disgruntled will go to them. The assertion of parties like the SDPI and WPI may help such a communal consolidation of the majority community. And that cannot be good news. Communalism in West Bengal, though not generally overt, can be found easily by scratching the surface. A combination of circumstances can awaken it. Will more such circumstances arise, or will more responsible political parties prevent a potential communal unraveling of West Bengal politics? Bengal’s past experience with communal politics is distinctly bitter, both here in the West and in the East.  The west lives with the sleeping demons. In the east, the demons never really slept, and have been in and out of power, thus seriously undermining the plural heritage of Bengal.

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Filed under Bengal, Community, Identity, Polity, Religion

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

Can one ‘bad’ apple spoil the bunch?

[ Daily News and Analysis, 23 September 2012 ]

 

Irrespective of how this battle ends, the rules of engagement have possibly changed for some time to come. The Trinamool, Bengal’s political behemoth, has decided to quit the Union cabinet, opposing the decision of allowing FDI in multibrand retail, subsidy reduction in LPG and diesel. This may also mean an end of its relationship with the ruling Congress(I), but that is yet unknown. Beyond number games and the longevity of the present Union government and its policies, certain happenings may affect politics in the times to come.

The foremost among these is the Trinamool’s unmaking of the typical role of a regional second fiddle. In the largely bipolar contemporary electoral political scene of the Indian Union, the Congress(I) and the BJP have come to represent poles around which other groups ought to coalesce. The expected role of such alliance partners is to generally stay out of macro policy decisions of the ‘national’ and ‘international’ import. There are entrenched and well-heeled Delhi-types to take care of those things – thank you very much. In return for looking away or nodding passively, they gain the right to haggle over the size of their booty – this ranges from the apparently selfless like outlays for specific provinces to opportunities to help themselves like ‘juicy’ ministry births and crony deals. It would be a mistake to see these as necessary evils that the righteous ‘national’ parties have to put up with. Only the ideologically blinkered would see it this way. Rather they are pay-offs to ‘pesky’ but necessary, ‘regional’ forces that are needed in the era of coalitions so that the right to the largest share of the spoil can be ensured beyond doubt. The regionals that are party to government are not expected to veto broad policy. It is this rule of the game that Trinamool has broken.

Previously, the Trinamool has demanded its pound of flesh; its choice of cuts – shank or sirloin – it has haggled over such things. Those things were, however, rarely the issues over which the Trinamool has been known to threaten and did not figure in its list of reasons for quitting the cabinet. Quite the opposite, actually. It has been most vociferous and contrarian on issues that are not Bengal-specific. The mock pretensions in its ‘All India’ prefix notwithstanding, the Trinamool Congress is a party of Bengal. In recent times, this is a ‘regional’ group whose political stance on ‘broader’ issues has come to be known at large. Its acute interest in these issues can partly be traced back to the contested  political space it inhabits in Bengal, in opposition to the CPI(M). In an effort to cede no oppositional space to the Left Front even on what are its pet issues, the Trinamool has sought to posture along the line the Left would have, if the Trinamool were to play the role of a traditional regional party. Trinamool’s critical importance also partly stems from the specific power balance and numbers of the 15th Lok Sabha. So is this case of mould-breaking regionalism a particular phenomenon that happened due to an opportune combination of factors or might it have an afterlife? In this context, there are certain issues to consider.

In the magisterial-centre kind of ‘federalism’ that the Indian state has, in the absence of a strong ‘regionalist’ alliance, regional groups learn from each other – about pushing envelopes, about haggling tactics, about endearing Delhi-based fixers, about the timing of jumping ship. It is in this milieu that the Trinamool has gone where few have ever been but more importantly, it has shown that the journey is possible. Whether this attitude will be an infectious one or not will come to determine how the centre will hold in the Indian Union or really, what kind of a centre. After the Socialist camp’s fracture, the remnants of the Janata pariwar are essentially province-based formations, although they retain a nominal pan-Indian-ness. The 4 left parties being regionally limited as they are, their regional units (except their Delhi apparatchiks) have systematically internalized the posturing and anxieties that befit explicitly regional parties. Among the ‘non-national’, one mostly sees strong regionalist formations. The ecology of high policy has never factored in the opinions and strands that might emanate from the regional majority (though the majority is not constituted as such, as a bloc). For example, lobbyists for international financial and diplomatic interests have traditionally focused the nurturing of assets in the big two national parties, which together represent less than half of the people who voted. Not that the ‘left-out’ representatives would necessarily mind being nurtured themselves. This moment of brinkmanship by the Trinamool may be a flash in the pan and might ‘sag like a heavy load’, forgotten in time.  Or does it explode? If the Trinamool has given anyone else ideas, funding Delhi-based ‘think-tanks’ may not suffice in the future.

A lot rests on the next Lok Sabha elections, whenever that happens. Whether the future of a seventh of humanity lies in the strengthening of variegated aspirations or towards a more homogenized one depends disproportionately on the performance of the Congress(I).  If the combined vote of the two nationals dips below 45 per cent with the BJP vote share remaining steady or increasing, the rules of the pseudo-federalist game might have to be amended. The ‘nationals’ might do well to accept this possible future and learn to live with it from today. Its about time.

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Filed under Bengal, Hindustan, Nation, Polity, Power

Subcontinental illusions of equal citizenship / Is everyone Indian (or Pakistani for that matter) / Imaginary homelands

[ The Friday Times, August 31-September 06, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 29 ; Globeistan, 7 September 2012 ]

 

August is the month of state-funded high patriotism in the subcontinent. In my childhood, ‘patriotic’ films would be shown in the state television channel. The ‘patriotic’ genre has continued, producing many films. Recently, Bedobroto Pain has made a film on the valiant rebellion that took place in Chittagong in 1930, led by ‘Masterda’ Shurjo Sen. This recent film is simply called ‘Chittagong’. A few years ago, there was another film on the same topic called ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’. The language in both cases is  Hindustani, except for some Firangi characters. And this set me thinking though August may not be the best month to think about these things.

Chittagong now falls under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Bangladesh and before that was under the jurisdiction of the government of pre-71 Pakistan. The Indian Union has never had jurisdiction over an inch of the soil over which large parts of the 1930 story is set. But, for a certain kind of audience that Bollywood caters to, this location and its people, can be mangled partially to make it palatable and understandable to a Hindustani understanding audience. The audience can also conceive, with some stretch of imagination, of some place called ‘Chittagong’ where people speak Hindustani as they fight the British. Of course, Shurjo Sen and his compatriots largely spoke Bengali and Chittagonian, but that is immaterial. What is important is, Shurjo Sen and Chittagong can be packaged, with some cinematographic skills, for a Hindustani audience. Not all things can be packaged like this. For example, to make a similar film in Hindustani on a story set on the life of  Chawngbawia, a legendary hero of the Mizo people or a romantic drama set in a Naga village with Naga characters, will be dismissed as absurd. From a linguistic point of view, Shurjo Sen talking to his comrades in Bollywood Hindustani is also absurd – but it can pass off, with some awkwardness. The Naga or the Mizo does not. So there is a geography that the Hindustani audience and Bollywood has in mind, of what is theirs, what is partly like theirs and what is very unlike theirs. Of course it does not say that aloud – but their conceptions need to be taken seriously. They apparently have their fingers on the pulse of the nation. In a significant sense, their target audience constitutes the nation. And they don’t target everyone living under the jurisdiction of the Indian Union.

One of the enduring myths that most nation-states serve the people inside its borders is a conception of equal citizenship. The Union of India does it with some pomp and pride. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan does it after ceding some space to a particular creed. It is this idea of equal citizenship, of the poor and rich, of the tall and the short, of the one-legged and the one-eyed, of the prince and the pimp, that nation-states point towards, when it claims, ‘we are all Indians’ or ‘we are all Pakistanis’. Equal citizenship is the foundational myth on which the castle of uniform nationality rests. And every copy of the constitution will tell you about equal citizenship. This formally flat legal terrain, like a blanket that cover all beings uniformly, with the edges forming the frontiers, is crucial. Those under the blanket need to be calm and believe in this uniformity. For unless one stays still, it is impossible to tie up the edges of the blanket into a sack, stitch it up tightly, and write on it in big letters ‘ the eternal and inviolable nation’. Now this uniform blanket is as real as the emperor’s new clothes. To understand what lies beneath, this blanket needs to be pulled off. Some people underneath it will try to hold it back, some will be surprised, and some will be happy that the charade this gone. Reactions to snatching of the blanket rather than the smug illusion of the warm, caring blanket reveal more about the folks underneath.

Since we cannot snatch the blanket, we have to resort to thought experiments to ascertain what epithets like ‘citizen of Indian Union’ or ‘citizen of Pakistan’ hide. I invite my readers to play a game. Let us start with the ‘citizen of India’. Such a soul is, whether he or she likes it or not, an ‘Indian’. And nation-state narratives would like us to believe that this ‘Indian-ness’ is some kind of a colour that paints us uniformly, making people uniformly Indian. Is it so? So here is the experiment. Rather than asking ‘Who is Indian’, we shall ask, ‘How likely is a citizen of the Indian Union to be anti-India or  secessionist?’. Let me now throw some names – a Mizo from Aizawl, a Hindu Rajput from Jaipur, someone from Himachal Pradesh, a Meitei from Imphal, a Bihari Brahmin from Patna, a Vanniyar Tamil from Chennai, a Hindu baniya from Baroda, a Brahmin from Kanauj, Uttar Pradesh. This list will suffice. These epithets are combinations of caste, creed and ethnicity. They refer to huge groups of people, not any particular individual. Now rearrange this list from most likely to least likely to be anti-India or secessionist. I do not need your answer. But think about it. Ask the question ‘How likely is a citizen of the Indian Union to be anti-India or secessionist?’ to each of these descriptors. Some of them will be very unlikely – it will be absurd to think of a member of that group to be a secessionist. The exact order is immaterial, but there is a pattern to this answer to which will have a broad agreement. This scale, from the absurd to the probable, measures how much we still disbelief the idea of equal citizenship, even after 65 years of constant preaching. This really is an exercise in inversing the idea of citizenship to lay bare what lies beneath the velvet blanket of the nation-state. But more importantly, that this exercise can be done at all, tells us that some kinds citizens of the Indian Union are deemed more or less ‘Indian’ than others, even as faceless groups. Even as faceless groups, some of them have nothing to prove vis-à-vis ‘Indian-ness’ and are beyond suspicion just by the accident of birth. Others have to ‘prove’ it and are not above suspicion irrespective of life trajectories. This is what such a group ranking tells us. There are tacit grades of citizenship, tacit grades of loyalty, tacit grades of ‘Indian-ness’ and the constitution reflect none of this. Apparently, all ‘Indians’ constituted it.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan can also be involved in a game of being ‘Pakistani’ by asking ‘How likely is a citizen of Pakistan to be anti-Pakistan or secessionist’. Here is a list – a Baloch from Dera Bugti, a Sindhi from Ratodero, a Seraiki from Dera Ghazi Khan, a Muslim Jat from Lahore, a 3rd generation Dakkani mohajir from Karachi, a Hindu from Tharparkar. Again, the specific order does not matter, but the broad agreement in the order gives away who constitutes the deep state, the core state, the first people, the troublesome people and the unwanted people.

Standing under the mehr-e-nimroz are the chosen people. The others jostle for space – in the umbra, pnumbra and the antumbra, in the Indian Union, in Pakistan, in every unitary nation-state that cannot come to terms with the fact that peoples pre-date nation-states and will outdate them too. To keep up the pretense of the uniform citizenship, nations use diverse mascots – as prime ministers, chief justices and what not. The question really is not who they are but are they legitimate representatives of diverse peoples. The mascots are hardly so and that gives away the game – and though they are held aloft during the game, they are not really players. If one listens to the real players on the field, the code in which the main players talk to each other, codes that are not to be found in the formal rulebook, then the unitary nature of the  ‘team’ cracks. Inspite of their irrelevance, the mascots are well chosen. In an interview aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1996, journalist Andrew Marr asked Noam Chomsky during an exchange on Chomsky’s views on media distortion of truth, how could Chomsky know for sure that he, a journalist, was self-censoring. Chomsky replied “I don’t say you’re self-censoring – I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.” And that is true for this mascots – they may come in different colours, shapes, sizes, tongues and faiths, but unless they shared and deferred to the implicit pecking order of the deep-state, they would not be sitting where they are sitting. Caged birds are no less colourful. For they can be Bengali, or Tamil, but when in the Highest office, they have to wear that unmistakable achkan. Surrounded by the ardali whose get-up is alien to Tamil Nadu and Bengal, it gives a hint of that code of propriety in the sanctum sanctorum, a code that is unmistakably Ganga-Jamni. But the Jamuna covers only a small part of the Union of India. And for Pakistan, the presidential high-couture has to be imported. The Republic of Hindi and the Republic of Urdu together rule the subcontinent. The late George Gilbert Swell in a sterling speech in the parliament of the Indian Union talked about his people, who were not part of any Hindu-Muslim bind but for whom beef was a food as good as any other. He talked about the cow-belt and the non-cow belt. He was saying this in a House that is run by a constitution that encourages the state to take necessary steps to single out cows for protection. Whose principles are these? Clearly not Swell’s or his people’s. All the eloquence about ‘unity in diversity’ notwithstanding, some of the diverse are necessarily silenced, and the list of the silenced is predictable. It is predictable due to the public knowledge of the ‘archetypal’ Indian, the same knowledge that helps one play the rank order game I introduced. This is why somebody’s local ideology has to be repackaged under the garb of some supposedly universal principle, so that the tacit definition of the archetype remains tacit. This tacit ‘Indian’ is at the heart of the nation-building project, the archetype to which all types must dissolve. One must never spell out the archetype – that is too discourteous and direct. The ‘traitor’ or the ‘potentially treacherous’ is also the ‘exotic’ and easily ‘the feminine sexual’ in the imagination of the core nation. For the core nation, except itself , everyone else has a box–  Tamils wear dhotis, Malayalis wear lungis, Bengalees eat fish. The core nation does not have caricatures – it is the default. It is what male athletes wear on their head in the Olympic march-past.

The perverse scale of absurdity that I floated earlier also leads us to foundational myths around which nation-states are formed. They go Bin Kassim – Khilji –Mughal – darkness –Muslim League- 14th August or Vedas-Ashoka-Akbar-darkness-Congress-15th August. The gulf between arbitrariness and  ‘historical inevitability’ is filled up with sarkari textbooks and besarkari subtexts. Why is such concoction necessary ?  For whom? Who does it serve? The archives have keys for open doors, not for trapdoors. People of the subcontinent have to find their own destinies, by freeing themselves of ‘national’ myths. They need to think about the unsettling possibilities of truth if it had a megaphone as loud and powerful as power.

Somewhere in this scale of Indian-ness or Pakistani-ness, is the sarkari potential of making tighter nations, and the bleak hope that some foster of unmaking them as they are. Intimately connected to this conception of the ‘Indian’ (or not) is the ‘idea of India’. Depending on who you are in the scale of imaginary troublesomeness, it can be a bloody idea or a bloody good idea.

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Filed under Community, Foundational myths, Hindustan, History, Identity, India, Nation, Non-barbarians, Pakistan, Plural pasts, Polity, Rights

Distrust of mass media / Fighting rumours

[ Echo of India (Port Blair) 29 Aug 2012]

 

I am the only member of my family who has visited Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan, in the last 20 years. I have often thought naively about my mother’s family — why did they migrate during the partition days? After all, East Bengal, as defined by the Radcliffe line, had more than 30 percent minorities and they would not have been a pushover very easily. But still they fled, first in droves and then in an unfaltering stream, sometimes strong, sometimes weak. And still nearly 20 percent of all Bengali minorities are still in East Bengal, not as equal citizens but not constantly persecuted either. Around 1947, many had been personally threatened — the day of the Kojagari Lakshmi Puja in 1946 is forever etched in the collective memory of refugees from Noakhali and their descendants as a day of holocaust. But still, many, many more were not directly threatened. But there was the perception of threat, of unknown fears. There were rumours. People’s social acumen and street-smartness were tested to their limits when they were reduced to second-guessing rumours — rumours of killings, beatings, conversions, rapes, desecrations.

This subcontinent has seen this with unending regularity. Post-partition, rumours and resultant riots have tended to hurt the minorities the hardest. Rumours that have devastated lives, broken fragile peace. With the recent exodus of Nagas, Axomias and Manipuris from large swathes of the Indian Union, the sinister efficacy of new social media and technological innovations have come to the fore. This has led the government to ban bulk SMS. Nothing else has been done on the ground. And, this is where the mis-diagnosis lies. It is a self-absolving view of reality that leads us to think that rumours, or for that matter riots, can be fully dealt with by the non-human enablers like technology or arms. While that is a necessary short-term step, neither SMS nor social media, is responsible for the periodic flare-ups that lead to the scenario when an otherwise absurd hearsay starts gathering characteristics of truth. As the subcontinent has seen in the past, the ‘bush telegraph’ can be as deadly, if not more, than contemporary technology in instilling fear and hatred.

Effective rumours do not start in a vacuum. They need a fertile backdrop. They originate, propagate and gather steam in a certain social context. Social contexts also have a run-up to them. Also, one needs to seriously examine existing political and media culture and their practices to decipher the stunning appeal that rumour often has.

Take the media. In the Indian Union, large sections of the media often is so compromised by political and corporate patronage that it will not even follow the basic tenets of unbiased journalism like attributing claims, not putting claims and screaming headings, report an event from multiple perspectives and then verifying claims and counterclaims. In the most dangerous scenario, it can concoct stories of suppress stories. These things happen too often. This is why people, who may be in the know of a specific event but find things being reported quite differently, develop a deep suspicion of public media.

It is in this atmosphere of justified cynicism, that other kinds of ‘fact’ and ‘news’ sources start competing for the faith of the suspicious. On the face of it, this is not necessarily a bad thing, for it opens up a space for bottom-up citizenry driven media and I don’t mean the ‘citizen journalist’ charade that many media outlets have started peddling of late. But it also opens up the space for manipulators. This manipulation has a more vicious edge in an atomized world where one’s sense or identity is increasingly made less by an organic community but by the confessional and exclusionary messages of supposed persecution. Such messages work up the consumer into a private frenzy. A long cooking period is necessary. It is in this backdrop, that a rumour takes its toll, when the prepared mind decides to act, or flee.

Confessional enmities have a self-perpetuating character. Whether a rumour becomes believable or not largely has to do with the immediate temporal and socio-political context. Hence nothing fights unfounded rumours more than an open and free polity where the powerful are accountable. One can say that today easy communication across large spaces have resulted in confessional solidarities across larger swathes of people. A rumour can start anywhere, even outside a locality, or in a different continent.  Part of the deliverance would come from asking questions about claims and not be callous about checking the veracity of especially incendiary ‘news’. The key is to doubt everyone, especially the powerful and doubt everything, especially rumours. What remains after the collective exercise of doubting top-down stories is not less but more real news.

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Filed under Bengal, Hindustan, Media, Polity, Religion, Scars

Two-party system in US

[ The Echo of India 23 Aug 2012 ]

 

Many middle-class people in subcontinent are attracted by the discreet charm of  an authoritarian state – ruthless and decisive. A pluralist democracy is deemed to be slow and inefficient by them. Which is why they also regard a two-party system as the next best thing. This of course is said keeping the United States of America in mind, which is the pre-eminent poster child of a two-party system. Of course a two party system is not one which limits participation to two parties or two poles. Rather, it is a system that has been developed so that it manages to keep other voices out, or co-opt them. In fact, that a nation of 300 million has 2 parties to represent nearly 95% indicates a serious representation crisis that needs to be addressed. Far from its strength, a two party representation for such a large populations weakens the democratic foundations. This project is ably served by systemic forces including the mainstream media, who take it upon themselves to herd popular opinion along narrow bipartisan lines.

The outcome of presidential elections in the USA has its ripple effects in every part of the world. The powerhouse that it is in many respects – economic, military and academic, a slight twitch in the behemoth causes ruckus in some other part of the globe. Hence, US elections have undeniable effects on the world. So much so that some have even suggested that the world ought to have voting rights in US elections. Leaving that aside, in this presidential election year, the world is watching and so is the subcontinent. Having lives at both places, certain differences are worth discussing.

As the presidential election campaign will gain more and more momentum, there will be rallies. Now, in the USA, if a candidate manages a turnout of 10000 at one of these rallies, it will be considered outstanding, a groundswell of support and what not. In most parts of the subcontinent, a turnout of 10000 at a centrally located rally of a senior politician would be considered a failure. In fact, very few politicians would dare to even call a central rally if they think that the turnout would be around that figure. The rally turnout in the subcontinent is largely managed by political organizations who pack such rallies with adherents by enticements and threats. Some also attend by a since of belonging and loyalty to a party and its ideology. But typically, such gatherings have few ‘innocent bystanders’. The US rallies I have been to, have less of a stage-managed quality in its turnout but the stage is managed quite well. In such management of the stage, often trivial aspects of a speech like diction, voice, or things like posture become points of judging a person. This does not mean that political issues are not involved, but simply that in the USA, only a certain kind of grooming makes the cut, irrespective of political inclinations.

The politics of the subcontitent, due to its robust multi-cultural reality, with a million fault-lines, is a different game altogether. This is partly why ‘big tent’ parties have had their limits. Politicians of every level have to contend with more parameters than his or her US counterpart can ever imagine. This kind of politics requires a grade of acumen, one-upmanship, posturing and brinksmanship that more homogenuous societies cannot even start to fathom. If one imagines a video game form of politics with controls, knobs and joysticks thrown in for all the possible parameters, the typical US presidential candidate might not even be able to figure out the function of all the controls. In such a contest, Laloo Prasad would bodyslam George Bush every single time. Add to this the explicit role of armed violence in politics, and also the management of violent partisans. The subcontinental scene is filled with such proto-generalissimos and cunning politicians rolled into one. In the United States, explicit and large-scale political murders in the domestic scene, is more or less a thing of the past. The difference partly comes from a electorate whose concerns have moved somewhat beyond life and death, to starve or to eat, to be killed or not. Questions of the latter kind inject a kind of viciousness to the political competition that finds expression in murder of political opponents and a serious democratic deficit. A  person who vociferously opposes or heckles Barack Obama or Mitt Romney can be booed and firmly pounced upon by ‘security’. There might be background checks. However, if someone does that to Mamata Banerjee, Biman Bose or Uma Bharti in a rally, depending on the locality, one can get into serious trouble. So much so that hardly any sane person who is alone ever opposes or challenges such politicians in public.

Most of the top-level ‘new’ generation leaders who have emerged in the subcontinent are sons and daughters of established politicians. This has led to the political system that increasingly looks like a multi-tiered dynastic oligarchy, with enough stakeholders spread in the various layers of the system to give it a pretense of the popular.

The US presidency retains a monarchical imprint and I do not mean the ornamental kind. Legend has it that the first US president, George Washington, was even asked to become king. It was possibly an apocryphal story but you get the drift – templates out of which it the presidency is partly moulded. This includes being an over-arching commader- in chief. That is why female aspirants to the US presidency like Clinton had to be appear tougher than the toughest to allay any doubts.

Neither in the US or or in the subcontinent does one need a majority of the votes to win an election. For the US election, the Electoral College system allows even for the minority candidate to win if the numbers so stack up. And it has happened as recently as 2000 when George Bush won the presidency with Al Gore winning more votes nationwide. However, an implication of a first-past the post system as it exists in US Congress and Senate elections and in the subcontinent at all levels is more ominous for a multi-party democracy. Due to the absence of proportional representation, shallow pluralities spread tactically can return commanding majorities. Democracy and decentralization means nothing when one can achieve majorities with about 1/3 rd support, as in the Indian union. Devolution means asking the powerful to legislate the relaxation of power from their own hands. Such debates are there in the US too, on the issue of 3rd partiesand on state rights versus central rights. The states in the USA, though more homogenous, have lots of power and autonomy, In the Indian Union, the states are alm-seekers during the day, cash-cows at night.

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Political memoirs: Why not tell all? / A risk-free shot at paradise

[ Daily News and Analysis 13 Aug 2012 ]

 

The Indian Union has a Right to Information Act for stuff on paper – files, communiqués, data, clarifications and things like that. But these jottings of the powerful do not and cannot divulge the dealings of the powerful. And the shadow state that is the private sector does not even figure. Keys to open doors do not open trap doors.   No such hint of any trapdoor could be found in Arjun Singh’s autobiography with a title that reeks of that unmistakable desi style of faux-humility. His less than 400 page production, ‘A grain of salt in the hourglass of time’, quite predictably, did not shake up the hour-glass of time. It could have. He was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 1984 when the Bhopal gas tragedy happened. Warren Anderson might not write an autobiography. Rajiv Gandhi died before writing one. Apparently, the new president of the Indian Union has been writing a memoir too. And this has been going on for quite some time. However, it will not be out in his lifetime. That is good news – for lesser mortals can then hope for a memoir without an eye out for this life. After all he lived through the Emergency, the rise of the polyester prince and much more. Still, there is the vexing problem of legacy. People want to go with a bang and want the firework display to be permanently etched on the sky. The search for immortality, that is sad and pathetic at the same time, has led almost all big men and women to write legacies, not autobiographies. Politicians, fixers, executives, and tycoons – all refuse to believe that they will actually die, till they actually die.

This had leads memoirs and autobiographies of people of power to be filled with stories of childhood, stories of rise, often ghost-written passages of visions and ideas, private small talk. So much so, they often read like a hagiographies written in the first person. Few examples of candour are generally limited to those that are not libelous and hurt no existing deity. Given how intertwined autobiography writing and legacy making is, omission and concoction may not even appear so to the autobiographer. But autobiographies have a potential to be heretical and blasphemous, if only people of power would chose to redeem their pledge to the people, even partially. Crimes, murders, conspiracies against the people, defrauding, sleaze, and intrigues – are a part and parcel of the life of the powerful. Given so many people actors in this play, that nothing much actually comes out is an indirect testament to the terribleness of truth. Struggle against truth can tie public political adversaries in compacts that weather life and death.

To live the life of the powerful, to be witness or party to crimes, to lead double and triple lives, to see ‘great’ men and women in their purulent nudity, to be a ‘great’ man or woman of that sort, is common if not the rule in the corridors of power. I too have a second or a third life. But the crucial difference is that my double or triple life, in comparison, affects very few. Not all-lifelong charades cast their shadow on the people in the same way – the more powerful one is, the longer is the shadow. I have often wondered something. Just like the priests at Delphi, the ones deemed closest to Apollo knew the fraud, similarly the society of elite insiders also know what they deny. Given that the entourage of the powerful minimally has bodyguards, hanger-ons, pimps and others, why do we have near to nothing in the public domain. I have a feeling that partly the reason lies in the threat of swift and fatal retribution if the compact is breached. I cannot totally blame the entourage. For it is a choice between riding a luxury car and being squashed under a truck or disappeared. As the playwright said, assassination is the extreme form of censorship. The other part of the reason is that this entourage is not formed overnight, but through a long process of continuous pruning and screening. As a result, when one starts approaching the top, the product is impeccable. We have to look elsewhere for public disclosures.

All people, including those without a moral-ethical compass one can boast of, want to come clean to someone. People caught in the web of posturing in public life, in relationships, often wish that they could admit their life to someone and face no consequence. Amnesty, even from one person, can be powerful. That is why I suspect that for many, their deepest bonds are not with people with whom they have greatest consonance, but those who known their life more substantially, in front of whom the weigh of posturing is that bit lighter.

The urge to admit is dismissed during life, for being too risky. And it most probably is. Why not try it in death, by writing an autobiography that has everything that one was party to but could not admit during life? It can be opened after death. Technology might do away with untrustworthy middlemen. May be even Wikileaks. Fingerprinting the pages for is a good idea – for a posthumous tell-all will surely be disputed on grounds of authenticity. What is there to lose? Why lose a chance to gild one’s afterlife after having gilded this life? For the believer of the Hindu type, a parting shot, even one that hits the target after the archer is gone, would give the person a fighting chance to have a decent sort of re-birth. For the Abrahamic ones, they might just escape hell on judgement day. For the non-believer, there might be a surge of righteousness, an end of the road high like Timothy Leary, sans the substances. One can have one’s cake and eat it too.

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Filed under Democracy, Elite, India, Our underbellies, Polity, Power, The perfumed ones

Dilli dur ast / Delhi and the rest of us – a gangrenous old saga

[ The Friday Times (Lahore), April 27-May 03, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No.11; United Kashmir Journal(web); Frontier(web); Globeistan(web)]

 

Contrary to the claims of the Indian National Congress (INC), the 1946 Indian election results showed that though the INC was by far the largest force in the British governed territories in the Indian subcontinent, there were other players with considerable mass support, including the All India Muslim League, Communist Party of India, Scheduled Caste Federation and others, who altogether won nearly 40% of the seats. The false dominance of the Indian National Congress in the Madras province was largely due to the election boycott by the Dravidar Kazhagam, in part a continuation of the Justice Party current.  Indeed in some British constituted ‘provinces’, the Indian National Congress was a minority force. This was largely true for the 1937 elections, where the results were similar – a Congressite dominance in most provinces, but its marginality in populous provinces like Punjab and Bengal. The All Indian Muslim League (AIML) in the 1937 election had received a serious drubbing, virtually everywhere it contested. Though compromised by the factor that all these elections, 1937 or 1946 were far from representative in the absence of universal adult franchise (a point that is often forgotten in discussions around the events of 1946-47), one thing is clear – significant sections of the population were not with the INC, for whatever reason. A considerable section of the INC’s leadership always harboured ‘strong-centre’ ideas, though their inspirations were varied. It ranged from the necessity of a strong policy-driving centre congruent with ideas of command economy in vogue, the need of a tutelary centre that would provide the right lessons of modern citizenship so that a ‘sack of potatoes’ become ‘Frenchmen’ to the outright fantastic one that wanted a strong centre that would make sons of Bharatmata out of the wayward multitude that practiced ‘non-classical’ and plural Indic religions.

Given the INC’s serious marginality in more than one province at that point, the future of an Indian Federation was envisaged as a liberal union of provinces, where the Union government would only administer a few things and the provinces (or states) would be having pre-eminence in most matters.

The centralizing hawks of the INC were kept in check, for the time being, by the political realities and power equations. It is in this backdrop the Cabinet Mission plan, the blueprint of a future self-governing Indian Union was proposed.  Not going into the validity and judgment of making communal provincial groupings envisaged in the plan of May 16th, one does see the other aspect of the plan. The ‘centre’ would be in charge of defence, communications and foreign affairs – everything else would be within the ambit of provincial rights. Indeed, the centre would be the meeting ground of the provinces, not the imperial powerhouse from where the provinces would be governed. The latter was the British model of colonial domination – and such systems do facilitate smooth extraction of resources from far-flung areas but they are hardly the model of welfare where democratic aspirations of the people for self-governance has the priority.

In the political class, there was a general sense of resignation ( not necessarily agreement) to the basic thrust of the cabinet mission plan as a way to contain the diverse aspirations that India constituted and also politically expressed. It is this thrust or rather the destruction thereof that has grown to be a serious issue which goes largely undebated in post-partition Union of India.

In 1946, when the Cabinet Mission plan was proposed, the India that was conceived in it had provinces with powers that would put today’s Kashmir’s moth-eaten ‘special status’ to shame. Senior Congressites like Abul Kalam Azad, Vallabh-bhai Patel and numerous other mandarins of the party publicly and privately were more than prepared to give this dispensation a shot. The problematic idea of a sectarian grouping notwithstanding, the plan was overtaken by a breakdown of agreements between the INC and the AIML. The intense ground-level hostility in ‘mixed’ provinces in 1946 no doubt seriously undercut the chances of a grand federal Indian union, in the immediate context of prevailing circumstances. Whether the AIML’s motive on a sectarian grouping of people was holy or cynical, anti-people or liberating, is a question I will not visit here. But what is true is that the exit of the AIML due to the partition of India in 1947 suddenly changed the entire scenario. Till then, the field was a contested one. Now, one opposing side had left. Virtually unchallenged in the legislature, the Congress centralizers started scoring goals after goals in the unguarded field. These goals for the Indian centre turned out to be disastrous same-side goals as far as a democratic federal union of India was concerned.

Post-partition India was hardly any less heterogeneous and the principle of provincial autonomy with federal non-imperious centre still made democratic sense. But in that field without serious political opposition, the centralizing proponents of the INC had smelled blood, taking the idea of a strong-centre to the extreme. The lists that divide power between the union centre and the states in India are a stark testimony to this process by which states were reduced to dignified municipal corporations. They would thereafter be found forever standing with begging bowls, making depositions and cases in fronts of central government bureaucrats and ministers. Among the elite’s of that generation, the strong centre idea had appeal – it provided an excuse and an opportunity, of ‘shaping the masses’ into what was the elite’s definition of an ‘Indian’, a presentable citizen of a new nation-state.

The erosion of provincial rights in the post-partition Indian Union has seen a concomitant development of a veritable army of carrion-feeders who have mastered the process of carrying the spoils from the length and breadth of the land to pad their Delhi nests. These are the new ‘Indians’. In some way they are no different from Hindustan’s emperors and their hanger-ons who would deck up the capital by squeezing the country. What is different is that the earlier forms of ferocious extraction, of explicit carriage of loot to Delhi is now replaced by the fine art of legislative injustice. The process has been honed to near perfection over the decades, now designed and lubricated to work smoothly without making a sound. Delhi and its surrounds are showered with money that Delhi does not produce. It is peppered with infrastructure that India’s provinces had toiled hard to pay for. It is lavished with highly funded universities, art and cultural centres, museums that are designed to sap talent from India’s provinces and handicap the development of autonomous trajectories of excellence beyond Delhi. Over the decades, numerous white elephants have been reared, maintained and fed in Delhi – none of them paid for by those of live in Delhi. Of late, there is the perverse politics of infrastructure development. Who could oppose a cow as holy as infrastructure? In essence what infrastructure development in Delhi has become is the following – a method by which revenues extracted from India’s provinces are lavished in and around Delhi by making good roads, snazzy flyovers, water supply infrastructure, urban beautification projects, new institutes and universities, big budget rapid transport systems like the metro and numerous other things that India’s impoverished wastelands as well as other towns and cities can only dream of. This is perfectly in line with the new ‘expansion’ of Delhi in which Delhi’s political class has major stakes. Essentially this is cash transfer of a very sophisticated kind. Delhi’s richer classes acquire nearly uninhabited land or rural farmland. The ‘centre’ chips in by ensuring the areas get ‘developed’ from scratch. This ensures that these areas become quickly habitable or investable by Delhi’s perfumed classes, thus pushing up real estate prices, making the rich of Delhi richer. This is backed up by real infrastructure that is backed up by real cold, cash from India’s central government. The only thing unreal here is the process of pauperization of India’s provinces, of the great cities of Chennai, Kolkata and Bhopal, which have been systematically decimated by this distributive injustice. The other pauperization that has happened is more insidious, though equally corrosive. I am talking of the process of internal brain drain. Delhi’s bevy of highly funded institutions, lavish research funds, impeccable infrastructure, creation of a semblance of high culture by governmental khairati, has made Delhi the centre of aspiration for the brightest in India’s provinces. Delhi poaches on the intellectual capital of Kolkata and Chennai by the way it knows best, the baniya method.

The largesse that Delhi gets flows over to various other sectors. The large concentration of central government jobs in and around Delhi ensures that those who live there or are from those areas are more likely to end with those jobs, especially the jobs in the lower rung. This artificial support to a certain geographical area with ties to the national capital goes against all principles of natural justice, let alone those of a federal union based of equality. The Delhi-based political class uses various events and excuses of ‘national pride’ like the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games to bestow Delhi’s residents and in effect themselves and their families, better infrastructure, inflated asset values, a better life, so to say – underwritten, as always, by India’s parochial and provincial masses. The provinces, West Bengal, (East) Punjab continue to pay for partition, by paying for Delhi.

Even the media is a part of this process. A summary look at newspapers in Kolkata and Delhi will show that Delhi-based newspapers have page after page of central government advertisements – while the population of the two cities are not too different. The media is an integral part of that Delhi-based illuminati, also consisting of policy wonks, security apparatchiks, immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, bureaucrats, professors, defence folks, hanger-ons, civil society wallahs, suppliers, contractors, importers, lobbyists and all the stench that connects them. This cancerous network of self-servers are curiously termed simply ‘Indians’ – largely devoid of the visceral rootedness that this large land provides to its billion. Their regional identity is hidden shamefully, displayed diplomatically, cashed in cynically and forgotten immediately. This is a window to the mind of the deep state at Delhi. This deep state – eating away at our plural fabric, creaming at the thought of the Delhi-Mumbai urban corridor, holds a disproportionate sway over the billion who are not simply Indian. This unacknowledged billion comes with its proud identity and sense of autonomy. Its diversity is still a robust one, not a browbeaten domesticated version fit for India International Centre consumption.

The preference for things Delhi-based or things ‘Indian’ and not ‘provincial’ has resulted not only in cash transfer of epic proportions, but has surreptitiously help develop the ideology that the roots of success in India go through Delhi, by denying one’s own rooted identities, clinging onto some rung of a ladder to Delhi, moving away from one’s origins. In short, this distributive injustice serves to disincentivize aspirations that don’t hold ‘Indianism’ as the ideology, Delhi as the location.

In the era of long indoctrination, Delhi has been built up as an imperial zoo, where all we provincial rustics have to come to gawk, to be awed, and expunge ourselves of our ‘parochial-ness’ to become ‘Indians’, hailing a very specific kind of motherland. But we are people who happen to have our own mothers, those on whose lap we slept, those whose milk we drank, that whose smell we recognize. She is beautiful in a sari. She does need ornaments of gold to make her beautiful. But there sits a woman, decked up with precious jewels, none earned by herself, but brought as tributes by servile ones who want to be seen in a photograph with her, the queen. That queen is called Delhi.  And she is the reigning goddess, gathering devotees by throwing money – devotees who are working feverishly to move closer and closer into the charmed circle, into Delhi’s gilded embrace.  For all her glitz based on loot, the queen attracts awe and fear, not love and respect, from peoples who have mothers less shiny.

Some final thoughts on India’s provinces. States, provinces, nations – none are designed to contain the aspirational trajectories of the plural multitudes in the Indian Union. Democracy is a deity that has seen a lot of empty, cynical and faithless obeisance be made in her front. Increasing democratization, transfer of the locus of power away from the centre, is a way of deepening democracy. There have been very few attempts to do this. The Sarkaria Commission of 1983 was a positive step in this direction with clear recommendations of making a more inclusive, federal and democratic union of India by transferring certain rights from the central list to the state list. Predictably, the commission’s report is in suspended animation. For all that we know, it might have died already. The Indian state may not admit it. All too cynically, the centre has often tried to bypass the provinces by speaking over the heads the state governments through its army of central bureaucrats and law enforcers posted as imperial minders in every district. This friction between the different levels – between the local bodies and the state governments, assures the centre’s stability. It has also tried to project an ultimately false sense of autonomous empowerment at the local level by the Panchayati Raj institutions by not giving the local bodies any power to veto decisions and proposals that affect their own futures. The blatant disregard of these institutions when ‘higher authorities’ push a project through in the face of massive opposition to loss of livelihood, destruction of homestead and displacement shows what lofty catch-words peddled by the higher level of administration like ‘local empowerment’ or ‘deepening democratic institutions’ really mean, when push comes to shove.

Some ‘states’ in India vaguely are entities that existed even before the modern idea of India was conceived and will probably outlive the idea too. Some of them would have been among the top 20 entities in the whole world in terms of population. They are repositories of plural cultures that the myopic Delhi-based circus called Dilli-haat cannot even fathom, much less domesticate, package and consume – with a bit of ‘central funding support’ thrown in for window dressing. The union of Indian exists, but it is and never was an inevitable union. To take that myth seriously, for that matter to take foundational myths of any nation-state seriously, is a dangerous error – realities are glossed over by textbook manufactured pride. The past of the constituents of the Indian Union were partially intertwined and largely not. To change this balance decisively, so that a Delhi-prescribed and Delhi-centric path to the future becomes a pan-Indian obsession is dangerous dream.  Whether the future of the Union of India will look  a joint family where the feared patriarch sets the rules for all or more like a split joint family living in proximity who are in good terms but cook separately, is a choice we need to make. The latter is much closer to our social reality anyway. Structures that limit aspirations and exile imaginations are fundamentally sociopathic. I am sure, Delhi wants to be loved. Like the plural pasts, to unlock the greatest potential, we need a plural future – an Indian union with thousands of sisterly centres. Delhi no doubt will be one of the sisters in that love-in. Distributive justice would be the glue holding together that future circle of sisterhood. I hope.

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Filed under Democracy, Elite, Foundational myths, Hindustan, History, Identity, India, Jal Jangal Zameen, Kolkata, Madraj, Nation, Open futures, Pakistan, Partition, Plural pasts, Polity, Power, Urbanity

Darker than coal – the centre-state politics of mineral revenue

[IPA, 20 April 2012 ; Frontier (web), 1 Jun 2012]

India was supposed to be a democratic federal union. The daily debasing of that compact goes largely unnoticed among our chattering classes and policy makers.  The states in India have long been reduced to impoverished alms-seekers – mass leaders from its great provinces prostrating daily in front of federal bureaucrats and policy-makers who represent no one. This is nothing short of disturbing, to say the least and cannot be a good sign of health in a democracy.

Let is come to the specifics. Why are states forever standing with the begging bowl in front of the centre? It is not that the city of Delhi knows any secret formula to grow money in the manicured gardens near the North and South block. This false opulence comes from the constitutional provisions by which the centre captures most of the revenues that are produced in the states. The centre has also awarded itself the right to grab the revenues from the pre-existing wealth of the states, namely their minerals and other subterranean resources. It is from this wealth gathered from distant lands that the ‘National Capital Region’ or British-built Delhi awards itself with infrastructure and services that other parts of India can only dream of or can only pay for by the traditional Indian method known as toiling hard to earn one’s own bread.

Except Maharashtra, all the other coal-producing states are stricken with poverty – near about fifty percent of the people in these states living even below the Montek-line, mockingly known as the poverty line. This includes West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. These also include some of the most impoverished zones of the Indian Union, where contractors, mining mafia, government officials and goons rule the roost as a dehumanized and starving populace looks on. What the centre gives as coal royalty to these states is a pittance. Delhi siphons that off through its channels keeping the states impoverished. The states have repeatedly asked for the coal royalties to be increased. Such requests have fallen on deaf ears – coal is lucrative and the thief knows that. Geography books in India inform students that West Bengal and Jharkhand has coal deposits. What it does not inform that is the coal does not belong to them. They are more like encroachers on the land under which there is coal deposit – the centre throws some spare change at these beggar-states as it makes off with the loot. While nationalization of prime resources is indeed a positive step, the divorcing of the fruits of the bounty from the very people in whose areas these were found goes against all elements of distributive justice.

In such a scenario, honourable Shriprakash Jaiswal, the coal minister from Delhi’s Shastri Bhavan, has given West Bengal a few pearls of wisdom. He has suggested that work be stopped at the almost-completed Bengal Aerotroplis project at Andal near Durgapur as coal was locked under those lands. This ambitious project, which is projected to make Andal a major air-cargo hub of South and South-east Asia, has been a project longtime in the making. Similar clamours from the centre a few years ago had made the West Bengal government take the drastic step of reducing the project area by 400 acres so that certain areas with purportedly rich coal deposits are left out.  From minister Jaiswal’s recent pronouncements it seems that our mai-baaps in Delhi want more as coal is a national property and hence, projects should not come up on coal-bearing land so that mining activities are affected.

It seems that having coal, or other mineral deposits, is like having a curse. Dongria Kondh people of Orissa and Gond people of Chhattisgarh know it too well as the central paramilitaries effectively suspend the fundamental rights of the citizen in these places to uphold the rights of multinational mineral magnates to plunder and run. Equally bad is the scenario of states like West Bengal. The centre will not increase royalties on coal. At the same time, it is threatening to throw a spanner into a major potential employment and revenue-generating project in the state. The coal is national, but the revenue loss is West Bengal’s. The coal is a national resource, but land in West Bengal will be quarantined for such purposes without reasonable compensation to West Bengal. If a respectful relationship between the Union centre and the mineral-bearing states are to evolve, the central government might want to make the states equal partners in decision-making as well as royalty and revenue sharing. It is rather shortsighted to expect that West Bengal and Jharkhand will forever pay for Commonwealth Games and white elephant infrastructure in Delhi while its own people starve. The expression of sharp discontent and dogged resistance by Baloch nationalists on very similar matters of natural resource exploitation by Islamabad is a subcontinental example. One expects that Delhi will learn from its neighbour – that uncompensated exploitation of a province’s resources is unjust, that a functioning union needs co-operating partners, not imperious masters and sulking servants.

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Mamata’s shining moment : India versus the union

[ Daily New and Analysis, 23 Feb 2012 ]

In the wake of the NCTC (National Counter-terrorism Centre) controversy, the Prime Minister of the Union of India, Manmohan Singh has written to the Chief Ministers that “In forming the NCTC, it is not the government’s intent in any way to affect the basic features of the Constitutional provisions and allocation of powers between the States and the Union.” But words are as just that – words. It is the wording of the proposed legislation that matters. The proviso provided in the draft legislation flies in the face of the pious banalities about the central government’s intent and attitude towards the federal nature of the constitution and lays it out rather clearly – the police/enforcers under the NCTC can a person from any state, without informing or consulting the state police agencies. Draconian and Gestapo-like to say the least, there is another problem. As it happens, the constitution, law and order is a state subject. In the long process post-independence where the provinces have been reduced to impoverished alm-seekers, this legislation goes for the jugular. This is serious stuff from a section of the India Congress think-tanks.

The constitution, at its outset, reads, “India, that is Bharat, is a union of states.” Without the states uniting to form a federal system, there is no India. All the power and legality that the union government at New Delhi wields stems from this act. Same goes for its hubris when it dictates as Rex Imperator to the states through its non-statutory, non-elected appendages like the planning commission. The Sarkaria commission of 1983 had a large set of specific recommendations to review centre-state relationships and power sharing in the spirit of a federal union. The commission’s recommendations have essentially been frozen to death. Given the persistent encroachment of the centre on state rights on various issues, review of the concurrent list in favour of decentralization is a pipe-dream at present. What could have embodied the spirit of the Indian federal union, the Inter State Council, has been made into a toothless talking-shop, rather than the real state of policy review and consultation it should be.

The chief minister of Paschimbanga (West Bengal), Mamata Banerjee, has thrown spanner into such province vassalization designs – now twice in a row. For long described in mainstream corporate media as a speed-breaking tantrum thrower, she has been able to line up almost every chief minister except  Congress appointees to chief ministership to certain states. First through opposing the mandatory provisions about the Lokayukta in the Lokpal bill and now opposing the draft NCTC legislation, she has done what every state, including Congress-ruled states, should be doing – opposing the anti-federalist designs of the Union government. The  pundits who detest  the ‘disproportionate’ clout of ‘regional’ political forces should for once thanks these forces for standing up for the constitution, where the pre-eminent ‘national’ party has been found wanting. One can only note the cynical opposition of the BJP to the NCTC, the big ‘national’ group, given its sordid past of advocating very similar legislations like POTO which had provisions for federal policing and were as anti-federal any other. UPA ruling forces like the Trinamool Congress and National Conference,  non-UPA ruling parties like JD(U), AIADAMK, TDP, BJD, Nagaland People’s Front and  CPI(M), regional opposition parties both inside and outsie the UPA like the DMK and TDP  have also made clear that they serious exception to the NCTC as proposed.

The Delhi-controlled Indian Union as it stands today is in a big way the product of a reverse swing of the pendulum that started with the rejection of the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946. In the eve of parition and subsequent formation of the Indian Union, the ultra-centralized beast that we have at hand was unthinkable. While many Indians gloat at Pakistan’s long tryst with the ghosts of partition and separatism, partition and the resultant elimination of the major chunk of non-Congress political sphere enabled the central government of India to create a state that is a federal union only in name. This old Nehruvian disease, not surprisingly, also infects the Mahasabha-JanSangh-BJP lineage, who have their own delusions of unitary nationhood.

The portrayal of the NCTC impasse as some kind of a Mamata versus Congress flavour of the week shows the degradation of the level of public discourse, especially in the television media. A supreme ignorance of the nature of the constitution and political evolution of the Union is apparent in the coverage by photogenic faces who serve inanities by the mouthful. And why not? The media elite is an inseparable part of that Delhi-based illuminati, also comprising of policy think-tanks, security apparatchiks,immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, the higher bureaucracy and all the stench that connects them. This cancerous network of self-servers are curiously simply ‘Indians’ – largely devoid of the visceral rootedness that this large land provides to its billion. Their regional identity is hidden shamefully, displayed diplomatically, cashed in cynically and forgotten immediately. What is most dangerous is that their plan of destroying India’s federal structure is not  conspiratorial but inadvertent – a joyride by default where speedbreakers were not expected. This is a window to the mind of the deep state at Delhi.

This deep state – eating away at our plural fabric, creaming at the thought of the Delhi-Mumbai urban corridor, holds a disproportionate sway over the billion who are not simply Indian. This unacknowledged billion comes with its proud identity and sense of autonomy. Its diversity is still a robust one, not a brow-beaten domesticated version fit for DilliHaat consumption. Be it calculated manoevering, Mamata has twice taken the initiative to bell the cat. But forces need to gather like the ‘thuggies’ of yore. This cat called India needs to be strangled, so that the Union of India lives.

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Chidambaram’s regret: Proding a sleeping beast

[ Sakaal Times (Pune) 31 Mar 2011 ; Echo of India (Port Blair) 1 Apr 2011 ]

For what its worth, the Wikileaks cables have been providing an unabashedly frank set of commentaries and report-backs from Unites States diplomats on the conversations and activities that the power elite of the world engage in. What must be a rather painful pinprick to the ego of über-nationalists of third-world nations, the leaks reveal that petty to hefty political
operatives feel way more comfortable about airing views about their own nation and polity in front of foreign diplomats than in front of their own people. A place at the big table comes at a price.The sine qua non for being a trusted lynch-pin in the Washington consensus based model for the new century is to be at home with the idea of being part of a global power elite with trading vital national interests and bandying information being a standard method of operation. But this can have blow-back in the nations the comprador elite inhabit, as the recent uproar in the Indian parliament shows. An alleged comment attributed to the Home Minister P Chidambaram was perceived to be particularly egregious, leading to calls for his resignation from a wide spectrum of the opposition – especially from the cow-belt.

According to the cables, in 2009, Chidambaram commented to Timothy Roemer, the United States ambassador to India, that higher growth rates in India would could be achieved “if it were the south and west only” and that “the rest of the country held it back”. By implication, ‘rest’ would mean the north and the east. What is all the more interesting is the sense of the world ‘it’ – the idea that the majority of the population of the country was holding the minority back from
launching into the big league. The extreme non-rootedness and disparaging attitude that such lines show are unfortunate, where whole peoples and their abodes come to be conceived as surplus production units by the GDPwallas. In fact, Chidambaram is on record stating that “My vision is to get 85 percent of India into cities”. With such visions doing rounds at the helm, it has the potential cause incremental social unrest and destroy certain compacts, which for good or for bad, have been an important basis of the Indian Union. Let me explain.

The alleged statement touches a rather raw nerve in the large sections of the cow-belt, especially those who champion the cause of peoples of Hindi dialects. The Hindi issue, till recently, was an political plank of the socialist formations in the cow-belt and going by the characters who were the shrillest in condemnation, one does see those forgotten political
contours re-emerging in a rare moment of solidarity among the various factions of the erstwhile cow-belt socialists – spanning from the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal to the Janata Dal ( United). The Bharatiya Janata Party with its core constituency in the cow-belt was active too. Political leadership have mostly chosen to not open the can of worms along a North-South divide and for this, credit is partly due to the politicians of the BIMARU states.There are serious divisions in opinion about the nature power sharing compacts in the Indian Union. The centre-state relationships in the union as well as the relationship between the North and the South in terms of power leveraging at the centre is at the end of the day pegged to the parliamentary representation of these zones in the Union parliament. At present, the basis of
such representation is that of he 1971 census. Article 81 and 82 and the 42nd constitutional amendment (1976) essentially froze the North-South power relations at 1971 population levels. By the 96th constitutional amendment ( 2003) extended the 1971 scenario till 2026.Until that time, territorial constituencies, in the Lok Sabha with regard to the number of seats allocated to each state, cannot be altered.The 96th constitutional amendment bill was passed with opposition support, including the cow-belt socialists who were politically more influential in 2003. It was a BJP government in centre, the Janata Dal (United) being the second largest faction of the ruling coalition and Samajwadi Party being the 5th largest party in parliament with 26 seats.

It is important to note the implications of this for the BIMARU states. Population changes between 1971 and 2001 have thrown up newer demographic realities. If parliamentary constituencies were allocated to states in proportion with 2001 census figures, all the BIMARU states stand to gain seats , even after adjusting for cleavage of some of the states in the
meantime- Uttar Pradesh (adjusting for Uttarakhand) – 6 , Rajasthan -4, Bihar (adjusting for Jharkhand)- 3 and Madhya Pradesh (adjusting for Chhattisgarh) – 2. This means that in the present parliamentary representation, the BIMARU states are underrepresented by 15 seats, not a small amount at all. This also leads to a democratic deficit when the population and
representation start having an assymetric relationship. This scenario of events will continue till 2026. By that time, the skew or the under-representation of the BIMARU states will be more acute,possibly between 25-30 seats, if the present population growth rates are any indicator.

In 2026, if parliamentary representation is brought in line to population proportions according to the 2021 census, we are looking at an adjustment of 25-30 seats in favour of he BIMARU states. The fallout of this shift would depend on the political climate vis-a-vis North-South relationship at that point. Admittedly quiescent in recent years, the nature of North-South relationship has the potential to become tenuous in the face of such a huge shift in power equations in the Indian Union centre. It is in this context that alleged comments made to the US Ambassador have the potential of waking up a sleeping beast. If such antagonisms develop, the Southern states would feel being victimized and squeezed out of resources and power leveraging for having done a better job at population control. We have already heard such grumblings on issues of central resource allocation to states. The Home Minister will do well to remember the Dravida Nadu movement in his own state. That project’s present political nonviability does not predict its future when population truths, however bitter, will hit home. While he might want 85 percent people to be rootless and bereft of sub-national identities, toiling away
in the cities to raise GDP numbers, the tapestry of human plurality of India is much more resilient than urban-industrial fantasies of nothing-but-Indians. That tapestry has numerous untied ends. Chidambaram can chose to pull them at his own peril.

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Hating Mayawati’s statues – a story of false concerns and true fears – an inquiry into the elite mind

( Himal SouthAsian , Aug 2009)

Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and unquestionably the most popular living Dalit leader of India is at the center of a controversy. She is building immense statues to Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, Manyavar Kanshi Ram and to herself and in the process generating much resentment among the English-speaking public as well as her political adversaries.

Figures ranging from Rs. 1000-2000 crore have said to have been allocated towards these constructions and have resulted in a veritable outrage among certain sections of the society. Who is outraged and who is not, why the outrage and what does that tell us about the outraged?

Preliminarily, one must hear how the outrage is being verbalized and take a close look into those allegations. The outrage is expressed along primarily has three lines – firstly, that public funds could be better utilized for development work, second, the sheer impropriety of erecting statues to oneself during one’s lifetime and third, that this does nothing for the Dalits whose cause Mayawati professes to espouse.

1. Better utlization of public funds?

There is something disingenuous when it is said that the money could be spent on improving health-care facilities, sanitation, water and what not. What is unsaid is that the money comes from the budget of the various ministries which have nothing to do with health or education or sanitation, the department of culture being a major one. These are pre-set budgetary provisions.

But there is something more to be said. The charge of squandering public money is looked upon as a non-casteist charge and by bringing it up, prejudices and animosities which may otherwise have casteist origins can be sanctified and presented in public discourse. What predictably escapes from scrutiny are the plethora of such expenses done over the years and even now in a country as poor as India – the upkeep of Rashtrapati Bhavan ( a 340 room residence – the world’s largest residence for a Head of State) and other Governor Houses, the banquets in the governmental charmed circles, the lavish welcome to foreign heads of state, the “traditions” of the armed forces like musical bands and polo clubs – the list is long and expressing it loudly is tantamount to bringing down the prestige of the nation – indeed the same nation which has the world’s largest number of hungry humans and an infant mortality rate of utter shame.

Clubbed together, they possibly form the political and economic equivalent of building 5000 such statues a year. One wonders whether the same shrill voices would have been as shrill if Mayawati had ordered the construction of the statues of deceased prime-ministers and presidents of India. Also, the sudden obsession of the chatterati which invariably are high caste circles, with the absence of proper sanitation facilities or the high maternal mortality rate in Uttar Pradesh is amusing. This new-found concern possibly has a useful parallel in the sudden spurt of detailed universal primary education plans coming from high caste think tanks during the protests against the recent increase of caste-based reservations in higher education.

2. Mayawati the megalomaniac – Where’s the propriety?

Megalomania is possibly more common than we think or admit – just that most of us do not have the resources or public acceptability to go about it. In the past, building statues and other structures to oneself, has often been practiced by the rulers in India. The kings of India have done this – Britishers have gone on to name entire cities and islands after living monarchs and other white men. As it turns out, Shravan Prajapati, the sculptor of the statues also has sculpted a commissioned statue of Margaret Thatcher, very alive and kicking.

While, to some of us, a change in epoch has taken place, one must remember the peculiar obsession of what befits the “modern times” or the twentieth ( now twenty first) century is not shared across the populace of India. This is especially true for the Dalits and other oppressed and marginalized communities and it is time one admits that the grappling with modernity which so permeates our popular discourse is, at the end of the day, primarily a higher caste phenomenon – which interestingly also makes it a minority phenomenon, the higher castes being a minority of the Indian population.

This means that there is the possibility of a majority vision of public propriety which may be very different from what higher castes are comfortable with. This is something that higher castes by and large do not allow for the possibility of – hegemonic groups pre-suppose that their vision of the world is an all encompassing vision of the world with them at the centre. Anything else, which dislodges them from the centre and throws open different public standards to be as valid as long as they are backed by other peoples, is dangerous – for then ethos, practices, moralities and standards suddenly start seeming less providential and timeless, more open to multiple interventions and hence more democratic – an institution towards which hegemonic minorities tend to have a distrust.

Having said this, one also has to note the deep hypocrisy in the propriety argument. Both Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Panditain Indira Gandhi were made the Bharat Ratna when they were prime ministers. I am not judging these acts but can only say that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Of course, technically they did not nominate themselves Bharat Ratnas – but were bestowed the honour on behalf of the “people of India” by the Office of the President. But that is a game two can play at. Mayawati has publicly said that her own statues were not built out of her own accord but was a publicly stated wish of Kanshi Ram. Moreover, most of her statues have been inaugurated by the minister of urban planning Nasimuddin Siddiqui with budgetary provisions not coming from ministries whose portfolios she holds.

As much as the elite would like to claim that we are Indians first before we are Dalits or Kshatriyas, some facts stand out starkly. The first Dalit Bharat Ratna was bestowed on Babasaheb Ambedkar as late as 1990, only under V.P.Singh’s Rashtriya Morcha government which rode to power on twin prongs of anti-Congressism and caste-identity politics. What is clear is that if the backward castes have to wait for the recognition of their heroes as heroes of India, they would be waiting a long time. Since 1990, no other backward caste icon has been deemed a ‘ratna’ enough for Bharat. Such a myth of unity backed by a scheme of inclusiveness which is more like an inverted pyramid is clearly unstable. Sooner or later, someone had to walk out and make their own pyramid – Mayawati in her political astuteness is doing just that.

The sheer lack of Dalit icons in the urban Indian public pantheon is not an accident – nor does the space lack icons. Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay is one such icon. He struggled for the legalization of widow remarriage in India and lobbied the British rulers for this. He is truly a pioneer.

But thereafter the story gets complicated. The question is, pioneer for whom? As it turns out, pioneer essentially for forward caste Hindus among whom widow remarriage was virtually absent and was an ominous taboo. This was not the case with many backward castes and indigenous peoples of India among whom widow remarriage was nothing new. Then what does the valorization tell us in addition to Ishwar Chandra’s greatness? It is also tells about the near invisibility and irrelevance of the lives of much of India’s peoples in setting the content of public discourse of India, dominated by the higher castes.

In some ways, this is akin to Columbus’s “discovery” of America – what is unsaid is that it really was the arrival of Spaniards to a land where many people had lived and thrived. One can think that world is what one determines it to be – unfortunately for some, deepening of democracy has the subversive potential of rudely interrupting such daydreams. Such interruptions are never pleasant especially when they threaten to be a opening shots of a long series of interruptions that might unravel the world of the forward castes as they know it where a Kshatriya engineer sues a Brahmin doctor in the court of law of a Kayastha judge. The arrival of people whose grandmothers sung them different lullabies, lullabies born out of the night soil, may break the party. And there is the rub.

Mayawati is possibly no more demagogic as a leader of the Dalits as most other “leaders of India” have been.It is the alien-ness of her political culture which appeard to be crude to the forward castes. For those Indians who have been fed on a steady diet of some form of the ideological spectrum of Mill-Hume-Smith-Hegel-Marx and have lamented at the absence of evolution of indigenous political thought with the exception of certain icons of the elite , unfortunately, have a narrow view of what constitutes political thought. In a human existence, where much of politics is among the non-reader of books, the evolution of political thought also has multiple trajectories- some inaccessible to the book reader, however odd that might sound.Every time the forward caste revenue collector of a forward caste zamindar came, when the backward caste menfolk of a village ran away to hide behind tall grass to escape the immediate oppressors – theories of the nature of power developed. Schools of political thoughts have developed as dalits and tribals have huddled in fright at being displaced at the bulldozers of a mining company protected by state forces. Theories of human dignity and humiliation developed when bhangis scoured the faeces of forward caste toilets by their right hand – just like forward castes have never really known how it is to touch faeces with their right hand, in the same way, there is a near total non-access to the reasons why in a NDTV-GfK Mode survey, 62% of Dalits around Lucknow support the installations of the statues of Mayawati.The Ambedkar Park project in Lucknow has a water body called the Bhim Ganga ( named after Bhimrao Ambedkar). Dalit men and women have often collected water from the Bhim Ganga considering it holy.

That tells us something important – that in this supposed aged of all-encompassing modernity, myths and indeed gods are coming to life just as they always have.This world of animation almost completes eludes the chattering classes to whom India’s diverse peoples are almost an embarrassment in a supposedly global village where everyone is supposed to understand that Mocha is a kind of coffee.

3. The statues do nothing for the uplift of Dalits

Mayawati has tried to project herself as a Messiah of the Dalits – this she is not, arguably. And not so long ago, comparisons were being made in India with the other messianic figure of these times, US President Barack Obama. While it has been argued publicly by the chatterati that Mayawati is no Obama for she is too confrontational and lacks a unifying vision (and privately, her ‘unpresentability’ at international forums), something else needs to mentioned.

Obama’s political idiom is one of a supposedly already post-racist America, that is, one of white America’s sin atonement vision, for cheap. Jesse Jackson,who was also mainstream but slightly edgy and not as colorblind as Obama could never have calmed the nerves of the liberal establishment like the way Mr.Cool has.

Mayawati, on the other hand, sells no such fiction. She does not talk of a post-casteist society – in fact the real and present caste-ridden society is her political capital. But she had been stressing compact before contradiction, possibly too soon, and it is in that, she does disservice to her Dalit base as activists like Prakash Ambedkar would argue. This does not take away the very real sense of dignity some of the Dalits have been armed with. Dalits from South India have visited the Ambedkar Park and the various statues and could conceivably become an alternative pilgrimage for some Dalits.

Finally, we still need to dissect the discomfiture of the elites with Mayawati’s statues building at a very raw, getting under the skin level. Mayawati with her ilk, who play by different rules may not have imbibed the refined art of covert aggrandizement. It is too much in the open – the big golden ear-rings she wears, the huge birthday cake she cuts with toadies looking on – is too easy to condemn. But at one level, it is understood that this flamboyance does not follow the idioms the mandarins of elite Indian society are used to – she doesnt go playing golf or drinking Johnny Walker Blue Label with public money – she makes her and her mentor’s statues. The acceptable methods and the range of permissible display of helping oneself with public money has been normalized and well worked out for other groups and sectors which have been in power for much longer periods of time – in some cases, centuries. The new interloper either hasnt learnt that yet or has a different game to play- in both cases, she poses a danger to the models of silent theft, and more broadly to the upper caste consensus of how political life is organized.

No one should under-estimate the power of co-option – Laldenga and Shibu Soren are great examples of how iconic leaders can be reduced to ghosts of their earlier selves. But for now, every cringe about her from the Indian elites is being shrewdly crafted by her into a new medal of pro-Dalit credentials, which of late had been tainted by her increasing overtures to ‘Manuvadis’.

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