Neither in Support Nor in Opposition

Criticism of public personalities is nothing new. In fact, the essence of time lies in the continuous evaluation of public figures from time to time. The more we advance in time, the more distinct and discernible the impact made by a man of the bygone era becomes.

The Indian pantheon of personalities is a rich one with political parties of all hues sharing space in a multiparty democracy. If you have a xenophobic Ram Manohar Lohia on one hand who took linguistic nationalism and anti English hatred to the extremes, you also have a Periyar, famous as well as notorious for defiling idols, questioning Indian Nationalism and being the greatest prototype of nativist politics.

Nehru, in many ways was a symbiosis of merit and entitlement. His ascent in Indian politics was unencumbered mainly because of his blood with the generous gaze of the the ‘Mahatma’ adding to his meteoric rise. Infact many narratives suggest that Gandhi’s casting vote for his protege made Nehru the Prime Minister, much to the dismay of the powerful conservative section of the Congress who would have chosen Patel instead.

Nehru’s legacy today is under serious scrutiny-often prejudiced against the man. Interestingly this coincides with the resurrection of right wing politics of the kind we never saw since Partition. However, this prejudice must be attributed to a counter ‘Nehruvian’ prejudice which eulogized Nehru through countless hagiographies. 

Hence all of us are now experiencing Nehru in the shades of black and white, quite congruent with the present dichotomous world- ‘intolerant’ towards a centrist space. Infact it is this intolerance towards moderation that unites the two sides of the ideological trenches. 

Nehru unlike most politicians of those days or these days was not an Indian by practice. His upbringing had been colonised, very much like the India he inhabited. Hence, unlike a Bose or a Gandhi, who went bottom-up he had to condescend to a lower level perhaps prompting him to ‘Discover India’ at a later age. However his brown sahib image never alienated him from the masses. Arguably, he was the greatest mass politician of Post Independent India and major blunders like the Sino Indian War could not besmirch his image among contemporary Indians.

His reign was not a smooth one. A fledgling nation born out of Partition had just seen a civil war of unprecedented proportions. With a semi literate population, holding an election on the basis of universal adult suffrage was a gamble that paid off. 

A nation had fought against and divided itself shrinking the Muslim population in the residuary country of India.At such a moment, it may have been justifiable to strangulate the religious minorities and relegate them in status and stature. But India preferred to adopt a secular Constitution without needing to wear secularism on the sleeves or the Preamble.

The failures of Nehru are equally stark. Blame as you may his socialist policies on the times, his infatuation with Luddite economics robbed India of its economic potential. His philosophical outlook often detached him from the cut and thrust of realpolitik inviting criticism from the Hans Morgantheu school of thought. The utter humiliation in 1962 irreversed his decline and half a century later became the greatest stick to beat him with. His government’s mysterious conduct vis-a-vis Subhas Bose’s disappearnce also raises many uncomfortable questions.

Post Script 

So, how to appraise Nehru after all? In my opinion, neither was he the best Prime Minister nor the worst thing that happened to the country. 

He heralded political stability and streamlined Parliamentary democracy. Though Kerala Government’s dismissal in 1959 is a chink in the armour, unlike many dictators of Third World Countries and his own daughter, he never gave into the temptations of totalitarianism. However, in many ways he did help in founding a dynasty which de-Congressified the mighty Congress, the vanguard of the freedom struggle. 

Hence in conclusion, one may suggest that rather than lionizing or demonizing him we must treat him as a human being who like all men was fallible after all.


Kashmir: a dissection

Kashmir is equivalent of the Paradise, known for its idyllic beauty, vales and people. However, its claim to ignominy in the past 70 years has been the gory war against itself, waged by two lands born out of the same womb. 

If one needs to find the worst victim of politics and parochialism, Kashmir by most counts will dis-grace the first position. The recent killing of one of the brightest minds and editors of Kashmir may be a rude shock- attested by his stature and renown in society. 

The identity crisis

But take a moment off for civilians, terrorists and the men in uniform killed in this vicious cycle of violence- who mostly have become a nameless statistic. Many may have a problem with the interjection of ‘terrorists’ with ‘civilians’ and the ‘army’.

But there lies the root and rubble of the problem. The problem of identification- Your’s martyr is my terrorist, my terrorist is your militant and your militant is someone else’s freedom fighter. 

To Hell with Conciliation

Unfortunately, Kashmir’s fate unlike other federated states is hamstrung by the two countries who have put the cart before the horse. With little space for munificence and political courage, and a constant calculation of the fallout of a permanent settlement to the dispute- the valley has been thrown to the wolves. Its fate which used to hang by a tenuous thread lies flat on the ground.

Let down by their own

Nativist political parties have also renegaded on their duties and responsibilities even as detractors have accused them of subordinating themselves to pelf and patronage. Thus, Kashmir today is a prisoner of conscience, a colony of avarice and greed.

Majoritarian Nationhood

With religion getting intertwined with national identity, the threat of majoritarianism looms large on the Sub Continent. This may only fossilize the already extreme positions in a terrirory which has witnessed one of the worst exoduses in the post Independent India.

What has aggravated the problem is the neat elimination of the voices of moderation. Those who can build bridges are coming under fire- perhaps a warning to all who refuse to align themselves with the extreme stands of thought. 

Post Script: 

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Hence, its the need of the hour to devastate political correctness and look for an unorthodox solution led by the real sufferers of the problem- the Kashmiri people. The media, politicians, Parliament of both the countries have failed. Militancy can militate Kashmir towards death while the civil society may only contribute a pittance. The disunity of the Kashmiri people has heralded the crisis. Their unity on the side of truth, peace and harmony can alone stop the wound from festering further.

Federal Fight at the Capital

Indian democracy has seen many ups and downs. There have been attempts to enfeeble the basic features of our Constitution. There have been efforts to exploit the loopholes in our legal framework. However, these reactionary forces mostly have not upturned the cherished ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

However, one thing that worries most Constitutional experts and the vigilant citizenry alike is the collapse of the political discourse of India- which has greatly weakened our institutions by default. Hence, integrity of major institutions face a trust crisis and need to undergo a trial by fire to ressurect themselves.

The narrative of a Unitarian State

The case for a weak federal state was laid down in the Indian Constitution because the universal determinants of federalism were honoured mostly in breach by framers of the Constitution. As the newly independent republic was still a fragile union-with too many denominators threatening its survival, the case for a quasi-federal state looked justified. 

Changing politics and evolving Federalism

However with the recent limbo in Delhi, it seems to be apposite for the powers that be to take this debate around federalism to a logical conclusion. Delhi was promised full statehood by all the major parties before the General elections. But the rulers of today seem to have renegaded on their promise. Even the Congress Party did zilch in this direction during their reign.

On the other hand as shows the commiserations of the three CMs for their counterpart in Delhi, the federal front which looked quite farcical not so long ago (keeping in mind its past misadventures) is surely taking shape. The difference between the past and the present is not only in the nomenclature, but also in the power-equation of the front, as for the first time the Left shall not be the lead actor in such an alternative front. 

That may make the coalition a motley group of regional parties with neither the resources nor the conviction to view the country as a whole- but it also makes their role important since their formation and success have been necessitated by the gradual decline by the Grand Old Party. Like it or not, regional parties in the coming months with the vices of casteism, regionalism and sectarianism dotted all over them shall emerge as a potent force in Indian politics. 

Their alliance may be a case study for expediency, but surely it is a wake up call to the pan Indian parties to review federal relations in the Union as well as in themselves. 

Post Script

This gives rise to a very interesting arrangement which betrays conventional wisdom. As the Delhi episode has shown, the national parties seem to be on one side while the rest of the smaller parties- (mostly limited one state) seem to be stacked on the other. This may not be of any electoral consequence, but it ought to skew our perception of politics.

When David defeated Goliath

We, the people of this country take pride in our civilization and heritage. However, India may also be bigoted, archaic and immensely patriarchal. Salma’s story epitomizes the pitfalls of our values. A young woman, who grew up in a conservative Muslim family had to fetter her goals, yet she never gave up her dreams. Islam happens to be a conservative religion, where change is difficult, evolution frosty.

Salma wanted to break the barriers of bigotry and fanaticism. She stood for the change, we all want to see, but never want to be. She didn’t wish to get married as education was her topmost priority. However, her family especially her mother thought otherwise. Salma’s mother wanted her to follow the convention, conform to filial and familial duties and live an orthodox life. Salma did not budge, and was too stubborn to change her stance. Hence she was duped into marriage by her mother, who emotionally blackmailed her to achieve her purpose.

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The tale of Irreverence

Salma was incarcerated for a long time in her own house for not listening to her family. Post marriage, again for a long period of time, she was treated in a similar manner by her in laws. Her husband threatened to commit suicide if Salma failed to cripple her artistic pursuits. Salma was a lover of literature, who found creative solace in poetry. She was a talented poet in Tamil, and even before marriage her work had found traction among the literary minds in Tamil Nadu.

However, our society speaks with a forked-tongue. Hence tradition is revered as long as it suits our purpose. Hence the same Salma, who once was kept under perennial house detention was encouraged by her husband to take a plunge into politics. He wanted to acquire power, and his wife became a means of achieving his coveted purpose. Salma seized the opportunity with both hands and participated in politics, another patriarchal backyard of our constitutional democracy. She won the Panchayat elections and successfully represented the local self government.

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Salma’s talk in Delhi

Her talent did not go unnoticed and soon she was given an important responsibility by the DMK Government of the state. Today, she happens to be a source of inspiration for the womenfolk of her state and the country. She has epitomized the emancipation of women like no other. Salma gets invited to conferences from different parts of the world and her linguistic limitation hasn’t dettered her from attending them. She is today a women rights activist with a vision for herself and her compatriots.

Her family may appear villainous, but it is important to understand the layers and sub layers of Indian society. Seeing Salma from the prism of cosmopolitanism is erroneous. The bigotry of our society is deep-rooted and there is no panacea to this archaic mindset. Things are changing slowly. And we will require irreverent rebels like Salma to accelerate the change. Salma’s family today has caved in and though not fully repentant, respects her choices. King Longinotto’s documentary ‘Salma’ emboldens the narrative of a changing India. David has truly overwhelmed Goliath.




Bengal- a mystery stranger than fiction

As a Bengali born and brought up in Calcutta, my childhood was mired with both political romanticism and opportunism. Unlike the North, the Indian Bengal saw “ideology driven” politics where students galloped on the campuses with huge portraits of Marx and Lenin dotting the processions. Behind this facade however, lied another Bengal where the state was all powerful, all pervasive. Where ideology was as relevant as Gandhi is in Kashmir.

Rough and ready methods were used unabashedly and any voice of reason was muzzled and at times eliminated. As a state Bengal unlike a Maharashtra has never seen a multi-corner fight where even the independents have a certain stake. Barring the 1967 elections, there has never been a strong opposition within the state assembly resulting in the formation of powerful as well as popular governments. Governmental stability usually is a precursor to political stability. But in Bengal, the reverse became true. A cadre based party with its ever expansionist zeal  kept Bengal volatile and skirmishes between the opposition and the ruling alliance became rampant. Even today, Bengal unfortunately defeats all other states in incidents of political violence.

It was difficult to define Bengal even then, as it is now. Few could draw a parallel between a Rabindra Sangeet loving, timid, couch potato Bengali and the bloodthirsty, violent political atmosphere in the state. There has always been a sense of rebellion in the air, a frozen fragrance of insularity which has cut Bengal from the mainstream.

Even as East Europe was spiraling out of Communist control and Soviet Union was counting its last days, the residents of the state reposed their faith in an ideology which was out of sync with the rapidly changing world where inward-looking is not only unpractical but sinful.

Hindi Cinema even today defines Calcutta through its narrow lanes and Communist flags. That perhaps is about to change as the death-bugle of the Communist party in Bengal has been sounded by the people who don’t find anything worthwhile in a party led by unaccountable, politically infertile octogenarians unable to evoke energy or passion . The BJP interestingly, which was usually seen to be a party of Hindi speakers is finding wider acceptance as RSS shakhas have increased five fold in the last 6 years. Incidentally the new regime is going to complete its 6th year next month sparking allegations of a secret TMC-BJP understanding.

Bengal has often flaunted and feigned its secular and liberal credentials. Hindus and Muslims perhaps have lived together without rioting. But that does not mean they have lived harmoniously all the time. I will be honest enough to confess that many members in my family were cynical of the ‘Mussalman’. The elders of my family have often advised me never to marry a Muslim girl. Nonetheless, my crush however happens to be a Bengali actress from the ‘other community’.

The recent aggressive Hanuman Jayanti Celebrations in Bengal by both the BJP and the TMC have been seen by intellectuals as a blot on the syncretic Bengali culture. Though I am not a self styled custodian of truth, the fact is that the recent turn of events is a manifestation of the complex and concealed narrative, and the civil society in Bengal very much like their Delhi counterparts fail to descend from their high horses. The falsehood of Bengali secularism is becoming conspicuous.

P.S- The state is at the doorstep of a political transformation which will unsettle many conventional stereotypes woven around the state and its people. The Border state today is a paradox. The paradox, perhaps is best reflected by my Brahmin friend in the city, an Islamophobic beef eater.

Key takeaways….

Bengal verdict is sound and clear. The highly intelligent voter has again proved, why she is the vanguard of democracy. The elections were made out to be bipolar. In reality it never was.

The punditry suggested that this time around, there will be a haddahaddi lorai, a fight to the finish.But the post 1967 tradition just had a new lease of life with the over the top majority for the TMC.

Here the equations of the alliance did not play out as expected. The so called political analyst had almost regarded the 39% Left-Congress voteshare erosion averse. It was assumed, that it is the TMC voteshare which is variable, not that of the alliance or tactical arrangement or whatever the name is.The punditry ruled out the point that voters in Bengal are no more servile.

The way the voteshare of the Left has gone down, with an almost written off BJP touching the double digit vote share, the index of opposition unity looks highly thwarted from place.

The same ‘analysts’ who concluded that the ascending BJP vote share in 2014 hurt the Left have been wronged. Rather, the ascending vote share of the BJP helped TMC lose Asansol, where Dola Sen was trounced by Babul Supriyo.

All the historic “hand in hand” gaffes to eloquently bat for the jot by ABP have proven to be out of place and severed from reality. The elections also show the media its place. 

Give news first, perhaps even views. But you are still a bit less important in my life than the Game of Thrones.

All the op ed pages and editorials have far lesser readership today than it had a couple of decades back. You may paint VYAPAM or SARADHA as corruption scandals, but it has zero impact if the voter at large is satisfied by governance.

Media lost the battle against Modi after 2002, the much hyped India Shining lost in 2004, the Ramnath Goenka dribble against the Congress perished in 1980. Overestimation of the power of the  prime time slot is perhaps born out of social media’s incessant political campaign.

But the tech savvy, fb or instagrammed generation is still a small puppy in comparison to the doughty, rural voter whose life gets improved by sops and freebies.

Economists living in opulent bungalows may point out at their undesirable effect on the economy, but they are surely desired by the villager in Samastipur suffering from nature’s fury. 

One caveat-these elections have proven leftism isn’t dead, it can’t be. Perhaps that’s why someone jokingly said on twiiter in February-Sitaram Yechury authored this year’s finance budget!