Monday, September 28, 2015
A. Surya Prakash showed how to do it, today's culture vultures are showing how not to do it. In a well-researched analysis in 2009, Surya Prakash told us how at least 450 government programmes involving public expenditure of lakhs of crores of rupees had been named after Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, dragging in Jawaharlal Nehru, too, for good measure.
Consider just a few of the projects he listed and we can see the enormity of what was going on. The Rajiv Gandhi Vidyutikaran Yojana (rural electrification programme) involving Rs 28,000 crore; the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission with even higher allocation per annum; the Indira Awas Yojana to house the poor with allocations of Rs 7000-10,000 crore per year; the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme. Plus, the Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme in Pondicherry, the Indira Gandhi Calf-Rearing Scheme in Andhra Pradesh, the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Vivah Shagun Yojana in Haryana, not to mention national parks, universities, airports, power projects and metro stations all named after the family. The idea was clear -- to let the people know that their drinking water, their old-age pension, their breakfast and their electricity were all by courtesy of Indira, Rajiv and to a lesser extent Jawaharlal Nehru.
This was a crude approach that actually worked against the Gandhi family in public relations terms. Although sycophants -- and that included the entire Congress establishment -- kept up a chorus about the family's mass appeal, the silent majority resented family rule distorting democracy. The proprietory style in which Indira and Rajiv treated India eventually worked against them. It is no secret that popular disgust with the dynastic system was a major factor behind the BJP's landslide victory last year.
The BJP's supporters should have left the dynasty -- and the Congress -- to stew in their own juice. Unable to rise to any level of credibility, Rahul Gandhi would have presided over the liquidation of his dynastic empire. But the Sangh parivar showed neither the political wisdom nor the tactical sense to let that happen. Instead, in a show of overkill, it began taking Nehru out of the Nehru Library and withdrawing postage stamps featuring Indira and Rajiv. This is a crude display of pettiness that could well bring a sympathy wave in favour of the Gandhis.
The problem with fringe fanatics (in any party) is that they see the world in stark shades of black and white. The different greys in between are what life -- and politics -- is all about. The fringe fanatics miss this and end up scoring self-goals. It is a mistake, for example, to tar Jawaharlal Nehru with the same brush used to tar Indira and Rajiv. Nehru made some grave mistakes -- Kashmir, China border -- but no one can deny the historic fact that he played a central role in laying the foundations of modern India. Nothing is lost by leaving the Nehru Museum and Library undisturbed, just as the Kennedy Library or the Clinton Library are left alone. Let them create other libraries to celebrate other heroes, as mature societies do. Nehru is too big to be erased by a junior culture minister beholden to lesser gods.
In the short term, Nehru may lose because the moment belongs to those who would abridge India rather than let it grow robustly in a robustly growing world. Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma left nothing to the imagination when he recently said: "We will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised and where Indian culture and civilisation need to be restored... We have 39 institutions under the Culture Ministry, including grand museums and the National School of Drama... We will totally revamp all these institutions".
It's power, not knowledge, that make these men talk so authoritatively about what they do not know. They do not know that Indian culture and civilisation achieved greatness by absorbing the best in others. Narrow-minded definitions were unknown to the Indian cultural tradition -- until they became the political ammunition of a politically motivated movement. What is there for Sharma to "cleanse" in the National School of Drama where Ebrahim Alkazi, an Arab Indian, achieved magic by staging Andha Yug, among other classics. Alkazi did more to sustain Indian culture than the self-appointed culture guardians who are busy burning books and shooting independent thinkers. Dreams take years to build -- and only days to destroy. The consolation is that Indian civilisation is too great to be destroyed by passing philistines.