Monday, July 25, 2016

The BJP's impatience is hurting it and the country. In Kashmir it is making enemies dangerously.

Political lawbreaking of a kind never seen in India before was seen in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh recently. Rioting of a kind never witnessed in Kashmir before is wrecking that state now. These disturbing elements have one common cause: The BJP's haste in wanting to bring every inch of the country under its uncontested hegemony. Democracy has its ways and means, its checks and balances. But strategists of the ruling dispensation are too impatient to tolerate them. Control of power in the centre emboldens them to flout constitutional obligations with abandon.

Capturing the few states under Congress rule has been a priority for BJP strategists. If they were sensible enough to bide their time, the Congress itself would have obliged them. In Kerala, for example, it was Congressmen who destroyed Congress hopes of victory. In Karnataka, the Congress is doing everything it can to consummate its demise. Similar Congressisms would have given the BJP a walkover in Uttarakhand and other states as well.

But they couldn't wait. So they engineered dissensions. When nine Uttarakhand Congressmen went public with their rebellion, the obliging Union Government declared that the Harish Rawat Government had lost its majority and imposed President's Rule. This was just a day before Rawat was to take a trust vote in the Assembly. When the Supreme Court ruled that the Chief Minister must be given his chance to prove his majority on the floor of the House, the Central Government was forced to withdraw President's Rule. The exuberance of the Congress's jubilation equalled the intensity of the BJP's humiliation.

More ignominious was the BJP's setback in Arunachal Pradesh. It again took advantage of the fact that MLAs are a purchasable commodity in many parts of the country. With some early trading done, Governor Rajkhowa abandoned all constitutional caution and advanced a session of the state assembly by nearly a month. This led to shameful incidents in and around the Assembly, the convenient imposition of President's Rule and then a rebel-Congress Government godfathered by the BJP. A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reversed it all. With a new leadership which ended dissidence for the time being, the Congress rode back power. Rajkhowa, his skin thicker no doubt, stays in Raj Bhavan waiting for the next chance to wave his ideological fidelity -- and damn the Constitution.

If Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh exhibited the ugliness of manufactured power, Kashmir holds up the tragedy of incompetent power. Much of it is inherited. Unlike other parts of India, Jammu & Kashmir has never known anything but hereditary rule -- the Maharajas, then Shaikh Abdullah to Farouk Abdullah to Omar Abdullah and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to Mehbooba Mufti. None of them, with the exception of Shaikh Saheb, enjoyed genuine popularity or had a vision for the state. That and the legal protection given to army brutalities contributed to the state's history of violence and the rise of anti-Indian sentiments, playing into Pakistan's perennial plottings.

The BJP's assumption of power in Delhi made Muslim-dominated Kashmir feel uneasy. This was to be expected in the light of increasing sectarian tensions in the country. A wise leadership in Delhi would have taken note of this and tried to win some goodwill before pushing its political agenda. But the BJP was in too much of a hurry to do anything wise. It actually moved in the opposite direction. It bullied a patently untalented Mehbooba into collaboration and silence. It must have been taken aback when unprecedented violence broke out following the July 8 killing by special police of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander incredibly young (22) and incredibly popular. The violence this time was led by young people driven by a new fearlessness and believing it their duty to face death fighting the state. The practice till recently was for people to lock up their houses and stay indoors when troops arrived to hunt down militants. Now they come out to throw stones at the troops from dangerously close quarters.

This is the worst of times in Kashmir. The authorities show continued unwisdom in tackling the situation. They use Israeli-style pellet guns which ensure that most of the people who are hit will be blinded. They block cable television, close down newspapers, disable phone services. India's Home Minister blames Pakistan for the crisis in Kashmir. Actually Pakistan has its job lightened by India's inability to read the signs. Accepting our mistakes is the first step to solving them. We are in fact adding to our mistakes.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Little girls are raped, killed, then thrown away. Is brutality becoming an Indian way of life?

From a nation that found its feet on the principle of nonviolence, we seem to have become a nation that celebrates brutality. The daily headlines spell out gory details of ordinary people inflicting the most horrid kinds of cruelty on ordinary people. When the Delhi Nirbhaya case revealed how mercilessly the girl was ripped open by a so-called juvenile, the outrage led us to think that such sadism wouldn't be seen again. But the plague has been spreading. A girl waiting for a train at a suburban station in Chennai is cut to pieces by a lone man as people watch. Before we could get out of that shock another girl is hacked to death in public in Salem. In Delhi a school boy is beaten to death by a panmasala shop's owners over a trifling argument. Girls 10 and below are sexually attacked, then killed and thrown away. A young wife is helped by her mother to kill her two children with poison so that she can go with her paramour. An abandoned wife finds a lover and the two of them torture the woman's 5-year-old daughter to death so that they can be "free".

Apparently Indians have been doing this sort of thing for a while. Back in 2012 Thomson Reuters Trust said that India was on par with Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia as the world's most dangerous place for women. In 2004 a woman was raped in our country every 54 minutes, in 2012 every 20 minutes. The National Crime Records Bureau reported that between 1953 and 2011 rape became India's fastest growing crime.

Perhaps the most telling statistic provided by the National Crime Records Bureau is that 65 percent of Indian men believe that women should tolerate violence against them in order to keep the family together. That might throw light on the psychology behind the 8000 dowry deaths that occur every year in India and the so-called honour killings (1000 out of 5000 reported cases annually are in India). They don't just kill; they kill viciously. In Rajasthan four years ago, a father chopped off his 20-year-old daughter's head because she was dating a lower caste man, then walked around town with her severed head to warn other young women in the locality.

One of the main reasons for India's shameful statistical prominence in the area of human cruelty is governmental indifference. At the leadership level, there is often encouragement to violence; at the police level there is active collaboration. One of Mulayam Singh Yadav's most disgraceful public statements was to justify the abuse of women. He said: "When boys and girls have differences, the girl gives a statement that she has been raped... Boys are boys, they make mistakes". Even the UN Secretary General condemned that statement. Mulayam Singh didn't care a damn.

The record of the police is no better. Custodial rape is as common as custodial death. Citizens are often left helpless. A tribal orphan girl, about 14 or 15 years old, was raped by two constables in Maharashtra's Chandrapur district. The sessions court acquitted the cops. The High Court sentenced them. The Supreme Court acquitted them saying that there was no visible marks of injury, therefore no struggle and therefore no rape. There were widespread protests led by law professors who challenged the concept of consent as set out in the judgment. This led to the Evidence Act and the Penal Code being amended to give legal weight to a rape victim's statement and to make custodial rape an offence. But this is India and atrocities by police and politicians continue unabated.

Simple road rage or a minor dispute is enough for an Indian to kill another. The extent to which this culture of cruelty has grown was revealed by a gruesome multiple murder in Kochi in 2009. A Tamil Nadu labour contractor supplying construction workers got angry when three workers asked him for outstanding wages of Rs 14,000. If not paid, they said, they would leave Kochi and go home. The contractor went out in a rage, drew petrol from his bike, discovered that it was less than half a litre, so went to a pump to get more. He returned to the room, poured the petrol over the sleeping labourers and set fire to it. He locked the room from outside, throwing more petrol through the window to ensure that the labourers had no escape. Six years later the contractor was sentenced to death. His name: Thomas Alva Edison.

Monday, July 11, 2016

In our country these days, it's not safe to think. This new book makes you think -- and worry

How green was my valley when patriotism meant loving my country and nationalism meant identifying with its civilisational essence. We were all patriots and nationalists when we fought for -- or read about -- our country's independence. We were patriots and nationalists when we built the great edifice of our Constitution, perhaps the most egalitarian in the world, and gave unto ourselves a polity based on equality for all, justice for all. We had our differences, for we were a rainbow nation with a phantasmagoria of religions, races, languages, cuisines, attires and traditions. But we were a nation. And it was a wonderful feeling.

From those days of enlightenment, how and when and why did we redefine nationalism as a measure of partisanship? Who diluted nationalism with religiosity and gave the slogan Bharat Mata Ki Jai a theological twist? That was a slogan everyone shouted with pride once upon a time. How and when and why was it reduced to an expression of narrow parochialism? Bharat Mata should have belonged -- and did belong -- to all her citizens. How was she hijacked by political partisans who manipulate religious emotions for political gain?

These and other disturbing questions are brought up by a handsome new book comprising three outstanding essays. On Nationalism by Romila Thapar, A.G.Noorani and Sadanand Menon (Aleph Book company) is a celebration and a lamentation at the same time -- celebration of the India that was and lamentation over the India that is getting fissured by the day.

In a closely argued think piece, Romila Thapar exposes the shadowlines of 'subnationalism' which is based on separate Muslim, Hindu, Sikh assertions, and 'pseudonationalism' which "exaggerates the importance of a single history of one religious community as being the pre-eminent history of the nation". Her historical account of the way the nation concept developed is masterly. She draws attention to British philosopher-historian Eric Hobsbawm's observation that history is reconstructed in ways that suit the ideology of nationalism -- precisely what we have been witnessing in recent years.

Thapar boldly asserts that India had "no single sacred text since Hindu sects were not religions of the book. But today the Bhagvad Gita is being described as the 'national' book which... conflates nationalism with religion, despite their being distinct".

Lawyer-historian-author A.G.Noorani starts by going for the jugular: India is witnessing today, he says, what America went through in the 1950s when Joseph McCarthy unleashed irresponsible attacks on the patriotism and nationalism of its citizens, condemning a great many honorable Americans as "un-American".

Having set the stage, Noorani launches into an erudite exposition of the law of sedition and how it led to convolutions in Indian democracy. What Romila Thapar explained -- that criticising government cannot be considered seditious or anti-national -- is elaborated by Noorani who finds the law of sedition "in an unholy mess". Citing a wide range of texts, from the famous Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (the Forward Communist Party leader had made an explosive speech in 1953 on "the dogs of the CID" and "Congress goondas") to Savarkar's eulogy of Mother India as Pitribhu and Punyabhu (Fatherland and Holy Land), he is emphatic in his final pronouncement: "The only nationalism that deserves our support is Indian nationalism".

Sadanand Menon says it all in the very title of his eminently readable essay, "From national culture to cultural nationalism". He reminds us that "ultra-nationalism" had been there from the early days of the national movement. Also that devotion towards an abstract Bharat Mata is in sharp contrast to the violence inflicted on women during rapes, riots and caste retributions which is "of an order seldom witnessed before in any part of the world". A grim picture emerges as he observes that "a key component of the politics of cultural nationalism resides in its ability to create an enemy". Surveying a landscape crawling with enemies, Menon is tactful enough to take shelter behind Jean-Paul Sartre and indirectly imply a scary question: India was the name of a country; will we take care that it does not become the name of a nervous disease?

Questions arising from this book are scary not only because they concern the very survival of India as a modern, constitutional democracy, but also because they are raised by scholars in scholarly, academic tones. The absence of hyperbole somehow adds to the gravity of the dangers they point out. On Nationalism is an invitation to think -- at a time when thinking has become risky.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Was it football's politics that made Messi cry? Politicians have ruined Indian sports, too

What makes football superior to cricket? Both are run commercially these days, but football continues to be "the beautiful game" loved by all. Cricket developed on its British upperclassness, persuading colonial subjects to flatter the rulers by imitation until geniuses like N.Sreenivasan and Lalit Modi turned the game into the most profitable Indian business. By contrast, football has a naturalness no other game has; from Africa and Latin America to Europe and Asia, kids take instinctively to kicking a ball around. That's why Bradman is admired, but Pele is worshipped. That's why the world cried with Messi when his spotkick went wild in the Copa America final against Chile.

For Messi and Argentina this was the fourth defeat in an international final. How could he not cry his heart out? How could he not announce, in an emotional moment, that he was retiring from playing for Argentina? That announcement sent shudders across Argentina for the World Cup will be up for grabs in Russia just two years from now. The President of Argentina phoned Messi and requested him to stay on. The God of Argentina, Maradonna, declared that Messi "will go to Russia in form to be world champion". He went on to blame the country's football association for the "disaster Argentine football has become".

That is familiar territory for us because there is not a single sport in India that has not been turned into a disaster by the association concerned. Our most celebrated association official, Lalit Modi, has been so successful that he cannot even set foot in the country. Hockey, boxing, athletics, tennis, badminton, wrestling, archery, judo, rowing, cycling, table tennis have all been turned into arenas for politicians to showcase their ego. The Archery Association was headed by BJP's V.K.Malhotra for more than 40 years; he quit last year only because he was appointed head of the All-India Council of Sports. At the head of the Football Federation is NCP politician, Praful Patel. How can football do any better than Air-India did under him?

The sense of loss becomes acute when we realise how glorious Indian football was once upon a time. A fixture between Mohan Bagan and East Bengal was enough to turn Calcutta wild with excitement. Mohan Bagan was among the oldest football clubs in Asia, founded in 1889. The world's oldest football competition outside England is India's Durand Cup, started in 1888 and still going strong. Run by the army, it began to be co-hosted by Osians, the arts foundation, from 2006. Entry to the ground is free and the winner gets Rs 50 lakhs.

Small wonder that the Indian team made quite an impact in the 1948 Olympics in London. The record crowd was dumb-struck when they saw the Indians enter the field barefoot. Shock turned into admiration as the bootless men put up a fight, keeping possession of the ball for impressive durations and scoring an equalising goal. The French eventually won 2-1 with a last-minute shot. In the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne India reached the semifinals. In February 2012 The London Economist devoted its famous obituary page to Sailen Manna who had starred in the London Olympics and captained the Indian team for a while thereafter. Calling him "a saint among footballers", the magazine wrote: "For a very short while, in his time, [India] walked in the sun as a world-class footballing nation".

It is important to know that Sailen Manna who belonged to the Mohan Bagan team was never paid a salary. Even to buy their club jersey team members had to spend their own money. Manna managed to make ends meet with a job in the Geological Survey of India. How times have changed. Football has made Christiano Ronaldo the world's richest star. Indian cricketers have so much money they have trouble counting it. Indian footballers are spared that trouble because they have nothing to count. In cricket politicians threw money to make money. In other sports, politicians simply played politics.

This great Indian tragedy was highlighted by the Supreme Court itself when the rivalry between two hockey associations came up for its consideration in 2013. Lamenting the "abysmally low" levels to which hockey had fallen, the Court said: "Private individuals are controlling the games in India. Indian sports persons are at the mercy of politicians and businessmen... These officials run the federations at the cost of the game".

Words of wisdom, but the monkey sees no wisdom, hears on wisdom, speaks no wisdom. And the monkey wins.