Monday, February 25, 2013

Hanging, bribing, raping -- and bombing: A clumsy way to run a country

The terrorist, essentially, is a coward. He hides and strikes. He kills the innocent. Cowards never win. So tragedies of the kind that hit Hyderabad gain nothing, prove nothing. They simply become part of the larger tragedy of India. This tragedy stems from the dirty tricks of Indian politicians. Just look at the scene they had contrived. You can't hang a man without politics. You can't buy helicopters without politics. You can't rape without politics.

The Congress stands accused on all these issues, not because other parties are any better, but because it is the ruling party today. And it is notorious for acting on wrong advice -- like opening the doors of Babri Masjid which had been locked by Sardar Patel, like passing the retrograde Muslim Women's Bill to thwart the Supreme Court's wise decision in favour of alimony for Shah Bano. One day it tries to please Muslims, the next day it tries to please Hindus -- and ends up displeasing all.

The legal justification for Afzal Guru's execution might indeed be strong. Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve said Guru had had sufficient time to present his defence and there was no ground for charges of human rights violation. But the legality of the matter was less important than the politics. Why was the 2005 sentence carried out only in 2013? Salve himself said "it is hard to fathom what larger interests slowed the process".

It was party interests that slowed the process. The fear that hanging Guru would cost Muslim votes restrained the Congress. The fear that not hanging him would cost more Hindu votes overtook the earlier fear as the general elections loomed. What a clumsy way to run a country? The Congress will now lose Muslim votes and not win Hindu votes; the BJP has got a grip on Hindutva emotions thanks to Narendra Modi's activism and Sushil Kumar Shinde's foolishness.

The politics of defence corruption is curiouser because the Original Mr. Clean is the Defence Minister. Not even the VHP will say that A.K.Antony gains a paisa from any deal. But what is the use of a clean minister if he cannot stop dirty things happening under his nose? He publicly admitted his helplessness. That amounted to admitting that the defence establishment was wired for corruption and the Minister was an irrelevant entity.

Who did such an expert job of internal wiring? Can even a genius do it without help from the top? Every Indian believes that Ottavio Quattrochi was guilty in the Bofors deal. By most yardsticks he was a genius, but could he have got the entire Government of India dancing to his tune if he were operating all by himself?

There are disturbing similarities between the Bofors case and the latest helicopter case. Insiders in Delhi were whispering about the helicopter kickbacks for a year, but the Government pretended innocence. It finally sprang to action only when the scandal was exposed abroad, just as in the Bofors case. Worse, the CBI that deliberately mismanaged the Bofors inquiry to help Quattrochi has been put in charge of the helicopter inquiry as well. Its early moves have been hamhanded. This will only strengthen public suspicion of possible subversion from the top.

Perhaps incidents of gangrape -- which seem to be increasing after the Delhi atrocity -- are reflective of the country being continuously ravaged. In many cases, the police are too indifferent to register complaints. In a few instances, policemen themselves turned rapists. Many senior politicians set themselves up as examples. For every UP politician convicted of rape, there are many who dodge charges and cling on to their jobs shamelessly. A senior Congress leader in Kerala accused a rape victim of being loose in character and called for laws to protect men as well as women. He still remains a senior Congress leader.

In a country run by rowdies and amoral opportunists of this kind, cowards become just a part of the crowd. This is an India of philanderers and profiteers, of bigots and terrorists.They must go. They must be fought and defeated for India to be saved.

Monday, February 18, 2013

An efficient Prime Minister is not same as a wise Prime Minister

Tragedies abound in our country, from a Prime Minister who sees and hears and speaks no evil to mind-numbing rapes every day everywhere. The saddest of all tragedies is that we have no prime ministerial candidate to talk about other than Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Even Pakistan has a wider field to pick from, though they may all be wearing khakhi.

Asking us to choose between Modi and Rahul is cruel. It would be kinder to ask whether we want to be run over by a Mercedes or a goods carrier. At least death would be instant that way. Even so, most of us would prefer to be crushed by a Mercedes limousine; we are all class conscious and a goods vehicle would be so undignified. Besides, we are all subject to the herd mentality and we can already see where the herd is gathering.

The Western world had put a taboo on Narendra Modi. Britain was the first to lift it with its High Commissioner making a pilgrimage to Ahmedabad just before the Gujarat elections. Now the European Union has invited Modi. The Russians will perhaps follow. The Chinese have been bhai-bhai with Modi all along. He has visited China three or four times.

As always, the Americans stand apart. They have not lifted the visa ban they imposed on Modi in 2005 in protest against the 2002 riots. But they have done better than that. In late 2011, before the Europeans discovered Modi, the Congressional Research Service, an independent wing of the US Congress, named Gujarat as "perhaps India's best example of effective governance" where "controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi has streamlined economic processes, removing red tape and curtailing corruption".

These very virtues made Modi the darling of India's corporate leaders. If India were to be run for corporate growth alone, Narendra Modi would be the ideal prime minister. Unfortunately, India is too vast, varied, complex and challenging to be run for the interests of only Indian businessmen, European investors and farsighted Chinese strategists. It needs to be run, with sensitivity and empathy, for also the socially deprived, the economically neglected, the gender-suppressed. And, yes, for the Muslims, too, who are exploited by their own leaders as well as by communally inclined politicians.

Ultimately, India needs wise prime ministers, not just efficient ones. It is best led by a Jawaharlal Nehru who would be big enough to take rivals in his cabinet, and by a Vajpayee who would be judicious enough to remind rulers of their Rajdharma. Those who diminish themselves with dogmatism diminish the country.

It is no coincidence that the same US Congressional Research report that praised Modi's business virtues was sceptical about the Congress's "heir-apparent [who] remains dogged by questions about his abilities to lead the party, given a mixed record as an election strategist, uneasy style in public appearances and reputation for gaffes".

Come to think of it, what do we know of Rahul Gandhi? Do we have any idea of his assessment of the changing strategic scene in East Asia, of the khap and caste culture that vitiates rural life in India, of the growing water crisis in the world? Of course he will have advisers to brief him on all such issues. Like he had advisers to brief him about Kalavati in Vidarbha. That poor woman's miseries increased after he made her a celebrity in Parliament.

The citizens of India have no clue about Rahul Gandhi's ideas if he has any, about his vision if he has any. Rahul Gandhi has no clue about India's problems or their possible solutions. But he has a surname. On the strength of that surname, we are told, we must welcome him as the prime minister of this great country. All the parties are doing the same. We are asked to elect sons, daughters, hangers-on and sundry criminals as rulers of the land. They don't even listen to Khrushchev, the wise communist, who said: "When you are skinning your customers, you should leave some skin on to grow again so that you can skin them again".

Monday, February 11, 2013

Artistes can exile themselves, but battles must be fought at home

Can a person run away from his country? Kamal Haasan was desperate, frustrated and angry when he said he would. He cited two precedents, Subhas Chandra Bose and M.F.Husain. Both cases actually proved the opposite -- that you can take yourself out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of you.

Subhas Bose left India to be with India and fight for India. In the rule book of the British, he became a war criminal and so, when Britain won the war, he just could not return to India. There is credible evidence that he did not die in an aircrash as publicised, but escaped to Russian territory and got back to India where he lived for many years as a sanyasi.

Husain did not leave, he was hounded out. When fanatics put his life in danger, his country's Government did not protect him as Salman Rushdie was protected by his adopted country. Husain accepted the refuge offered to him abroad in order to continue doing the only thing that mattered to him. He said wherever he lived, he would want to be known as an "Indian painter".

Many great men of history were hounded out of their country by fundamentalist forces. Albert Einstein wanted a teacher's post in Germany, his homeland, but was refused because he was a Jew. That was how Germany's loss became America's gain. Sigmund Freud, another Jew, had to flee his country when the Nazis walked into Austria. Karl Marx, too, was of Jewish origin, but he was expelled from Germany, France and Belgium for something more dangerous -- new economic theories.

Charlie Chaplin lived in the US for 40 years, but kept his British citizenship. When Mad Macarthy's anti-communist crusade reached its mad climax, Chaplin was one of numerous artistes and intellectuals who were accused of "communist leanings". Chaplin settled in Switzerland and said, "I would not go back to the US even if Jesus Christ was the President".

Strangely similar to M.F.Husain's case was Saadat Hasan Manto's. One of the greatest writers of India, he was a humanist without a single communal fibre in his being. Some of his partition stories became world classics. He was at his best when he made savage satire of the two-nation theory. He also became a major figure in the film industry. But a few months after independence, he suddenly left his beloved Bombay for Pakistan.

This was contrary to what most Muslim stalwarts of the film industry were doing. For one Noorjehan who left, dozens of K. Asifs and Mehboob Khans, Naushads and Dilip Kumars stayed back and helped develop Bombay into the mighty Bollywood while Lahore as a film capital collapsed. So why did Manto, of all people, become an exception? Years passed before it became known that post-partition hate mail had poured into Filmistan, where Manto was employed, accusing him of infiltrating Muslims into the company. The hatemongers warned that if Muslim employees were not dismissed, the studio would be burned down.

Manto, the sensitive poet, was hurt and withdrew into himself, finding solace in the bottle. His wife Safia told a biographer in 1968: "He had no intention of leaving, but Filmistan handed him a notice of termination and that, believe me, broke his heart". Migration did not heal his heart. He kept writing, but nothing that rose to greatness. He succumbed completely to the bottle and died before he was 43.

People like Einstein can work as long as a laboratory is available. Marx produced his seminal works sitting in the British Library. But artistes and film-makers cannot function in isolation. They need opportunities to interact with their audiences. Cut off from their audiences, they feel cut off from their inspiration. Kamal Haasan cannot find in Los Angeles or London the audience connectivity he gets naturally in Coimbatore or Bangalore. His art is where his public is. Like all creative people, he will have his battles to fight. But he will have to fight them on the home front. We cannot change our country any more than we can change our mother.

Monday, February 4, 2013

When the State abets communalism, Independence itself is in danger

The soul of modern India is its liberal democracy. Are we in danger of losing it? Communal posturings are getting ever more blatant. Caste leaders are defying the law openly. Intolerance is flaunted as a badge of honour. The Government is a bystander, its inaction amounting to abetment.

We won't be alone if we turn democracy into a mockery. Sukarno, the hero of Indonesia's freedom struggle, became a demagogue when he got power and proclaimed what he called "guided democracy" -- guided by himself. His successor Suharto installed a military dictatorship but called it "panchasila democracy". In Malaysia it was "controlled democracy". In Pakistan Zulfikar Bhutto announced "Islamic democracy", whatever that meant.

India was a proud exception with a constitution drawn up by some of the greatest minds of the 20th century. But in his reply to the debate in the Constituent Assembly in November 1949, B. R. Ambedkar was full of forebodings. He said a good constitution was no good in the hands of bad people. He warned specifically that if "political parties placed creed above country, our independence would be put in jeopardy and probably be lost for ever".

Six short decades later, those words ring more ominous than ever. All our parties put their creeds and their leaders' private agendas above the country. What was the point of Mayawati asking for Ashish Nandy's arrest? Firstly, Nandy did not denigrate Dalits. A contextual reading of his remarks convinced Dalit messiah Kancha Ilaiya that Nandy's point was good though his language was bad. In her long years of absolutism in UP, Mayawati did not even try to stop atrocities against Dalit women, often by her own party men. She is a profiteer in the name of Dalits. By contrast, Nandy's record is honest.

Worse than caste manipulations are the new twists in religious fanaticism. There are fundamentalists/terrorists among not only Muslims but also Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others. The state encourages them all by shutting its eyes to their depredations. It allowed the Shiv Sena to progress from one fascist excess to another. The Bajrang Dal runs amok in the Mangalore area even today, but the Karnataka Government has no time to rein them in.

Fringe groups like this Sena and that Dal do not represent the great tradition of Sanatana Dharma. Nor do the fire-breathing Islamists represent the majority of Muslims in India. But they gain the most attention because they wear their fanaticism on their sleeves. The Owaisis of Hyderabad have gained immensely by waving their Islamism, yet they switch to threatening mode when a new land allotment or some other favour is not immediately granted. A few partisans raise slogans and West Bengal prohibits Salman Rushdie from visiting Kolkata. Has an impression grown in the communal camp that threatening violence is the easy way to achieve undue advantages in India?

Kamala Haasan is merely the newest victim. His record is one of balance and humanism. He is no more anti-minority than Nandy is anti-Dalit. But, as always, someone somewhere has an agenda and Kamala Haasan becomes a means to push that agenda.

Thuppaki, another recently released Tamil film, was also attacked by Muslim fringe groups on flimsy religious grounds. But the worst of all cases is that of the Tamil writer, Manushyaputhiran. He is being threatened by a Muslim group for condemning the beheading of a Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia. What makes a bunch of Tamil Muslims don battle dress on behalf of Saudi Arabia?

There could be a great deal in that question. Saudi Arabia is known to be financing a worldwide movement to radicalise Muslims along the lines of Wahabism, an ultraconservative ideology committed to converting the world to its line of thinking. Strong warnings against the threat posed by Saudi Arabia's covert and violence-prone evangelism have been aired in the United States, the Saudi establishment's primary support base. But Washington is loathe to take action. The way things are going, we may not have too much time to decide which will work -- Ambedkar's Constitution or his warnings about our losing our independence.