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Political discourse hits new low

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By Sunanda K Datta Ray

Whether or not NarendraModi returns as Prime Minister, the end of the LokSabha campaign will find him presiding over a sadly degenerated BharatiyaJanata Party. Lal Krishna Advani’s “Nation First, Party Next, Self-Last” blog was not only prescient but also poignant for being rooted in personal experience.

The past often appears rosy in retrospect, especially when the present is tinged with bitterness. Not everyone regarded Mr Advani in his heyday as the epitome of the “respect for diversity and freedom of expression” that he now says is “the essence of Indian democracy”. Morarji Desai’s Janata Party regime, when Mr Advani held the information and broadcasting portfolio, treated Indira Gandhi as an enemy rather than an adversary. If his exchanges as Leader of the Opposition with P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh indicated greater political decorum, it was mainly because of the Congress leadership.

 

Perhaps chivalry didn’t quite reach the heights of Saphadin, brother of the legendary Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, sending Richard the Lion Heart a fresh mount when his horse was wounded in battle in a 12th century crusade. But so great was trust and respect that Mr Narasimha Rao and Dr Singh discussed their revolutionary reforms with Mr Advani and obtained his blessings even before disclosing them to their Cabinet colleagues. It’s also impossible to imagine any BJP functionary today complimenting the Congress leadership on “taking more radical steps in one month than past governments in 43 years”, as Govindacharya, the general secretary, did in 1991.

Such cooperation has become unthinkable. The deterioration disfigures all parties but most of all the BJP, which has transformed itself into what Shatrughan Sinha calls “a one-man show and two-man army”. No saffron brigade politician would have the aplomb with which Rahul Gandhi brought the house down by declaring “I love NarendraModi” at last Friday’s packed interactive session in Pune. When some students chanted “Modi! Modi!”, a smiling Congress president responded: “It’s fine, no problem.” That mature insouciance was of a piece with the jauntiness with which Mr Gandhi once crossed over to the LokSabha treasury benches after thundering against the Prime Minister for nearly an hour and hugged the startled Mr Modi. “You can abuse me, you can call me Pappu, but I don’t have a speck of hatred against you. I will take this hatred out of you and turn it into love” — was his disarming explanation. Old hands may have recalled Jawaharlal Nehru’s friendly relations with opponents like Hiren Mukherjee of the CPI or the Swatantra Party’s MinooMasani.

Some might call it playacting. But playacting demands a measure of cordiality and a certain civilised level of behaviour. It indicates that the actor can set aside his primary concerns for the time being and expend thought and action on conveying goodwill. That was absent when Mr Modi twisted a student’s question in an attempt to ridicule Mr Gandhi and ended up by cruelly jeering at dyslexic patients. It didn’t go down well. “Mocking differently-abled people marks a new low in our political discourse” — was one tweeted criticism. There was no trace of humour either in the Prime Minister’s clumsy attempt to hammer out the acronym “sharab” from the names of three Opposition parties, Samajwadi Party, RashtriyaLok Dal and BahujanSamaj. A whole anthology can be compiled of similar graceless remarks by other BJP stalwarts that reflect poorly only on the speakers.

If Congress politicians seem on the whole to indulge less in such cheap cracks, it may be because for historical reasons many of them — at least at the top — tend to speak in English. Despite the social transformation of recent years, language is still largely a function of class and heredity. Listening carefully to the political discourse, it’s clear that politicians who use one of the Indian languages are generally more given to vituperative outbursts than their English-speaking colleagues. Language both shapes and reflects thinking. Many words and phrases that pass muster in Bengali or Hindi are impolite in English, which is burdened with the norms and values of England’s ruling elite. As Rajiv Gandhi once lamented, it was difficult explaining to GianiZail Singh in Hindi that he couldn’t sack the Prime Minister and Cabinet just because they were said to hold office at the “pleasure” of the President. Apart from the underlying the discipline of an English-speaking culture, the subtleties and nuances of the language impose their own restraints.

A related and perhaps more relevant factor is the SanghParivar’s ascendancy. Many mainline BJP politicians would probably shrink from the antics associated with organisations like the Bajrang Dal, Ram Sene, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and various JagranManches. It is also possible that the party entrusts its dirty work to roughs and toughs for whom religion means gharwapsi, lynching Muslims, attacking bars and discos, desecrating churches and pretending to elevate cattle above humans. The social milieu from which many vigilantes are drawn and their innocence of legislative or administrative responsibility also explain a licence that reeks of the streets rather than any office or debating chamber. It means nothing to them that scholastic independence is confined in the straitjacket of bigotry; they probably believe fervently in the absurd fantasies derived from myths and legends that make India the laughing stock of the world.

Clearly, Advani finds this vulgarisation caused by the overlapping of party and SanghParivar painful only because he feels victimised. But the vulgarisation is undeniable when adversaries are enemies and those who disagree are demonised as “anti-national”. The shift in tone evident in the poisoned rhetoric of senior leaders and their tasteless jokes at the expense of opponents — which is one of the most destructive developments of recent times. It doesn’t augur well for public life in the years to come.


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Opinion

What do a Marxist and a maharaja have in common?

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By Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Had they not died at 81 and 55 respectively, two Indians would have turned 100 this year. And their centenaries would have been celebrated with enthusiasm — but by very different sets of people. As indeed, they are being organized, now, in their memories. No two persons could have been more different from each other than the bare-headed, bush-shirted Marxist, Indrajit Gupta, and the be-turbaned, bejewelled maharaja, JayachamarajendraWodeyar of Mysore. They were as contrastive as a sickle and a sapphire or a hammer and a diamond-encrusted walking stick.

And we can be certain that they hardly knew each other. They are, in fact, unlikely to have ever met. They could have done so, ironically enough, in England.

 

Indrajitbabu completed his Tripos at King’s College, Cambridge under the spell of the Marxist powerhouse, Rajani Palme Dutt, just as the young maharaja-to-be arrived in Britain to meet and get to know artists and writers. But they missed each other by a few months. Their paths were not meant to intersect in India. Indrajitbabu was no habitué of concerts of classical music over which the maharaja presided with natural flair. Correspondingly, the maharaja was never a member of the Lok Sabha to which the communist leader was elected 11 times and, as the seniormost member of parliament, was its pro tem Speaker, time and again. If they did ever actually meet, by chance, anywhere at all, we can take it that they exchanged nothing more than formal pleasantries, lapsing thereafter into silence.

And yet, history, culture and politics link the two exact centenarians, uncannily, through three distinct pathways.

First, through Moscow. For Indrajitbabu, the capital of the Soviet Union was the secular equivalent of a Mecca. The influence of Marxism which started in London, through Palme Dutt, streamed into the inspiration that the Communist Party of India, founded in 1920, had received since the time of the Second World Congress of the Communist Third International held that very year. For Jayachamarajendra too, Moscow was a pole star. And that came about through an altogether different cosmology: Western classical music. The core of that inspiration was Moscow-born and then London-based composer, Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951). Medtner became, for the young royal, a soul-drenching inspiration, leading him to finance the recording of a large number of Medtner’s compositions and then, not stopping there, to go on to found a Medtner Society in London, in 1949. Medtner’s Third Piano Concerto, Google tells us, is dedicated to Jayachamarajendra.

Second, Quit India. For very different reasons and from very distinct backdrops, both ‘CPI’s — the Communist Party of India and the Chamber of Princes of India opposed the Gandhi-led Congress movement of 1942. Indrajitbabu, as a loyal and policy-bound member of the Communist Party, stood with his party which opposed Quit India as it was directed against Britain which, in alliance with the Soviet Union, was fighting Hitler. Jayachamarajendra, crowned Maharaja in 1940, as a loyal and protocol-bound ‘21-gun salute Prince’, opposed the same movement in his state, emphatically, with other princes, in total solidarity with the British raj in the war effort. The two CPIs found themselves, in 1942, in the same trench, albeit in different parts of it.

Third, in the wake of India’s Independence, both Indrajitbabu and Jayachamarajendra, for very different reasons, got ‘stamped out’ together. This was not about them as individuals but about the institutions to which they belonged. The government of independent India, but more specifically, the deputy prime minister and home minister, SardarVallabhbhai Patel, banned the Communist Party of India in the rage of indignation after the party’s call, in its Second Congress led by B.T. Ranadive, for an armed struggle. And the princes were, of course, famously and deftly, made functus officio by him, in the calm of self-confidence, through the integration of their territories into the Indian Union. To adapt ‘Jack and Jill’, sickle, hammer, sceptre and crown, all four, came tumbling down and were compliant made with the new democratic State.

Communists are ideologically rooted, shaped and committed. But they are not robots. Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, were ideological kin, not identical twins. Josef Stalin can be left to describe himself. As were, in India, M.N. Roy and S.A. Dange, B.T. Ranadive and P. Sundarayya, E.M.S.

Namboodiripad and JyotiBasu, A.K. Gopalan and Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Lakshmi Sahgal and ArunaAsaf Ali. But who could fail to be struck by their individual personalities? All of them wrote on the same page but using type-fonts that were their very own.

Born on March 18, Indrajit Gupta (1919-2001) was ‘Sunny’ to his parents, ‘Comrade’ to his party, ‘Sir’ to deferential younger MPs across party divides and to admiring officials who worked for him when he was briefly but memorably India’s home minister. Choosing his responses to match the context, he was always himself. Brusque, even gruff with the facile, fatuous or facetious even from among his own circle, he was gentle and considerate towards all, including political adversaries. He could question his party line without flouting it. As India’s first and so far only communist home minister he opposed a move by the then governor of Uttar Pradesh to terminate the state’s BharatiyaJanata Party-led government, for the step was constitutionally open to question. And he told Opposition MPs criticizing him: “If I were in your place, I would have done the same.” In our times when unnamed donors can contribute to uncountable election expenses, Indrajit Gupta will be remembered for the key recommendation of a committee on election reforms that he chaired: “The names of donors should be invariably declared.” His sense of justice came from communism, his sense of fairness came from himself.

Except in 45 out of the world’s 195 countries, royals are an extinct or rapidly extinguishing order. They are a living archive, a breathing monument, half sepia, half colour, uncomfortable with the past, uneasy about the future. And their present? It is difficult. If a fool, a prince, be he an incumbent or ‘ex’, occasions no surprise. If a debauch, no shock. But should she or he have, as indeed so many royals have, like all humans, their own uniqueness, a spark of talent or the gift of a skill, a personality of their own, they cause some disbelief and get to be dismissed as the exception that only… and so on.

Born almost exactly a hundred years ago, on July 18, JayachamarajendraWodeyar (1919-1974), the 25th and last Maharaja of Mysore, was exceptional. His large and strong frame looked like granite sculpture. ‘Majestic’ as an adjective never had a more natural subject than this monumental king with a broader than usual forehead, a brocade turban completing the larger-than-life effect. He had exceptional attributes going for his mind, of which sound political sense ranked high. Having been loyal to the British raj, his signing of Mysore’s Instrument of Accession to independent India, was swift. Moving from being Maharaja to becoming Rajpramukh and then governor of the merged and reorganized Mysore state, Jayachamarajendra was also governor of the neighbouring non-royal state of Madras. But if this prince is remembered today it is for something that was his own personal achievement, his own individual attainment: his vaggeyakara’s passion for composing tunes and lyrics. Jayachamarajendra composed a significant number of songs in both the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions. But it is the fate of gifted princes to have their gifts seen as borrowings. The extraordinary novelist, R.K. Narayan, has this to say of Jayachamarajendra: “The so-called compositions of the Mysore Maharaja were actually composed by Vasudevachar. The Maharaja would call Vasudevachar and say I want these phrases from the Devi Ashtottram and the composer would do his bidding”.

Unconditional admirer as I am of Narayan as a writer and human being, I have to say that his assessment of the composer-King is certainly entertaining but unfair.

What do the synchronizing centenaries of an outstanding Indian Marxist and an exceptional Indian maharaja tell us today? This, that the individuality of its people, their contrasting affiliations, their passions are the soul of our republic, not monochromatic sameness trying to pass muster as unity. And that two seemingly unconnected Indians connect us today to that truth.

(The telegraph, kolkata)

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Opinion

Need to rework tactics on Pak, J&K

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By K C Singh

Before heading to Washington to meet US President Donald Trump on July 22, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan opened up his country’s airspace to international flights, after months of closure, and rearrested Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. President Trump promptly tweeted his happiness over the latter as that group has American blood on its hands, having undertaken the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai over a decade ago. Pakistan had earlier linked its airspace reopening to India removing its Air Force fighters from forward deployment. New Delhi had rejected that demand. Pakistan’s volte face may have been prompted by a desire to show the US its reasonableness in dealing with India. The same may be behind Pakistan’s accommodative approach to the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor as it dropped from its delegation controversial pro-Khalistan leader Gopal Singh Chawla. Indian sensitivity on this issue was manifest when an expatriate organisation, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), pushing the Referendum 2020 over Khalistan, was banned.

If all this heralded a thawing of India-Pakistan relations, an old issue resurfaced to negate it. On July 18, Pakistan had its knuckles rapped by the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Indian case filed over denial of consular access to KulbhushanJadhav, a former Indian naval officer, who was detained, tried and sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court for alleged espionage and terrorist activities. Rejecting the Pakistani arguments about lack of jurisdiction, the court held Pakistan in breach of its commitments under the Vienna Consular Convention of 1963. While Pakistan claimed victory as the court did not ask for the release and repatriation of Jadhav, the court sought a review of the judgment, immediate consular access for India and Jadhav being informed of his rights accordingly.

 

Pakistan agreed to grant the access, but many other issues linger. First, will Indian high commission officials be in physical proximity of the detainee and relatively free to converse without close monitoring? It is unlikely that the Pakistan Army will allow this, and may in fact repeat the theatre enacted when Jadhav’s mother and wife sat across a glass partition and conversed over the intercom and under intrusive oversight of security officials. Second, Pakistan has agreed to review the judgment as per their own prescribed procedures, which may entail its submission to the Chie of Army Staff or the President. Pakistan is unlikely to concede that due to the serious procedural flaw of denying the accused access to his country’s diplomatic mission and thus provision of proper legal assistance, the entire trial was vitiated. The military court had apparently relied on a “confession” obtained by coercive means and dubious circumstantial evidence.

Pakistan’s next steps in the Jadhav affair would thus condition the course of India-Pakistan relations. On the other hand, Pakistan will also expect that India should respond to positive steps taken by it, instead of sticking to the standard Indian line that Pakistani action against jihadi groups is tactical and reversible. Imran Khan’s US visit assumes importance in this regard as Pakistan would attempt to rebalance relations with Washington, which have during the Trump presidency slipped into open distrust. India has counted on this dissonance to pillory and pressure Pakistan. The White House statement on the eve of visit reads that the bilateral meeting is to “discuss a range of issues, including counter-terrorism, defence, energy, trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership”. Clearly, the Afghan endgame, in which Pakistan has now been co-opted by China, Russia and the US to help, has altered US perceptions on Pakistan considerably. India on the other hand has been left on the sidelines of the Afghan game as President Trump wants to withdraw US troops after a face-saving peace pact with the American presidential election approaching in 2020. Meanwhile, India and the US are wrestling with trade issues that have episodically riled President Trump enough to fire angry tweets.

Thus, a bull-headed Pakistani policy may be losing its value as the world has other distractions and likely diminishing empathy for Indian complaints over Pakistani duplicity and sponsorship of terror. The seizure by Iran of a British oil tanker, in retaliation for an Iranian oil tanker carrying oil to Syria being seized by the British near Gibraltar, ups the ante in the Gulf. Britain has already warned its tankers from transiting the Straits of Hormuz. Operation Sentinel to create a multi-national escort force is still not off and running. Iran has dropped hints it may renegotiate the nuclear deal, but it would not discuss any rollback of its influence or even presence in West Asia. On July 24, British prime minister Theresa May will resign, and the process begin to install her successor – most likely to be Boris Johnson. On the same day Robert Mueller, the former FBI head who investigated the Russian collusion charges against the Trump electoral machine, will depose before the US Congress. Mr Mueller has said he would stick to explaining his report and not launch a witch-hunt against the incumbent US President, but it would distract an already election-oriented Mr Trump. Thus, a visible bonhomie between Mr Trump and Mr Khan can result in a more confident Pakistan willing to test the post-Balakot retaliatory doctrine of India.

Therefore, India would have to tailor its Pakistan policy accordingly. During Track II interactions with Pakistanis, some uncertainty is visible over the new Indian doctrine of pre-emptive or retaliatory military action if India is attacked by Pakistan-based terror groups known to be sponsored by the Pakistani military. But Pakistan is emerging from its isolation and economic mess. If the US opens the military assistance tap and restarts financial aid under the garb of compensation for counter-terrorism operations, then Pakistan may draw the wrong conclusion. It will continue to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan by helping instal a Taliban dispensation in Kabul and await Pakistan getting off the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force, which its ally China now chairs. After that, it will stoke as 2020 approaches both the “Khalistan” issue and the ire in the Kashmir Valley. A purely security-oriented approach to the Jammu and Kashmir problem will backfire eventually, much as normality may appear possible today as Pakistan has shut off the infiltration. The lesson for India is that the geo-strategic environment is not static. Nor can be one’s tactics to deal with it.

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Opinion

Waking up

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By Nirvaan Nadeem

We all have dreams. Some of us let them slip away, others hold fast to them. My dream is to one day – after I’ve done all that I came to do in this world – live peacefully far away in the mountains, with a small family and lots of animals. To grow my own food, go on long walks and get water from the nearby stream. Communicate with the birds, talk with the sheep and laugh with the dogs. To explore myself, and the few people close to me, and love fully.

Life has a strange way of preventing you from achieving your inner most, deepest sought dreams and desires. You can fight it all you want, but all eventually fall into the cycle, the broken system that we all worship. We start off by working so we can pay for basic amenities. The scope of “basic amenities” then widens, and we need to work some more. In order to work some more we develop various personas. We cannot trust everyone, we cannot like everyone. We start viewing others as a means to an end, as “products” determined according to status, wealth and looks, not human beings. Gradually we forget ourselves and who we truly were once – perhaps as children.

 

It may have started as an interesting game, as a life experience or experiment, but as the years pass by our personas take over, and we actually start believing them. After all, somewhere, in the back of their minds, children know they are just playing a game, that it’s all make-believe. For us adults however, there’s no one to tell us otherwise. We believe in the absurdity of money, something which does not have any tangible existence. If not money we believe in “status”, i.e. reaching higher and higher positions of power, authority and influence. We believe in devoting our lives to buying Guccis and Versaces – mere utility products with the name of someone much more intelligent than us. We work all year so we can buy a new car which will get us to the same place in the same time, the latest mattress on which we sleep the same way, the sofa on which we’ll sit the same way, the TV on which we’ll watch the same programs, or the home which will house (hopefully) the same family.

Rather than cure the problem, we target the resultant symptoms. Every third person I come across is on anti-depressants. Every second person has sleeping problems. The rest go a week-long yoga class or “spiritual talk”, recharged for churning out the same monotonous existence for the rest of the year. Decade after decade, we go about the same meaningless existence, always trying to earn more money, get better jobs, relationships or luxuries. If we were immortal it would have all made sense. Sadly, we are not, and try as hard as we might, in the end we all see this make-believe to be just what it is: that is, make-believe.

We have the unfortunate tendency to sum up the mysterious and ineffable thing that is life into neat little boxes. Any one deviating from the norm is labeled as being mentally unstable. A friend of mine once believed in spirituality and disregarded money, and was labeled as “bipolar” by doctors. As soon as he started making money, he was re-diagnosed as “quite normal”! Another friend used to be motivated and would have done anything to make it big. She moved to the states, grew bored with the routine and decided to find some other meaning in life. She is now diagnosed as “clinically depressed”. Apparently, here, the amount of money you make is inversely proportional to the level of your “sanity”. Think outside the box but make money? You’re a genius! Think outside the box but broke? Straight to the mental asylum!
We look at the “madmen” on the streets, the “primitives” in the forests as flawed, cut off from real life. Could it be in fact the other way round? What could be crazier than spending your entire existence running after cars and TV’s, and then dying, without a shred of knowledge of the purpose of it all in the first place? Could it be the madmen and primitives are the ones on the real “true” path?

Many of the patients in mental asylums have very different views on life. For one, they are not competitive, malicious or manipulative. The reasons for their actions often are at times much more profound than the mundane ones for ours. They believe in destiny, fate, the miraculous, higher powers, magic. I often find myself thinking that if what we make of life is only dependent on our perceptions, it would indeed be much more fulfilling to live a “mad” person’s life. Many are harmless, and are only labeled as such and locked up because they threaten the very fabric of modern-day society. We feel threatened by them, fundamentally because the very things we hold on to for our dear lives, these they shun and laugh at. “Madmen” can see through our disguises, our premises, our personas and our elaborate make-believe. And yet modern society is committed to “diagnosing” and “fixing” anyone who thinks in a radically different way.

As for myself, I can only hope one day to live a free life. To one day be able to experience the true magic, beauty and wonder of life that I know is there, just drowned out in the everyday noise of my thoughts. To one day roam freely the open forests, swim with countless fish and ducks and turtles, fly amongst the soaring eagles and climb the tallest mountains. To love not only each fiber of your being but each blade of grass, each petal of a flower and bark of a tree.To smell the fresh breeze and feel the delicate dewdrops dropping on your skin. That indeed, must be the true dream of every man and woman. If only we would wake up.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

(Oscar Wilde)

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