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When the Devil quotes the Scriptures

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By Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud

Something is cooking in the RSS. Certainly, it is fishy (apologies to fish). Otherwise, why this turnabout? Why this change of heart? Out of nowhere.Even the Hindutva spokespeople have become civilized suddenly, giving up their abrasive, aggressive, intolerant rant as has been evident in the English language TV news channels. They are using more reasonable language, have toned down voices, and are using friendly terms like “Bhai” for their opponents. Wow! This is too good to be true! Which means exactly that: that it is not true or genuine. The sudden change of views of RSS on India’s sizable Muslims, Reservation andAmbedkar is revolutionary, to say the least. Its views on women and homosexuality continue to be regressive. The RSS will stop being RSS, a Hindu fundamentalist organization, if the statements made by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat during the three-day conclave in Delhi are genuine and reflect the considered views of the top bosses of the RSS. But it would be foolish to go by mere words and even more foolish if we are to believe that a hardcore fundamentalist organisation that has preached the superiority of Hinduism and Hindus, that considered everything Muslim as evil incarnate, that has preached and practiced superiority of Brahmins, that has questioned or distorted every historical fact regarding the Muslim rule in India, has had its moment of Nirvana/Enlightenment. Even the most liberal of RSS followers (if there are any) wouldn’t have even in her wildest dreams thought that such a day would  come when an RSS chief would sing paeans to diversity, secularism and the principle of live and let live.

One can try and understand why this turnabout has been undertaken. Clearly, the motivation is political and the context is the 2019 general elections. Is this move to help BJP, which everyone knows to be the political wing of RSS, to win support of the minorities and the oppressed castes so that the party gets another five-year term? Should the BJP win, all the earlier statements of RSS can be retracted as ‘election jumlas’ and then implement its fundamentalist agenda with a vengeance. As PrakashAmbedkar believes, aHindutva-based Constitution has been readied and will be adopted if BJP gets a clear majority in the LokSabha. It will be a matter of time before a majority in RajyaSabha can be achieved and hey presto, the Constitution that brought into being the democratic, socialist, secular Republic of India, will be a thing of the past. In its place will be a fascist dictatorship which will have categories of citizens whose rights will be differ with religion, gender, region, caste and so on.

 

Or, can this ‘reasonable face’ of RSS be an attempt to pull the rug from under Modi’s feet, clip his wings as he’s seen as a threat to RSS’ dominance? Is RSS feeling threatened by Modi since he has grown so powerful? Have the dissidents within BJP convinced the RSS that Modi could likely cut his umbilical cordwith RSS if he wins a second term? Would he then, along with his partner Amit Shah, become a law unto himself, not accountable to RSS?  The scenario is not too difficult to imagine considering how Modi ruthlessly sidelined his guru and mentor L K Advani and finished him off politically. If Modi manages to emerge victorious, then even the power of RSS might not hold him down, fear his fellow-Hindutva travellers. Those pointing out the disaffection within the ranks of BJP, especially the senior leaders include not just Congress but ArunShourie, an insider of BJP,YashwantSinha, a top party leader and  ShatrughnaSinha, a second rung leader, to name a few. There have been whispers of unhappiness among senior ministers in the Modi cabinet who have been reduced to zero, powerless and voiceless by the centralized decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office.In a direct hit at Modi, Bhagwat decried the politics of ‘shamshanandkhabristan’, something that Modi had invoked in UP elections last year. The politics of shamshan-khabristan was practiced for power and not for public welfare, he said. Modi had used the expression during an election rally in February 2017, accusing the AkhileshYadav government using religion to divide people, basically to favour Muslims. He said “If you create a khabristan (graveyard) in a village, then a shamshan (cremation ground) should be created. If electricity is given uninterrupted in Ramzan, then it should be given in Diwali too. There should be no discrimination,” he said. Perhaps this is the first time that RSS has openly rebukedModi but without taking his name.Coming to Bhagwat’s concessions to Congress, praising its role in freedom struggle and in building the nation after independence, he seems to be ‘doing a Rahul’, giving Congress a verbal hug to disarm it, even if momentarily, and thus spread the impression of being a reasonable organisation, not hating its main opponent. He is willing to go the extra mile in praising Congress, who has been its bête noire, to convince the people that he and his organisation were much misunderstood and that they do appreciate Congress and its contribution to India, or Bharat. Or, is Bhagwat aiming at Modifrom Congress’ shoulder? Now, coming to the most important issue for the RSS and its sister ‘senas’ and ‘parishads’ of the SanghParivar, that of status of Muslims and their role in the country, Bhagwat has not minced words. His definition of Hindutva and ‘Hindu Rashtra’ means ‘unity of existence’ of those who live in India. “The day it is said that Muslims are excluded from such a conception, it would render Hindutva infructuous.” Of course, RSS includes Muslims in the Hindu Rashtra provided they live as Hindus, appreciate Hinduism, and admit their Hindu ancestry. Bhagwat admits very patronizingly that RSS talks of Muslims’ Hindu ancestry “not to ostracise you but to emphasise you are one of us.” Asked how he  would explain RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar describing India’s Muslims and Christians as ‘internal threats’ in 1966, Bhagwat said it was ‘contextual’. Admittedly contexts change but how is the context of 1966 different from that of 2018? If the context was 1947, for argument sake, one could explain it away but what happened in the 1960s that our fellow Indians were seen as threats by Golwalkar? In the very same book, Golwalkar gives the context for his antipathy towards Muslims.On page 178, he says “..Have those who remained here (after creation of Pakistan) changed […] Has their old hostility and murderous mood, which resulted in widespread riots, looting, arson, raping and all sorts of orgies on an unprecedented scale in 1946-47, come to a halt at least now? It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan. On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundredfold by the creation of Pakistan which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.” The context for RSS’ hatred towards Muslims has remained the same, despite efforts of Bhagwat to whitewash it.

Despite the hand of friendship extended by the RSS chief to the Muslims, it has been accompanied by a threat. And this shows RSS in its true colours, notwithstanding all the noises of tolerance, diversity, universal brotherhood that Bhagwat espoused in his three-day public relations show for Hindutva.Asked about building Ram Mandir in Ayodhya where once Babri Masjid stood, Bhagwat said it was for the government to decide on an ordinance or ‘any other route’, but he wished that a grand Ram temple be built at Ayodhya soon.Now comes the twist: “If it can be built through consensus, it will foster harmony and far fewer fingers of suspicion will be pointed at Indian Muslims in future,” he said. In other words, the Muslims should agree to the building of Ram Mandir or they will be suspect. Now this is called an iron fist in velvet glove.The apparent change of heart is false. The threat is real.

(The writer was Foreign Correspondent and Special Correspondent of Deccan Herald. The article appeared in:countercurrents.org)

 

 

 

 

 


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Opinion

India’s perilous obsession with Pakistan

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By Nissim Mannathukkaren

Come Indian elections, the bogey of Pakistan has overwhelmed the nationalist discourse in the shrillest manner, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers’ relentless branding of the Congress/Opposition as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. Further, the Prime Minister even made an unprecedented threat of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.
As a country born of the two-nation theory based on religion, and then having to suffer dismemberment and the consequent damage to the very same religious identity, it is obvious why Islamic Pakistan must have a hostile Other in the form of a ‘Hindu India’. But what is not obvious is why India, a (much larger) secular nation, must have a hostile antagonist in the form of Pakistan.
It is widely recognised that the fulcrum of the Pakistani state and establishment is an anti-India ideology and an obsession with India. But what has scarcely received notice is that India’s post-Independence nationalism has been equally driven by an obsession with Pakistan. Of course, this obsession acquires a pathological dimension under regimes, like the present one, which thrive on hyper-nationalism and a ‘Hindu India’ identity.
But, this hyper-nationalistic urge to ‘defeat’ Pakistan and to gloat over every victory, both real and claimed, is ultimately self-defeating, and comes with huge human and material costs. Much of these costs are hidden by jingoism masquerading as nationalism.
Words often used regarding the Pakistani state’s actions, even by critical Pakistani voices, are ‘delusional’ and ‘suicidal’, and rightly so. For, no level-headed state would seek to attain military parity with a country that is six and half times larger in population, and eight and a half times bigger economically. HussainHaqqani, the Pakistani diplomat and scholar, compared it to “Belgium rivalling France or Germany”. Pakistan’s vastly disproportionate spending on the military has been self-destructive for a poor nation.
In 1990, Pakistan was ahead of India by three places in the Human Development Index. In 2017, Pakistan was behind India by 20 ranks, a sad reflection of its ruinous policies.
More critically, the Pakistani state’s sponsorship of Islamist terror groups has been nothing less than catastrophic. What the world, including India, does not recognise is that Pakistan, ironically, is also one of the worst victims of Islamist terrorism. In the period 2000-2019, 22,577 civilians and 7,080 security personnel were killed in terrorism-related violence in Pakistan (the number of civilian/security personnel deaths from Islamist terrorism in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, was 926 in during 2000-2018).
The fact that Pakistan has suffered much more than India in their mutual obsession cannot hide the equally serious losses that India has undergone and is willing to undergo in its supposedly muscular pursuit of a ‘no dialogue’ policy with Pakistan.
Wars and military competition produce madness. Nothing exemplifies this more than India-Pakistan attempts to secure the Siachen Glacier, the inhospitable and highest battle terrain in the world. India alone lost nearly 800 soldiers (until 2016) to weather-related causes only. Besides, it spends around ?6 crore every day in Siachen. Operation Parakram (2001-02), in which India mobilised for war with Pakistan, saw 798 soldier deaths and a cost of $3 billion. This is without fighting a war. Add to this the human and economic costs of fighting four wars.
Granted, the proponents of India’s muscular nationalism who want only a military solution in Kashmir might close their eyes to the killings of some 50,000 Kashmiri civilians and the unending suffering of Kashmiris, but can they, as nationalists, ignore, the deaths of around 6,500 security personnel in Kashmir and the gargantuan and un-estimated costs of stationing nearly 5 lakh military/para-military/police personnel in Kashmir for 30 years?
Ten years ago, Stephen P. Cohen, the prominent American scholar of South Asia, called the India-Pakistan relationship “toxic” and notably termed both, and not just Pakistan, as suffering from a “minority” or “small power” complex in which one is feeling constantly “threatened” and “encircled”. Tellingly, he argues that it is the disastrous conflict with Pakistan that has been one of the main reasons why India has been confined to South Asia, and prevented from becoming a global power.
Here, one should ask the most pertinent question: why does India compete with Pakistan in every sphere, from military to sport, rather than with, say, China, which is comparable in size and population, and which in 1980 had the same GDP as India? (China’s GDP is almost five times that of India’s now.)
Of course, emulating China need not mean emulating its internal authoritarianism or its almost colonial, external economic expansionism. On the contrary, it is to learn from China’s early success in universalising health care and education, providing basic income, and advancing human development, which as AmartyaSen has argued, is the basis of its economic miracle. It is precisely here that India has failed, and is continuing to fail.
Therefore, despite India being one of the fastest growing major economies in the world since 1991 (yet, only ranked 147 in per capita income in 2017), its social indicators in many areas, including health, education, child and women welfare, are abysmal in comparison with China’s. Worryingly, in the focus on one-upmanship with Pakistan, India’s pace in social indicator improvement has been less than some poorer economies too. The phenomenal strides made by Bangladesh in the social sector are an example.
Here, a look at the military expenditures is revealing: while India spent $63.9 billion (2017) and Pakistan $9.6 billion (2018-19), Bangladesh spent only $3.45 billion (2018-19). Only a muscular and masculine nationalism can take pride in things such as becoming the fifth largest military spender in the world, or being the world’s second largest arms importer. The bitter truth hidden in these details is that India, ranked 130 in the HDI (and Pakistan, 150), simply cannot afford to spend scarce resources on nuclear arsenals, maintaining huge armies or developing space weapons. Besides, in an increasingly globalised world, military resolution between a nuclear India and Pakistan is almost impossible.
The more India, the largest democracy in the world, defines itself as the Other of Pakistan, a nation practically governed by the military, the more it will become its mirror. Any nation that thrives by constructing a mythical external enemy must also construct mythical internal enemies. That is why the number of people labelled ‘anti-national’ is increasing in India. India has to rise to take its place in the world. That place is not being a global superpower, but being the greatest and most diverse democracy in the world. That can only happen if it can get rid of its obsession with Pakistan.
(The Hindu)

 
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Opinion

Symbol of New (Hindu) India?

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By Sanjeev Ahluwalia

BJP president Amit Shah is technically correct to say that SadhviPragya Thakur, one of the accused in the September 2008 Malegaon (Maharashtra) bomb blast case, who is on bail, has a right, under our liberal electoral laws, to contest the elections. It hardly matters that she voluntarily claimed being part of the Hindutava forces which had pulverised the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 and that an FIR has been registered against her by the Madhya Pradesh police on the orders of the Election Commission.
A galaxy of BJP leaders headed by Lal Krishna Advani, who went on to become deputy prime minister, and Hindutava firebrands Version 1 from the 1990s era — SadhviRithambra, VinayKatiar, Hari Vishnu Dalmia, et al — were criminally indicted for conspiracy but let off by a CBI special court in 2001. The Allahabad high court upheld the order of acquittal in 2010. But curiously, the Supreme Court directed that the case be revived in April 2017, under the NarendraModi government.
To be honest, there was little reason, back then, not to indict both Kalyan Singh, the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Congress Prime Minister. Culpability for dereliction of duty runs deep and inefficiencies in the judicial system help gaming transgressors.
Our laws consequently acknowledge this judicial gap and do not bar a candidate from political office, even though serious criminal charges have been drawn up in court against the person and a trial is under way.
But that does not fully explain why the BJP chose her. After all, Bhopal is not just any other seat. It is the capital of Madhya Pradesh and she has been pitted against Digvijay Singh, a former chief minister of the state and a senior Congress leader.
More to the point, isn’t she out of sync with the BJP government’s soothing signature tune of “Sabkasaath, sabkavikas” (with everyone, for everyone)? Does this signal a major change in stance and hitherto is revisionist social policy likely to overshadow the imperative for economic growth?
Pragya Thakur has no qualms about evoking her mystical powers to “damn” (curse) her opponents, demonstrating a conflation between her private well-being and that of all Hindus — a distinction which is necessary in those holding public office. But ascetics and mystics live by the code of “bhakti” — a submersive ecosystem, in which the followers are one with the guru. This leaves no space for the rule of earthly, common law.
Bhakts believe the spiritual power of an ascetic’s curse causes irreparable harm. Such pervasive, blind faith begs the question — should India have lawmakers who exult in evoking their spiritual powrs to shield themselves from the law?
Given these rough edges, what compelled the Modi-Shah team to field SadhviPragya from Bhopal? Two motivations suggest themselves.
First, electoral strength breeds hubris. Nominating Pragya Thakur sends the message that a new, assertively Hindu India is on its way and those with different views should make way.
Hinduism is resilient because it absorbs and subsumes other beliefs. Think Tamil Nadu 70 years ago. Anti-Brahmanism, rationalism and primacy for Tamil culture and language — versus Hindi — drove the atheist Dravida movement to its peak. Today, with political power firmly with the Tamil middle castes, ritualistic Hinduism is resurgent in Tamil Nadu.
Hinduism facilitates Sanskritisation — a religious version of the Stockholm syndrome, where the marginalised empathise with and seek to emulate their oppressors, thereby perpetuating the status quo.
Even the Congress Party has succumbed. The symbols of ritualistic Hinduism — special prayers at temples and endorsements from Hindu religious leaders — are the norm. This is canny, since Muslims and Christians have nowhere else to go, at the national level — though the BahujanSamaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh; Trinamul Congress in West Bengal; TelanganaRashtraSamiti in Hyderabad, the Communists in Kerala and the AamAdmi Party in Delhi offer classically secular, regional alternatives.
An alternative driver behind Pragya Thakur’s nomination could be sheer desperation, in the absence of a NarendraModi wave, unlike 2014. After all, the party lost Madhya Pradesh along with two other cow belt states to the Congress only a few months ago during the state Assembly elections. Fielding the Sadhvi is sure to rake up Hindu resentment against the Congress for subscribing to a counter narrative of “Hindu terror” around the 2008 bomb blasts. The credibility of our police agencies has sunk so low that in the public’s perception, the “caged parrot” syndrome of ruling party capture, overrides the merits of any police action.
But multiple poll surveys, thus far, do not validate significant electoral loss for the BJP. The most recent endorsement comes from SurjitBhalla’s new book Citizen Raj: Indian Elections 1952-2019. He forecasts a simple majority of 274 for the BJP on its own. Lord Meghnad Desai, a British peer of Indian origin, also endorses a clear win.
NarendraModi is no one’s tool. Were he to succeed, his game would be to tame the tiger that he is riding. This is risky. But a more grounded strategy could well emerge, which seeks to rid Hinduism of its caste-based fractures; infuse the religion with modern concepts of universal human rights and worry more about generating income and wealth for all, rather than protecting India from without whilst dividing it from within.
The Modi-Shah duo’s dodgy electoral tactics are not new. Encouraging social divisiveness; kitchen cabinets to bypass government structures; centralisation of authority; a quasi-presidential form of campaigning and the systematic decimation of potential opponents — all these have all been used by other parties in the past. Banyan tree leadership is hardly unique to today’s BJP.
What is new is the blinding speed with which the Modi-Shah team has executed their strategy of building a “New India” — a narrative which promises to change social endowments and norms in ways that have never visualised previously. Status quoists will resist this seismic makeover. Beneficiaries will support it. Make up your mind, dear reader, where you belong.

 
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Opinion

‘The TINA trick’

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Anil Dharker

This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted).
Two abbreviations crop up in any conversation about the elections. Both give a dispiriting picture of the mood of the nation. The acronyms are NOTA and TINA, which as we all know, expand to None Of The Above and There Is No Alternative.
This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted). In 2014, there was a genuine Modi Wave caused by disillusionment with UPA’s drift and its alleged corruption; in direct contrast were Modi’s enticing promises of “development” and rooting out corruption and black money. The disasters of demonetisation and GST, rising unemployment and the unaddressed tragedy of agrarian distress has taken the sheen off Modi’s many promises.
NarendraModi knows; everyone in the BJP knows; thinking party supporters (bhakts always excepted) also know, that repeating the same promises again and again doesn’t fulfil them — action does — but implementation has either been negligible, or poor. This is why not one single speech of Modi talks of his government’s performance. It’s a strange thing to hear a prime minister going to the people for re-election without a word about five years of his government. Instead, he talks about his “muscular response” to Pakistan and he talks about Hindutva in a demagogic way reminiscent of Bal Thackeray, using words which a chief election commissioner like T N Seshan would have acted more strongly against.
Sadly, the EC is not the only institution the Modi government has eviscerated. If you really wanted to know what the BJP government has achieved in its five-year term, it’s this: Every institution, the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, the police in BJP-ruled states, the Income Tax department… name them, and they do the government’s bidding, even if many of their actions on the eve of elections are clearly political in nature and meant to influence the electorate.
This is where the TINA factor comes in. Even BJP supporters disillusioned with NarendraModi ask: If not Modi, who will be PM? Rahul Gandhi? Mamata Banerjee? Mayawati? They find all these options unacceptable. Unfortunately, people have short memories. Political turmoil brought in prime ministers as diverse as Morarji Desai, V P Singh, I K Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, DeveGowda and Charan Singh. Not all of them were a disaster. In any case, all of them were in the chair for just around a year each (except Desai, who had two years), far too short a time to judge a prime minister’s performance. More than that, it’s important to note the classic definition of a prime minister in a functioning democracy: He is the first among equals in the council of ministers. Would anyone in the present cabinet dare say that of NarendraModi? No wonder the BJP’s slogan for 2019 is “phirekbaar, Modisarkar”. And its manifesto is replete with photographs of Modi, significantly even on the cover. Apart from re-emphasising that Modi’s council of ministers consists of lightweights; the slogan underlines the fact that the BJP government is Modi, Modi and Modi. That’s how the TINA factor gets reinforced as part of the BJP’s planned campaign strategy.
Contrast that with the Congress’s slogan, “abhoga NYAY’, a play on the Hindi word to mean justice as well as highlight the party’s ambitious social welfare programme, with which it hopes to make an impact on the elections. It also removes any hint of a personality cult in the party, although clearly, Rahul Gandhi is the prime force in the election campaign. Perhaps, it’s also a tacit admission that the public perception of Rahul Gandhi as an unsuitable candidate for prime ministership hasn’t changed, although the man himself has grown impressively into a leadership role. But you need an open mind to notice that, and an open mind doesn’t seem to be a common attribute of our electorate, especially its urban component. The more educated you are, the more you are likely to hold on to your prejudices.
An interesting point to note is that even Indira Gandhi, a towering personality if ever there was one, used the slogan “garibihatao”, and not a personality-centric one. But that concealed the fact that she ruled her government and her party with an iron fist. Another interesting point to note is that in his constant attacks on “The Family” and “Dynasty”, Modi hasn’t said a word against Indira Gandhi. For all his visceral hatred of the Nehru-Gandhis, Modi is strangely silent about Indira: There’s obviously an unspoken and sneaking admiration there. When you think about it, it’s really not surprising. Indira Gandhi was the government, and no one else mattered. NarendraModi is the government, and he has made sure no one else matters. For all those enamoured of strong leadership, it might be salutary to remember its perils: Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency, she nationalised banks (a disaster in the long run), she abolished privy purses (a constitutional guarantee), she subverted most of our institutions, including even the judiciary, and she used departments like Income Tax to get even with political opponents. Aren’t the parallels uncanny? On the other hand, low-key, self-effacing personalities like LalBahadurShastri and Narasimha Rao made excellent prime ministers; in fact, the former had he not died so tragically early, may have lived to be our best PM ever.
NOTA, of course, is an expression of dissatisfaction with the whole political process, and who can blame people when we see the way our electioneering has been conducted, with its abuse and personal invective? But NOTA is not an option; the option really is this: Better not the devil we know than the devil we don’t, because the latter may turn out to be not a devil at all.

 
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