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Showing posts with label hindutva. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hindutva. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Converting science into obscurantism

The cult of hindutva first appeared on the political horizon in the 1980s as a movement to build a temple in Ayodhya where a mosque stood. Over the next decade, its leadership stoked the most primal of mankind’s urges, religious bigotry, and helped vault its political front, the BJP, to power in coalition with several other political parties. Finally, in May 2014, hindutva found utterance in the formation of a majority government headed by Narendra Modi, a self-described pracharak of the mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Now three years into its terms, the government is being shown up as inept and clueless about governance. There are many instances of its abject failures on the policy front as it tries to promote its hindutva agenda. What follows is the story of an attempt to paint science policy in saffron hues.

According to a report in The Hindu, the Modi government has directed the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) “to generate half of its funds and start sending report cards to the Centre on how each… laboratory (is) focusing its resources on developing specific lines of inventions which would contribute to the social and economic objectives of the Narendra Modi government for the poor and the common man”.

For the record, CSIR was established in 1942 to fund and develop original scientific and industrial research. Starting out as a testing and quality control unit, the organisation sadly failed to evolve to fulfil the grandiose dreams of its votaries, and has degenerated into an ineffectual bureaucracy that’s done what a bureaucracy does best: expanded its turf to affiliate 40 ‘research laboratories’. Unsurprisingly, its list of achievements in 75 years of existence is unimpressive.

At first glance, the government’s directive is not unconscionable. CSIR has grazed in the fields of public funding all these years to produce very little of consequence. To that extent, the June 2015 directive, announced at what the Hindustan Times dubbed a “chintan shivir (think camp) for scientists” in Dehradun was welcome.

However, nothing is uncomplicated or untwisted in the world of hindutva champions. The optics suggested that the Modi government wants to use the rod against CSIR and whip it into shape. In the so-called Dehradun declaration issued at the end of the summit, The Hindu quoted a senior official who attended the meeting as saying, “The most worrisome aspect was representatives from Vigyan Bharati, an organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), being part of this discussion. The idea was to ensure ‘indigenous science’ was promoted. But what was the RSS doing in this meeting?”

The plan seems to be to reward foot soldiers of hindutva with jobs and lucrative projects in RSS-favoured fields, especially research and development of ‘indigenous’ science, a thinly-veiled nudge for cow urine pharmacology and therapy. Bypassing the ministry of science and technology, the AYUSH ministry has taken charge of the project.

Thus, AYUSH minister of state Sripad Naik announced in Parliament, that “CSIR through its constituent laboratories has conducted research studies… on cow urine distillate for its anti-oxidant and bio-enhancing properties on anti-infective and anti-cancer agents and nutrients. Four US patents have been secured… and one pharmaceutical product containing cow urine distillate with anti-oxidant property is available in the market”.

In a scathing critique of “the government’s cow urine craze,” The Wire, a news portal, expressed concern about the AYUSH ministry promoting obscurantism. Since November 2014 when it was constituted, just five months after the Modi government assumed office, the ministry began to sprout saffron wings.

Intended to serve as a knowledge and resource centre for traditional medicine systems, it was set up in 1995 as a department in the health ministry, the outcome of a 1993 push by Sam Pitroda to incorporate traditional Indian systems of medicine into a holistic public health offering. To that end, Pitroda established I-AIM (Institute for Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine), whose major focus was on creating a database of medicinal plants. From there to the department of Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy (ISMH) was a short hop. In 2003, the BJP-led government attempted to burnish its hindutva credentials after four years of non-performance: it transformed the department of ISMH into the AYUSH ministry.

Now more than a decade later, the Modi government seems to have concluded that it needs to do more to woo the base; hence, its focus on the cow. To marry this to its ‘development’ agenda, it convened the chintan shivir of scientists in Dehradun. The idea seems to have been to impart a modern touch to its obscurantism, seeking to make cow urine a CSIR focus, an initiative that fits into its Make in India, Skill India, IT plus IT equals IT manifesto of acronyms that are a unique feature of this non-performing regime.

Lamentably, a commendable academic effort to document traditional medical knowledge has been subverted by hindutva obscurantism to a profound absurdity and object of ridicule.

(From Education World, June 2017.)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hindutva can be a racist and neocolonial force, but not Hinduism

Just to get the main thesis of this article sorted out: the Hindutva advocated by the BJP government and its ecosystems is most definitely not Hinduism. It is a network of cults that may be embarked on a 21st century attempt to colonise India. Here’s how:

Hindutva is a set of beliefs and practices that can be traced to illiberal formations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its various avatars and offshoots.

These groups found utterance about a decade after the Indian National Congress launched the freedom struggle. In awe of the whiteness of India’s British Raj, they chose obsequious collaboration and stayed away from the nationalist movement.

Always denizens of dark alleys and troubled waters, RSS supremacists were arrayed against the Congress because it espoused secular liberal values. They reserved special venom for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who they saw as an appeaser of Muslims.

In the event, the nascent government of India banned the organisation after Nathuram Godse, reportedly one of its members, was arrested, tried and hanged for the murder of Gandhi.

Since then, the supremacists remained in the shadows, nursing their hate and plotting their phantasmagoria of a Hindutva “rashtra”. Their biggest leap into public life was in the revivalist Ram Janmabhoomi campaign against the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Grandiosely termed a “movement,” the campaign was more like an expanding wave of communal violence and found resonance in sections of the urban middle classes in India.

The revivalist agitation also won support in the immigrant community in the United States.

In the 1980s, a large number of Indian community organisations were formed around the construction of temples in various US cities.

These groups were an entirely new service sector comprising merchants, traders and small businessmen to supply community needs for Indian foods, clothes, artefacts, entertainment and various other products and services.

Comprised largely of Gujarati and North Indian NRIs, from hourly workers to struggling professionals and crooked businessmen, this segment of the immigrant community found itself at loggerheads with their interlocutors in America: other lower middle class immigrant groups and the white working class and also with blacks because of their overt racism.

Living cheek by jowl with the prejudice of their neighbours in the urban ghettos and in the workplace, these groups sought comfort in the supremacist cults of Hindutva.

As such, these working-class groups were in the forefront of a clamour for a unitary church, a single book of worship, a uniform culture and alarmingly, they wanted to reverse the separation of church and state.

As a normal Hindu person, never have I heard advocated a view that Hinduism needs to become semiticised around a single culture, a single language, a single-minded faith in myth and superstition, in-your-face rituals, a victim mindset. The demand arose among ghettoised NRI groups in America and spread to opportunistic RSS supremacists in India.

Over the years, the saffron dispensation and its NRI fans managed to fudge the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva. They developed fantastic theories of Aryan descent and achievements of mythological forebears.

As a journalist in the US, I have personally heard life insurance salesmen, factory workers, retail merchants, others openly assert that being of Aryan descent, they were whiter than the whites, certainly purer because of their diet and their ability to keep their women and children cloistered from the lascivious attractions and impure ways of American life.

The claim about Aryan descent of the Hindutva cults is worth exploring. So I dived into my library to locate Ainslie T Embree’s Sources of Indian Tradition, a book that was prescribed reading for my graduate course in Hinduism. An excerpt:

“The Aryans were a nomadic, pastoral people, and it was probably the search for new grazing lands for their cattle that led to their migration into India. The cow was their main source of wealth, and scholars have speculated that this was the basis of the later emphasis in Hinduism on the sanctity of the cow. As the Aryan moved into India from the northwest, they fought many battles with the original inhabitants of land, a dark-skinned people whom they contemptuously called “dasas,” a word that later came to mean slave.”

Members of the various Hindutva cults have decried this as a false interpretation of the origins of Hinduism, insisting that Aryans were native to India and not invaders from Central Asia.

The subtext is that they are descendants of the Indo-European (read white) races.

However, no respectable scholar accepts that thesis. What is abundantly evident from this conflation of Aryans, white-skinned people and members of the Hindutva cult is that such theories are racist to the core.
Just consider the views of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, chief of the RSS until his death in 1973. He was big on issues of race and national pride. His take on the Third Reich and Nazism is produced below verbatim:

"To keep up with the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and Cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for use in Hindusthan to learn and profit by."

In their racist claims to be counted as Aryans, champions of Hindutva are actually hoist by their own petard. Their claim that Aryans are indigenous to the subcontinent has been widely and thoroughly discredited.

As such, their insistence on being Aryan leaves them open to the charge that they are a racist neocolonial force in India.

How else can you interpret a recent comment by Tarun Vijay, former editor of the RSS publication Panchajanya?

Vijay said in a debate on Al Jazeera television: “If we were racist, why would we have the entire south... Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra... why do we live with them? We have black people around us.”

(An edited version of this post will appear in Dailyo.in, April 2017.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Everything Modi sarkar is doing wrong by attacking dissent

The indefatigable campaigner came steadily unglued in Bihar, reverting to a nakedly bigoted message

Since he was named the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate in September 2013, Narendra Modi ran a loud and aggressive campaign on two fronts: one, to run down the Indian National Congress as a corrupt force responsible for the lack of development; two, to sell a "happy days are here" story packaged with slogans and sound bites.

As such, he blanked out the Congress' impressive record of 10 years of eight per cent growth, painted a grim picture of the nation's economy and projected himself as the knight in shining armour, come to pull India out of the morass he conjured up in his invective-filled speeches. Using dog whistle communal messaging for his following of bigots while holding out the promise of strong leadership for others, he spoke persuasively of "achche din."

The strategy worked brilliantly. A year later, the BJP won a clear majority in the Lok Sabha and Modi was named prime minister.

Now, Modi finds that his majority in the lower house does not amount to much when faced with a determined and united opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The first-past-the-post system that gave his party a clear majority with just 31 per cent of the vote is not enough to sustain his fantasy of global power status he sold to credulous voters, leave alone a "Hindu rashtra" he has promised sotto voce to the bigots.

On the contrary, Modi's carefully-crafted image of forceful governance is taking a beating from the 69 per cent who gave him thumbs down in the 2014 election. Like bushfires, dissent is springing from every nook and cranny. These spontaneous protests have discombobulated him. The indefatigable campaigner came steadily unglued in Bihar, reverting to a nakedly bigoted message.

Asked to run interference, his spokespersons, in government and others like the puerile Chetan Bhagat, have raised a whataboutery defence, seeking to discredit the artists, scholars and scientists who have spoken out against the increasingly-evident Hindutva agenda: they are "Congress supporters who didn't protest in 1984" and theirs is "manufactured dissent."

When that didn't wash, they cursed the protest, calling it a campaign of calumny against the BJP by leftists and pseudo-intellectuals. Perhaps their most disingenuous defence is that the hate incidents happened in states that are not ruled by the BJP, ignoring the fact that the perpetrators were self-proclaimed supporters of the saffron calling, including union ministers, Members of Parliament and sundry state-level leaders.

About the only truth to emanate from the saffron defenders is this: the protestors cannot accept the BJP as ruling party and Modi as prime minister. This is largely because of their not-so-hidden Hindutva agenda. It is apparent that the narrow, divisive worldview does not resonate beyond fringe groups and that Modi and his supporters are mistaken in their loudly stated belief they represent the vast majority. Hobbled at first by a small but determined opposition in Parliament, now they face an existential challenge from the liberal legacy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel.

There promises to be no rest for the ruling dispensation until 2019; the fires of dissent will only continue to spread.

(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, November 2015.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Grim harvest of failed education system

Digital India, Make in India, Clean India, Smart Cities... these are slogans supporters of embattled prime minister Narendra Modi chorus to emphasise the primacy of his “development and growth” agenda. On the other hand, ghar wapsi, love jihad, Hindu rashtra, bans on beef, books and broadcasts… these are slogans supporters of empowered prime minister Narendra Modi raise to assert the primacy of hindutva.

Numerous commentators have remarked on the lack of progress of the modernist charter while lamenting the spread of the primordial agenda. Supporters say the prime minister’s development plans are being held hostage by “fringe elements”. Opponents challenge this, saying the hindutva project is Mr. Modi’s main plank.

And thus the political debate goes on, nightly on television and in the newspapers every morning. What’s indisputable is that India is caught in a bind, with the whole world watching. There are two reasons why the world is watching: one, the prime minister is an avid traveller who basks in the company of the world’s who’s who. He is adept at showcasing his forays in the Indian media and before large and adulatory NRI audiences.

The other reason why all eyes are on India is because of reports that primordial formations are threatening to derail India’s democracy. While Modi’s global tours go unreported in the mainstream world media, the killings, bans, and bigotry are prominently displayed in pixels and print the world over.

Given such alarming reports in global media, who will take the prime minister’s invitation to build modern India seriously? Even as Mr. Modi tries to assure the world of his commitment to diversity and democracy, his partners in the saffron brotherhood blacken faces of dissenters, commit hate crimes against minorities, and talk menacingly about regulating the media.

In Mumbai, the brazen threats of the Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP led by Mr. Modi, forced the cricket authorities to withdraw all Pakistani umpires and commentators from the remainder of the India-South Africa series. It’s the same with utterances and speeches of senior saffron sages about the need to regulate the media.

How this stand-off between economic modernisation and the authoritarian and revivalist agenda will be resolved is difficult to say. In a nation with a burgeoning middle class, the tendency would be to favour the former. This assumes that the middle class is the repository of enlightened liberal values and as such a bulwark against what the Indian press used to call “fissiparous tendencies”. I don’t think the assumption can stand scrutiny. Here’s why.

Historically, Indian policymakers have ignored elementary education and vocational training in favour of higher education and professional development. The result is an educated elite listing in the storm-tossed sea of a poorly educated majority. Even within the elite class, the emphasis is on engineering and medicine, management and accountancy. Middle class children, especially male, are encouraged, forced and nudged into the study of these streams to land steady jobs. Liberal arts disciplines such as literature, history, language and philosophy are dismissed as unworthy, okay for girls.

Despite heavily subsidised bias in its favour, the higher education system has failed miserably. It produces a vast pool of middle class graduates, ill-equipped to meet the demands of a modernising economy. Unable to find jobs, they are recruited by political parties to fight nefarious numbers wars that determine political outcomes. Easily manipulated, these youth become the foot soldiers of atavistic campaigns against change. As such, they form the bulk of illiberal forces threatening to take India back to the Stone Age.

On the other hand, the higher education system also produces some world-class scientists, engineers, lawyers and doctors, managers and technocrats. But decades of command-and-control industry policies have impaired the ability of the economy to provide jobs and business opportunities. Caught in the socialist quagmire, shiploads of the best graduates have migrated westward, contributing to India’s ‘brain drain’. True, the best middle-class graduates did well in the US and elsewhere but the disruption took its toll and they became implacably opposed to licence-permit raj and its purveyors.

Therefore, like those they left behind, they too became supporters of illiberal forces. These are the groups that turn out in huge numbers to hear Mr. Modi rant and rave against the previous regime in New York, California, Australia and elsewhere. Thus the top layer of the education system and its vast middling layer have fused into an aggrieved segment, embracing religious and cultural revivalism and chauvinist causes, harbouring vague hopes of seeing India emerge as a “global power”.

This is the whirlwind the country reaped in the 2014 election. With just 31 percent of the national vote in their favour, majoritarian political forces are poised to hack away at the carefully-nurtured edifice of constitutionalism. In the final analysis the education system bears a major share of responsibility for the growing atavism and intolerance spreading across the country.

(An edited version of this post appeared in Education World, November 2015)

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Bentley at the Red Light: Old Poverty, New Wealth

For the first time, the electorate faces a clear ideological choice. The Congress is the architect of liberalisation that unleashed the animal spirits of competition and innovation in the economy. The ensuing economic boom peaked in 2004; in the following decade, the economy grew at an average of 8% a year. This is evident as many sectors, including telecom, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and IT, became globally competitive.

Somewhere down the line, this growth story came up against some cruel facts: a large population afflicted by poverty and illiteracy, high malnutrition and abysmal public health. In stark contrast, world-class private schools, private hospitals, private estates, private planes, private roads and private banks blossomed.
There was always disparity, but never in your face. The pathetic picture of a car worth over a crore, waiting at a red light, besieged by begging children, is a new phenomenon. There have always been beggars, never Bentleys and Jaguars. Over the years, the rich became richer. This was not the outcome that Manmohan Singh, as finance minister, envisioned in 1991.

A year later, the BJP changed the debate with its sacking of the Babri Masjid. Suddenly, the debate was about Hindutva and the Ram temple. In the tumultuous decade that followed, the opened economy was hijacked by crony capitalists and middlemen. Mistaking this to be genuine reforms, the NDA government launched a highvoltage “India Shining” campaign. They even called an early election, hoping to cash in. In the event, a Congress-led coalition came to power in 2004 on an inclusive growth manifesto and was reelected in 2009.

Now, Narendra Modi, the new RSS mascot, has turned the BJP around to make it a US-style Republican party, stalling reforms in the legislature, promoting laissez faire and protectionist policies in the same breath, railing against government welfare spending, espousing a hardline but whimsical foreign policy. He speaks to an urban, upper-middle class audience and believes there are enough votes there to see him through.
Modi and his supporters believe he can form a government in 2014. It’s hard to believe, though, that his agenda of gated communities, luxury cars and conspicuous consumption will garner votes from the urban and rural poor, Dalits, tribals and Muslims who form the bulk of the young population. Meanwhile, the Congress has again arrayed itself in support of the excluded. More than his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who nudged the government into adopting a welfare-based legislative agenda, Rahul Gandhi is vocal about the skewed priorities.

The Indian business elite is up in arms against the Congress welfare agenda. They say India can’t afford it; they demand business-friendly policies that encourage growth, never mind the disparity. Senior ministers in the government are at pains to point out an inclusive agenda is not anti-growth and point to the national manufacturing policy that aims, in the next 10 years, to boost the share of manufacturing to 25% from 15% and, in the process, to create 100 million jobs.

In the face of heightened disparity, no political party can embrace trickledown economics and expect to form a government. Hence, the Congress lays emphasis on welfare along with its track record of growth. Modi’s noisy campaign, on the other hand, is based on disputable claims about growth and governance; the underlying message, however, is an unmistakable one of Hindu chauvinism.

Modi hopes to ascend on many contradictory platforms: authoritarian capitalism, muscular nationalism as a subliminal plank against minorities. In voting the Congress back in 2004 and again in 2009, the electorate turned its back on the BJP’s growth hype. The question now is whether voters will buy Modi’s high-voltage pitch. The idea behind the multilayered campaign is to fudge his track record that is sullied by allegations of his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

These charges have proved difficult to shake. Modi’s controversial role in the riots also attracted global concern. Major western countries instituted a diplomatic boycott; the US revoked his travel visa and is yet to restore it. Will the US presidential-style campaign help overcome the stain of 2002?

This article appeared in The Economic Times, November 5, 2013.