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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

BJP’s incessant assault on the Constitution

Liberal opinion believes the BJP, because of its RSS parentage, has never really accepted the constitution as the final arbiter of public affairs. In the first place, M S Golwalkar, supreme leader of the RSS, was dismissive as is evident from the following excerpt from his 1966 book, Bunch of Thoughts:

“Our Constitution…is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various articles from various Constitutions of Western countries. It has absolutely nothing, which can be called our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is? No! Some lame principles from the United Nations Charter…and some features from the American and British Constitutions have been just brought together in a mere hotchpotch.”

No surprise then that members of the BJP, notably Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, have paid scant attention to constitutional norms. They have pointedly challenged the secular nature of the Republic. Their relationship with the constitution is casual at best; indeed, there are several other instances of overt defiance of its provisions, having to do with the right to life, freedom of speech, due process, among others.

Most egregious is the cloud hanging over the winter session of Parliament. Challenged by a likely anti-incumbency backlash, Mr Modi and his lackeys in Gujarat winked at the Election Commission’s delay in announcing the Gujarat elections. This prompted the Congress Party’s P Chidambaram to quip: “EC has authorized PM to announce date of Gujarat elections at his last rally (and please keep EC informed).”

Suspense over the winter Parliament session stems from the apprehension the outcome of the election may not be in the BJP’s favor. For similar reasons, its campaign managers felt the need to delay the model code of conduct so they could announce sops plus try to polarize the electorate along religious lines.

Instituted with the agreement of all political parties, the code pertains to the conduct of parties and candidates once the dates of an election have been announced. The primary objective of the code is to place curbs on communal appeals and corrupt practices.

Right on cue, the party campaign rained sops on the state, unfazed by considerations of constitutional propriety. More worrying, the Election Commission, under pressure from an activist’s widely publicized complaint, ordered a probe into a blatantly communal campaign video doing the rounds of social media. Whatever the findings of this inquiry, the very fact a communal message like this is circulated reaffirms the scant respect the BJP and its ecosystem of hatemongers have for the constitution.

Earlier, the BJP got egg all over its face when the Election Commission disallowed a campaign commercial it proposed to release in the mainstream media. The script featured a central character whose name was a derogatory term the BJP’s vast trolling machine used to describe Rahul Gandhi.

Another widely-discussed issue is the single-minded proclivity of this regime is to manage the headlines. In the event, the media generally ignore news or shout down opinions that are detrimental to the regime and play up those stories and viewpoints that advocate their perspective. This tendency was highlighted by Rahul Gandhi in a town-hall style interaction with the Congress Party’s social media team in Gujarat.  “Journalists report the truth,” he said, gesturing appreciatively at the media representatives present. “But Narendra Modi and Amit Shah fine-tune it in cahoots with the media owners,” he added, amid applause.

It is apparent that the BJP’s “one-man band” and “two-man army” don’t understand or disregard the implications of their actions on freedom of speech that is guaranteed by the constitution. This is now no longer being discussed sotto voce. People are coming right out and saying it in mainstream as well as in social media that the Modi regime has sought to place curbs on press freedom through intimidation and persuasion.

Now, things are beginning to boil over and in the whoosh of a backwash, the saffron regime risks being knocked over by the strong current of disaffection. Its cavalier disregard for the constitution could cost it dearly in Gujarat and later on, all over India.

Incredibly, Modi and his minions continue their unrelenting propaganda bringing to bear “endorsements” for the government’s proven disastrous economic policy from the World Bank, Moody’s Investors Service and for Modi’s rapidly declining popularity from Pew Research Center. Among other endorsements sought seems to have been a statement by an obscure American author, who hailed Modi as the only world leader to stand up to China.

How it will all pan out in Gujarat is a matter of fevered speculation with mainstream media plumping for Modi and the BJP.  However, disillusionment is growing, with experts and commentators openly deriding Modi’s penchant to lure the electorate with lofty promises backed by a steady undercurrent of dog whistles to the communal base.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Saffron Sleaze by the Sabarmati

Talk about up the creek without a paddle. The BJP is in a blue funk in Gujarat. It has come unhinged by the successful Congress campaign that has sealed a de facto alliance with the Patidars, the Dalits, OBCs, the working class, and farmers. Then there is the corruption factor involving Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, and also Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, who has been fined by the Securities and Exchange Board of India for manipulative (fraudulent and unfair) trading on the stock market.

Like the “vikas” it touts, the entire saffron gang seems to have gone crazy. The Congress has disparaged the “Gujarat model” as one built on wacky priorities. To understand just how puerile this “vikas” is, you need to visit the soul-less Sabarmati riverfront: miles of sterile walkways and patches of lawns on concrete blocks stacked on its banks while the river bed copes with stagnant water channelled from the Narmada Dam.

The BJP seems totally flummoxed as its mother lode slips from its grasp. What to do, what to do, what, what…as Manna Dey sang for Mehmood in the rip-off song “Aao twist kare” from the B-grade film, Bhoot Bangla. But at least Mehmood did the twist with some amount of grace.

By contrast, the saffron party is all jerks and twitches as it seeks a response to the maelstrom of bad news. Sources say it turned to the huge dirty tricks machine Amit Shah built during his stint as home minister. This is the notorious network he used to stalk a young female architect for his “saheb.” It is reflective of the sleazy reputation that has haunted Shah and even put him in jail for his involvement in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter.

Result: a “sex CD” that purportedly features Patidar leader Hardik Patel in a hotel room with a woman.

What the BJP geniuses utterly failed to comprehend is that Patel is single and young, and in his own words, not impotent. He can have sex with whomever he likes; there’s no law against it. It is not an issue at all. Nevertheless, an incensed Patel has gone to town, denying it is him on the disk and taking the fight to the BJP camp, saying things were happening just as he had predicted.

To add to the BJP’s woes, another video went viral; in it, the man who leaked the “sex CD” is shown in the company of BJP Gujarat general secretary, Mansukh Mandaviya, who is a minister in the Modi government. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the BJP is behind the sleaze.

Clearly, the hullabaloo is much ado about nothing. Patel’s personal life is his own business. The circulation of the “sex CD” is a violation of his privacy. He would be well within his rights to sue the man who leaked the CD for defamation; then in public meetings going forward, he would be fully justified to link him loudly to Mandaviya, the BJP minister.

This sorry episode is evidence the BJP leadership, in Gujarat as well as at the center, lacks maturity when it comes to dealing with adversity. Faced with a possible setback, the amateurish bunch that runs the party seems to have lost mental balance.

It is a measure of the party’s intellectual bankruptcy that when the second video was circulated, the implicated minister made a disingenuous attempt to distance the party, saying it is “unfair” to drag the BJP into the controversy. But of course nobody believes this.

In fact, Rahul Gandhi, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani have all backed Patel and charged the BJP with “playing dirty politics.” So the essential objective of the “sex CD” has not been achieved: the four leaders have remained united, more determined than ever to uproot the BJP in its bastion.

Gandhi took the battle straight to the saffron crew, saying it was trying to suppress the voice of the Patidars while Dalit leader Mevani said sex is a fundamental right. Meanwhile, OBC leader Thakore asserted that the fake CD would not save the BJP in Gujarat.

This show of solidarity by its four adversaries has made the BJP look foolish and inept, completely incapable of handling its own affairs, leave alone affairs of state. In its effort to discredit Patel, it has egg on its face.

Game, set and match to the vigorous foursome.

Post Script 1: Not content at being shown up to be infantile, the Gujarat BJP seems to have purveyed another video showing Patel “drinking” with friends including a woman. In it, Patel is depicted with a shaven head. The idea behind that is incredibly stupid; the producer sought to defame Patel in the dry state and also to answer his charge that the first “sex CD” was a fake because at the time it was made, he had shaved his head to protest a Modi visit to Gujarat.

Post Script 2: In the ultimate denouement of its clumsy crisis management, the BJP has appealed an Election Commission decision to disallow the use of character called Pappu in a campaign commercial. Hoping to gain some public sympathy, the party mindlessly leaked the story to a television channel so it featured on a prime time debate. Oops!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The ideology and politics of victimhood

Since Independence, Indians have been seduced by the ideology of victimhood, best summed up in the worst song ever produced by the Hindi film industry: duniya mein hum aayein hai to jeena hi padega, jeevan hai agar zeher to peena hi padega. (‘Having come into this world, we must learn to live life. If life is poison, we must learn to drink it’)

My first brush with it was when I was a small boy, listening to my grandmother (only half-joking) lament the woes of the Indian cricket team (pathetic in those days). Her take was that consumption of meat by foreign teams placed them way above Indians. Actually, it was much like the experience of the young Mohandas Gandhi, who came to believe, for the same reasons, in the superiority of his Muslim friend.

The widely-trumpeted Indian proclivity for vegetarianism is the foundation of the victim story. It persists to this day under the BJP government, which continues to condone mob violence against the meat-eating population, purportedly in the cause of cow protection. It’s the type of dog-whistle politics that has become the hallmark of public affairs in India.

But let’s not digress. Without going too far down the highways of history, it’s clear that for nearly two centuries, India was a victim of British colonialism. The majority of the population tamely accepted it as the yoke of fate. But the more progressive minded made the best of the situation: they took to British education, the English language, the professions including law and medicine. From them, as Macaulay had predicted in his famous minute, arose “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. 

While Macaulay found no favour with the political class in India, the fact remains that it was from this class of people that arose first the Home Rule, and later the freedom movement. The Indian nationalist movement broke the back of British colonialism in India with its innovative protests and charismatic leaders. No victim mindset here but instead, a confident assertion of a people determined to wrest freedom from foreign rule. Its success spawned copycat freedom movements around the colonial world and spelled the end of European manifest destiny: the white man’s burden, control over the non-white world.

Away from the heady sweep of India’s independence movement, proponents of victimhood nevertheless lurked in dark corners — grim and dour men steeped in caste and religious bigotry. These Hindu fundamentalists took no part in the struggle against colonial rule. Instead, they supported the British colonial government against the nationalists, afraid of their confident vision and inclusive prescriptions. Not for them the secular ways of the freedom fighters.

In the event, the nationalists fired the imagination of the Indian masses and the British were vanquished. But not before they played their last card of skullduggery: some diehards in the British government of India actively encouraged rivalry between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, hoping to delay the inevitable so they could enjoy the plush life of colonialists a little longer. This rivalry festered and led to a grisly aftermath. The Partition of British India into India and Pakistan had no precedent; the scale of dislocation and violence was pure evil. 

But it gave hope to unreconstructed Hindu fundamentalists harbouring deep hatred for nationalists. As such, they chose to back the colonial diehards who widened the chasm of religious division in India. The legacy of Partition was a pernicious animosity between Hindus and Muslims. This suited the bigots and fed their dark vision of victimhood. Opportunists as ever, they launched a whisper campaign among the victims of the India-Pakistan divide, pointing fingers at the secular nationalists as the cause of their tragedy and suffering. 

As India blossomed into a democratic republic, the Hindu victim movement kept religious hatred alive. Every now and then, it would boil over into what came to be called communal violence, when actually it was instigated mayhem. Over the years, the men behind communal violence realised it could be used to build a political constituency. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the Hindu fundamentalists rule over India with a brute majority. They tolerate no dissent. They are flush with funds. They are seemingly unstoppable. Even so, they haven’t been able to exorcise the demons of victimhood. They still point to the diminished secular forces and hold it responsible for their inability to govern. They continue to feel embattled, especially now that things seem to be slipping out of control. Their narrative: for 70 years, we’ve been victims of this pseudo-secular movement that still exercises a grip over the public imagination; we won’t rest until India is wiped free of the influence of the secular liberal intelligentsia.
These victim victors still rail against the three ‘M’s’: Marxists, Muslims and Macaulayites. While they have managed to subdue the first two, they still have their hands full with Macaulay’s children, uncompromising liberals who have no time for what Jean-Francois Revel called “Marx or Jesus”.

(This article appeared in Education World, November 7, 2017)