Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Our Indian mothers

March 28, 2016

A nice piece by Mukul Kesavan!

Two pieces on disagreement and acceptance

January 31, 2016

Here is Mary Beard:

At this point, I’d like to observe just one thing. That it is possible to disagree over all kinds of things (tactics, short term aims etc) without being enemies. That’s life.

And, to push this a little further, maybe we dont want a world in which we all agree on absolutely everything.

Ruchir Joshi in The Telegraph:

In a discussion with friends the other day we mulled over the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘intolerance’ and found them both problematic. I don’t want to tolerate a religion or a social or political view different from mine, nor do I want my views to be tolerated – I want my difference accepted, just as I want to try and accept views different from mine. When you say ‘tolerate’ there is often an unspoken ‘up to a point’ attached, but when you say ‘accept’ the time-frame tends to diminish, to go away, and this is what is required for us to move forward to a more equal and non-violent society.


Winning elections and winning support of intelligentsia

December 19, 2015

From Telegraph:

Indira Gandhi is reported to have remarked to a friend that her stint in office after returning to power in 1980 was made difficult by her lack of support among the intelligentsia. Indira Gandhi was not an intellectual herself, and hence not given to making extravagant comments for effect, as intellectuals often do; she obviously meant what she said. But then why should lack of support among the intelligentsia matter to her? Those in political power are surrounded by officers belonging to the Indian Administrative Service and other such services, who, in a certain sense, belong to the intelligentsia and who advise them as a matter of course. She obviously did not miss their support. So what is it that she missed that, by her own admission, made life difficult for her in the post-1980 period?

The answer one ventures to suggest is that quite apart from the “advisory” or “expert” role of the intelligentsia, which bureaucrats are perfectly capable of fulfilling, there is another role, and that is to influence the public mind regarding those in power. Indira Gandhi was perhaps alluding to this role when she complained that her lack of support among the intelligentsia (outside of the bureaucracy), because of the memory of the Emergency, made life difficult for her in office. Despite her having won the election, her image among the people remained tinged with suspicion because of the barely-concealed hostility of the intelligentsia. In other words, it is not enough to win elections; one must additionally have the trust of the people. And in winning this trust, the support of the intelligentsia is of great importance.

A very thoughtful piece and a must-read.



On the death of an author

January 17, 2015

Suchitra Vijayan in The Hindu:

Right-wing Hinduism, mostly alien to Tamil Nadu, has become increasingly normalised. Liberal freedoms are under threat, in the guise of language marchers, the morality police, religious rioters and the many-headed mobs. Ironically, the state that is meant to protect has remained a mute spectator allowing Perumal Murugan’s constitutionally protected right to become subverted. At the same time, with exemplary zeal, the government has passed laws like the Tamil Nadu Entry into Public Places (Removal of Restriction of Dress) Act, 2014, that unconstitutionally legislate on issues relating to private bodies purely with an intention to expand its voter’s base. The State government no longer governs in furtherance of the Constitution, but in the perusal of votes at the cost of subverting fundamental rights.

Take a look!

On growing intolerance of fringe groups

January 14, 2015

The Hindu Editorial:

Noted Tamil novelist Perumal Murugan’s Facebook page went blank on Tuesday in a virtual closure of his identity as a writer, in a shocking illustration of the growing intolerance of fringe groups constricting public discourse. It is ironic that the author was made to virtually recant to buy peace after the recent controversy over his novel Madhorubhagan, first published in December 2010, purportedly offended the sensibilities of some dominant sections of society in the western ‘Kongu’ belt of Tamil Nadu. This, ironically at a time when many parts of the world are uniting in solidarity to uphold freedom of expression in the wake of the terror attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.


Panchayat elections and eligibility criterion to contest

January 5, 2015

Aruna Roy in The Hindu:

The introduction of educational qualifications as eligibility criteria for contesting panchayat elections has shocked and angered rural Rajasthan, including supporters of the ruling BJP.

A must-read article for some of the interesting anecdotes and incidents that Roy describes:

I have been trained for 40 years of my life, particularly in democracy, ethics, and governance, by illiterate but highly educated people in rural India. We have traded skills. Naurti, now Sarpanch of Harmara (Ajmer district), is “illiterate,” but learnt to use the computer at the age of 50 and teaches middle and high school dropouts how to use the computer. She has no class 8 certificate, but uses the website of the Ministry of Rural Development. Who is more skilled between us is debatable. I would not advocate that Naurti head the Ministry of Human Resource Development or that she teach me Shakespeare, but in matters of governance in the panchayat she is heaps better. My informal learning about the invention of scientific thought, of Galileo and Kalidasa, have provided a worldview worth the learning. But I am not equipped like Naurti to understand the nitty-gritty of getting a panchayat quorum to take a difficult and just decision when faced with a contentious issue. I do not know if I could face the ire and possibility of violence for standing against sati, without caste or money on my side, as she did. She will not be trapped into a situation by unethical, unjust people; nor will she be trapped by the writing on a paper that she cannot understand.

I remember Beelan, 65, scoffing at me 35 years ago saying I had nakal (copying by writing) whereas she had akal(mind). I could not remember figures and money spent, but many of my illiterate friends remembered details to the last paisa. A weaver of Ikat in Odisha is a mathematician — not only in simple arithmetic but in the intricate art of dividing numbers to form patterns.

Roy’s conclusion is also worth quoting:

The cherry on the cake is that the State government as well as the Centre proudly tout formal learning as an unnecessary criterion for choosing Ministers. In reality, 90 per cent of their work is through the written word, unlike that of the sarpanch who deals with the human condition.

Beteille’s condemnation and Ramachandra Guha’s hope

January 10, 2012

Here is the last sentence from an article of Andre Beteille in EPW (4 October, 2008, which I could get thanks to JSTOR subscription of the Institute):

It would appear therefore that the people of India are destined to oscillate endlessly between the two poles of constitutionalism and populism without ever discarding the one or the other.

I got a reference to the article from Ram Guha, who is hopeful in spite of what Beteille has to say:

But we must live in hope. Perhaps, in reflecting in the New Year on the events of the last half of 2011, elected politicians may be compelled to honour their Constitutional obligations more seriously. And perhaps, on the other side, civil society activists will now act with more sobriety and less self-righteousness. To both sides I urge a close reading of the full text of André Béteille’s essay, published, under the title ‘Constitutional Morality’, in the issue of the Economic and Political Weekly dated October 4, 2008. In my view, the essay should be mandatory reading for all thinking, reflective, Indians, in whose ranks I would (hopefully and generously) include the likes of Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Arvind Kejriwal, and Kiran Bedi.

Take a look, and if possible, get hold of Beteille’s piece; as Guha notes, he wrote it before the ascendancy of Team Anna!

Degrading democracy or, why Ramlila Maidan is no Tahrir Square

December 4, 2011

Ram Guha draws some conclusions and has a suggestion too:

Our country has witnessed 15 general elections, and countless elections to states that are themselves more populous than most countries in the world. Moreover, unlike in neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and Myanmar — and unlike dozens of African and Latin American nations too — the military in India has been kept completely away from the political process.

The protesters in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and elsewhere are fighting for what they have not seen in their lifetimes — namely, for an opportunity to elect their own leaders, and for the retreat of the military to the barracks. Ironically, as the people of the Middle East struggle for their first taste of democracy, Indians are working overtime to degrade the democratic institutions that their forebears built and which have now seen us through 65 testing years of independence.

A start can be made by a private, off-camera conversation between a major Congress leader and a major leader of the BJP. Who could these be? The prime minister rules himself out, because by not — even after seven years in office — offering to stand for a seat in the Lok Sabha, he has betrayed his own lack of respect for Parliament.

A more plausible leader of such a initiative is Sonia Gandhi, who has herself won three terms to the Lok Sabha, and who is in political terms more important than Manmohan Singh anyhow. Perhaps she should have a meeting with Sushma Swaraj, also a several-term Lok Sabha MP, and, as it happens, the current leader of the Opposition in the Lower House. This meeting can call for a moratorium on abusive remarks about individuals, and, more broadly, for a regular process of consultation and dialogue between government and Opposition.

Politics is a serious business, whose substance can often be aided or impeded by symbols. In suggesting that Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj have this meeting I had in mind their respective positions in Indian politics today. But then I remembered that they had fought one another in a Lok Sabha election in Bellary in 1999, an intense, surcharged contest in which some less-than-decorous language was used. For Sonia Gandhi to meet Sushma Swaraj now would thus be resonant with meaning, symbolic as well as substantial. It would be a reaching out, a reconciliation, that may lead in turn to a more civil relationship between their two parties.

The Arabs, who have never had democracy, struggle desperately for it. We, who have had it now for several generations, degrade it in practice and in theory. To restore and renew Indian democracy we must, first of all, restore and renew the dignity of Parliament. For this the suspicion and hostility that mark relations between government and Opposition must be overcome. A ordinary, face-to-face meeting between two women, each with great stakes in this democracy’s future, may be a productive starting-point.

Take a look!

Meaningful bilingualism

November 8, 2011

Ram Guha on the English question:

A century after Gandhi and Polak debated the question in Johannesburg, arguments about the relevance of English to India and Indians continues. The debate has moved on, of course, since society and history have moved on too. One might foreground three significant changes since Gandhi’s time. First, there are now far more inter-community marriages, particularly among the middle and upper classes. And if a Gujarati marries a Tamil, or a Bengali weds a Malayali, then the default language of their children, and of the family as a whole, tends to become English. Second, although Britannia no longer rules the waves, English continues to be the major global language, its pre-eminence a consequence of America having replaced Great Britain as the great imperial power of the age. Whether spoken in the queen’s diction or in its American or other variants, over most of the world English thus remains the language of choice for communication between people of different nationalities.

The third change is, in the Indian context, arguably the most significant. This is that there is now a real hunger for English among the poor. As many readers of this column will know, from their own experience, domestic servants are determined that their children will not follow them into their profession. They recognize that the best way to escape hereditary servitude is for their children to learn the language of mobility and opportunity, which of course is English. The desire to learn English thus runs deep among all castes and communities. Poor Muslims are as keen to learn the language as are poor Dalits or adivasis.

Whether one approves of it or not, this rush to learn English is unstoppable. Rammanohar Lohia and his followers have lost the battle to banish English from the imagination or learning experience of the Indian child. That said, one might still wish for a sort of historic compromise between the positions articulated by Gandhi and Polak. We live in a land of a quite extraordinary diversity of linguistic and literary traditions. And yet in practice we tend to privilege one language at the expense of all the others. That so many middle- and upper-class Indians speak only English is a shame; that so many subaltern and working class Indians do not have access to decent education in English is equally a shame.

A nice piece. Take a look!

Hazare the good and Hazare the bad

September 6, 2011

Shiv Visvanathan’s opening lines are priceless:

Imagine the news a month from now. The Anna Hazare group faced its own democratic crisis as other NGOs working on RTI and corruption claimed it was intolerant and deaf to suggestions. The NGOs then conducted a sit-in in front of Hazare’s Mayur Vihar home.

The piece is published at EPW (pdf); take a look; the link will only work for a short while. Thanks to Swarup’s pointer, but for which, I would have missed the piece.