2 November 2011

Left, Right & Centre

Warning: A long, very long post.

In context of Indian politics and economics, I read writings from across the entire spectrum. And the more I read, the more ambivalent I become on many of the key issues. I don’t know whether I am a leftist or a rightist. My ideological dispensations keep on oscillating between left and right and back with every issue at hand. Yes, my stands are completely issue-based. And I owe allegiance to none of the schools or lines of thoughts.
Let’s begin with The Right. When I say ‘right’, I don’t mean the deranged morons shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ with a sword in hand and whose only towering accomplishment of life has been burning people who belonged to a faith different from theirs. Neither am I referring to the people who assault women visiting pubs or wearing ‘western clothes’ or those who indulge in careful vandalism on Valentine's Day. There are appropriate sections of IPC and CrPC to deal with such kinds of cretins. I am not saying they don’t count because such people have a lot of mass support and it’s both dangerous to ignore them as lunatics or give up in front of their insanity – simply because they fulfill agendas of much smarter and subtler people. But that’s a story for another day.
By ‘right’, I mean a large group of people, who otherwise are professionally qualified (often with impeccable credentials), had the privilege of getting a liberal education, are highly urbane and articulate and are quite capable of logical argument but have a ideas which endorse a complete free market economy, believe that Kashmir has always been an inalienable part of India, espouse the virtues of Hindutva and how Hindutva is a ‘way of life’ and not a religious doctrine, wax eloquent about Savarkars & Golwalkars, how there are ‘capitalist’ solutions like rapid urbanization and industrialization to get rid of our appalling poverty.
My problem is not so much with their points of view as it is with the associated dogmatism which often makes them to gloss over uncomfortable aspects like human rights violations and overplay otherwise irrelevant things like destruction of temples by Aurangzeb. Some (definitely not all) of these gentlemen (women are much less dogmatic than men when it comes to ideologies) often descend into that despicable practice of making personal attacks on people with whom they have an ideological disagreement. Some of blogs with such a lopsided view of are Offstumped, Atanu Dey and Shantanu Bhagwat.
Then, there is the whole tribe of hero-worshippers who follow these gentlemen on blogs, facebook, twitter etc. whose only accomplishment is to cheer their ‘hero’ and heap trash on any dissenter. These morons are intolerant of any point of view which is different from their hero’s, incapable of independent thinking, devoid of any logical argument and hence, most prone to mud-raking and resorting to uncivil language.

Now, let us move on to The Left side of the spectrum. Here again, by 'left' I don’t refer to the mainstream communist parties whose means of suppressing dissent and record of uplifting and protecting the marginalized would have made Stalin and Mao proud.
By left, I am referring here to that assorted group of people without any affiliation to any of the mainstream political parties otherwise born into privileged middle-class homes but who have veered towards the left side of the political spectrum either due to some overpowering influence during their formative years or driven by a genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of dispossessed. Here, you have usual suspects a.k.a. jholawallas. Many of them happen to be alumni of a certain University situated in our national capital. Apart from that you have a motley group of academics belonging to both Indian and Western Universities, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, authors and yes, lest I forget, a Booker Prize Winner as well. It may not be far-fetched to say that there’s more to these people’s writings than what appears. However, there are some genuine unsung heroes (for me, personally) who have trudged along in spite of insurmountable odds. The most admirable thing about such people is that they persist in spite of knowing that they are fighting a losing battle.

The socio-economic section to which I belong i.e. professionally employed, salaried people in India’s private (more often than not service) sector tend to tilt more towards the right than the left. They will wax eloquent about how Sardar Patel would have solved almost all problems facing India today – from Kashmir to stunted economic growth – and how Nehru was a vacillating leader who went out of his way to appease the minorities. They will conveniently gloss over facts like how the Sardar did not completely trust the Muslims who stayed back in India (no slight to the great man who doesn’t need any certification for greatness) while not hesitating to raise uncomfortable aspects of Nehru’s personal life to belittle the contribution of another great man who ensured that we didn’t go the Pakistan way. This also includes the legions of NRIs who are well-settled in the ‘first world’ and who often have their own ideas about what is exactly wrong with India and what needs to be done to fix them. Now, the blueprint which this set of people have is mostly derived from the prosperous nations of the West, where they reside (in fact, it’s a very tempting thing to do. On my visits to West, I have tried to visualize replicating the ‘Best Practices’ in Indian context, almost unwittingly) – A purely capitalist economy with minimal government interference, a strict rule of law, top notch infrastructure, industrialization (never mind that only industry which thrives today in West is service industry) which will automatically eliminate poverty by creating enough jobs, getting rid of pitiful agriculture, a socially homogeneous populace (read upper class, upper caste, Hindu) and other etceteras. Now a couple of years back, I would have put my money into such a blueprint due to my sheer ignorance of the issues at stake. The more you read the more you realize that things are not black and white as most of the proponents on either side of the spectrum would like you to believe. There are swathes of grey and the truth as always lies somewhere in between. Simply, speaking what works for the prosperous West will not work in India even if we do a reasonable amount of ‘customization’ to suit the local context. One obvious reason is population. The scale of everything takes on monumental proportions when it comes to India. The reasons are also historical, social, political and economical. Historical reasons include the ways in which India, the civilization has evolved into India, the Nation State through long periods of colonialism. Social, political & economic reasons include the innumerable fault lines and mind-boggling heterogeneity which characterize India – religion, caste, class, gender, language just being a few of them. In short, lack of a cohesive force to bind India as a nation state in a manner a single dominant factor forms the identity in case of all developed nations. Other key social impediments are Indian psyche and importance given to the concept of family, which breed and shield all wrongs from corruption to nepotism. The factor of Indian psyche is more complex, subtle and is manifested in myriad forms ranging from our ‘chalta hai’ attitude to moral hypocrisy to the convoluted power equations between the dominating and the dominated.

So, I am, at best, ambivalent about most of the conventional solutions proposed to fix India’s myriad problems. And then, I have some positions on some issues. Probably, each of these deserves a separate blog post. Nevertheless, I have tried to capture some of my ideas on some key issues facing India today.

1) Poverty/Development Models – Here, I veer more to the left than right. I feel that a free-for-all capitalism is definitely not the solution as is evident from what has happened over the last 2 decades in India (loot of natural resources being just one of the panaceas of liberalization) and the trajectory the US – that demigod of capitalism – has followed over past 90 years or so (Essentially, after the Great Depression of 1920s). But then I don’t want India to hark back to Nehruvian Socialism and License Raj era either. I seriously feel that the state has no business to produce railway carriages or steel or supplying electricity to people’s homes. Similarly, I have nothing but contempt for those intellectuals whose ideas involve revolution of proletariat and other such theories which in plain speak is nothing but equal distribution of poverty (as against the proclaimed "equal distribution of wealth"). So, what’s the solution? A capitalist model with a strict regulatory framework and constitutionally independent watchdogs, an independent judiciary and a fearless, unbiased media – something on the lines of certain West European nations. But then with corruption being as endemic as it is today in Indian life and innumerable examples of how vested lobbies have screwed up the US economy in spite of plethora of checks and balances, something tells me that nothing is sacrosanct, at least in Indian context – judiciary, media, executive, legislature. Nothing. So, what’s the answer? I don’t know.
Sometimes, I feel that the Mahatma’s model of decentralized village republics may have been better than Messers Nehru and Mahalonobis’ centralized planning system. But again, I am not so sure. Such a model may have kept large swathes of India in the 19th century (otherwise in harmony with nature and going to bed with full stomachs) while the rest of the world was building nuclear missiles and launching space vehicles. It may have led to more internal contradictions than what we have now.

2) Corruption/Electoral Reforms – I am again ambivalent about ending corruption using institutions like Lokpal for the various reasons cited by the critics. The most important of them being who will guard the guards etc. Moreover, as it may be evident from my writings elsewhere, I feel that there is something seriously rotten with Indian psyche and mentality. People talk about electoral reforms but where do we start from in the present scheme of things? Clean politics, which is also free from caste & religion based parochialism, is not possible without isolating the criminal elements/illegitimate sources of funding. In the present state, reforming the electoral system has to be done by the very beneficiaries of these flawed system. Isn’t it a Catch-22 situation?

3) Internal Security & Naxalism - Isaac Asimov had once said, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." So, be it by the State or the Rebels, I am against all forms of violence. Let me state this unequivocally. Here, I morally support most of the civil rights movements to protect people’s livelihoods and nature. I have serious issues with a Essar or a Vedanta or a Lavasa encroaching upon a commodity as scarce as land and displacing people who are weak, powerless and have no alternatives – the most dispossessed, the most marginalized, the poorest of the poor. I use the word ‘encroaching’ because the land acquisition laws and the means employed to acquire land and so-called rehabilitation programs involve coercion and chicanery of such a degree which will make any civilized person wonder which century we are living in. To me, the plight of the dispossessed doesn’t justify any rationale of development, which in most cases is a euphemism of greed. If that makes me a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’, I am okay to be one. I don’t need any such development which condemns even one person – forget entire communities – to an animal-like existence. I have an equal degree of aversion for the likes of Arundhati Roy who will romanticize violence of the dispossessed to a point where the line between defending human rights and condoning violence simply vanishes.
The issue of Naxalism is again too complex and has too many layers. It is futile to even try putting arguments in favour and against of both the State and the rebels in neat, separate boxes. Probably, sometime in future I will attempt that as well.

4) Religious Differences & Sectarian violence – Most of this is direct aggravation of stupid state policies which are nothing but pitting one community against another by playing on their respective insecurities and fears. BJP tells Hindus that you are under a siege in India while Congress tells Muslims how a pan-Hindu nationalism will threaten their very existence. As pointed out by DD, I find BJP’s premise to be laughable because they are essentially telling their ‘target customers’ that you are weak so come to us and still people are lapping it up. The stooges of Congress like Diggi Raja fare even better (probably since they have been around far longer than BJP). They also play on fears of a not-so-insignificant minority. It is curious to explore the record of Congress with other minorities e.g. Sikhs (1984 Riots) and how the Grand Old Party has used RSS whenever it suited them. I don’t see any solution to this mayhem simply because the social prejudices run much, much deeper. All legislations (and we have plenty) are useless till the time people like my landlord ask whether the flatmate I have got through Sulekha.com is a ‘Hindu’ or not.

My idea of a truly liberal India is one where apartments are not rented on the basis of one's faith, where people of a particular community don't have to cheer louder everytime Sehwag hits a six (one can be cricket-agnostic, for all you know. Yours truly is one.) , elected chief ministers facilitating sectarian violence in the name of Newton's Third Law of Motion are sacked and punished, women from North-Eastern states are not stereotyped as sexually promiscuous, no book perceived to be hurting sentiments of any community is banned (And this includes everyone of them from Satanic Verses to Such a Long Journey), when the country's most celebrated painter is not hounded away from the country just for his interpretations, when the government doesn't turn a blind eye to violence against 'majority' for the sake of appeasing the 'minority'. I can go on and on. Apart from other measures, there should be an absolute separation between religion and state in public life. Please note that this is different from a religion neutral state or secular state (which we are in any case, at least on paper). State has no business in funding or subsidizing either Haj pilgrimage or Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Similarly, state should not be in the business of funding religious education whether madarssas or Saraswati Vidya Niketans. All sorts of religious funding coming from outside India whether it is Petrodollars from Middle East or money sent for the benefit of proselytizing Christian missionaries or remittances in the name of religion sent by Hindu NRIs should be curbed. As a starter, I can think of the following other initiatives:
a. There should be a complete ban on all public expression of religion – be it bhajans from loudspeakers or azaans from mosques (For the sake of peace, if not anything else). Anything causing inconveniences like traffic disruptions from Ganapati visarjans or tazias on Muharram should be prohibited. Religion is a private thing. Let it remain that way. Again, state should not interfere with personal expressions of religion like wearing turban or burkha.
b. Bring in a Uniform Civil Code – Here, I am more close to the political right. I agree that state has no business in meddling in people’s religion but at the same time you can’t expect to be a liberal, developed state with almost every facet of life of a significant section of population being dominated by a code of conduct written in seventh century Arabia. People have to move on with time. That’s how civilizations have evolved and prospered over the history of mankind – by embracing change and not getting stuck in a time warp.

5) Kashmir – Well, this subject demands a separate blog post and I admit that I may be too much of a novice to write on such a sensitive subject on which tomes have already been written, by people – both qualified and unqualified. But still, I will try to capture what I have come to feel about the issue since the time I started to gain some serious understanding of the things at stake and history of Kashmir starting from mid-nineteenth century (going all the way back to Maharaja Gulab Singh), beyond the narrow jingoistic rhetoric played out in the mainstream media. Also, it may not be out of turn to mention here that I have never been to Kashmir to experience things first hand. This understanding is gleaned primarily from reading blogs and books, belonging to various schools of thoughts, related to the subject over the past couple of years.
I feel that India has permanently and irretrievably lost the plot in Kashmir through a series of blunders, which include everything from taking the issue to the UN to rigging elections to human rights abuses to mismanagement of popular sentiment to sheer indifference – the list just keeps going on. For all the supreme sacrifices made by our men in uniform, for all times Haji Pir pass was captured at the cost of tremendous casualties and subsequently handed over to Pakistan on a platter, for all those gallantry medals won in the line of duty, for all those hardships endured by men posted along LoC under inhospitable conditions, for all those numerous Kashmiri Hindus butchered over the years just because they were Kafirs, for all those Pandits who have been rendered refugees in their own country – I still feel that we have too much blood on our hands. I don’t want the honour of my country to be further besmirched, trying to salvage a situation which is essentially unsalvageable. BJP and ultra-nationalists may keep on harping about ‘Akhand Bharat’ and Kashmir being an unfinished business, the fundamental issue is that of alienation of an entire population. When an entire population doesn’t identify with India as a country and everything she stands for, no amount of effort to win their ‘hearts and minds’ is going to help. But when I see a Chitpavan Brahmin of Girgaum, a maka-pav Christian of Bandra, a Bhaiyya auto-driver in Andheri, a Tam Bram from Matunga and a Pestonji Batlivala of South Bombay all sharing the same space of Bombay (that microcosm of India itself), I can’t fathom what’s wrong with Kashmiris. I don’t have an answer – probably except Religion (Considering the fact that Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state of India). I, also, personally feel that the Kashmiriyat line dished out by separatists is a farcical bullshit. If Kashmiriyat would have been such a shared bond cutting across religious boundaries then Pakistan would not have been able to play the kind of havoc it has.
So, let Kashmir go (which will be the result of a plebiscite in any case) – but only the valley – not Jammu, not Ladakh, not Kargil. In other words, only those 10 districts of the valley (comprising of the earlier undivided districts of Srinagar, Anantnag & Baramulla) which constitute a Sunni Muslim majority population. This post by Mr. Raman Kaul is the one the best articles I have come across on any proposed solution to this vexing problem, apart from the oft-cited BBC article (Before you develop any pre-conceived notion due to the surname of the author, I suggest you read the article in entirety). Any change in demography brought in by unnatural forces like forced conversions, exodus of Pandits should be taken into account at the time of any plebiscite or referendum (easier said than done). Let them join Pakistan. Let them embrace Azaadi. Let them establish an Islamic theocracy. I don’t care a damn. I wish them heaven.
That is only till the time, I don’t have a look at the map – not the one Survey of India loves to publish – but the present, on-the-ground representation of status quo. A casual glance will tell you that how vulnerable it will make us if even the valley is controlled by a power hostile to India, which in any case will be. (The JNU types can vehemently disagree and Geelani saab may assure that all non-Muslims will be allowed to consume alcohol in Azad’ed Kashmir but geopolitical realities are defined by histories (and host of other factors) and not by some fanciful, utopian conjectures of a separatist whose interpretation of Wahabi Islam and sworn allegiance to a power which has been hostile to us for the greater part of our 64 years of shared history, is a matter of record. Yes, I am referring to Yoginder Sikand's brilliant article which even a left-leaning publication like EPW considered good enough to be published). As my friend S (who is anyways a ‘hawk’ which is unsurprising, given his background) once remarked to me, “No sane Indian should even think of letting Kashmir go.” So here again, I don’t have a black and white answer.

6) Terrorism – I am more of a hawk (but not one with inalterable positions) when it comes to terrorism and national security. This is exactly the reason why morally, I would like Kashmir to go but realistically and practically, I know that it will be nothing short of national hara-kiri. Even if the age of a full-fledged conventional warfare is behind us, surrounded by hostile neighbours, we have no alternative to keep our powder dry and build credible defences and deterrence – nuclear or otherwise. This is not to live up to the standards of an emerging global power – as media doesn’t get tired of parroting – but out of sheer prudence and purely practical considerations. Again, the whole logic of developing nuclear weapons while more than half of the population goes hungry doesn’t hold water for me simply because cutting down defence budgets will not automatically lead to people’s access to clean drinking water and reasonable healthcare. The correlation, if at all there is one, is weak and circumstantial. The peaceniks should realize – as if 1962 was not a sufficiently painful lesson – that the rest of the world may not share our pacifist outlook especially in this age of state and non-state actors (which in any case is a euphemism for active pursual of a narrow, misinterpreted religious doctrine by a state itself founded on religious grounds).

No discussion on terrorism can be complete without the mention our western neighbour. I don’t think that there’s something called as ‘liberal Pakistan’. Pre-1977 may had a significant section of Pakistani society, media, armed forces and other key institutions liberal, if not secular. But the Islamization drive of Gen. Zia-Ul-Haq to the point where army promotions were driven by something as personal as whether someone keeps a beard or not, changed things irreversibly. Add to that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, CIA’s despicable shenanigans, you know why we have a failed state as our neighbour. Of course, it is nothing to be happy about. It is a cause of deep, very deep worry. I am all for talks with Pakistan but to whom do you talk to in a country where democracy is a hostage to Army HQ and more than half the country thinks that India (or more specifically Hindus) don’t have anything better to do than wipe out their very existence. What can one talk to with a nation which is so insecure about its very existence?

Ideology is a dangerous thing. It doesn’t take long to take a dogmatic stand on anything and everything. And of course, ideology is shaped by our life experiences, upbringing and myriad other influences. In spite of taking stands which seem to be mutually contradictory, I feel that we need discourses of all types, coming in from the entire stretch of political spectrum - Left, Right & Centre. (Yes, we need the right as well.) This is not just to ensure that any one school of thought doesn't hijack the whole show but also for the hope that solutions (if any) to India's unique challenges lie buried somewhere in this babble which at times is surprisingly coherent. Amen.

1 comment:

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Rajarshi,
Being interested in what you write, I am trying to communicate one more time, because you either didn't notice or chose to ignore my last comment (on your previous post). May we talk directly and privately by email? My i.d. is suvro.chatterjee@gmail.com