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Does singing the national anthem mean wearing patriotism on your sleeves?

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To begin with, let’s be straight. If patriotism brews within your heart, it will gush out. It will show up in your looks, body-language, mannerism and responses. No matter whether it’s a school or a cinema, a place doesn’t change the equation. However, if you haven’t got what it takes, you’ll look out for curious excuses. It’s oxymoronic to have patriotism in your heart and not to rise for the national anthem, isn’t it?

At present, the intellectual landscape in India is rife with many such excuses over why one shouldn’t rise and sing national anthem. But, before we come to this, let’s look into the controversy. The basis of the controversy is the recent observation of the Supreme Court indicating its willingness to change it’s November 2016 order that directed all cinema halls to play national anthem before start of the show. It brings forth two opposite viewpoints around the question, ‘whether getting up and singing the national anthem should be mandatory in cinema halls or wherever it’s played?’ You listen to a loud ‘yes’ and a loud ‘no’. People are sharply divided along the line, with arguments in favour and against locking horns with each other fiercely.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court was hearing on a petition of Cinema Association against the 2016 order this Monday when Justice Chandrachud started demolishing the idea of standing in cinema halls for national anthem – “Why do people have to wear their patriotism on their sleeves…People go to a movie theatre for undiluted entertainment. Society needs that entertainment”.

Justice Chandrachud took the matter a bit farther – “In a movie theatre, people may be in shorts etc. So some one may say people are wearing shorts and showing disrespect to national anthem. Where do we then draw the line on moral policing?”

National symbols need moral policing for ensuring respect! A judge says so!!

Of course, India is not a totalitarian state where all the activities of individual’s life should be directed towards the glorification of the state, yet the judge failed to appreciate that in a land of staggering diversity like India, certain threads are required to keep us bonded. It’s important to protect, preserve and promote such threads.

Shelving the idea of repealing the order altogether, the court asked to the government, and rightly so, to legislate on the matter instead of expecting judiciary to intervene on such executive issues each time. However, standing up to the reputation of “judicial legislation”, the court hinted at doing away with the coercive element from its last year order by changing the word “shall” with “may”. Hence, if the bench goes to have its way, then, instead of mandatory, it will become optional for the cinema owners to play the national anthem before start of the movie.

The national anthem used to be played in cinema halls across India after the 1962 war but after 1975 the practice gradually faded away. However, it was Maharashtra to revive the practice again in 2002 following the efforts of one Narendra Verma of the Nationalist Congress Party, who pursued the Maharashtra government to order cinema halls to do it again. Later, Chhattisgarh also adopted this practice.

Globally, playing the national anthem before movies was prevalent in western countries especially in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Those brought up in UK during the 50s and 60s, recall that the first thing they always saw in cinemas was the national anthem, “God save the Queen.”

The question of singing national anthem is enveloped in the larger debate of freedom of individual versus the intrusive nature of state. Let me phrase the debate precisely – can a modern, progressive state intrude upon an individual’s right to choice through coercive powers? Or more precisely, can the state force a particular notion of patriotism on its subjects and direct them to respect the national symbols as per its whims?

Actually, the argument is existential for many. It’s a part of the larger debate that runs in the society through the broader divide of liberalism versus conservatism. Whether India would promote the progressive values of liberty, freedom and choice or would she eventually drift to totalitarianism? A decisive resolution of this question would settle many subsequent debates.

No nation can survive if it couldn’t enforce certain basic minimum obligations on its citizens. We call it ‘Fundamental Duties’ in our constitution. Respect for one’s national symbols and expecting all citizens to commit to it, is one such fundamental duty, which no citizen can escape. It’s necessary for instilling in the psyche of the society a sense of unity, camaraderie and belongingness.

Now, let’s come to those curious excuses. It was bemusing to see people celebrating the order. Celebrating that they no longer needed to sing Jan Gana mana.

‘Is standing up and singing the national anthem is the only way to prove one’s patriotism?’ – many growled on social media.

Well, not the only way, but it’s the most emphatic way. To show your patriotism, you need to commit yourself to many other cherished values of the nation such as, cleaning and ensuring cleanliness of the surroundings, integrity and honesty in public life, respecting public properties, following traffic rules, standing for weaker and disadvantaged sections, respecting and protecting the honour of women in society, desisting from sectarian feelings of cast, sect, regions and many more. Now, count within, how many of these do you carry with you to compensate for seeking exemption from singing the national anthem. Hmmm…hardly any! You see, singing the national anthem is easiest among the above list to learn patriotism. Proceeding to other values becomes easier.

Being a patriot is not easy. You’ve to commit a lot, sacrifice a lot. It’s not like being a consumerist-hedonist-metrosexual egoist whom no body cares. But, the society cares for the patriot in the same way the patriot cares for society.

Moreover, respecting the national symbols is a constitutional act. The fundamental duty under Article 51A(a) mandates that It shall be the duty of every citizens of India to abide by the constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem.

The next man asks  – ‘WTF this unity? Aren’t we already united?’

No sir. You aren’t. Your unity is shaky and hollow and stands tattered over years of cumulative suspicion and distrust fostered by competing ideologies of identities. But, these national symbols cut through the identities and bring us closer.

Many people viewed that forcing something down somebody’s throat even if he or she didn’t like it is unjust. They believe one must act as per one’s feelings and if someone doesn’t feel to sing the anthem from within, the state shouldn’t force.

Why! the state must force it! Patriotism is not born with us. It’s learnt. If you failed to cultivate respect for national symbols in your formative days doesn’t mean you’ll amble around disrespecting it. You need to learn it now.

Now, come to the Justice Chandrachud’s argument. “People go to a movie theatre for undiluted entertainment. Society needs that entertainment” – he argued.

Of course, Society needs it. Go and have your undiluted entertainment. But, before that, spare a fleeting 52 seconds to foster a sense of unity with those who are slogging it out in the glaciers, ravines and deserts away from their homes and families to keep India together and to give you the moments of your ‘undiluted entertainment’. Just 52 seconds, me lord, even before that entertainment actually begins. After you pass the test of this 52 seconds torture, your entertainment will begin and remain undiluted till the end. Shake your buttocks or roll over the floor laughing without dilution. After all, you’re blessed with 2 legs and a shoulder to carry the burden of uniting with the pride of India. What is missing is a little spirit. kindle it.

Secondly, the learned judge asks – ‘do we have to wear our patriotism on our sleeves?’

Among a population which takes pride in wearing its arrogance, prejudices, bigotry, egoism and hubris on its sleeves, what harm is there in wearing the lesser evil, patriotism? When a judge talks like a man-in-the-street, he mostly plays to the gallery instead of serving justice.

Moreover, We shouldn’t miss the larger symbolism of the act. Standing up and singing the song inspires, motivates and teaches others to respect it. Those who detest the idea of standing up for singing the national anthem must have been in the company of someone doing the same, in their childhood days. Orientations are shaped; negatives orientations are shaped more easily. That’s why we must watch our behavior because we’re influencing someone watching us, especially those credulous children. Set a positive example for them. Don’t play a spoiler in their lives.

Yes, when it comes to playing the anthem in cinema halls, it’s prone to misuse. At times, zealots jump to do moral policing by harassing those who carry reservations on it. In a horrible show of ‘patriotism’ in Goa this year, a couple assaulted a writer and an award-winning disability rights activist, Salil Chaturvedi, from behind who didn’t stand up for the national anthem. The couple didn’t realize that he was disabled. There have been few other cases of such violence in cinema halls. 

Now, it’s up to the state how to take proper safeguards against misuse of such provisions. Education and sensitization play the key role in making people behave as citizens. There is no point in respecting the national symbols when you’re jumping to take law in your hands. A rowdy can’t be a patriot because he’s dangerous for the society. Such instances lend credence to the fact that the nation is heading towards fascism. Hence, the government must criminalise any act of intimidation or physical violence to enforce patriotic behaviour or else we’ll be losing credibility of being a liberal democracy and society.

In the existing circumstances, the best way out of the debate is to wait for the Supreme Court to make it optional for the cinema owners to play or not to play the national anthem before start of the movies. However, even if it doesn’t happen there’s no harm in getting up, tucking away your drink under the seat and holding those half-munched popcorns in your mouth, for 52 seconds and singing aloud – “Jan Gana Mana…” before a ruffling tricolor on the screen. Mind, the child besides you is watching.

Krishnakumar@ThoughtPourri 2017

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SLAPPed by Jay Shah, why not “The Wire” is letting the event play itself out in the court?  

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(Pic Courtesy ajantanews.com)

Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. By analogy, caesar’s son must as well be above suspicion and so should be Jay Shah, the son of Amit Shah, who is now the chief of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party.

The 100-Cr criminal defamation suit filed by Jay Amit Shah against “The Wire” and its correspondent is a move to rise above that suspicion.

The recent controversy around the business activities of Jay Shah and the alleged “golden touch” that he brought to his business since 2014 when his father became the BJP chief, comes as a real shot in the arm of a huge lobby consisting of players, long baying for the blood of Narendra Modi. The lobby sniffing madly for anything incriminating against the Modi camp, suddenly got a luscious trail of wrongdoings dished on a platter when the online news portal, “The Wire” published a report titled, “The golden touch of Jay Amit Shah”.

The report, apparently done with serious research and data-mining, concluded to impute that Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, manipulated his circumstances to acquire unexplained wealth since elevation of his father as president of the BJP in 2014. The opening lines of the article conveyed its bottomline:

“The turnover of a company owned by Jay Amitbhai Shah, son of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Shah, increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and the elevation of his father to the post of party president”. The intention to implicate Amit Shah, whose rise coincided with the rise of his son’s fortunes and to ensnare even Modi in the mess was the real slant that raised the heckles of the Modi camp.

To impute the complicity of Modi in the scandal was the real take-away of the opening lines and the imputation found instant takers on both sides of the fence. The “Twimmandos” (a portmanteau of Twitter Commandos) took to their twitter guns to fire instant salvoes on the swelling Huns on the other side.

However, the real bemusing sight was to find Piyush Goyal, the Railway Minister in Modi’s cabinet, holding a press conference to defend a private individual, Jay Shah. Maybe, the Government was aware that the real targets were Amit Shah and Modi and sooner the lie is debunked the better it’s for Gujrat elections, where the Shah-Modi magic would wane should the image of the duo stands blemished. Thus, the Additional Solicitor General was given a hasty permission to defend Jay Shah in the courts. Both these decisions were compared with the reaction of Congress ministers’ during the Vadra land deal expose. The similarity was chilling. Was the Modi government cutting off its nose to spite the face? Even Arnab struggled to elicit an answer from Piyush Goyal.

Despite, similarity in reactions between the two governments, the difference between the Vadra case and the Jay Shah case can’t be overlooked. While the transactions and dealings involving Robert Vadra and DLF was a hush hush affair with scant facts available in the public domain, the Jay Shah case, by its own admission of “The Wire” and reiterated by the BJP brass, all records are in the public domain with details appearing in the filings with the Registrar of the Companies (ROC). It’s all a matter of interpretation and analysis that is the bone of contention between Shah and The Wire. 

The Congress Party, which was long ambling in the wilderness of irrelevance, suddenly got an unexpected opening to tear into Modi. Kapil Sibal rose from his hibernation to address the media and jumped down to the Modi’s throat – “He (the Prime Minister) spoke against crony capitalism. But we know he will remain silent now because the case involves Amit Shah’s son. We also know who the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate will investigate and not investigate.” Sibal has still not got over the bitterness of humiliation that he’d to suffer following his “Zero Loss” doctrine and now he found a chance to return some of it to its biggest benefactors, the BJP and Modi.

The fires were being returned with equal potency as the Modi camp dug in the past of some prominent Wire players.

However, “The Wire” which has a reputation to twist its stories to give a negative slant to everything around Narendra Modi and his government, wasn’t taken kindly by many. It was subjected to a cruel reality check.

What was missing in the din was a merit-based discussion on the facts and analysis presented by “The Wire” and to fill in the role, an article came in “Opindia.com”, an online newsportal which claims to “curate contents from various sources” and points out factual errors and analysis in various journalistic works.

The Opindia article shredded Rohini Singh’s “golden touch” argument into pieces and exposed many loopholes in the report written by her. Picking facts from the same source (return filed with the Registrar of Companies), the Opindia article suggested that “The Wire” picked certain facts suitable to its story while left many other important ones with the motive to give her story a sensational slant so that her damnation that Shah, Jr. had made a windfall gain of 16000 times, may appear credible. The Opindia revealed:

“One of the crux of the (Wire’s) article is that the turnover jumped 16000 times, hence Mr Jay Amit Shah has the “golden touch”. But would a man with the “golden touch” incur a loss of Rs 1,48,00,551 (Rs 1.48 crores)? Yes, as per the same Registrar of Companies (RoC) filings, which Singh quoted so much, this company with Rs 80.50 cr revenues, had Rs 81.99 cr as expenses, and incurred a loss of Rs 1.48 crores as soon as Modi came into power. Of course, revealing such information would puncture the entire narrative that Jay Amit Shah’s business was successful just as Modi came into power. Hence, this small piece was hidden by (Rohini) Singh (sic).”

What initially appeared as a work of serious research was instantly reduced to a piece of malafide story done by cherry picking of facts to suit to a particular narrative. Rajdeep Sardesai, in one of the best balancing act of his journalistic acrobatics, took to twitter to graciously share this article from Opindia.

Now that Jay Shah has filed a Rs. 100 crore defamatory suit over, what it claims to be a “false, derogatory and defamatory imputation”, there is a furor over the move with many putting it in the category of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public participation (SLAPP), where high net worth individuals with deep pockets file defamation suits claiming huge amount of money as damage with the intension to drag the defendant in long litigations and to discourage them or others from pursuing the matter. “The Wire” and many others claim it’s a clear case of SLAPP suit. Well, as happened in the cases of ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ and the news portal ‘Moneylife’ (of Sucheta Dalal), the courts also look into the merit of the allegation whether a lawsuit falls in the category of SLAPP and if yes, it may dismiss the same.

However, the reaction of the mainstream media to The Wire’s report was measured with many choosing to tread the path with caution. Rana Ayyub writing in the Huffingtonpost lamented, “There was an eerie silence on news channels, some focused on karva chauth, others on Muslim appeasement, the rest on pressing issues such as the Hrithik Roshan-Kangana Ranaut spat.” Taking the lawsuit as an intimidation, she was fulminating – “In an ideal world this intimidation should have led to an outrage in the media. Silence by intimidation being the last on the charter of a journalistic organization.” 

Newslaundary, too, lamented that most media houses remained confined to covering Piyush Goyal’s press conference and that’s all. 

The reason was simple. The issue in question is a highly complex legal matter where the writer had cobbled together a conclusion, joining tricky dots and alluding innuendoes that bordered upon a libellous imputation. The rest of them were wiser. They didn’t want to get caught in the act of barking up the wrong tree.

In a matter of legal complications, pick your way wisely or else you may end up being a party. Hence, no one was willing to become a party to a suit, which may drag on for years draining the defendants financially and emotionally without solutions. More so when the counsel of Jay Shah had unequivocally issued a caveat, even before publication of The Wire’s report, to Rohini Singh or to any other media organization, to not broadcast any potentially defamatory comments about his client.

Still, The Wire chose to stick to its guns and published the report. So, one is led to believe it must have solid evidences to back its claim. So, The Wire shouldn’t make a hue and cry over the 100-Cr defamation suit.

After the report was published, the caveat became even wider – “If anyone else republishes/re-broadcasts the imputations made in the said article, whether directly or indirectly, such person or entity will also be guilty of the very same criminal and/or civil liability.”

There’s a report that NDTV too had published a similar story on its site suggesting some 4000% increase in loan advances to Jay Shah, though the same was pulled in a haste, obviously because of the legal complexities surrounding such insinuations, especially when you lack crucial evidences.

Many in the media tried to take the caveat as an open threat.

However, those who take it as a threat show a complete lack of legal literacy about the Indian jurisprudence surrounding the concept of defamation, which is more popular in west than in India.

The option of defamation is available to all individuals whose reputation, in their opinion, has been violated by certain other individuals, organizations or publications. Higher the reputation, bigger the need to be exonerated. If there is a likelihood of defamation, the individual, through his counsel, reserves the right to warn any one to desist from the perceived act of transgressing his reputation. Such caveats are normal. However, a section of media, took it as a threat.

In India, Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 says that defamation can happen “by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, to make or publish any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation, of such person”.

Defamation suit can be filed under either criminal or civil law. Jay Shah, in this case has filed a criminal defamation against the writer and publishers of “The Wire”, meaning they’re confident of proving the ‘actual malice’ that will ensure criminal punishment under the law. A civil suit doesn’t provide for punishment; it simply asks the defendant to pay the plaintiff the claimed money should the latter wins the suit.

After the defamation suit, The Wire and its supporters are looking rattled.

It tried hard to enlarge the ambit of Jay Shah’s defamation suit by giving it a broader perspective through the suggestion that it’s a general onslaught on media’s freedom and on it’s ability to express itself in a free and unbridled manner.

The Wire made a passionate appeal to broaden the implication of the defamation filed against it by quoting the Sullivan case (New York Times Co. Vs Sullivan, 1960), where the New York Times won a case of defamation in Supreme Court filed by L.B. Sullivan, the Montgomery public safety commissioner, who had claimed that a report published by the newspaper tarnished the image of police department by publishing incorrect and erroneous facts of atrocities during the Civil Rights Movement in the Southern US. The jury had unanimously ruled in favour of the NYT, saying that media must be vested with sufficient freedom and liberty in the matter of reporting the conducts of public officials and minor errors in reporting events shouldn’t come in the way of conveying the larger message of truth. The judgment has become the bedrock of media freedom in many parts of the world.

As per my opinion, the Sullivan case, widely quoted in Indian jurisprudence also, is, however, not relevant in the Jay Shah defamation case, as the said judgment was made in connection with reporting the conducts of public officials and hence the same journalistic liberty and freedom is not available in the matter of reporting issues against private individuals, like Jay Shah. Secondly, the Sullivan case had set a ‘malice standard’, in which the plaintiff was burdened with the responsibility to prove that a media report carries ample malice with definite intention to tarnish his or her image. As Jay shah has filed a criminal defamation, he’ll have to prove that malice standard in order to win the suit.

M.K. Venu, one of the founding editors of The Wire, in an internal video interview with Arfa Khanum Sherwani released by the “The Wire” in episode 4 of “Hum bhi Bharat”, was frothing at the mouth at the criminal defamation suit, saying he’s no money but has a battery of lawyers to fight the case. So, what’s the problem, Mr Venu? Let the law take its course.

Well, in the same way as a publishing house carries the right to publish an investigative story, the persons affected by such a story carry the right to challenge it under the law of the land. Then, why to fulminate at the constitutional right of an individual? Rather, “The Wire” Should be happy that it got an opportunity on platter to nail the presumed lie of Jay Shah, by bringing all the facts, circumstances and documents available with it before the court in support of its report. It has got golden time to connect the missing dots and to complete the jigsaw of conspiracy for all to see. 

Let “The Wire” debunk the claim of Jay Shah or his attorneys using its battery of lawyers, including crusaders like Prashant Bhushan, who has already lapped up the matter with gusto. Why “The Wire” is jittery? Does it feel it needed more materials to build a sustainable case? Maybe, yes.

Let the matter play itself out in the court.

KrishnaKumar@ThoughtPourri 2017

 

Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula: Two names, one mission

Since past many days our collective consciousness has been dominated by 2 names – Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula. The two names, coming from two different academia, have become the new synecdoche of anti-establishmentarianism in India and have emerged as the focal point of opposition against the Right-Wing government in the centre. The two names evoke two different stories, yet they come from the same book, preaching 2 gospels: (a) the government in centre is out to muzzle any and all voices of dissension against it and (b) it is anti-Dalit. If the charges stick, the mission is over.

It’s a part of a larger mission designed through finer craftsmanship over a long period of time entailing long sequence of events with one single agenda in mind – to destroy the idea of India. This write up tries to unravel and establish the conspiracy theory, which is playing itself out through the active involvement of few disturbed minds spread across the intelligentsia, academia, mass media, art, cinema, literature and politics. Through a systematic, subtle and sustained efforts these minds have tried to foment, create and brand such an image for India where it is seen out of synch with progressive, democratic and liberal values. Let’s see how. The question leads us to understand and analyze these two names that have become the new anti-establishment posterboys.

Rohith Vemula-whose suicide has been called “institutional murder” by Sitaram Yechuri and on whose death 129 academicians from around the world wrote an open letter to the VC of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) to express their “shock and agony” over what they called “the most recent case of caste discrimination in Indian higher education” – is a classical case of obfuscation of facts and orchestration of malicious intentions. Till the time Rohith chose to commit suicide, he was just another student leader trying to make his ambitious mark in the arena of student politics at the HCU campus where he was enrolled for his Ph.D course. The marquee act of this aggressive student leader, who had switched allegiance from the Marxist Students’ Federation of India (SFI) to the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), was to hold a demonstration in August 2015 in the HCU campus with 4 other students to protest against the hanging of Yaqub Memon, where they offered a namaz-e-janaza followed by the chant “Yaqub tere khoon se inquilab ayega”.

This act, alongwith a series of other ones, led to rising tension between the ABVP and the ASA culminating into an assault, though denied by the ASA, on the ABVP president Susheel Kumar in his hostel room by a group of ASA men led by Rohith which led to the alleged hospitalization of the former. The university expelled the 5 ASA students from their hostel rooms including Rohith, whose monthly stipend of Rupees 25000 was stopped since July due to some obscure reasons. All these 5 students were suspended in September. The ASA alleged that the University had acted upon the complaint of the local BJP MP and central minister, Bandaru Dattatrey, who had written to the Union HRD minister against the activities of the ASA which was, in turn, forwarded by the HRD minister Smriti Irani to the V-C of the HCU.

These students, whose suspension was re-confirmed on 3rd January, 2016 through proctorial enquiry, had set up a tent in the campus and started relay-hunger protest during which Rohith Vemula committed suicide on the night of 17th January, 2016 in mysterious circumstances leaving behind a philosophical suicide note. His death sparked huge protest in the campus which grew rapidly and spread all across India with the protesters accusing the ABVP, Bandaru Dattatreya and HRD minister Smriti Irani of driving Rohith Vemula to suicide. However, the larger issue raised was that the central government led by the PM Modi was anti-Dalit. Under tremendous pressure of the protesters, a FIR was filed under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against Bandaru Dattatreya, the central minister and BJP MP from Secunderabad; Ramachandra Rao (BJP MLC); and Appa Rao Podile (University of Hyderabad Vice-Chancellor).

Kanhaiya Kumar, the first to become the president of JNUSU from the AISF in Sept 2015, had been just another face in the crowd of student politics till 9th February, when the diminutive Begusarai boy alongwith few other students, such as Umar khalid, allegedly raised slogans against India and demanded Azadi for Kashmir at a campus event meant to oppose what they called, “The judicial murder of Afzal Guru”. The sequence of events that followed left such bruised psyches across the nation that the government was forced to raid the campus and arrest Kanhaiya Kumar, who had, till then, gained recognition in JNU circles with his cutting oratorial skills. Further, the sentiments grew stronger and a clamour rose in the nation to close the very institution of JNU itself, with the hashtag #ShutDownJNU trending on the Twitter madly across the country prompted by the impression that the University, subsidized heavily through the tax-payer’s money, had become the den of seditious and secessionist activists. However, the JNU, long being the bastion of the left, rose in support of Kumar with the left-leaning groups of students and faculty rallying heavily behind him against his arrest that was regarded, in the words of the JNU professor Surajit Sarkar, an attempt to “terrorize the students into submission”.

Soon, Kanhaiya Kumar became the new figure of polarization in a highly charged society with the proponents hailing him as the new ‘Red Star’ of politics while the opponents branding him a “traitor” who needed to be “hanged”. The conditional bail after a fortnight in custody, completed the script in the emergence of the phenomenon called Kanhaiya Kumar, as he came back to his den on March 3rd to do the act he was best at – oratory. He rose to the occasion and took his oratory to the level of demagoguery by delivering a sharp upper cut to none other than Narendra Modi. He had been told that the camera lenses of the national media would be trained at him and hence he needed to calibrate his discourse to suit to a national audience. He did the same. The rest was done by the media that lapped up the gains and declared that a young star was born with promises to take the moribund Left politics to a new height. Today, Kanhaiya Kumar has become the new hate-object for the Indian nationalists and simultaneously the new messiah for the Indian Left, getting his daily shares of brickbats and accolades.

As said earlier, Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula are two stories with one running mission underneath that binds them strongly with one another and makes them inseparable; the mission is to brand the Modi-led national government as ‘Anti-Dalit’ and ‘intolerant to any opposition in the country’. This mission not only gives their cause a bigger dimension but also connects Kumar and Vemula with all the left-leaning intellectuals, politicians, artists, journalist and mediapersons spread around the nation and beyond in fulfilling the defined mission. Even without facts being tested or investigations completed, the anti-Dalit cry and call to support Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar became an instant movement countrywide. The left brigade had swung to action. A global scholar community comprising of 129 scholars representing various US and European Universities wrote an open letter immediately to the V-C of HCU denouncing, what they alleged, “institutionalized discrimination” leading to the death of Rohithh Vemula and even without a formal investigation, they proclaimed their judgement as follow:

Rohith now joins a long list of victims of prejudice at premier institutions in the country, where pervasive discrimination drives so many Dalit students to depression and suicide, when not simply forcing them to quietly drop out…Measures must be implemented to ensure that such students are supported and allowed to thrive when they enter what is all too often the hostile, casteist environment of higher education in India.” (sic)

The conspiracy angle

It was interesting to find who these 129 people were. Most of them, barring a few names, are Indian-origin men and women with interest in South Asian Studies, especially those related to Dalits, castes and religious issues. A deeper analysis of these names – such as Rupa Vishwanathan, Srirupa Roy (both from the University of Goettingen, Germany), Dwipayan Sen (Amherst College, USA), David Mosse (University of London) or Raka Ray (University of California, Berkley) – done through the books, papers and articles they publish would betray their strong left orientation with Sub-altern approaches and they show a deep bias against the right wing ideologies. For example, Raka Ray in her chapter, ‘A slap from the Hindu Nation’ in a book ‘Violence in Indian democracy’ edited by Amrita Basu and Srirupa Roy (Seagull India Press) wonders on the victory of Narendra Modi in 2002 elections after the Gujrat riots “despite”, she writes, “his involvement in the orchestration of the massacre of Muslims in Gujrat”. Her blatant accusation of ‘involvement’ shows her deep bias to a person who has been absolved from any such charge from the highest court of the land. The fanaticism and anathema of these intellectuals towards targeted individuals drive them away from having any faith in the India’s judicial system even at the highest level. These academicians passed a pre-conceived judgement on the whole matter of the HCU on the basis of the one-sided story totally disregarding the ABA escapades in the campus or Vemula’s Aggressive anti-Hindu stances and also the facts and circumstances presented by the ABVP and N. Susheel Kumar, whose body bruises and subsequent surgery was conveniently overlooked. Clearly, the left-intellectuals were working as per a defined agenda.

Further, a deliberate attempt was started by a section of media, mainly by The Indian Express, The Hindu, The NDTV and the ABP News to project the case of Vemula’s suicide as “caste discrimination” which is weird and untenable as N.Susheel Kumar, with whom he was in conflict, is himself an OBC student, not a high caste one who are normally accused of inflicting oppression against the Dalits. To the contrary, the conflict between Vemula and Susheel Kumar was nothing but an ideological struggle to establish hegemony between the ASA and ABVP where the latter seriously challenged the anti-national orientations of the former on the campus.

Similarly, a concerted attempt was made to prove that Vemula committed suicide under pressure of Dattatreya etc and police was forced to file a case of abatement to suicide under SC/ST Act turning a blind eye to the contents of his suicide note where he hasn’t blamed anyone for his suicide rather he’d sounded amazingly calm and philosophical throughout the text complaining of “a growing gap between my soul and my body” and showed no acrimony towards any person or situation. He writes:

No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself. No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act. This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this. Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone…” (sic)

Can anything be more clear? But, this was completely and conveniently ignored as it didn’t suit the politics of it’s benefactors.

Sadly, any incident involving a Dalit in India is depicted through a straightjacket of stereotypes where the person looses all other traits or flaws in him and is judged by one single identity – Dalit. This straightjacketing syndrome, applicable also to the minorities, is not only unfortunate for the person who might be yearning to break free from the identity, but also dangerous for the state as it prevents the governments from taking punitive measures in an independent manner in cases of delinquent behaviors involving Dalits, as happened in the case of action taken by HCU in suspending Rohith Vemula. The proctorial enquiry leading to his suspension might have been free and fair but the decision was straightjacketed by the experts with the stereotype of caste-discrimination. I don’t know whether Rohith was guilty or whether he was a victim of discrimination or not – only the court will say that – but the stereotyping zealots wouldn’t allow me to wait till then. They’ll pronounce judgement handsdown.

However, the whole Rohith case is built up on slippery wicket as a slew of evidences, including the local intelligence report, his parents’ affidavit with Guntur Revenue department, IB report, his father’s interview and many other things prove that he was born to a Vaddera family (OBC) in Gurazala mandal in Guntur although he managed to obtain the SC certificate. However, the Left brigade would fight teeth and nail to negate this, as the whole case so diligently built by them, would collapse if the contrary is proved.

Similarly, the same Left brigade sprang to its feet to defend Kanhaiya kumar, storming the street with the allegation that the government is muzzling the freedom of speech and is out to quash all opposition. The government, just back to its feet after successfully fighting off a crippling, sustained campaign against the so called ‘growing intolerence’ in the nation, was in no mood to back down and flexed its muscle. This infuriated the Left camp and the members took to their respective battlefronts – in campuses, in streets, in newsrooms, in courtrooms, in cinemas, in literatures and in the parliament.

The battle of hegemony: A fight to finish

With the battlelines drawn, and with the government buoyed by a supportive majority opinion reflecting through the social media, the war has become a proverbial fight to finish. It’s a battle where everyone has taken sides, including the media and the journalists who have started wearing their colours on their sleeves. While Arnab Goswami, Sudheer Chaudhary and Rohit Sardana raised the battle cry of Nationalism from the TV studio, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Ravish Kumar rushed to the ground zero to train the comrades how to shoot from the mouth. The nervousness to take edge in this existential war was so obvious that Barkha Dutt had cancelled all her engagements to reach Kanhaiya Kumar, as soon he was released on 3rd March, and reportedly gave him a hour-long closed door tutorial on things to speak in his first speech after release. She had ensured to fire her own guns from the firm shoulders of Kanhaiya Kumar. The shot was indeed fired and travelled wide in splinters.

Now, the question arises why the Left is so desperate with these two names? The answer is simple: these names are their only hope in their battle for survival. After fizzling out of the carefully-orchestrated intolerance movement last year, these two names have the potential to keep the government vulnerable. Hence, the Left would employ all the means under their command to glorify these two names to carry the battle as far as they can.

In the final analysis, these two names have to play important roles in the battle of hegemony between the Leftist and the Rightist ideologies where the Rightist forces appear to have taken edge by making heavy inroads into the earstwhile Leftist bastions. Now, the University campuses across the country are the new bastions that the Rightist forces are desperate to conquer.

It is important for the Rightist ideology to flourish and prosper in the University campuses because in order to defeat the Left, they need to cut off their ‘intellectual’ supply line that goes through those prominent Universities. The Left has always remained hooked to identity politics – caste, Dalits, majdoor, Kisaan, women, minority – and, despite all theoretical talks to the contrary, has tried to preserve societies divided on the fault-lines of identities. Hence, the Left’s idea of India is structured around idea of divisions. On the contrary, the Rightist ideology has always believed in Holism where all such fault-lines of society created and preserved around such identities have to vanish.

The Right-Wing’s idea of Nationalism is built around an India where Hindus would be one monolithic community that won’t be hegemonic but brotherly, as it has historically been in the past, to accommodate different ethnicities in order to evolve – what the JNU’s Doubting Thomoses may not like to hear from them – Multi-ethnic Nationalism. That’s something Modi described about India during his victory speech in 2014 as ‘A beautiful garland of different flowers’. However, in order to achieve that the Hindus need to evolve and to re-invent themselves in multiple ways to dissolve those internal fault-lines of caste, untouchability, gender-inequality etc so that one single holistic, monolithic, ethnic identity for the community could be created. And that’s what the Right-Wing strategists are aiming at. This precisely is the reason why the Left wing is so worried and so hell-bent on de-stabilizing the Right-wingers because it knows that once that consolidation happens, it will be finished. Divide and Rule has always paid, hasn’t it?

Then, should the Right Wing ideology win in India?

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri, 2016

An open rejoinder to Barkha Dutt to her open letter to the Prime Minister Modi.

 

Dear Ms Barkha Dutt,

I’m writing rejoinder to your letter to the PM Modi because like so many of my fellow citizens, to quote you, I’m both angry and anguished, and also because I know that the PM Modi hardly joins issues with anyone but the common citizens of India. Ah, now don’t scowl in the pretension that the common citizens of India have no voice or opinion; they do have both, and better than even the media people, which is evident in the success of our democracy over the decades. The richness and tonality of these voices and opinions have added muscle, strength and vibrance to our democracy.

Let’s begin with two things: First, none of the missives from the likes of yours can be ignored; it gives the people a kind of scale to fathom the low to which you can sink in your professional dishonesty. Second, it’s good that you’re well aware of what you are; you needn’t harp on about your special identities – “Presstitute”, “sickular” etc which you’ve acquired so diligently by your splendid idiocies. We all know about them and, post-Nira Radia event, would better like to supplement them with some even more juicier ones. So, good that you prefer to move around in your true skin; it’s a real fun to deal with a wolf in wolf’s clothing.

Gujarat, the leitmotif of your barbs against the BJP in general and Modi in particular, was sure to figure in this missive, but, unwarranted, it came at the very outset. It was Gujarat, definitely, that defined your ideological self in the world of Indian media and ensured you a hallowed position in the much cultivated and glorified left-wing space in the emerging world of 24×7 TV journalism. But again, that was the first brush of the people of India with something, what your friend, competitor and senior, Rajdeep Sardesai coined later, “the Supari Journalism” – sort of a contract to finish somebody off through crossing all lines of ethics in media and journalism. Okay, good. That’s entirely your pleasure and prerogative. But, this really stupefies to find somebody resorting to what may be called “Spin Journalism” where facts are slanted and presented in such a way as to give a positive spin on someone’s reputation, no matter whether the person is a Maoist or a secessionist or a terrorist. It’s atrocious, preposterous and criminal. It’s nothing but a delinquent act, as iniquitous and shady as anything else can get. It’s a crooked effort to propagandize black into white, or worse, to induce people into believing that black is beautiful, in situations where in reality it is not.

The ‘Spin Journalism’ has some pre-requisites – quintessentially in binaries – the first and foremost being that you must have wily intentions, yet have lofty principles to cloak them; you must have ability to say nasty things, yet have immense argumentative skills to make them sound genial; you must have the insolence of a traitor in your words; yet have the confidence of a patriot in your arguments; you may have patronization from enemies, yet you may walk with the confidence of a patriot – that makes a Spin Journalist. And that, Ms Barkha Dutt, defines who you are. The things you say – veneered in principles, civility and idealism – may not essentially come from your heart, but from the minds of a Maoist, a secessionist or a traitor to which you, through your uncanny erudition, spin into palatable ideologies. The voice of your inner-self, now it appears, is the voice of the dangerous elements who seem to be nothing but your extended self. You call it ideological posturing, you call it intellectual scrutiny, you call it anti-establishmentarianism, you call it left-wing activism; call it whatever, though in reality, it’s nothing but helping those who carry nefarious intentions against the idea of India. Such support, coming from a decorated journalist like you, is a huge tower of strength to those anti-national forces. No, I’m not saying you’re one of the anti-nationals; I’m saying you breed them.

Such critical reductionism is necessary to reach at the core of the existence of humbugs like you so that the gullible ones, running into millions, may unseat you from the exalted throne they’ve seated you in.

Taking the idea of your binary existence forward, I find that your vainglorious romanticism, bragged annoyingly, around the defence forces of the nation is nothing but a camouflage to conceal your unholy intentions. Each time you need to speak something on behalf of those anti-national voices, you plan a border excursions to army zones and, wandering among them, gather enough brawny points to offset any potential challenge to your patriotism as you speak for them. Dear Ms Dutt, believe me you’ll be doing more favours to the army and the defence forces by refuging to hold a brief for the anti-national and secessionist forces than by reporting on them from their mountainous trenches. They would certainly welcome a person not creating and sustaining enemies within while they’re battling against them at the frontiers. Madam, I wouldn’t be surprised if during your next jaunt to the rugged war zones you find a less welcome, if not hostile, men in uniform. Disciplined, as they always are, they may not give you jeers and catcalls, but certainly you’ll not miss those angry stares and threads of reds in their eyes.

Hence, your maudlin patriotism, as you proudly condescend, stands in weak defence to your contrasting designs. Yes ma’am, to counter you, it’s entirely possible to deeply respect the military and to be an ethical thug betraying the nation.

Let’s come to JNU. Now, after this reductionist analysis of the person you’re, it’s not surprising to find you deeply anguished over “multiple manipulations”, “doctored videos” and “police excesses” in JNU campus. Let’s talk straight. First, the police action wasn’t in “excess”, rather it was necessary and minimum. The police needed to raid the campus; it wasn’t a pickpocketing incident or a gambling match at Sabarmati dhaba that needed to be settled by the in-house mechanism. It was an act that smacked of anti-nationalism and secessionism, something that carries wider ramifications for this nation battling the menace of terrorism since long. Second, whether the video was doctored or not, a Barkha Dutt is no one to pre-judge that. There are agencies, with proper procedure and professional accomplishment, to do the job. Let, there be a thorough analysis; let the law take its own course. Till the time, the police remand is necessary. The law-enforcing agencies, despite strong circumstantial evidences and despite grave ramifications of the incident, have no right to anticipate an act of anti-national criminality, but the honourable Barkha Dutt has the right to anticipate their innocence, and hence the right to cry foul. Preposterous, again.

No nation, howsomuch banana texture it may have, can afford to turn it’s eyes away from potential anti-national activities. If it does, it does it on its own peril. Moreover, today’s India isn’t a banana republic. It can’t and shouldn’t take a chance. Third, there wasn’t “manipulations” in government’s action. The accused students needed to be investigated. Rather, the likes of Ms Dutt made all sorts of manipulations to stop that from happening. The students haven’t been thrown to the wolves; rather, they’ve been subjected to the law of the land. Your appeal to the PM to drop the charges against Kanhaiya Kumar, concede the “mistakes” and “apologize” presumably to the sections of the people you represent, is as much mischievous and stunning as it is laughable. Mr. Prime Minister, I know you aren’t going to do any of it.

Ms Barkha Dutt, India is a nation that rightfully takes pride in the vibrance and strength of its constitutional institutions; judiciary being one of them – the most shining, perhaps; it takes harshest of positions when it comes to defend the fundamental rights of individuals from the excesses of the state. But, you seem to have lost faith in the efficacy of the judicial system of India, madam. If not, why this clamour to release the accused even without a formal investigation? ‘Insaniyat’, you say. But, you can’t afford to apply the principle of ‘insaniyat’ to a University that is becoming a breeding ground for proud secessionists. Is this the kind of non-conformism or youthful rebellion that you find natural among the youth and wish to concede? Enough has happened in the past. But, the nation hasn’t selected this government to prolong the past. I sound jingoist? You got me wrong. I’m a nationalist.

Yes, what’s wrong is wrong. The mob justice, led by the lawyers brigade is a deplorable act and the government certainly is to take the blame for it. It has got enough flak for that and it needs to pull its socks up to deal with circumstances like them with better responsibility and accountability in the future. Mr. prime Minister, hope you’re listening and like Ms Smriti Irani, take all supplications coming your way very seriously. The government needn’t give an opportunity to Ms Barkha Dutt to add two wrongs to make a right, anymore.

I don’t wish to bring any quotes here to bolster what freedom of expression, nationalism or sedition means, yet since you’ve quoted Gurudev Ravindranath, I’d also like to wind this up by dropping one of his small quotes:

“facts are many but the truth is one.”

Let that truth come out through the route it really should – the courts of India. It should come neither through the government’s press briefings nor through the wisdom of Barkha Dutt. Let the truth come out. Even if the accused are declared innocent in the ensuing trial, the government need not be worried. It must feel content, like many among the citizens, that it acted upon a potentially damaging information. And, it acted fast. All secessionism must be nipped in the bud.

Dear Barkha Dutt; let me tell you here that I’ve ever admired you as a compere and would like to quote one particular live show where I was present in the audience – your interview of Oprah Winfrey at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012; your introduction of Oprah to the audience was a fabulous poetry of eloquence, diction and oratory that was nothing but a knock-out speech. In the audience, I saw, everyone was mesmerised, and no less was Ophra herself, who at the end of the introduction asked you where was the teleprompter. Everyone clapped in awe, I, the loudest. But, today I believe you’ve belied many of us; you’ve belied a hope.

Protecting the nation is a shared responsibility. It can’t only be left to the government. The media, the academia, the civil society and the intellectuals – all need to play a role in it. However, many among these four seem to have taken a shared responsibility to destroy the nation, instead. You appear to be one among them, Ms Dutt. If yes, we’re pitted on the opposite sides and are ready to fight it out. Put your gloves on.

And, I appeal to my armymen not to join the battle here. You keep guarding the frontiers. We’ll take care of all the enemies within.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2016

Politics is the last refuge of a common man: Does it sound the end of the politics of vote-bank?

It's scary: Arvind Kejriwal on Delhi poll victory

Politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. I believed in this Samuel Emanuel inspired dictum as a gospel truth till I saw the recently held Delhi elections. The outcome of this election threw up interesting trends that made me turn my view up-side-down. Now, I’ve gone to reverse the dictum and substitute it with a new aphorism that says ‘Politics is the last refuge of a common man’. Honestly.

The common man – long cheated, mistreated, overlooked and underestimated – is now the new king of electoral politics. He has learned to assert his voice through voting and has discovered the benefits of it. Now, he’s clear in his mind and giving the best possible mandate to politicians in successive elections. Take the examples of Bihar assembly elections of 2005 and 2010, UP assembly elections of 2007 and 2012, successive Gujarat assembly elections since 2002 to 2012, the Orissa assembly elections under BJD, the general election of 2014 and the just held assembly elections of Delhi – the one thing that is conspicuous by its commonality is that the people want to give clear and decisive mandates. They’re no longer the disenchanted citizens of the past who stayed away from electoral processes with the conviction that nothing changes with elections and voting. Now, people are convinced that things would change. If it doesn’t happen from above, the people have learnt to force it from the below. The common man has learnt the art of playing the role he’s supposed to play in the game of democracy – the role of a master.

Earlier, political parties looked for segmented groups in societies whom they pampered and catered in return for votes. The Congress banked upon the Muslims and the Dalits, the Bhartiya Jansangh/BJP banked upon the Brahmins and traders, the communists banked upon the peasants and industrial labours, the post-mandal regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party, etc banked upon the respective castes cultivated and catered by them. Such groups held their respective parties in reverence and voted religiously in favour of them in blocks. The allegiance of the voters to their party was ultimate and political parties in turn catered to the meanest interests of such groups in order to keep their voting base cemented. Such segmented political groups were known as ‘Vote Bank’.

The vote bank politics has long dominated the political discourse of the post-independence India and has guided the behaviors of the established political parties towards the process of electioneering. The political parties, accused of manipulating policies to accommodate narrow goals of dominant interests groups, have been long criticized and ridiculed for designing their political manifestos with the aim to comfort the moods of their respective vote banks. So long the politicians kept these specific segments well-humored, the latter remained loyal and returned huge political windfalls to the politicians. The whole decade of the 1990’s that saw the politics of Ram Mandir and caste-based reservations, was dominated by the vote bank politics. Here, the politicians had the last laugh. They won or lost but their vote bank remained intact; people never ditched their ideological masters.

Come the new millennium and many things changed in Indian politics. The restructuring of the economy and the changes in the policies during the early 1990’s took time in taking roots and by the next decade results had started flowing. The economy expanded, jobs started rolling in, opportunities opened up and development came to stay. The IT industry led the India-story from the front, and using the energy and talent of the youth, became the powerful engine of development. The young generation became the face of the change and through its dominant influence in society, unleashed the youth culture in India defined by individual freedom and personal choices; the youth was no longer prepared to run behind pseudo- ideologies and blind legacies. It had largely freed itself from the ideological bondages of early decades.

This trend had a telling effect on politics. Politicians started talking of development sweeping their older agenda under the carpet. Newer breed of politicians emerged who made development their mantra and pursued the goals of governance with ruthless zeal. Narendra Modi, Naveen Patnaik, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Nitish Kumar and even Sheila Dixit became the new role models and had people swooning for them. The common man had well understood that his future was hitched only to economic expansions and growth. The resurgent India had taken recourse to a single-ideology – the ideology of development.

Those politicians who talked of development and growth – by preference or strategy – were rewarded handsomely. But, those who failed to keep their ears to the ground were made to lick dust. Those old-school veterans, who refused to dance to the tunes of the emerging times, were pushed to irrelevance. The vote banks had crumbled. Its pieces, each written with the sad story of a failed politics, lied strewn all around the old warhorses sitting in opposition.

But, the story begins form here. The common man has now understood the power of his being; he’s tasted the power of a master. Thus, he has grown restless. He wants results – tangible results – within the promised time. He frets at delays and grumbles at failures. Today, a politician can’t expect to be given a long rope. If promise, deliver within time; else, make way.

The common man has grown smarter. He has become opportunist. Today, the common man is no one’s eternal enemy, no one’s perpetual friend; only its interests are eternal. It has no allegiance. The people of Delhi, who had given all the seven seats to the BJP in the parliamentary elections just nine months back, changed allegiance and handed down the BJP its worst electoral defeat in the Delhi assembly elections. Hence, it is important for the politicians to understand the psyche of a common man. This common man is now no one’s man. He will turn whatever way he finds his interests being served. Yesterday, the same common man found the BJP to be promising and he’d fallen for it. But, in Delhi in 2015 he found Arvind Kejriwal offering more. Hence, he turned for him lock stock and barrel. This is smart politics. Such people’s opportunism is good for democracy. Now, the politicians will think twice before promising moon. And, if they do, they’ll sign advance contracts for a sincere moon mission.

Now, no one loves anyone. If you deliver you’ll be loved; if you fumble you’ll be kicked hard in the teeth. And, no mercy for big names! Many big names have been thrown off to a place of oblivion by the people in recent past. Hence, the Delhi elections, which sits pretty top on the series of similarly concluded elections, tell the political class one thing – don’t fool the people and don’t mess up with their expectations. The same holds true for Arvind Kejriwal as well. The euphoria generated and the bonhomie created has heightened expectations of the masses which will act as a double-edged sword. It can cut both ways.

The politicians have long played politics with the people. Now, it’s people’s turn to play politics with the politicians. The common man has long been cheated in politics. Now, he’s understood well how to get his due back. Now, politics is the last resort of a common man. Is it the end of the vote-bank politics in India?

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2015

The Ten Messages from the Victory of AAP in Delhi

Delhi Election Result: Dream Victory for Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, BJP Flattened

Arvind means ‘Lotus’ (Kamal) in Hindi. But, the BJP which proudly flashes lotus as its symbol, couldn’t imagine in its worst dreams that one day another ‘lotus’, called Kejriwal – long ridiculed and written off – would totter on the way of its proud victory march and blow away its whole rank and file like a hidden landmine. A new ‘lotus’ is born in Delhi through a historic mandate that would probably never be beaten in times to come. The victory of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party is stunning, spectacular and full of messages.

The first message is that no one is a spent force in Indian politics. The only thing that matters is the capacity to hang on and to keep slogging one’s way through all adversities. The one who has vision and perseverance to implement his vision would see through the hardship to emerge victorious some day or other. Hence, in politics, just hang in the middle and leverage your opportunities judiciously to be the winner on your day. Arvind Kejriwal, once discredited and ruled out of the fray, proved that decisively. Mind, no one is out of the race – neither Congress nor Lalu, not even the Communists. They’re just biding time to rise from their ashes which one day, they will.

The second message is that key to political success is the ability of a politician to reach to the people in their own alleys. The Aam Aadmi Party had a people-centric vision and they planned things to implement that vision. While the opposition BJP – riding high on people’s mandate and money-power – made all sorts of noises about the ‘promised’ development on the television and social media, the AAP volunteers huddled back to the drawing board, drew a robust plan and went to the deepest alleys in the remotest corners of Delhi to reach to the last man from the marginalized section of society convincing them that they were their last hope. The people believed them because they found them well-intentioned, honest and approachable as opposed to the traditional politicians cut off from the masses and the ground realities. Tea with ‘Barrack’ is definitely important but no less important is to continue tea parties with people as well in the way Modi had been doing during the Lok Sabha hustings.

The third message is that while living in this world, you can’t hope to survive by living on the ‘digital continent’ rather you need to come down to face the people in flesh and blood. In today’s world, social media is a wonderful way of connecting to the people but in no way it’s a substitute of a face-to-face contact. Those who think that the social media and radio contacts would keep them well-connected with masses need a serious re-think on their strategy. Had it been truth, the BJP, with its highest presence in social media, wouldn’t have been beaten so badly in the highly urbanized constituency of Delhi with a cosmopolitan outlook. Hence, the message is – don’t shy; be among the masses to wipe their tears, something that only a hand can do and not a Smartphone.

The fourth message is that the public can’t be fooled long with empty sloganeering and political symbolism. They’re fed up of talks of development, growth, progress and results. They’re ready to wait; they’re prepared to give you time. But, don’t fool. Show honest intentions. Slogan mongering is good for entertaining the audience but they can’t necessarily fetch votes. To win votes you need to win people’s faith which requires honest efforts and plausible outcomes. Hence, the message is – If you promise, deliver; if you say, fulfill; if you commit, enact or else be ready to be swept out of your ivory tower of illusion.

The fifth message is that never trample the ambition and wishes of your grassroot workers. The politicians feel that they carry the goodwill of people. But, that goodwill emanates from the abilities of their grassroot workers, who keep trudging the lanes and by-lanes of hinterlands over years building up the aura around their leaders’ persona and generating goodwill. But, the leaders sitting pretty comfortable on this goodwill forget the importance and relevance of such grassroot workers and insulate themselves from the latter’s voices. Thus, they take arbitrary decisions overlooking their collective interests. The same happened in BJP, which parachuted an outsider in Kiran Bedi into CM’s position, totally overlooking the wishes of its grassroot level workers who had been working since decades in the party. The result was general dissension among the cadre leading to a considerable dent on their enthusiasm. Hence, the message is – abuse abundantly, but respects your men when they ask for it.

The sixth message is that the masses are kind; they forgive your blunders if you approach them with folded hands admitting your mistakes and repenting them over and over again. The same happened with Indira Gandhi after emergency in 1980 and the same happened with Kejriwal now. He bowed his head in repentance and in absolute subservience to people’s judgment. The public conceded the mistakes of Arvind Kejriwal and rewarded him with a handsome second-term. Hence, when make mistakes, admit instead of offering irritating justifications.

The seventh message is that the people, when silent, are most decisive. In democracy, politics is the last refuge of people; if you play politics with them, they will play politics with you. Hence, politicians! Beware of people’s mood and work for collective interest. Time and again, people have expressed their verdict in a decisive manner. Hence, don’t mess up with people mood. When they make up their mind, they punish decisively.

The eighth message is that the marginalized poors, the social underdog and the have-nots are a dominant force in Indian democracy and time and again they’ve proved that when given a free and fair opportunity to exercise their mandate, they speak up with their votes. This constituency, which lied orphaned after the sad demise of the Indian left after the 2009 general elections, was a big constituency to cater to. The AAP has stepped into the void and seized the electorate.

The ninth message is that a strong state, having a formidable mandate of the people will have a better bargaining power with a strong centre. Hence, it will result into the era of a better-run co-operative federalism with a new hope for development.

The tenth and the most important message is that a strong opposition sitting in Delhi is good for the politics as it will act as a constant spectre of defeat in the visions of the central government resulting in curtailment of autocratic tendencies in the leaders. The aura of invincibility around any politician is not a good sign for democracy. The constant fear of people’s whim will be the driving force behind performance. Moreover, periodic defeats are necessary for political parties for much needed course corrections as well as for removal of complacency from their word-views, which creeps in eventually.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2015

The Last Laugh: Attack on the French Cartoon Magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris

PHOTO: A picture taken on September 25, 2012 in Paris shows two editions of French satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" one reading "Irresponsible newspaper," right, and the other, bearing an empty front page reading "responsible newspaper."

All humors don’t necessarily end in laughter.

The cartoonists of the French Cartoon magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ learnt it in the bullets’ way when fundamentalist Islamic militants stormed the magazine’s office in Paris to avenge, what they reportedly shouted in streets, “the insult of Prophet Muhammad”. The three militants barged into the building’s security gates holding guns on a woman employee and forcing her to use her security codes to let them get inside. For the next 5 minutes it was mayhem in the building as bullets rained on unsuspecting journalists killing 10 of them on-spot. Later, the gunners, while fleeing, also shot down 2 policemen in the streets raising the on-spot toll figure to 12.

The attackers liquidated 4 of the key figures of Charlie Hebdo, including magazine’s editor and chief cartoonist, Stéphane Charbonnier, nicknamed “Charb” – who appeared on a “most wanted” list published by Inspire, al-Qaeda’s terrorist propaganda magazine in 2013 – and Jean Cabut, known as “Cabu”, a celebrity cartoonist who had the fame of being the highest grossing cartoonist in the world. The other prominent cartoonists to fall to the bullets were Georges Wolinski and Bernard Verlhac, nicknamed “Tignous”. However, an adventitious and fortuitous trip to London saved Gerard Biard, the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo.

PHOTO: Stephane Charbonnier is pictured on Sept. 19, 2012 in Paris.

Stephane Charbonnier

Charlie Hebdo’s brush with Islamic hardliners is nothing new. In late 2011, the magazine came out with a spoof issue “guest edited” by the Prophet Muhammad commemorating an Islamist party’s victory in Tunisian elections. To mock the Sharia law, the special issue was named “Charia Hebdo,” which ran a cartoon that showed Muhammad uttering “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” The office of Charlie Hebdo was bombed and fired and later its website was also hacked and defaced while the employers received calls giving death threats.

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Charb had previously defended a controversial series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in 1011-12, saying: “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me. I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law.” Smugness, though. I shudder to remember the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia and imagine what would have happened to these guys, had they been there.

A cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo, Laurent Leger was quoted by the BFM TV in 2012, “The aim is to laugh…. We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.” Gerard Biard, the chief editor, defended the magazine by describing it as “atheist,” “democratic,” and a supporter of “laïcité,” France’s secularity.

The cartoonist Michael Shaw hit the nail on the head by saying, “When dealing with a subject like religion or ethnicity in cartoons, it’s hard to avoid offending someone somewhere sometime – I’m sure I have.”   He had summed up the situation in the most emphatic way through this fantastic cartoon below carried by the New Yorker in 2006

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Humor is dangerous if used as a tool to reason with a fanatic, and more so if the fanatic swears by a mission to defend his religion. Cartoons are a great means to put people, ideas and institutions to rational analysis and help in correcting human charades by poking fun at them. That’s why humor is greatly valued in modern societies and seen as a means to celebrate differences in popular culture.

However, two questions that pop up are important and need thorough debate. The first is: Do cartoons – or for that matter journalism, art or cinema to broaden the debate – need to draw a line while dealing with the matters of religion and faith? Do we need to insulate the Bible, the Quran, the Geeta and all forms of religious symbols from secular analysis and keep such things out of the ambit of humour, satires, fun and travesties? Or the spirit of positivism and liberalism lighted and brightened over hundreds of years of human progress celebrating rationality, secularism and spirit of enquiry need to be kept afloat? Should progressivism come down on its knees in the face of violent opposition of few misguided fundamentalists or the flame of rationalism must remain strong and counting?

Like Buddha said, the key to solution is the middle path. Balance is the answer between freedom of speech and violation of faith. Treading the path of religion with fun and sarcasm is not a prudent idea. After all, in a world where many wars on opium have already been fought, faith is the most toxic opium.

Yet, the second question arises: should the modern world fall in subservience to the browbeats and bullies of few jihadist fundamentalists? I believe that the Islamic jihadists are terrorists with no ideologies but violence, hence the progressive forces of the world, believing in the ideologies of tolerance and co-existence, need to fight back the challenge posed by those savage and primitive forces of Islamic fundamentalists representing devilry, terror and backwardness. Now, the jihadists have adopted a more sinister strategy of carrying out localized, focused, small-intensity attacks on chosen targets, who are the perceived enemies of Islam.

Hence, now hold your tongue and think before you say. Had Bernard M Baruch been alive, he’d have rephrased his famous quote as follow: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind unless you’re dealing with a society infested with jihadists.” (Italics mine)

The various past incidents of religious fundamentalism and jihadist violence happening all throughout the globe make me feel that a clear contour of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ – as foreseen by Samuel P. Huttingtton in 1993 where he prophesied that in the (then emerging) unipolar world, the next wars would be fought on various forms of identities especially religious ones – are emerging now.

Hence, now is the time to take sides. It’s the time all the progressive forces of the world see through this plan of the fundamentalist/jihadist forces and come together to fight them to defeat their primitive ideologies of violence and terror.

Let the progressive, rational, positive, modern world have the last laugh.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2015

Is cleanliness an upper class notion and filthiness an inalienable companion of ‘half-human’ poors?

Children play at a slum in Allahabad, India, Oct. 3, 2011. 

As Narendra Modi sets off his ambitious Clean India mission aimed at cleaning India completely by October 2019, the nation embarks upon one of its most radical nation-wide campaign after independence. It’s a social, economic, cultural and ethical campaign all rolled into one that’s aimed at taking the new-age India to the realm of a modern living. The campaign is aimed primarily at improving our sense of community living and at instilling the ethos of cleanliness and sanitation in our collective conscience. Maybe for the first time ever, a government sponsored mass campaign has been conceived and initiated in India that aims at jacking up our civic sense and making it a part of our cultural existence.

Symbolism is a great means of communicating ideas and Modi used this tool very effectively to galvanize people into action. He walked the talk by taking up the broom and directed his strong contingent of central government employees to do so. He roped in schools and other institutions as well and soon the nation was witness to a mass cleanliness drive happening all across that became the focus of attention for the whole gamut of national and international media. However, was there a sincerity of purpose in the act or was the whole exercise just a hollow tokenism that has come to be associated with all the government initiatives of this nature? With the level of commitment and determination that Modi displayed one can only hope that the exercise doesn’t end up being a nine day’s wonder and that it translates into changes on ground. With a formidable 30-lakh strong manpower in shape of government officials at his disposal and with a massive 2-lakh crore budget at his command, he’s got all the men and all the resources to execute his herculean mission.

Symbolism works well with a credulous population and Modi is using it to perfection through the dead-metaphor of a broom. His broom-wielding act and image will go a long way in shaping the imagination of the young-generation, still in schools, whose impressionable minds may take the mission cleanliness to greater dimensions in days to come. With elements of progressivism intertwined in the mission, even the cussed urban middle class would find the cleanliness appeal difficult to ignore, if sustained tenaciously for long, and would certainly hit it off with the mission soon. In urban areas where people have a certain level of education and development, this campaign would kick off well. But, will Modi’s efforts pay with the poor and deprived population who are the major sufferer of filthiness and squalor? Will his sensitization drive find favour with the poverty-stricken sea of humanity in rural and urban slums?

Cleanliness is a socio-cultural phenomenon; it is embedded in the life situations people inherit and live. The rich and upper class have their life situations themed around the essence of neatness and cleanliness where beauty, tidiness and aesthetics govern their world view; it is reflected in the ideas, institutions and physical structures created by the rich for their individual and social needs. Opulence, luxury and elegance can’t exist without cleanliness and sanitation. Thus, the utilities created for the rich and upper class are swanky, elegant, neat and hygienic – their houses are grand, their neighborhoods are shiny, their clubs are classy and their airports are swanky. Cleanliness and tidiness gets permeated into their ethics, value-systems and behavior patterns. They get used to it. As a result, the rich follow the rules of cleanliness and sanitation and demand its enforcement. Thus, cleanliness comes natural to the upper class and becomes their way of life. It’s a bourgeois necessity.

On the other hand, the poor inherit and live deplorable life situations where nothing matters more than plain survival. The eternal struggle for existence that they live through, shapes their world view and they remain fixated with the questions of their basic needs – food, clothing and humble shelter over their mean existence. They’ve no capacity or willingness to think beyond on questions that bothers the wider civilization – cleanliness and sanitization. The dirt, filth and squalor around them is something they get accustomed to live with – they don’t find it shocking; they don’t think it distasteful. All they need is their hunger pacified, their children clothed and their families sheltered. They feel blessed if they’re able to put up a shanty no matter whether it’s besides the city drains, they feel beatific if they’re able to sleep beneath a cover no matter if it’s next to the heap of municipal filth, they feel indebted if they’ve a place to defecate no matter whether it’s in the open. Filthiness and dirtiness have permeated into their consciousness and have become a part of their lives. Their children inherit this consciousness and live around merrily with their wretched existence.

Poverty robs all senses and sensibilities from humanity – it kills their sense of beauty, snuffs out feelings of shame, destroys self respect and saps out confidence; it tears down most of the humanness from the humanity and leaves at its place a pared down human-being toughing it out on crude animal instincts. A great many of Indian population is such ‘half-human’. Can such a half-human being care for a call to keep his surroundings in rural and urban abode clean? The proposition looks as far-fetched as is the possibility of catching a whale from the fishing rod.

In the given situation it’s obvious that cleanliness and sanitation is more a value-system which comes with the culture of growth and development. A poor man can’t be expected to imbibe the values of cleanliness unless he is given better opportunities in life. Cleanliness and sanitation goes hand-in-hand with the culture of prosperity. The sensitization drive must be accompanied with increased and sustained efforts towards providing better education, employment and opportunities for growth in each individual’s life.

Both the upper class and the poor have their sense of cleanliness guided by their life situations. Hence, the bottom-line is that ‘Mission Clean India’ needs to be taken up in an holistic manner; a segmented approach to deal with the issue of cleanliness and sanitation wouldn’t yield desired results.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2014

http://krishnakumar.co

‘Modi…Modi…Modi’ : Decoding the psychology beneath the universal chant

PM Narendra Modi addressing the Indian-American community at the Madison Square Garden

‘Modi…Modi…Modi’…

As the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, donning a saffron jacket over a full-sleeved peach Kurta and chudidaar pyjama, enters the Madison Square Garden stadium to address the Indian-American community, the palms of the 20,000-strong audience rose to hem their respective mouths that screamed a maddening chant – ‘Modi…Modi…Modi’ – a chant which has now become constant, endemic and universal. It’s a chant that has transcended the boundaries of castes, language, religions, sex and cultures within India and has now travelled overseas to cast spell on the minds of the powerful Indian Diaspora spread all across the globe. People are passionate in chanting the name and fanatic in defending its appeal.

It’s important to understand what makes Modi so special among his followers; why a man in his mid-60’s is considered the ideal among a population that is predominantly young; what makes people, who are traditionally mad for cricket and Bollywood stars, getting swooned for him. The answer lies in the intricacies of the time.

Today, India is an emerging superpower. It’s the biggest democracy, one of the largest economies, one of the biggest military powers, one of the few privileged nuclear-haves and a powerful conqueror of the outer space in the world. It’s the second largest market of the world in terms of demand and constitutes probably the best pool of human resource globally. It’s a global IT powerhouse and a world leader in software technology. The Indian Diaspora spread across the nook and corner of the planet has proved its capacities and the voices of overseas Indian communities have emerged as important voices within their respective countries and societies. Today, India has come up as the global favorite for trade and investment and no country in the world, howsoever mighty and resourceful it may be, can afford to overlook India.

Yet, India wasn’t a pretty picture because the nation as a political community presented a somber countenance. The nation yearned for a strong leadership. The political leadership, over the years was a dud and was short on the X-factor; it lacked initiatives and looked disconnected with time. The leadership was unimaginative, uninspiring and thoroughly disappointing. A good many Indians felt distraught, disgusted and disillusioned with the political process and looked away from it. People wanted a strong man in the helm of affair; the young India wanted a leader who could be youthful, assertive and decisive; the well-off citizens of the nation wanted a leader who could protect their wealth, the middle class wanted freedom from corruption, the youth wanted jobs and the poors and destitute in villages wanted creation of more opportunities to improve their life situations. But, the leadership looked lost and clueless.

A great number of Indians in India and beyond its boundaries had long back started to deconstruct the essentials of a true leader for the emerging nation and on the basis of this deconstruction, had constructed the image of an ‘ideal’ leader capable of providing leadership to the emerging power called India. Since long, they were looking for a person that could be cast into this image but there was none. Now, with the gradual emergence of Narendra Modi on national scene, the long quest of Indians, desperate for their ‘constructed’ notion of a leader, seemed to be over. Narendra Modi truly came out as the man of the moment and in him the restless Indians found the contours of a great leader India was poised to witness after a pretty long time. No wonder the desperate India cried out ‘Modi, Modi’ and soon it became a razing chant. The chant, renting the air in each part of the diverse nation he visited, symbolized the hope, confidence and optimism of a billion plus population around him.

Modi successfully cultivated his image as a strong leader. He used his resources well and marketed himself with immaculate precision. He built up his persona and over the years it grew well enough to fit in the mould of the leadership ‘construct’ that this impatient nation had so passionately created. He parachuted into this mould and customized himself as per its dimension. He sounded strong, bold and confident. He connected not only with the urban affluent society or with the job-seekers of small towns or with the salaried middle class and with the destitute villagers but also with the religious inner core of a deeply-religious society and talked unashamedly of the religion of majority – something which is considered next to blasphemy in a country fed on the constant doses of Nehruvian construct of secularism. He came up as an unashamed Hindu apologist yet beautifully camouflaged his religious appeal behind his leitmotif of development. Thus, the pied piper of Gujarat had captured the imagination of a billion-plus population. His machineries worked upon his successfully crafted image of a saviour and the masses fell for him.

Thus, the chant of ‘Modi…Modi…Modi’ is the cheerful rant and optimist roar of a zealous population long disillusioned with an inactive, non-performing political leadership and hence the cry will keep resonating the airs over the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere so long the dream merchant carries the potentials to deliver on his promises.

Krishnakumar@ThoughtPourri 2014

http://krishnakumar.co

The Pied Piper of Delhi: History Lies in His Momentous Existance in Power

Thousands thronged the historic Ramlila Maidan on the sunny noon of 28th December to witness a great historic moment unfolding; it was a moment that carried the promise of changing the character of Indian democracy like never before. The hero of the moment, Arvind Kejriwal, who had upstaged a stunning debut in the Delhi’s corridors of power, was walking up the stage with six of his chosen marauders, who had slain veterans in the just concluded electoral battle of Delhi. Leading his pack, he climbed up the stage with somber countenance while his mind seemed focused on something far away from the immediate sight. Maybe he wasn’t thinking of the maddening crowd or of their victory chants or galvanizing placards eulogizing him rather he was thinking of the challenges ahead – the challenges that were made bigger by heightened expectations and, far more than anything else, by his own towering moral standards. Soon, he was uttering his oath with grit, determination and scrupulousness; after all, he meant each word of it.

The hero of the moment had well realized that the days of fiery speeches and lofty sloganeering were over and now it was the time to act. He always talked of action; while crying down the government of the day in streets he bandied about thousands of innovative ideas on governance and decreed that a will power to ACT on those ideas are the key to achieve swaraj. And now, it was his time to act on those ideas; it was his time to implement his cherished swaraj. At the moment, it was that element of action that was weighing heavily on his mind.

This darling of democracy had always been reiterating the view that governance is not a rocket science. And, of course, it is not. Governance is simple execution of few commonsense solutions as well as ruthless execution of few daring ideas that carry the potential to ease as well as revolutionize the socio-economic existence of the citizens. It doesn’t require geeks and policy wonks with crude technical expertise to make lofty plans rather few committed individuals with steel in their spines to implement some commonplace solutions aimed at common welfare. Looking at his and his team’s level of commitment to bring about the professed changes, it can be said that it should not be difficult for him to achieve those targets. The political environment is buzzing with innovative ideas; all it needs to have someone who can seize upon them and ACT on those ideas.

Here, the AAP leaders need to step in and prove their worth. The odds are stacked against them – They’ve come up against a hostile opposition, have no majority in the house and are still terrible greenhorns in politics; moreover the onus of governance has fallen upon their unprepared shoulders in the most unexpected manner by a conspiracy of circumstances and not by their own sweet volition. They were not yet prepared for the role; the electoral outcome caught them slightly off guard. Yet, they’re willing to take the bait; they’re willing to shoulder the responsibility. They’re the heroes of a new political order, the rising sun of a new dawn coming over the democratic landscape of 21st century India. They will rise and shine to the occasion. They’re heroes and heroes show their characters in adversity.

Many say they would fail but still they wish to give success a chance. They’re determined to give good governance. If they fail they would like to go down taking the battle in the enemy’s camp. They would expose the opposition; they would expose their unholy designs in bringing down the government. Hence, they have nothing to lose. They’re the proletariat of democracy in the 21st century India who are out to dislodge the formidable czars of power. They’re set to reformulate the political discourses of our time and are destined to redefine the agenda of modern politics. They will redefine the political morality and will dictate the terms of democracy on their formidable rivals in the days to come.

It has been a matter of a great political debate that how long will this government survive. Germs of destruction have been set in its very foundation. Well, the great experiment of the Amm Aadmi may come out to be a short-lived affair but it is going to change the tone and tenor of Indian democracy forever. The politicians will no longer remain the distant figures cut off from their surroundings, the politics will no longer be a byword for sleaze, dirt and scandals and the democracy will no longer remain the fiefdom of few dynastic despots or casteist-communal demagogues; the rules of the game will change forever.

That’s why the ascendance in power of the Aam Aadmi Party, which embodies the collective anger, frustration and disenchantment of the nation, is a unique moment in Indian democracy whose importance lies in its momentous existence in power. History lies in these very moments. It’s outcome is not that important.

The dreams of the Pied piper of Delhi will come to reality sooner or later.

Krishnakumar@ThoughtPourri 2013

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