the following text was edited somewhat (and as usual with copywriters, garbled a bit), and a wholly inappropriate subclause (“why we shouldn’t care”) was added to the title by firstpost, who published that version on july 24th, 2014, at http://www.firstpost.com/world/eyeless-gaza-clueless-india-shouldnt-care-1632867.html

here’s my original copy:

Eyeless in Gaza, clueless in India

 

Rajeev Srinivasan on why India’s astonishing vote in the UN HRC against Israel was wrong

 

After the robust (and in my opinion, correct) refusal to discuss the Gaza issue in Parliament, it was shocking that the Indian government voted for a Pakistani-drafted resolution in the UN Human Rights Commission condemning Israel (alone). Among other things, by calling on some old UN resolutions against Israel, it damages India’s case regarding the spurious (Pakistani-inspired and Arab-supported) resolutions on Kashmir.

 

Maybe it was a result of the Old Guard in the Indian Foreign Service sabotaging the NDA government’s positions: for, after all, as a former diplomat told me, “Israel is used to India voting against them, and don’t mind; they are aware of the compulsions India faces”. Nevertheless, abstention would have been much wiser.

 

It is true that Palestinians in Gaza are suffering from the Israeli bombardment of their territory. Nevertheless, India voting against Israel, or Indian politicians wasting taxpayer money by disrupting Parliament over Gaza, are nonsensical for several reasons. It is evident that the Congress, in particular, is doing the shouting in Parliament just as an excuse to disrupt it yet again and to get some brownie points with militant Muslims as a fringe-benefit.

 

First, the current Palestinian troubles are self-inflicted, as there is no point in provoking Israel and then complaining about their reaction. Second, the refugee status and grievances of Palestinians can easily be solved by wealthy Arabs themselves if only they were willing to resettle them in their vast territories. Third, there is the specious argument that Indians have in the past supported Palestine, and therefore they must do so now.

 

Fourth, the prevailing mythology about Palestinians suggest that they are somehow uniquely downtrodden and worthy of support. Fifth, by implying that the Palestinian cause is supported ipso facto by all Muslim Indians, the latter are stereotyped and ghettoized. Sixth, there are no major Indian interests at play in the Israel-Gaza conflict, and therefore India should only give it the attention it deserves.

 

At its root, the problem is the Arab refusal to grant Israel the very right to exist, and their insistence that Israel and Jews must vacate the land. This stand does not allow for any compromise, and causes all the bloodshed and violence. Clearly, Israel is the aggrieved party on this front.

 

It is also easy to forget what caused the current round of bloodletting. It was the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by the militant Palestinian group Hamas. They could have anticipated that this would lead to harsh Israeli reprisals (that is Israel’s habit); and in fact they  probably did. They wanted large civilian casualties in Gaza as a stick to beat Israel with, and presumably a means to generate more jihadis against Israel.

 

Moreover, it is evident that Hamas intended to cause as many civilian casualties as possible. To this end, they hid rocket batteries in civilian areas, using civilians as a human shield and daring the Israelis to shoot back; which the Israelis did, in the interest of protecting Israeli civilians. Furthermore, a large number of the rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza fell inside Gaza itself, and one of them knocked out power lines supplying Gaza.

 

So it’s fair to say that Hamas, if its goal was to protect the lives and property of Palestinian civilians, actually shot itself in the foot. Of course, that likely was not its goal, and it may well have intended to create a cause célèbre and the usual outrage among the thinly-veiled anti-Jew types, especially in parts of Europe: we have seen the usual anti-Jew riots in Paris.

 

In a way, the incident is reminiscent of the Godhra train outrage: the intent was to create riots that would hurt Muslims, preferably all over India. And just as then, the habitual rage-boys have forgotten the root cause (the burning alive of 59 pilgrims then or the murder of three teens now), and all that remains is the ritualistic chant of “Muslims being victimized”, which of course they milked dry for 12 years in Gujarat.

 

The entire issue of Palestinian victimhood is a travesty in that Palestinians, traditionally the best-educated of the Arabs, could easily have been absorbed into the empty and rich oil kingdoms of West Asia without much trouble. Indeed, much of the original Palestine is now in the kingdom of Jordan (which admittedly doesn’t have any oil, but is fairly peaceful, as the Alawite monarchs keep a leash on Palestinians). If the Saudis, Qataris, Kuwaitis, et al had wanted to emancipate the Palestinians, they could have re-settled them in their own countries and helped them to prosper.

 

Incidentally, that is exactly what has been expected of Kashmiri Pundits ethnically cleansed from Jammu and Kashmir. It is assumed that over time they will get absorbed into Indian territory where they are living in refugee camps – despite noises being made about sending them back, Muslim militants and even the government of J&K suggest that there is no right to return for the Pundits. So why is there some sacrosanct right to return for Palestinians?

 

And let us also note that this is not theoretical. Just when the Gaza outrage was reaching its crescendo in India, the Amarnath Yatra was attacked, 300 tents set on fire, and a number of people killed. How come there is no outrage about this in either the Indian media or in Parliament? Do Hindu pilgrims have any rights in Jammu and Kashmir?

 

I was amused by the notion, attributed by the Hindustan Times to Shashi Tharoor, that since India had, from the time of Nehru, always supported the Palestinians, it should continue to do so (and presumably strongly condemn the Israelis). Apart from the dubious value of an Indian resolution condemning anybody – no one outside India pays the slightest attention to whatever the Indian Parliament says – I find this line of reasoning hilarious.

 

This is like saying, “We’ve been defecating in public since Nehru’s days, and therefore we must continue to do so, QED”. Really? Most people in the world have discovered sanitation, and the question to ask would be why we haven’t, the answer to which is uncomfortable for the Congress. To digress for a moment, Indians are far and away the world’s greatest public defecators, according to a grim chart in The Economist. Not to say that The Economist is the last word, but still, this is a record that we don’t need.

 

The notion that the Palestinians are the only, or even the most, oppressed people in the world, is downright ridiculous. The total number of Palestininans is only a few millions, not much more than the 400,000 terrorized, ethnically cleansed Kashmiri Pundits rotting away in refugee camps for 25 years. But from the oceans of ink spilled on the Palestinians, you’d think they were uniquely subject to oppression.

 

Think of the Tibetans, for that matter: victims of genocide by forced sterilization and abortions, and the systematic destruction of their civilization. Or, if you want something current, Iraq’s Assyrian Christians, given an ultimatum a few days ago by ISIS: convert, flee or die. Their houses are marked with a curlicued Arabic “N” for “Nazarene”. Why is there no debate in Parliament about this, or the mayhem in Libya, or the virtual partition of Syria? Yes, that’s right, it’s none of our business. Well, similarly, Gaza isn’t, either.

 

It is convenient for some in India to make noise about Palestine. I found it amusing when the local Communists once came to my dad’s doorstep in Kerala demanding donations for the Palestinians. On the one hand, I knew, and they knew I knew, that any money I gave them would flow not to some Arabs, but to the local tavern. On the other hand, I asked them, when exactly the Palestinians did stand with India, for instance in our disputes with Pakistan, so that we were morally obligated to reciprocate? The comrades didn’t have a convincing answer.

 

The Congress are using the Palestinians as a proxy to demonstrate to Muslim Indians how much they care about Muslims. This should be exposed as hogwash by Muslim Indians. Far more than the emancipation of Arabs, it is their own progess that Muslim Indians should be worried about: if we are to believe the Sachar Commission (which is by the way dubious), Muslim Indians are in bad shape. So when the Congress cries about Palestinians, the Muslim Indian should remind them that charity begins at home: what has the Congress done for Muslims in India?

 

In fact, more Indians of all religions probably die avoidable deaths from disease, malnutrition, lack of sanitation, and poverty every year than all those who have died in all wars in West Asia in fifty years. This is what the Congress and Communists (their partners in UPA-1) should be embarrassed about, not Gaza.

 

But the clinching argument about Gaza is that no large Indian interests are at stake. Whether or not the Israelis and Gazans are nasty to each other, life goes on pretty much the same for most Indians. India could issue some nice bromides about how in the global interests of peace and goodwill and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, we would be delighted if both parties came to the negotiating table and settled their differences amicably.

 

That sort of a resolution would be unexceptionable. Nothing more: No condemnation, no moralistic rhetoric. We ain’t got no dog in this fight, as my colorful friends from the American South would say. Thus, the UNHRC vote, by an avowedly nationalist government, suggests either cluelessness, or sabotage by bureaucrats with ancien regime connections.

 

Anything other than platitudes and abstention by India makes no sense. Aldous Huxley in Eyeless in Gaza referred to John Milton’s poem about the biblical myth of the giant Samson being blinded by Philistines (Palestinians?) and yoked to an oil mill. Today the smug philistines of India want to blind India and yoke it to some pointless mill of Third-World indignation. They are, of course, hostile to the very idea of India.

 

The vote appeared to be a throwback to the bad old days of India as the chief cheerleader of the banana republics of the Non-Aligned Movement, and of V K Krishna Menon filibustering at the United Nations with a marathon speech. We were the moralizing laughing-stock of the world. We just didn’t know it then. In 2014, we ought to know better.

 

1750 words, 20 July 2014

a slightly edited version of the following appeared on rediff.com on aug 1, 2014 at http://www.rediff.com/news/column/is-brics-a-folly-for-india-to-embrace/20140801.htm

Is BRIC the new NAM, a folly for India to embrace?

 

Rajeev Srinivasan on the dubious pleasures of pushing a BRICS identity

 

I have been generally positive to the idea of the BRICS, or more precisely the original idea of BRIC as articulated by Goldman Sachs analysts Jim O’Neill and Roopa Purushothaman some years ago. I quite liked the two papers they brought out, for they pointed out plausibly how the lack of economic leadership had doomed India to failure – which fit in with my hypothesis about the Nehruvian consensus, as I articulated in “The Nehruvian Penalty” some years ago.

 

However, in its present incarnation as BRICS (with the addition of South Africa), I am beginning to wonder if the organization serves a truly useful function so far as India is concerned. In the worst case, I worry that this will turn out to be another NAM (Non-Aligned Movement): India gained nothing from being a member.

 

To be more charitable, maybe it will be like membership in the British Commonwealth, which doesn’t help India, but merely serves to give someone else (Britain) an importance that it doesn’t deserve given its straitened circumstances (as a shrinking kingdom vulnerable to the secession of Scotland in September: not so ‘Great’ anymore?).

 

What triggered off this concern were two recent events: one, the BRICS shindig in Brazil recently, and then the curiously uniform vote at the UNHRC regarding Israel and Gaza, wherein the BRICS all voted as one (against Israel), when many others (Germany, Japan, Britain) wisely chose to abstain (“a pox on both your houses”). Let us analyze that vote further.

 

In general, the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are a diverse bunch, and it is startling that they managed to speak with one voice on this contentious issue. For instance, Russia has a fraught relationship with Israel, partly because of sustained Jewish pressure on the Soviet Union to “let my people go”, as the slogan went, and partly because many Arab countries were client states of the Soviet Union.

 

India, in its incarnation as the leader of the banana republics of the NAM, has usually voted against Israel, but with the new Narendra Modi government in power, it had been expected to abstain, as a measure of realpolitik. South Africa and Brazil have had fairly good relations with Israel, and so could have been expected to oppose or abstain.

 

China was the real surprise, as they have a consistent, and wise, habit of never poking their noses into other peoples’ business. They almost never take a stand on anything that doesn’t have a significant impact on their national interests. In this case, it is hard to see what Chinese national interest is served by going with the motion, other than the fact that it was authored by “all-weather friend” Pakistan.

 

This leads me to wonder whether this UNHRC vote was discussed and decided upon at the BRICS Summit in Brazil. If it was, that sets a bad precedent and also doesn’t make any sense. If these are the big countries that will decide the future of the world, as the Atlantic fades and the Indo-Pacific theater comes into its own, then it is truly astonishing that they should act as so many sheep. It also doesn’t fit in with the characters of their leaders: Dilma Roussef and Vladimir Putin, for instance, are not known to be meek.

 

Thus, the question arises as to what else was discussed at the BRICS Summit and what its fallout is on India. The worst case scenario is that the BRICS is becoming a fan club of the Chinese (sort of like the British Commonwealth is of the British or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is of the Chinese). This is the last thing India needs to do: support its biggest enemy, China. I repeat that, going one step further than George Fernandes, who was crucified for saying China was India’s biggest potential enemy.

 

Admittedly, India did gain some things from the BRICS jamboree in Brazil. It was a good opportunity for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrive on the global scene and look statesmanlike. It was a pleasure to see his body language – as an equal with other leaders – as compared to Manmohan Singh’s “I don’t deserve to be in the same room with these big people” diffidence.

 

Besides, the announcement of the BRICS Bank (known as the New Development Bank) and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (roughly equivalent to the World Bank and the IMF) are a way of letting the Americans know that the Bretton Woods agreement and the Washington Consensus are now a bit long in the tooth. These have been very convenient for the US as they eventually made the dollar the reserve currency of the world, and Americans could (and do) export inflation and other troubles by simply printing dollars. The fact that Richard Nixon unilaterally removed the gold standard in 1971 has helped the US happily run deficits, duly funded by the Chinese and others.

 

Now we don’t want to be party to actions that end up setting up the Chinese yuan as a new reserve currency, from which China would derive all the benefits. So India needs to be careful about its enthusiasm for the BRICS Bank.

 

The West didn’t really appreciate the setting up of the new institutions, and their analysts were skeptical, if not scathing. Which means it makes them a little nervous, and therefore is a good thing.

 

From India’s point of view, the only tangible benefit from the BRICS Bank is the chance that some of China’s excess capital may be borrowed by India via the bank, thus avoiding direct, likely onerous, interference from the Chinese government. Besides, in future, other non-BRIC emerging countries will be able to get loans: when India has an investible surplus, that can be channeled through this entity.

 

However, it is not clear how well this may work, given that there are several other multilateral banks around, such as the Asian Development Bank, IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) and Mercosur Bank (for Latin America). The imminent default by Argentina is an indicator of the pitfalls on the way.

 

Nevertheless the wake-up to the Americans is real. I write this on the day John Kerry visits India, and I am sure this is a matter of concern to him, although the visit is pro forma and meaningless: given his preference for Pakistan, and Obama’s reported statement regarding Modi (KP Nayar’s piece in The Telegraph) India is viewed by them as a menace.

 

But there is a bigger and more subtle issue of strategic intent here: neither should India be satisfied with an American-dominated system (not so great for India as the current WTO tussle over the grossly obscene subsidies from the US Farm Bill – some $50 billion-worth a year for five crops – shows); and nor should it desire a Chinese-dominated system (which, based on past form, would be infinitely worse).

 

India’s goal should be to establish itself as a third pole, rather than submit to a G2 of the US and China. Just about now, China would have become the biggest economy in the world at PPP (purchasing power parity – admittedly a somewhat notional measure); in another 30 years, India’s goal should be overtake both and become Number 1 compared to Number 3 today. That is a stretch goal, but not an absurd goal – few remember how China was in bad shape before Deng Xiaoping, just 35 years ago.

 

Consider the other contenders for Number 1: Russia is a waning power (its demographic implosion – it has fewer people than Pakistan, a country 1/13th its size — makes it vulnerable to Chinese invasions); South Africa has serious problems with race and crime; Brazil has always been the “country with great potential”, but as demonstrated by its World Cup loss, it often falls short. Thus the only BRICS member that could possibly be the Number 1 power is India, if it does things right. Which basically means having good leadership (as Deng provided for China).

 

Can India pull this off? There is one major problem in its economic affairs – the syndrome of under-preparedness that dogs much Indian endeavor. There is the touching belief that not preparing, and then pulling an all-nighter, can solve most problems. This is strictly untrue – because the people on the other side are equally smart, and they are systematic. They plan. We need to, too.

 

It is clear that a Chinese Dhritirashtra-alinganam will not do India any good. The BRICS direction can be used to keep both the Americans and the Chinese at arms-length, while planning all the while to play them off against each other, and to form India’s own club of admirers, perhaps in the Indian Ocean Rim, including the market of the future, Africa.

 

In the meantime, making some polite noises about BRICS is appropriate. Unfortunately, India’s politicians tend to start believing their own propaganda; but to consider BRICS anything more than a temporary club with some common interests would be folly. The goal should be to induce others (eg Japan, ASEAN, South Africa) to align with us – a non-threatening, democratic nation, rather than with malevolent China or waning America. For us to consider aligning with either China or the US would be absurd. India is just too big to be a sidekick.

 

1550 words, July 30, 2014

a slightly edited version of the following appeared on firstpost on aug 3, 2014, at http://firstbiz.firstpost.com/corporate/international/wto-india-really-villain-another-rap-knuckles-americans-92583.html

WTO: India is not really the villain, and it’s another rap on the knuckles to the Americans

Rajeev Srinivasan on why the WTO stand by India is justified

The fact that the Narendra Modi government stood firm in the wake of arm-twisting by the Americans, and refused to back down from its position on food subsidies, is generally a good thing – although on a given day, one could argue the opposite, too. The reason to agree with the Indian government is that, despite the idiocy of the UPA’s Food Security Bill, the subsidies provided by the West to their own farmers are far more obscene than India’s, and distort trade far more.

The charge against the Modi government, and in particular against its Commerce Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, is that a general agreement on cost reduction was blocked because of India’s objections on the unrelated area of subsidies. By not allowing the easing of trade through a Trade Facilitation Agreement, the West suggests, India has prevented the saving of up to $1 trillion in trade-related costs, and may even have mortally wounded the World Trade Organization (WTO).

That last charge demands scrutiny. The WTO, the successor to the GATT (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade), has been beneficial to India – it is under its aegis, for instance, that India is able to win cases against such habitual offenders as China and the US. The former is prone to ‘dumping’, ie. selling goods below cost through invisible subsidies; the latter is prone to unfair non-tariff barriers to protect its own manufacturers. So it is not in India’s interests for WTO to fade away, and missing the July 31 deadline for the TFA will not cause it to do so.

However, the WTO has found it particularly hard to get the consensus required under its charter. The consensus requirement is the reason that a single member like India is able to hold it up.  The WTO’s so-called Doha Round has been going for 14 years with no discernible progress, and it is not necessarily because of India’s obstinacy: trade agreement is hard to get. That is the reason a number of regional groupings, for instance Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic, have also risen.

It is true that reducing the cost of trade would help India improve its trade position (although at the moment it is a relatively minor player in world trade). But it would also have the undesirable  effect of further opening India’s growing markets to efficient Western suppliers and their products as Ajit Ranade suggests in “Why India is not WTO villain” (Mumbai Mirror, Aug 2) (and with no corresponding benefit to India in the movement of its people to Western markets, as they are getting increasingly tight on visas).

So it must have been a hard decision, which required hard negotiation from Nirmala Sitharaman. I am reminded of another Indian negotiator, Arundhati Ghose, similarly holding firm to her position in the view of sustained Western pressure, in the nuclear arena some years ago. Kudos to these strong ladies!

The issue with agriculture is that Europe has a ‘wine lake’ and a ‘butter mountain’ from over-production based on farm subsidies. The US’s 2014  Farm Bill allocates $956 billion over 10 years, and that includes some $20 billion in subsidies every year to five crops: wheat, rice, soy, corn and cotton. The resultant output is sometimes dumped in world markets, leading directly, for example, to the suicides of cotton farmers in India whose costs are greater than the heavily-subsidized costs to American farmers.

Other rich countries do the same thing. It is said that each Japanese cow is subsidized to the tune of $7/day. Thus, many countries treat their (often rich, corporate) farmers as so many sacred cows, and provide pork-barrel monies to them. India’s effort to subsidize food for its poor (India has something like half the world’s desperately poor people) is no more wicked than these subsidies, so there’s a moral argument in there somewhere: it is more justifiable.

Lost in the fuss is also a small fact: it is not as if the July 31 deadline is the end of the TFA matter. The negotiations will resume in September, hardly a month away, and the issue can be revisited.  Given the inordinate delays in the Doha Round, this matter of a month is minor, not as though an opportunity has been lost for ever, as some in the West pretend.

Besides, I think there’s something else at play here. There have been three big international events in which the Modi government has been involved, and in each of them, India has acted against the interests of the US. I imagine this means Narendra Modi has not forgotten the shabby treatment meted out to him by the US under the guise of ‘religious freedom’.  

For, consider: the BRICS Bank announcement in effect suggested that the Bretton Woods agreement, the Washington Consensus, and thereby America’s free ride as the owner of the world’s reserve currency, were on the way out.

The Indian vote at the UNHRC against Israel, an American ally, was in effect pushback against the US, which, incidentally, cast the only vote supporting Israel.

Then, finally, comes this WTO imbroglio.

In all three of these, Modi has paid scant attention American interests. I hope this was deliberate: instead of the traditional empty bravado, this Prime Minister takes action. That is one of his trademarks: decisive action, not talk.

It was particularly sweet in the WTO vote, because just a day or two before John Kerry arrived in India to attempt to browbeat the Indians into acceding to the Western line, the US tried it usual tactic: it released a report by the US Council on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that paints India as a veritable hell for non-Hindus. (This reminds me of China invading Vietnam exactly when the Indian foreign minister was visiting China: a clear signal of contempt).

This was an insult: the USCIRF is infamous for being a biased entity driven by Christian fundamentalists and their conversion agendas, but in the past, India has caved in, ashamed. But this time that nice little recipe did not work. Instead, Kerry had to return empty-handed, after enduring a lecture regarding  US snooping on India, about which Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj wagged an admonishing finger at him.

I think the tea leaves are pretty clear. Narendra Modi is telling the Americans that they are not as important to him as they think they are, and that in any case, he is not going to be taken in by either bluster or honeyed words, which worked so well with previous Prime Ministers.

1100 words, 2 aug 2014

a somewhat edited version (alas, they took out some of the good bits!) of the following was published by firstpost at http://www.firstpost.com/india/modi-right-to-ditch-english-but-he-should-speak-sanskrit-at-un-1563899.html

 

‘Sacred history’, ‘Christian nation’ and other dubious memes: English considered harmful

 

Rajeev Srinivasan worries that Indians are absorbing a worldview along with a language

 

The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to speak Hindi with his foreign visitors is a clear statement of principle: there is no need to apologize for Indian-ness, nor is there the need to consider English the be-all and end-all. I liked R Jagannathan’s view in Firstpost http://www.firstpost.com/politics/speaking-hindi-how-modi-is-putting-indianness-back-into-india-1557541.html   that this helps put the Indian back in Indian-ness. The fact that a number of MPs took their oaths in Sanskrit is further evidence that the age of the unquestioned kowtowing to foreign tongues is coming to an end. Vive la difference, as the French might say.

 

I have long felt that languages are subversive, and that sometimes they are masks of conquest. Over time I have begun to feel that, in particular, English is enormously harmful in subtle ways. Now this is a hard thing for me to admit since English is the language that I prefer to write in, and so in a way I am sawing away at the branch that I sit on, quite Kalidasa-like. Nevertheless, the memes that we absorb with the language essentially deracinate us, because they are so alien.

 

For instance, it was intriguing to hear recently from the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, that “the UK is a Christian country” and that he was intent on propagating his religion (“David Cameron: I am evangelical about my faith”, The Guardian, 17 April 2014). This is about as bluntly un-secular as one can be: he was declaring that his country not only had an official religion, but that he would go to some length inflict said religion on others.

 

In contrast, would any politician in India dare comment that looting Hindu temples and transferring their wealth to the State was inappropriate? The government has in fact launched an attack on the Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple in Trivandrum, with the clear intent of grabbing the billions in gold and antiques and gems in its vaults. But no such thought ever enters the European Christian mind – to say that the Vatican has immense wealth that should properly belong to the masses would be considered blasphemy.

 

The notion that Britain is a Christian country is not new. Years ago, I read the brilliant Raj Syndrome: A Study in Imperial Perceptions by Suhash Chakravarty ,which, with voluminous research, showed that there was, in practice, little difference between the church and the imperial regime (as I described in my column The Predatory State http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/aug/16rajeev.htm )

 

I felt a sense of déjà vu when the famously secular The Economist magazine tweeted “ the Arab Muslim world is reacting negatively to a forthcoming movie about Noah, sacred history’s first boat-builder” (emphasis added, and in case you doubt me, below is a screenshot of this tweet timestamped 5:42pm, 13 Mar 2014). This is a plug for its religious blog, Erasmus, which generally talks – very positively of course – about Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity. I shall focus on The Economist because I read it regularly, and it probably is the standard-bearer among wide-circulation English-language publications.

 

Screenshots_2014-04-18-12-30-56

It amused me because ‘sacred history’ is a deliciously creative euphemism for ‘Christian mythology’: so concrete and real-sounding! The word ‘mythology’, I have noticed over time, is reserved by Anglophones for any non-Semitic stories, eg. Greek, Norse, Hindu, Buddhist, Roman etc. Whereas when it comes time to describe their own mythology, Anglophones use ‘scripture’, and never ‘mythology’. But I think ‘sacred history’ is even better, implying there is ‘real’ history and then ‘sacred’ history. Which is true: there is history, and then there is myth.

 

The problem is that the Anglophone West, and their friends in India, have a tendency to conflate – often with malice aforethought – their myth with history. For instance, let’s take the founding myth of Christian dogma. There is absolutely no evidence – and I mean absolutely, positively, none whatsoever – that Jesus Christ actually existed. No relics, no artifacts, no contemporary historical records, nothing. Nada. Zip. (Well, to be precise, there is the historian Josephus Flavius, but if you believe him, then you must also believe his history of the Essenes which tell you that the alleged teachings of Jesus were all in the Essene Gospels of a couple of hundred years earlier).

 

Similarly there is the beloved myth of St. Thomas who, ‘sacred history’ says, arrived in Kerala around 70CE, converted Nambudiri Brahmins, and was murdered in Chennai by Brahmins with a spear, and his skeleton is in Chennai. There are only three problems with this: Thomas never actually went to India, there were no Nambudiris in Kerala at the time, and the Vatican itself certifies that Thomas’ skeleton is in Ortona, Italy. But this has not stopped the myth from becoming “truth by repeated assertion”. There is also a nice little embellishment I heard from Shashi Tharoor, that a Jewish girl with a flute greeted the man on a Kerala beach. Those little details… sheer genius! There were Jews in Kerala around the time: so the plausibility quotient goes up.

 

For a history-centric set of religions – as in the Semitic/Abrahamic religions Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, along with the quasi-religion of Communism – it is important that major historic events that are supposed to have taken place are treated as true history, things that actually happened. Hence the desperate attempt to confuse ‘real history’ and ‘sacred history’: in other words, an assertion that myth is real. Or, in other words, a ‘sacred lie’.

 

Correspondingly, there is also the denigration of Hindu history as myth. The Aryan Invasion Mythology is one such attempt – Hindu ithihasa (ithi-hasa: thus it happened) does not jell with the 4004 BCE creation mythology of the Abrahamics (Bishop Ussher’s 4004 BCE genesis date is the basis of Max Mueller’s assertions). Therefore the Hindu ithihasa must be myth. QED. In fact the exact opposite is likely to be the truth: ithihasa as history, Aryan invasion as myth.

 

The work of Bart Ehrmann, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, including his book Forged demonstrate that there is a great deal of forgery, extrapolation, errors etc. in the New Testament. That is, far from being ‘true’ or the alleged, immutable word of God, the New Testament (Christian Bible) is full of deliberate and unintended falsehoods. This is no ‘history’, although it is pretty good fiction.

 

The work of Thomas Thompson, a retired Professor of Theology at the University of Copenhagen and a leading archeologist, especially The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives, is notable. It suggests that the Old Testament (Jewish Bible) version of history “is not supported by any archaeological evidence so far unearthed, indeed undermined by it, and that it therefore cannot be trusted as history”. This is ‘sacred history’? (By the way, Thompson was made unemployable in US academia by Catholic theologians, and so worked as a schoolteacher, janitor, and housepainter until Israelis, and later, Danes, invited him to tenure-track positions.)

 

So this ‘sacred history’ business is very dubious, but The Economist perseveres. Though years of reading it carefully I have noticed that they use the term ‘Holy Land’ very often (isn’t this rather non-secular, and highly ethnocentric? An etic outsider certainly wouldn’t consider the West Asian desert particularly holy. A more accurate description would be ‘violent, bloody desert’). And for a Hindu or a Buddhist, his ‘Holy Land’ is India. So whose point of view is it?

 

Similarly, ‘Holy See’: why not simply say, ‘Vatican’? Given the reality that it is the biggest, oldest, most ruthless Multi-National Company out there, and that it has a dual status as a country (with its own UN seat) and a religious entity, I am not sure why it should be called ‘holy’. In fact, the Anglophone use of ‘holy’ strikes me as much the same as a vacuous formal title, such as ‘Lord’ or something.

 

Here’s another recent Economist story, where it asserts something about “the birthplace of Jesus”, as though it were self-evidently true, not a pious belief (see the screenshot). In fact, the traditional account of how the birthplace of Jesus was ‘found’ is that it came in a dream to Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, with no corroborative evidence whatsoever, that Bethlehem was the spot. A Greek or Roman temple that stood on the spot was destroyed.

Screenshot_2014-04-19-16-28-50

 

Similarly, the Economist magazine has its ‘Advent Calendar’, a special ‘Christmas Issue’, and it always talks about Christian texts (and only Christian texts) as ‘scripture’, for instance in “Religion in Northern Ireland: Staging the scriptures” (2010). Again, ethnocentric and religio-centric. I also noticed that, for 2014’s Good Friday, they pushed up their publication by one day, so that Christians could take the day off – note the equivalent of all these would be condemned if done in India for Hindus.

 

I wouldn’t have an issue if all this was confined to the Anglophones: it’s their language, their religion, their problem. But it is seriously polluting and undermining the Indian sense of self-hood. It pains me to point out that, along with the language, we speakers of English as a second language have acquired a number of unfortunate memes (and prejudices) that are grossly culture-specific.

 

One example is that of ‘crossing one’s fingers’. An article dated 14 Mar 2014 in Livemint.com (“How Isro got an indigenous cryogenic engine”) starts off with: “Mission director K Sivan kept his fingers firmly crossed in the mission control room at the ISRO….” This is comical because it is unlikely that anybody in India would cross their fingers: it is not natural for Indians. Besides, the engineers and scientists of ISRO are probably less religious, even if they happen to be Christians, than the average punter.

 

But that meme of ‘crossing one’s fingers’ has become part of the discourse. So has ‘christening’ for the simple act of ‘naming’ something. And ‘blue eyed-boy’. This in a country where non-brown eyes have traditionally been a sign of abnormality! Or ‘roses in December’: as Vikram Seth said acidly in Diwali, roses actually grow just fine in India in December!

 

“Into each life a little rain must fall”: yes, and we welcome it. In India, we welcome the cooling monsoon, the warm, soul-liberating rain, not the bleak, soul-deadeningly chilly drizzle of northern latitudes. As I write this, the monsoon has just hit landfall in Kerala, and all of us are awaiting its arrival with great anticipation, and we are a little tremulous about the El Nino’s effects of a deficient monsoon.

 

Similarly, we see many write about the “elephant-headed Hindu God, Ganesha” (including Indians writing in English). Fair enough: the deity is indeed elephant-headed. But how come we don’t see anywhere, in reverse, “the Christian corpse God, Jesus on the Cross”? That is also equally true: the deity is a dead body nailed to a cross. Yet, there is a mental block about saying that: it sounds… odd. That is what I mean by unconscious acceptance of metaphors and memes. There is in fact no reason for Indians to internalize these Western vanities.

 

There are many such metaphors and clichés that Indians use unwittingly that have no meaning in their context. This shows the extent to which they have been brainwashed into an Abrahamic way of thinking. I do not by means suggest that they should abandon English (it is fairly useful for trade and international exchanges); but let them be aware of the religious and cultural biases that pervade that language, that they have absorbed unwittingly.

 

This is why an uncompromising stand on language – for example, I believe Prime Minister Modi should read his prepared speeches at the UN etc. in Sanskrit and it will be interpreted for others – is a proper part of a cultural re-awakening and self-assertion. Indians don’t need to be colonized in the mind any more.

 

Some might accuse me of wanting to deny others the benefits I have received from English, I would suggest they get truly fluent in their mother tongue as well as English. In my defense, I am thoroughly familiar with one language, Malayalam, and it is my language of the heart. It is the works of Vijayan, Pottekkat, Mukundan and their Malayalam cohort that speak to me. With exceptions like Amitabh Ghosh’s ‘The Shadow Lines’, the entire corpus of Indo-Anglian literature leaves me a little cold: it is like making love through an interpreter.

 

1739 words, April 20, 2014

Update: 2076 words, June 7, 2014

this is an unpublished piece i wrote recently.

Were women voters Narendra Modi’s secret weapon?

 

Rajeev Srinivasan on a possible gender divide and the reasons for it

 

I have not yet been able to find data on how women voted in these elections. But I have a conjecture that far more women would have voted for Narendra Modi than conventional wisdom suggests, for both psychological and practical reasons. Until the data is crunched, we will not know this for sure, so I emphasize this is only a hypothesis at the moment.

 

Conventional wisdom, especially as based on American data, about women’s votes would follow certain axioms:

  1. Women are not particularly interested in politics but in day-to-day issues
  2. Women are more swayed by emotional appeals
  3. Women are put off by conservative or right-leaning parties
  4. Women may pay attention to irrelevant things, like a candidate’s good looks

And add to that, in India:

  1. Women vote as their menfolk tell them to, not as independent thinkers

Let us start with these postulates. Well, the immediate implication is that the BJP has not a ghost of a chance of winning their votes, because:

  1. The Congress is quite good at sops and giveaways. The immediate gratification has always won them the votes, especially from rural womenfolk
  2. The media barrage about how the BJP would turn the country into an unending mess of riots and violence – a la the narrative of BJP/Modi guilt in Gujarat 2002 – would terrify women
  3. The BJP with its allegedly macho image (remember how an editorialist in the mis-named The Hindu thought that even Swami Vivekananda was too macho a figure?) would scare women
  4. With all due respect to Shriman Modi, with his 56-inch chest, he’s no beauty. Women prefer guys like John Kennedy. And Rahul Gandhi, with his dimples, appeals to them
  5. Most men are going to vote for the familiar Congress (especially after being plied with booze and the usual rousing slogans of roti-kapda-makan and Secularism in danger!)

Thus, a priori, one would imagine a BJP, with its rather unsophisticated image (especially as narrated by the mainstream media), would not appeal greatly to the woman voter, who, I imagine, counts for a little over 50% of all eligible voters in the country. This impression was strenghtened by an interview I did of a smart young woman, who said she was “put off” by the BJP. She made a face too. But I did find that older women in Kerala were more positive towards them.

 

Other interviews I read about – mostly about young women in metros – were generally negative about the BJP. They seemed to have an image problem – quite likely because of the intense dislike the media has had for the party. Thus, it did not look promising for them at all.

 

But what might have happened during the last phase of the campaign? One possibility is that women are generally kind-hearted and sympathetic to the underdog (perhaps because they find themselves the underdogs in many of their encounters with men).

 

But then women like a winner, too. The feebleness of Rahul Gandhi’s campaign would have contrasted with the robustness of Modi’s. The images of Modi’s immense popular support (such as the ocean of people turning out to greet him in various places all over the country) must have had some impact, too.

 

I posit that women, who generally look for security in whom they choose for their husbands, are also keen to select the most capable and most formidable leader, because in a sense that is what keeps their country, and ultimately themselves, safe. The widely publicized issue of women’s safety (especially in the wake of the rape-murder of poor Jyoti Singh Pandey) may have made more willing to accept machismo, obviating item #3 in the list above. And Modi conveys machismo in spades, and efficiency too. He is the guy to depend on in a tight spot.

 

This struck a chord. I was amused by several anecdotes about old women arriving in polling booths (where Modi was not contesting) and demanding to know where they could vote for Modi. The man had become a movement, a tsuNaMo!

 

Perhaps the most important issue for women would have been item #1: their day-to-day troubles. Roaring inflation that has eaten into purchasing power falls disproportionately hard on women, as their budgets have increased anywhere near as much as prices. A mother struggling to feed and clothe and educate her children – as most fathers are blissfully unaware of these matters – has faced a tough time in the recent past. Economics dictated that they would not be swayed by short-term blandishments when they had seen for ten years poor delivery by Congress.

 

Item #2 – fear tactics about terrible times under the BJP – may not have played much of a role. Besides, not only the BJP, but also the AAP, focused women’s attention on the issue of corruption, which they probably encounter in regular extortion. In many ways, the fear of the unknown BJP was overwhelmed by the contempt for the known Congress. Women were ready to give the BJP a chance.

 

Item #4 is something that irritates men endlessly: the seeming female focus on irrelevencies. A friend of mine in San Diego, a smart and witty woman, once told me that she voted for Obama 1 simply because “he was better looking than McCain”. I told her I could have given her 25 good reasons why she should have voted against Obama, but she didn’t care.

 

But I think women are not as superficially as men think they are. Women, used to multitasking, are probably taking into account a large number of factors, which they don’t want to go into, when they simply say, “the guy looks good”. They arrive at a gestalt based on all these factors  – again it irritates men – calling it ‘woman’s intuition’, which is surprisingly clear-sighted.

 

As an example, take Shashi Tharoor’s campaign in Trivandrum in 2009. The guy looks like a rock star and speaks with a silver tongue, and women (of all ages and political persuasions) simply swooned over him, and he got a huge majority of around 100,000, unheard of in razor-thin-victory-margin Kerala. But wait, there’s more: women calculated that this man, if elected, would almost certainly become a minister, and also bring international pizzazz to his constituency, both of which were true.

 

Now contrast this with the Tharoor campaign in 2014. This time, the women were not very happy with him, for various reasons. But they also calculated that if he were to win, almost certainly he wouldn’t be a minister because the UPA was unlikely to come back to power. So I conclude they voted for O Rajagopal, who could become a minister in a likely NDA dispensation. So much so that Tharoor won with a much reduced majority.

 

Did men tell women how to vote, item #5? Perhaps. This continues to be a problem, I am sure. But this time the menfolk were also caught up in the TsuNaMo, which means that too worked to Modi’s advantage. The women I spoke to did not say “my husband told me to do this”, they usually said, “I like (or don’t like) Modi because…” Okay, they were in Kerala, where women generally are more independent.

 

Women are a tough vote bank. They who manage to pocketbook will be looking carefully at how far their rupees go. Unless the recent stagflation is tamed and there is clear growth, they will defect. Women are notoriously and ruthlessly practical about money: therefore Modi has to ensure that economic growth, along with their concerns about the safety of their daughters, are taken care of. In that case, this secret weapon will stick with him.

 

1250 words, May 23, 2014

 

A slightly edited version of this appeared on rediff.com at http://www.rediff.com/news/column/rajeev-srinivasan-the-tripolar-world-that-modi-should-plan-for/20140605.htm

The tripolar world, G3, that Narendra Modi should plan for

 

Rajeev Srinivasan on a unique combination of facts that mean India finally gets a second chance

 

There is such a thing as timing and luck. If I were an optimist, I would suggest that the time is ripe as never before for India: this could be India’s time in the sun, as the Indo-Pacific Century brings to an end the Atlantic Century. India should think big: about how in a multipolar world, India can indeed be one of the poles, rather than being a secondary power that has to worry about ‘alignment’ with one of the poles. A G3 in other words, a India should look to getting others to align with itself rather than the US or China.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s epic victory in the Indian elections comes at the cusp of several events that demonstrate how far the world has changed in a short time. Many both on the Left and the Right find it hard to deal with the momentous changes that have come with Modi’s ascent. That’s certainly true in India.

 

As far as the world at large is concerned, things have changed dramatically in 2014 and even on the very day of Modi’s swearing in. I was startled to read that US President Barack Obama had made a secret visit to Afghanistan to celebrate America’s Memorial Day with the troops. Upon arrival, Obama requested, at short notice, a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Bagram Air Force Base. Surprisingly, Karzai refused. Instead, he got on a plane and landed in New Delhi to attend the Modi inauguration ceremony.

 

Granted, there’s been plenty of bad blood between the US and Karzai, and he is anyway about to leave the Afghan presidency. But consider: the leader of the occupying force in his country, not to mention the leader of the so-called Free World, wanted to meet him, but Karzai snubbed him to meet Narendra Modi, till just the other day deemed untouchable, whose US visa was denied as a punishment for him!

 

To use an old American idiom, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”. That is true of Modi personally, but it also indicates how India now has the chance to be a somebody. Echoing  Marlon Brando’s words as a burnt-out boxer in On the Waterfront, India “coulda been a somebody, coulda been a contender”, but instead “we are bums”. Fifty wasted years!

 

There’s a larger context that has unfolded over the last few years. First, there is widespread belief that the US has lost interest and capability in overseas adventures. Second, the spectacle of China’s allegedly “peaceful” rise, which has turned distinctly muscular recently. Third, the rise of anti-pacifist sentiment in Japan. Fourth, the increasing assertiveness of Russia. Of course, all of these are related.

 

In addition, the recent European Union election has been notable largely for the success of ultra-nationalist, anti-Euro/anti-EU parties in France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Italy, etc. It appears that the dream of a united single market in Europe is receding; anyway with the demographic implosion in much of prosperous Europe, it is getting to be less and less relevant.

 

The malaise that afflicts the US is due partly to one of those periodic funks that encourage the nation to look inward (“Fortress America”), especially after it has wasted much blood and treasure in interminable, unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is partly due to the lingering effects of the financial melt-down, and the realization that the US simply cannot afford large-scale, long-drawn-out wars.

 

It is also partly a function of the fact that despite all the hoopla that greeted his win in the elections, President Barack Obama is now seen as a bit of a failure. In general, his efforts have been treated with scorn: his ‘pivot to Asia’ has not prevented the Chinese from rattling sabers all around the region; his dire warnings did nothing to prevent Russia’s Vladimir Putin from capturing Crimea; and his lakshmana-rekha to Syria over chemical weapons was breached.

 

That short period in which Francis Fukuyama trumpeted “the end of history” and the US was the only hyperpower is coming to an end, principally due to imperial over-reach, as the British found out a century ago. Even giant America, with its continental size and exuberant population, can only be primus inter pares, first among equals, not hegemon. In particular, the instincts of Barack Obama, not exactly an electrifying leader, lead towards passivity.

 

China is beginning to lose a bit of its luster: among other things, there is the fear of an economic downturn there, challenging the justification for the continued totalitarian rule of the Communist Party there. Furthermore, on the 25th anniversary of the Tianmen Square protest, the enforced peace is broken by regular massacres and suicide bombings supposedly by separatist Uighurs: they cannot take internal docility for granted.

 

The exertions of their navy in the South China Sea, their imposition of their air defense zone in the East China Sea, the deliberate provocation of Vietnam by drilling for oil in their territorial waters: all these point to the fact that China’s alleged “peaceful rise” is just a myth. In response, its neighbors are getting much more wary of China. Furthermore, despite their willingness to consort with dubious leaders in Africa, their neo-imperialism is beginning to annoy the people there (as it did in Myanmar). China is no longer seen as positively as it was earlier

 

Japan, irritated by Chinese adventurism, and fearful that American defense commitments are not worth very much, is on a path that will amend the infamous Article 9 in its Constitution that essentially forces it to be a pacifist nation, unable by law to have normal armed forces.

 

Nationalist Japanese, of whom Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is one, are also tired of the ongoing propaganda that has deemed Japanese to be major villains, besides their having atoned for their wartime sins many times over. They have apologized, they have given reparations, yet they are berated for, in essence, being gullible enough to take Western media seriously.

 

Besides, the Japanese are looking to de-invest in China, given that the two countries may well be on the verge of a war. These factors, as well as a civilizational/cultural amity, mean that an Indo-Japanese partnership could become a major factor in Asia. A ‘reverse string-of-pearls’ containing China in its continental heartland is a possibility if India, Japan, Russia, Vietnam, Australia, the US come together to form a loose alliance.

 

Finally, there is a (somewhat) resurgent Russia. In some ways Obama is pushing Russia into China’s arms through sanctions: the recent signing of a giant $400 billion, multi-year gas deal is an example of this, and the Chinese got it at a bargain price. There are simmering tensions between them, for instance based on the influx of Chinese into sparsely-populated Russian Siberia. But a workable détente has been created by the two.

 

The Financial Times wrote about how ‘Modi completes a quartet of combative leaders in the most powerful nations of the region [Asia]’ (The Perils of Asia’s nationalist power game, FT, May 22). The quartet is: Putin, Modi, Xi of China, and Abe. The fact is that they will increasingly demand respect and attention, and that America will slowly become less influential in Asia.

 

The key to India’s possible future importance lies in a few factors: demography, location, and, now, decisive leadership. The demographic dividend needs no elaboration. The fact that India sits right smack in the middle of the most dynamic area in the world, the Indian Ocean Rim, with rapidly developing South-east Asia on the one side, and the future growth paragons of Africa on the other, is big geopolitical plus. As geostrategist Nicholas Spykman suggests, it is the Rimland that is becoming more important than the Heartland of Asia.

 

What India has lacked for a long time is leadership and focus. Narendra Modi supplies both these, as well as discipline, in ample measure. As Martin Wolf of the Financial Times pointed out, “India’s election remakes our world” (FT, May 20), this may be the most momentous election in history, bar the elections of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (okay, he betrays his Anglo-American bias, but still).

 

It will be in economics and commerce that a rising India can make the biggest impact. The industrial revolution a few centuries ago (in Europe), and the manufacturing revolution a few years ago (in Asia) bypassed India because of bad luck, poor education and infrastructure. But this time, with Modi at the helm, India may well become a new manufacturing hub. In a way, the self-inflicted troubles of Thailand and the attacks on Chinese factories in Vietnam are to India’s benefit: India will be seen as a more dependable logistics hub (if only we could get the roads, ports and electricity in place).

 

Given India’s vast resources (human and physical), there is no reason why we cannot have big Indian multinationals bestriding the world. The Economist magazine ran a recent story on how rising Asian companies may need to do a few things differently from American and European MNCs before them (Special Report: Business in Asia, June 1). This is true: it does not do to copy business models, because they have to be based on national core competencies: for instance, as Germany has done with its mittelstand, or Japan with its keiretsu.

 

This means India will have to invent its own—although I hate to use this term because of prior associations—Third Way. It will have to create a Capitalism with Indian characteristics, one that recognizes the long-term value, for instance, of agriculture. This will also require a Third Way of diplomacy, as almost all nations follow mercantilism to a greater or lesser extent.

In a recent post, Cleo Paskal asks: “Will Modi’s India Reinvent International Relations?” (Huffington Post, May 30). It can, and it should. There is the Cold War paradigm of two warring factions: the idea of G2 is a force-fit of that scenario into the rise of China. With the likely rise of Modi’s India, we need to plan for a multipolar world. It may be a G5 or G6 or something, but India should aspire to be one of the poles for sure.

Byline: Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant and business school professor.

1700 words, June 3, 2014

A version of this was posted at india facts at http://www.indiafacts.co.in/epic-parallels-symbols-2014-elections/

The semiotics of personal attacks, symbols and parallels in the election

 

Rajeev Srinivasan on the symbolic and epic/historical context

 

Even before Narendra Modi’s evocative Ganga arti and his prostration before the steps of Parliament, this election was replete with symbols. While all sides attempted to use them to their advantage, the BJP turned out to be better at it, quite possibly because they were not play-acting, but actually believed in some of the emotions they were trying to induce.

 

The revelations about Narendra Modi’s long-estranged wife, Jashodaben, caused a minor flutter, but it was a nine-days’wonder. For, it could be argued that in an Indian context, what Modi did in separating from his child-bride is not unusual. Of course, Modi’s rivals do not see it as such, and that is fair. But then, they need to be judged on their transparency, or more precisely, the lack of it, as well.

 

I have been thinking about the analogies with the epics for a while (Shashi Tharoor, in happier times, wrote a brilliant book, The Great Indian Novel transposing events from the Mahabharata to contemporary India, and I wish he would do it again, but he has his constraints now, of course). The most obvious example of the analog with the epics came with the attempted insult by Mani Shankar Aiyer, a Congress minister, who called Modi a “chaiwallah”.

 

This is reminiscent of the episode in the Mahabharata where the Pandavas insult Karna by calling him a mere sutaputra, son of a charioteer (technically correct, as the abandoned infant Karna, a prince, had been brought up by a charioteer and his wife); and Karna is the true hero of the epic. The objective of the Pandava statement is tejovadham, psychological warfare, to destroy Karna’s self-confidence. Indeed Karna is humiliated, transfixed, rooted to the spot, as he has to accept that he is not the equal of the Pandavas, who are princes.

 

Immediately, Duryodhana steps into the breach, and crowns Karna as the king of Anga, instantly transforming him into the Pandavas’ equal. And for that singular act of magnanimity (although it was not without an ulterior motive), Karna is indebted to Duryodhana for the rest of his life. (When I mentioned Karna on twitter, I found a range of opinions on him, possibly influenced by regional versions of the Mahabharata: in Malayalam, he’s an honest, wronged hero; in Tamil, someone told me there is some sexual transgression on his part; in Hindi, many felt he is the one who insulted Draupadi the most in the vastra-akshepam scene. Vive la difference!)

 

Well, no king came forward to save Modi’s honor, but the common man did. We adopted him, for we could see that a man of humble origin who has accomplished a great deal is admirable. And in a deft marketing move, Modi turned the tables on the Congress by embracing his identity as a chaiwallah, leading to the later chai pe charcha etc. It worked, as the electorate now has lots of ambitious young people who are confident that they too can make it on their own, without anybody’s charity or patronage. They see Modi as a role model.

 

Thus, what was meant to humiliate Modi boomeranged on the Congress. The class difference and contrast between the PG Wodehousian drone offspring of the idle rich and the thrusting, ambitious children of the lower middle class is quite startling, and the latter did vote. Round one to Modi.

 

But there are more analogs. In the Mahabharata, the malign Shakuni is the cause of much mischief, and he seems to positively revel in creating trouble. There is one such Svengali here, but I dare not name him: I shall only refer to him as He Who Must Not Be Named, but he has been in the middle of all the dubious things the Congress did for a decade.

 

There is the king rendered impotent by a curse, Pandu. The PM, impotent not by a curse, but by his own timidity, looks a lot like the luckless Pandu, cursed to expire if he ever touched a woman (or in the case of this PM, touched a file). So the PM didn’t do anything at all, afraid that the curse would befall him. Sanjay Baru, who spilled the beans on him (The Accidental Prime Minister), is like the faithful Sanjaya who narrates the whole epic to his boss, the blind king Dhritarashtra.

 

Then there are the bit players, minor irritants, such as Digvijay Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal et al. I can’t remember if there were any vidushakas in the Mahabharata but these people would play those roles: comic relief.

 

There are also historical parallels. There was Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. He abandoned his queen and their children and went forth into the world to follow his destiny. In Kerala, the great monk Sree Narayana Guru, also married as a child (which was in the 1870s the custom in OBC families), also left his wife and followed the path of brahmacharya and sanyasa.

 

There were innumerable others who, when they heard a calling, especially during the Independence Struggle, abandoned their normal lives and dedicated themselves to a cause larger than themselves. For instance, the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh left his family too. In the sadly forgotten past, Indians had the greatest respect for those who followed the path of renunciation: I am reminded of a wonderful story by Rudyard Kipling (not a big admirer of India) —  The Miracle of Purun Bhagat, about a powerful prime minister who becomes a wandering mendicant.

 

Thus, Modi’s sacrifice of the life of a householder for his country – echoed by many other RSS members – is in many ways admirable, even appropriate.

 

Now let us compare this to India’s First Family, the Nehru dynasty. Jawaharlal himself was a chronic womanizer. Outlook magazine published a story (“If I weren’t a Sanyasin, he would have married me”, Feb 23, 2004), about a young and beautiful sanyasini, Shraddha Mata, who was apparently impregnated by Nehru. She delivered a stillborn baby in Bangalore and then disappeared. (Other sources claim it was a live baby boy).

 

The stories of Nehru’s craven fascination for Edwina Mountbatten, a British woman, are legion. He was apparently besotted with her to the extent of compromising India’s national security (although it’s hard to see what he saw in her, other than a desire by a brown man to gain some self-esteem with a trophy white woman: she was a standard-issue horse-faced upper-class Brit). He felt free to use the Indian military on her behalf: when she died, he sent an Indian warship to attend her funeral at sea.

 

There were also affairs with Padmaja Naidu and women of the Sarabhai clan, among others. Apparently Nehru was attractive to women: I guess power and money are powerful aphrodisiacs. He may also have had homosexual experiences: Stanley Wolpert, in his biography, implied strongly that he had been bullied and tormented at school in Harrow, where this sort of thing is common. I interviewed Wolpert some years ago, and he implied that he knew things that prudence suggested he be discreet about.

 

The stories continue with Indira Gandhi. Outlook  (“Mrs. G’s string of beaus”, Mar 26, 2001) suggests that she was impregnated (and had an abortion) in a 12-year long relationship by M O Mathai, Nehru’s secretary. There are many others, such as her German teacher, and Dhirendra Brahmachari, that the article claims she had affairs with.

 

Moving on from sexual escapades, there are also the violent ends that befall many of the Nehru dynasty and friends: of course, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated. But, peculiarly, consider: Sanjay Gandhi. Died in a plane accident. Just as did others, especially would-be competitors of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, such as Madhavrao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot and YS Reddy. The father, brother and sister of Robert Vadra, husband of Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, also died in accidents.

 

This also reminds one of a historical parallel – medieval popes who were often sexually debauched, and who went around murdering potential rivals. The Borgia family and their matriarch Lucrezia Borgia, especially adept at the black art of poisoning, come to mind. It was suicidal to either get too close to the Borgias, or to be their enemies. (Medieval sultans such as Aurangazeb were also prone to bumping off their rivals in gruesome manner. Just ask his brother Dara Shikoh.)

 

We also have been kept in the dark about Sonia’s and Rahul’s frequent trips abroad. There are widespread allegations about antiquities being smuggled out of India. There are rumors of ill-health, including cancer. Why aren’t the health rumors being discussed openly, as they have an impact on the country? The conclusion is that they are trying to hide something.

 

What about the educational qualifications that Sonia and Rahul submitted under oath to the Election Commission? Sonia’s educational background has transformed from “a degree from Cambridge” to “a certificate in English from Lennox College, Cambridge” under prodding in courts by Subramanian Swamy. There is a big difference. Lennox College (now closed) is some small, obscure setup, which has nothing to do with the imposing university. Similarly, it’s not clear that Rahul has a Harvard degree. These dissimulations may be punishable offences under election rules.

 

Incidentally, then PM Manmohan Singh also did not mention his wife in his 2009 affidavit. Why is that not a big issue if Modi’s case is? It appears the mention of the spouse was not mandatory until 2014.

 

Thus, both from an epic perspective and a historical perspective, there is no real merit to the loud noises that Modi committed an injustice by leaving his wife at the age of 17 and not providing full details about her. So far as I know, the said wife, Jashodaben, doesn’t think so. She, according to reports, was on pilgrimage, praying for Modi’s success. She had not complained about Modi, or the failure of their child marriage. Following in the footsteps of the Buddha and Sree Narayana Guru, Modi sacrificed the life of a householder for the cause he believed in. There is something sattvic, noble, in that.

 

As for the Nehru dynasty, in addition to presiding over wholesale theft of national resources and the evisceration of the nation’s defense capability, it appears that they, like the Borgias, have been practitioners of intrigue, self-aggrandizement, and the pursuit of power. There is nothing noble about this: it is fully tamasic.

 

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