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.
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.
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
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:
- Women are not particularly interested in politics but in day-to-day issues
- Women are more swayed by emotional appeals
- Women are put off by conservative or right-leaning parties
- Women may pay attention to irrelevant things, like a candidate’s good looks
And add to that, in India:
- 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:
- The Congress is quite good at sops and giveaways. The immediate gratification has always won them the votes, especially from rural womenfolk
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
June 7, 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.
A version of this appeared at Rediff.com at the url: http://www.rediff.com/news/column/ls-election-rajeev-srinivasan-why-india-japan-should-be-allies/20140520.htm
What should the Modi government’s foreign policy focus areas be?
Rajeev Srinivasan suggests that India definitely needs to look East first
There is a general dictum that when there is a change in government, foreign policy continues much as before. In the US, even though the two parties fight like cats and dogs over domestic policies, all that stops at the water’s edge, and the two parties are as one in the pursuit of the national interest. Ambassador TP Sreenivasan put forth this perspective in a recent discussion I had with him.
However, it is not clear that this applies to the case of India. This is partly because it is hard to believe that the outgoing UPA government truly had India’s interests at heart in its foreign dealings. The result of their ad-hoc, unthought-through policies has been that India has shrunk as a relevant power, even in its own neighborhood. The only parties that seem to have done well are quasi-friends like the US which has sold India much military hardware, up from zero in the old Soviet days.
Other than this, India is universally considered a bully by its sub-continental neighbors, it has been kept at arms-length by Southeast Asia; the US, Europe, Russia and China treat it as a minor, unimportant regional power. Its energy diplomacy has been pathetic; its erstwhile markets in Africa and Europe are now under threat from the Chinese. The Indian Ocean Rim initiative is going nowhere. That Nehruvian shibboleth, the Non-Aligned Movement, has been consigned to the trash-can of history. India’s brand has been diminished by the ‘South Asia’ moniker. The erstwhile ‘Greater India’ is only a memory.
In large measure, India’s shrinking stature is a result of its pathetic economic growth. It has been left in the dust by all of Southeast Asia and East Asia, all of which have managed to uplift their poor. Today India is the biggest repository of misery in the world, with half the world’s malnourished, half the world’s blind, half the world’s illiterate. There is no choice but for India to grow at near-Chinese rates, and commerce should be one of the principal pillars of its foreign policy.
But a more important issue for India is the wimp factor. Nobody takes India seriously: it comes across as a weak, gullible, impotent power whose major strength is in lecturing. Nobody likes a moralizer, and India has had many of them, for instance Krishna Menon. It is rumored that Chou en-Lai of China considered his interlocutor Jawaharlal Nehru a ‘useful idiot’. Similarly, every time there is a major terror attack supported by Pakistan, some minister threatens dire consequences ‘the next time there is a major terror attack’. Therefore Pakistanis attack, again and again, with impunity. There is no pain applied to Pakistani bottoms for perfidy.
The US is facing something along the same lines. Barack Obama is seen as someone whose threats have no teeth. Thus, his promise to act in Syria if chemical weapons were used was shown to be just hot air. He did not act in Ukraine; he is unlikely to step in if the Chinese, emboldened by all this, grab the Senkakus from Japan as they have the Paracels from Vietnam. There is a credibility deficit, as the Financial Times says in “Barack Obama’s cautious foreign policy comes home to roost”, May 14th.
This is what makes me suggest a discontinuity in Indian foreign policy, which has always centered on the Anglophone world, and on Pakistan and China. It is time to make a radical shift to an Asia-centric perspective, with Japan as the centerpiece. After Asia, it is important to work with Africa, and then with Europe, specifically Germany, as there is much to be gained from the European Union’s leader. There is little that traditional partner Britain can do for us.
Finally, there is the US. Given that Democrats are extremely hostile (this is generally true, although Indians labor under the delusion that Republicans are worse), it is always a bad time for India when they are in power. In particular, this time Barack Obama, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton have gone out of their way to humiliate Modi over the silly visa issue, egged on by Indian-origin leftists/Islamists and conversion-seeking Christian fundamentalists.
Modi is not one to bear grudges, but it is incumbent upon the US to make conciliatory moves. Until that happens, it is going to be a holding pattern in Indo-US relations, détente but no cordiality. The contrast with the warmth with Japan could not be more dramatic.
Why Japan as priority nation? Because it appears to be the most appropriate civilizational/cultural partner. There is more to international relations that transactions. It is important to have alliances with those who have similar affinities, both at the individual level and at the national level. Japan, along with Bali and Thailand, are the only parts of Asia in which Indians are held in some respect – the Japanese, for example, see India as their Holy Land. (Unfortunately, elsewhere, it is India’s failures, dirt, poverty and squalor that are its calling card.)
Besides, both nations have a common problem: a rampaging, jingoistic and hostile China which is making substantial territorial claims. In the long run, Japan and India, along with Vietnam, the Philippines, and others in Southeast Asia, are going to be the victims of Chinese aggression – so they might as well hang together to, with Russia and the US, create a reverse ‘string of pearls’ to contain China.
There are also nice symmetries. Japan has an aging population; India has one of the world’s youngest populations. Japan has plenty of capital; India is hungry for capital. Japan is worried about the security of its investments in China; India is eager to bring in foreign direct investment. Japan has outstanding quality and processes; India needs these if it is to ever become a manufacturing power. In Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi we have two nationalists.
Furthermore, the Japanese have now realized that they would benefit from an alliance with India. They made an extremely rare gesture: the Japanese Emperor visited India. In addition there were two visits by Shinzo Abe, who has said that he expects the Indo-Japanese relationship to be as significant over time as the US-Japanese alliance. Unfortunately, the Manmohan Singh government did not go out of its way to show its appreciation: instead of breaking protocol by sending the PM to welcome Abe at the airport, it sent a junior minister, Rajiv Shukla. I am sure the Japanese noticed. But anyway, it is Modi that Abe has an affinity for.
Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney suggests in Prosyn the duo will work towards “promoting regional stability and blocking the rise of a Sino-centric Asia.” That is precisely the point.
And that brings us to China. As that nation pursues a highly aggressive policy with almost all of its neighbors, bullying, grabbing land and sea, and using gunboat diplomacy, India has to be wary about the long Indo-Tibet border as well as China’s oft-repeated claims to Arunachal Pradesh. The recent leak of the Henderson-Brooks/Bhagat report on the 1962 war suggests that India could have done better because its military capability was adequate.
But that is not the case today, fifty years later. China has systematically built up its logistics (rail and road) and military capability in occupied Tibet. India has lagged behind, even though a few mountain divisions are sought to be raised. The military has struggled greatly in UPA1 and especially UPA2. A damning report by Ajai Shukla in Business Standard suggests that India’s “armed forces modernization is based on a delusion as there is no budget for it.”
Given Chinese aggression in the South China Sea (the latest being their drilling for oil in what would be Vietnamese territorial waters under international law) and the expansion of its blue-water navy, India’s badly-delayed naval modernization needs to be accelerated, if we are to defend our interests in the Indian Ocean, all the way from the Straits of Hormuz to the Straits of Malacca, which carries about 80% of the world’s oil shipments.
Modi has had cordial relations with China, and that should continue. But the terms of any agreements should be based on mutual respect, not imposed on India under duress, as is likely to be the case now. For instance, most of India’s exports to China have been raw materials like iron ore, while they send back manufactured goods, in some cases destroying Indian manufacturers. I have heard anecdotal evidence about this: how the manufacture of kites for Uttarayanam in Gujarat was decimated by Chinese imports, until the local makers replicated a cluster and supply chain as efficient as that in China.
Along with China, the other party where India needs to have a muscular foreign policy is Pakistan, China’s ally. Without going to war, it is possible to tell the Pakistanis in no uncertain terms that their adventurism will have consequences, and to back this up by carefully monitoring their infiltrators into India. It is also possible to increase – rather than reverse as Inderjeet Gujral did – RA&W intelligence efforts and special operations in Baluchistan and other restive parts of Pak.
The situation in Afghanistan is another area in which India needs to ensure that we do not screw up. As the Americans depart, the vacuum there will be filled quite eagerly by strategic-depth-seeking Pakistanis, and if the new Afghan government is in the least bit pro-Taliban, India will be shut out, its commercial interests and consulates endangered, and its huge investment in relief including roads etc will be wasted. On the other hand, there is no point in, as Americans sometimes demand, India taking on a military role there either. Afghanistan will be a headache.
Repairing ties with the Near Abroad, that is the subcontinental nations such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan should be pursued in parallel with a reinvigorated Indian Ocean Rim initiative, that will reach out to both ASEAN and Africa, especially South Africa.
Thus, the Modi government has its work cut out for itself. To begin with, it might enter the Asian arena with a response to the current crisis in Vietnamese waters where the Chinese are drilling. Modi can arrive on the world scene by loudly advocating a peaceful settlement, and even offering to mediate, as a neutral third party. It can draft the UN-honed political skills of Shashi Tharoor, even though he’s an opposition member of Parliament; and it can send a subtle message to China wrapped in bonhomie: you too are just another Asian power.
What will happen on May 16th, 2014?
I write this shortly after the exit polls for the 2014 elections have been published, and they have uniformly suggested that the NDA will come to power with somewhere between 240 and 300 seats on their own. If you believe that the exit polls and the elections have successfully captured the will of the people, this is good. But if you are a suspicious type, it is not difficult to imagine that another constitutional coup will be readied in the next couple of days till May 16th.
I have written about several constitutional coups successfully carried out by the Congress in the past http://www.rediff.com/news/column/column-rajeev-srinivasan-4-ways-the-congress-won-power-through-constitutional-coups/20140107.htm , and I see no reason to believe they have suddenly reformed themselves. They will hang on to power at all costs, and will be prepared to sacrifice the last Indian for it.
I would be astonished, indeed floored, if there were a smooth and simple transfer of power to the NDA. The Congress did demit office once, when Indira Gandhi lost in 1977 or so, but today’s Congressis are a different kettle of fish. They have more to hide, and also have more at stake, including their ill-gotten gains salted away, probably, in Macau these days as Switzerland has gotten a bit too hot.
In this context, several statements made by Congress bigwigs look sinister. A few days ago, P Chidambaram promised that on the 16th, there will be a big surprise. Now coming from one of the most astute of Congressmen, and one known not to exaggerate, this probably means that we are in for a “May Surprise” much like incumbent American presidents like to deliver “October Surprises” that help them.
Rahul Gandhi, the heir-apparent manqué, was more precise: he promised that 22,000 people would die if Narendra Modi were to be elected. Why exactly 22,000? He did not elaborate.
But Amaresh Misra, a leading Congressman, was quite vocal in a series of tweets on May 13th. He promised rivers of blood. In fact he was quite blood-curdling, here is a selection, verbatim. It doesn’t appear to be mere bravado; and since he is a confidant of Rahul, we need to take his threats seriously; in fact I am not sure why he has not been subject either to the Section 66A provisions that have been used to shut down people deemed dangerous on the Internet, or to the Election Commission’s strictures regarding the model code of conduct during elections.
To save democracy, all those supporting right wing forces on twitter will be killed. We will send CRPF to your houses. Drag you out/shoot!
A fascist leader who will kill minorities, change India’s secular character will be stopped by the Indian State by any means!
We will come out on the streets on 16th May to combat communal forces. We will kill all anti-national BJP supporters!
Whoever supports Modi is a Pakistani agent. He is liable to be killed with a bullet above his waist!
In Egypt, the army killed 2000 fundamentalists to preserve secularism. We will kill 2,00,000 Sanghis to save Indian democracy!
Indian people will not accept even one seat to BJP/NDA beyond 180, cause that means rigging by Modi. We will call in the army. We will kill!
Election Commission will be responsible for any violence on 16th May. EC needs to insure BJP/NDA does not get 1 seat beyond 180!
To put this in context, I wrote recently (in the unfortunately titled http://www.rediff.com/news/column/rajeev-srinivasan-the-time-will-come-when-america-can-dictate-to-india/20140303.htm ) about the Berkeley mafia focusing on ‘violent riots in India’. The general tone – and the decidedly dubious members of the group – suggested to me that far from ‘studying violent riots’ they may well be keen to incite a few. Reading between the lines, some of them, including US residents, have been spending a lot of time in the field in India, although it is not clear if they are trying to construct new and improved narratives for Gujarat 2002, or whether they are doing reconnaissance for new riots to be launched.
To add to this, to my personal chagrin as my alma mater, Stanford’s Law School has just produced a report entitled, ponderously, “When Justice Becomes the Victim: The Quest for Justice After the 2002 Violence in Gujarat” http://humanrightsclinic.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/When-Justice-Becomes-the-Victim-secure.pdf . I haven’t read it, but judging from the breathlessness with which it was sprung upon an unsuspecting public by lefties – I imagine it consists of more warmed-over nonsense that paints the 2002 Gujarat riots as, well, the greatest example of man’s inhumanity to man, since, let me guess, the fire-bombing of Tokyo in WW2 that killed 100,000 people?
What this suggests, in conjunction with the rabid anti-Modi rhetoric from the western military-industrial-media complex, especially the New York Times and The Economist, is that the imperial and religious-conversion types there have no intention of letting go of India, now that they have locked on to it as a prime target for domination, and have amassed (in Rajiv Malhotra’s terminology) an army of sepoys to ensure that their writ continues to run in India.
Therefore, there are several scenarios I fear may be played out in the near future:
- The 1996 scenario, with the NDA only getting 250 seats, and being forced to demit office after only 13 days
- The AAP scenario, with a puppet government sworn in and the Congress pulling the strings from behind
- The Kerala 1957 scenario, with the country being made ungovernable through manufactured violence
- The Z scenario, with Modi being liquidated and martial law being imposed
The 1996 scenario
Atal Behari Vajpayee only managed to get 252 seats, and with all the ‘secular’ parties unwilling to support him, was forced to resign after 13 days and call for fresh elections. This is the most benign scenario the Congress might follow: and it would be a relatively simple matter for them to manipulate the Electronic Voting Machines to get this outcome.
We have known for a long time (see indiaevm.org or my previous column http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/sep/01/the-real-issue-with-electronic-voting-machines.htm ) that EVMs are highly vulnerable. Given the opaque and easily-penetrated nature of election security, and given endemic corruption, it is highly probable that EVMs can be manipulated to come out with any result desired by the powers-that-be. Let us note that the Supreme Court-mandated VVPATs (EVMs with printed receipts ready for a recount if need be) are in only 20,000 out 18,00,000 booths, in effect making the court order superfluous. We still have the EVMs that did such yeoman duty in 2009.
I predict that they will confine the NDA to 250 seats, thus leaving Narendra Modi to the tender mercies of the Teen Kanya (J Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, and Mayawati), whose support the NDA would require to hit the magic 272. All of them are tough customers, and it would be very difficult for the NDA to win them over (with Jayalalitha a slightly better prospect). Chances are that a fresh election will have to be called later this year.
The problem is that Narendra Modi’s literally superhuman efforts addressing hundreds of rallies (and they were more than a normal human being should be asked to deliver) are what brought about the Modi Wave or Tsunami. It would be literally impossible for him to replicate this feat, and thus a by-election would bring a much-diminished tally to the NDA, obliging them to once again solicit the various regional satraps and being forced to accept their agendas.
And how will the obvious disconnect between the exit polls and the election ‘results’ be explained away? Oh, the exit polls are always wrong, they will say, pulling out the numbers from 2009 for reference. In fact, the Economic Times has already done so, right on cue (“Before results, opinions”, May 12th). There is also the small matter, as pointed out by Monu Nalapat in 2009, that the EC web site had some results before counting started – that is, instead of the server taking data from the individual EVMs, the results were pre-programmed into the server!
And oh, just to make things more entertaining, they may actually pull off the trick of having Arvind Kejriwal defeat Modi in Varanasi. EVM magic at your service!
The AAP scenario
By now it is clear that the Aam Admi Party, despite all its hoopla, was merely a mask for the Congress, and a way for it to split anti-incumbency votes. The proper modus operandi was used to perfection in the Delhi polls recently. By sacrificing the unpopular Sheila Dixit (well, let’s not cry for her – she’s comfortably ensconced as Kerala Governor: nice sinecure) the Congress was able to blunt the BJP’s thrust to rule Delhi.
By projecting AAP as different from the Congress, and then quietly supporting them at an opportune time, the election was essentially stolen from the BJP: the AAP made big inroads into the educated urban cohort that is the most fed-up with the Congress. Naturally, western vested interests, in the form of various Agencies and Foundations, provided the lion’s share of the funding, and the media, with alacrity, anointed Arvind Kejriwal as a serious contender for the Prime Minister post. (In reality, the AAP may win 0-1 seat, at best 2-3.)
This scenario can work with that hoary chestnut, the Third Front government that will surely be trotted out should the NDA not get a clear majority. As in 2004, when the Communists ‘supported the UPA from outside’, it would not be difficult to arrange a ramshackle and unsteady coalition to form the government, with the Congress ‘supporting it from outside’.
Of course, this would lead to disaster, as investors, especially the FIIs who have run up the Sensex and the rupee, immediately leave in droves, as they would be aware that absolutely nothing would move forward on the economic front. Status quo ante, stagflation.
The Kerala 1957 scenario
The Communist government of EMS Nambudiripad, duly elected, was ousted in 1957 using a classic, reputedly standard spy agency tactic. By funding and supporting the most reactionary elements in Kerala (you can guess who they were), the three-letter Agency was able to manufacture a law-and-order situation.
The great democrat Jawaharlal Nehru, far from upholding the sanctity of the democratic process, promptly used Section 356 of the Constitution to impose President’s rule and kicked EMS out. Not that I hold any brief for the Communists, but this was a patently authoritarian act, and it set India on the slippery slope towards later, indiscriminate use of the Center’s powers to get rid of state governments it simply did not like.
Given the Berkeley mafia’s exertions, and the Stanford guys’ fulminations, not to mention seriously bone-chilling perorations in The Guardian, etc. by all sorts of people – and I have to mention that, to its credit, the Wall Street Journal has kept away from this travesty – it seems likely that the West (especially John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and other assorted Democrats) is intent on creating problems in India.
There have been many instances when popularly-elected leaders have been subverted – the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, or that of Allende in Chile come to mind – after the creation of serious law and order situations. In case you think I am kidding, Exhibit A: last month’s Assam riot between Muslims and Bodos; last week’s Meerut riot between Muslims and Jains (yes, Jains!); and today’s Hyderabad riot between Muslims and Sikhs.
The threats from Rahul Gandhi and Amrish Misra point to the likelihood of such planned ‘uprisings’ taking place. Of course, the use of violence to disrupt and tie down an administration can happen even if a Modi government does come to power. Incidentally, this is very close to what is happening in Thailand right now, as low-level violence has paralyzed the nation, and a court has just asked Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.
The Z scenario
This is the most alarming, but by no means unthinkable, scenario. The film Z by Costa-Gavras, based on real-life incidents in Greece in the 1950s, shows how an enormously popular candidate for the presidency is assassinated by the military junta in power. When popular unrest bubbles up, the generals declare martial law and countermand the elections. This is quite possibly the greatest political film of all time, and it is my nightmare scenario.
Let us remember that as long ago as five or six years ago Karan Thapar, a journalist with strong ties to the Congress, talked about “the sudden removal of Narendra Modi”. It was obvious that he was thinking about an assassination, a physical liquiation. So this scenario has been thought about by at least some people.
I argued some time ago http://www.indiafacts.co.in/author/rajeev-srinivasan/#sthash.DtEgOnxf.dpbs that Modi had grown too popular to be assassinated – as the backlash would surely propel the BJP to office. However, now that the election is over, that point is moot, and it would not constrain anybody.
And exactly what will happen in such a scenario? Even though people have suggested there would be a civil war, I doubt it. The Army has remained apolitical and thus a marginal player. The average Indian is too docile to go out there and throw Molotov cocktails, and even if we had more hot-heads in the population, as in Iran or Ukraine or Egypt, or even in the US (remember the “Occupy Wall Street” etc. demonstrations?), it is hard to sustain an agitation over a long period, and the authorities can wear you down – you do have to go to work and earn a living, after all. Thus, an actual coup would become a fait accompli.
I have outlined above several scenarios that might unfold by Friday. I truly hope that I am wrong, and that there will be a smooth transition of power without the decimation of any of the institutions of the State. If otherwise, I hope that the least violent and the least damaging path will be taken, for the sake of this great nation.
2291 words, May 14, 2014
Errata: An earlier version said 1998 instead of 1996 for the short-lived Vajpayee government. Sorry.
In memoriam: Chinua Achebe; here’s an old unpublished piece of mine using the same idea “things fall apart; the center cannot hold”
March 23, 2013
Today, Chinua Achebe passed away. He stood up for the rights of Africans threatened by imported colonial norms and religions. According to his Wikipedia entry,
Chinua Achebe (pron.: /ˈtʃɪnwɑː əˈtʃɛbeɪ/, born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, 16 November 1930 – 21 March 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, andcritic. He was best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart(1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature.
Raised by his parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos. He gained worldwide attention for Things Fall Apart in the late 1950s; his later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Achebe wrote his novels in English and defended the use of English, a “language of colonisers”, in African literature. In 1975, his lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” featured a famous criticism of Joseph Conradas “a bloody racist”; it was later published amid some controversy.
In his honor, here’s an unpublished piece of mine from 2009, using the same metaphor of the “center cannot hold”. India has gotten steadily worse since then.
Chinua Achebe’s trenchant criticism of whites and their religion holds many lessons for Indians and Hindus.
The center cannot hold
Rajeev Srinivasan on the tenuous grip of the government on parts of India
The incidents in Lalgarh, West Bengal, have clarified that the writ of the Government of India does not hold sway in certain parts of the country. There is the dismissive story of how the last Mughal Emperor was sovereign of only a few square miles in Delhi by 1803, while the rest of the country was ruled by others. In all fairness, the Central Government today does control more territory than did Bahadur Shah.
But things have reached a point where the State has begun to unravel. I am reminded of W B Yeats’ The Second Coming, written between two World Wars (strangely apt given the second coming of the UPA). Here is the first part of the poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The center is not holding, and things are falling apart. Anarchy is loosed upon the nation.
The fact that Lalgarh was taken over by Communist Party of India (Maoist) terrorists, who displaced and even threatened the lives of the more tame Communists (the Communist Party of India (Marxist)), supposedly ruling the state of West Bengal, is worrying. Even more so is the fact the Communist terrorists called for a 48-hour general strike in five neighboring states (West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa). They appear to believe they have supplanted the states’ official machinery.
Belatedly, the Central government declared the Communist insurgents to be a terrorist organization, to which the more domesticated Communists (the CPI (M)) objected strenuously. This is strange, considering that the law and order situation in West Bengal, ruled by the CPI (M) for 30 years, is directly under threat by these very terrorists. (Haven’t they heard of Article 356?)
The obvious conclusion is that there is not much difference between these two types of Communists – and others such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) — and that quarrels between them are the results of minor theological differences and about the sharing of spoils. They are ideological twins, their goals are inimical to the Indian State and they are missionaries of a foreign power.
There are the ominous warnings – these have fallen on deaf ears – that Communist terrorists are active in as many of 180 of India’s 603 districts, and in fact control some of them. There is the infamous “Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor” – that is, from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh – that the Communist terrorists have affirmed to be their goal. In other words, they fully intend to export their insurrection throughout India, with the likely result of dismembering the country.
And who are these Communists? They have been called “Maoists” and “Naxalites”; they declared, infamously, in the 1970s, that “China’s Chairman is our Chairman”, leaving no room for confusion about where their inspiration – and most likely their funding – comes from. (However, Barbara Crossette, a spokesperson for the New York Times and therefore for the official US view, claimed Nepal’s“Maoists” are not Chinese-funded. There might be American, specifically missionary, interests, also involved with the so-called “Maoists”.)
If we take it as a working hypothesis that the Communist terrorists are aided and abetted by the Chinese, a number of other Chinese actions in the recent past take on ominous overtones:
- The Chinese fought to cancel an Asian Development Bank loan to India which included some development works in Arunachal Pradesh, arguing that it was Chinese territory that India was illegally occupying. In 2006 a Chinese envoy in Mumbai insulted a Central minister at a public meeting on the same issue. (Was the rude emissary declared persona non grata and kicked out in 24 hours? Of course not.)
- The Chinese asked the United States to divide up the major oceans between them, the Americans to get the Eastern Pacific and the Chinese to get the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. This is similar to the Papal Bull in 1493 that divided up the non-white world between Spain and Portugal, as colonies to loot
- In a rude editorial filled with dismissive rhetoric of the kind that one uses with a vastly inferior foe (a Chinese specialty, under the dangerous illusion that they are a Chosen People; they are particularly dismissive of Indians because of skin color and because they are considered ‘useful idiots’), the People’s Daily, a Party mouthpiece, told India that it could not afford the consequences of confrontation with China, and that “India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale.”
- Chinese have advanced their interests in Myanmar (natural gas sales overriding India’s pleas, and listening posts in the Cocos Islands), Sri Lanka (naval facilities at the port of Hambantota and strong support in the genocidal war against the Tamil Tigers)
- China now enjoys a virtual monopoly over Nepal’s affairs.
China’s ‘string of pearls’ is choking India. There is more: Communist leader Pinarayi Vijayan is under indictment in Kerala for corruption, and the Party’s attitude is essentially that the court system has no business trying one of their bigwigs. Similarly, there are other pockets where the influence of the Indian government is nil: for instance, the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, certain religious establishments, and some districts the Communist terrorists are active in.
Over time, these pockets of “not-India” will expand until we will have Bahadur Shah all over again: the pomp and circumstance of the GoI will be confined to the National Capital Region.
957 words, Jun 23rd, 2009