Its August 15, the Indian independence day. For the last few years I have written about things to celebrate about India and that make it unique. But today my heart is heavy and those posts from the past years feel like a cruel joke.
For the past five years BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his followers in the government and outside have made it their life mission to dismantle Jawarhlal Nehru’s legacy. But without Nehru there is no modern India. Dismantling his legacy is dismantling the Indian experiment. If India defied expectations and survived as a democracy and as one country it was in no small measure due to the work of the leaders that fought for its independence and then wrote constitution that enshrined within it the ideals of freedom, equality and liberty. And among those giants, Nehru stands tall.
His vision for India is in peril. He has fallen out of fashion in today’s Sangh dominated India. On this day of all days I want to remember his words, the words he uttered as India gained it is freedom after a long struggle on 15 August 1947
Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny; and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.
A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India, and her people, and to the still larger cause of humanity.
At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries which are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her successes and her failures. Through good and ill fortunes alike, she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again.
The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
Freedom and power bring responsibility. That responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labor, and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over, and it is the future that beckons to us now.
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we might fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.
The ambition of the greatest man1 of our generation has been to wipe “every tear from every eye.”2 That may be beyond us, but so long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.
And so we have to labor and to work, and work hard, to — to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart.
Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom; so is prosperity now; and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.
To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.
It has been over a week since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right hand man from Gujarat, Amit Shah who is now the home minister changed the constitution of India with little debate in the parliament. Modi government has abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution. The state has been under curfew and a strict communication blockade for the last eleven days. Former Kashmiri chief ministers are under arrest.
Article 370 concerns the accession of Kashmir to India, while 35A granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir a degree of autonomy to make laws governing the citizenry of the state. They have been revoked by the government in New Delhi with no input from the citizens of Kashmir. Constitutional scholars can argue about the legalistic validity of these moves, but these actions are undemocratic and unworthy of a constitutional democracy. They blatantly disregard the will of the people of Kashmir. The central government is acting as a colonial power within its own boundaries. Muslim majority Kashmir has been reduced to little more than a colony of Hindu majority India. You can see the population breakup from the 2011 census in the table that I have included. These were the fears that lead to the partition of India. This move reopens the wounds of partition which in Kashmir’s case were never healed.
What this does in practical terms is it strips of Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and partitions it into two administrative regions. Jammu and Kashmir being the first region and the Buddhist majority Ladakh being the other.
It also means the death of the Indian Republic as it was conceived by the generation that fought for Indian independence. The ideological ancestors of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were nowhere to be found in the freedom struggle. Instead, they were busy criticizing the Indian National Congress and collaborating with the British.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir, independent India’s only Muslim majority state was guaranteed limited autonomy when they agreed to become a part of India instead of Pakistan after the partition of India. This has been an anathema to the Hindu right since India’s inception. A thorn in the side of their dream of a muscular Hindu state where other religions are not equal but merely tolerated.
Modi and Shah’s actions betray India’s founding principles, and undermine both federalism, religious freedom. The intellectual heirs of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassins are enacting their vision of India. That the BJP did this after getting a brute majority in the elections held earlier this year is not surprising. The Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh (RSS)’s agenda on this issue has been clear since India’s independence when their political arm was called the Jan Sangh.
What has been rather disappointing and sad is the feeble to non-existent opposition response and sycophancy of India’s prestige media like the Times of India, the Hindu and India Today. Most of the Indian media is either not covering this major story or giving cover to the government in New Delhi.
One has to go the web-only outlet, The Wire to find Kashmir covered in detail. This story is still developing and I will post updates.
Table I : Population Breakup of the Jammu and Kashmir from the 2011 census
The results of the 17th Loksabha elections are out. The Bharatiya Janaty Party (BJP) has won a comfortable majority on it own steam, 303 of a total of 545 seats. While the Indian National Congress (INC or just the Congress)’s haul was 52 seats. It was a clean sweep for the ruling party in the Hindi heartland and western India. Rahul Gandhi who led the INC in this election lost his seat in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh (UP). A seat he had held since 2004. Besides Rahul three other members of the Gandhi family have represented the Amethi consituency since 1980.
UP is the Hindi heart of India. Being the most populous state its sends the greatest number of representatives among all states to the Loksabha. This year the INC has won only one seat in Uttar Pradesh (UP) of a total of 80 and the BJP has won 62. That’s the entire story of these elections in a nutshell. Since what happens in UP determines political fortunes in India.
Rahul Gandhi made mistakes at both the tactical and at the strategic level. Instead of forming pre-poll coalitions to take on the ruling the party they fielded their own candidates in more than 400 constituencies. Most importantly, Rahul Gandhi ceded the ideological space to BJP by letting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi define the terms of the battle, whether it be national security or the place of minorities in the polity. Instead of taking the fight to the BJP, Congress ran away from the fight. This included maintaining a studied silence about the entire Pulwama incident, when it happened, not fielding enough Muslim candidates for the fear of being labeled pro-Muslim and even shying away from visiting Muslim majority areas to ask for their vote. Electorates rarely reward cowardice or incompetence.
So how did the party that led the independence struggle against the British rule and oversaw the establishment of the modern Indian state, its constitution and its institutions come to this sorry pass?
(To be continued)
ETA: The new government wants to stress learning Hindi, so before I go, check out this video which celebrates the linguistic diversity of India, another obstacle to the ultimate goal of the Hindu Rashtra where everyone speaks Hindi and is Hindu. I am so old that I remember when Unity in Diversity was India’s creed.
ETA2: They have walked it back, after a huge outcry from the southern states. I think they were just testing the waters. They will float this proposal again.
(To be continued)
5/23 Update: The Election Commission has started counting the votes and Modi seems to be headed for a second term.
This is a brief primer to help you make sense of the main players on the Indian political scene. Ther Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) is currently in power, its main opposition, is the Indian National Congress. Then there is a third mostly left of center grouping which calls itself Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) and advocates for the rights of Bahujans (common people, a short hand term for the alliance of Other Backward Castes and Dalits*).
The key to understanding Indian politics is caste, region and ideology, in that order. Most of the analyses I see in the western media and much of the English language media in India misses that point, by focusing solely on ideology and the two main parties. They also ignore India’s linguistic diversity, and regional politics which vary greatly. Most importantly, they ignore caste which plays roughly the same role that race plays in US politics.
In this post I will focus on the BJP and its leader, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Bharatiya Janata Party: Is the party in power at the center (federal level) right now. It won an outright majority during the last Loksabha elections in 2014. It was the first time a party other than the Congress had managed this feat. The previous BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed a coalition government.
Before 2014, Mr. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. On the national stage he was credited with the economic growth the state had achieved and the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Ahmedabad, precipitated by the events in Godhra.
Since his election in 2014, Mr. Modi’s government has delivered on the items on hard right agenda. Banning the slaughter of cows had been a long stated goal of the Hindutva hardliners. Twenty states out of twenty nine now have restrictions on the slaughter of cows. It may come as a surprise to many that majority of Hindus are not vegetarian and some even eat beef. These cattle slaughter bans have hit the poor and lower caste Hindus as well as Muslims the hardest. Roving bands of vigilantes who call themselves cow protectors have used these bans to intimidate and sometimes lynch people.
Modi’s record on the economic front has been questionable. The much touted demonetization scheme aimed at removing high denomination currency out of the economy to combat corruption missed all of its stated goals. India’s suffering farmers have seen no respite and the unemployment numbers have been the worst in forty years.
BJP purports to speak on the behalf of all Hindus but their agenda and their saffron roving bands make many Hindus, let alone religious minorities, who don’t share its dogma, nervous. They are not being paranoid because many activists agitating on the behalf of those in tribal areas and lower castes sit in jail under trumped up charges. Journalists have died for speaking out as have academics like M. M Kalburgi.
BJP is the political arm of the all male Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps) modeled after Europe’s Fascist movements of the early twentieth century. RSS seeks to unite Hindus separated by caste, language and region into militant nationalism called Hindutva. RSS was formed in British India in 1925 by K. B. Hedgewar, a Brahmin physician from Maharashtra and has its head quarters in Nagpur, Maharashtra. They were largely absent during India’s freedom struggle against the British, spent most of their time attacking Congress and complaining about their tactics. Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse had RSS links.
BJP and its earlier incarnation, the Jan Sangh never achieved much in the way of electoral success until the late 80s. Their electoral fortunes changed when they adopted building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya in place of Mughal emperor Babur’s mosque as their core issue.
The most important project of RSS and other Hindutva idealogues has been to rewrite history to further their own agenda. The last 5 years has seen the mainstreaming of previously fringe RSS propaganda into the political discourse. We have seen the lionization of Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin, vilification of Jawarhlal Nehru, India’s first Prime minister and to a lesser extent of Mohandas Gandhi. Orwell’s 1984 seems to be their Bible, or should I say Gita?
The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
Ultimately what is stake in this election is the truth, we will see if India lives up to its motto,
सत्यमेव जयते ( Satyameva Jayate)
And if the truth ultimately triumphs.
In part two of this series I will discuss and analyze the results and the other two other major political groupings contesting the elections.
(*Dalit = downtrodden, these are mostly castes considered to be at the bottom of the caste hierarchy and many are considered ritually impure. Many of these taboos still persist in parts of India. Prejudice against these castes by those in power is commonplace).
When life gets you down, what perks you up? This is my list in no particular order
- Sound of my cats purring : Is there any sound more soothing than the whirring purr motor? Instant bliss.
- Long Walks: It can be beautiful country side dotted with barns and old houses, or watching the gentle waves washing the barriers on Marine Drive
- Hot Tea: It warms the belly and the heart, the stronger the better, with milk and sugar of course.
- Monsoon Rains: I love the rains, especially heavy rains, the sound of water falling gives me peace
- First Snow: Nature’s instant makeover makes everything look oh so pretty
- A page turner: Wodehouse and Christie are tried and tested stress relievers for me. I must have read each and everyone of their books by now.
- Vigorous exercise: Especially the ones where you hit your stride and are vigorous enough that they take you out your head. Dancing, running or brisk walks and yoga are my favorite.
- Music that mesmerizes: It has to have words though, just plain instrumental music doesn’t do it for me.
- Watching a sunset or a sunrise: Never fails to make me happy, beautiful and calming
- Being creative: Writing, cooking or doing some DIY project, painting are all pretty satisfying
- Organizing and Cleaning: Makes me feel in charge, at least of my immediate surrounding and that helps when I am feeling overwhelmed
- When I make the first page of ICHC/lolcats: Always an ego boost to know that others find my creations funny more here
Diwali, the festival of lights is here. May there be light in both my ancestral and my adopted home which have taken a disastrous turn towards darkness in the recent years by electing leaders who maintain their grip on power by appealing to fear and by fostering hate.
We all need to do our bit to banish the darkness, so go vote, if you haven’t voted yet, go vote. Your country needs you, the world needs you. Your vote is your voice and your message. Vote for those who cannot vote to protect themselves, the children still separated from their parents sitting in cages, immigrants who pick your lettuce, the doctors who could potentially save your life after you have had a heart attack. The knowlege workers and other immigrants performing tasks large and small to keep the economy humming and the country running. The current president and the compliant legislature controlled by his party, the Republican party has declared a war on them by calling them moochers, job stealers, rapists and murders.
Vote to protect the future generations who will have to bear the brunt of the tax cuts for the 1% and ravages of global warming. Go out there and vote. People have died so you have the right to vote. I voted early, my first vote in a general election after becoming a citizen last July.
So light your lamp be a force for good and vote blue.
Unless you are a Republican, its not going to work for you, kitteh, so behave yourself. The number of credible allegations against the President’s Supreme Court nominee seem to be increasing by the day. So, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination has been in the news and on my mind, so I made a lol about it, which made the first page. It seems to have struck a nerve because it is garnering many negative votes (thumbs down). So if you like it, give it a thumbs up. What do you think, will he make it to the Supreme Court?
Truth be told, unlike Gaitonde, the mob boss brilliantly played by Nawzuddin Siddiqui in Netflix’s original series, Sacred Games, boss cat thinks he is God. at all times, not just some of the time. So far I have progressed to 5 episodes of Sacred Games.
I sense a theme of death and immortality going on here. More on the Games, later after I have finished watching the remaining three episodes. Are you watching it?
* Translation: Sometimes I think, I am God.