Category Archives: India

India Decides – The Indian National Congress

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)

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India Decides

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).

Happy Independence Day, India

India is seventy one and at a crossroads today. Its self image as a secular democracy that embodies liberal values of justice and equality for all are under threat. India’s founding generation gave it a Constitution that enshrined  these secular and liberal democratic values. The values of the current party in power are antithetical to that vision. They worship the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi and blame everything that ails India in 2018 on its first first Prime Minister, Nehru. But that is a post for another day. Today I want to pay homage to India’s founding document.

Writing the constitution was a collaborative effort that took over five years. The men and women who were a part of that entire process struggled with what a just and good government of the people, by the people and for the people would look like. They tackled the thorny issues of gender equity, religious freedom, untouchablity, language, land reforms and even the form of the government.

Although the majority of the members of the Constituent Assembly were from the Indian National Congress, the Chairman of the drafting committee of the constitution, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was not a member and in fact was an opponent of many of its policies and had locked horns with Gandhi on more than one occasion. Can you imagine that happening today? A member of the opposition being given such a monuemental responsibility because he was the best person for the job?

If you are interested in watching how the most populous democracy gave itself a constitution  you should watch Samvidhaan, a ten part miniseries available for streaming from Rajyasabha TV made by the veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal.

The authors of the founding document gave India a constitution based on respect for all irrespective of their caste, creed, gender or religion. This is especially remarkable considering the ugly and wrenching experience of the partition that tore the former British India into two as the price of independence.

The title track echoes the spirit of Samvidhaan as it blends together Saare Jahan Se Accha (Best in the World) by Iqbal and Bankim Chandra’s Vande Mataram (I bow before  thee mother(land)) and Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana which is India’s national anthem.

Part One

 

Caturday Cat thinks He is God

Yogi_Bhagwan_SG

 

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.

Ashwathama

Halahala

Atapi Vatapi

Brahmahatya

Sarama

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.

Happy Birthday, India

Its been seventy years since India got its independence from the British. Its birth was accompanied by the traumatic cleaving into two of British India and the traumatic loss of the Father of the Nation, Gandhi only five months later. Yet, India under its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru embraced a democratic and inclusive vision for India. This vision is under serious threat right now, but that is a post for another day.

I am going to celebrate this milestone by blogging about India. The highs, the lows and everything in between, over the next two weeks. I plan to cover movies, science, history, geography of the original melting pot.

I leave you with  national anthem  written by Rabindranath Tagore, performed here by its preeminent and beloved artists, representing India’s tremendous linguistic and religious diversity. First there is an instrumental version, then a vocal one, both arranged by A. R. Rahman, an example of India’s many cultural strands come together to form  a unique whole.  This version is from  2000, many of the performers featured here are no longer with us, like Jagjit  Singh and Bhimsen Joshi.

Jana Gana Mana

May Day and Maharashtra Day

Happy Birthday 67th Maharashtra. The Sanyukta Maharashtra* Samiti (United Maharashtra Organization) succeeded in their quest for the formation of the state of Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital. Because many of the leaders of SMS were labor leaders, they chose May 1 to commemorate their victory. It took  a bitter struggle of over five years and the blood of more than a hundred martyrs. The ruling party at the Center under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Bombay to be a centrally administered area.  Ramachandra Guha has a more detailed background of the struggle here.

 

Photo Credit: Sameer Markande

Maha== Great

Rashtra==Nation

Spring, The Season of Love

A Purrfect Love Story

By two_kittehs (Picture by: cvf)

Happy Gudi Padwa, the first day of spring and the New Year. Its time to welcome spring and  the new year by celebrating love. Starting the new year in spring makes much more sense than the dead of winter, isn’t it?

And now a celebration of love.

I heard this today, from the recently released Phillauri. I think I am in love. The very last lines, slay me.

 Tere bin saas be kaanch si kaate re,
Zindagi raakh si laage re


Translation: Without you , every breath cuts like glass
Life feels like ashes.

ETA: Check out Diljit Dosanjh, you won’t be sorry, Anushka Sharma, too looks radiant.

Happy 70th Independence Day, India

India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the equator.
-Winston Churchill

Despite Churchill’s pronouncement, independent India is seventy years old, while her old rulers struggle to hold onto their not so united kingdom. On August 15, 1947, India achieved its independence from the oh so benevolent British rule, whose legacy involved mass death by starvation. One of the worst famines to strike British India was the Bengal famine of 1943.  While volunteer army recruits from India were dying by the thousands for Winnie’s King and country, his decisions led to millions of avoidable Indian deaths.

Home to every religion in the world and twenty-two official languages; India’s amazing linguistic and religious diversity is its strength. This diversity is reflected in Indian art, be it Hindustani classical music or popular Hindi cinema. India’s struggles are many and it still has a long way to go before it reaches its full potential, but those are topics for another day.

But today I want to celebrate this milestone by celebrating India’s unity in diversity. First broadcast on 15 August 1988 on Doordarshan,

 

Mile sur mera tumhara, to sur bane hamara ( when my note (musical) melds with yours, it becomes our note)

Mile Sur Mera Tumhara

Bhimsen Joshi gets its started in Hindi, then we travel the length and breadth of India, from north to south and from east to west, ending in Hindi again. I counted fourteen languages including Hindi.

In the order they appear:

  • Bhimsen Joshi (Hindustani Classical music maestro) sings in Hindi
  • Boatman  in Kashmiri
  • People on the tractor in Punjabi
  • Shabana Azmi  (actor) in Urdu
  • Narendra Hirwani (cricketer) in Sindhi
  • Cast of Tamas, a Doordarshan miniseries on India’s partition  in Hindi/Punjabi
  • Balamurali Krishna (Carnatic music maestro) in Tamil (In his audience I could identify Kamal Hassan, Venkatraghavan and Meenakshi Seshadri)
  • Prakash Padukone (Badminton player) in Kannada
  • Couple in Telugu
  • Man on the elephant in Malayalam
  • Mrinal Sen (Film director), Arun lal(Cricketer)  etc getting out of a train in Bengali
  • Assamese singer
  • North eastern dancers (with no voiceovers)
  • Oriya couple
  • Mario Miranda (Cartoonist/illustrator)  in Goa (again no voiceovers)
  • Mallika Sarabhai (Dancer) in Gujarati
  • Tanuja (Actor)  in Marathi

Again we end in Hindi

we see

  • Waheeda Rehman (Actor)
  • Hema Malini (Actor)
  • Sharmila Tagore (Actor)
  • Lata Mangeshkar (Singer), then the voice behind the women
  • Amitabh, Jeetendra and Mithun  (all actors)

Ends in refrain of the Indian national anthem

  • I could only identify Syed Kirmani (cricketer)

If you can identify anyone else who I have missed, let me know in the comment section.

A New Low For the Rule of Law

Lawyers or people dressed as lawyers attacked the Jawaharlal Nehru University student  Kanhaiya Kumar in court and manhandled him before his court appearance.  First they tell you what to eat, then they tell you what to think, if you don’t comply they beat you up and jail you on spurious charges. This is happening in India’s capital Delhi. This is what Delhi’s police commissioner had to say about yesterday’s scuffle.

There are allegations that certain press reporters, and some students belonging to JNU, were roughed up. We are looking into it. Excesses were committed from all sides, but they have been extremely minor in nature. To my knowledge, nobody has received serious injuries. They are more in the shape of scuffles,”

Perhaps it is time to change India’s motto from Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone Wins)  to Ham Satya nahin Sahen Kar Sakte ( We can’t handle the truth).

This JNU fracas is the latest in ongoing effort by RSS-BJP combine to discredit the left leaning student organizations and its leaders in India’s institutes of higher learning and install its own stooges wherever possible. Its the latest in the trend that started at Indian Institute of Technology-Madras when a student organization critical of Mr. Modi was banned, or the overtly political appointment of  BJP stooge and a small time actor, Gajendra Chauhan to head India’s premier creative institute or the targeting of student leader Rohith Vemula, which lead to his suicide, earlier this year.

Has the Modi Sarkar (government) declared a war against it students?

 

Freedom of Speech Under Assault in India

Credit : Telegraph Calcutta

The campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University is roiled with protests. Protests against the arrest of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar who has been charged with sedition for  a speech in which he criticized Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party,

They are the ones who burnt the Tricolour. They are followers of Savarkar who apologised to the British.

They were British stooges. I dare them to file a defamation case against me. I say that the RSS’s history is of siding with the British. These traitors today are distributing certificates of nationalism.

 

Full translated text of the speech here.

The photograph above is outside the court house complex of Patiala House, eye witness testimony by Telegraph’s journalist here. A BJP state legislator from Delhi,  has been caught on camera as one of the perpetrators in the assault photographed above. The person on the ground was later identified as  Ameeque Jamai of the Communist Party of India. Several journalists were also attacked.

O P Sharma, Patiala House Courts, JNU.

Credit: Indian Express

More photos here.