Category Archives: India

Houston, We Have a Problem

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a rally scheduled in Houston this Sunday.  WalMart is one of the sponsors and the President of the United States has promised to attend along with an estimated 50,000 attendees.

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What bright future are we talking about? The Indian economy is in the doldrums, minority populations live in fear, rapists are not arrested if they belong to the ruling party while activists fighting for the rights of the dispossessed languish in jail without a trial. As for dreams, the dream of a Hindutva dominated India where minorities are persecuted and dissenting voices are silenced, sounds more like a nightmare. Where the truth is sacrificed at the altar of political expediency and history is rewritten to service the ideology of hate.

Why is Modi doing this? My guess is for the publicity and for the $$. It’s also a reward for those among the diaspora who opened their wallets for Modi’s reelection. This rally would give the Prime Minister a much needed PR boost internationally after the draconian anti-democratic steps being taken in Kashmir since August 4th.  It will show his fans and supporters back home in India that India has the world’s respect. Getting the US president who routinely demonizes immigrants, to a rally attended mostly by immigrants is definitely a PR coup for team Modi.

I was actually surprised that the White House accepted the invitation. Indian Americans have voted heavily for Democratic candidates  in the recent past, see the figure below.  Some have suggested that the crowd size may have been the irresistible attraction. Besides the fact that the Hindu right has deep pockets.

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In addition to the President, 60 other elected leaders of both parties have promised to attend according to the organizers. Here is the list of those whose names appear in the news dispatch.

  1. Raja Krishnamoorthi
  2. John Cornyn
  3. Ted Cruz
  4. Al Green
  5. Pete Olson
  6. Sheila Jackson Lee
  7. Sylvia Garcia, Greg Abbot
  8. Cindy Hyde-Smith
  9. Ami Bera
  10. Brian Babin
  11. Brad Sherman,
  12. Eliot Engel

Firstpost is reporting that Steny Hoyer is also going to attend.

Check if your representative or senator is on the list and going to  share a podium with a man who presided over a pogrom targeting Muslims in 2002 as the chief executive of Gujarat and is pursuing a  nakedly majoritarian agenda in his second term as the prime minister. Actions in Kashmir being the case in point, where people have been without internet or cell phone access and access to medical care since August 4th.

Check out the BBC for news updates on Kashmir.

Watch this space for more updates on this developing story of the Houston rally. If you have questions leave them in the comments.

Orange Fever

I am afraid that scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is just the beginning, it has little to do with the development of Kashmir.Prime Minister Modi’s agenda for India in his second term is to change India’s constitution and pave the way for a majoritarian state which is a democracy in name alone. 94 years after its formation the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is the closest to achieving its goal of the Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).

The international media is missing the RSS agenda behind Modi’s actions.  Before he entered politics, Modi was a pracharak or a fulltime evangelist for the RSS. Just like the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee before him. There is no daylight between what the Sangh wants and what the BJP wants. BJP is the political front of the Sangh,  an all male grassroots fraternal organization that has had only one non-brahmin  sarsangchalak (chief of the Sangh)  in its almost hundred years of existence. According to some estimates a group that  makes up  around 5% of the population of India. Also with two exceptions spanning 16 years, all the other sarsangchalaks have been Marathi brahmins. The Sangh still does not admit women. For a group that purports to speak for all Hindus its leadership is drawn from a tiny slice of Hindu male brahmins.

India is as complex as  Europe would be if it were one country.  India is home to two major language families and twenty two official languages. India also has the second largest population of Muslims in the world. The Sangh sees this diversity be it religious or  linguistic as inherently problematic. Their dream India, which they call Bharat is united under the saffron banner of Hindutva speaking as one in one language, Hindi. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are considered Hindu for the purposes of this classification but Christians and Muslims are not. Sangh ideologues have argued that diversity made India  weaker and an easy prey for the British in the 18th and the 19th centuries  and the first wave of Muslim invaders from Central Asia a thousand years ago and later. The way for India to go back to its former greatness is to unite under a banner of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).

Britain has been forgiven but BJP and its sympathizers want Muslim citizens of India to pay for the sins of the central Asian invaders and also for the formation of Pakistan.  Their claims about a Hindu rashtra  are inspired more by the nationalistic fervor sweeping Europe in the early twentieth century than they are by ancient India. Here is what Madhav Golwalkar, the most influential sarsangchalak who held the post for 43 years had to say about Hitler’s Germany in a book published in the 1940s.

…To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.

Also the RSS map of Akhand Bharat (Greater India) is suspiciously closer to that of British India.

Akhand_Bharat

Akhand Bharat

British_India

British India

As I explained in my post on Kashmir, Kashmir’s special status given its Muslim majority was something that  Sangh’s leaders could not stand right from the early years of independence.  And before independence, hatred and the fear of Muslims was the foundational capstone of the Sangh and other Hindu right organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha. In their telling tiny Britain was able to subjugate mighty India and because Hindus were cowed down by the Muslim rule of over a thousand years. The founding father of Hindutva, Vinayak Savarkar had this to say about Muslims in an interview to an American journalist in 1945.

Muslims in India should be treated as ‘Negroes’

Savarkar headed the Hindu Mahasabha and inspired among others, Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. He was indicted in the Gandhi’s assassination but not sentenced. The Mahasabha was currently in the news for reenacting the infamous assassination.

In today’s India Savarkar can count among his fans the current prime minister.

We bow to Veer Savarkar on his Jayanti. Veer Savarkar epitomises courage, patriotism and unflinching commitment to a strong India. He inspired many people to devote themselves towards nation building.

The partition of British India and the formation of Pakistan on the eve of independence is just added another item to their the mile long list of grievances against Indian Muslims. The ones who chose to stay in India believing the promise that the authors of  the Indian Constitution made to all its minorities that India was for all Indians, irrespective of caste, gender, language or religion.

Actions taken in Kashmir this August are just the first steps in the RSS agenda. If you think all this does not affect you, you would be wrong because Hindu Sevak Sangh(HSS), the RSS offshoot in the United States has been propping up Tulsi Gabbard and has chapters all over the US.

Tryst With Destiny

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.

A Troubled Paradise

Jammu & Kashmir UT and Ladakh UT

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

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Source: Wikipedia

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)

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