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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)

Nisid Hajari’s Narrative of India’s Partition Leaves Much to be Desired

India’s partition, or the last bloody gift of the not so benevolent British rule, is one of those events that echo through history and haunt the present. You cannot understand the geopolitics of the region without understanding the precipitating event that lead to the birth of the two countries.

I started reading Nisid Hajari’s Midnight’s Furies on the partition of India,  because of the glowing reviews it had received. I have made it up to a hundred pages so far. To say that it is flawed doesn’t even begin to cover my annoyance with Hajari’s narration. My critique is based on the first 100 pages of Furies and his essay on India’s partition. Here are the reasons why:

1. The moral equivalence between the case for a pluralistic India vs. an exclusionary Pakistan based solely on religion.

2. Gossipy narration worthy of supermarket tabloids, to wit, Nehru liked buxom women, well him and a majority of the male populace. This hardly counts as an insight or even an interesting factoid.

3. The British only provide the backdrop to the melodrama between Mohandas Gandhi, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru, Hajari absolves them of all agency and responsibility.

4. Getting the basics wrong, like the meaning of Satyagraha.

Satyagraha is literally soul force.

It is literally not. “satya” = truth “agraha” = insistence. In other words, Satyagraha is the insistence on truth no matter the consequences.  I can almost imagine Yoda-Gandhi saying to Skywalker-Nehru,

May the soul force be with you.

BTW. what is RSSS? Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is usually abbreviated as RSS not RSSS

5.  Flowery language, top heavy with adjectives.

Several of the Muslim conquerors who had dominated India before the British had brutalized their defeated Hindu foes, massacring thousands and demolishing their flower-strewn temples.

What does this even mean?  I have been to several temples, they are seldom flower strewn, the only flowers one usually finds are on the deity behind the altar.

6. Criticizing leaders of the past based on their followers in the present.

Equally troubling was the moral cover the Mahatma granted his longtime followers Nehru and “Sardar” Vallabhbhai Patel — a Gujarati strongman much admired by Modi, who also hails from Gujarat and who served as the state’s chief minister for over a decade. Echoing Gandhi’s injunction against pushing anyone into Pakistan against their wishes, Nehru and Patel insisted that the huge provinces of Punjab and Bengal be split into Muslim and non-Muslim halves, with the latter areas remaining with India.

Considering what happened to East Pakistan in 1971 and the travails of Pakistan’s other minorities, Patel and Nehru’s actions seem particularly prescient.  I also have no idea what Narendra Modi has to do with any of this.

7. Too much focus on personalities, too little on the events and imperatives, not to speak of the history, that lead to the partition. Some background into the formation of the Muslim League would have been helpful. Shorter Hajari, If the main personalities in the conflict got along better, everything would have been fine. This approach strikes me as ahistorical and wrong. You cannot expect to understand the events of 1946-47 if you have no idea what went on before. Jinnah’s personal history including the difficult relationship with the Congress leaders, is not enough to understand the demand for Pakistan.

8. I have saved the best or should I say worst of all, leaps of logic that leave you scratching your head, like blaming the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement for the mess that Pakistan is currently in.

But however exaggerated Pakistan’s fears may be now, Indian leaders bear great responsibility for creating them in the first place.

So are the ghosts of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel compelling Pakistan to perform self destructive deeds from beyond their grave?

However, I do have to give Hajari’s book credit for making me want to dig deeper about the history of the partition and case for Pakistan. While doing that I came across a better narrator, B. R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution. Ambedkar like Jinnah had locked horns with Gandhi on several occasions and they did not see eye to eye on many an issue. So, Ambedkar is as close to a neutral party as one can get in this saga, who was also an eye witness and a participant to the major political struggles that ultimately led to the division of India.

B. R. Ambedkar’s remarkable commentary on the case for Pakistan written was written in 1940, it is hosted on Columbia University’s website. Ambedkar, an alumnus of Columbia besides being a prolific writer was an  economist and a lawyer by profession. My thoughts on Ambedkar and his commentary has to wait for another post.