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Bharat says not so fast Bharatiya Janata Party

Protests have roiled India over the weekend. The Bharatiya Janata Party has become the Bharat Jalao Party (Burn India Party). Last week the Citizenship Amendment Bill become the Citizenship Amendment Act. According to the bill minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be eligible for refugee status. The bill excludes Muslims. Neither does it cover  Tibetan or  Sri Lankan refugees.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 of the Parliament of India amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 providing a path to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.[2] The intended religious minorities were explicitly listed as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, raising concerns that Muslims were being marginalised.[2] The beneficiaries had to have entered India on or before 31 December 2014, and should have faced “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their countries of origin.[a] The Act also relaxed residence requirement for naturalization from 11 years to 5 years for these migrants.[
status. This bill along with the BJP’s government’s plan to construct a National Register of Citizens portends doom for India’s 100 million plus Muslim population. BJP had tried to pass it in an earlier session of the Parliament but it died because they didn’t
have the numbers to pass it through the upper House, Rajyasabha. But after gaining a imposing majority in the Loksabha in the last elections, this time around many smaller parties decide to go along with the BJP agenda in the Rajyasabha this time and the bill passed both the Houses easily.

The India of my childhood is being dismantled by the BJP. In  our textbooks there used to be a Pledge.

 

India is my country and all Indians are my Brothers and Sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give respect to my parents, teachers and all the elders and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness

Even as a child it seemed hopelessly naïve and idealistic to me. And  God knows we did not live up to that ideal always but that was a worthy ideal to strive towards. The agenda of BJP, is the agenda of the RSS (Rashrtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh)  or Sangh , the political off shoot of the black hats and brown shorts wearing all male volunteer organization is antithetical to both the pledge and the preamble to the Indian Constitution.

The Sangh’s plan for India has always been clear, to rid India of its religious minorities, especially its Muslims or relegate them to an inferior or a secondary status. Their ideology asserts that if India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, all its problems will vanish into thin air. When the BJP was able to form a government on their own strength after the general elections last May, I knew that their long awaited ideological project would gather full steam.

It started with Kashmir by taking away the  statehood of India’s only Muslim majority state, changing the criteria of which refugees can become citizens is the logical next step. What comes after this is the National Citizenship Register, whereby one has to prove their citizenship. The NRC has been applied to the northeastern state of Assam with disastrous consequences, making over a million Indians stateless. You don’t have to be an expert on Indian politics to know who is the target of these actions.

 

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To this murder of the Indian Constitution, not so fast say the students and ordinary citizens of India. Protests have gathered steam all across India including on college and university campuses and elsewhere.

 

mamtabanerjee

The woman in white is Mamata Banerjee the Chief Minister of West Bengal

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More pictures of protests here

Dare I hope that these protests quell the orange tide that threatens to drown India. Watch this space for more on this developing story. If you have questions please leave them in the comments.

Note: Whataboutery and dehumanizing comments will not tolerated.

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.

Tom Friedman Loves Himself A Strong Man

Tom Friedman loves himself a dictator, especially the kind that makes the trains run on time and is super efficient.

After World War II, Asia was ruled by many autocrats who essentially came to their people and said, “My people, we’re going to take away your freedom, but we’re going to give you the best education, infrastructure and export-led growth policies money can buy. And eventually you’ll build a big middle class and win your freedom.”

So he is all fine and dandy with Asia’s strongmen, including the Chinese ones. Hey, what’s a few million dead here and there, for the price of being a manufacturing hub to the rest of the world.

He pays his respects to the Singapore strong man Lee Kuan Yew:

Asian autocrats tended to be modernizers, like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who just died last week at 91 — and you see the results today: Singaporeans waiting in line for 10 hours to pay last respects to a man who vaulted them from nothing into the global middle class.

He finds it quaint that Chinese pre-schoolers are worried about College admissions.

Although Chinese, mathematics and English are supposed to be taught to primary school students, it is not uncommon to see pre-school-age children across China being forced to study these subjects.” The essay went on to explain why it wasn’t healthy to “begin preparing for the college entrance exam” in preschool.

What a problem to have! Kindergartens teaching math and English too soon.

What an idiot! He has no idea what is like to been a rat race, to scramble to be a part of the middle class, the pressure one is under to succeed even as a child, to land a coveted spot in one of the ultra competitive institutions of higher learning.

I know a little bit, what it is like in the India, the pressure for teens feel when they are taking the state level grade 10  and grade 12 exams.  Usually in the week after the results are declared, there are usually reports of attempted and successful suicides of children. It is beyond sad to read about a fourteen old feeling so much despair that they feel like ending it all. Only because they have fallen short of the scores required to get into the college of their choice.  I wonder if  MoU finds that quaint as well.

The Great Dictator

By two_kittehs (Picture by: SWNS)

Happy Birthday, India

On August 15, 1947,  67 years ago while the world slept, India awoke to a new beginning, or in the immortal words of Jawaharlal Nehru, its tryst with destiny.

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 success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune 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. The 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 labour 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 man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

Full speech here

The birth of the Indian nation was traumatic and joyful at the same time and in many ways India is still coping with the PTSD associated with the Partition that followed the independence. 

Were it not for Prime Minister Nehru and his cohorts, India could have easily ended up like Pakistan instead of the democracy it is now.  Unity in  diversity became India’s motto replacing the divide and conquer strategy practiced masterfully by the colonial masters.  There are few countries in the world as diverse as India, in terms of both languages spoken and the religions practiced.  In light of countries splitting across ethnic and religious lines as we speak, the Indian experiment seems almost like an anomaly. 

Stressing what bound Indians together rather than what separated them in those early years is what kept India united and viable. In some ways  its truly a miracle, because the fault lines that divide India are too many to count. Although it is majority Hindu, it has the second largest Muslim population in the world, second only to Indonesia. There are  nineteen languages on an Indian currency note, and for many if not most Indians, their regional and  linguistic identity supersedes the national identity. Focusing on what binds Indians together therefore not just noble but also politic.

Jawaharlal Nehru was not unique though, instead he followed the lead of the previous leaders of the Indian National Congress, Mohandas Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Both Tilak and Gandhi formed alliances beyond narrow regional, caste and religious divides during India’s struggle for Independence.  Here is hoping that this tradition  continues as India navigates the twenty first century.